Archive for the ‘faith’ Tag

DURING THE OPERATION…

My wife is currently in surgery having her tumour removed. I have fulfilled my pledge not to blog about her condition prior to the operation. However, I feel it’s important to make clear how powerfully God has been at work during this time. I want to do it now because I don’t know the outcome of the operation currently ongoing. I have every expectation, and would do with all good reason even if I had no trust in God, that things will go fine and that full recovery will ensue. However, I don’t want what I write to be perceived as coloured by the knowledge of a happy ending, or otherwise.

The fact is, to this point, my wife and I (I may just call her N for this post! I don’t want to use her name, despite the fact most readers will know her, as she has nothing to do with the blog and deserves her cybersphere anonymity until she chooses otherwise!) have seen such great growth and so many blessings. I know I have touched upon it before, but it really bears repeating. This has truly been a humbling season and one that I think will have greatly strengthened our continuing witness and testimony.

Blessings of Support

Let me make absolutely clear that the church doesn’t have a monopoly on compassion or practical love. To pretend otherwise would be to insult the cards, texts, chats, offers of food and, well, the love of our many non-Christian mates, family members, colleagues and, in N’s case, the brilliant community she shares in at the gym (crazily fit career women who each set their alarms before 6 every morning in order to make the same classes – it forges a strong common bond!). Had we never been to church we would still have appreciated a great deal of great support.

Even so, this is the time to be part of a church! Particularly a good one. A lot of atheist websites, often tarnished by personal experience for which some professed Christians should be highly ashamed, work from the starting point that church is a negative, tedious, grasping, judgmental, hypocritical body at every level – something they are doing a good service by liberating people from. To them I would cry out that on every level, in every way, you would do the cruellest and most brutal thing to take this community from N and I! Where to start? 

·        There’s the weekly comfort, prayers, encouragement and hugs from open, compassionate, honest people who care.

·        There’s the food rota that sees me fed for the next two weeks!

·        There’s the pair of absolute legends who have given up days to free us from DIY hell and get the kitchen sorted for Nina’s convalescence (the bathroom and bedroom are next in their sights!)

·        There’s the whole group of church elders who packed into our tiny lounge – sitting on the floor and allowing the cat to walk all over them – as they prayed together with N

·        There’s N’s prayer triplet in which she can confide and confess

·        There’s our small study group who have prayed, planned and done much to build N up via study of God’s Word

·        There was dinner at Perks’ house and the amazing e-mail he sent just prior to the op. Very precious to N I know – this is a pastor who truly gets involved (and Pete – if you’re reading – you guys have been absolute stars too)

·        There’s the church member working at the hospital who spent time with N outside of visiting hours both last thing last night and first thing this morning. And another training at the hospital who just now texted offering to provide N with any supplies she needs!

·        There’s the almost ridiculous number of texts, cards, letters, gifts etc we have both received – sometimes from people we barely know!

This is not just nice people being nice out of a sense of duty. Every part of this points to Christ and affirms the love of God. The kindest thing of all has been the sharing of Bible verses and insights that N spent last night looking over and feeling powerfully protected. These are people changed and motivated by the gospel. These are people committed to counter-cultural servant-heartedness. And they have served as wings to carry us through a difficult time.

Blessings of growth

There is more to write about this later. I will be less forthcoming as some of it is private. But let me just say that N has changed. So many prayers have been answered. She has such a love of her fellow Christians. She is so outward-looking and keen to serve others as she has been served. She is so hungry for the Bible. She is so confident in the Lord’s protection – all the way into theatre. She has always been a naturally stressed and anxious person. The good night’s sleep she got last night, her calmness approaching general anaesthetic and brain surgery… even the grateful heart she has having lost half of her hearing for good; it would all have been impossible to comprehend before the incredible journey of the past few months.

As Reformed (repressed?) Evangelical types, we are often accused of underplaying the role of the Spirit (laughably by some of not even ‘having’ the Spirit!) but let me make this clear – N may not prophesy in tongues or swing from the rafters in church, but she could not be more clearly Spirit-filled if indeed she had a halo of flame! Overnight there is a completely new fluency and familiarity in prayer. Overnight there is a desire to smash idols and share the gospel. God changes lives – and His plans are better than ours.

