Saturday, December 26, 2015

Momentary troubles

I have chosen this photo of Diane and myself with Maggie, our much loved little grandchild, during our visit to see the family in Jersey last weekend. That was the high spot of this Christmas season but it has gone downhill quite a lot since then.

I think I want to apologise, really, that I haven't been posting faith-building blog posts recently and have fallen a bit behind, but the fact is I have been - and am - quite ill.  Things began to go down a bit for me, health-wise, the day before Christmas Eve. Since then we have been in A & E twice and the doctors surgery, seeking help with a real flare-up of chronic pancreatitis. Sadly, there is not much that can be done other than hit it on the head with very strong antibiotics and heap up the morphine pain relief in the hope of getting on top of the appalling pain. That has not been successful yet, but we live in hope.

We continue to await news of our application for funding of the huge operation that could fix this all for me, but which, as far as now anyway, the States are not willing to finance. We are being told that we should hear something in January, so we need to hold on some more. Diane's dearly loved sister is seriously ill and needs constant care.  Of course, in the light of the huge toll of human suffering that there is in the world our tiny microcosm of need is minute. But to me, it all seems a bit overwhelming. The house is full of food and I can't stand it at all!  Everyone is bursting with Christmas cheer and I am far from being a bah humbug type, but it doesn't touch my deepest need.

What does touch me deeply, though, is the real point of Christmas.  Emmanuel means God is with us, in the pain, in the sickness, in the bereavement, or whatever you are facing.  And these amazing words put it all into the correct perspective: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor. 4:17).

So, if Christmas cheer leaves you a bit cold today, or even disappointed, I want to recommend a relationship with the living Christ who alone gives hope to live by and if necessary, to die for!

Happy Christmas!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

In the Shadow of the Cross

Diane is not really that much shorter than me - she was sitting down! What matters in this picture is that the shadow of the cross is over us both. At the very centre of our relationship, and the heart of our faith, is the cross - the symbol of the death of Jesus Christ and for centuries a sign of all that Christ accomplished for us at Calvary. It is also a reminder that there is a cross at the apex of our Christianity.  It is an invitation from Jesus to come and die to our selves, our own ambitions and desires, and to live a new life of trust and obedience to Him.

I think that it is easy to forget this important fact.  We tend to think that we deserve happiness in life and the fulfillment of all our dreams. Now it is great to have a dream and hold on to it, but Jesus achieved so much by laying down His life on the cross so that His vision of bringing forgiveness and life to us could be achieved. We can never equate our own suffering with that of Jesus on the cross with its barbaric cruelty and pain, but He does call us to "take up our cross and follow" Him. We are not guaranteed a pain-free walk of faith in this life and the cross reminds us that whatever we go through God has suffered more, and with every cross there comes a resurrection if we trust in Him.

Thanks to all those who are praying for us at this time. I am due to return to University College Hospital in London next week (2nd Dec 2015) for the 11th time this year.  The plan is to let them clear out my pancreatic duct of debris and stones and then to do a nerve block all around the pancreas in the hope of giving me some relief from the appalling pain of pancreatitis. We are also waiting to hear the outcome of our appeal for funding of a major transplant operation by the States of Guernsey which has the potential to bring this nightmare to an end, but is very expensive. So far the early signs are not good - but hey, as I said there is a cross at the heart of our faith and our trust is in God. Anyway - one touch from the King changes everything!

Friday, November 13, 2015

What kind of prisoner? A very moo-ving tale!

In the ancient Bible book of Zechariah believers are called "prisoners of hope" (Zech. 9:12). I like that description of those of us who dare to believe that our lives are held in higher hands than our own. In fact, that kind of prisoner is one that would not choose to go completely free!

Near our home in the Channel Islands there is a herd of traditional Guernsey cattle. They are large, intelligent, beautiful creatures who lead the world in the production of golden, creamy milk. Having said that, I would not want to be confronted by a stampeding group of them in a country lane and so I 'm grateful to the microscopic strand of wire that effectively keeps them in the field. Attached to a battery this flimsy barrier is effective because these huge beasts are prisoners of their painful memories. 'Once bitten twice shy' means that they learned very early on not to push past these boundaries. So effective is this that even if the battery was disconnected for long periods, the cattle would still stay in place. The sting of past pain is sufficient to prevent them from going free.

Many of us have been stung in the past and are left as prisoners of pain today. Some might say that we have become mature and discerning by our brushes with pain, but it is hard not to feel like a prisoner when your life is curtailed by things you cannot do and places you cannot go due to the pain or other reminder of life-limiting experience. But with God's help even those of us held captive by pain can become prisoners of hope!

I was, therefore, so helped and challenged this morning by my reading of that Old Testament prophecy and especially the second part of the verse. "Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you". It appears then that God is planning to restore to his people that which they have lost while prisoners of anything less than hope. This is reminiscent of another passage where God promises to restore to us "the years that the locusts have eaten" (Joel 2:25). Now that is good news!

