Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Special Time of Peace and Goodwill.

At the time of writing it is late on Christmas Eve. What a very special time this is across the nations as people gather to sing seasonal songs and share with family, friends and neighbours the joyful message of the angels. It was a really special thing for me to bring a short message to the congregation at our local church. It was the first time in around two years since I had preached on a Sunday, let alone a Christmas Eve. In fact, last Christmas I wasn't even able to attend much over the season, and certainly not eat much due to my battle with chronic ill health. What a joy to be able to share the Christmas story myself after this year with the amazing space-age surgery I have been through. After 21 years - no pain, no opiates, no danger of an acute attack of pancreatitis, no Christmas in hospital- thank you Lord!

In fact we went to our local hospital this afternoon and were able to visit and pray with 4 or 5 folk who are having to be in there today. I feel for them, but I have to say it was with a sense of relief and deep gratitude that I could walk out again, hand in hand with my wonderful wife.

I asked for the carol "In the Bleak Midwinter" this morning because I wanted to speak about the last verse.  It says:
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

If you want to see the video of the talk you can do so by clicking here for Vazon Elim Church's website .  Whatever you are facing this Christmas can I urge you to give God your heart in commitment and worship? Thank you, and have a very Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Calamities?

I had my first "bah humbug!" moment of the season when I heard a piece on my local radio station promoting "Christmas disasters you have known". Folk were being invited to call in and tell the dark story of the very worst Christmas calamity they could recall. To illustrate this the presenter began sharing some of the the awful things that some callers had told him about already. There was the family who found that their dishwasher broke down on Christmas Day, the home where the oven packed up on the special day forcing them to take their festive dinner to a neighbour to cook - and even one home where oven breakdown led to a barbecued turkey!

Once I had calmed down from my indignation I thought about some of the Christmases we have known - they certainly weren't all white, whatever Bing Crosby sang. There was the Christmas Day where I was called to the local hospital just before lunch to be with the dying husband of a church member. And then there was the turkey meal I couldn't enjoy because I had an attack of acute pancreatitis in the morning and by the time the Queen's speech was over I was an in-patient and nil-by-mouth. Another Christmas I had a spell in a London hospital over the holiday season and was discharged late on Christmas Eve after the last flights home had gone. Diane and I stayed in a hotel where the kitchen closed on the day itself as did most of the restaurants nearby. But among the biggest calamities I recall was the one where a guy who worked in our home and garden in Zimbabwe wakened us early on the Christmas Eve to tell us that his new baby was dead. The little one had passed away during the night in his accommodation next to us. There being no undertakers or gravediggers available, we wrapped the little one and buried him in the bleak children's cemetery later that day as is the custom in hot countries. We were just grateful that our own boy was safely away with his grandparents in Guernsey for Christmas that year.

Christmas, you see, is not all about magic and nostalgia. It's about life in all its pain and trouble. The Son of God came into the world in a stinking animal shed, not a clean maternity room, and certainly not a palace. He was hunted down by Herod's killers before he could even walk. His family was forced to run for their lives and to seek asylum in Egypt. His coming into a messy, violent world was because we needed a saviour and deliverer from the addictions of  selfishness, materialism and greed. Life is not fair for millions this Christmas, not just for those whose white goods give out on the 24th or 25th. Their dinner may be in danger, but not their lives or their homes.

I hope you don't have a calamity this Christmas, but if you do, please know that it will not be out of keeping with the season, nor, I hope, will it be as bad as many will know. Thank God the coming of Christ was designed for just the sort of real world that many will experience. "Born to raise the sons of Earth - born to give them second birth. Hark, the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King!"

Friday, December 08, 2017

Light-bulb moment reveals 5 Ways to Well-being

I had a bit of a 'light-bulb' moment when visiting up at our local hospital this week. I picked up a leaflet entitled '5 Ways to Well-being'. In it I found a list of 5 practical suggestions which might help folk of my advancing years(!) to keep well and content. They also looked to me like the sort of good advice you would expect to find in a book of wisdom - like parts of the Bible - and I was intrigued to the point of wanting to share them with you.

  1. CONNECT WITH OTHERS. I have found that chronic illness isolates the individual from helpful connections with other people. It seems to me that this is a strategy of Satan too - who hates those who trust God with real vehemence - and it is vital to well-being that we make the effort to be interested in others. I remember that a psychiatric nurse of many years' experience said "You don't have to be lonely if you live within reach of a lively church". Isolation saps spiritual energy and builds calluses in the soul. We were meant to be set with other coals in the fire of life. It burns well when all the coals are together but when one is spilled into the hearth it soon goes out. Return it to the rest and it glows again!

