Saturday, February 27, 2021

'We will win - that's what we do!'


 I find myself a little misty-eyed as I write this, having just watched the Livestream of the funeral service for Captain Sir Tom Moore. It was sad to see only 10 people in the Bedford crematorium as I'm sure many thousands would have gathered in a cathedral to honour a man who has captured the nation's heart during this pandemic. There were around 22,000 devices watching the Facebook Live stream with me, and probably many more on other media.

Coincidentally I have also just finished reading his autobiography 'Tomorrow will be a Good Day' and feel like I knew the man very well. I was so impressed with his high sense of duty, decency, determination, (I am running out of 'd's!) combined with unrelenting politeness, perseverance in trial and positivity. I love the fact that at 90 years old he travelled on his own to Kathmandu in Nepal and hired a small plane to fly around the summit of Everest! Two years later he was back in India again, this time in the company of his daughters, revisiting his wartime haunts. Famous for his £38.9 million fundraising for the NHS during 2020, this great man seemed indestructible - but he never claimed it so, acknowledging the privilege he had been given in living so long.

Elsewhere in the book Captain Sir Tom spoke endearingly of his quiet Christian faith, perhaps in keeping with that of the awesome lady of his own generation, Queen Elizabeth, who knighted him at Windsor last year. 

When speaking of the Covid virus pandemic he said: 'Faced with a common enemy, we were all in this together - comrades in arms - only now the battle was against a virus. And just like the war, I knew that we would win. We always do in this country. It often takes time, but we win. That's what we do'. The battle against Covid is a global one, and we can forgive the old warrior boasting of his own land, but the sentiment and positive example is stirring.

What I also find heartening about the adulation and attention being given to this unassuming and very normal little man, is the amount of respect being paid to the fading generation of which he was part. If there is any silver lining to the dark storm-cloud of the pandemic, it may be that so many of us have sacrificed and worked together to save the lives of as many senior citizens as we can. In a time when older folk were at best marginalised and ignored, and at worst maligned, mocked and abused, by a world obsessed with youth and looks, it is gratifying that millions have paused to honour the passing of a generation that suffered greatly, who accepted duty and sacrifice with equanimity and yet hope, and who laid down foundations of Christian behaviour from which we would do well to learn.

Farewell, Sir Tom. May God bless and comfort your dear family.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Baring our Hearts and not just our Arms

I was grateful for a mild fever last weekend. It was the day after my second vaccination against Covid-19 and although it meant a few hours with a headache or feeling a bit out of sorts, this was a good sign. My immune system was working away, identifying, and reacting to, the vaccine, and it quickly passed. I am so thankful for the huge crowd of folk who have made this possible, from the scientists who rose to the challenge of producing this great weapon against the virus, to the doctors, nurses and front-line vaccinators who are offering it in Guernsey today.

Yet, it was my choice to respond to the phonecall telling me that, due to my medical history, I was being offered this injection now. I have friends who have misgivings about it. I respect them but hope that in time they will come to see that this is God’s gift to our communities. It is something to be grateful for and not to be afraid of. But it will still be for them to choose. I cannot bare their arms for them. Scientists have developed vaccines against a variety of diseases, but even in countries where these vaccinations are readily available, often free of charge, the diseases have not always been eradicated. The reason? People must choose inoculation to enjoy immunity. This vaccination campaign in Guernsey, as elsewhere, is not mandatory. The science has provided the gift, but we must each choose to receive it. I hope that when your turn comes, you will feel able to do so.

There is another virus at work in our society today. The Bible calls it ‘the power of sin’ and it leads to all kinds of social and personal distress and disaster. God’s solution is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). He has provided for us a way to be forgiven and to learn how to forgive. Through Jesus he offers us an intervention against both the power and the penalty of sin. But just as with Covid-19, everyone must make their own choice, baring not their arms this time, but their hearts. Without that moment of willing surrender, the process of healing and internal change cannot begin. But with it, a new life opens ahead of us, and God’s ‘new normal’ starts to appear.


 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Herald of Hope or Prophet of Doom?

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash
"Discouragement is both dangerous and contagious. It is one of the devil’s most potent tools, because it mutes truth and muffles hope. Do you tend to be a prophet of doom? How might you be a herald of hope instead?" These words in my daily Bible reading notes⃰, got me thinking this morning. How much am I encouraging others? What proportion of my interaction with others, whether online or in person, gives someone else support, confidence, or hope? (This is the dictionary definition of 'encouragement').

