Friday, November 17, 2017

Tenth Anniversary

My first blog post was on 18 November 2007.  I was (fairly) gently ushered into the experience by Rob my IT son who insisted it was the best way for me to keep in contact with friends, students, churches.  I began hesitantly and defensively.  It seemed to me, and it still does, that happenings and thoughts in my life do not merit much attention.  Content has wobbled through personal news (with the largest response ever when Carol wrote about my prostrate cancer!); details of my itinerary and preaching with requests for help and prayers along the way;  consecutive posts on subjects such as top seven ministry qualities, top ten texts for preachers, funny things that happened in ministry; multiple reflections often with a devotional edge; and random events along the way.

Some of the strongest stats for readership occurred when I was interim preacher in churches where members collaborated in sermon preparation - before, during and after each sermon. That was very special.  On several occasions when I have asked for help as I prepared for conferences the post has hummed with tremendously positive input (often sent privately to me rather than posted publicly).  On such occasions I have thankfully agreed with my son's early enthusiasm. 

However, 10 years on I have wondered about its value as my life in retirement quietens down.  Should I continue or not? One or two have said my recounting of A Cambridge God Adventure is of interest to them and encouraged me to plough on with telling that story. This is something a retired guy can do (!) and I have the advantage of possessing details close to the events which will ensure I am not relying on memory. But I will only do it as long as the Lord gains the glory. So I shall persevere a little longer but I am very alert to the dangers of going into dotage.   To those of you who have generously stayed with me over the years I want to say an IMMENSE THANK YOU for belonging to this little cyber community which has given me so much encouragement and surprise through the years.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A sober weekend

Over Remembrance weekend I read for the first time All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque. My oldest son gave me the book a little while ago but I had never given it attention.  It is a tough read.  A group of German soldiers who go to the trenches in the First World War experience the gamut of horrific experiences as seen through the eyes of a sensitive nineteen year old Paul Baumer. So much is incredibly sad as his company of 150 soldiers is reduced to 32 in an early battle.  You long for him and his particular friends somehow to survive when so many others are perishing but in the end they all die.  The story came out of the author's own experiences on the front line - its vividness, horror and disillusionment all ring terribly true.

Reading this made a difference as Carol and I saw the British Legion Festival of Remembrance and shared in other remembrance events of the weekend. Several parts of the book particularly made me stop and think.  As when Paul Baumer describes a short home leave in the midst of the horror when he tries to come to terms with life back home. Now he sees what matters in life so differently from people back home.
They just talk too much. they have problems, goals, desires that I can't see in the same way as they do. Sometimes I sit with one of them in the little garden of the pub and try to get the point across that this is everything - just sitting in the quiet.  Of course they understand, they agree, they think the same way, but it's only talk...they do feel it, but always only with half of their being, a part of them is always thinking of something else . They are so fragmented, no one feels it with his whole life.

Feeling life with our whole life.
 Facing life changing realities should make a profound difference to how we live.  Central to Christian faith is the sacrifice of Christ which confronts us with the horror of sin and his gift of new life, the possibility of moving from death to life. And that should certainly make a difference to the way we feel life with all our being!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Driving again...and the joy of belonging

This weekend marked the end of what my doctor termed the critical four week stage of my stroke recovery.  And gave me freedom to drive again!  Carol and I celebrated by visiting Ely - its cathedral and market (for dairy free chocolate cake).  Walking in the sunshine, enjoying the autumn colours - just wonderful to be out again.

I know I have a different journey ahead with daily (strong) medicine and some tests still to come but we give immense thanks to God and all our friends who have prayed and supported us through these first four weeks.   I have just tidied all my 'get well cards' away which I looked at each day. They represented support from around the world.  Several had long messages inside.  Emails also came from all over the place.  I was able to give unhurried attention to each with immense appreciation for the trouble taken and love expressed.

One of the special delights was to realize that over a third of my cards and messages came from members of our local Baptist church.  Though we are relative newcomers, coming to the church fresh in retirement, we have been surrounded by such expressions of love and practical support.  Many friends visited me - some people I had never had a proper conversation with before.  Carol and I commented about the solid thrill of belonging to a community of love and kindness like this.  Oh, how thankful we are to belong to Histon Baptist Church - its Lord and his people.   Thank you to you readers too for sharing along the way.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Stroke doziness

Just a note as my state of dozy daze gradually diminishes.  As yet I have no news about the MRI and my heart 24 hour monitor is not until November 22nd. but I am feeling more positive.  And interest in the world around is actively creeping in.  In particular, the 500th. anniversary of the Reformation has given me a push to dip into Martin Luther's sermons - vigorous, blunt, creative and courageous. You can still feel their impact.  He was always concerned to preach in plain language.
When I preach I sink myself deeply down....I have an eye for the multitude of young people, children and servants, of which there are more than two thousand. I preach to them.  
At the same time he was deeply concerned about the authority of Scripture and interpreting it in its' literal, ordinary, natural sense.'  Woe betide anyone who complicated the process of interpretation. This week I also read his vituperative pamphlet against Jerome Emser who taught that Scripture had a literal sense and a spiritual sense - a secret often allegorical understanding.  Emser followed ideas of Origen, Jerome, Dionysius and others.  No, no, no! writes Luther.  His pamphlet is titled: Answer to the Superchristian, Superspiritual and Superlearned Book of Goat Emser of Leipzig.  You really get a feel of the reformer at full flow in his desire to exalt the authority of Scripture over tradition!.