So - what kind of prisoner are you?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

When Understanding Fails

This is not an easy weekend for a number of my close friends- nor for me really - as a young couple that we love set off for distant shores and leave us. It's always tough to say goodbye to people you care about but there's an added dimension here. They came to our church and island home to lead the youth work and serve God among us a couple of years ago and now they are moving on, feeling that God is leading them. Those left behind are struggling with letting their dear friends go and also understanding what God is doing and saying in all this.

Farewells are not the only struggles we face when trying to understand the will of God. Bereavement is heaps more difficult, as are serious long-term ill health or troubles that do not yield to persistent prayer. God knows it's hard enough to go through stuff so surely it would help a lot if we could get some explanations.  That's what is at the heart of the "Why Lord?" kind of praying we all do a lot of these days. But maybe we are not helping ourselves when we demand answers to life's tough dilemmas. Of course we want to know more - that's part of being human and made in the image of God - but the Bible teaches us that this is not helpful reasoning or praying. In the ancient book of Isaiah the Lord says to his people Israel "Do you question who or what I am making? Are you telling me what I can or cannot do? I made Earth and created man and woman to live on it!"

If the "Why Lord?" prayer is proving unhelpful or at least unfruitful, is there any alternative? Well, I was watching a video yesterday by the US Bible teacher Joyce Meyer and she said something I wrote down. "I need to live by your promises Lord and not by your explanations." She went on to argue that in all the circumstances of life God is calling us to trust him more. We need to let him be God and get on with the work of running the universe without having to interpret or explain himself to my couple of kilos of grey matter that is called a brain. If the heavens and the Earth aren't big enough to contain him, why do I think my cranium offers him an alternative!

So in the middle of all the stuff I am facing, as well as the loss of dear friends, I choose to trust God and stand on his promises. My baptismal verse comes back to me with force: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:3). It would be nice to have explanations, and at the end of the day we will have them, but till then let's take our stand on something more solid and confess "He is Lord".

Friday, October 16, 2015

In God's Waiting Room

Following on from my last post about the timing of God being so different to ours, I am learning so much this week about how hard it is to wait. In fact, despite all the pain and frustration of the last 20 years, this period of waiting is one of the toughest I've been through. In a nutshell, there is an operation being done in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for people with chronic pancreatitis that could really help me. They remove the whole pancreas and spleen, together with part of the stomach and all of the duodenum, and then transplant the bits of the pancreas that produce insulin into the liver so as to avoid the patient becoming a brittle diabetic. It has helped hundreds of patients in the USA and some here in Britain too.

The problem is that the op is not being funded and is any case outside the 'contract area' that my local health authority has with the NHS in the UK. So we are being held up in endless bureaucracy while due process is being gone through to see if I could be funded to have this done. All the medics who care for me are recommending me to get going with this, but it has now become a political and not really just a medical matter and they are being over-ruled. Meanwhile, I am quite unwell again and will have to go back to the London hospital soon to get the stent replaced and the pancreatic duct cleared - a procedure fraught with dangers for someone with my record.

I was comforted and yet challenged this week when someone sent me the verse Micah 7:7 which reads, "But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me." Yes, - we may be waiting for politicians and bureaucrats, but behind them all God is in charge. He can step in any moment to provide funding some other way, or even to touch my pancreas and heal me. So, we wait, not for men, but for God.

Great! But meanwhile we mortals need some divine help here to enable us to be patient and keep trusting! Thankfully, that's where you guys come in - lifting us up by your prayers and encouragement - and we appreciate all that you have done so far. We are not alone in God's waiting room and his timing is always perfect.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

For when a little while seems a long time!

Every Saturday evening several millions of viewers sit down to watch another edition of the long-running medical soap "Casualty". As one of them from time to time I am amused by the fact that such complex problems are always solved within 50 minutes or at the most a couple of episodes. Great issues of life and death come so neatly packaged that they simply can't be real! Life just isn't like that.

A couple of decades ago Diane and I felt encouraged by a Bible verse which we took as a personal promise from God to us. It's in 1 Peter 5:10 "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." We took it then as a sign that my dreadful battle with pain would be time limited - and it will be - but there is a catch, an issue with God's timing. It seems so different to ours. We want the whole problem fixed within an hour at the most, but his "little while" may vary in length greatly.

In John 16 the disciples of Jesus had the same problem as I do. They kept asking each other, "What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying." God's timing seems so different to ours. I was just thinking of this the other day when it came to me just how long some of God's dealing with his people Israel were. They were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years.  That's the same as from the year 1615AD to today! Think of how much has happened in our country and continent in those 400 years. Then when the people were being led by Moses they were turned away from the borders of the promised land because of their unbelief and wandered in the desert for 40 years - a whole generation! When poor old Joseph was put in prison for something he didn't do, he was probably there for 20 years. Yet even after all that he was able to say that God meant it for his good (Genesis 50:20).

So what I am saying is "slow down a bit - God's not in a hurry"! He doles out his plan for us one day at a time, and the timing is OK in his hands. In fact, I prefer it that way, and I want to learn to move through life at his rhythm not mine. I recall the lyrics of that old song "One day at a time, sweet Jesus" and determine that what matters is who is in charge and calling the shots, not how fast my problems can be dealt with. Now, that would probably not make a good story line for Casualty would it?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Small breed big personality!