And finally…I sat next to a man at the London Mens’ Convention. He asked me to pray for his wife and I asked him to pray for mine. He spoke of his wife’s deep depression. It all began with a medical ailment that she suffered last year… and it caused her to lose hope – to abandon hope in a situation she considered beyond the pale. That grieves me. It has bugged me ever since. It was so different to my account. That woman needs someone, wherever she is, to grab a hold of her and to turn her around. The practical love of Christians should point to the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus points us to assurance, victory and life everlasting, even as he himself bleeds and dies in fearful agony. This life can be tough. And painful. And lonely. And frightening. But, as Christians we are enabled by the Spirit to be those who show ‘patience in the face of suffering’ because we can see that ‘the Lord is full of compassion and mercy’ (James 5) and that our eternal blessings are assured. This is our greatest witness, and it’s a witness that has been powerfully noted anew by many people around us in the weeks of preparation for this operation. God is truly good and to be trusted.

 

 I’ll let you know how the op goes…

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BREAKING RADIO SILENCE

And then the blogging stopped… Sorry about that anyone who may have missed me these past couple of weeks. Truth is, having banned myself from tumour-related blogging, I subsequently found I had little else on my mind. Furthermore, this turns out to be the busy season, and I deemed the blog to be rather less deserving of my attentions than either work or my wife. If it’s any consolation, I never found any time to get on with watching my Heroes boxset either…

Even now I’m not entirely sure what to write. I’m not convinced the next week is looking any more free than the last – quite the opposite – so, whilst some may still be checking this page I guess I just want to put a couple of things down for the record.

 

God is being good. I always thought this was something people said through gritted teeth during tough times, whilst in reality wondering why He was being quite so harsh. However, in our case at least He really really is. I won’t go into details and contravene my own rules, but many prayers have been answered of late in our lives – things are changing in a way I wouldn’t have previously deemed possible. Once all this is over, I’ll write all about it properly.

 

Something has occurred to me though. We often pray for healing and deliverance (I certainly have) when illness and troubles rear their head. It is an understandable impulse, but it can reflect our own self-centred plans and perceptions. In reality, such hopes are perhaps seeking to opt out of that character-building and perseverance the Bible associates with seasons of suffering. In looking to bypass the difficult times we may be asking to miss out on those experiences that do most to forge our faith. Likewise, the ‘event healings’ that we presume would most glorify God, were they to occur, might in some cases prove a sideshow from the real witness of living faithfully in a fallen and frustrating world with eyes set firm upon Him.

 

God is being good. There has been more exciting progress made in our marriage, our friendships, our walk with God and our evangelism to others in the past month than in the whole of last year lived three times over. I want to make clear, lest anyone mistake this radio silence for a spiritual lull or bemused loss for words, that I’m grateful to Him, I trust in Him… and that I’m currently being given plenty of reasons to do so!

 

UNRELATED PS: How’s this for more material to come… I have a job interview on Wednesday. At a Catholic school…

20 OBSERVATIONS ABOUT 2009 SO FAR…

My year thus far. It starts quite negatively, but persist – it ends quite cheery!!

1. TUMOUR: My wife’s benign brain tumour is clearly the biggest news of the year thus far. It is horrible and scary considering brain surgery… Even so, it is with far more than token acknowledgement that I claim that God WILL use this for the good. I have already seen it in terms of the strengthening of our marriage, the strengthening of friendships, the strengthening of trust in Him. Even so, I really wish it wasn’t happening! (Sorry God…)

2. HEALING: A big challenge to us as UK evangelicals. It is the gut reaction of those in our church to pray for my wife’s ‘strength’ (generally spiritual), rather than for her ‘healing’. To some Christians this would seem bizarre. We are so keen not to give false expectations to believers, to stray into ‘wealth & health’ territory or to see Christianity as initiation into the Magic Circle. But are we exhibiting too little faith? James 5 states that ‘prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well’… but also of ‘patience in the face of suffering’, so we’ll see… I’d be grateful if you’d join me in praying that the tumour would indeed shrink.

3. ANKLE: This takes me to my own ‘suffering’. Less worrisome than the above, to be sure, but my unhealing ankle ligament damage, sustained before Christmas, has significantly impacted upon my year thus far. No more chats with Tom en route to the weekly football; no more joining my wife for weekend runs; no more active lifestyle at all in fact… I pray that I too am learning patience, but if so it’s sub-conscious!!

