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 matt@vazonelim.org.gg.

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!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Time for Flowers

The time for flowers has come. Well - not quite because as I write on the 28th February 2018 there will not be a leap year day tomorrow. But on the 29th February exactly 50 years ago, Diane and I first met. We both attended a car treasure hunt being organised by her local church and Diane was in charge (when isn't she?? Only joking my love.. hmm). I looked at her and thought "Wow"! Then "I'll bet she's already taken" and with that thought gave up and focused on winning the game. Afterwards we were sitting in the coffee bar area when she came up to me and asked "would you like some more soup"? My answer was to shuffle up and make room for her to sit down and we had our first chat. Half a century later we are still chatting.

We both feel that we found the treasure that day. When folk talk about love at first sight it hardly seems real. It is, in fact, quite rare, but the idea is both alluring and romantic. That was our experience, though, and we have been 'Eric and Diane' ever since. Now our desire is to do life together right up until we walk through heaven's gate hand in hand. To know and love one other person as deeply for as long is a great privilege, and one that we do not take for granted. Diane has sat beside what she thought would be my death-bed more than once, and we have said our final farewells to each other more times than we would have ever wanted, but God has been good to us and spared us so that we can rejoice in this day.

I have recently started keeping a 'gratitude diary' in which I write briefly down things for which I am thankful every day. It helps me to stay focused on positive things when weakness or problems might distract. Today I have plenty to write down. I hope you would have too. If you have not been blessed with the sort of relationship that I have described above please don't be too disheartened. We are all individuals and are all different, but God is still good and has good plans for our lives. Maybe there are still things that, despite the winter cold, you can join me in rejoicing about today? It may be cold and dark outside, but the time for flowers is also here.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart?

Photo from Christianity Today Weekly Newsletter Feb. 23rd 2018
The death this week of Billy Graham aged 99 has awakened a whole lot of memories from the middle of the last century. The US evangelist took Britain by storm in the 1950's and '60's with his large-scale major 'Crusades' in venues like the huge stadiums at Wembley and Haringay. His simple but powerful preaching of the good news of the gospel of Jesus made a huge impact on many thousands and resulted in folk making commitments of their lives to the service of Christ and others. I met missionaries overseas in Africa and India who had come to faith through his preaching and were going on to do great work for God where they felt called.

I had never heard of him so when a college friend invited me to the 'landline Billy Graham relays' at St James hall in Guernsey in 1967 I was puzzled. "Who is this man?" I asked my Mum, who replied that he was some kind of religious salesman. I was not intrigued enough to attend, but I was stirred to know more, as I reasoned that if a man could sell religion he could probably sell anything!

As I look back upon his influence over the decades I am most struck by the record for integrity that Billy Graham and his team maintained.  Stung by the Elmer Gantry caricature of the hypocritical travelling evangelist in American culture and media, the Graham team decided to act. In 1948 during a crusade in Modesto California, Billy called the team to his hotel room and challenged them to find a way to 'stay clean' in their work. Sex, money and power were proving to be the downfall of other itinerant evangelistic teams as it sadly has been too often in Christian leadership over the years. The Modesto Manifesto became a programme of accountability and avoidance that would serve Billy Graham well over the decades.

Integrity is when your outsides match your insides even when nobody is looking. It is a vital component to ministry and leadership of all kinds. Billy Graham wanted to 'stay pure' but he harboured no misunderstanding about his own vulnerability. He protected himself in advance so that his work would not be undermined or destroyed by scandal.

Another great evangelist in my own denomination, Alexander Tee, once said "If you want to be successful in ministry keep your hands off the glory and your fingers out of the gold". Billy Graham's hands were clean but not by accident. By the grace of God and the wise counsel of others he fought the good fight and overcame. After all, isn't it better to erect a fence at the top of a cliff rather than park an ambulance at the bottom?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

More than a Passing Pain

I met a dear friend yesterday whose heart is breaking. You would not know it if you saw her in the supermarket or driving her car. She beams with pride when speaking about her extended family and loves the outdoors. Her attitude to those in pain is exemplary, practical and caring. She does her work as requested and puts more into it than many would. She loves and is loved. She believes that God is preparing a place for her 'on the other side' of life.

Yet, Jane (not her real name but I can't keep saying 'she') is wracked with the most appalling clinical depression. I don't know if it is worse at this time of the year when dark winter clouds blot out the life-giving rays of the sun. Maybe it is, but I suspect perhaps not, because this is what the Bible describes as "the arrow that flies by day and the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, the plague that destroys at midday"(Ps. 91:5-6). This kind of deadly depression seems to hit us when we are down, not just when the sun goes down.