These are tough times. With regard to the pandemic, the way ahead is not yet clear, though there are positive signs. It is not likely that we will see significant inroads into death tolls and hospital admissions with Covid-19 until well into the year, but hopefully by Easter. Whether that leads on to the restoration of 'normal life' is less likely in the short term. Travel and hospitality are bound to be impacted by the last 12 months, and large gatherings and social events are probably going to be treated with suspicion for some time to come.

But - better days are ahead! History teaches us that. The Spanish flu epidemic of 100 years ago did pass off after 18 months or so, and without a vaccine. The devastation caused by the two great wars of the 20th Century was overcome in Europe. The terrors of SARS and AIDS took a dreadful toll, but are now fading in the face of advances in medicine and lifestyle.

I happen to be married to one of life's great encouragers! For nearly 50 years Diane has brought laughter, warmth, hope and encouragement to me, through some of the darkest times imaginable. From being at my bedside in dingy, Dickensian hospital wards in London, to holding my hand through long periods of unconsciousness, this lady chose to be a 'herald of hope'. I salute her for that, and want to be like her. 

The greatest reason to encourage my own soul, and those of others, is the assurance that God is still in control of this universe and that He has a plan for its future. An old cliché rejoices that 'the future is as bright as the promises of God' and I believe it. God has an exciting plan for your life, and mine, and though it may involve passage through storms, the outcome is not in doubt. With Christ, better days are definitely ahead! 


⃰ https://content.scriptureunion.org.uk/wordlive/god-will-save-his-people 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Lockdown sorrow hits last pocket of resistance in Britain

 

Guernsey is finally in lockdown once again - the last place in the British Isles to succumb to the 'second wave' of Covid 19. Just 4 cases of community seeding - positive test results with no obvious link to travel or isolating individuals -meant the island's government took the difficult decision today to immediately shut down everything, including places of worship, restaurants, takeaways, close contact services, non-essential retail, the whole shebang. Whilst this is sad and potentially very tough for businesses, it is the kind of strong leadership that has enabled several Asian nations, including China itself, to deal with the virus very effectively thus far (less the human rights abuses and militaristic elements of course). Cracking down hard, quickly and completely, for a period, and then opening up very carefully seems to offer a methodology worth following. Our prayer is that this method will be equally efficient here.

But we cannot overlook the cost to individuals as well as businesses. Low income families in tight accommodation without gardens will feel it keenly. People who can't work from home will be afraid as they go about their necessary work. Frontline staff in our small hospital and other medical facilities will be wondering where all this might lead. Thankfully, there is hope:

  • The medics know this virus by now (better the devil you know etc)
  • The vaccine rollout is going well, offering the best chance of beating it
  • Last year's experience means there are now some treatments that work in extreme cases
  • Guernsey's community pulled together remarkably well last lockdown and overcame in due course
  • Better weather is on the way (good to see some sun today) even if weeks ahead
  • Previous plagues have just subsided even without a vaccine (Spanish flu etc)
  • God hasn't resigned and is still occupying a throne on high
  • The Holy Spirit is in us and makes the presence of God real (love, joy, peace etc)
  • The Word of God is still true and all his promises are 'yes and amen' in Jesus
  • We have a glorious future in Christ - even beyond the grave!
So, as we re-join the rest of Britain in restrictions like social distancing and masks, which we had enjoyed being without for months, I choose to be grateful not fearful, and to hope, not complain. I also want to be a source of real encouragement to others. Thankfully, we can keep in touch in so many ways. But, I'll be honest, I hope it won't be at all long before we can meet together again!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

A Thin Stream of Fear

‘Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.’  So said US author Arthur Somers Roche (1883–1935).∗ I reckon he was right. I have never been to see the Grand Canyon but it was apparently caused by a small water stream originally, which finally cut its way through solid rock! 

In the grip of a global pandemic there is plenty of water in the streams feeding our fears. People are using social media to lob their own bucketfuls of fear filled paranoia into the debates about vaccination, the virus and the uncertainties of our age. Frightened folk are being led astray by conspiracy theories that belong in medieval England not the western world of the 21st Century. But we are where we are, and whilst we can do little about the pandemic, we are each responsible for dealing with our own fear and worry.

I try not to let fear make the decisions around here! I know there are some dreadful things going on, but I choose not to let them disturb my present or determine my future. Fear and worry can be paralysing and when I face scary situations I choose daily to believe God’s promises and trust in His presence to see me through. When I do wake up terrified, or suffer a flashback from the past, I offer it up in prayer to a God whom I know loves me, and try to choose to move on. I don’t always succeed but I feel it is important to keep fear at bay and focus on God’s presence and promises.

