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!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Totally jazzed (2)

Yesterday at the Whole-Life Preaching Workshop (organized by the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity) proved to be even more exhilarating than I had prayed for and expected.  As I entered St. Peter's off Oxford Street I was greeted by a packed church with full tables of eight people round each.  Actually they ran out of spaces!  Making my way to an empty chair I was hugged by some of my former Spurgeon's students -two of whom are still in the same church twenty years since leaving the college.  Later I was to catch up with such encouraging stories - there is nothing like hearing genuine good God stories. Several others I recognized as old friends. Church leaders had come from all over the UK and the buzz of anticipation was glorious.

The central event was the launch of a six-part video Whole Life Preaching which belongs within the LICC commitment to help Christians make a difference wherever they are.  Many of us are grateful for the quality of their commitment to give us so many good resources for daily mission and ministry. And, of course for me, the focus on preachers was tremendously encouraging as we worked through the afternoon together.  One pastor, a Methodist from Doncaster, said that she had been yearning for a workshop like this for years and afterwards declared to the whole conference that it had met her expectations....especially with the six-part video series now released.  The full series is available free online at

On the train journey home I reflected on the joys of a day that was replete with good things.  So many!  I only caught the train with a minute to spare because I was guest at a celebration meal in a nearby restaurant when many LICC staff shared their happiness about the day and (I was thrilled to witness) about being a team together.  Experiences like this are truly to be treasured.  Thank you LICC.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Totally jazzed

Someone asked me recently whether my involvement in the 'preaching world' has dropped off now that I no longer have heavy commitments in the US.  It is a revealing question.  Partly because there are definitely fewer opportunities in the UK., but also because my most recent conference (scheduled for two weeks ago) was cancelled ten days before it was due to happen. Why? Because of 'lack of take-up' said the organizer!  It was a conference in Cambridge for preachers with a poet, story teller and myself speaking on 'Words of Wonder' with workshops. It sounded interesting...but perhaps not!

However, next week I am speaking on Preaching as Disciplemaking at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity in central London.  A new programme is being launched calling for Whole-Life Preaching and I am kicking the event off with an address followed by a feedback session. In the words of a US speaker I once heard, 'I am totally jazzed by this opportunity.'  It really does excite me. I have appreciated LICC since it started and have come to know some of its staff but what a delight to have a little part in an event which is definitely going to happen!   And it's about preaching though the choice of subject has pushed me into some fresh ways of thinking about it.

Another good thing is that the organizers are busy praying for the conference day.  How thrilling to know that prayer is considered as such a practical necessity. It's just great and I am jazzed!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Cambridge God Adventure 18) Pause for Christmas

The prayer diary during Autumn 1980 is packed with God-given responses. In particular, prayers about a new church organist and the future of church music  resulted in an extraordinary answer.  One of the young people from my previous church in Blackburn, Andrew Gosden, volunteered to work full-time with us before he became a student at Magdalene College.  He and his parents entered our church story with significant impact.  As did the new leader of our young people. Prayers continued for Caxton and Willingham where one of our members  had become minister.  At every turn positive things were happening.

Approaching Christmas, the Evangelism group turned its attention to those who lived nearest to the church, visiting the homes with invitations to our Christmas events.  Nearly 1000 people were contacted with special emphasis on an OPEN DAY on Saturday December 20th. to see the church decorations, enjoy refreshments, hear singing and enjoy meeting us.

The pavement outside the church was heaving with Christmas shoppers as the supermarket next door went into consumer hyper-drive.  Weather was cold and as we opened the doors at 10:00 am we truly offered warmth!  New lighting inside the front porch and carol singing added to the welcome.  As we had found before a stream of total strangers began coming in.  Some because of the invitations, others drawn in by the sounds of Christmas and the warmth.  Some sat down and joined in the carols with the group singing at the front.  Periodically I said a word about the true purpose of Christmas.  It was a joy to see people put down their bulging bags and share with us.  Pausing for Christmas truth.

From counting cups of tea and mince pies afterwards we knew that over 500 people had come in.  And at the following services there were some new friends attracted through the invitations and Open Day. Our celebration of Christ born for us was truly joyful. Being on the main street had again proved significant for mission.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Cambridge God Adventure 17) Evangelism and social action

One of the wonders of letting believers go with the flow of their gifts is that anything can happen. One group, concerned about the needs of the undeveloped world, calling itself the World Development Group, also had a vision about opening church premises during the nationally dedicated One World Week. With Church Meeting backing they fleshed out a plan. The Mayor of Cambridge agreed to open a four day event at a special ceremony on the Saturday. Visitors would be ushered into the large Upper Hall to see an exhibition mounted by fifteen organizations. Downstairs in the Lower Hall continuous films would screen, again provided by different aid organizations.  Of course, basic refreshments would be available with a hunger lunch too!

Participants multiplied.  The choir and orchestra of a local school at Blinco Grove agreed to give a public concert with an international flavour on Saturday evening with a retiring offering for Save the Children. Sunday services would continue the theme with a member talk of her VSO experience in Papua New Guinea.

On Friday night the whole place buzzed as staff from Christian Aid, Tear Fund, Leprosy Mission, Save the Children, Oxfam, Help the Aged, Salvation Army, Baptist Missionary Society, SOS children's villages, United Nations Association, VSO and many more transformed our Upper Hall with colour and challenge.  Next day, after the Mayor declared the exhibition open, people began moving through the premises to face tough world challenges of poverty, hunger and violence. Later a packed evening concert with children in national costumes continued the message.

Too often in church life those two aspects - evangelism and social action - can be in serious tension. Yet, we were to discover how different giftings within one fellowship can enable the whole church to share in both.  Members of each group contributed to holistic mission. Gloriously, we found ourselves using our premises both to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ as well as to serve others' needs.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Cambridge God Adventure 16) Being in the right place

Our Harvest Open Day had some memorable moments. I particularly remember one.  A short beautifully coiffured lady swept in accompanied by a man who looked like a bodyguard, and turned out to be one.  She asked me if I was the pastor and when I admitted I was her composure crumbled. She asked me if I could spare a few moments and in the side vestry we shared in one of those experiences which surprise on the main street.

She was a famous country-and-western singer on tour in Britain who was performing that night in Cambridge. But on this particular Saturday she felt at such a low ebb physically and spiritually she said that she needed to talk to someone.  As a Christian she felt utterly dry and exhausted. 'Would you mind praying for me, pastor?' she asked. You can imagine my joy at being able to pray that this needy lady receive some gentle assurance of Christ's love and peace coupled with his promise of strength in the Holy Spirit. Apparently, in the exhausting itinerary of travel, rehearsals and concerts she had longed for somewhere to be quiet. 'We only had a few minutes spare today,' she said, 'thank you for being there'.

Obviously, I have held back her name for confidential reasons.  Later I purchased one of her records and met her eyes on the record sleeve with a jolt of happy remembrance.  Returning to the US she sent me a letter including the line 'It was so refreshing to have some Christian fellowship.' Being willing to open the church proved to be the right place at the right time for her and others.  What a thrill to be useful for the Lord.