  2. KEEP LEARNING. Whether your thing is bird-watching, model-making, or foreign languages, it is so vital to keep learning. Try something new. Return to an old interest. Sign up for that course. Learn a new skill in the kitchen or play a musical instrument. Get to grips with computers and digital gadgets. I studied for a degree and a PhD during prolonged periods of illness and they became my occupational therapy. We were made to learn. (I've got a hankering to learn Mandarin Chinese, now where could I find a course?)

  3. BE ACTIVE. Go for a walk if you can, or get hold of a bike. Step outside and breathe some fresh air (unless you live in a city). Gardening, dance, exercise, football, swimming, whatever turns your light on! Of course, we must not endanger our health by too much activity - or our marriage - but research shows that keeping moving aids both mental and physical well-being.

  4. TAKE NOTICE. I never cease being thrilled and moved by watching the sea. When in Cardiff I often walked alongside the River Taff. I can be touched by the sight of ducks, moved even by the beauty of a sunset (sunrises are long behind me!). Smell the flowering gorse, the salt air, and listen out for bird song. The lessons of what is called 'mindfulness' are many. Among them is the advice to live in the 'now moment'. We need to open our 5 senses to what is around us right now instead of regretting what we don't have. Gratitude should become our attitude too as we focus on the field in which God has planted us. And finally...

  5. GIVE. The Bible teaches us to be gracious and generous with what we have and to look for opportunities to give to others. "It is more rewarding to give than to receive" though receiving is also good fun! Do something for someone else each day.  Maybe a smile in the supermarket queue, or an offer to pack for a mother struggling with little children. Make a brief call on an elderly person. And I like this from the leaflet "Do something nice for a friend or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time or energy. Join a community group." Well, I feel that the ideal community group is the local church, so maybe give that a go again this Christmas.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Bad news for 'those in peril on the sea'!

A similar boat from UK
Wow - there has been a mighty bust-up in Jersey between the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) and the crew of the volunteer lifeboat in St Helier. As a result, the whole team there resigned, hoping to set up an independent rescue service. In a spectacular reaction to that, the RNLI removed their £3 million lifeboat, despite it having been paid for by appeals in Jersey! Already 2 lives could have been lost when a private boat being delivered to Guernsey hit a buoy and sank in minutes. Thankfully, the Jersey fire brigade was able to launch an inshore rescue rib and pluck them out of their dinghy, but it will only be a matter of time before the winter weather threatens the lives of others at sea.

I cannot take sides in that dispute as I have no idea of the causes and complaints of either party. Adequate cover is being given from the RNLI in Guernsey and similar in nearby France. What I do know is that this kind of split is not unusual in churches. Volunteers feel unappreciated and under-consulted about plans or change, and division and disunity can result. There can be personality clashes, inter family rivalry or misunderstanding, wherever busy people are giving their time free of charge in addition to work and the needs of children. Leaders sometimes take volunteers for granted (again – no inference here that this is what happened in Jersey) and can become weary of what they perceive as a lack of commitment among their volunteers.

William Booth had a dream. The founder of the Salvation Army saw in his mind a picture of the raging sea in a mighty storm.  People had been cast into that maelstrom and were starting to sink and drown. Then a group of what he called ‘Christian soldiers’ were leaning out from a large rock grasping the hands of those whom they could save. Lifeboats are not entertainment. They save lives and without them scores of people would have been lost around these islands’ waters and elsewhere. Eternal life without God is far worse than the immediate threat to those in peril on the sea.

Jersey cannot be without an all-weather lifeboat for long. Already both sides are preparing to replace the lost rescue vessel. If we as Christians don’t get our act together and start working as one, souls will perish without hope as a result. Please – RNLI and the Jersey crew – please at least recommence talks, as the potential cost of this dispute is too high. And 'Christian soldier' – let us do our volunteering and our leading in a culture of mutual honour, where respect and gratitude, with encouragement, prevent the kind of disputes and divisions that can cause the loss of precious souls. Because you - and they - are worth it!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Hope not Despair for the Battles of Life

Despair really is the abandonment of hope. In my book Braving the Storm I write about the German Underground Hospital built in Guernsey during World War 2. It was, in its day, the largest man-made underground structure in Europe, but today is a ruin only barely available to tourists who want to recall the Occupation. It is dark, smelly and eerie, with definite ghoulish factors to give goosebumps even to people who enjoy Halloween. It came into its own during the period after D-Day in June 1944, when these islands were cut off from the nearby continent and wounded soldiers from the front were shipped here for surgery and care. Almost immediately it was found to be useless as a place of renewal and healing. This was largely because of its dark underground design, and the total absence of natural light and warmth. They might just as well have written over the entrance "abandon hope all ye who enter here"!