She may only be tiny - all of 2Kg in weight - but our little Pomeranian dog is a huge personality! She almost dominates our lives with her expectations of walks and outings. Her barking can sometimes drive us to distraction BUT she is so sensitive to my pain. In the last few days it has returned with a bit of a vengeance as I think the latest stent is starting to block, but this little character knows my deepest feelings and whenever I am in pain she nuzzles my hands and asks to come up and sit on me. Sensing even the site of my anguish, if I lie down she curls up on my abdomen (perhaps the softest place around!) and settles down to nap with one eye on my facial expressions! This is a one man dog with a big heart, and we often say that if the Holy Spirit is called "The Comforter" in the Bible, which He is, then this little doggy works for the Holy Spirit!

Isn't it amazing how God puts things and people into our lives just when we need them?  It might be a timely book or article, or even a helpful TV programme.  Mind you, flesh and blood comforters are the very best, so cats and dogs come into that category. They may not be able to speak but the language of their love and understanding has much more than words in its vocabulary.

So, although I would love to be free of this pain today, I count my blessings and give thanks for the small ones that add a ton of value!

Friday, September 18, 2015

You Don't Deserve this!

The migration and refugee crisis currently dominating the news in all of Europe and beyond is unlikely to go away any time soon. Hungary may have sealed its borders for now, but the flow of Syrians and others fleeing war and desperate danger is unstoppable and will find other ways through to the nations of north-western Europe. Listening to a radio interview this morning from within Serbia, a non-EU country along the route being taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants I was struck by one comment the lady speaking made. With a desperate choke in her voice she sobbed "we don't deserve this!" My heart went out to her and her children as they stumble along the harsh highway from hell in the Balkans.

This started me thinking about the apparent unfairness of life generally. It can seem unbearably so sometimes, and must do today to the countless thousands fleeing misery in this way. Maybe you are feeling like this too. I know that I do from time to time, and it doesn't pay to analyse too deeply how others get along and seem to do so well when one's own load is so heavy to bear. If you have time to read Psalm 73 you will see that Bible writers also wrestled with this issue of unfairness and their words can be a help to us when this problem gets us down.

We don't always get what we deserve in this life. In fact, very few do. The creator of the universe surely had a right to be respected and obeyed by the people he had made when he appeared among them, but they crucified him instead. In fact, when all the furor of the first Christmas died down, the Son of God became a refugee in Egypt. He too was hauled along by terrified parents fleeing the screams of bereaved mothers in the Middle Eastern village where their baby had been born. They had been warned by an angel to get going and took to the road with what little possessions they could carry (not much room there for gold, frankincense and myrrh!). Jesus didn't deserve that, and neither did his dear mother, who might well have been interviewed on the road out of Israel if media had been invented then.

And you don't deserve the pain you are feeling today - neither do I. Yet if I am honest, if I got what I really deserved out of life, I might have been in hell today. In some ways then I am relieved not to get my just deserts! When the load seems too heavy to bear, remember the holy family on the road to homelessness in Egypt and thank God that he knows what you are going through. "Lord, I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterwards you will take me into glory... My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever." Psalm 73:23-26.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Book of Life

Have you read any good books lately? Perhaps a summer break has helped you to get turning the pages. I hope so. Recently I have been ploughing my way through the famous Lee Harper's To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition because I read somewhere that it was the greatest book of the 20th Century. At about the halfway point I can't see why that would be so, but hey, it's not over yet! On a more serious note, I have been deeply moved by a new book about suffering by Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering and there are some profound insights there into a subject with which I am living daily. If you want a deeper look at the theology of suffering I really rate his book.

I was encouraged this week when two different people told me they had been reading my own books on suffering and found them really helpful. Braving the Storm: Survival Tactics seems to really help folk even though it only covers the first decade of my struggle with chronic pancreatitis. For those who want to think more deeply about a Christian approach to suffering and healing my book Storm Force seems to be hitting the spot. One reviewer on wrote about Storm Force "If you feel disappointed due to unanswered prayer for healing or struggle with why God allows your suffering to continue I highly recommend this book". You can click on the titles of all these books above and get straight to where you can obtain them.

Every day I also read two or three different passages from the Bible. Recently, the book of Jeremiah has been challenging me deeply and helping me through a very dark time. Jeremiah was called by God to preach and prophesy from a very young age, and was very good at it, but he faced great opposition. One day his enemies conspired to get him arrested and thrown into an underground cistern. This vast holding tank usually for thousands of gallons of water was exceptionally dry apart from a deep layer of sticky mud. There was only one opening at the top of the cavern for air, light, or access. Jeremiah would have fallen about ten metres or more into that foul mud and into total darkness as the top was sealed. He must have felt so devastated and frightened. But God saw him there and used a practically unknown man who argued his case before the king, and Jeremiah was eventually rescued, being hauled half dead out of the stinking dungeon. Within a few hours he was taken into the throne room of the king who asked him a loaded question "Is there any word from the Lord?". Transformed from the mud to a throne!

