Friday, September 18, 2020

GPS frolic

This week we were invited to a Covid aware 80th birthday - just four of us for tea in the garden. We had not visited them before so I punched their details into my GPS -  postcode, full address and house number.  Their village is less than 6 miles away and we left early just in case we caught a traffic problem. Carol had warned them that even with a Garmin voicing directions I can easily get lost.

With joy we entered their one long twisting road of new houses, with nooks and crannies at every turn.  They had told us they were tucked away in a corner and we should look out for their white car and park beside it.  To my alarm, no sooner had we driven into the road than Garmin announced we had arrived though clearly not at the right house - not in a corner, no white car.  Carol said the house number was 30, so we drove round to find it.  It had no white car but many cards along the window ledge. No one replied at the front door so Carol went round to the garden.  Mercifully she met no fierce dog nor fierce anyone.  Wrong house.  Driving further along we saw a house tucked in a corner with a white car and Carol knocked on the door to discover a delightful couple who invited her in to phone our friends and find exactly where they were.  It was then we realized we had not brought details of their phone as well as house number.

We tried our friendly Church Elder on the phone to get the details but he was out for a walk.  So, with Carol telling me she would never drive out with me again, we began to drive painstakingly up and down this long road in the hopes our friends would see us.  We were surprised how many white cars there were.  Our friends had promised to look out for us....but for forty minutes we explored every nook and cranny without seeing anyone.  Filled with doom we drove along the entire road yet again when we spotted our friend waving furiously in a corner.  Apparently we had visited earlier and he had actually seen us from the front window, come downstairs to greet us only to see us career off again.  The number of their house was nothing like 30.

How utterly stupid to visit someone without their address and phone number!  I know!  I really know! Happily I can report that we had a good time once blood pressures had subsided.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Old Codger

Yesterday, I had to be in church an hour early so that the whole service could be run through with the zoom master and team which involved extra work on making sure the power point was not in too much danger of being poisonous (as last post!)  When the service went live there were 30 people in church (with masks on and socially distanced) and a church friend Andrew was leading the service.

Something embarrassing happened just before the sermon.  I went up on the platform ready to speak and I saw that he had a print out with my photo on it with some of the details of my education, ministries etc.  To my horror he said that he needed to explain to people who I was since many of them would not know. So he read out some of the biographical stuff.   Afterwards he said to me; 'You didn't like me doing that, did you?'  I said no and how it reminded me of past occasions, especially in the US, when a screed was read before I spoke. (Actually I think British people can often react badly against this and probably some found it extremely irritating).  'Well', he said, 'I don't want people to think you are just some old codger who has wandered into Histon Baptist Church!' 

I had to smile.  Old codger it is!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Power point poison

I have been preaching again these two Sundays at my local church and they are keen on using power point for preaching. That has become the tradition over many years. So, I am currently completing a short set of slides. Looking out through my office window I saw a friend walking his dogs on the road and thought it would be good to greet him.(All distractions welcome!) Going outside I told him that I was in the middle of working on power point for my sermon to which he exclaimed: 'Power point poison!'  'You don't like power point?' I asked rather unnecessarily. Emphatically he told me that so often the content on the screen swallows up the speaker so that you just don't listen properly and all the words just slide off instead of sticking.  The technology comes between speaker and hearers and poisons the art of listening.

It's a long time ago that I posted some blogs on the merits and demerits of power point. When I heard my friend it reminded me how very negative they can be for some people. Certainly, because I preach without notes I am necessarily constrained by power point but I also recognize that congregations develop their own response patterns dependent on the preacher's usual style.

I have ended up with just nine slides for Sunday.  Because we use zoom I am unable to click the next slide and the IT team needs to operate the slides.  I asked them to show each slide briefly and then return the screen to me.  The team leader was puzzled:;'Normally, we leave the slide show running the whole time'. 'Ah,' said the worship leader, ' he wants to see the whites of the sinners' eyes!'  I wouldn't put it exactly like that but I am hoping it will be a good compromise between seeing the speaker and having salient points emphasized on the screen.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Another word on Bunyan

With my interest in preaching I must add this. As a young adult Bunyan could neither read not write.  He did not make Christian commitment until his late twenties and did not preach until almost 30 years old. Yet. this late developer was to become known world wide as a Christian writer of long lasting influence as well as a gifted preacher. 

He describes how in his church fellowship 'some of the most notable among the saints with us' perceived that he might be a preacher and they asked him to accompany the preaching elders to give his testimony or even a sermon.  I guess it was to test his gifting.  Well, they found out soon enough.  He was immensely surprised to find himself a preacher as the hundreds flocked to hear him.  Often in the open air on village greens, in barns, in private houses and sometimes even in parish churches people's lives were changed as he preached. A biographer comments that his passionate sincerity coupled with a  concern for the souls of his hearers meant he always worked to find some word from God which would awaken their consciences. The biographer says he also preached with fear and trembling.