Winston Churchill, the great war leader of Britain, suffered from bouts of dreadful self-doubt and dark depression. The recent film Darkest Hour reveals this well. He called depression his black dog, and felt that it plagued him at the most unwelcome times.

William Cowper, the writer of several well-known hymns like "There is a Fountain" and "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" was plagued with dark periods of despair and depression all his life. At the age of 21 he wrote "I was struck with such a dejection of spirits, as none but they who have felt the same, can have the least conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror, rising up in despair." His many attempts at suicide were not just cries for help - they were the outcome of his hatred of his life and himself, and the misdirected longing to be free from his suffering.

When my lovely, joyful wife and I were first married, she suffered from 13 years of almost unbearable depression and anxiety. Those years of sleeplessness, distress and dark forebodings, affected us both deeply. We can and do thank God for stepping in and through a long process of counselling. love, prayer and healing ministry, bringing both of us out of the shadows. But it is not easy, nor is it something that can be achieved in a moment.

Those whose hearts are breaking right now are precious to God and they should be to us. You can't see a sign on Jane saying "I am depressed". May God help us to be more sensitive to those in the grip of this plague and offer far more than platitudes. Practical love manifest in persevering prayer, comfort and kindness, acceptance and grace, must all play their part in helping others to get through.

Think of that if you have a moment to read William Cowper's words below - words torn from a breaking heart.

  1. God moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform;
    He plants His footsteps in the sea
    And rides upon the storm.
  2. Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never failing skill
    He treasures up His bright designs
    And works His sov’reign will.
  3. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
    The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy and shall break
    In blessings on your head.
  4. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust Him for His grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
    He hides a smiling face.
  5. His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding every hour;
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flow’r.
  6. Blind unbelief is sure to err
    And scan His work in vain;
    God is His own interpreter,
    And He will make it plain.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Preaching and Burning Bones

I love preaching! Mostly doing it, of course, although I am also an avid sermon listener and always make fulsome notes to review later (no, Matt Gregor - [my pastor and friend] I am not writing a shopping list or doodling!). My whole adult life has been given over to preparing and preaching messages of all types. Sermons, homilies, radio talks, debates, speeches, and all kinds of oral communication. My PhD thesis was on the subject of preaching in a 21st Century setting, and I had to research the subject inside out and upside down at that time.

Last weekend I had the joy of preaching at the City Church Cardiff in Wales, UK. It is a preacher's church building, with hundreds of people stacked high in a rising terrace in front of the stage. The church programme that day included services at 9am and 11am, 4pm and 6.30pm with large crowds attending. I spoke at the first two, and Diane gave a short account in each of how God has helped us through the 21 years since I left the post of Senior Pastor at that church, seriously unwell. It was a wonderful day of proclaiming the goodness of God and our need to trust in him even when things are tough. A handful of people made first-time commitments to become followers of Christ and that crowned an otherwise glorious day.

Sadly, though, preaching has fallen onto hard times. As the joke above (taken from the Church Humor (sic) Newsletter published from newsletter@lists.christianitytoday.com) shows only too well, many preachers find their material in online joke sites and other even less worthy places. Don't get me wrong, I am all for good humour in the pulpit and I try to make effective use of it. But a serious attempt to hear from God in his Word - the Bible - and to communicate that with passion to our listeners, must mark preachers today as always.

Preaching is not a lecture nor a seminar. It is an encounter with the living God in his Word by the power of his Spirit. When I kept silence for the last 2 years up to Christmas 2017 due to my extreme ill health and recovery from major surgery, the fire of God's message burned in my bones. Last Sunday I was at last able to release it with joy and watch it kindle a glow of faith in the hearts of my listeners.  That was a huge privilege and I hope the start of many such times to come.

Please pray for your preachers, and do encourage them when they do well. Take notes of what they teach and say, and make the sermon as vital as Sunday lunch in your life too. Your bones may even start burning as well!

Friday, January 26, 2018

You'll Never Guess what they are Painting now! Lessons from Four-legged Hooligans!

"I didn't do it!"
You will never guess what the Guernsey authorities are going to paint blue now!  Yes, the poor dog hiding behind the fence is the clue - dog poo!! Later this year a team of dog wardens are going to creep around a much-loved island common watching out for those offending heaps.  When they see them they will paint them bright blue (with a spray can you'll be relieved to know). As a (sadly) former dog owner, and all-time dog lover, nothing makes me more mad than owners who refuse to pick up after their pooch. After all, the resulting mess is not only smelly and disgusting to see, it is both unhygienic and downright dangerous to the health of children. But - forgive my cynical incredulity - I just cannot see this plan working to reduce the problem.