I feel like Jeremiah just now, at least in the muddy bit! My pain is unbearable, requiring huge doses of morphine. I mourn the interruption to my preaching ministry and the two decades spent battling this awful disease. I fail to see the point of it. Next week, after the Bank Holiday, I must fly back to London once again, only a month after the last time, to undergo yet another risky and delicate procedure to clear my pancreatic duct and remove a stent that may be causing this upsurge in pain. With Jeremiah I cry "Why Lord?".  Yet, like him, I also know that in a moment God can use an obscure source to come to my rescue and lift me out of the pit. I love that verse on which famous songs are based: "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand" (Ps 40:2). Now, that would make a good book eh?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Swarm" or Human Crisis - a Biblical View of the Migrant Issue

The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been widely criticised for describing the migrants crisis in the Mediterranean and at the UK border in Calais as "a swarm" of people. In doing so he risked dehumanising what is an intensely human problem that is as old as humanity itself - the issue of refugees and the granting of asylum. Whilst Mr Cameron should be forgiven for using an unfortunate word in a live interview - after all he too is only human - it is sad that we so soon forget the fact that many of these migrants are on the run from deathly threats of violence and brutally cruel and repressive governments. Many of them are Syrians, displaced by four years of brutal civil war, or Iraqis, whose country is being eaten up by the vile IS group seeking to drag it back into the dark ages. The UN Refugees Chief Antonio Guterres said recently “We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago.”

Of course people in Britain want to put up the "house full" sign and deny access to this tide of refugees. In some areas the NHS is over-run and schools, roads and public services built even only 20 or 30 years ago are woefully inadequate to cope with the numbers of people now making use of them. BUT - and here's the rub - if I lived in those originating countries today and knew that getting to Europe and perhaps to Britain was the only hope for my children, I think I would begin the dreadful journey too.

What should our attitude be as Christians?  Well, quite a few of these folk will be believers in Jesus Christ, who have seen their loved ones and pastors back home beheaded for their faith. Where can they go except to the land that sent the missionaries who told them of God's love in the first place? And if some are indeed "economic migrants" travelling to find better prospects away from their homeland, who can blame them when Britain boasts of her amazing recovery from recession on worldwide television news?

The Bible teaches us to love and care for refugees - strangers as they are called in the Old Testament.  God made the Jews build six "cities of refuge" in ancient Israel where people who had accidentally fallen foul of the feudal system of revenge and retribution - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth - could flee to and find acceptance without too many questions being asked. The Jewish people, God's people, have been refugees for centuries without a homeland, depending on the kindness of gentile nations to take them in. Our Lord Jesus Christ was himself a migrant refugee from the vile and murderous anger of King Herod just after the first Christmas time.

Maybe, just maybe, there is a force behind this tide driving a needy crowd to our nation's shores, as a kind of test of our so called Christian heritage? We should be proud that they look to us for help. The mission field for which we have prayed over the years is now on our doorstep. We should guard the vulnerable and needy from exploitation by wicked people smugglers if we possibly can.

There is another side to this story and I know I may be called a tree-hugging liberal and worse, but I think we should consider it when the media forces us to a much harsher position than our Bibles allow.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Play it Again Sam!

I have lost count of the number of times Diane and I have flown to London for hospital treatment, but here we go again! Next Sunday morning (2nd Aug) we will set off for the capital and have a dangerous and delicate procedure repeated on Monday morning. Hopefully this will clear out clogged ducts again and set me up for the next few weeks! People sometimes ask us if we are going to "take in a show" while we are there! The only theatre we will be visiting will be in University College Hospital in Euston Road and the show is very boring indeed - so much so that I usually snooze my way through (most) of it.

When we fly through Gatwick Airport it is always so full of holiday makers and lots of excited children either about to embark on their break or arriving back tired out after an overnight flight from somewhere exotic. Another phrase people often use is "You could do with a break!"  Yes, thanks, great idea, yet have you noticed that when you go on a break you tend to take your body with you? Now take a break from this body of pain.. ah, that would be something else.  Even I could get excited in the terminal if the break included freedom from pain.

Our lives are in the hands of a God who never takes a break.  In fact, He neither slumbers nor sleeps!  He who watches over us is on duty 24/7/365. I'm so glad about that because it means that even in our disappointment and frustration we are travelling on His watch. And when those hands are fiddling with my innards on Monday? Actually, holding them are higher hands and I am glad.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Power of Helping Hands

They had carried their friend a long way already when their way was blocked by crowds. Like a troop of soldiers gripping their fallen comrade following the urgent cry of "man down!" the young men faltered only for a few seconds. Of course, if the healer from Nazareth is in a house there will be scores, if not hundreds, of people trying to get in. In a flash they changed their battle plan and set to again to reach Jesus inside the house. Climbing to the flat roof they flung the roofing material aside and like bearers at a graveside prepared to lower their mate down with strips of cloth, down to the feet of Christ.

And they got their miracle. Their pal was not only healed, his whole life was changed - and all this because of the power of helping hands.

