Forever grateful

30 years ago today I had the immense privilege of being ordained as a Baptist minister. This photo is of St Paul’s Monument in Malta, in the bay where Paul was shipwrecked. It seemed appropriate to mark the years of service by referencing the apostle who helped millions to find and grow in Christian faith. When I was baptised as a believer, 29th April 1973, my father chose some words from Paul’s first letter to Timothy to inspire me and help me find a purpose in my life. I have tried to live up to that scripture with God’s gracious help and power. (see below)

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Today I want to bless all those who have encouraged, strengthened, challenged and blessed me: first to Juliet Starling, the wonderful wife God has given me. For putting up with me (and my sense of humour) through health & sickness, blessing and hardship and for contributing so much to my own life as well as “our” churches. Your loving support has been vital. 

I continue to give thanks for my parents, siblings and their lovely families who mean so much- consider yourselves all loved very much!

I thank God for faithful friends and co-workers through the years. Spurgeon’s College gave me a great start and a number of lifelong friend-colleagues for which I am eternally grateful. Whatever I have done that is good and helpful is and has been dedicated to God’s glory; for my mistakes, failures, and struggles I thank God for forgiveness and for the fact He is not limited by my limitations.

Where I have hurt or failed any of the people in my family, friends, churches or communities, I ask forgiveness and pray that Christ will heal and restore them. Jesus is so much better and more loving than I have ever been.

For the immense privilege of sharing lives in joy or sadness, exceptional and ordinary circumstances, I praise the Lord- and thank Him for allowing me to help others explore what it means to be a Christ-follower. It is my hope that in “retirement” I may continue to learn, to grow, and to serve. The “good news” of Jesus, Lord and Saviour has been at the heart of who I am since my early years. That will not change, and I believe the best is yet to come. May God bless all who read this with love, peace, and fullness of life.

1 Timothy 6:11-16 (ANIV) 
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time – God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen.

An Obvious Symbol

Some things are obvious. So are some people, and their legacy stands out clearly. High above the valley of the Stubaital in the Austrian Tyrol stands a stainless steel Cross. It is anchored in concrete, and supported by steel hawsers to resist the savage winds and storms that strike the Alps. This cross can be seen for miles and miles; there is a pathway from the Schlick cable-car, and walkers can sit and gaze out over a glorious panorama.

It is an obvious symbol of the Christianity that has influenced Europe for untold generations. The cross cannot be missed. People may ask for an explanation or reflect on its message- but if they come here, they cannot miss it.

Today another obvious symbol, a 99 year-old preacher, has died. Billy Graham spent his entire adult life pointing to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. His words were clear, his character transparent, and his reputation unsullied. Billy Graham preached to more people than anyone else in history; untold numbers of people were challenged about their life-purpose and their need for the forgiving and accepting love of God. Many who are now Christians were converted under Billy’s ministry.

His faith and assurance have been a wonderful witness to God’s grace. Billy once said:  “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” – Billy Graham

Billy Graham has been a man I admire greatly, whose courage and obedience to the Lord make him a hero in my eyes. His whole life was spent shining the Light of Jesus Christ to anybody he could reach, anywhere he could go.

I thank God for Billy Graham. I will try to let my light shine just as boldly and as obviously as I can. I hope others will take courage from Billy’s example of active faith.

Rest in peace- and Rise in Glory!  For Billy Graham and for us: a blessing of peace, guidance, and hope.

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Celtic Christian stone Cross on Dartmoor, near Moretonhampstead.

It’s so ANNOYING!!!

It’s so frustrating. I’d even go so far as to say ANNOYING. I want to be cross. Grrrr…
 
I am quite a peaceable bloke. I don’t often want to kick things (or people) but I could make an exception in this case. Am I allowed? Aren’t I supposed to be nice? Even meek?
 
Hang on. Peaceful waterfall photograph… Steaming stroppy writer. What’s going on?Norway25th_0258cropQ
 
I am trying to get one of the big energy suppliers to do the decent thing (well, I do believe in miracles!). It’s proving difficult. I’m glad it’s not my supplier: but they really are the limit. For the umpteenth time I have been writing a friendly… er, no, a polite letter that is expressing frustration and anger at the way the company are trying to bully a customer and avoid responsibility for the company’s own failings. I hope this one works. Two pages of A4, typed politely and logically and OBSTINATELY and making some forceful points to a Jobsworth. Next letter goes to the Managing Director and Ombudsman.
 
