Monday, December 31, 2007

Hope 2008

A Happy New Year to you! We have just touched base with friends in Cambridge before returning to the US. They are very excited that their church, (where I used to be pastor), is involved in a national project called Hope 2008. Hope 2008 seeks to motivate Christians all over the UK to love and serve their neighbors. By sharing positive messages about Jesus and acting positively for him, Hope 2008's vision is to encourage 'every church, denomination and person to do more to reach people in the place where they live during this twelve-month perod' - and to do so with imagination and passion.

I know New Year resolutions have a spotty record (- certainly some of mine do!) But I love the name: HOPE 2008, the enthusiasm, the widespread involvement not only of every-sized community all over the UK, but also of churches of every kind, 'uniting in prayer, outreach and community action to help transform their neighbourhoods.'

I guess the US is just too vast, and the churches too used to working independently, for such a national vision to have a chance. But, as I return, Hope 2008 spells out some of my dreams for the local churches I know best in the US....and by seizing some of God's promises who knows what might happen this New Year. Do you sense HOPE ahead?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Blogging God's Promises (3)

I have loved working with others. A small adhoc group has brainstormed about banner wording for outside Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park. After voting on 14 possibilities we chose: God's Promises. Does He Deliver?

I like its question. Of course, some passers-by will be wary of talk about promises - especially religious ones. Sadly, too many have experienced broken human promises. But this question focuses on how God makes promises - and He is in a totally different league from anyone else.

How would you define promise? Someone wrote this (rather drily!): promise is an intentional speech-act by which the speaker assumes an obligation to perform some specified future act on behalf of the hearer.

How do you react to this? My immediate response notes its two sides. On one side, the speaker sincerely commits to deliver something that only they can do. It won't happen during the normal course of events. So the one who promises has a huge responsibility to make it occur in the future. When we consider God's character and track record as promiser we stand on solid ground.

But, on the other side, the one who receives the promise has major responsibility too. Though making promises come true lies beyond their control, they need to commit hearts and minds. Promises involve faith, trust, obedience and relationship. Some promises are general for everyone, but others are specific. Some are conditional, with an "if" attached. All promises call for mature responses.

So when we ask 'Does God deliver?' we tackle the most important part - the reliability of the promiser. But our responses are critical too.

What else strikes you about promises?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Not Jaded nor faded

Phew! Christmas has just flashed past in a blur of hyper-excited grandchildren, limited sleep, eating, and church services. But today, on Boxing Day, as sales claim attention, perhaps the Christmas story and carols already seem just a little jaded and faded.

Much depends on how connected Christmas is with the rest of our lives. A lady at Calvary Memorial Church told me a few weeks ago that she had kept her Christmas telephone answerphone greeting on all year. 'Merry Christmas 'sounded right through Spring, Summer and Fall. ' When people asked me why I hadn't changed my message,' she said, 'I told them it was deliberate. That the Christmas message - to you is born a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord - is for every day of the year.' She also said that a sermon of mine last year had prompted her to do this!

On Christmas Day, Carol and I returned to Chatsworth Baptist Church, West Norwood, London, where she was converted and baptised as a teenager, we were married and I was ordained. It is many years since we sat in the pews. I was given the letter 'R' beforehand. As the message spelt out the Christmas story by the letters C H R I S T M A S, I was called up to sit at the front. And what did 'R' stand for? Rescue. Throughout most of the service I sat at with the other letter-holders looking back down this church. It hit me hard how through forty-two years, since my vows in that place, Christ's rescue had held me firm. That looking back at those once so familiar stained glass windows, remembering faces of family and friends now in glory, in my vows as a bridegroom, as a new pastor, Jesus Christ had never let me go.

As I continue to think of my upcoming sermon series on promises I want to keep 2 Cor. 1:19 in mind: 'In him, the Son of God, Jesus Christ it is always 'Yes'. For in him every one of God's promises is a 'Yes.' Seeing Jesus as a 'Yes' to the promises God makes about life and its meaning connects him with everything else. And, by his grace, that's not going to fade or jade.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Journeying woes

After a grossly cramped flight over to the UK, which pressed together more humans per square foot than is wise, I am living out of a suitcase as we visit friends and family. My blog will therefore suffer over the next couple of weeks, but I must pass on this story from the Times (12.12.07):
A Christmas shopping trip to Lille in France ended in the wrong country when the coach driver mis-programmed his satellite navigation system. Instead of the bustling market, 50 passengers went to the village of Lille in Belgium, without any shops. Members of the Cheltenham and Gloucester building society social club want a refund. Pullman Coaches of Swansea is investigating.

