Sunday, 24 March 2019

Trust

We’re in a crisis as a nation. At least that’s what all today’s newspapers tell us!

The issue is trust. Not Brexit. Trust.

We all have different ideas as to our utopian nation. But we’re jaded. No longer trusting those we voted for.

Someone once said that when trust is broken it’s incredibly hard to repair. And that’s what has happened.

We had two sets of ideas at the Referendum. Each side exaggerated. But the winning vote is the one under the microscope. And some of the ‘facts’ turned out to be lies.

We have a Tory party in disarray. No longer governing; a lack of trust between factions within it has created crisis.

We have an opposition party with a weak leader who has allowed the extremists within to override common sense, resulting in some of the best MPs leaving.

We have a lack of trust in Europe. We’ve been so unclear in our dealings, even if we turned around and said we wanted to stay in Europe, it would take a long time for trust to be restored.

We all know this feeling. We’ve all experience it at one time or another in our lives. People we trusted let us down, betrayed us, spoke against us. It happens in the workplace. It happens with friends and family.

For us personally, last year was one of broken trust. Lies were gossiped and as a result of others believing it, we had to leave friends we had worked with for nearly 20 years. It’s hard to come back to a place of trust. But we are grateful for one overriding answer: Others may not be faithful, but God always is.

We’ve found that to be true for us personally. And that’s my prayer for our nation.

In the darkest of times, our nation has turned to God. When there is a lack of leadership. When there is a surfeit of false political answers. When there are too many false escapes from the world around us, whether that be drink, drugs, entertainment or other distractions.

It’s not taught in our schools, but we live in a land of revivals. A land that has regularly put its trust in God. A land that in the past, has declared Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life. We can trust.

My prayer for the Prime Minister (and I’m not sure who that will be over the next few days) is that he or she will trust. Trust in God.

‘But as for me, I have trusted in your gracious love.’ Psalm 13:5

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Lessons in Management


I love Manchester United. I come from Manchester and have supported them since I was first able to speak. (I’m also a proud supporter of Leicester City, my adopted home ☺). So it has been hard to support United through the flawed management years since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. But maybe there’s hope.

Have a look at the management style of the new caretaker manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. There are lessons here for all of us.

1. On the first day in the job, bringing Norwegian chocolate bars for all the backroom staff
2. Going unannounced to a staff party that same day and meeting as many of the backroom staff as possible
3.  Calling Mike Phelan, once Ferguson’s right hand man, and asking for his help
4.  Retaining the services of Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna as his support staff, ensuring the best from the previous era is maintained
5. Developing a good relationship with the press from the beginning, being available as much as possible, arranging a regular date and time for press conferences
6. Visiting the Women’s team, talking to as many as possible
7. Stopping for photo’s with the parents of the youth team boys 
8. Donating his watch to a charity auction, raising £32,000
9. Attending a Manchester function being run by rivals Manchester City, supporting the charities they were supporting
10. Attending the annual Munich air crash memorial service in smart attire
11. Keeping in regular contact with Sir Alex, asking advice as and when needed
12. Not being afraid to challenge the players but keeping all criticism behind closed doors
13. Talking to Nicky Butt, the Academy manager, as soon as possible, ensuring young players get promotion to the first team (two so far)
14. Positively motivating the players, encouraging attacking football
15. Playing to the players strengths
16. Recognising the Club’s history
17. Showing enthusiasm at all times
18. Smiling

His record at the time of this blog is 10 wins and 1 draw. If he gets the job permanently,this will be why.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Just Another Brick in the Wall?


The song from Pink Floyd was anti-establishment; a protest song. There was a bitterness to it. A cry from a generation of kids brought up in a system that meant they would be nothing, do nothing – just another brick in the wall:

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher leave the kids alone.

 ‘Just Another Brick in the Wall’ was number one in the UK charts for five weeks late in 1979. It followed a tradition of similar songs, attracting the attention of teenagers with angst. ‘Schools Out’ by Alice Cooper was the one I remember from my schooldays. Banned at school, we were put in detention if we were heard singing it.

