Saturday, December 29, 2018

4 Questions that have Changed my Life.

As 2018 draws to an end there are many questions in my mind. Some are biblical, like "why do bad people prosper?" (Psalm 73) and "shall we accept good from the Lord and not trouble?" (Job 2:10). Maybe years ago Christians would have been discouraged from asking too many questions about their faith, but now we realise how mistaken that can be. Questions are good if they stir us up to think more deeply, and perhaps to find answers. Even if they don't achieve that they serve as pointers to a better way of understanding all that is around us. Here are 4 questions that have changed my thinking and my life over the years:

  1. "If you were arrested today and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" I was first asked this in the 1970's when Christians were being arrested in large numbers, especially in Communist countries. They continue to be persecuted right now, in even greater amounts, and even up to martyrdom. I heard on the BBC news that in 2018 around 250 Christian believers per month were killed for their faith. This has finally caused the UK government to act, beginning with an enquiry led by the Bishop of Exeter that will report back by Easter 2019. The question changed me in the 70's and challenges me even more today.
  2. "What is God saying to you through all of this?" It was 1998 and I had just been released from a long spell in hospital, mostly in Intensive Care, after an illness that had nearly taken my life. It had forced me to relinquish my ministry and leave the leadership of a great church that I loved, and had subjected me to a condition known as the most physically painful borne by man. As I tottered around my local shops, a dear friend met me and asked me this. I did not have the strength to punch her! Rather, her question floored me like an uppercut to my soul. I was so busy pleading for healing and trying to survive that I had not for a moment considered that God might be saying to me in all this. The Bible says "faithful are the wounds of a friend" and this lady was a faithful friend to me that day! My attitude was changed for ever by that question and I still seek to hear God in every situation I face.
  3. "If you only had one more book in you, what would you want to say?" The person who has been editor of 3 of my 4 published books, asked me this in 2018. Maybe I do only have one more book in me - only God knows, but this question has served me well. It has focused my mind on what I am learning and want to communicate to others. In a phrase - "God can be trusted" - that's what I want to say! What if you only had one more sermon to preach, letter to write, or year to work? Even more crucially, what if you only had one more day?
  4. "What would you do if you were 10 times bolder?" I was at Leadership Academy with my good friend and colleague Matt Gregor when we were asked this powerful question. It has stayed with me like a mantra every time I face a challenge about the church I serve, the people I meet or the circumstances I face. I want it to be my provocation throughout the coming New Year. I long to be able to say that by the end of 2019, and by God's Holy Spirit's power, I will have been ten times bolder than I have been thus far. A similar question is "what would you do if you knew that you could not fail?" Hmm. Food for thought.
Have a very happy, prosperous and peace filled New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Step Away from the Treadmill

 We spent three days in Southampton last week as I needed some tests done in the hospital there and whilst in the city we visited the famous West Quay shopping centre. Wow! What a temple to the gods of Christmas shopping! There was so much going on but none of it related to anything I could recognise as linked to the real reason for the season. Not one of the songs being played so loudly was a carol or mentioned God and you could be forgiven for thinking it was Santa's birthday coming, or an event promoted by the Society for the Protection of Elves and Reindeer!

I love the atmosphere of a real family Christmas and the whole celebration of God's great gift of His Son. I also really enjoy this festival of lights in the middle of a dark and dreary winter here in the West. One thing that does bother me, though, is the pressure that it seems to put on upon us all. The need to prepare for a perfect Christmas Day - to get or to give the very latest gadget - to ensure that our kids have all they want or ask for - the rush to make sure we have got everything in before the shops close for 24 hours (yes only 24 hours and some may even stay open then!).

There will be many Bible readings in churches up and down the land in carol services this year. The one I don't expect to hear is my favourite, in the Message version. It goes like this:
Jesus said: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matthew 11:28-30).

How I need to learn those "unforced rhythms of grace", rather than stumble along in the clumsy footsteps of so many who seem to head for Christmas, lemming-like, heads down in the rush of this crazy season. I don't think Jesus came into the world to give us stress, headaches, pressure and a sense of impending failure. He came to search out and to save people who are lost. He came into a messy stable to bring the fragrance of God instead of the stench of cow poo, and the light of God's glory instead of the shadows of self-doubt and fear. So step away from the treadmill. Put down your heavy bags and choose to walk with Jesus at His pace, His peace, and His perfect plan.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 07, 2018

The very highest energy of which the human mind is capable

"Brothers and sisters, pray for us". This is what St Paul wrote to the new believers in Thessaloniki towards the end of his first letter. He knew that these were young Christians, recently converted from paganism or Judaism, and very green indeed. Yet he recognised that he needed their prayers, and would not be able to function in the teeth of fierce hostility where he was (in Corinth) if God did not help him. He had entered into a partnership with those whom he led where they each depended upon the other praying for them.

Later, in his first letter to Timothy, St Paul sets out a further vital imperative in intercessory prayer. "Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation." (1 Tim 2:2 The Message). In the case of the UK, there has not been a more urgent need for such praying in probably 50 years. Next Tuesday, the British government is facing almost certain defeat in a motion to endorse the EU Withdrawal Agreement that Prime Minister Mrs May has signed with the EU leaders in Brussels. Whatever your opinion of this deal, or the whole matter of the UK leaving the EU, the leaders elected to the House of Commons need our prayers at this time. We should also pray for Theresa May and her ministers that they may have supernatural wisdom - it looks like they're going to need it!

Whatever happens, don't be afraid. Look at my previous post and repeat those wonderful fear-fighting Bible texts! God is in charge, but He does call us to join Him by prayer - training for reigning if you like. So, even if you are a new Christian still wet behind the ears, St Paul's advice is good advice, and what we should be about in the next few days. “The act of praying is the very highest energy of which the human mind is capable” (E M Bounds, Power Through Prayer). So why not rise to it now!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Project Fear Throttles Hope and Peace

There's not much fun in British politics at the moment. Was there ever? No surprises there then! But Brexit is like two toddlers riding towards an unknown future with terror on their faces. Maybe one really wanted to be there - like the Brexiteers - but the other wanted to stay safe with Mummy - "comme les Remainers" (pardon my French!) - but now they are careering together towards who knows what! When the whole debate about Brexit first arose in 2016 and the nation faced the now infamous referendum, the term "Project Fear" was coined. It was used to describe attempts by the government to head off Brexit and get people to vote remain. Did it fail?  Not really, because now FEAR is the watchword of both sides! If Britain goes with the deal Mrs May has negotiated, or leaves without a deal, the people are being fed a diet of fear. As Christians, we really need to make sure that "Fear doesn't Make the Decisions Around here!"