Healing really does need hope, and the Bible says that "hope deferred makes the heart sick". The temptation to despair is something familiar to those of us who have fought long battles with chronic ill health. There surely must be similar pressure to despair in marital conflict, redundancy, or abuse. Once we dig our own bunker to hide in and determine to abandon hope we are in danger of the very cynicism and bitterness of soul that has destroyed people much more clever than we are. Despair poisons our emotions and robs us of peace. It trickles down into our spirits like the lime-stained seepage that mars the walls of the Underground Hospital. Ultimately it dethrones God in our hearts and is a form of what I also call in my books "sweet rebellion". This is usually present in the lives of people who have despaired of their situation, future or church, but are still running on fumes and acting like good, sweet Christians. Only a change of heart will heal. Only a change of language and attitude will bring the longed-for hope. The Bible calls that kind of thing repentance.

When the Jewish King David was going through a particularly wounding patch in his often troubled life, he refused to dig a bunker and despair. He wrote the immortal words of Psalm 42 - "Why are you so downcast, O my soul? why are you so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God." (v5) If you are reading this because you are tempted to dig a hole and despair I just want to urge you to think again. While there is a God in heaven there will be hope on Earth available to all who come humbly and desperate to Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. His Spirit and his words of hope can lift us up from a horrible pit even worse than the Nazis left in Guernsey.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Privilege of Suffering and Believing

I have been so challenged and helped by a little book that Dr Helen Roseveare wrote before she died last year.  The manuscript was discovered after her death and has now been published. The title is "Count it all Joy" and is published by Christian Focus Publications. In it Helen recalls her 20 years of service as a missionary doctor working in the Congo. After 10 very difficult years there she was caught up in the Simba rebellion of the 1960's and was imprisoned with others for several months. She was brutally treated, beaten until they broke her teeth, and raped. Finally she was rescued by an international force re-asserting the government's rule. After time to recover at home in the UK, though, she went back to the place of her intense suffering and served a further decade there.

In this final manuscript Dr Roseveare prescribes for us some tough medicine to swallow. At the time of her dreadful suffering, during which she fully expected to die, she felt that God spoke to her - whether audibly or through her inner thoughts is not made clear. She felt that the Lord who had suffered so much for her on the cross, asked her if she would be willing for Him to trust her to go through these terrible experiences even if He never explained why.  She writes:"Somehow in the darkness of that appalling night, I managed to say to my dear Lord, 'I don't understand what you may be doing, or who can be helped through this ordeal... but yes, if you ask this of me, thank you for trusting me with this experience, even if you never tell me why'. Wow, what a prayer - and what a lady.

I don't make any pretense of having been through anything like as serious as what Dr Helen went through, or like any of my missionary friends and colleagues who were attacked and brutally killed, but I have known what it is to be "long-suffering" as you may be aware. I look back over 2 decades of the most dreadful pain and the nearness of death, not in the Congo but in over a hundred admissions to hospital seriously ill with one of the most painful diseases known to man. I believe that I have survived to this day for a reason. In her funeral address, the speaker (Louis Sutton, the International Director of her mission agency WEC) pointed out that Helen's favourite word was 'privilege'. She counted it a privilege to be a committed Christian, to serve others in the name of Christ, to be a missionary doctor, writer and speaker. But above all, she looked at her sufferings as a privilege.

If you are a reader I recommend any of Helen's books, but none more so than her last testimony. "Then, when we trust Jesus in our suffering, it will be a powerful sign that Christ is worthy of our absolute trust. And we can count it as a privilege." (Louis Sutton). Please help me rise to that place, Lord, even though you may never tell me why.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Big 'A'?

Wow - I don't like being too apocalyptic (who does?) but today even the Daily Mail has used the word. Its report of yesterdays strange atmospheric phenomena over the Channel Islands and right up to the north of England warns "Apocalypse now!" I must confess that it was eerie. It felt like an unscheduled eclipse of the sun.  Mind you, early in the morning I thought it was the moon we were looking at but soon realised that it was rising in the eastern sky so it must be the sun. Across these islands automatic street lights came on in the daytime (we don't have such things in my part of Guernsey but Jersey does). An iridescent orange hue covered most of us through the day. Spooky or what?

My best theory is the Saharan dust one plus the Iberian smoke from wild fires. The two came together to show us these strange events. Today it is passing, though some are reporting a strong smell of burning, smoke or ash in the air.

The Bible does address these kind of things, speaking of the end of time. In Luke 21:25  Jesus said; "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring".  When the apostle Peter was speaking on the Day of Pentecost he said this: ..."the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous". I reckon that the physical events of yesterday show us two things. One, how the Bible predictions could easily come about, maybe even quite soon, and two that people do think deep and even spiritual thoughts when they see something like this happening.