The thing is, we’re not just bricks in a wall. Every one of us has a story. Every one of us can affect history, write history, change this world.

The Bible tells us we each have a destiny – if we find it, it changes us and those around us. In a world with the perception that we are ‘just bricks’, this is good news!

“For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

I’ve just put a brick in the wall. And it’s not ‘just another brick’. It’s a brick of declaration.

Let me explain.

The Wall is a project to build a sculpture of a million bricks honouring Jesus – it’s a declaration of the Christian faith; a National Landmark of Hope to remind generations of God's goodness. Every brick is sponsored. Every brick tells a story of answered prayer. Once built, next to a busy motorway, over 140,000 people will pass it every day. (Picture shown is one of 5 possible designs).

If you were to line your phone up on brick number 12335 and press the App, this is what it would say:

UNCLE BEN'S PRAYER
In the early 1960's letters started arriving for me, from India. They were from my Uncle, Ben White, a missionary in south India. He was telling me about Jesus - and my parents (not believers at the time) were most concerned! I don't remember any of the contents of the letters- as a child, the stamps on the envelope were more interesting! But God was doing his work and my Uncle's prayers were answered. Both my sister and I became Christians as teenagers, and my Mum became a Christian on her deathbed. Later on, God called me to India- speaking to me in an audible voice. I married an Indian girl, Rohini. My wife and I have been working into India for nearly 30 years now, taking teams most years, rescuing children, supporting churches and declaring the message my Uncle Ben so wanted me to know.

Not just another brick in the wall after all.



Saturday, 5 January 2019

In Tribute to the Sailing Ship


For as long as I can remember, I have loved sailing ships. I know where it came from – my Dad.

I remember as a kid being fascinated by the intricacies of a model of HMS Victory my Dad had made – the sails, the netting, the ropes. All in the right place. And the miniature cannons – an obvious attraction to a youngster!

Dad had always loved sailing ships despite neither of us having any nautical background. He read to me and my sister as a kid. One of the books, Two Years Before the Mast, made an impression on me. It introduced me to the genre and it wasn’t long before I had discovered Hornblower.

The great delight of being a young teenager and reading the Hornblower novels by C S Forester, was that they start with Hornblower at about that age in his Midshipman days. I was hooked, reading right through the stories within a couple of years.

Other naval books followed, such as Alexander Kent’s Bolitho stories. And along the way I got to collect thematic stamps from around the world with pictures of ships on.

Then came Patrick O’Brian. This is a totally different class of seafaring novel. It’s C S Forester meets Jane Austen. The books are incredibly well researched and brilliantly written. They are as much to do with the main characters as to do with ships and battles – and they really do read like Jane Austen at sea. With 20 or so books in the series, there’s plenty to go at.

I’ve never been on a real seafaring sail ship. But thanks to my Dad, I have been around the world and back. I’ve discovered countries, fought battles, dealt with scurvy, shinned down the mainmast and lived with the wide horizons of the seas.

Maybe that is why I’m so attracted to the poem attributed to Sir Francis Drake. Here it is – and I pray you too will set sail, and losing sight of the land, will see the stars.

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Monday, 10 December 2018

The Reason


It’s a common Christian shorthand nowadays - ‘the reason for the season.’ Not sure I like it much as a phrase. But there is a reason, that’s for sure.

Christmas is not a Christian celebration originally- it was ‘adopted’ by Christians as a useful anchor date for celebrating Christ’s birth.

But is Christ’s birth worth celebrating? Well, that’s the ‘reason’ bit.

There is no doubt that Jesus Christ lived and died in Palestine around 2000 years ago. This blog is not the place for the research proof, but you will find plenty on this if you look for it. Even Christ’s enemies didn’t try and claim he didn’t exist (excuse the double negatives there).

So, He existed. What next? Just a good man who preached well? Not really. Because again, both in the Bible and through external sources, we know He was crucified for claiming to be God’s Son, the Messiah.

That means he can’t have just been a good man. One of my favourite teachers at school was Mr Baston, my Geography teacher. But if he had started claiming to be the Son of God, he would no longer be just a good man and a geography teacher. He’d have to be put into another category.  Either mad. Or deliberately bad. Or true.