Monday, December 10, 2007

And now for something completely different

Carol said my last blog was heavy. Mind you, preaching God’s word is heavy!
But, in contrast, have a squint at our 2007 Christmas letter. Since 1975 I have charted annual news of the Quickes for long-suffering friends. As an antidote to those letters which recite lists of triumphs, ours always focus on mishaps. Reading about others’ misfortunes is much more interesting!

As this wends its December way to our friends over many years, please take our greeting to heart and….maybe, (only maybe), smile at the first paragraph:

Our dear friend(s)
A very Merry Christmas to you with its groundbreaking good news: Today a Saviour (Eng.!) has been born to you – he is Christ the Lord. We hope and pray this will be a great season for you with Him, with a glorious 2008 ahead.

Occasionally we have surprised friends by our own good news, but more often it has been a gnashing of teeth kind. Actually, 2007 has seen some fair grinding of molars. Some disasters dominate. The first was caused by a moment of sheer gymnastic lunacy. On Friday 13th April (why does that date matter?) I flew into Heathrow to speak at a preacher’s congress, at my former church in Cambridge. Having dozed for seven hours, I leapt up athletically in the aisle, stretched and bent my knees, only to find one knee failed to retract, staying at a rakish, Picasso-cubistic angle. Crawling on one good knee nearly two miles to reclaim baggage, while trying not to hurt small children by my wildly swinging right knee, was frankly brutal. (And worse, twice I was nearly run over by beeping carts carrying people with apparently perfectly good knees. Why didn’t I get on one, I hear you (Carol) say? Well, possibly it’s a male thing!) The saga reeks of stoicism (even to read). Scans back in the US showed a severe meniscus tear, with surgery eventually on November 2nd. My surgeon brought in friends and even the family cat to marvel at the photographs, as he claimed (unnecessarily loudly I thought) that it was the worst meniscus injury he had ever operated on. “I don’t know how you have been able to walk for the last five months,” said he. Actually, I had wondered myself.

There’s more… but we spare you! Blessings for this Advent Season and Christmas ahead.

Blogging God’s promises (2)

Ripples have spread from my first blog (Dec, 1st) on my projected sermon series in 2008, with excitement and warnings. Excitement - because in a little way this preacher wants to involve his hearers! But warnings - because some may feel left out, be upset that their thoughts and stories aren’t used, or disappointed by lack of follow-up. Yes there are risks, and the process calls for real maturity, but let’s go on trusting God in this venture.

My sermon prep involves identifying a “main impact” sentence for each sermon. What does this mean? Well, Scripture not only conveys a message, says something, but it also does something – elicits a response. God’s word may do 101 things by the power of His Spirit including: rebuke, encourage, evangelize, praise, call to mission. Each sermon should therefore say and do the same thing that the Scripture text says and does!

So, I need prayer and continuing input on the first two sermons on God’s promises:

January 6, 2008 VISION – This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pout out my Spirit in those days and they will prophecy. Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:14-21.

My main impact: By God’s grace this sermon says that God’s promises have founded the church, that now we can see God, ourselves and our world in new ways; and what this sermon does is challenge us to live by his promises today.

January 13, 2008 HAPPINESS – Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly nor stands in the way of sinners, not sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper. Psalm 1:1-3

Main impact: By God’s grace this sermon says that God’s happiness works differently because we must say no to some things in order to live in his ways and to prosper; and what this sermon does is encourage us to be planted for happiness.


I continue to need your help. Please pray for the process, and share stories, insights, concerns with me along the way. You can comment here for others to see, or use my seminary email: Your input really matters.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Surviving grading

It’s an old joke that professors would teach for free but need payment for grading papers. Actually, it’s not a joke! For almost six days I have been tied to my desk grading my Principles of Preaching class. Each student has prepared a sermon on a different set text, together with a reflection paper.

So I keep a “Grading Prayer” in front of me. It goes like this:
Lord, who can help me do all things well, please help me grade
With fairness – to focus on each student’s work and deal justly with their effort
With efficiency – to spend enough time but not too much
With energy – to keep on going and not to get up from my desk until I have overcome! Through Jesus Christ, Amen.

P.S. – actually some of the sermons have knocked my spiritual socks off by quality exegesis and design. Wow, we have a few preachers here!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Living in Act IV, awaiting Act V.

