Friday, June 16, 2017

Spurgeon and friends

A friend wrote to me saying that my recent posts about C.H. Spurgeon had persuaded him to read more which opened up many themes about this great preacher.  And there are many!  Before I move on in further blog ramblings let me mention a book in my library: Spurgeon and his friendships by Cunningham Burley, who relied heavily upon the insights of Spurgeon's oldest son, also called Charles Spurgeon. 
The book claims that Spurgeon possessed the genius for making friends. A great personality yes, but he had the grace of receptivity.  He 'cheerfully admitted that he owed much of his ascendancy as a leader and author to the loyalty of his comrades and the love of his friends.'

The range of friends is listed under different headings.  Wonderfully it begins with Susannah his wife, and Charles and Thomas his sons.  In spite of all the pressures he genuinely valued his family as friends.  This is a good reminder for Father's Day this coming weekend.
Ministerial Friendships include Joseph Parker, Alexander McClaren, Dwight Moody and De Witt Talmage- it is challenging to see his warm open links with other great preachers of his day. How preachers should admire this when competitiveness and jealousy can  so easily prevent such friendships.  I have books on and by all these men and it is thrilling to think they were friends.
Philanthropic Friendships include William Booth, Lord Shaftesbury and George Muller.
Soul Kinships - John Ruskin, William Gladstone, Henry Ward Beecher, Robert Louis Stevenson...but also children.  Friendship with children marked out his ministry.
Dumb Companionships includes 'Dick' the cat, 'Punch' and 'Gyp' - his dogs.

Looking at this list and reflecting on these different headings leads to personal questions about my grace of receptivity and who might belong in my circle.  It really makes you think, doesn't it?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Political choices

Britain is embroiled in a general election.  Cambridge is a hotly contested seat with the two main parties exchanging members of parliament in the last election.  Unsurprisingly, we have been visited by both parties in person and have literature pushed through the door almost on a daily basis as Voting Day (June 8th) rapidly approaches.  On the national scene the party leaders have been fighting for our votes with competing manifestos and, as any you of reading this in the UK will be well aware, the resulting dynamics are complex (to put it mildly)!  There never has been an election like it, say some pundits.

William Temple, an Archbishop of Canterbury (died1944) who was renowned for his preaching and writing was especially concerned about supporting economic and social reform.  Today I was reading some of his comments:
Herd and Fellowship - The real defence of democracy is...that by calling upon people to exercise responsible judgment on the matters before the country at any time, you develop their personal qualities; you make them feel that they belong to one another in this corporate society, and so you tend to deepen and intensify personal fellowship. You are leading people forward from the relationship of the herd to that of real fellowship by the mere process of calling upon them to take their share in the government of the groups of which they are members.
Its sounds as though it comes from a different, altogether more reasonable era, doesn't it?.  Yet, the possibility of developing personal qualities by exercising political judgment, of ensuring we move out of a herd mentality sounds good. I need to record that I have been giving scrutiny to the local candidates with awareness that responsible judgment places great responsibility on me to think with a Christian mind.  As Temple writes elsewhere:
Political Test - Man is created for fellowship in the family of God: fellowship first with God, and through that with all God's other children. And that is the primary test that must be applied to every system that is constructed and every change in the system that is proposed.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Discovery by stealth!

I do not wish to embarrass her and must therefore let her remain anonymous but the lady I mentioned at the end of the last post gave me her card as she was leaving.  I was surprised to see its printed picture bore the words: Rehoboth Children's Homes Trust (with her own name on the back).

Going online I discovered that in 1981 she and her late husband founded this children's home in the Philippines because they witnessed the desperate needs of so many orphaned, abandoned and neglected children. With desire to give them the best of Christian nurture and education the work began with a local pastor and wife becoming the first house parents.  In the thirty-six years since then it has grown so that currently 70 children are being cared for residentially and through their education programme. The trust is connected with Godmanchester Baptist Church as part of their wide mission concerns.

This is one of the wonderful truths about the Christian family - that you can find out almost by accident so many good works that flow from faith.  I remember once reading a quote about the best part of Christian kindness is that it is only discovered by stealth! 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Spurgeon follow-up

I have not been able to find about Richard Knill's response to the eighteen year old Spurgeon, though how could be not have been thrilled. However there is an interesting record of a conversation a few years later.

Knill was with a group of friends enjoying dinner when the conversation turned to the hot subject of a wonderful preacher who was pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in London.
'What's his name?' asked Knill.
 'Mr Spurgeon'.
'I know him' said Mr. Knill.
'No, no,' a friend replied, 'I think not!'
'Yes, I do, sir!  I saw him at his grandfather's house some years ago when I preached in the village for the missionary cause, and have always been convinced that he would one day be a most extraordinary character in the Christian world.  I remember taking the lad into the garden, I conversed with him and prayed with him, and found that he possessed a mind far beyond his years.'

