Category: Grace That Shines In The Dark

Battle Weary

For many painful reasons, 2012 has been the toughest year of my life. By quite a long way. While, by God’s grace, my faith has remained in tact, there were moments earlier in the year when I literally thought I was done with gospel ministry. I was exhausted both emotionally and spiritually. Battle weary. Some days I would find myself crying for no reason. Other days I would just feel REALLY angry. Others just numb. Not only did I seriously doubt my calling as a pastor, I also questioned my ability to be a good husband, father and friend. In His kindness to me God has given me a wonderful wife who knows how to give me grace in the right ways and at the times. Similarly, the men who I lead Hill City with have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. I also have good friends who have come alongside, spoken into my life and been more of a blessing to me than they’ll ever know.

However, as 2012 draws to a close, I find myself in a very different place. I am hope-filled. Expectant. Joyful. Why? Not because everything’s sorted now, but because as I was brought to my knees and made to confront my own weakness and my fragility, I was in the perfect position to receive the grace that I so desperately needed. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6).

Below is a video of a poem that I wrote during my darkest hour back in the summer. I recorded it in the Autumn, but even then wasn’t sure whether or not I should post it up online or not. Ultimately I decided that I would post it up and the end of the year as I think it does offer hope. At least I hope it does. Maybe as the year comes to an end you too feel exhausted, frustrated and battle weary. If so, can I encourage you to let the God of grace be your all sufficiency.

God bless.

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Gratitude In The Midst Of Grief

In September 1999 I set up a late-night drop-in centre in the basement of Highfields Church, Cardiff, called the Underground. It was an exciting, occasionally terrifying ministry that lasted over 3 years. In that time we ministered to some of the most messed-up and violent people I have ever worked with, yet we also saw God do incredible things. One of the most memorable things about the Underground was the team that I served alongside – a team that was predominantly made up of students and young adults. On my team were 2 wonderful students called Dan and Cat who stuck it out through thick and thin and who were a constant source of encouragement to me and became firm friends. Dan and Cat became very close, started going out and eventually got married and had 4 wonderful kids together.

Dan went on to become a much-loved member of the leadership team down at Christchurch, a church in nearby Newport that I enjoy an especially close relationship with. Consequently I have stayed in touch with him and Cat ever since our time together at Underground. So it was with great shock that I learned about him collapsing with a bleed on the brain just over a week ago, and with deep sadness to hear of his death yesterday, aged just 33. Dan’s death, and the events leading up to it, has hit me very hard. I’m an emotional bloke at the best of times, but his friendship, his age and his family situation all being so close has made it especially poignant. I can’t even begin to imagine what his wife, his precious kids and his friends at Christchurch must be feeling right now. And yet I know that there is grace. I have been aware of it, as I’m sure they have. Remarkably, almost bizarrely, in the midst of all of the emotional trauma that these last few weeks have brought, I have found myself feeling grateful. Profoundly grateful. Here’s why:

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In Memory Of Mam

So as my first Mother’s Day since losing mam to cancer draws to close, I thought I’d just take a bit of time to reflect on some stuff. I have to confess that I found today a lot harder than I thought I would, with tears flowing freely as my kids jumped on their mammy this morning, and then again in church as we sang ‘Faithful One’ and I recalled just how faithful God has been to me since mam died in October.

Truth is that God blessed me with a fantastic mother for 33 years of my life, and while the pain of her death still hits me for six at times, I thank God for the gospel guarantee that she’s chillin’ with Jesus in paradise right now. I also thank God for the inspiring example of faith, grace and eternal hope that mam was and for the numerous invaluable lessons that she taught me throughout my life. I was especially encouraged recently as I read Proverbs 1v8-9:

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”

I suppose the best way to honour and remember my mam is to never forget the things that she taught me by both her words and her life:

  • That God is completely good, even when things like cancer enter the equation.
  • That the Bible is God’s Word and completely trustworthy.
  • That prayer is both powerful and crucial.
  • That the love of Christ is irresistible.
  • That we can ALWAYS come back to the cross and find grace.
  • That no one is beyond the merciful reach of God.
  • That family is special.
  • That commitment to local church is important.
  • That creation reveals the majesty of God in a profound way.
  • That heaven is a reality that becomes more and more visible the closer that death gets.
  • That in Jesus we always have a reason to smile, to sing and to celebrate.

She obviously taught me loads of other cool stuff too, but that’s what comes to mind tonight. I thought I’d finish off by posting a rap that I performed in church this morning. It was written right in the middle of mam’s battle with cancer and is dedicated to her and to the two other precious girls in my life, for whom I am incredibly grateful to God for, my wife and my daughter.

Thank you Jesus for my mam and my girls!


Truemcee: My Girls

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!

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!