People are very afraid today. Fear is endemic in our society, as Jesus prophesied it would be in the last days. ‘Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world’ (Lk. 21:26). Fear is a powerful force in its own right, whether the thing feared comes to pass or not. It can grip our hearts and minds and make it impossible to enjoy life - like those toddlers unable to see the fun they could be having on the roundabout! You may have heard it said that New Testament says 'don't be afraid' 366 times - one for every day of the year and one for a leap year!

Whatever happens in Westminster or Brussels God is still on his throne and is not wringing his hands in fear that the wrong decision will be made. Extremists on both sides may accuse me of sitting on the fence or failing to discern real dangers, but I prefer to trust the God who says that he loves us and has an exciting plan for our lives.

In my book Braving the Storm I offer a list of 10 fear-fighting Bible texts and I will include them here. Go on - choose to trust God and don't be afraid to enjoy the ride!

Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Deuteronomy 20:3b,4
Do not be faint-hearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before [your enemies], for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.
1 Chronicles 28:20
…Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you ...
Isaiah 43:1,2
But now, this is what the LORD says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.’
Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 118:6
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Proverbs 29:25
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.
Hebrews 13:5,6
…because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’
2 Timothy 1:7
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
Psalm 56:3,4.
When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Brexit-bruised Premier finds Comfort Close at Home!

I don't think the British Prime Minister has much to laugh about this weekend! After the kind of week she has endured at the hands of her Conservative Party colleagues - never mind the Opposition - Mrs May is probably quite bruised. You have to admire her, though, for her tough-minded determination to push through with what she believes to be the best for the country, whether or not she turns out to have been right. It remains to be seen whether she will survive in office for very much longer, but I think she probably will do so, and yet confound the ranks of snorting behemoths that confront her.

In a Daily Mail interview Mrs May puts her ability to withstand criticism and opposition down to the sterling support of her husband, Philip May. His cooking, encouragement and unflappable belief in her, combined with his quiet and loving support of her, have got the Prime minister this far, and may well see her through. If this proves to be the case, then the first couple of the UK are to be commended for offering a role model of marriage in a period of intense activity and crisis.

I know how much Diane's support has meant to me throughout our life together over these last 46 years of marriage, and especially through the two decades of acute and chronic pain from which we are just emerging. I would wish that kind of support for you and for all I know that are passing through high pressure circumstances right now. The bible says that two are better than one and asks "how can one be warm alone?" If you are on your own, seek out company with others who share your faith and perhaps your loneliness, as we simply weren't made to face this difficult thing called life alone.

Well done Mr May!  But I don't think your work is over yet!

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Uprising in a Great Cause

It was great to be in Vazon Church and hear the stories of some of a group of young people and their leaders who went to the national gathering of young people run by the Elim churches in UK last weekend. They obviously had a really great time and were deeply moved by the large crowd of young people from all over the country who were worshipping, receiving Christian teaching and having fun together. One after another told of the impact that it made on them to feel the love and sense the dynamics of so many young folk sharing their enthusiasm for Jesus.

This comes against the backdrop of rising levels of crime amongst young people, especially in our large cities. It also sets into stark relief the statistics about youth suicide which are far too high in our Western society and reflect the hopelessness and alienation that some youngsters feel. Even this week a couple of older teens made a suicide pact and decided to throw themselves from the roof of a Spanish shopping centre. The young man went first and died but his girlfriend hesitated and was grabbed by security guards, but she had to wrestled to the roof level to prevent her also killing herself. Our children are in desperate need of the love of God and the life-changing message of the good news about Jesus.

I became a Christian in my mid-teens and children and young people are open to choosing for themselves at an age when sadly some churches write them off as irrelevant to their worship or way of doing things. They are not the church of tomorrow - they are very much part of the church of today - and we need to make provision for them before it's too late. Thank God, the Uprising did just that, and we must pray that every young person, and older leader, who made a decision there to follow Christ more closely, will not only stick to that commitment but share the good news with others so that they too can be spared the hopelessness that seems so obvious in a lost generation.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Extra-judicial Execution of Middle-Eastern Man Leads to International Consequences.

Jamal Khashoggi, a gentle mannered and highly respected Saudi journalist, is dead. He was allegedly tortured and murdered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey on the 28th of September. International outrage has followed his death and the Saudi handling of it, and the profile and writings of Jamal have probably never been greater. Perhaps like me when you have seen the video of him entering the consulate you have shouted at the TV screen  saying "Just don't go in there!" but in vain.

A prominent journalist who covered major stories including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of Osama Bin Laden for various Saudi news organisations, Jamal was close to the Saudi royal family for decades and also served as an adviser to the government. But he fell out of favour and went into self-imposed exile in the US last year. From there, he wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticised the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Now he is dead.

Last night in our Alpha@Vazon course we viewed the video 'Why did Jesus Die?'. It was powerful and moving, and there were quite a few tears among our 50 or so guests. Of course, the death of Jesus 2,000 years is of immense significance to Christians everywhere and I would not want to offend by trying to draw any kind of equivalence. But there are one or two similarities that are impressing me today. One is that you can't kill truth. The exposure of the Saudi regime by this journalist is greater today than before he died. The impact of the death of Jesus (who once described himself as "I am the truth") was also magnified globally by his death, and then his resurrection of course. The other is that there are forces of evil in the world that resist criticism and change, and that both men paid a high price for doing just those things. Jesus criticised the religious leaders of his day and urged repentance and change.

The great difference, of course, is that Jesus rose from the dead. The Turkish authorities are having a hard time finding the body of Jamal Khashoggi, but we know it is out there somewhere. The Jewish leaders and Roman authorities in Jesus' day only had to produce his body and all the theories of resurrection would be ended. But they could not - because he is risen indeed!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Leaders Gather to Plan and Pray

Had a great three days with Matt Gregor at Elim's Church Leadership Academy this week. Based at Birmingham City Church it offered us the opportunity to chat, think and pray about the future strategy for Vazon Church and our ministry together. At this October's AGM I will step into the role of Associate Pastor alongside Matt and look forward to supporting him in his exciting vision for the church, the island and beyond. As it is now over a year since my major surgery I am so thrilled with how my recovery has gone/is going and how prayer has been answered on my behalf after 22 years of the most appalling pain.