Jesus spelled out a really helpful antidote to worry in Matthew 6:25-34. “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time" (v34). This is sound advice but not always easy to follow. What might make it easier is knowing how much we are loved. Once we know that, and remind ourselves of it daily, then the remorseless drip-feed of fears and worries can be gradually turned off at the source.

If somehow the tiny stream in the Arizona desert could have been damned and used for some other purpose millennia ago, the awesome depths of the Grand Canyon would never have been formed. Of course, the finger of God drew those imposing escarpments, even if He used the tiny stream like a crayon. And my fears may not seem significant now. The voice of the fearful conspiracy theorists might not appear much more than mischievous at this point, but if we don't deal with fear and worry at this early stage, things can get badly out of hand. Thankfully, perfect love does still cast out fear (1 John 4:18).

Taken from WordLive by Scripture Union https://content.scriptureunion.org.uk/wordlive/worry-antidote 

 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Whose side are you on?

Recent events in Washington, where the Capitol was assaulted and occupied, albeit briefly, in a violent confrontation, have shocked and saddened millions. Even fervent supporters of the outgoing President appear to have been stunned by these developments. Democracy itself is under attack. These scenes were reminiscent of 1930’s Germany and the thuggery that marked the rise of fascism in Europe. Thankfully in this case it appears to have caused a national reset, a sharp intake of political breath, and hopefully lessons learnt. 80 years ago it led to world war.

Deep divisions seem to be causing distress in Western democracies of all shapes and sizes. In Britain, the Brexit debate triggered intolerance, anger, and tribalism. And Covid is putting strain on governments and economies in unprecedented ways, leading once again to strong divisions of opinions and conspiracy theories. In all these things, the drive to ‘circle the wagons’ and listen only to voices like our own is very real. This is true for Christians as much as anyone, but we must resist the temptation to withdraw into our defensive bunkers. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world, and neither should his people be, however strongly we might hold to political opinions of all colours. Neither should we allow fear to make the decisions around here.

In the Bible book of Joshua, chapter 6, the young zealot faced his greatest military challenge, the fight for the stronghold city of Jericho. The night before, he had a vision of a heavenly figure holding a great sword. Joshua’s question to this Divine being could almost have come from today’s America or Britain. ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ he enquired. The answer would have shocked Joshua. ‘Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come’ (v14). Is God for us or for them? Joshua would have presumed that God was on his side, not theirs, but he was wrong. 

Jesus came into the world to establish a new world order where love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy would triumph over evil, oppression and wrongdoing. The cross of Calvary is where God judged our sin, not the Capitol in Washington nor the Palace of Westminster, and he calls his followers to be people committed to a ministry of reconciliation. The real question is not whether God is on our side, or that of the opposition, but whether we are on the Lord’s side?


 

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Hope at the End of a Long Climb

 

Getting to the start of the New Year called 2021 is like arriving at the summit of really tough mountain climb. You have sweated and struggled, felt like you were falling again and again, wondered if the steep cliff face would ever yield, until you stagger to the peak, still shrouded in storm clouds, and the joy of the moment is in the hope of better days to come.

Happy New Year! Did I hear someone say 'well it can't be any worse than 2020!'? It is hard not to be cynical and wonder what new plagues may be lurking on the other side of the summit, but cynicism never achieved much. In fact, I once heard someone say that 'cynics gnaw away at their own skeleton' - harming only themselves. No, I want to breathe the high mountain air and enjoy the view and walk on with hope and gratitude in my heart. I need not fear 2021 because God is already there, and he is still faithful. I want to share with you the words of the book of Lamentations in the Message version of the Bible, as I find them helpful this pandemic New Year:

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,

    the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.

I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—

    the feeling of hitting the bottom.

But there’s one other thing I remember,

    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

 

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,

    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.

They’re created new every morning.

    How great your faithfulness!

I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).

    He’s all I’ve got left.

 

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks.

It’s a good thing to quietly hope,

    quietly hope for help from God.

It’s a good thing when you’re young

    to stick it out through the hard times.

 

When life is heavy and hard to take,

    go off by yourself. Enter the silence.

Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:

    Wait for hope to appear.

Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.

    The “worst” is never the worst.

 

Why? Because the Master won’t ever

    walk out and fail to return.

If he works severely, he also works tenderly.

    His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.*


* Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of the NavPress Publishing Group.