Month: November 2009

Grace #7. Rage Removal

This afternoon (Sunday) my dad, my sister, my brother-in-law, Michelle and myself walked to the top of the local mountain to scatter mam’s ashes and pay our last respects. As I’m sure you can imagine it was a very poignant time for all of us. The last few months have been both traumatic and also inspiring, as we experienced the depths of grief alongside the amazing, sustaining grace of God. However, it feels that now is the appropriate time to write the final instalment in the Grace That Shines series.

I could have written so much more, but time and circumstances prevented me from doing so. However, I have personally found it very helpful (dare I say – therapeutic) to write about the multiple ways in which the light of God’s grace has shone brightly in the darkness and I hope it’s been a blessing and a help to you too. I have decided to make this last post a personal testimony about the way that God dealt with me a few days before mam’s death.

It may surprise some (though not many) to discover that I used to be a VERY aggressive young man. I wasn’t so much a fighter (though I have had my fair share of scraps!) but more a smasher! When anger rose within me it would often manifest itself in punched walls, violently hurled objects, smashed pictures, threats, curses and the like. When God saved me at 15 the Holy Spirit had a lot of work to do to in me and to my shame, I certainly didn’t become a man of peace overnight! However, over the years I have mellowed considerably – by the grace of God!

Therefore, it caught me by complete surprise when a few months ago, as mam’s health started to decline, that I started to feel rage rising within me again. At first I just thought a quick prayer would sort it out, but day after day I just found myself getting more and more angry. I started feeling violent, confrontational and aggressive, and while by God’s grace the rage never came to the surface (nothing got smashed, bashed or even sworn at) I didn’t feel like a man in control! I remember a couple of times just looking at mam dying in her bed, crying my eyes out and just wanting to destroy something – a glass, a window, a vase – anything! I’m not proud of any of this by the way. In fact to be honest I was both confused and ashamed of myself. What I was most concerned about was what was going to happen when mam finally died.

Was I going to go berserk?

Was I going to do something I’d regret?

I confided in a few trusted people and asked them to pray and to keep me accountable. However, it was Michelle’s advice that I think was the most helpful to me: “Try to find the source of the rage. Who or what are you angry with?”

It was on a Monday afternoon that I came home from the hospital emotionally wrecked and still angry. Mam was so weak and so sick and I didn’t feel like I could cope with it anymore! However, God in His mercy had left me with an empty house (I love my family to bits, but I needed some space to meet with God!) I opened up my Bible and read Deuteronomy 33v27:

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

God used those words to reassure me that mam would soon be stepping into His presence to enjoy the reality of her eternal dwelling place, and I drew great comfort from that. I then spent some time asking some searching questions:

  • Am I angry with God? – No!
  • Am I angry with the medical staff? No!
  • Am I angry with my family? No!
  • Am I angry with myself? No!
  • So why the dickens am I so angry?

It was in that moment that God spoke to me – clearly and powerfully. He told me that it was sin, satan and death that I was angry against. That my rage didn’t have to be destructive but could be focussed against the powers of darkness and actually used for God’s glory. (I later learned that when Jesus wept upon hearing about the death of Lazarus – the Greek word for ‘wept’ could also be translated ‘raged’. Jesus literally raged against sin and death!) All of a sudden I felt a profound sense of fresh evangelistic zeal – that I needed to preach the gospel to as many people as possible. I also felt the huge weight of responsibility that God has commissioned me to prepare the saints of Hill City Church to die well!

As all this sank in I was overwhelmed with joy and the peace of God literally flooded into my heart. The rage vanished instantly!

Two days later mam died – and when I got the call I knew only the peace and presence of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t clench my fists but rather gave my big sister a hug! Three weeks later and the peace remains, as does the renewed urgency of gospel!

Thank you LORD for taking my rage away and replacing it with peace! Please use me to proclaim your Word and prepare your people to die with the same dignity and grace that you gave to my mam. Thank you for getting me and my family through the darkest season of our lives.

You are my awesome God!