Something that really struck me at the Academy was how amazingly healthy some churches around the UK are, despite the kind of opposite impression most people seem to have, especially the media. Senior Pastors from Birmingham, Cardiff, Derby and Northampton came together as a team to share what God is doing in their locations, and to bless and help the several church leadership teams that were present. They told stories of huge gatherings of people of all ages, worshipping enthusiastically and making an impact in their communities for Christ. Of course, they have their problems too, but their willingness to share and be open was a real inspiration.

Here are a few of quotes:

"Some people think that if they have a million pound vision they will only have a one pound problem! A million pound vision usually comes with million pound problems!" (Stephen Ball quoting Paul Scanlon I think)

"We are traders in hope" (Stuart Blount)

"Sundays are for God" (Jason Heron)

"Does your team member light up the room and can you imagine working with them for a long time?" (Mark Ryan)

"The church that does everything usually ends up doing nothing" (Mark Ryan)

"All that we do in church life should be driven by vision not the fear of man or anything else". (Mark Ryan)

"The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them" Genesis 11:6.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Is there More to Life than This? Alpha@Vazon begins today

Alpha@Vazon 2018

Alpha@Vazon begins this evening, Sunday the 7th October 2018 at Vazon Church, Guernsey. Alpha is a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith, run over eight Sunday evenings and one Saturday daytime. Each talk looks at a different question around faith and is designed to create conversation. Alpha is run in over 100 nations all around the globe, and everyone is welcome. It runs in cafés, churches, universities, prisons, schools and homes – you name it. No two Alphas look the same, but generally they have three key things in common: food, a talk and good conversation.

The food is going to be good – finger licking good with great desserts! Then, the talks are designed to engage and inspire conversation. Usually around thirty minutes long, they will be played as a video. They explore the big issues around faith and unpack the basics of Christianity, addressing questions from Who is Jesus? and How can we have faith? to Why and how do I pray? and Does God heal today? etc

Good conversation means just that – an environment where you’re welcome to say nothing or ask any question about life, faith and meaning. This is the chance for you to revisit the foundations of your faith or discover why others believe as they do.

So, please pray for us as we welcome around 50 guests this evening and if you would like to tell a friend, or even come yourself (if you're in Guernsey of course) then message me or email

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Massacre of Innocents Plants Seeds of Hope and Faith

Tomorrow we leave for Malvern in the UK where on Monday a crowd of folk who have worked as missionaries in Zimbabwe will meet with leaders of the Elim Churches in that country. Present also at Elim's International Centre will be family members of the 9 Elim missionaries and 4 of their children who were killed in the Vumba in July 1978. This will be the first time that those bereaved family members will come together since the dreadful events of 40 years ago, and they deserve our prayers and support as their memories will be stirred.

When we worked in Mutare, the nearest city to the Vumba, we planted a congregation in a building that had been purchased at the time as the Elim Memorial Church. That church has since been renovated to a high standard and has become a real focus for the Elim Church's work in that area. At the time of our being there Elim had around a dozen churches in the country, together with schools and a hospital. Now there are over 65 congregations all over Zimbabwe and the work is thriving. Stephen Griffith's excellent book The Axe and the Tree tells the story of all that led up to the massacre of 40 years ago and the great suffering and faith of the national church and its leaders at that time. I recommend it.
Peter & Sandra McCann, Philip & Joy died in the Vumba

You may wonder what real relevance a memorial garden might have for today's generation of trainee pastors and missions workers. I did so too, but remember that one of my responsibilities was to keep an eye on the mass grave of those who died in the Vumba. Once a year, on the occasion of the graduation of the young men we were training as evangelists in what was known as Project Timothy, they would gather with me around the grave. I would explain to the young men that they were the fruit of the sacrifices these people had made, and then pray for them that, as they went out two by two into the community, they would remember the example of these friends of ours who paid the ultimate price. Each year it was common for tears to be shed and the impact upon the young evangelists was clear to be seen. So I pray that as young Bible students take time to wander in the memorial garden they will think about the example of those who have gone before them and perhaps come to a new understanding of, and a new commitment to, their own calling.

"They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated— the world was not worthy of them...

These were all commended for their faith" (Hebrews 11:38-39)

Saturday, September 08, 2018

First Things First

An ancient king of Israel once prayed that God would grant to him an undivided heart. He must have felt torn by the many responsibilities of state and the huge family of which he was the head. But King David reasoned that at the heart of the human condition lies the condition of the human heart. He wanted his heart to be undivided, so that in everything he did his faith and commitment to God would be at the forefront of his decision-making.

Recently, I have been thinking so much about the changes that have come about in the Western church of which I am a part. I know the danger of looking backwards where it seems that everything was once so much shinier than it is now, but I suppose that is one of the privileges of growing older. When I first became a Christian in my mid-teens I was a mad keen shootist. My marksmanship took me to the very peak of the sport, competing for Great Britain in Canada and annually at Bisley, the home of international shooting. I was a finalist in the prestigious Queen's prize, and fired competitive air rifles, smallbore and fullbore rifles virtually every day of the week, and I loved it. I loved the competitiveness, the company and most of all the buzz of winning. But once I began to grow in my understanding of what the Christian life would mean for me I had no alternative but to hang up my weapons.

We are what we aim at!
Despite the fact that there were real opportunities to witness for Christ in my sport I felt that I was two timing him and compromising my availability to God. Looking back today I think that I was too hasty in completely turning away from something at which I was obviously very gifted, but my decision was based on my commitment to the gospel. I joined with other young men in a gospel music band called Soul Enterprise which did pretty much what was written on the tin. My life was full with church meetings, prayer groups, band practices, outreach and gigs. I don't regret any of that, and feel that my life was enriched by what I let go.

In this day and age where leisure is king and being a Christian is wrongly presumed to be a lifestyle choice please join me in praying for young believers everywhere, but especially in the West, that we might all ask God to give us an undivided heart. You will know what divides your heart as I know mine, and I pray that these few words may just help you to take a look at your own commitment and ask if anything less than worthy stands in the way of your availability to God.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Pastors are People too.

News has come out of the US this week of the tragic suicide of a pastor, leaving his young wife and three sons devastated. Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California died last Saturday. He had fought a long battle with depression and anxiety, especially since the death of his father from leukaemia in 2015. But he was far from being a typically depressed person (whatever that means!). He led a vibrant, modern, growing congregation and shone in his dynamic preaching ministry in particular. He was loved by his people and his family and will be greatly missed.