I am so grateful for the people who help me in my pain. As I write this now I can see your faces, some smiling some crying, some creased with joyful laughter, but all expressing love and concern. I thank God for you all. It gives me confidence that I am not alone and that there will always be some who will bring me before the Lord, carried in their prayers, no matter how many things crowd to stand in their way. And I want to do the same for you too. Because we fight a common foe whose attacks may hit any of us. Whenever you hear the cry "man down!" remember that this is why God "sets the solitary in families" and that he has set healing power in helping hands.

Those hands have lifted me!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ground Hog Day!

It hardly seems possible but I am having to get back to London on Monday (15th June) for even further surgical work on my pancreas the next day to try and clear out the stones and debris in the pancreatic duct that is making me so unwell. I have a fever, extreme nausea and appalling pain, all of which are signs that I am blocked again, only one month on from the last trip to University College London Hospital. There are no words that can adequately describe my disappointment that this is the pathway mapped out for me, but I am determined to make every day count for the kingdom of God. It is so much easier to say or to write that than it is to do it, and life is throwing up some very real challenges each day at the moment. I feel that we have to just 'batten down the hatches' and choose to trust in the midst of the storm as we are buffeted and blown about by swirling gusts and opposing tides.

I have been doing some writing just recently as I have been asked to contribute to Scripture Union's Encounter series of daily devotional Bible readings. The study is doing me good and I hope that in some small way others may be helped and encouraged by these thoughts in due course. I was really challenged and blessed by these amazing words from the book of Hebrews "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8). Along with that amazing statement came into my mind a line from an old hymn "...has He lost His heart of pity? Is the risen Christ less strong?".  My heart shouts 'no' into the tearing wind, and I stretch out my hand one more time, more in desperation than faith, and take hold of a reality that will give me an anchor to prevent me slipping away in the raging storm.

Keep the faith!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Catch Up Time

Recent events have kept me from posting in my blog as I have been through another prolonged period of struggling to get through life with a dodgy pancreas! This 'infernal internal' gives me so much trouble that I often wonder if I could do without it. The answer is yes - but to get there would involve massive surgery in a much operated on organ full of scar tissue etc and may result in me being a brittle diabetic. Besides, experience shows that these huge and demanding ops don't always resolve pain for the sufferer. Time will tell, and I will be guided by my excellent pancreatic/biliary team, but I thank God that my life is held in higher hands than theirs!

This recent crisis resulted in another admission to UCLH in London and yet another dangerous and delicate procedure under anesthetic to clear out my pancreatic duct (for the 8th time in recent months). They found that my duct was so blocked with stones and debris that the metal stent that had been fitted a few weeks ago to enable flow had itself been pushed right out of the duct by the pressure! The pain has been out of this world. I saw recent research which shows that pancreatic pain is the worst a man can know - as the pancreas is full of pain-transmitting nerves. It certainly is the worst I have ever known! So now I am home again with no stent. The strictures they found in the duct are just the same, and my propensity for making stones and sludge is undiminished, so I don't know how long it will be before another attack of acute pancreatitis puts me back in hospital, but I hope and pray for relief.

Some people ask me how I cope with all this.  I often answer that I am not sure I do cope some of the time!  I get through and keep on going, despite over a hundred hospital admissions and two decades of battling this disease, largely due to the prayers, love and support of others, most notably my wonderful wife Diane. I also know that God is with me, and that Jesus is alive and real - a very present help in trouble as he is described in the Bible. I also know that my body is an amazing machine - even my tiny Pomeranian dog has a pancreas - and the One who made me can mend me, In the meantime, I choose to trust him and wait for whatever he has planned for me in love. Thanks for your interest and prayers.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Decision Day!

After 4 weeks of incessant electioneering in the UK I expect most folk there must be thoroughly fed up with it! We will have our own general election in 2016 here in Guernsey so we are not part of it, but as most of our media comes from the UK we are subjected to the overflow. It seems to me from a distance that there are big choices to be made at this election and I pray that the right outcome will prevail. One thing that is clear is that just about every vote counts and so I hope if you have a vote in the UK you plan to use it in a week's time.

Choices!  Life is full of them. Many of them are trivial - which coffee to buy, what kind of soap etc - but some are life-changing. When I was away at a Christian Healing Centre a couple of weeks ago I was presented with a very difficult choice indeed. Those kind folk who were listening to my story and ministering to me in prayer felt that I needed to choose to do God's will with joy even if that includes pain for me. As I write this now I am in intense pain, and under the influence of morphine. A recent op in London (the latest of several this year) appears to have failed yet again and the pain is extremely hard to bear. Yet, when challenged a fortnight ago to make my choice I did so, albeit with great difficulty, and I elect to stick with it today. I am content to let God set the agenda in my life whatever that may mean for me. So far it appears to have involved the most painful disease known to man - pancreatitis. In the future I hope that it will include healing and recovery but I am not certain of that.  All I am sure of is that there is a God who loves me, and if he never does take away my pain he has already done so much for me in his Son Jesus Christ that I can trust him for time and for eternity to do what's right for me.