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This Week’s Banksy

Thought it was about time to keep my promise of posting up some Bansky art. So here’s one of my personal favourites that Michelle had printed on a mug as a birthday pressie from my kids, complete with a Matt Chandler quote about fatherhood (you can find the quote below the image!)

Hope you like it…

“I think you have to relish the role, man. I think you have to relish it, be grateful for it. I mean honestly, who gets to be a hero? Daddies do. Daddies get to be heroes. What a great gift. Who gets to be unconditionally loved by beautiful little baby girls? Daddies do. Who gets to be looked up at by young boys who go, “That’s what I want to be.”? Who gets that? Daddies do. You should relish that. You shouldn’t let a day escape. I think we forget that we only get to do this once. You just get today once. Teach these things, but not just with your mouth. You’ve got to teach them with your life…I can do all that over and over and over again, teach them love, teach them some security, teach them the goodness and grandeur of a creator God and the glory of the gospels, I can teach them those things, but God has to awaken it in their hearts. I can’t do that. So this makes me desperate. This makes me pray. This makes me plead.”

– Matt Chandler

Grace #6. The Gospel

I just don’t know how anybody can face death without Jesus – whether they be the one dying or the ones grieving the loss of a loved one.

Death is savage.

Watching my mam die of cancer was harrowing. Someone I adored, who was once so full life, energy, creativity and fun slowly wasting away before my eyes. There were days when I literally couldn’t bare it and left her bedside in tears. However, by God’s grace my faith (and that of my family) remained intact  throughout, though there were moments of asking questions like “Why is this happening? Why mam? Why now?”

The answer to those questions can be found in Genesis 3 – The consequences of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God – sin – was tragedy, disease, death and hell. The entire human race has been born into sin and death now awaits us all – the pay-off for sin! The timing and the manner of our death is out of our control – yet passing from this life into the next is unavoidable. Many refuse to think this way and live like this isn’t reality – but it is – for all of us!

So if we can’t escape the jaws of death and our sin condemns us to an eternity cut off from God in hell – what hope is there for any us?

Answer: The gospel.

Gospel means good news, and trust me (well actually trust the Bible) it’s the only good news that counts when cancer gets a grip! The gospel is the story of God’s divine rescue strategy for guilty humanity that not only gets rid of our sin, but also guarantees us eternal life in the bliss of heaven. It works by God Himself (in the person of His Son, Jesus) stepping up to the plate – dying the death that we deserve in our place on the cross so that we could be forgiven, then rising from the grave 3 days later – displaying His power over death and all its consequences and guaranteeing all those who put their trust in Him eternity in heaven. Jesus put it like this:

“For God so love the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3v16 – as if you didn’t know!!)

The gospel is the only hope for us!

My mam loved the gospel and it was infectious! She knew the liberty of forgiven sins. She knew the power of the resurrection. She knew the blessings of walking through life in the presence of her Saviour. And she knew the hope of eternal life that can only be found in Him:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?(John 11v25-26)

Yes Lord Jesus – I do!

Thank you for your beautiful gospel of grace that has saved me and that took my mam into your glorious heaven!!

Grace #5. Scripture

Nothing speaks to the soul like the Scriptures.

Probably owing to my reformed, Welsh chapel background I’ve held God’s Word in high regard ever since I was saved and have never questioned its authority or its primacy in hearing from God. However, my love and respect for scripture increased greatly during mam’s last days as I saw it’s true power at work in a fresh way.

Firstly, on a personal level I just knew so much of God’s comfort through my own times spent in His Word. I ‘happened’ to be working my way through the Psalms when it all kicked off, and so many chapters between 50-80 (roughly) gave me such hope and reassurance. Verses such as these are just the tonic when you’re feeling emotionally battered:

“…for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.”
(Psalm 63v5-8)

You’ve gotta love the Bible!

Secondly, I love that when mam’s health really started to decline I just ‘happened’ to be preaching through the first chapter of Ephesians at Hill City. That chapter simply oozes grace and eternal hope. There was stuff that I was preaching on both our inheritance in Christ, and His inheritance in us, that seemed to be blessing the church, but was also ministering to my own soul in a powerful and profound way. I loved that I was able to visit mam after church on Sundays and share the message with her too – and that her eyes would light up when I’d read to her about her eternal destiny in Jesus!

