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.