I have also just finished reading Jack Deere's latest book and autobiography Even in our Darkness in which this outwardly successful author, Bible School Professor, pastor and conference speaker tells of his life-long battle with his own inner self, damaged by his upbringing. The tragedy of his son's suicide, his wife's alcoholism and his own many internal issues and relationship problems makes hard reading. It has shown me, though, that we should not put pastors and church leaders onto pedestals of presumed perfection. Flesh and blood like us they are. Cut them and they bleed. Treat them harshly, rudely or with disdain and they can find themselves under dark clouds of despair, self-doubt and depression. Yes they have to learn to deal with that, but let's not add to their pressures or pain by petty church politics or religious phoney baloney about 'men and women of God' being different to the rest of us.

This sad story comes against the back-cloth of a report by the Samaritans that shows that suicides among men under 50 are a big problem in the UK, as they are in Guernsey. Their report reads: "Although there has been an overall downward trend in suicide rates over the past decade, the statistics are clear – in terms of age, gender and socio-economic status, the group most at risk of suicide are men, in the lowest social class, in their mid-years. Men are three times more likely than women to end their own lives." This is something that needs serious action by all social agencies, including the church. Maybe the tragic events in California's Inland Hills church will increase our concern about this issue, and also make us pray for our pastors more urgently, and love them more fully.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Fire that Changes Everything

This was the week that saw a huge black plume of acrid smoke envelope the east coast of Guernsey. The dark cloud was so extensive there are satellite pictures showing it from space. Reports came in from all over the island as a raging fire blazed out of control for a couple of hours at a local scrap metal facility. Soon the Fire Brigade managed to get the blaze contained but it was many more hours till it was declared to be under control. The molten metal and oils continued to smoulder for the rest of the day and into the night with fire crews only standing down in the early hours of the next day.

Amazingly the yard was back in business within just 48 hours, admittedly only on selected activities, but it was business as usual within a remarkably short time and thankfully, nobody had been hurt in the fire. I heard an interview with the general manager of the scrapyard on BBC Radio Guernsey and he was asked what effect the blaze had had on the materials that had been affected. One of the things he said was that actually the fire had 'purified' them, and even helped to prepare them for export!

This concept of a fire that cleanses and purifies is not new. Centuries ago it was written about in the Bible and is one of the pictures used for the work of the Holy Spirit of God. John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus would one day baptise people with the fire of the Spirit. When the followers of Jesus received the power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and began their work of spreading the good news of God's love and forgiveness in Christ, people saw a vision of tongues of fire settling on each of their heads.

But fire is never predictable or safe. This has been a terrible season of wild fires around the globe and many have died or lost their homes as a result. But there can be an element of starting again - of being purged - by fire, and so in that sense it can be one of the mysteries of our amazing world. The fire of God, however, is to be welcomed and fanned into flame. Too many people, even Christians, see themselves as a kind of spiritual fire brigade, searching out and stifling even the tiniest spark of divine life and Holy Spirit activity. 'Do not quench the Spirit' is the advice of the New Testament. In the words of the well-known song:
 It's fire we want for fire we plead
 Send the fire
 The fire will meet our every need
 Send the fire today
 For strength to always do what's right
 For grace to conquer in the fight
 For power to walk the world in white
 Send the fire today
 Send the fire today!*

*1994 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

On the Road Marked with Suffering

Staring into the rising sun can be both exhilarating and dangerous. The same light that dazzles, inspires and beckons us also causes migraines, can damage our eyesight and even cause complete blindness. Hope in God and that a new and different day would dawn has kept me going through some pretty tough times, particularly over the last couple of decades, but that very life-giving hope carries safety warnings. 'Hope deferred makes the heart sick' wrote an ancient scribe and he was right. The very same stuff that helps and heals can also send the acid rain of disappointment.

I have found it helpful to take short glimpses at hope and then knuckle down to the daily grind of just 'hanging in there'. For most of my long walks down the roads marked with suffering (for those of you who know this, 'where there's pain in the offering'⭑) I try to find help in God's written message to us - the Bible - early each day, and glance at it now and again as I go. Motivation also comes through tough times in recalling that God is actually at work on me, refining, changing, training, disciplining, preparing and providing for me. My road is not random nor my pathway meaningless. I am heading somewhere even when I can't see very far ahead. In the words of blind pianist Marilyn Baker's great song 'Jesus, you are changing me'.

A friend of mine who loves God and serves his people well is currently battling with chemotherapy, aimed at halting the deadly cancer threatening him, his family and his ministry. He recently posted a poem that I found a challenging help some years ago, despite its mysterious message and almost menacing prose. It comes from Oswald Sanders book Spiritual Leadership and reads...

When God wants to drill a man
   And thrill a man
   And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
   To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
   To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
   Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
   Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
   And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
   Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
   And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
   When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses
   And with every purpose fuses him;
   By every act induces him
To try His splendour out--
   God knows what He's about!
                                    (Author Unknown)
So, I'm not sure if that glimpse of glory comes into the category of helping or hurting, but I choose to receive it as an insight into some of the more mysterious circumstances of the Christian life. In any case, on any road marked with suffering, the shadow of the cross shades me from the most blinding rays of the sun, and comforts me with the knowledge that God has been there before me.

Words taken from Matt Redman, Blessed be Your Name (LP Sing Like Never Before: The Essential Collection, sixstepsrecords/Sparrow Records, 2012)

Friday, July 20, 2018

Around The World in Twenty Minutes!

I had a great day out fishing this week with local lobster fisherman Roddy. He is a hero of mine as he has worked the coastal waters around Guernsey for most of his life and seems to know his way about, even in fog. His boat is a simple local boat with a tiny cabin at the front and a winch to raise the heavy pots. I used to go out with him occasionally but haven't been able to do so for a few years due to my ill health, but now, following the change in my life since surgery, I was thrilled to be able to go again. We were out for between 6 and 8 hours and on the way there and back we passed 3 amazing cruise liners moored just outside St Peter Port. Among them was The World - the biggest privately owned ship in the world!

Since its launch in 2002 The World, the largest private residential ship on the planet at 644 feet, has continuously circumnavigated the globe, spending extensive time in the most exotic places, allowing residents to wake up in a new destination every few days. With only 165 individual apartment style homes, The World’s residents enjoy one of the most exclusive lifestyles imaginable. Not only do they own their individual residences, but collectively, they own the ship and employ its crew. They are on a permanent holiday!