4. 30th BIRTHDAY: Maybe it’s all tied up in this! Five years ago my ankle would have healed. Of that I’m sure. I guess these things can no longer be taken so for granted. Me being me, my birthday has unleashed a dizzying bout of self-analysis. Society says stay young, but I crave maturity, responsibility and progress, albeit whilst still being mistaken for a sixth-former at school! God has been kind to me – I have a saving faith, a wife, a home I own and a career, so I could face this artificial landmark with a certain calm. Not to say I won’t moan about these very blessings! Read on…

5. CAREER: Tumour aside, the worst thing about the year thus far has been the continuation of the annual saga entitled ‘Andy fails to get a new job’. I fear I must learn not to uphold myself by worldly standards. I’d better not, because the sad truth is I have made remarkably little progress as a teacher, whether by promotion or by moving to a better school. I know I have the potential to do more, and that I am a better teacher than some above me. But God wants me where I am for now, so I’d better get on with it!

6. THE FLAT: And as for this… it’s hard to explain how negative I feel about our material home. The next item (Debt) will be largely explained by having bought a flat – having been forced to have it damp-proofed, double-glazed, having bought the freehold and done the bathroom… only to be told that we need new floors, new plastering and that, even with all that, the flat has devalued since we bought it. We don’t have funds or practical skills (at all!). I would love to host more and to stop fretting about where this home-owning saga takes us. 2009 has not gone well in this respect!

7. DEBT: This is the shame I bear. We have been unwise at times. Savings don’t exist. Debt is significant. In this current climate it’s horrible because you’re always one redundancy or vengeful credit card company away from disaster. True faith in God is required, as well as gratitude for all we have (and it’s a lot!), but I would love to be debt-free.

8. ECCLESIASTES: Reading this in my Quiet Times was fascinating. What’s it doing there? It is so deeply cynical and depressed in tone that even the NIV Study Notes don’t seem to have a clue what to do with it much of the time! But that said, I found it massively heartening. Hope placed in anything other than Christ is ultimately ‘meaningless’. This is the alternative – and we have the answer to it!

9. JOY: As seen for much of the above, I am a real worrier (and moaner) – increasingly so as I leave my youth behind! I have a wife who can take it personally and so I need not to let it become my norm. I have begun forcing myself to acknowledge those things I am grateful for each day. Largely by…

10. DIARISATION: If it’s not enough that I record minutely my Quiet Time content and blog my every other thought, I have this year begun keeping a record of what I did each day, perhaps to enforce some accountability in not wasting my time. I want to ensure I’m seeing friends, going places… and to be able to thank God for those recorded daily blessings! It works as I’m normally grateful for most of what I’ve written down. Lets look at a couple…

11. MOVIES: I won’t say much, as when I blogged about it no-one read! My wife and I have long since been movie addicts. The surprise has been that, as I try to watch them more with God-goggles on, I find I’ve been enjoying them more! I do like to consider character motives and lessons learned… seeing how a worldview compares with our own. Turns out God isn’t a kill-joy after all!

12. FOOD: Thank God that my wife has developed a passion for working her way through the latest Jamie Oliver cook-book! Now here’s a discovery – my spiritual regime very much benefits from a general sense of physical well-being. Attempts to eat my 5-a-day, particularly with an increased fruit intake, and to eat decent satisfying meals have resulted in me feeling far more ready to do something fruitful (ha!) with my days. I have more energy and a sharper focus for sure.

13. THE SPIRITUAL ‘REGIME’: The biggest difference in my year. On the plus side it has been enormously beneficial. I have instilled a lot more discipline in 2009. I am working to devised plans regarding the gospel-exposure of my non-Christian friends, have subscribed to Christian blogs, have given more time to Quiet Times and have listened to a sermon a day on the way to work. But there’s a major down-side. I am utterly routine dependent. As shown by the snow days, it utterly falls apart without that set window before work and the journey there. Too many of my good habits, behaviour-wise, are caught up in this dependence.