The idea is to shame people into avoiding the issue, either literally by not stepping in it, or educationally when they realise it was their beloved hound that did it! But it does feel like bolting, or perhaps painting, doors after the animal has skedaddled. Maybe it will work and time alone will tell.

What this typically Guernsey solution has put me in mind of is how often people go around spray painting our faults and mistakes after the event instead of helping us to avoid them in the first place. Is this what Jesus meant when he said that we shouldn't try to remove a tiny speck of dust from someone's eye while there is a great big plank sticking out of our own?  Well, give them a pair of protective plastic glasses eh? And go and see the surgeons about that plank.

'After-the-event' criticising and highlighting (painting poo) may fulfill our desire to flag up a problem caused by other peoples' wrongs, but does it ever really change human nature? Integrity is choosing to do what's right, to our own cost, even when nobody else is watching. That is an issue of the heart, and maybe if the blue piles of poo reveal that to us, they will have served some slight benefit. Only a change of heart can really address anti-social behaviour of any kind. Sadly we live in an age where ideals of right and wrong are sometimes overlooked by those who should know better.

I still think a supply of poo bags and bins in each car-park is probably the best we can do. "Here boy.. no don't do that - not there!"

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Blue Monday gives way to Wonderful Wednesday!

In this season of grim days and dim days it is so good to have a reason to celebrate! Today is my wonderful wife's birthday and what a different one it is proving to be from the last 21. The past year has seen a remarkable transformation in our lives as amazing space-age surgery has set me free from chronic and recurring acute pancreatitis and everything that belongs to it. Diane has had to be my carer for most of that time, trudging the grimy streets of London alone scores of times while I was in hospital again. We have said 'goodbye' to each other more times than I want to recall when we have been warned that there was a '1 in 3' chance I would not survive this procedure or surgery. Her faithfulness has mirrored to me the character of the God we both love and serve. She has been 'Christ' to me in so many ways. I am glad that she has her voice back after a recent cold stole her joy in singing. In better weather Diane spends time in her shed, reading the Bible in several versions - even in French - and singing hymns and songs. I hesitate to tell her that everyone in the neighbourhood can hear her, but that would not stop her, nor would I want it to. God is glorified in this touching simplicity of love and faith together with its open heart and honest questions. What is there not to love?

We read together this morning from Psalm 13 in the Message version of the Bible. It says:
1  Long enough, GOD—you’ve ignored me long enough. I’ve looked at the back of your head long enough.
2  Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain. Long enough my arrogant enemies have looked down their noses at me.
3  Take a good look at me, GOD, my God; I want to look life in the eye,
4  So no enemy can get the best of me or laugh when I fall on my face.
I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—I’m celebrating your rescue.
6  I’m singing at the top of my lungs, I’m so full of answered prayers.

Well that just about sums up this day. Happy Birthday my glorious wife - and many, many happy returns!

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Jaded by New Year Resolutions? Try this for size!

I don't want to be too hard on you or myself by blowing a trumpet for New Year's resolutions. All well and good as they are, I can recall some spectacular non-starters from my own past. "Going to lose a stone" - "Going to the gym and the pool regularly" - "Pray more" - "Eat less". They're all present and correct in the roll call of erstwhile good intentions. Is it the Chinese who say that the roadway to hell is paved with good intentions? If so, is there any point in this annual outbreak of self-bashing guilt-fest?

Well maybe it's not a bad thing to take a mild kind of self-test at the start of a new year (with the emphasis on the word 'kind'). Perhaps we should content ourselves with aspirations such as - to smile more and scowl less: to listen more and speak less: to err on the side of love if given a choice between that and harsh judgement: to be present in the moment rather than regretting yesteryear or day-dreaming about an unreal future.

But I have been struck anew by a prayer written over 500 years ago by a Christian leader and mystic, Ignatius of Loyola. It sets out before God and my heart what I would really want for my life in 2018, especially since I have been so graciously set free from pain and disease in the last year...

Teach us, Good Lord, to serve you as you deserve;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To toil and not to seek for rest;
To labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.
Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.

I remember being deeply affected by hearing this prayer being said at college assemblies before I even became a committed Christian. It is so much more than a temporary resolution that may fade by February. I want to make it my prayer as we enter 2018, and I hope you might think it worthwhile to do so too. If not, remember God loves you anyway, and at least be grateful and kind. Happy New Year!