Now I'm not going to pass comment on whether that is a lifestyle I would like to take part in, though I could never afford it of course, but I do feel that it is, strangely, a kind of comment on our Western society in general. The desire to be on a continuous vacation must surely be a fantasy as life is just not like that for most of us. There are family responsibilities, community involvements, causes that need our attention, even they might only be the garden that needs to be tended or the cat to be fed. Sailing off into the sunset for good may appear very attractive at times (especially for a pastor on a Monday after a tough Sunday before!). The ancient Jewish King David did pray 'Oh for the wings of a dove that I might fly away' BUT surely that can't be the way to purpose and fulfilment. Our humanity, made in the image of God, can only find real satisfaction in service, family and community as we lay down our lives for others in his name.

And another Bible passage sticks in my mind too - with some alteration here - but this is what it says in 1 John 2:15 -17, "Do not love [The World] or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does— comes not from the Father but from the world. [The World] and its desires will pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives for ever".

Mind you - a short trip on a good cruise liner - ah maybe that would be something else eh?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

At last! Hope for sufferers of the most appalling pain.

At last! After years of ignoring this life-changing surgery due to its complexity and mainly its cost, NHS England has published news that it is going to commission the same surgery that I had last year! Total Pancreatectomy with Islets Transplant is now to be made available at 4 regional centres around the country.  They estimate that up to 75 patients a year will be treated and given the chance to live again after the ravages of this dreadful disease, one of the most painful known to man. The pain of chronic and recurring acute pancreatitis is described in the report as being extremely severe, requiring opiates and causing multiple hospital admissions, and of course, the inability to work and in many cases death. I cannot express fully how grateful I am for this answer to prayer on behalf of my fellow-sufferers around the country. And, indeed, thanks to my own independent health authority, for the fact that I was offered this a year ago when still in the trial stages.

There are many reasons to be grateful today. It's coming home! Not the team that England sent to Russia, but the football team of boys who were rescued from the deepest, darkest caves in Thailand! Hooray! God answers prayer! Imagine the joy and relief of those parents as they welcome their sons home again after their dreadful ordeal. What an amazing international rescue operation too! A real reminder of the depth of compassion that still beats in the human heart - a remnant of the divine pattern so deeply spoiled by sin - yet revealed so fully in Jesus.

For those of us fed up with Brexit and Trump there are many other matters for which we should be grateful and rejoice. There is a God in heaven and he may not support the England football team but he has acted to make hope and help available in the world in so many ways that should make our hearts sing. 👍☝😀

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Cave Rescue Enters Critical Phase.

In the gloomy farthest reaches of the bowels of a mountain range in Thailand lie 12 sons and their football coach. While the rest of the world is following the efforts of a handful of teams left in the World Cup in Russia, Thai families are riveted to their own media in support of this precious team. From around the globe rescuers have come to add their support and expertise, including the British divers who made first contact with the lost boys.

The people of this Eastern land are deeply spiritual.  They are gathered in their thousands to pray for the boys' safe rescue. Faith is at the heart of their anguish, moving them to cry out in recognition of their great need. They lean naturally towards things spiritual and do so with a sweet sincerity and intensity that stands in contrast to our materialistic and secular Western ways.

Sadly, in the last couple of days, a brave rescuer has lost his life trying to reach them with fresh supplies of oxygen. Apparently the journey into their location from the mouth of the cave takes 6 hours to travel, and he just ran out of air. If that can happen to a SEAL-trained diver then it illustrates the great challenge it is to get these weakened, emaciated boys, some of whom can't even swim, out of the caves alive. Prayer is really needed here. Let's join our hearts together too and cry out to God for mercy in Jesus' name, and ask him to give those in charge the wisdom and strength they need.

But when I see the extent the Thai authorities are going to in order to save these young men, I am moved to consider how much we may be neglecting the young boys and girls of our own communities. When young teens are being used by the thousands carrying drugs across 'county lines' in the UK, and most children entering secondary school own their own smartphone and a majority acknowledge having seen pornography online, are we concerned enough about the 'saving' of a generation? While multiple teens are being stabbed on our city streets, and even our neighbouring island of Jersey is officially owning up to a culture of institutional child-abuse, - are we any more 'civilised' than the people of Thailand, despite our post-Christian heritage? Maybe we can learn a lesson from this tragedy while we pray for a successful outcome. Certainly, Jesus cared for young children in his day, and rebuked his followers for turning them away.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Can brutal deaths ever do any good?

Elim Martyrs' Memorial Church in Mutare (before renovations)
It was on this day, the 23rd June, exactly 40 years ago, that 9 adult Elim missionaries and 4 of their children were massacred in the Vumba, Zimbabwe. This was in 1978 and was part of the long independence struggle in what was then known as Rhodesia. The Elim Pentecostal Church had worked in the eastern part of that land since the early 1950's establishing a hospital, clinics, primary and secondary schools, and planting churches. It was to this area of Zimbabwe that Diane and I went just 12 years afterwards, with our son Matthew. We served there for only 3 years until we were told to leave by the government, but saw so much of the amazing legacy of the wonderful people who laid down their lives there four decades ago today.

Joyce & Roy Lynn
Among them was Joyce Lynn, previously known to me as Joyce Pickering. We had been at Elim Bible College together when Joyce, a trained nurse, prepared to go out to Rhodesia as a medical missionary.  Soon she would meet and marry Roy Lynn, a pastor from Northern Ireland, and they died this night, 40 years ago along with their 3 week-old baby, Pamela Grace. There was nothing out of the ordinary about these two, other than their firm commitment to serve God and others come what may. I happened to be in the Elim missions office in the UK on the day they left for their final term in the Vumba. I asked them both how they felt about returning to such a troubled and violent location. "Ma" Lynn (as we called her in college), simply gave me her shy smile and shrugged her shoulders. They both knew the dangers, but they said they simply wanted to be where they could be of use and serve God.

Each year while we were in Zimbabwe I led a training programme for young evangelists called Project Timothy. At the end of their initial 6-week induction course at the Martyrs' Memorial Church in Mutare I would take the graduates to the nearby cemetery where our precious friends graves lie. There I would challenge these fine young men that they were the outcome of these wonderful people's faith and sacrifice and that they should go out and do what they could not now do, namely evangelise the nation. The boys and I were always deeply moved by this simple ceremony, and many tears flowed. Some quite remarkable things were then achieved by those 'Timothy Boys' going out in twos to proclaim the faith of the martyrs. At the time of their deaths there were around a dozen Elim Churches in Zimbabwe, mainly in the Eastern Province of Manicaland. Today there are more than sixty spread out all over the country and more are being planned. The blood of the martyrs is still the seed of the church, and this must be the very best kind of memorial for these lives well lived and sown in death forty years ago today.