14. LUST: I remain a keen admirer of the female form. The impulse is correct. But not acting upon that impulse in a sinful fashion continues to be the biggest challenge faced by the Christian bloke, particularly within a society determined to rub our faces in it. To be frank, half of my routine is designed to prevent me from fixating upon sex and the allure of the fairer species. God certainly designed me to be a married man…

15. VS THE ATHEISTS: Remember this? (Read here) What fun it was – and great encouragement. Christianity is robust enough to withstand rigorous intellectual to & fro. I will certainly return for another bout before the year is done!

16. CHRISTIANITY EXPLORED: This deliberately follows the last point. I now view my Adventures in the Blogosphere against the atheist fraternity as being God’s training for me leading a ‘guest’ group over the Christianity Explored programme currently running at CCB in lieu of ‘normal’ church. Questions have arisen of all shapes & sizes. Some I’ve dealt with well, some badly… but I have rarely met the entirely unexpected. I feel like I rehearsed… It’s been great to directly espouse the virtue of the gospel each week… Church shouldn’t be a hiding place after all!

17. BLOG: And of course there’s been this! It’s a strange old business – the time I have spent writing these thousands of words – for an audience often smaller than you could possibly imagine! Why not just e-mail those few I know are reading? Why write at all? Well it’s good to have a reason to set out thoughts – it’s good to challenge myself to see how the events of my life and the world around me come under my walk with God. If no-one at all was reading I would still have benefitted from committing to this blog. But that’s not to say I’d carry on doing it! So please keep reading!! And maybe, just maybe, I’ll discover one day in the next world that I wrote something God used for someone I don’t even know… That is always the tantalising possibility in the anonymity of cyber-space…

18. WASTING TIME: I need to do some marking! I’m not going to concoct artificial points just to get it to 20!

19. OR AM I? It would seem so…

20. THE END… Well done for making it this far down the post!

ABOUT A TUMOUR

Well I’d better substantiate that title eh? The tumour is real, not metaphorical. The tumour is in my wife’s head. The tumour is the size of a cherry. The tumour is, thank God, benign. The tumour is on her right auditory nerve. The tumour is resting against her brain. If it grows any bigger it will exert pressure to the brain and will have to be removed, at considerable risk to her facial and balance nerves. Even if not removed, the tumour has accounted for the hearing in her right ear. We learned of the tumour on my 30th birthday earlier this week. She can feel it in her head. She is constantly aware of it. The tumour is making its presence felt. This is not good… although it could certainly be worse (a great word, ‘benign’!).

A couple of things to say. First, if you’re reading this and you know her, please don’t be silent about it around her. This is not a taboo subject. It’s very much the big news of the week, she’s trying to get used to the idea, and she wants to talk about it and to be supported by church and friends. Second, as with all I write about, I want to relate the above to my walk with God, particularly as regards the whole idea of ‘bad things’ happening.

I’ve recently been faced, on a number of occasions, with the age-old question, ‘how can a good God (or indeed a God who actually exists at all) allow suffering to occur?’. It’s sometimes asked with smugness, sometimes with hurt and anger. My answer is this. No part of the Bible, or of the teaching or experiences I’ve undergone, lead me to expect an easy life devoid of tough times. If God’s word did actually promise health and good fortune then perhaps I’d have greater cause to curse him when this failed to materialise. However, as it is, Hebrews 12 tells me to ‘endure hardship as discipline’, Romans 5 tells me that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character’ and Ecclesiastes 3 assures me there is ‘a time to weep’. We are told to focus upon life after death, on a better world to come, and to store our riches there, whilst not investing too much in this mortal coil. We are told that man is fallen on account of sinful rebellion, and that creation with him ‘groans’. We know that we are subject, for now, to the curse of suffering and eventual death. God sent His son to share in our sufferings, to die within our broken world that we might know something better and everlasting. It would be illogical, stupid even, to then turn on Him and spurn the everlasting gift on account of the short-term brokenness He came to fix.

So let me make this clear. However this plays out, and as I come to terms with my wife having this unwanted and potentially damaging intruder inside her skull, I will whole-heartedly praise God. I would do so if the tumour had been malignant. I will praise Him because he acted in mercy to save us from a world of sin, of tumours and of difficult choices that we now face.