Taking the Bible at its word, though, its biggest forecast is that one day Jesus Christ will come again. Our responsibility is to be ready for that day which, if yesterday felt "apocalyptic", will prove to have been as nothing compared to the real thing. The events of Monday certainly got us all looking upwards and Christian believers may have recalled the words of Jesus again "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Lu 21:28)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Surgery for the Soul

Since my pancreas was removed, together with my spleen, and the 'Islets of Langerhan' previously housed in the pancreas were transplanted into my liver, my life has changed. Gone is the dreadful pancreatic pain of the last 20+ years, and gone is the fear of yet another admission to hospital with an attack of acute pancreatitis. I think over 100 such admissions in the last 20 years is enough for anyone! One of the things that has changed for me, apart from the obvious joy of hoping to travel and maybe preach again from early next year, is the need to regularly check my blood glucose levels. At the moment I need to do this 8 times daily. I also have to inject Insulin for possibly up to 6 months until the Islets develop their own blood supply in the liver where they have been placed.

This constant checking before meals and 2 hours after and even during the night, is to prevent glucose rising to levels (9+ mol) that could damage the transplant. I really don't want to do anything that would undo the wonderful work that was done in me by Professor White and his team. Yet checking is an annoying practice causing my poor fingers to protest at all this blood-letting! I can tell by this though that all is well with my amazing surgical outcome.

I don't believe that God wants his children to be constantly looking inward or navel-gazing but I do recognise the need for occasional checking in my spiritual life too.  This is just to see that we are not doing any harm to the wonderful work that God has done in us when he saved us.  I recall that few lines from the hymnbook of ancient Israel, the book of Psalms, that says "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life" (Ps 139:23-24). Jesus also initiated what we know as the communion service or Eucharist, and in it we are told to examine our hearts and see if all is well with God's work within us.

I am glad that the Professor's work in me has been so successful this far, but I am more glad that God has also begun a work in me that offers me new life and a new start each day. After saying farewell to a dear friend at her funeral service last week, I am also glad that this work in us leads on into everlasting life.  Surgery for the soul if you like!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Let Some Things be Sacred

Another terrorist attack has just happened in London and many hundreds of people who were on the train that was bombed will be grateful today that they are still alive. According to the news media, the bomb did not fully detonate and so mass fatalities were narrowly avoided. We can thank God for this small mercy in what would otherwise be a significant disaster. What compounds this dreadful act is that those who perpetrate such things do so in the name of their god. Well, he isn't my God and if you want to know what he is like, you only have to look at the person and deeds of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace!

But I was really concerned that the national newspaper I bought the following day contained page after page of intense analysis, pointing out how such a device could be made from information online. There was even a detailed account of what it presumed the police and MI5 would be doing in order to catch the culprit.  Wouldn't it be much better and safer to keep some things under wraps until a later stage when their investigations are more advanced?  And should certain subjects be off-limits completely? Of course, we have grown accustomed to this level of media speculation but we should not forget that it is being done to sell papers and make a profit.

I felt the same when the news media reported the fact that a stalker had got access to the school where Prince George is studying. They included close details of when and where the school is, what security it has in place, the positions of security cameras etc and even how and where the police might be setting up their presence there. What a giveaway to any terrorist group wanting to do the royal family and the nation harm.

Some years prior to the Good Friday agreement that brought the Irish 'troubles' to an end, the government told the media to cease giving terrorists the oxygen of publicity. Now I am not suggesting that such draconian methods would be right today, but surely there is a place for certain aspects of news to be played down, or even kept to the relevant authporities at least for the time being? What do you think?

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Destruction in Paradise!

 We have had the joy of living and working in what many would describe as an island paradise. I am referring to Seychelles, a wonderful chain of fabulous islands in the Indian Ocean. We found the humidity and heat to be quite challenging but there were so many positive things to enjoy and even to marvel at. Thankfully there were no hurricanes in that part of the world, but there were occasional heavy storms of torrential rain.  My heart goes out, therefore, to the folk living in the chain of islands in the Caribbean which have been so badly hit this week by Atlantic storm Irma. Their glorious paradise has been turned into chaos and disaster by this huge storm and even lives have been lost in its destructive track.
It must be so hard to find a lovely homestead or other property being trashed by the powers of nature. The fear and dread among children and adults alike must be great, especially when evacuation is not as easy as it might appear on the US mainland. I am praying for those affected by Irma and all involved in rescue, recovery and repair, as there is another storm expected soon in that part of the world.

It seems to me that we need to realise that sometimes our dreams of paradise and a fabulous lifestyle on Earth surrounded by the warm waters of the Caribbean, may be just a pipe-dream. There will also probably be cruise liners taking shelter at this time, robbing the hopeful passengers of visits ashore in this blighted archipelago. But this is a much more normal understanding of life. In the most sublime of situations, dreadful storms can come and cause us so much pain. Whether through family upheaval or divorce, sickness and pain, redundancy or loss of meaningful work through retirement, our image of a great life can be spoiled in short order. This is one of the reasons why I have published at least 2 books on the subject of storms - Braving the Storm and Storm Force and am currently working on at least one more (After the Storm!)