Over the last two days, Northern Seminary hosted a conference on the Bible as God’s Story. It called us to stop letting the world narrate our stories – telling us what life and success is all about (money, sex and power). Rather, we should live in God’s story which He is still working out.

One speaker, Kevin Vanhoozer, described this story as a five-act drama:
Act I: creation
Act II: election of Abraham
Act III: Incarnation (mission of Son)
Act IV: Pentecost (mission of Spirit)
Act V: consummation
Presently we live in Act IV, awaiting Act V in the return of Christ. Yet all the preceding acts form our story too. Another speaker put it: “We are not just people of the Book – we are people of the Story.”

Thoughtful lectures and provocative panel discussions filled the conference. I had an opportunity to preach (briefly) during the final act of worship. The chosen Scriptures for Advent Sunday, (the next day), included Romans 13:11-14 and Matthew 24:36-44, which point to Christ’s return – to Act V!

I suggested that our “sophisticated” culture no longer believes in an Act V. “You Christians have been saying Jesus Christ is returning ever since the beginning. Face the facts. It’s not going to happen.” Yet, unequivocally, Jesus says it will happen and calls us to “Watch, Be Ready.” And Romans 13 adds: “Put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” One of my students, in earlier discussion, confessed that when he work up in the morning, washed, dressed, prepared for work, he didn’t spend much time thinking that he was going to be living in God’s big story that day. He is not alone! But the challenge of Advent, especially as the mad rush to Christmas accelerates, is to recall Act III with wondering worship, and anticipate Act V with serious living in Act IV. I gave a prayer to the conference and boldly said I was going to try to say it at least once every day this week:
Lord Jesus Christ, as I await your coming
Show me your ways,
Teach me your paths.
For you are the God of my salvation.
On you I wait all the day. (Adapted from Ps 25: 4-5)
This should help me with living God’s big story. Perhaps it might help you?

(For more on “The Call to An Ancient Evangelical Future” that sponsored this conference, consult

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Blogging God’s Promises

Last night I met with a great group of friends who worship at Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park, Chicago. Carol and I have grown to know and love them over several months, as I have preached some Sundays during their interim without a Senior Pastor. But this meeting was different. Previously, I had asked them to pray and think about God’s promises out of their personal and collective experiences. Because I guessed many of their reflections might be confidential (and several were!) they used my personal email address.

Why did I ask for their help? Because I am going to preach a series on God’s Promises in January-March 2008, and I needed their collaboration as representatives of the wider church fellowship. I really want others to be involved in some twenty-first century story-telling of God’s promises.

Discussion was lively and insightful. (Actually, it’s always lively – you should have witnessed the game we played naming our favorite promises in order to win “gag gifts,” which were then fought over – in a Christian way of course!) Immediate enthusiasm for taking hold of God’s great promises was followed by more sober reflection. One person shared how these promises sounded good but had been heard so often (with little impact) that they didn’t seem to relate to him. But if he could really trust them they would turn his life around. Another warned how easily they can be corrupted by “name it and claim it” misuse, while someone else sensed that many feel they are not good enough for the promises to work for them. Another spoke eloquently about their religious background in which the promises were heard but didn’t work, until his own engagement with Jesus. He said: “To act on God’s promise you must respond to ‘Follow me’.” Others spoke of the personal nature of many promises – like those of overcoming temptation, touching on issues like health, relationships and money.

In addition, very importantly, several personal stories have come by email. Told with honesty, they describe how God’s promises have impacted their lives – of joys, sorrows and conflicts. Sometimes one Scripture text or perhaps several texts have held them tight over years.. One person wrote about their discovery of the need for expectation. Several wrote of God’s promises holding good in times of ill-health and trouble. Yet another raised profound questions about genuine willingness to act on the promises.

I value this group of friends for their honest spirituality as it continued last night. This is only the beginning of my sermon journey. I invite anyone else in the fellowship at Calvary to share comments on this blog. Indeed it’s open to anyone, anywhere. I shall let you know how the preaching develops. Of course there are limits to the time I can spend and I shall not be able to use everyone’s story, but I promise confidentiality. If yours is a more personal word then please use my seminary email:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cultivating a significant life

In class yesterday, we talked about how seminary life can seem at a distance from front-line ministry, and shielded from its demands. Students can easily miss the cost. We need to be jolted by the reality of “suffering for Jesus.” Aren’t some sufferings inevitably bound up with following Jesus, and expressing his kingdom courage and compassion? Isn’t this what the “sufferings of Christ overflowing into our lives” (2 Cor. 1:5) is all about? On the apostle Paul’s lists of sufferings, most of them could have been avoided by avoiding Christ!