THE JOB INTERVIEW

Wow that was tough… I just returned from a job interview and I feel kind of beaten up. I had to teach an observed lesson, complete a marking sample exercise and was interviewed twice by senior management. It’s only right that they screen thoroughly, given the quality of the school involved, but all the effort can seem slightly soul-destroying given that there were 7 candidates selected for interview – meaning a huge amount of time and effort given for a 14%ish chance of success.

 

How did it go? Well, my lesson went pretty badly, my interviews well. That should be the end of that really – 7 candidates selected from 60 applications should leave little room for anyone messing up the lesson part and retaining any semblance of hope. However, being honest, I think I’ll at least be considered. Call me over-optimistic, but I don’t believe they’d have worked me quite so long or hard if they’d already written me off!

 

And so what? This isn’t meant to be my diary, after all. Well no, it’s meant to be charting my difficulties and challenges in living as a Christian, and that makes all this very relevant. I want this job a lot, after all, and am I willing to retain my trust in God, to thank Him for His good plans, if I don’t get the gig?? Am I willing to retain a sense of joy if I continue into a 6th, or a 7th year in my current role, bored, listless, unchallenged and with little hope of promotion given the permanence of those occupying all senior roles? Am I willing not to bemoan myself and my lot if, for the third time in the past year, I give my all to a day of interview and get told no, I haven’t sufficiently impressed?

 

It IS tough and these thoughts must be vastly amplified when being asked by someone who has actually lost their job – someone who is applying for work from a position of desperation, beset by fear that mortgage payments can’t be met. In these Credit Crunch times, are we each willing to place our faith in God’s sovereign will? Are we still able to state with firm certainty that He knows best? That will be my challenge if the phone call does bear bad news this evening. However, it would REALLY be my challenge if the film industry gets to a stage where PR is deemed unnecessary and my wife was thus next to lose her job. Then we wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage, keep the house, make debt repayments etc… Being honest, it feels like it would be the end of the world!

 

But it wouldn’t be the end. All over the world, Christians live and witness in the midst of collapsed economies, in grinding poverty, fixing their eyes on the next world, not this one. We are saved through grace, and nothing compares to that gift or the price paid to give it. My breathless fears are based on the idolatrous faith I place in my lifestyle, my social standing, my career, my comfort, my desire for CONTROL… We can’t abide anything – be it the collapse of financial markets, or the snow that has shut down my school for half of this week – that reminds us of how powerless we actually are.

 

So yes I will endeavour to keep trusting in God’s sovereign control; I will put my faith in the creator, not in what’s created. I will thank Him even if I don’t get this or any other job any time soon… Who else am I going to trust instead, after all? Certainly not myself, after the mess I made of today!

PS Nope – didn’t get the job…

THE STAG WEEKEND

Posted 28/9/08

Intro: The internet is public space. There is always the chance one that someone who joined me on the stag weekend last week could see this, and be less than enamoured with a version of events where they are portrayed as spiritually lacking or as set upon knocking me off my moral high horse. I’d like to make it clear, therefore, that I don’t in any way consider myself better than anyone else. Far from it. I had a great time in Norway, and was delighted to go because I was doing so with some of my best friends – caring, generous brilliant blokes who I often wish I was more like. The very reason I’m a Christian is not that I think I’m good, but that I accept I’m entirely rubbish and incapable of saving myself. However, with repentance for my rubbishness comes a certain obligation to change; to try and live by biblical guidelines which are sometimes at odds with the world and even with the worldview of my good mates. It is from such a perspective that this account is written.

Also, Christian or otherwise, I acknowledge to an extent the principle of ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’. I have no right to write anything that could get anyone else in trouble (not that there’s much!) and will only be writing about myself!

OK – so, as you’ve probably worked out, I went away last weekend – to Oslo, as the only Christian in a party of 11. I was excited to travel, and to spend time with the boys, but was praying hard in the days beforehand. This is because, amidst the male bonding I know primary aims of such a trip to be a) Drink until inebriated; b) Appreciate the local female population; c) Humiliate the groom-to-be. My aims, on the other hand, were fundamentally to a) Retain sobriety; b) Ignore the local female population (nothing personal against them, but for the best); c) Ensure humiliation of the groom-to-be didn’t reach life or marriage-threatening proportions! Any meaningful conversation regarding the source of such attempted distinctiveness would also prove a bonus. Those at CCB without non-Christian friends may not be best placed to spread the gospel from a relational basis, but they do at least spare themselves the danger and difficulty of this toughest of challenges – the stag weekend!

