a series of remarkable events

I am incredibly grateful for some chest pain that I experienced recently. Yes, you did read that right. The chest pain turned out not to be heart-related but when you talk to medics about having chest pain the first thing that they want to do is check out your heart to make sure you’re not having a heart attack. I wasn’t. Once the doctors had worked out what was going on and changed some medication I was taking the chest pain went away.

However, because I had seen a doctor in the hospital about this pain they referred me to their chest pain clinic. At the chest pain clinic the nurse practitioner confirmed that none of my symptoms looked heart-related and none of the ECGs I had had showed even the slightest problem with my heart. But in order to be absolutely certain (and maybe also confirm that the other problem had caused the pain) . I was referred for a scan.

About a week later I was sat on a train on my way to attend a meeting in London when my phone rang. A very pleasant lady on the other end of the line told me that she was ringing to make some appointments for me to have some scans and X-rays on my heart. I thought that she must have the wrong patient number and queried this, but she triple-checked and confirmed that yes it was me that needed these tests because of the heart problems that had shown up in the initial scan. At this point she realised that I hadn’t been given the results of my initial scan and said she would ask the doctor to call me later in the day, and she would then call me to make the appointments.

Later in the day the doctor did call and explained that the initial scan had shown some underlying problems in my heart that needed treating and that yes I did need these further tests. He was so reassuring and gave me the confidence that he was on my case.

So within about 10 days I began a series of tests at our local hospital which just happens to be the cardiac centre of excellence for the whole of our county. The tests were fairly unpleasant but were designed to show what was actually going on with my heart. (I did have an allergic reaction to the dye used in one of the tests but even then the doctors I saw were able to resolve the problem after a couple of days).

The following week we met the surgeon who showed us video footage of what was going on inside me (quite a surreal experience) and explained what he needs to do in order to fix this problem. He explained a series of options including one procedure that he thought was most suited to me, and (modestly) said that he was one of only a couple of surgeons in the country who is able to do this procedure.

So, in the near future (we don’t know when, exactly) I will have an operation performed by this excellent surgeon. It will mean a couple of months’ recovery afterwards but then everything will be back to normal.

I have had to tell people about this because of having to cancel or postpone commitments and I am almost overwhelmed by the kindness, encouragement, love and prayers that people have shown in response. I have been so supported by my colleagues. It’s really humbling. I feel absolutely fine in myself and when I think of that I realise how where I am today is as a result of a series of remarkable events:

I was (and still am) feeling quite healthy, but unknown to me there was a problem with my heart which would have gone undiscovered, so I am really grateful for the non-cardiac chest pain that led to me being seen in hospital (the centre of excellence in our county that is only 15 minutes from home); that led to me being referred for the initial scan and the scan being seen by a doctor who recognised the problem; that led to me having the further tests which clearly showed the problem; which led to me being placed on the list for a surgeon who is one of only a few in the country who is able to perform exactly the operation I need to sort out the problem.

About 4 weeks ago I was blissfully unaware that anything was wrong. I feel incredibly privileged that this series of remarkable events has led me to this place.

The good news for you is that the flow of bloggages may be interrupted for a while. The bad news for you is that once I am feeling up to it I will have a number of days when I will be looking for things to do and writing lots of bloggerel may be one thing I turn to.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

who you are and how you are makes a difference

A friend recently shared how they had struggled in a previous job and had wondered what the purpose was for them being there until, on their last day, a colleague said that they felt God had put them there for her.

Not long after that I had the opportunity to accompany that friend to wait for an appointment very near where they used to work. Every so often someone who had worked near my friend would come past, see them, and come over and speak with them in such positive ways – clearly delighted to see my friend again.

I observed to them that they had made a much bigger impact on the people around them than they realised, simply by being who they are!

