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.