For me, the choice as to who rules my life is not expressed in a ballot box but in my heart. I recall the words of a very special prayer, prayed each New Year in the Methodist Covenant service.  It goes:
"(Lord) - I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it... Amen"

Hmmm. Can you say 'Amen' to that? On May 7th in the UK you will express your choice with a cross.  God has also set out his desire for us at a cross, but we must daily cast our vote.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Trusting When it Seems so Wrong to me

Last week I had a few glorious days at Harnhill Christian Healing Centre in Gloucestershire, a truly wonderful place of ministry, peace and quietness. I went to wait on God for his guidance in my life but also to receive prayer for healing. I was not disappointed and really enjoyed my time there, but I learned some valuable lessons by just observing nature around me. With the warm weather that week and the sights and sounds of scores of new born lambs leaping in the sunshine it felt like a glimpse of heaven! I saw one ewe give birth to triplets, only then to discover that there was a fourth lamb on its way. This tiny creature slithered into the world and the long-suffering mother began to lick off the protective yellow coating with a sigh as if it had just come in home late after falling in a puddle. Yet the beauty of the week was challenged by the fact that the farmer had to then remove two of the lambs due to the ewe not being able to suckle them all. He seemed almost heartless in his matter-of-fact approach to his task even though I knew him to be a man who cared deeply for his sheep. The bereaved ewe could not have known this but those lambs would be given to other sheep that had lost their own lambs by being stillborn. There was method in his harshness and even a touch of mercy in his apparent indifference to her bleating cries.

Clearly from the ewe's point of view the shepherd was being really harsh and cruel, taking away her precious offspring and the fruit of her hard work. Only he really knew what the gift of those lambs would mean to some distant bereaved sheep, perhaps even on some other farmer's land as they co-operated together in lambing time. Being a shepherd is a tough job and those who undertake it are not soft, though they are usually well meaning and wise. Our divine shepherd asks us to keep on trusting him even when his actions may cause us grief or pain. Having been a patient in a London hospital many times in the last 12 months I have reflected on this mystery often. What I have discovered is that in every circumstance of life it is important for the sheep to keep trusting Jesus who described himself as "the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep". No flock could ask for more from its shepherd even if they fail to understand his methods. He has good plans for us even in the difficult times. He knows what he is about and our job is to welcome him and trust in him.

So Harnhill was good for me.  It enabled me to reaffirm my confidence that I am willing to let God set the agenda in my life even if that means the awful pain I go through daily. I can't discern or describe any worth or purpose in this but I do acknowledge that my 'good shepherd' has a plan and I choose to trust in him.  And you?

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Easter Saturday - a place of comfort and strength!

"It's Friday - thank God Sunday's coming!" is an attitude to Easter that I can understand. But Saturday seems to have fallen off the Christian radar as an irrelevant day. Jesus died on Friday - so that dreadful day becomes Good Friday for those who realise that he died to obtain our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins. Sunday is self-evidently the highlight of the Easter story. Jesus did not remain dead, he rose again and destroyed the power of death over our lives. But hey - don't forget Saturday!

At the heart of the amazing achievements of the first Easter is a day of disappointment. The great teacher and prophet is dead. Hope lies discarded in a Middle Eastern tomb. Despair and sorrow are the emotions filling the hearts of all those who loved Jesus. Except perhaps for one. Joseph of Arimathea was the one who asked Pilate for the broken body of Jesus. It was he who pulled out those cruel nails and laid the frail frame down, wrapping him in a clean linen cloth. Then he carried the bloodstained mess to his own garden and laid it in the grave that he had prepared beforehand. I reckon that Joseph had heard and understood the prophecies Jesus made about his coming death and resurrection. He welcomed Saturday as a vital part of the Easter story. He knew that for the power of the Easter message to work there had to be a pit of despair and death in his spring garden. In a miracle much more profound than Christmas Joseph carried the Lord of Glory as a broken corpse and welcomed mystery into the heart of his faith.

As I face my own twentieth Easter with the appalling pain of chronic and recurring acute pancreatitis I find comfort waiting in the garden belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. I find the "now but not yet" message of the Kingdom of God becomes clearer sitting and waiting outside this cold tomb. My Jesus is Lord of Easter Saturday with all its pain and disappointment even if it does not look like it. His broken body did not stay that way but the fact that it was even laid in a cold stone tomb gives me hope.  Of course I can't stay here - because he is not here now He is risen! My own body will one day be like his resurrected body and until that day I choose to embrace the mystery of as-yet unanswered prayer and trust that God knows what he is doing. But for today I take comfort from my Saviour's tomb. "It's Saturday - but thank God Sunday's coming!"

Friday, March 27, 2015

As I prepare to leave for London again on Monday, the tenth such trip for medical help and hospital visits in the last 12 months, I can't help reflecting on the fact that it is the start of Holy Week. My particular battle is with physical pain so that for me, the cross of Calvary is very pertinent, and the sufferings of Jesus there for me seem stark and real like the sudden death of a close friend or loved one. It is amazing that my God should plan it that way so that the maker of the universe was made subject to the most appalling pain on my behalf. There was no accident about this.  Jesus did not stumble into taking my bullet - like the Indian clerk who takes the shot for the lead character in television's Indian Summers - no, he chose to go that way and experience that pain because he loves me and cares so deeply about my destiny.