It reminded me of a lovely children’s book: ‘Jesus’ Day Off’ by Nicholas Allan (he also wrote ‘The Queen’s Knickers’ and ‘Jesus’ Christmas Party’ – you can see more about it here). In that book he imagines that Jesus was worn out from helping people and his friends persuaded him to take the day off. But at the end of his day off Jesus felt that it had been a day wasted until it was pointed out that simply by being who he was he had made a difference to the people around him.

As a follower of Jesus it comes back to what he said about us being salt and light in our communities. We can enhance flavour, we can preserve, we can brighten and illuminate. Who you are and how you are makes a difference to the people around us: the question is whether that is a positive or negative difference. Both my friend’s experience and ‘Jesus’ Day Off’ feel like modern-day parables that ask me the question – are people around me influenced positively simply by me being me with them?  

Be blessed, be a blessing

praying mysteriously

The following bloggage began as a ‘Thought for the week’ I shared with the Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association.

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18)

I don’t know about you, but I still find prayer to be a deep mystery. We know that God wants us to pray, that Jesus gave us a pattern for praying, and that the Spirit helps us to pray (including interpreting our deepest groans when we can’t find the words). But why does God want us to pray, and how can our prayers make a difference to the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the Universe?
 
There’s no easy answer to this – prayer is a mystery, and a complex one at that. There’s no way I will give a comprehensive answer in this email. But here are a few things that we already know:
 
We know that part of it is because it’s one of the ways in which we express and enhance our relationship with God: our prayers are part of the way in which we communicate with ‘Our Father in heaven’.
 
We know that part of it is that prayers change us – when we pray ‘thy will be done’ not ‘my will be done’ we open ourselves up to the possibility that our attitude and action may be different because we have prayed with an open heart and an open mind.
 
We know that part of it is about us investing ourselves in God’s kingdom purposes (‘Thy kingdom come’) and lifting our eyes up from the things of life that vex, distract and consume us so that we can see and get involved in what God is doing.
 
We know that part of it is about restoring our relationship with God, other people and his creation as we pray for and offer forgiveness.
 
We know that part of it is about reaffirming our dependence on God for all that we need and (the corollary of this) restating our willingness to surrender control of our life and our dependence on our own resources and ingenuity.
 
All of that, and so much more, is true. But I still wonder why prayers make a difference to God. Are they like power cells that recharge his ability to act? No! He is all-powerful. Does he need them to motivate him to act? No! He says, “Before they call I will answer…” (Isaiah 65:24). I have pondered why prayers are so precious to God and why he responds to them throughout my whole faith journey. And I think that part of the answer lies in “Our Father…”
 
Perhaps because he is Our Father God graciously chooses to involve us in his work in the same way that a parent makes room for a child to help with chores because they enjoy doing things with their child (even though they might be able to it quicker and better on their own); perhaps he gracious chooses to respond to our praying in the same way that a parent will respond to a child’s request – seeking to give them the best; perhaps he graciously chooses to cherish and value our prayers in the same way that a parent cherishes and proudly displays a child’s naïve artwork on the fridge.
Whatever you think of my answers, there is no doubt that prayer is further evidence of God’s grace – it is not a right, it’s a privilege. So let’s pray…

Be blessed, be a blessing

Paul’s first letter to the Confusions

[This is an extract of a letter that was recently found down the back of a sofa and which I have ‘translated’. Its authenticity has yet to be established.]

To the Christians in Confusia

Gravy and peas to you all. [The exact translation of this sentence is unclear].

I’m writing to you because it has come to my attention that there’s a lot of misunderstanding among you about some things I’ve written to other churches and some of the things Jesus said. So let’s ignore what I said about churches being a temple of the Holy Spirit or the Body of Christ. And ignore what Jesus said about being salt and light. Those have clearly not resonated with you. Here’s a new metaphor for you.

You are the fortress of God. You should pull up the drawbridge and prepare for a siege. Get ready to lob lots of steaming [the precise translation of the next word is uncertain] from behind your high walls at the people who come into range. Expect some retaliation from them but don’t worry: that should just confirm to you that you’re doing church right.