Even so, there are those who rejoice at the opportunities offered by such a scenario – one very good friend often talks of the discussion prompted by the ordering of an orange-juice rather than beer in every other round. I, however, am a coward. And no great fan of orange juice (as opposed to beer, which I’m really rather partial to). Therefore, regarding alcohol, my distinctiveness was to be subtle – based upon a dubious theory that someone would eventually notice my having been surprisingly sober for a little bloke and surprisingly faithful for one so married! Top tricks employed include:

a) Arrive late – circumstances have to favour this one. Given my inability to escape the dull business of teaching a school day on Friday, I was unable to get to Oslo before midnight, where others had departed London many hours before. Therefore, I wasn’t joining the group until they were about eight drinks in… rather easing my difficulties.

b) Phone calls – stepping out to call home can be strung out to incorporate a long walk and tour of the city – they’ll be in the same place, doing much the same thing, when you return!

c) The slow sip – an empty glass is soon replaced with one full of lager. So don’t let it get empty too soon!! No-ones watching what number you’re on anyhow…

d) Dance! My trump card – when I dance my arms do all kinds of crazy and profound things. It is, frankly, clear to even the most critical observer that holding a drink unspilled in such circumstances would be all but impossible. Therefore I danced a lot. Alone or accompanied – the dance floor was my home for many hours of my Norwegian Saturday night. All precious time spent not boozing (precious time indeed considering the day’s itinerary featured ten and a half hours solidly doing that very thing!).

And why the obsession? Well I’ve written about this before – albeit a while back. The Bible doesn’t seem to counsel that drinking is wrong per se. Rather that the drunkard is a fool. It is drunkenness that opens all other doors – loosening the tongue, rewiring the brain and, above all else for a bloke, as evidenced in a thousand city centres of a weekend, dramatically enhancing the allure of the female form – any female form. My main conflict with the world upon the subject of stag weekends is as follows – the world says ‘You’re in a strange and exotic city, your wife is thousands of miles away, you’re out with the lads – what a perfect time to drink until you’re unaccountable for your behaviour’. I would say ‘You’re in a strange and exotic city, your wife is thousands of miles away, you’re out with the lads – that is the worst imaginable time to be drunk or unaccountable for your behaviour – a thousand ringing danger bells are clanging ‘Don’t be an idiot Andy. This is the very time you need your wits about you!’

And how did I do? Well I passed by my own low standards. Ask those in the group who didn’t know me beforehand and they’d probably be none the wiser that I was a Christian. They may not even have picked up the fact I was drinking rather less than them, given the weaselly nature of my tactics. However, in my small way I may have given a weak demonstration of something resembling salt and/or light. I was the least drunken individual present, although with my dancing it was probably hard to tell. I left the female population of Norway well alone – both in mind or body – and was, I think, instrumental in nudging the majority of the group against the inevitably raised strip club idea. I did manage at least one meaningful conversation encompassing invitation to church (although I’m not sure he remembers it). Importantly, in my eyes, I did so whilst staying out as late as any and contributing, I hope, to a genuinely fun and friendship-enhancing weekend (it wasn’t all drinking by the way – we went to a quality theme park!). And the humiliation of the stag?? Well he came back in one piece but I do recommend my Facebook pictures of the outfit he was forced to wear round the rollercoasters!

I will never be one to skip the stag weekend. Even for those like me too weak to demonstrate an orange juice-drinking persona they truly do offer opportunities – they give quality time with lads who, away from their better halves and plied with booze, will often be more open, honest and available in conversation than at any other time. Without doubt, this better places the Christian man to, at some point, talk with these unbelieving friends about the things that really matter. Also, there is fun to be had – but had with a sense of caution and a clear head.

The best advice I ever had as a Christian was to ask, of every situation, ‘can I do this unto God? Can I thank God for this?’ When it comes to such occasions, I would throw in the third proviso; ‘can I comfortably tell my wife about every aspect of this?’ On this occasion, I was looking forward to telling her all about it when I got home…