Jesus led his first-century followers through many storms - quite literally on the changeable waters of the Sea of Galilee - teaching them that in the most awful storms threatening our lives and dreams, he wants to be with us and see us through. After 20 years of being struck repeatedly by one of the most painful illnesses it is possible to endure, Diane and I have proved again and again that life can be rebuilt, and even if not down here, there is a Paradise that awaits Christ followers that no storm can destroy.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

I have been watching birds around our home lately and am really amazed at the freedom they have just to spread their wings and take off. Well, it's my 65th birthday today, and at the age when most people are winding down and retiring I just feel I have been given a new lease of life! Certainly, following the massive surgery of last June I have a real sense of being spared - there was a risk of death in the operation - and spared for a reason. So I'm going to say this day is my retyrement day - new tyres on an old vehicle ready for the start of a new journey.

Thank you so much all of you who have sent me good wishes and cards etc. In Diane's card to me she wrote this Bible passage: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise".

So like the free bird pictured above, and despite the immense weakness I feel in my body after the op, I am stretching my wings today to catch the breath of God's Spirit, and prepare for the new things he alone can give us. How about you?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Strength from Weakness - the key to understanding the season you are in!

Apologies for not refreshing this blog recently as I have been at home trying to rest and recover from the massive surgery I had in Newcastle. My GP sent me an email with her own advice for this season.  She said "what you need now more than anything is rest, rest and more rest"! Wow - was she right, and it is so heard for a grown man to accept. The Professor warned me that my recovery may take 6 months to a year, but it is worth it all to know that I have no pancreas and no pain after 20 years of it! God is good and he has been so good to Diane and me during this season. Take a look at this passage from the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians 12:9. It pictures God speaking to those who follow him and receive his love. "My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness".(The Message)

So - weakness is not wasted. It can be the forerunner of a whole new day in our lives if we will own up and embrace it. I feel as weak as a lamb just now but I know that it is the weakness of preparation, the fragility of fruitfulness. If you can identify with the way I feel, be encouraged. God is not finished with us yet!

Thanks for your prayers for my safe return from this major transplant surgery.  Please continue to pray that my recovery be effective in achieving in me all that God has planned for this season of rest.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Back from the Brink

We are back home again after 5 weeks in Newcastle-on-Tyne. I have had a massive operation in the International Transplant Centre there and am so grateful to Professor White and his team. This is the only place in Europe that offers this treatment. They operated on me for 16.5 hours non-stop and were able to remove my pancreas and spleen plus clean up my abdomen by repairing a tear in my duodenum. This space-age surgery was filmed by BBC 2 with interviews before and after and is to be the subject of a 90 minute documentary this coming Autumn. The Prof had not seen a pancreas in quite the state of mine, but having the disease for 20 years is the reason. The pancreas was like coal and they had to dig it out. Thankfully the islets of Langerhan (Google that if you want to know more) were able to be harvested in a nearby laboratory and then the Prof transplanted them into my liver where they are already chugging away producing insulin!

My week or more spent in ICU was very demanding and tough, as was the ward but now I am here with no pancreas, no pain, virtually no opiates, plus a healthy set of islets. Praise God! We both (Diane and I) felt that we were so lifted up on people's prayers, and all I can say is that we were recipients of amazing favour in answer to your praying! "Thank you" seems inadequate but it is heartfelt.

The awesome weakness that I feel might last for 3 to 6 months according to the team, or even longer due to my age. I need to learn to really rest and recover though it is all in a good cause. "To God be the glory, great things He has done".

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Freedom spelt R_I_S_K

This is Kate, the open boat in which my father's Uncle Jack made his escape from Nazi occupied Guernsey in August 1943. His wife had left the island before the jackboot stamped on normally peaceful Guernsey, as she was expecting their first child. All the 7 people who made their bid for freedom faced a dreadful ordeal. Sailing the hundred miles or so in an open boat is one thing, dangerous enough, but with the channel seeded with mines and German E Boats and other warships patrolling their route it was almost foolhardy. But their risk paid off, and they arrived in England just as the war was beginning to turn the Allies' way. For them, freedom was spelt R_I_S_K! But then it often is. Sometimes the only way to escape enslavement in any realm is to take a risk and step out in an unknown but different direction.

On the 14th of June this year I will take a known and calculated risk to overcome a dreadful illness that has occupied far too much of my life over the past 20 years. I am not unaware of the dangers involved, nor am I wearing too rosy coloured spectacles as I view what life after the operation might be like. Expectations have to be realistic, tempered with reality. When Jack reached England he found that he had a baby son, but not a wife.  She had not survived to greet her escaping hero. But he was needed, and he also provided very welcome care to his young nephew, my father, who had been evacuated before the Occupation began. So my hope this month is not in the surgeons nor in my own ability to endure. My hope is in God, who loves me and gave his son Jesus for me. He has a good plan for my life, here and in eternity.