You’ve just gotta love the Bible!

Finally, as mam got weaker she was finding it increasingly hard to read the Bible as she just couldn’t concentrate for long periods of time. However, God in His grace drew especially close to her during this time and gave her an amazing gift! The gift was that while she was struggling to read the Bible, the Holy Spirit started to help her remember huge portions of scripture so that she could quote them by heart without having to read. One of the most precious times I had with her was while she was in Velindre hospital. I held her hand and started to read to her Romans 8 starting at verse v18:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…”

I read all the way through to the end of the chapter (21 verses) – and mam was able to recite it all the way through with me! It was truly amazing!! She was so thankful to God for that blessing!

You’ve simply just gotta love the Bible!

The truth is that God’s Word is immense! I reckon that we take it for granted sometimes, but we really shouldn’t! It is such a precious gift to us. My own testimony (and my mam’s too) is that no matter how dark the circumstances in which we find ourselves – God’s Word shines brighter and gives us the all the grace we need as it points us to Jesus and the hope we have in Him!

Thank you LORD for the Bible!

I love it!!

Grace #4. Mam

mamBack in 2005 when I first heard that mam had been diagnosed with cancer, I was distraught. It was the most devastating news I could ever imagine receiving. I still remember going to visit her in hospital after they had removed a football-sized tumour from inside her. On top of everything else she had contracted MRSA and so was in a room on her own and we had to wear gloves, aprons and hugs were prohibited!

It was rough.

What I couldn’t get past, however, was the peace and grace that was just radiating from mam as she lay there. Her face was serene, her words were hope-filled and her faith was as strong as ever. Apparently she’d been reading about “the peace of God that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4v7) and it really works!

The way that mam lived the final 4 and a half years of her life was the most remarkable testimony to the power of the gospel and the strength of authentic faith in Christ that I have ever personally witnessed. I’m sure she had moments of anguish as she contemplated leaving behind the people whom she loved (and there were lots of them) but she never despaired. She never lost control. She never lost sight of Jesus through all of it.

Bizarre as it sounds, she was one of the brightest sources of grace that shone into my life during those dark days!

My mam was a Christian when I was born so I’d never known her any other way. But she was never a fake Christian. She loved the LORD, she loved to pray, worship, and serve, and she epitomised grace. I went through some really dark, difficult and dangerous times as a teenager, and my mam always brought light and hope into the situation (even before I was saved!) Since her death, so many have commented on her integrity and the inspiration that her life was. Well I saw that up close and personal throughout my whole life. I can genuinely say that I saw Jesus in my mam more than I have in anyone else (and I’m not just exaggerating because I’m feeling emotional – it’s the truth!)

One of the blessings of losing someone to a disease like cancer is that while it is a slow and painful death, you do have the time to make sure that you get to say all that you want to say. One of the things that I told mam was that she had been the best tutor in grace that I had known. She really was!

Mam showed me how to live.

However, when it became clear that the cancer was untreatable and mam was moved to the hospice, I learned another precious and poignant lesson from her.

She showed me how to die!

The nurses at the hospice couldn’t help but comment on the courage and serenity that she displayed while she was there, and check this out – she didn’t complain once! She didn’t complain throughout her 3 weeks in the hospice, she didn’t complain when they told her the cancer was incurable, and to the best of my knowledge she didn’t complain from the day of her diagnosis in 2005 to the day that she stepped into the presence of Jesus.

That’s awesome!

Admittedly it was harrowing in the extreme to witness what mam went through in her final days, yet while the grief was very real, it was difficult to fall apart when you could see the reality of the hope of glory in mam’s countenance. It was like every day she moved closer to death, she knew she was moving closer to Jesus! I’d go in and hold her hand and read scriptures to her – and she would glow. I’d pray and she’d say ‘Amen’ with deep intensity.