For that reason alone my pain becomes more bearable.  But there is more. This Jesus did not stay dead. Against all scientific reason and historic precedence he rose again on the third day. Now by his death and bodily resurrection Jesus becomes the means of my own redemption from sin and death. My pain is temporary.  It may be extreme at times, and I long for it to be over, but even if I am not healed this side of eternity, and I pray ever day that I will be, I know where I am going when I do die. Not for me the 'hope so' uncertainties of balancing scales or trying to climb a crumbling pile of good works to see over my skip loads of mistakes and regrets, no!  Because he lives then we who trust him will also live!  His empty grave is our visa and his book of life our passport.

So in this momentous week for every Christian I set off to face the uncertainties of a delicate and dangerous surgical procedure knowing that all will be well. Easter changes everything. 'Calvary covers it all'.

Friday, March 20, 2015

One Step at a Time

After nearly two decades of battling serious ill health and severe pain I am learning to take each day one step at a time. It can be very difficult to do this, especially because I like to have my path well laid out before me and prefer to know where I am going and what is just around the next corner. But that is not how God has led me and life has definitely been, as the old song title has it 'One Day at a Time'.

In the last few months I have been back and forth to London with monthly interventions at University College London Hospital. Each time we have been there Diane and I have looked at each other and said 'this must surely be the last time!' but we have been wrong.  Despite the dangerous and difficult nature of these surgical procedures, and the fact that I seem to be becoming immune to the anesthetics being used so that the last couple of occasions are clear in my memory, it seems that I must have yet another one. So we will leave for London on March 30th for admission on the morning of Tuesday 31st and spend a few more days away while we seek an answer to my desperate situation.

But this step by step approach to medicine and treatment is no stranger to the Christian pilgrim. Our journey of faith is one of daily increments in our walk with God. Any attempt to hurry the divine will or rush ahead seems doomed to failure as we discover that this Christian life is a walk and not a mad dash to heaven! 'Step by step as you go the way shall open before you' is God's promise to us all and we need daily grace to be able to accept that.

So despite the natural fear and disappointment of facing it all again, I guess I need to stretch out and take one more step on this journey, praying that the outcome will turn out to have been a giant leap in securing victory and getting well again. Please Lord!

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Leaders who don't Listen!

Over a month ago I wrote a passionate letter to a senior medical consultant doctor asking for answers to several important questions. I have not yet received a reply, and from speaking to his assistant I know he received it but do not expect a response. At this time in the UK an election is looming and although it doesn't affect us in Guernsey I watch with interest the antics of the leaders involved. Now the sitting Prime Minister, one David Cameron, has refused to engage in debate with the leader of the main opposing party on television during the actual election campaign itself. Ed Milliband is urging him to do so, as is much of the general public, but the PM is above all that! He appears to be yet another leader who does not listen!

The Bible tells us about a leader like that. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to one Diotrephes asking him to engage in debate, and the church leader refused. According to the text Diotrephes 'loved the pre-eminence' or 'loved being first' and felt he was above entering into debate with anyone, least of all Paul.  Truth be told, he was probably afraid that he might lose that theological contest and so refused to budge, but the real reason was arrogance. In the case of a previous UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, a very similar haughtiness preceded her political downfall. "Pride" as the saying goes "precedes a fall".

I don't expect either my consultant or the Prime Minister will suffer any great consequences from not being willing to answer questions and debate their position, but after a lifetime of leadership roles within the church, I hope for better things from Christian leaders. Diotrephes is a very poor role model for Christian leaders, who should always be ready to give an answer for the faith that is within them, for their conduct, and for the sacred charge that is given to them by the Lord. Any leader who finds him or herself loving 'being first' should note the example of Jesus who washed his disciples feet and declared that they who desire to be first among us should be servants of all. That is a long way from the kind of leadership we see in the worlds of politics and medicine, but we are entitled to expect better of those who lead the church.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Clearing out blockages...

I wish it was as simple as cleaning out a blocked drain.  Unfortunately, stents in the pancreatic duct are not quite as easy to deal with! After only 3 weeks from my last procedure in London I am already aware that the two stents which were inserted into my duct are blocking already. What sorrow this has brought to me, and frustration. When there is a blockage anywhere in the body, the whole body feels unwell. There is great pain, of course, in anything to do with the pancreas, which is situated so close to major pain carrying nerves so that any inflammation or blockage causes immense discomfort and pain. But there are other effects also, all pointing towards this same problem.

The same is true of course, in other areas of our lives.  When there is a blocked duct or tube then communication is hindered and the whole of life gets out of kilter. Whether in our minds or in our marriages, we need to keep using the old plunger if we want to stay healthy. In the Bible book of Genesis 26:17 the Old Testament character Isaac went to the wells that his father Abraham had used and which had been filled up and blocked with stones and soil and he cleared them out. This determination to clear out the ducts and draw water from the same source as his godly father brought Isaac mixed blessings. His enemies hated him all the more for it but God saw his actions and commended him by repeating the promises to Isaac that He had first made to his dad. A cleared duct was all it took for Isaac to be completely renewed in his faith.