For each of us life's challenges will be different and unique. Whatever binds us and holds us back has to be faced with courage and faith in the call of God. Our own version of 'Kate' might seem just as frail and inadequate, but if we step out trusting in God and his love for us, we shall discover a degree of freedom and triumph over adversity that only those who take a risk can understand.

As you can imagine, I have a soft spot for 'Kate'.  If you want to see her she is outside the front door of the German Occupation Museum in the Forest, Guernsey.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Keep Calm and Trust God

This week has seen a lot of concern about so-called cyber attacks on NHS computers around the UK. Folk are genuinely worried that these may compromise care or delay treatment. Now I have no desire to minimise the dangerous implications of such 'malware' but I am fairly convinced by now that the NHS can manage to delay treatment in particular quite well enough without it! You may know that it is over a year now since I was passed fit to receive a major surgical operation in the UK, by a leading hospital and cutting-edge team, only to be delayed again and again. Thankfully, this week we have learnt that there is a strong possibility that I will receive this treatment in the second half of the month of June.

Learning to wait due to something that you know is serious and could affect your well-being or even endanger your life, is a very tough call. It has not been easy to go through this period of waiting without a rising panic in my mind, but it has been made possible by the grace of God and the encouragement of his word. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding" is one of the challenging Biblical verses that comes to our aid at times like this. "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in You" is also a simple statement of fact for us as we grapple with the limits of our human understanding and the amazingly patient love of God. For God, being eternal, without beginning or end, does not need to explain himself to me as if my tiny brain could somehow contain his immortality and power.

Even if computer glitches worry us and make us fear that our future is out of control, or maybe that our own personal data may be 'out there' in cyberspace, wisdom tells us that there is nothing to gain by panic, and no benefit in rage. I am grateful that the log-jam blocking my surgery is moving now, but ultimately the doctors are not in charge, nor the IT specialists or even the hackers. My life is held by higher hands and I would not wish it any other way. Keep calm and Trust in God!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

It's a "yes" from me!

I am not exactly inundated with high performance, high value cars, but if I was I'd be worried. It appears that thieves in the UK have developed a way of stealing these vehicles with apparent ease. They creep up to the owners dwelling in the dead of night, and by waving a device, held in a plastic bag, at the household's security camera, can somehow extend the range of the car's key fob and convince the motor that the thief has the necessary with which to start up! It seems that technology has gone mad here, both by equipping cars to drive without an ignition key or by devising a bag full of crafty deception devices.

The whole issue is one of consent. The thieves are pretending to have the right to drive away the car when they don't. They are creating an illusion of ownership that is costing owner's and insurance companies greatly. Using technology they are stealing what they have no right to even touch.

Jesus called Satan a thief and described him as one who has come to steal, kill and destroy.  These things are the very opposite of what Christ came to do, as he offers us life to the full (John 10:10). In this time of frustrated waiting and longing for surgery and freedom from pain, there are some precious things that I know my enemy would want to steal from me. My precious peace, my joy, my sense of being special to God and those I love, my ability to work and serve others - all these things mean more to me than any puny supercar. I must remain alert to every attempt to take these away.

This can only be done by consent - by a daily choice to make Jesus Lord and to go God's way and not my own. And to use the terminology of the Roman soldier from the Bible, I need to put on the armour of God every day in order to defeat the strategies of evil. As the thieves develop their techniques, we rely on God's protection 24 hours a day. There is no better device.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Tomb with a View

There is a tomb at the centre of the Easter story. A place of cold grief and bitter tears. A real tomb for a really dead man, not just somewhere for a swooned imposter to await rescue by his fellow conspirators. This is God's tomb, where God the Son tasted death for me. This is the devil's best, an attempt to wipe out the catalogue of miracles and mercy that Jesus wrote in Galilee and substitute his own pathetic offering of "always look on the bright side" and "did God really say..?" doubt.

And the view from the tomb of Jesus is magnificent. Its light casts a quick flicker of hope over a place of suffering and pain, Golgotha or Calvary, and slowly expands towards the brilliant dawn that is already starting to change the colours we see only through our tears. Yes, this is God's tomb, but much more than that - it is MY tomb as well. For, in the words of the Apostle Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20). The old me is dead and buried, and just as Jesus breaks forth from the tomb outside Jerusalem, so I am set free by Christ from self, from having to impress others, even from the fear of death itself.

And here's an offer you won't see in many catalogues - it can be YOUR tomb as well! "Oh thanks Eric" I can hear you say "that's all I need on top of everything else I am suffering". But that's the whole point, this tomb is the place where you can lay your sufferings down, and your achievements, and stop trying to impress God and others. You can be identified with Jesus in His death also, and rise with Him to a completely new life!