One of her most remarkable moments came a few days before she died. She had been barely conscious throughout the day, and so as she slept I started singing a hymn that we used to enjoy singing together – “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater.” And all of a sudden she just burst into song joining in as passionately as she could – through the pain and despite her frailty. Then she rested again! It was one of the most precious memories I have of mam, and a moment that for me captured the true strength and beauty of a woman who was clinging to grace!

And now – she’s dancing for joy with her Saviour – her passion in life and her hope in death!

Lord Jesus, please help me to live and to die with the same dignity and grace with which you blessed my mam, and with which she blessed so many others!

Grace #3. Church

churchChurch rocks!

Anyone who thinks that church is irrelevant, boring, unnecessary, or ……………… (you fill in the negative blank!) has clearly never had the privilege of walking through the darkest, bleakest valleys of life in the context of belonging to a Christ-centred, grace-giving church community.

By God’s grace – I have – and I’m now more buzzin’ about church than ever.

1. The Universal Church

There’s only one church and it’s made up of all true believers of all time and of all nations, languages, cultures and skin tones. That’s a massive concept to get your head around. It’s easy for a South Wales Valley boy, living on a small council estate in the Valleys to forget that through Christ, He belongs to the biggest and best family in the history of the world. However, the last few months have certainly kicked that mindset into touch.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my family and I have never felt so ‘prayed for’ as we have done over recent days. I know it sounds a bit nuts, but I feel like I’ve somehow floated through the toughest season of my life to date on a magic carpet of other people’s prayers. So many saints have got in touch to offer their loving support and assure me of their prayers. I genuinely don’t think I would have got through recent events without losing it, had I not been sustained by the prayers of brothers and sisters, many of whom I barely know, or don’t know at all. My family has been prayed for by people from all over the UK and even all around the world! At mam’s funeral I met a fantastic elderly Welsh couple who introduced themselves and asked if I was the “roller-skating priest” for whom they had been praying for years (I used to be a skateboarder, and I am a pastor – so they were kind of on the right track!!) I had never met them before – but they are my church family and had been prayerfully watching my back for years! I guess I’ve come to realise that when one part of the body suffers – we all suffer, but we all pray, we all hope and ultimately we all rejoice together too!

Church rocks!

2. Local Church

When we started our current preaching series at Hill City Church, the plan was that I would preach through the entire book of Ephesians over a 12 week period, as well as doing all the other pastoral stuff that I’m regularly involved in. However, as mam’s health started to deteriorate it became clear that things weren’t going to work out that way as demands on my time, emotion and spiritual energy increased greatly. Hill City is an awesome church to belong to, but it’s also very new and very young. Could it cope without its pastor for a while?

DUH!!! Course it could!

Jesus has kept His promise and has been faithfully building His church up here on the hill. James, Pete and my good buddy, Peyton Jones, all stepped up to the plate and covered the preaching (4 fantastic sermons), but even more encouraging for me was how EVERYONE seemed to get stuck in to keep the ship afloat. Nothing ground to a halt, no one went nuts, the gospel was still preached and Christ was still glorified! What’s more, so many members of the Hill City family were just itching to bless, help, support, love and encourage my family through it all – it was so incredibly humbling! For me, however, it was the significant Hill City contingent that came to mam’s funeral that really blew me away. Hardly any of them knew my mam personally, but such is the love in Hill City – they weren’t content to just  celebrate with us on the mountain top each Sunday, they also wanted to walk through the valley and grieve with us too!

That’s church.

Church rocks!

Thank you Hill City – I love you more than you know!!

Grace #2. Family

simpsonsI love my family.

My wife, my kids, my dad, my sister (my dog?)…I just love them to bits. I don’t deserve them – but then I guess that’s what grace is all about – God’s unmerited blessing. Before mam got seriously ill I could have given you a thousand reasons why I love my family. I can probably give you a million now!! These last few months have been dark and difficult for all of us, though amazingly, I’ve learned that this is when the grace of a Christ-centred family shines the brightest!

1. God’s Grace To Me Through My Wife

It’s no mystery that I married way out of my league. Every day I’m reminded that the beautiful woman who I share my life with is more than I had  ever dreamed or deserved. She’s been my soul mate for so long now that I can’t really remember a time when she wasn’t. I certainly can’t imagine life without her! She’s stuck by my side through so much as we’ve shared laughter, tears and everything in between. She’s a passionate worshipper and as such inspires me to worship too. She’s also a missionary and is just as buzzin’ about the Hill City Church adventure as I am.