Occasionally you should organise raiding parties to go out into the surrounding area and see who you can capture. Once you’ve dragged them back inside the walls of your castle make sure you indoctrinate them well.

When going on raids put on your armour, sit on high horses and denounce anyone you meet from up on your high horses. Don’t forget to disinfect thoroughly at the end of the raid and measure your success by the amount of negative feedback you generated: the more the better.

It’s a good idea to create your own language so that people outside won’t understand you. If they don’t know what you’re saying you can’t be blamed if they misunderstand you.

Even though some of you may have to live or work outside the walls of the fortress on no account should those people try to engage with the people around them on their own. Safety in numbers! Don’t let anyone know you belong to the fortress.

If some of the more misguided of you feel that you really ought to be engaged with the wider community then focus your efforts on being nice people rather than actually talking to them about how much God loves them and who Jesus is. Polish your Spiritual armour (see the letter I wrote to the Ephesians for more about that) and work on the basis that people will want to join the fortress because of how shiny you are. Keep the sword of the Spirit well-hidden when outside.

In conclusion, my dear Confusions, keep your defences up and your heads down. That way you won’t be bothered too much by the people around you.

Yours entirely ironically

Paul.

lamenting

Recent events have led to a heart-breaking hashtag trending on the internet: #metoo. Women around the world are using this to speak out about the misogynistic or abusive treatment they have received at the hands of men. It has taken the immense courage of the women who have made allegations against such a high profile and powerful person as Harvey Weinstein to break down the floodgates of fear and empower and en-courage others to speak out in this way.

Sadly we know that this scandalous treatment of women is nothing new – we even find it in the Bible with the rape of Tamar and the unfair treatment of the unnamed woman dragged before Jesus with a baying crowd ready to stone her for allegedly being caught in the act of adultery while the man was not similarly accused. This is not how God created men and women: we were made for complementary relationships not exploitative ones. We were created to act out of love not lust. God’s law speaks of (and Jesus enacts) the responsibility to protect not exploit, to raise up the fallen not trample on them, and the responsibility to use power to help the most vulnerable not gratify yourself.

I have felt deeply moved about this and have not been sure what to do with the range of emotions that I have been feeling until I thought about lamenting. I think that this is one of the times where the Biblical concept of lament is called for – whether you use the words of laments such as Psalm 102 or create your own. A lament is not simply a cry of woe, it’s an honest cry to God against injustice, oppression, violence and evil. It’s a heartfelt and defiant call to the Lord and into the world that despite the circumstances faith is not extinguished and that good will prevail over evil despite how things appear. It’s an invocation for God to do something. It’s a reminder that this is not how God intended things to be and they will not always be this way. It’s a call to action to see God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

So this week I lament:

I lament for those who are victims. Many friends of mine (both women and men) have posted #metoo this week to say that they have suffered abuse. I cannot begin to understand the pain and hurt that they have carried with them caused by others whose treatment of them was degrading, dehumanising and disgusting but I lament for them.

I lament at the scale of the scandal but the sheer numbers are cold and heartless: each one is a story of someone made in God’s image but treated as less than that.

I lament that we live in a world where those who are victims feel so intimidated, afraid or ashamed that they have not been able to speak out until now (and many more won’t have even felt able to use the hashtag). I lament for the silent and voiceless.

I lament that men have done this and that we have built a patriarchal society that not only allows this to happen but has seemed as impregnable as the walls of Jericho – may God use the movement of his people to break it down.

I lament that it is not how God intended us to be with one another. I lament at the distortion of God’s creation that we were created to love one another not exploit and abuse one another.

I lament and ask that God might use this moment to not only unearth and expose the evil but also to restore the dignity, honour and self-worth that has been stolen from those who are victims.

I lament and ask that God might use this moment to restore his Kingdom values in his world so that we see one another as he sees us and that we love one another as he loves us. I lament and resolve to play my part in that movement for change.

Will you join me?

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

(This bloggage was previously shared as a Thought for the Week with Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association)