With Christ, we face the same challenge. He can’t have just been a good man. Good men don’t claim to be the Son of God and get hung on crosses. He has either to be mad- thinking he was God’s Son. Or bad - claiming it, but knowing he was a fraud. Or …. He was who He said He was.

Mad men don’t speak as well as Jesus spoke - just look at the ‘beatitudes’ (Matthew 5: 1-12). Bad men - claiming to be something else - don’t go to crosses. All they would do would be to apologise. No cross; no loss.

Jesus said He was the Son of God. He died on a cross. Fact. (in the Bible and in other external sources.)

But was He then God’s son? Well, if he wasn’t mad and he wasn’t bad….

And there’s one more thing. He rose from the dead. He broke death’s hold. Fearful disciples suddenly became fearless. The Christian faith spread faster than any other belief in its time. It’s hard to find another explanation for the change in Christ’s followers.

Today 2.3 billion people agree with these words. The biggest faith movement in the world. Ever.

There’s a reason for the season.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Listening to the Silence


Officially it’s called the Bryniau Glo Walk. I call it the Hidden Valley Walk.

You climb up a long way on a well-defined trail, through a forest, over the hills and into a hidden valley. It’s protected on three sides by higher hills, with a view out to the rest of Snowdonia.

I guess it’s because of that protection that it’s so silent.

I stopped in the valley and listened. Nothing. No bird song. No wind. Just silence. The most perfect silence.

For a moment in time, I was part of that silence. Transfixed by it. Such a perfect moment. Listening and hearing nothing. Looking out onto such stillness and beauty. Worshipping.


Silence is not always welcomed. One of my favourite songs is The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel (check out the version by Disturbed – amazing!) But the lyrics are slightly depressive: ‘Hello darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again, because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping.’

Too often we shut out silence. We surround ourselves with noise and activity. The TV drones in the background even if we are not watching it. Music plays through our headphones as we travel. The car radio is on. The mobile has its own playlist.

But what if for a moment we stopped and listened? Listened to the silence. Relaxed for a moment, with our breathing as the only sound. And maybe pray a prayer - thanking God for a moment of complete silence; for a moment of complete peace in a noisy world.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Thirty-Eight Plus Two


Ethiopia is directly mentioned thirty-eight times in the Bible. Probably the most famous reference is that of the Ethiopian eunuch who is baptised by Philip (Acts 8:27). In addition, there’s plenty of references to the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10) with many scholars believing that Sheba is also Ethiopia.

I’ve recently returned from Ethiopia and the annual Leprosy Mission conference, held in Addis Ababa for the first time. When I think of Africa I think of heat. But most of Ethiopia is on a high plain – Addis Ababa is 7,200 feet above sea level. No wonder I was feeling it walking up the stairs at the hotel!

As part of the Leprosy Mission conference, we celebrated the Wellesley Bailey Awards. These are annual awards given to celebrate the life and work of Wellesley Bailey, the founder of The Leprosy Mission. The Awards honour those who have made extraordinary contributions to society through overcoming the social stigma and physical challenges of leprosy. 

This year the two winners were Birke Nigatu Teka from Ethiopia and Kofi Nyarko from Ghana.

Birke overcame the stigma of the disease and the belief system of her people that considered it untreatable. She saved her own money, secretly went to the hospital and underwent two and a half years of treatment. She faced many other problems, including attempted rape, but refused to give up, acting as an ambassador for others with leprosy. She has established a leprosy women’s association and has developed working groups, producing local handicrafts. She serves on a number of national associations and boards and in her own words, is ‘proud of my up and down life’. Those ups and downs have changed many other lives.

Kofi was abused as a child, and neglected by his family. It was a stranger who recognised he had leprosy and helped him escape to a leprosy hospital. Today Kofi is a spokesperson for those with leprosy and is a member of a number of national and international agencies. He says that it is because of his leprosy that he has become so popular!

There are thirty-eight mentions of Ethiopia in the Bible and it’s not possible to add to scripture. But there are two more stories worthy of inclusion.