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

I am so glad that 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. It 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!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds my future
And life is worth the living just because He lives.

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.