I wonder what might be blocking your ducts? I know what's blocking mine and it will mean yet another trip back to hospital in London eventually to get it sorted out. But there are plungers we can use for some of the other channels that get stopped in our lives. Forgiveness, re-commitment, surrender, prayer, all can assist us in getting the life-giving ducts of our hearts clear. Whatever it takes it must be easier than what I am facing, so why wait?  Get plunging today!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Will I Ever Learn? - Snowbound Enthusiasm

This is not what our back yard looks like today - this is how it was in March 2013! But today we are waiting for the threatening snow that is expected to hit our community, and it is proving to be a bit of a disappointment! Yet, if I turn my mind back to 2013 I can still remember how bad the experience was. We were unable to fly in or out of our island for three days, during which my wife was in Southampton with our son and daughter-in-law for the immensely difficult hospital birth of our first grand-child. I longed to get there to be with them but could not. I had recently undergone surgery (again!  Am I ever not?) and had stitches in, and burst them while shoveling snow! I had to be restitched but couldn't get to the hospital - grrrrr it was a dreadful experience full of frustration and extreme cold. So, why am I secretly hoping that it might snow again?  What kind of masochistic longings do I have to want to go through anything as horrible as that again?

Well, I suppose the old adage holds some truth, that time does heal. I have forgotten the feelings of frozen fingers and toes, the soaking wet freezing mess that goes down your neck when snow falls off the roof onto your shoulders.  And mostly, I have allowed the pain of that experience to fade and am ready for another go! What?  Am I crazy? Or maybe I am not alone in this child-like delight in a blanket of snow on a winter's morning.

The truth is that it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and even in the most adverse of circumstances there is something we can marvel at if we have a mind to try. The old story is told of two men who looked out of the same prison bars, one saw the mud and the other the stars. It is all a matter of perspective and, awful as it was, those terrible days of March 2013 did pass, and dear Maggie, our grand-daughter, is doing well now and we love her very much. My wound did eventually heal and I did get to Southampton to be alongside Diane.

And I wouldn't mind if it snowed tonight!  Do you think it will? Oooooh - how exciting is that?

Friday, January 16, 2015

'A pill for every ill' - is the oral myth of the 21st Century. It says that there must be a cure for everything and if there isn't then there should be. Our Western sophistication has led us astray and given us unrealistic expectations of the medical profession. They can treat and care, but only God heals. They can cut and cauterise, but only the Creator recreates and cures. As a long-term user of the medical services because of chronic ill health lasting over two decades I have come to see that we simply cannot expect that our every problem can be fixed in the surgery or the treatment room. The long lines of waiting ambulances queuing up outside UK Accident and Emergency rooms is testimony to the fallacy. Thank God for the expertise and excellent care that is given us but we really should not expect too much from them.

Our God is a healing God.  One of his names is 'the God that heals you' and even before Jesus began his amazing miracle ministry God has revealed his desire to heal and restore those whose lives have been blighted by disease. My long experience of illness has not dimmed my understanding of this great truth nor my hope that he will heal me. I submit to his sovereignty and great wisdom, and acknowledge that he has plans for my life that I cannot understand this side of eternity, but my hope is in God - not in the medics. That does not make me anti-medicine. No, I am pro-recovery and that puts me on the same side as the medics!

I was deeply moved by the kindness expressed in the voice of a young registrar from University College London hospital who telephoned me today to say they are expecting me next week. I felt sorry for his obvious frustration and sympathy for me in my extremely painful condition, and was touched by his desire to help me. I am grateful, but I wanted to reassure him that I am not expecting him to heal me.  To treat me yes - but not to heal me - because that job belongs to God. And into his loving, healing hands I commend myself once again.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Change of Plan

As 2015 begins we islanders are being faced with a bracing rash of road closures. Routes that have been long part of local travel-lore are suddenly shut to us as pipes burst, mains need laying, cables require maintenance and surfaces damaged by flooding and heavy lorries require renewal. So with the usual dogged perseverance we accept the inevitable and fume in line as we waste time and fuel on long finger-tapping diversions. The good thing is that nowhere over here is far and we will all get there in the end, we just may need to take the scenic route for a while!

Recalling my long habit of getting very frustrated by diversions and sudden changes of plan I remember one wag suggesting that such things are sent to enable our souls to catch up with our bodies. I doubt very much that my soul is far behind my body these days as I have slowed down considerably, but there is a lesson in this for me anyhow. These changes of my plan are not unplanned - it's just a different plan!  There is a higher power who knows what he is about even if I don't!  I was supposed to be having surgery this January at the Princess Elizabeth hospital in Guernsey but the anesthetist decided I was too unfit to proceed. Apparently I need to get back to London and face another of these difficult and dangerous pancreatic procedures to replace yet another prematurely blocked stent. I can feel my soul trying to tell me to calm down and keep trusting.

So it is more of the same in this New Year. All I pray is that I may know him more clearly and follow him more nearly so that my diversions will be guided by His all seeing eye. Happy New Year!