Actually, later he himself was to see a deeper spiritual dimension to texts but he insisted that an meaning deeper than the ordinary must be signaled by Scripture itself. 

So a little reading has connected me this week with this extraordinary figure of Reformation history and in spite of my post stroke state I have been able to celebrate.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Stroke alert (2)

So many friends from our past have flooded us with prayers and support.   Carol's Facebook page has been red hot. (Alas, I rarely use mine).  The sense of being borne up by the love and care of so many has been wonderful.  Just wonderful.

From my side the news has largely been same as, same as.  The drugs at first knocked me out but I am adjusting.  Feeling is back 90% and though daily blood pressure readings continue a rocky profile they are generally downward from those first days.  Each day passes in a dozy daze.

The next major event is a MRI scan on Friday to check if a brain bleed precipitated my episode. Sadly, my family has a history of brain bleeds so we wonder if that is the problem.  So continued prayers will be valued immensely and I will post as soon as I know MRI results.  Sorry for this medical bulletin - hopefully there will not be too many more.  And days of dozy daze will pass!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Stroke alert

I have just returned from our hospital stroke unit.  How weird to write that sentence when I felt 100% fit last Friday!   However, on Saturday morning as Carol and I prepared to go out to a local Methodist church coffee morning I came down the stairs and in a matter of seconds lost all the power down my left side.  The paralysis was as alarming as it was sudden. I plopped backwards. When Carol helped me to a chair we realized that I had probably suffered, what I had come across as a pastor several times in others, a mini stroke.

Phoning our NHS helpline led to an emergency ambulance hurtling to us in less than 5 minutes.  Paramedics tested me and declared that I needed to go to hospital Accident and Emergency.  Less than 11 minutes later with wailing siren and (extremely bumpy) ride I arrived to find the stroke crash team awaiting me with amazing attention.  Shunted into a serious illness bay I was examined carefully with ECG, blood tests, Cat-Scan and continuous blood pressure measurements.  All the time the paralysis was gradually receding though the blood pressure readings were sky high (for me who is normally low!)   How unreal it all seemed.

This morning (4 days later) the specialist undertook many more tests and declared it was a small stroke requiring several further tests. However, he reassured me about my general level of health and told me to live as 'normally' as my body allows. ' Listen to your body' he said. 'When you tire, stop!'  But I cannot drive for a month and (with immense sadness) we had to cancel our US trip to visit our family next week. 

So, it's a wake-up call that takes me into good company with many friends who have also suffered TIAs.  And,yet again, in the reminder of life's fragility we have discovered the deep bonds of love of family and friends.  Our church family in Histon has been magnificent with prayer and practical support.  So too friends from around the world.  Thank you so much for your concern and prayers for us both.  We are immensely grateful.  We really are.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Totally jazzed (3)

Earlier I mentioned that preparing on the subject I was given - Preaching as Disciplemaking - pushed me into fresh areas of thinking. It pushed me into expressing the preaching task in a new way. In a sentence:  Preachers are lead-disciples proclaiming to other disciples in community.

Bearing in mind the whole LICC thrust of encouraging Christian disciples' daily mission I saw the whole of Col. 1:28 as significant: It is Christ whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone so that we might present everyone mature in Christ.  Jesus Christ is central to proclamation and living for him means discipleship.  Yet everyone is involved in learning as disciples...the repeated everyone involves preachers just as much as hearers.  Because preachers have the primary task of proclaiming they are lead-disciples.  They are not the only lead-disciples but they should see that preaching as lead-disciples to a community of disciples requires ALL learning together from God's word.  All are on the learning curve towards developing maturity.   Lead disciples preaching to other disciples.  What a difference that makes!  Critically it means that preaching involves the task of disciplemaking.

I quoted John Stott (no surprise in LICC!) who urged preachers to 'enter other people's world's of thinking and feeling' not content with translating Bible words for today but incarnating them, fleshing them out.  And fleshing God's word out in their own lives as fellow disciples. I spent much of the half hour talking about how this means immersing in the lives of our hearers in order to immerse into God's big story for his people. It was a fresh way of expressing the preaching task .There are always new things to learn...I know I am only a little way on road to maturity!