I am grateful that God knows what it feels like to suffer and die, and be laid in a tomb by weeping loved ones. I am glad that he understands my pain, and yours, and that he comes to us on our 'silent Saturdays' and dark nights of the soul. But I'm also rejoicing that the tomb is no longer in use as a grave. The Lord of life and glory could not be held by those chains of death. It may be Easter Saturday, but hey - Sunday's coming!

Have a very happy Easter!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Our Road - in the Middle...

Our road is, in the words of a well-known worship song, “a road marked with suffering where there’s pain in the offering” (1). You might not think so, as Guernsey’s semi-rural roads are studded with pretty homes and bungalows, where no two are the same in design, and not one of them would give you much change out of half a million pounds. But fragrant gardens and granite surrounds with spotless drives lead to front doors that speak of beauty before functionality, and certainly welcome over any kind of security. Neighbours greet each other warmly, and life is never dull around here while you have a window. Dog-walking regulars and school-bound pram-pushers pass each other with warm greetings and the polite “after you” “no-after you!” that oils the passing of the day, not just their journey. Most days, and certainly weekends, will see horses and their riders as the only traffic in the road, their exhausts providing heaps of nurturing manure for the quick witted, bucket in hand, rose tenderers.

But our road is in pain. From the end of the road at the beach-front, back to our house and via the local shop, folk hesitate in their busy days to enquire after the well-being of loved ones. A neighbour’s father died last weekend, and his mother is in care with dementia. A wealthy pair who own most of the properties on one side of the road, are both in dementia or after-stroke care. Recently it seems that in almost every other home there has been a crisis, couples have been yelling at one another and have separated, and tragically, three or four more have been diagnosed with life-limiting illness, mainly cancer.

Of course, that’s not the whole story in our little idyll. A sweet new family is moving in next door, having bought the large old house that served as a home for my wife and her parents over decades. So, our road may be much like pretty much any other when you peel back the curtains and peer behind the outer facades. And at the corner is our church, Vazon Church. For more than a century its doors have been open wide to receive the pain-wracked and broken in our district, and the newcomers and those just seeking somewhere to meet others and make deep friendships. And I thank God that it is there. And this Easter it will proclaim again a God who knows what happens behind our doors and yet loves us unconditionally. The cross is our sign of His care. Whether well, or struggling with life’s apparent unfairness, it stands witness to a loving Saviour.

1.       1. Matt Redman, Blessed Be Your Name Lyrics, from Sing Like Never Before: The Essential Collection, MetroLyrics.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Farewell to a Great Friend

Sunset over Guernsey's famous west coast - at Cobo to be precise. It was near here that my long-time close friend David Tinnion and his lovely wife Bobbie, stayed the last time I saw them. They were in the island to help out in the church where I was the Pastor and where my chronic ill health was making it hard for me to continue. I recall the words of an old hymn that seem appropriate to that time "he to the fight and to the rescue came!" I know that the hymn writer was talking about Christ, but then the Lord Jesus Christ could be seen so clearly in my friend David. Now, he has gone to be with his Lord and mine, and I, for one among many thousands, am going to miss him.

David and I first met when he came to my home church as a young Bible student to look after the church during the pastor's holiday. I was struck then by his deep passion for the Lord and the gospel. His favourite phrase will be mentioned by many, I'm sure. "Only one life, 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last". Those words had burned their way into the heart of the young David as they were spoken to him by his blind father. They make no finer inscription for any kind of earthly memorial because they became his motivating passion for most of his seventy years.

David's life was not all sunshine without shadow, but then, all sunshine makes a desert! One such dark time was prolonged and awful, and almost took him from us then. But into David's life and the ministry he was yet to fulfill, stepped Bobbie nee Marcus, the dynamic yet self-effacing other half of this story. Diane and I are praying for Bobbie right now and if you know her, so will you.

The great thing about a sunset is that as the shadows lengthen and the daylight slips away, just beyond the horizon a whole new day is dawning. People waiting there, like loved-ones straining to see the coming of their friend, will cry out "here he comes!" Our loss is their gain.  Our sunset over Cobo speaks of dawn in the land of everlasting light.

Goodnight my friend.  See you in the morning.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Set free from the tyranny of being fine.

Now, as a bloke I don't like to use the word 'fragile' about anything that involves me. Men are supposed to be 'fine mate' or 'yeah, great thanks' when responding to any greeting. But I am gradually being set free from the tyranny of having to be fine all the time.  In fact, during the last couple of weeks things have been mostly decidedly down and pretty painful really.

I won't bore you with the details but simply say that this week I have found real help in the ancient hymnbook of the Jewish people - the book of Psalms. I am not going to add much to it, but just set out some of Psalm 6 for you here.  Read it as a kind of prayer and insert your own unique 'enemy' or challenges into the dotted line.

