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.