In his book Grace Abounding he writes'In my preaching I have really been in pain, and have as it were travailed to bring forth children to God; neither could I be satisfied unless some fruit did appear in my work.' He goes on to say that ' it pleased me nothing to see some people drink in opinions if they seemed ignorant of Jesus Christ' but rather those who found ' the worth of their own salvation, sound conviction of sin, especially for unbelief, and an heart set on fire to be save by Christ , with strong breathings after a truly sanctified soul. That it was that delighted me; these were the souls I counted blessed.'

I was struck by his humility and his focus. Genuine surprise that he was selected to preach and anguished trouble if his preaching made no difference!  The high call of preaching.  Here was no passing on information but only desire to be used by God to transform.  I am glad to be reminded of him.

Monday, August 31, 2020

John Bunyan

I have just noticed that on August 31, 1688 the English Puritan writer and preacher John Bunyan died at the age of 59.  In the Cambridge church, where I was minister, we had a large stained glass window at the front showing key figures from the story of Pilgrim's Progress, with a central focus on Christian and his burden rolling off as he looked up at the Cross.  Baptist churches do not often have such windows! It was a powerful reminder of the Christian message as well as of John Bunyan who spent his life within 5 miles of his birthplace in Bedford apart from occasional visits to London such as the one in this story.

So many aspects of his life are remarkable.  But I didn't realize until today that he died because of promise he made to a young man whose father, who lived in Reading, had become so angry that he threatened to disinherit him.  In the middle of August 1688 Bunyan had to ride horseback to London to preach there and, because of this young man's trouble he decided to detour to Reading.  He was already tired and probably his wife had not wanted him to travel at all but Bunyan had friends in Reading with whom he stayed and for whom he preached. The day after, he visited the irate father in the morning and successfully achieved reconciliation with his son.  About midday he set off to cover the 40 miles to London.  But before long a heavy storm broke and pounded him with rain for several hours. Soaked to the skin, shivering and exhausted he reached his destination where friends put him to bed, and gave him a potion.  He seemed to improve a little and next day worked on his latest book for publication. Indeed, he felt strong enough to preach but two days later pneumonia hit him.  A doctor could nothing for him and on 31st. August he died.

Some biographers have commented how typical it was of him to take key themes of his preaching - love and reconciliation - so seriously that he made this detour and suffered sad consequences. That he was pastoral to the end.  With all the other tributes that can be made to him we see he never stopped caring for people. This story really brings out the character of the man and I am even more grateful for his legacy given to us all.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

God's Growth Book 3)

 Completing the C's:

  • COVENANT - God makes promises to a chosen people, beginning with Abraham, in a two way relationship which is intended to bless the whole world.  The rest of the Old Testament spells out the story with its ups-and-downs through sacrifices, temple, prophets, priests and kings.
  • CHRIST - the pivotal point of revelation when God becomes flesh to live among us and overcome the barrier of sin by his own sacrifice to put us at-one-ment with God. 
  • CHURCH - a people within whom God's Spirit lives who now belong to a new covenant which is intended to bless the whole world.
  • CONSUMMATION - Jesus' return and ultimate remaking of cosmos.
3. It's human and divine - 66 books written by different authors over 1500 years comprise one whole story where God is intimately involved so that we can claim the Bible is the Word of God given in the words of people in history.  Within each time period God is revealing more and more of himself.  He doesn't change but his people are on a journey and only when Jesus comes, called the Word of God, does God reveal clearly the amazing truths of his love and reconciliation.  The way that human and divine work together in Scripture means that God still speaks through the words.

4. You always come to the Bible as interpreter. Most of us need an English translation which involves interpretation but we recognize that while for unbelievers it may seem an irrelevant jumble, Christians by contrast are promised the Holy Spirit to help us understand it.  The key verses from 2 Tim. 3:15,16 sum up so much that is important.  Perhaps some more in another post?

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Bible - God's Growth Book

Thinking about 4 key truths about the Bible I began:

1, It's the source book for Christianity - it's the only place to see Jesus' ministry, death and resurrection from historical eyewitnesses in the gospel records.  And it's the only place to read about the world Church's beginning together with Christian theology (God Talk) in the writings of apostles Paul, Peter, James, John.  It is essential first-hand reading. This seems an obvious point but it is critically important to realize that though Jesus didn't write a book, his life embedded in history is powerfully documented for the world only in the New Testament.

2) It's ONE whole story about God and his world -  the New Testament as the Jesus source book is Part 2 that must belong alongside Part 1 the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible of the Jews.  They belong together because only when read together is the whole story of God's dealings with us revealed.  Of course, for Christians the New Testament is the critical starting point. But, because Jesus was a Jew you cannot understand him nor his sacrifice upon the cross without the back-story in the Old Testament. 

Several people have summarized this one story through Part 1 and 2. One method uses 6 words beginning with C.   The first C lays the foundation for everything.  CREATION.  The truth that God created everything and every relationship with the intention that it would all be good in harmony with him - this is the conviction that undergirds the ONE story.   Probably you can guess the other C's?

CORRUPTION - sadly sums up the rebellion against God and breaking up of good relationships as people turn against God in self-willed living.  What the Bible calls sin.  

More in the next blog.