The waterfall reminds me of the power of persistence. Water carves through the rock by refusing to stop flowing. It doesn’t give up.
 
It’s also calming. Remembering the day, standing and watching the beautiful curtain of white brushing across the surface of the cliff.
 
It reminds me of God’s patience too. His love has been gradually wearing down my resistance over the last fifty years- job not done yet, but this boulder is getting shaped by the power of love.
 
Why post this on a page about prayer? Because too often we Christians don’t know what to do with our anger, frustration and angst. What we should do is include it in our communion with Christ, as part of our prayer. To be quite honest I don’t feel like being particularly holy. I am raging at an injustice and the attempt to cover it up. But if I don’t express it in my praying, the turmoil of my mind will infect my spirit with unease, and my “prayer” would be a sham. Hey, Lord, I’m worked up about this!
 
I know I am in good company. Many of the great men and women in the Bible get hacked off and stroppy, and their prayers get real. God doesn’t smack then down for insolence or impiety.
 
Perhaps the value of the prayer is that it may change ME. No way can I ask God to strike down the offenders! Someone important said “LOVE your enemies.” I suppose my prayer is about needing strength to persist in fighting injustice… but not to become bitter or unjust myself. And not to yield to the temptation to kick some butt.
 
If only prayer was a simple formula of words. The One who offers Living Water wants to purify my heart, cleanse me of my annoyance, and teach me forgiveness. My heart is pretty hardened in this instance. Lord, please persist in wearing me down so I can forgive those who trespass against me and my “client” … and learn how to be justly, righteously, passionate about even the hardest boulders in life’s path. Teach me patience and persistence.
 
Persist. Living Water, flow through me. Amen.

Heavy weather

There’s always heavy weather. As the south-westerly gale brought the breakers crashing against Portland Bill, one feature stood out. Pulpit Rock stands four-square against the elements, unshakeable and solid. The conditions were, in typical British understatement, “bracing.” A few of us had braved the rain and gales to stand in awe at the ferocity of the sea. One brave soul climbed to the top of Pulpit Rock (using the carved footholds) and looked out to sea. Then, shortly afterwards, a small lobster fishing boat lurched into view, rolling and plunging in alarming fashion. The photo cannot do it justice!

I expect the crew thought it was a normal February day’s work. I thought “I hope they didn’t have greasy bacon for breakfast!”

Behind us stood one large and two smaller lighthouses, put there to warn and guide passing ships. The rocks of Portland Bill are hard and dangerous. Sailors must be warned, and if that fails, rescued.

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I feel rather like the climber. If the Rock represents my faith in God, much of my time for over 30 years has been spend on a solid foundation- looking out for and encouraging those going through the storms. The wind buffets me, but I am safe above the raging seas. Part of my responsibility has been to watch over and pray for the ones caught up in the storm.

I haven’t always succeeded. May God forgive me, and bless the ones that I failed.

Even when I have faithfully kept to my task, I can claim no credit for the help given, or even for the rescue of those caught in the heavy weather of life. What can I say to people, or even pray to God, when:

  • A much-loved child is ill, or is being bullied.
  • When work is so hard and the rewards are too few.
  • When the BBC News has only bad news and stark warnings.
  • Their diagnosis is serious, possibly even terminal.
  • A couple have reached the end of a marriage and want only to divorce.
  • God seems distant, and the storm is too strong.
  • At the graveside when deep love collides head-on with deep grief.

I have no easy answers.  I have learned some lessons, though.

  • Being there matters more than what I say.
  • God can do things that I cannot do. It doesn’t all depend on me (thank goodness!).
  • For me to stand on the Rock of truth means I am seen, a witness and herald, and recognised as one who depends on God. Then my faith in Jesus brings comfort to those who struggle to hold onto their own belief and trust in the crisis.

There will be stormy days.  Being caught at sea is dangerous. But our call is to go to those in peril, whatever the risk or cost. This is the motivation for Christians to go to wild places, and to look for those in danger of drowning; to give up their own hopes and ambitions so others might find solid ground on which to stand. Even standing on the rock can be cold and hazardous. That at least we can do!

Remember there are things that cannot be achieved without risk. Someone has to sail the boats. Who are you going to call? Who is watching out for you? Here’s a prayer of trust:

O LORD, I have come to you for protection; don’t let me be disgraced. Save me and rescue me, for you do what is right. Turn your ear to listen to me, and set me free. Be my rock of safety where I can always hide. Give the order to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.   Psalm 71:1-3 (NLT)

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