Have compassion on me, LORD, for I am weak. Heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.  I am sick at heart. How long, O LORD, until you restore me?  Return, O LORD, and rescue me. Save me because of your unfailing love.  I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred by grief; my eyes are worn out because of ..............(your own issues)all my enemies. Go away, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD will answer my prayer. May all my enemies be disgraced and terrified. May they suddenly turn back in shame. (New Living Trans.)

You get the drift?  So if, like me, you just don't know what to say when someone asks how you are, and you can't say 'fine' but know that they don't really want a blow by blow account of your day/week, why not admit 'fragile'and hold on to the Book of Psalms like a life-line.

Monday, February 13, 2017

4 Keys to Waiting Well.

I think I am discovering the reason why people waiting for medical care in this country are called 'patients' - it's because patience is the one asset we are going to need again and again! I am on a long pathway of care that has kept me waiting for major surgery for many months now and shows no sign of coming to an end soon. This time last year I received the welcome news that full funding for this surgery has been approved by my local health authority. Getting to that point alone seemed like a miracle, but not one that happened quickly. I am grateful for the faithful support of family and praying friends who have not given up on me yet, and who encourage me to 'hang in there' when the waiting seems to be overpowering me. Here are some of the helpful tips I have received and I hope they may assist you if you are waiting for a longtime for your prayers to be answered:
1. Occupy your mind as much as you can. This is diversion therapy and can really help us if we engage with it. The Bible says of the final return of Christ that his people should 'occupy themselves until he comes'.. another of those bits of wisdom that we thought were new but prove to be centuries old in God's Word.
2. Believe that you are Special and not Forgotten. I find the hardest part of waiting can be the fear that those who may be responsible for our care have forgotten us.We may have good grounds for thinking like this when we see in the media about people abandoned on trolleys and even left in linen cupboards by over-stressed health-care workers. But God has not forgotten us.  He has engraved (or tattooed) our names on the palms of his hands.  In fact, in the Bible God says that even if our father and mother forget us - he will never let us go.
3. Avoid Negative Stuff like the plague! I know that I have to guard my intake, especially of media, books, magazines etc that feed my fears and not my faith. I am having to turn off the TV much more than I used to.  Don't be lured into watching nihilistic, negative and nasty programming like much of the soaps and even some documentaries. Choose your intake wisely and make room for the promises of God. You may even have to be choosy about the people you hang out with.
4. Remember that God's in charge - not the devil nor the doctors, and certainly not me! When we place our hands in the hand of the one who stilled the storms on Lake Galilee we can trust in his love for us. There is not one tiny jot of abusive intent in his love. He will see us through, in his time not ours.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

When Simply Trusting is the Hardest Thing to do...

There are times in each one of our lives when we need to let go and learn to trust the loving watch and caring presence of a good God in heaven. When our son learned to ride his bike without stabilisers we were on holiday in France. A small village concrete playground provided the ideal venue for teaching him to ride the little bike we had squeezed into our car and taken on the ferry. All was well while the extra little training wheels were in place, but there came a sea-change when I decided the time was right to take them off. The only way I could do it was to assure Matthew that I would be holding on to the back of the bike. "Off he went.." would be an exaggeration for the timid, tottering, try-it-if-you-dare kind of movement that ensued.  It is so hard to learn to balance the bike, pedal and find the way forward whilst at the same time constantly checking behind you that Dad is still holding the back of the bike! In the end there was no other way to grow and develop into the confident cyclist he and we wanted him to be.. he made his choice and took his eyes off me and looked ahead. And "off he went" for at least 20 meters, shouting out all the time "I'm doing it, Dad, I'm doing it!"

You simply can't live this challenging thing called the life of faith by constantly checking that God is still there and that he hasn't let you go. At some point you have to quit checking and choose to believe. Only I could make the choice when to let go because, of the two of us, only I had the maturity, experience and faith to stand back and risk him falling off. Only he could make the choice to trust me and grow.

Now the tables have turned and I am the child again. Not this time wanting to ride a bike but facing other kinds of growth challenges. I have a terrifying, dreadfully painful illness that could flare up at any time really, and kill me in hours. I live with a time-bomb inside me. Now the Professor who could operate to take it out of my body, says that there are problems, not of his making nor mine, that are preventing that surgery for the time being. I ask you to please pray with me for the political blockage to be removed and for the delay to end. But I also ask you to pray, that you and I both, will learn that checking whether God is real and fretting that he might let go by mistake and at our cost is no way to grow. "Lord, please help me to trust you when trusting is the hardest thing to do".

I may only be the possessor of what the Bible calls "fledgling faith" (sometimes translated as O ye of little faith) but I only need a tiny bit to make it through life's toughest challenges. Jesus said that faith the size of the smallest of garden seeds - the mustard seed - is enough to move mountains, but at least I'm growing, and who knows where this faith will take me in the days and years to come.