(a special memorial garden is to be opened at Regents Theological College, Malvern, in September this year, bringing together the families of those who died and leaders of the Zimbabwean church. If you would like to know more see the link at click here)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Celebrating tough but amazing times!

Fabulous Hybiscus flowers adorn the plumbing as part of our welcome back to the Seychelles this week! This strange combination of the beautiful and the mundane, if not downright humble, matches our reason for being here at this time. We both wanted to be somewhere glorious today to remember the first anniversary of my life-giving surgery and to celebrate still being alive! The 14th of June 2017 was a terrible date for the UK, as the dreadful fire raged that night in Grenfell Towers, but I knew nothing of that. I was facing my own battle with near-death that day, as Prof. White and his team spent more than 16 long hours labouring over me in theatre. He had told me that the only person in his 60's to have undergone this operation by him had died as a result! When Diane and I said "see you on the other side, my love" to each other one year ago today we did not mean the recovery room. Our faith stretches to higher places than that, and to even more wonderful locations than Seychelles, but we really did hope that our time together on earth might be extended. By the grace of God it was. Thank you for your part in that by prayer and practical support.

This, then, is the chance to relax and enjoy things that have been denied me for over 20 years. Things like freedom from intense pain, from having to take industrial doses of opiates, from watching everything I eat to judge how much pain it might cause, from the fear of an acute attack of pancreatitis putting me back into hospital. And above all this, is the feeling that life really might begin at 65 and that God is not finished with me yet!

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Friday, June 01, 2018

A Blast from the Past

We had great fun last weekend when an old friend came to stay. Rev Dr Pious Munembe is the General Superintendent of the Elim Churches of Zimbabwe. We became quite close friends when we were working as missionaries in Zimbabwe nearly 25 years ago. He is a real hero of mine, having suffered very much during the struggle for independence in that country during which a large number of Christians lost their lives. It was there, in June 1978, that 9 Elim missionaries and their 4 children were massacred at the Vumba in what became an international outrage and led to the work of Elim and their sacrifice being broadcast around the world. Pious has also trained for the ministry in the UK, and before becoming a full-time pastor, was a school headmaster. He doesn't look any older than we remember him, and he is full of enthusiasm and radiates joy and kindness.

We chatted about how things are in Zimbabwe now, and, as always he was realistic and yet optimistic. He hopes and prays for free and fair elections, now that the rule of Comrade Mugabe is over, although it is still possible that it will be 'business as usual' as the new incumbent used to be the President's right hand man. The work of God is going on well, however, as it is through many parts of the world, especially in Africa, with many churches being planted and the foundations of new premises for a full-time Bible School to train pastors being laid. Elim Hospital and Elim Schools continue to influence many for the kingdom of God, and we pray for real blessing on all they do.

Here in a part of the world where church growth seems unusual and the spread of the faith appears stunted, it is so refreshing to hear the good news that there are parts of the globe where the message and the church are thriving.  Many hundreds of thousands become Christians every day in the developing world, and the rate of growth in places like China is phenomenal, so it won't be long before the majority of world Christians live in these places rather than the once so-called Christian West.

But then, isn't that what our spiritual parents longed for? Are we not just seeing the truth of the proverb 'Send your grain across the seas, and in time, profits will flow back to you.' (Eccles 11:1 New Living Trans). Well, those 'profits' in the form of joy and encouragement certainly flowed back to us last weekend!

Friday, May 25, 2018

A Chance to Live - Pancreatic Removal and Islets Transplant

You may have watched the BBC 2 documentary recently about the wonderful work of the International Transplant Unit at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, and perhaps passed over this scene. The screenshot above is my actual operation now 11 months ago.  You can see Professor White and Miss Logue, the surgeons, working over me, assisted by the anaesthetist on the left and theatre nurses on the right. I am the patient (not smiling I can assure you!). They worked on me for 16.5 hours. They changed my life.

I am so grateful for the technology, skill, commitment, kindness, persistence, pride and professionalism of the whole team that worked on me. I am their poster boy now and am glad to be so! Thankfully, NHS England have recently held a long consultation on offering this surgery to patients like me in England and Wales as part of clinical trials, and I really pray this will come off. Meanwhile, I feel so indebted to those who prayed and supported Diane and me as I underwent this radical new surgery.

This passage in the ancient hymnal of the people of Israel stood out for me recently: "we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance." (Psalm 66:5). For 22 years the fire and water of the most intense agony known to human beings alternately roasted and then sloshed over me, threatening to engulf me again and again, but God has heard my cry for relief and I am grateful.

I also feel so moved for the plight of my fellow-sufferers, and the brave people who are featured in this documentary about heart transplant, some of whom died in the making of it. Thank God that medicine and surgery have advanced so far, but the human condition remains fragile and much more needs to be done. At the end of the day what we see on the screen here is a tribute to compassion and human competence. Standing behind and beyond it is a God who loves to fix and redeem, and where damage is so great that fixing here on earth may not be an option, to redeem and receive us into his eternal, loving care.

We plan to celebrate the anniversary of this great mercy in somewhere very sunny, where the sea is warm and the food is hot! Yippee!

Friday, May 11, 2018

House of Hope on the Camino

A recent television fly-on-the-wall documentary followed several celebrities as they walked part of the renowned Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. It was so interesting to witness the changes that occurred among them and in their individual thinking as they contemplated spiritual realities on this gruelling walk. The Camino comes from a tradition or way of doing church that is very different from mine, but I found it compelling to see the large numbers of people involved, especially young folk. It is also clear from the programme that those who undertake the arduous challenge do so mostly out of a hunger or desire to find God, or to walk more closely with the spiritual side of their nature. In this cynical and secular age that can't be a bad thing.

I have some very close friends who are doing a wonderful work on the Camino, offering love, friendship, spiritual help and Christian witness to pilgrims as they walk part of the way. They have been led to do so over the last couple of years by renting a house they call Hope House, which is now available for purchase. This video, in English, gives an overview of their vision and ministry. Alfonso and Debee (a Guernsey girl) have spent their long ministry with Youth With a Mission in Spain and are endorsed by YWAM in this new project.

This lovely, short video, contains a financial appeal, which if you are not happy to see please don't view the piece. No pressure, of course, but if you are minded to pray for them I know they would value that so much, and - do visit their wonderful home if you are walking the Camino!