Isn't it interesting how Christian stories intertwine and how we can look back and remember connections.  Richard Knill's was a major one and deserves its place in Spurgeon's story....but on  lesser scales have you experienced connections like these?

At the Waterbeach meeting a lady who told me she was blind asked to speak to me afterwards.  She recounted how she was visiting Cambridge and worshipped at St. Andrew's Street while I was minister some thirty years ago. Even though she was not staying long she filled in a card to join a house group and I arranged this with her. Apparently this led to the most amazing friendships which have lasted until the present.  Indeed she had just spent time with one couple in Dundee. 'I owe so much to that group. All because I filled in a green card and you followed up!' she said.  Oh, to be surprised by such connections.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

C H Spurgeon aged 18

Last night I was speaking at Waterbeach Baptist Church where CH Spurgeon began his meteoric ministry.  I mentioned a letter he wrote when he was 18 to an older preacher called Richard Knill. The interesting back story involves Richard Knill visiting Spurgeon's grandfather's church some 8 or 9 years earlier. Seeing the young Spurgeon he said: 'I think this little man will one day be a preacher of the gospel, and I hope a successful one!' Hearing again of Richard Knill when he was 18 stirred Spurgeon to write him a letter in which he first reminded him of the incident and then told him what had happened since.
When sixteen and a half years old, I was persuaded to preach in the villages. Once started in lay-preaching around Cambridge - where I was am still assistant in a school - I put my soul into the work. Having been invited to supply, for one Sabbath, the Baptist Church at Waterbeach, I did so; I was invited to continue and have now been the minister of the congregation for one year and four months. The chapel is always full, many profess to have felt the power of Divine grace, and residents in the neighbourhood say that there is a visible reform manifest. I preach thrice on the Sabbath; and often, indeed, almost constantly five times in the week-nights.  My salary being insufficient, I still remain in the school. Though the congregation is large they are poor - though their kindness may be judged from the fact that I have been to sixty-two different houses to dine on the Lord's Day. Thus are your words in part realized.
Your words spoken in season have been good to me; and if I am of any use in the army of the living God, I owe it in great part to you that I ever enlisted in it.  I am not nineteen yet; and need, and trust I shall have a mention in your prayers. With the greatest respect, I am, Yours truly, CHARLES SPURGEON.
I read the letter mostly because the meeting was a Mission Festival and Richard Knill was a pioneer missionary whose discernment was not only of historical significance but speaks volumes about our continuing need to discern God's call on others and ourselves.   But note the details - preaching eight times a week while still teaching at school.  A village on its way to being transformed - an extraordinary story of God at work.  And 62 different houses - he had counted them! That's hospitality.

Before I move on I shall try to find something about Richard Knill's response.  I am sure he found this a massive 'beam of encouragement'!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Feedback

The last post was positive - how good it is to be genuinely thanked.  But I was challenged by a conversation after Sunday morning's service.

I was talking with someone who sings in a quartet. She had just returned from a contest in Gateshead alongside hundreds of singers who had performed in different categories before judges.  ''It's scarey,' she said, "singing before people who are so knowledgeable and who will give you several pages of comment about your performance!   The first time we went to this festival we were so nervous thinking what they might say! Yet, I have come to realize that it is the only way you grow and improve, isn't it?' Actually, this year they won the award for best in their category so she was flushed with victory.

I really liked her spirit.  Of course she was willing to put herself through this with her three friends and expected rigorous feedback.  But her point about learning from others' critique as the best way to grow and improve is a critical one. I loved my beam of encouragement about my bible notes but I never stop needing honest feedback which may not beam!  I have just been involved in a viva for a DMin thesis on preaching and I was surprised that the student ended by quoting me:  'The one golden rule of preaching is that you never stop learning.' I still agree with myself. Honest feedback is vital for growth, isn't it?

Monday, May 22, 2017

A beam of encouragement!

Carol and I shared an interesting conversation about recent books we have read and our failure ever to write a thank-you for the joys/challenges that they have added to our lives.  'You never think to bother', she said.

This was triggered by an email redirected to me by a Scripture Union editor about my bible notes which emerged these last two weeks (for Encounter with God).  She forwarded a note from someone who wanted me to know just how much my notes had helped him.  I was thrilled as you can imagine..  His message shone like a beam right into my day and lit me up. I replied briefly to him expressing gratitude for the trouble he had taken. 'When you write in isolation it's rare to receive any feedback' I said. His reply revealed he was an Anglican church leader who had been reading  Bible notes for the last 55 years.  He confessed that only once before had he written thanks. He had never thought about the writer sitting so alone compared with public ministry when you can see what is happening (though you don't always receive encouragement!)

It really made me think about my failures to take the trouble to send out encouragement beams to others, especially if some extra effort is involved.