Michelle is also incredibly generous and will always give more of herself than she has to give (if that even makes sense!) That’s never been more the case than over the last few months. As mam got more and more unwell, I felt compelled to spend as much time as possible with her at the hospice. Michelle did literally everything to make that possible: She took care of all the washing up (my job!) and all the cleaning (my punishment). She let me lie in when I was emotionally exhausted, gave me space when I needed it, gave me hugs when I needed them, made no demands on my time, prayed for me, prayed with me and expertly navigated my mood swings. She basically blessed me with the love of Jesus.

She gave me grace.

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.” (Proverbs 18v22)

Amen!

Thanks sweets – I love you heaps!!!

2. God’s Grace To Me Through My Kids

I cried a lot during mam’s final days. I wasn’t an emotional wreck, but I was coming home from the hospice each day feeling pretty emotionally battered. Which is why having a gorgeous 3 year old daughter and a nutty 18 month old son waiting for me at home was yet another channel of God’s grace. It’s hard to remain sullen when your daughter wants to read crazy books about ridiculous animals and your son is learning to climb, wrestle, dance and laugh like a velociraptor!

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127v3)

Kingdom Skanking with my “heritage” on a daily basis – that was God’s grace to me!

3. God’s Grace To Me Through My Sister

Me and my sister were always pretty close as we grew up, though after she emigrated to England many moons ago, it’s probably fair to say that we haven’t been able to spend as much time together as we would have liked since.

However, since her husband is a major dude and her boss in Manchester is an absolute legend she was able to come back to the Promised Land for the best part of 3 weeks, to be with mam and support my dad. I was therefore able to hang out with her again which was ace! I was so grateful to have her around during these tough times. We got to eat (incredibly tasty) hospice food and drink dangerous amounts of coffee together, we also got to chat honestly about how we were doing, how mam and dad were doing, travel together, pray together and basically be brother and sister. There were moments, especially at the hospice when Michelle wasn’t round and I didn’t want to budren my dad that I was able to share my heart with my sister and receive grace from her. Furthermore, she was an awesome comfort and encouragement to my dad too, which was also a ministry of timely grace.

She’s back up north now, but I think this last month has reminded us both how blessed we are to have each other.

Thanks sis – you’re brill!!

4. God’s Grace To Me Through My Dad

My dad is my new hero!

It’s probably fair to say that we weren’t particularly close as I was growing up (largely cos I was an obnoxious valley boy!) Though in the last 10 years or so we have grown really close. That said – we’ve never been ‘huggy!’ We were always much more ‘hearty handshakes’ than ‘hugs and kisses.’ However, there was a moment 2 days before mam died when I couldn’t cope with it any more and I left the room in tears. My dad came out and hugged me (the first hug I can ever remember receiving from him) and it was exactly what I needed. It hasn’t turned us into huggers, but it did minister grace to me in a very traumatic moment.

But that’s not why he’s my hero!

He’s my hero because he kept his vows to my mam right to the very end. In 2 months he didn’t miss a single visiting slot. He was at her bed side holding her hand, helping her eat and drink, praying with her, singing to her and reading scripture to her as her health and her mind deteriorated. Furthermore, his faith didn’t falter, but rather it sustained him.

I found it really hard to watch her deteriorate in the final days, sometimes choosing to stay outside the room. But my dad stayed the whole time. It was true love. It was sacred. It was what marriage is meant to be all about. Husbands are commanded in Scripture to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and I saw gospel love at work in my dad. I know that my mam felt loved right to the end and I will always love him for that. I know that God is proud of the way that my dad looked after His daughter, and I’m proud of him too. I want to be able to love my wife in that kind of way. Not just in the fair weather, but right the way through the storm too.

God’s grace to me through my dad is a timely hug and an inspiring example of true, Christ-like, sacrificial love to follow.

Like I said at the start of this marathon post – I love my family!