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Potato Peel Pie Discarded - Free at Last!

The Guernsey Flag
The movie "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" is doing well in cinemas around the globe. In UK it is the second most successful box office release in May. It coincides with an important date in Guernsey, May 9th. It is surprising how few people are aware that part of the British Isles were conquered and occupied by the Nazis. 73 years ago this month saw the islands set free at the end of the German Occupation during the Second World War. The final few months of the Nazi presence in Guernsey were the worst, especially after D-Day. According to one eye-witness, Mrs Irene Dunk, who was the wife of Rev Gilbert Dunk, minister of Eldad Elim Church in the island's capital St Peter Port, both the local population and the occupying forces were cut off from outside supplies in a siege situation and starving. Only the occasional arrival of the Red Cross ship the Vega bringing food parcels from Canada and New Zealand for the local people brought any degree of relief. In a small booklet published some years ago, Mrs Dunk, who went on to live until aged 100, tells of surviving for three weeks along with their small child, on a diet of parsnips alone before those vital supplies were received.

Finally, the Allied Force 135 arrived off St Peter Port on May 8th, 1945, but even then, things were tense and frightening. The Commandant, a fervent Nazi named Admiral Huffmeier, had vowed that he would never surrender. There was a real possibility that the Allies might need to fight their way ashore against an opposed landing. Thankfully he was over-ruled by his subordinates and the next day British troops poured into St Peter Port to be mobbed by grateful islanders.

We should thank God for the freedom we enjoy today. When Gilbert Dunk stood cheering in the crowds at North Esplanade that first Liberation Day, a local preacher whom he knew grabbed his shoulder and yelled excitedly “this is the Lord’s doing and it is truly marvellous!”. God had heard their anxious appeals for deliverance and had brought them through great trials to eventual liberty. Through all the long years of deprivation and loss there had remained that hope for freedom, and a heart cry of prayer for its fulfilment. Early in the Occupation an RAF plane had dropped leaflets over Guernsey containing a personal message from King George VIth promising “We will return...”, feeding the hope that would be finally fulfilled.

Christians today face many trials and sometimes great suffering too, but we have a hope that underpins our determination to keep the faith. The King is coming back, and in Christ we are truly free. We should treasure this freedom and share the news of it as widely as we can. Meanwhile here in Guernsey, our home is already decked with flags as we get ready to celebrate our national day.

Friday, April 27, 2018

As two Korean Presidents shake hands and smile warmly for the cameras, I hope that few people in the world will be fooled into believing that the malign regime in North Korea has really changed. Recalling Prime minister Chamberlain waving his useless "Peace in our time" document at the airport upon his return from appeasing Adolf Hitler in 1939, I pray that the coming months will not witness a similar descent into chaos and war. I am by nature an optimist, but I can't help sharing the feeling expressed by the BBC's journalist on today's news who said that we have been here before and that nothing has really changed.

Today's significant events, however, do motivate me to pray for North Korea. I pray for the estimated 300,000 persecuted Christians there. These are the circumstances they have to endure:

"Due to constant indoctrination, neighbours and family members, including children, are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities. If Christians are discovered, they are deported to labour camps as political criminals or killed on the spot; their families share their fate. Meeting for worship is almost impossible, so is done in utmost secrecy. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes." (Open Doors Website)

Open Doors estimates that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christian are imprisoned in North Korea's harsh labour camps; most will die there. Some have escaped to tell their stories. I have just finished reading the book A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa (click to view on Amazon) which tells his own story of dreadful living conditions in North Korea and of his own amazing escape. Ishikawa is not a Christian but his book is a depressing exposure of the horrors of life in this rogue state.

Winston Churchill's comment still rings true, that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war" and so we should be grateful that the spotlight is being turned onto the Korean peninsula for talks rather than for threats. Perhaps the Christians in the South, of whom there are many millions, will find ways to link up with their compatriots in the North, or at least to remember them in their desperate need. But I can't help feeling that we have not heard the last of Kim Jong-Un's belligerent posturing. Meanwhile, in the wings, waits the powerful president of the so-called 'free world' due to meet "Rocket man" in May! My goodness, if ever there was a time to pray it's now!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Suicide Capital of Britain?

Is Guernsey set to become the suicide capital of Great Britain? This headline in the UK newspaper the Daily Express, copied by others, has thrown a forthcoming debate in the island's government into the national limelight. In May the States of Guernsey will be asked by its leading minister plus six others, to decide whether Guernsey is in favour of 'assisted dying' for the terminally ill. If they prevail, and there are signs that they may, the island will set up a consultation to find ways and means to implement this momentous step, and may well lead the way in doing so within the British Isles.

One island politician, Deputy Emilie Yerby, in a blog on the issue, said "This is a very personal, emotionally fraught debate. Whatever side of the argument we are on, we need to approach it with compassion, mutual respect and honesty. People will bare their souls and confront some of their deepest fears over the coming weeks. We owe it to our community to create the kind of environment where they feel safe to do so."

Maybe not quite baring my soul, but I want to share my own perspective on this emotive issue. I do so not just as a Christian or church leader, but as a sufferer. In all my 22 years of the most appalling pain requiring around 100 admissions to hospital and over 30 surgeries I have always felt that the medics were on my side. I have often been embarrassed to be causing them so much work, and felt like a real nuisance, but they have always reassured me that they were with me in wanting to overcome this dreadful disease and keep me alive, even when that seemed so unlikely. I really do feel that my relationship with those doctors and nurses would have been changed for the worse if they were asked to become 'killers'.

Also, during the two decades I spent battling this most painful and deadly disease, if I had chosen to take a short-cut, I would have missed the amazing space-age transplant surgery that transformed my life nine months ago in Newcastle. Even now, the NHS in England is only proposing to start clinical trials into this surgery which is still not available anywhere in Europe. Medical research is constantly advancing, and short-cuts would have denied me this opportunity, even if I had wanted to take one.

I feel the utmost sadness and compassion for folk who are suffering appalling pain and life-limiting conditions. I also understand that carers and loved ones must feel desperate in the face of such circumstances and might feel that they would not even treat an animal the way their loved ones might be suffering. But we are not merely animals - we are body mind and spirit - and our lives are precious even when we might feel that all earthly hope is gone.

Please don't let us get agitated and heated over this, as Deputy Yerby advises us, but if you live in Guernsey do please engage with our States' deputies and help them to grapple with what is surely one of the toughest decisions they will have to make for a long while. And if Guernsey is a long way away from you, don't forget the words of the poet John Donne:
No man is an island entire of itself;... any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Garden without Easter bunnies?

This is the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, believed by many to be the actual site, or very similar to it, of the grave where Jesus' body lay on the first Easter Saturday.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!

Friday, March 30, 2018

No Greater Sacrifice

 On this Good Friday Christians around the world are recalling the death of Jesus on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem. We are not doing so in some kind of dark or mournful fascination with violent death, but in gratitude for an act which changed our lives forever. Jesus, who committed no sin in his amazing life of compassion and care for others, "became sin for us" according to the Bible's teaching, so that we might receive forgiveness and right standing with God. This substitution of the Son of God for us and in our place means that God's rightful anger against sin and wrongdoing is forever dealt with. Christ paid the price for us to go free. He took the hostage's place and died instead of us.

France mourned this week the death of a national hero. Col. Beltrame attended a terrorist incident in southern France where hostages were being held. The officer's brave actions helped bring an end to the siege in a supermarket in Trèbes by 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, who had earlier killed a person in nearby Carcassonne. The gunman claimed to be a supporter of the Islamic State group. Sixteen people were also injured, two seriously, in what was the worst jihadist attack under Mr Macron's presidency. The gunman was shot dead by police.

When the French police colonel offered to take the place of a female hostage he would have known he was putting his life on the line. The gunman had already killed and declared his opposition to Western values and all those in authority. Surely compassion must have moved Col Beltrame's heart as he contemplated the fate of the threatened woman. He stepped forward to put himself in the firing line. No greater sacrifice could be asked of a public servant.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is the ultimate authority figure, shunned by millions who refuse his love and way, but worshipped by countless millions more. He was sent to us here on earth as a rescue mission. We were hostages held by our passions, selfishness and pride. Then one stepped forward to take our place. "I will go" he said to his heavenly father and moved purposefully towards Jerusalem and the appalling death of crucifixion for us. No greater sacrifice could be asked of a God who loves us.

Yes, it is Good Friday. But hey - Sunday's coming!

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Beast from the East

Cold War shivers are back. The 'Beast from the East' is freezing more than our air temperatures. A whole generation of younger folk have never known the fears and chills of the nuclear arms race with its threats of global extinction. By the grace of God the world did not blow itself up during those decades. There were many nuclear accidents and equipment malfunctions that occurred where disaster was only just averted. On top of that men with huge egos played fast and loose with threats of holocaust that were only turned away at the last moment, like the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960's. We can only presume that it was not yet God's time to wind up this planet in the way described in the prophecy of St Peter:"...the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare". (2 Peter 3:10).

President Putin seeks re-election this weekend. His name is on the lips of nations around the world for recent allegations that may make his popularity rise at home, but increase the possibility of a renewed cold war. He boasted recently of having developed nuclear devices and missiles that cannot be traced or stopped by any defences. He is not alone in his self-aggrandising threats to world peace. The two egoistical and possibly unstable presidents of nuclear armed nations and historic enemies, Trump and Kim Jon Il, will meet sometime this year.  It is to be hoped that their nuclear buttons will be well out of reach as they boast to one another about the size of their respective devices.

How should Christians prepare for the new big freeze? As they always have done, of course, since power-mad Caesars like Nero and Caligula ruled the known world with cruelty and violence. We need a living, passionate, powerful, attractive relationship with Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit that will win people over by the warmth of God's reality, love and kindness. We also need to pray for leaders and their advisors. I felt very keenly this week the need to pray for Mrs May, and we should also intercede for those named above. And above all, we need to remember who is really in charge. We are not at the mercy of 'rocket man', maniacs and 'dotards'. We belong to the living God, and this world will be folded up like a scroll when he says so and not a moment sooner.

We don't need a 'fall-out shelter' (yet!). We do need to 'fall-in' though, with the maker of the universe, and seek his perspective on our crazy mixed-up generation. A shivering world is starving for warmth, affection, love and a higher hand on the tiller. That hand is the healing hand of Jesus.

Friday, March 09, 2018

With cameras watching our every move, are we truly free?

Some years ago the phrase 'big brother is watching you' from George Orwell's classic tale 1984 inspired fear. The thought that governments and businesses could watch us through secret cameras was a futuristic nightmare. We comforted ourselves that this would never happen in good old Great Britain with all its ancient rights of freedom secured since King John signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215! Yet today our lives are being observed daily via countless CCTV cameras, dash-cams, helmet cameras, body cameras and a variety of online snooping devices. Without them I doubt whether our police would make many arrests let alone secure convictions! We are a watched people.

I officiated at a funeral this week where the deceased had asked in advance that we read Psalm 139 - my favourite psalm anyway.  It begins with the words "O Lord, you have searched me and know me, you are familiar with all my ways". Some folk would find that idea unpalatable. The thought of God knowing us through and through, even to the extent of reading our thoughts from afar, could potentially terrify. That level of scrutiny might threaten our sense of independence of thought and action, reducing our dignity as decision making human beings. Yet, to me, the opposite is the case. The God who knows us completely, loves us totally - and without reserve. His knowledge of us does not reduce our ability to choose and act, but it should make us reflect on the fact that what we do and say in secret is seen and known in the spiritual realm. We are a watched people - but also a people loved.

The Psalm also asks the question "where can I go from your Spirit and where can I flee from your presence, O Lord?" Here again seems to be a level of Divine activity that might be a surprise, if not a worry to some. It certainly shocked the Old Testament character Jonah who thought he could escape God's call by taking a ferry and clearing off into the distance. The great fish that was prepared for him became a submarine delivery service, spewing him up onto the very beach from which he had fled! We might run from God but we cannot hide from him nor his relentless love and care for us. Changing the narrative, and the Testament, Jesus told of a good shepherd who left his 99 sheep in the fold and went searching for the lost sheep. When he found it he returned carrying the errant animal rejoicing that the one who was lost had been found. Jesus is a good shepherd and an expert tracker. He is obsessed with finding lost people. If you are running from God or trying to hide, maybe now would be a good time to face the one who is pursuing you and accept his embrace of love, forgiveness and change. We are a pursued people.

Given the first line of Psalm 139 the finale is a little strange. Yet it sets out for us a prayer that the persistent love of God requires of us. "Search me, O God, and know my heart.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Maybe if we could make that our prayer right now, we could stop the running and the hiding, and even the fear of being fully known. After all, if we are being watched and pursued and loved, maybe it would be a relief to be found!