I read to the class a section from J.H. Jowett’s sermon on the sufferings of Christ. (Jowett was a Congregational preacher at the beginning of the twentieth century in England). I think it’s worth blogging:
Now the range of our possible sufferings is determined by the largeness and nobility of our aims. It is possible to evade a multitude of sorrows by the cultivation of an insignificant life. Indeed, if it be a man’s ambition to avoid the troubles of life the receipt is perfectly simple: let him shed his ambitions in every direction. Let him cut the wings of every soaring purpose, and let him assiduously cultivate a little life…. Cultivate deafness and you are saved from the horrors of discords. Cultivate blindness, and you are saved from the assault of the ugly. Stupefy a sense and you shut out a world…that is why so many people, and even so many professedly Christian people, get through life so easily, and with a minimum acquaintance with tribulation. It is because they have reduced their souls to a minimum. Tiny souls can dodge through life; bigger souls are blocked on every side.
God calls us to cultivate significant lives and that means sharing the sufferings of Christ, but also hearing his promise of comfort that overflows (2 Cor 1:5). And this challenge is not just for my students!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A preacher's thoughts on the Writers' Strike

The Writers Guild of America is about to go into its second week of strikes. I suppose I should not have been surprised to see that within hours of the strike being announced some of the notable talk show names – Letterman, Leno, Colbert, Stewart – dried up. Because these communicators operate so wittily, creatively and freshly you would think they could manage at least a few shows on their own, without teams of writers. But the truth is – keeping creatively fresh is hugely demanding. (Actually, that is why many creative people feel real sympathy for these writers, trying to cope with the implications of changing technology and customs).

This made me think of the millions of preachers preparing sermons for tomorrow, longing for a creative fresh word from Scripture. Why don’t we need teams of writers? How come that we don’t all dry up? Well, isn’t it the greatest tribute to Scripture’s inspiration that it has sustained billions of sermons since the church’s creation? And isn’t it an amazing testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit who first breathed on Scripture and keeps on bringing it alive? And isn’t it the great responsibility of preachers to stay open to God’s Word in Scripture, and dependent on God’s Word made flesh, and empowered by the creative power of the Holy Spirit right where they are?

When you are in God’s right place, humble, open, ready to be used, then God can make the old story fresh. What God wants in sermons tomorrow is authenticity not originality. Preachers who have lived in God’s word and lived with their people, and are ready to speak the fresh word because they know it matters eternally. Let’s go to it!

Friday, November 23, 2007

An Alien gives thanks

As an alien Englishman who has lived in the US for over seven years, I still find the turkey extravaganza of Thanksgiving Day an extraordinary occasion. Families make superhuman efforts to be with each other – far more so than at Christmas. And, with great generosity they invite others. Would you believe it, four different sets of people called us in the previous week to invite us to share in their Thanksgiving meal?

Without the incentive (and turmoil) of exchanging presents, people come together gladly in order to give thanks. Thanks for the nation’s beginnings, thanks for continuing family life, thanks for friends, for great food, (with recipes handed down from generation to generation!) Thanks! Just thanks!

Of course, on the next day, so-called Black Friday, when retailers hope to go into the black, the stores are full from 5.00 am and consumer madness reignites in blazing mass-buying until Christmas.

But, like an oasis in the middle, Thanksgiving Day brings people together for the high purpose of thanksgiving. This year we enjoyed our US family, Rob, Lori and Elliot being with us, around the turkey. It’s been wonderful.

Thanks has always been the springboard to generous living, to appreciation of life and (best of all) to praise of God. Begin thanking and other good things keep happening. I call it the power of positive thanking. Even in a prison cell (Col. 3:17)! We need this oasis somewhere in the middle of each day!

Monday, November 19, 2007

A great weekend for the preacher

The launch of my blog coincided with the visit of my technologically savvy son, Rob, who persuaded me that it would be easy to construct and use. Of course, you may rightly question why I should even think of throwing yet more words at the world. I know that the jury is out on blogs and there is even some evidence that readers are logging on less.

I guess I can only justify this blog because of my relationship with long suffering students, listeners and readers and our willingness (expressed often in emails) to learn from each other. The best preachers are the best listeners – listeners to God’s word but also within God’s world.

This launch weekend has been just such a great time for a preacher. Often days will pass without me mentioning anything, but let me comment about three things that have just happened.

It began on Friday (Nov 16) by attending a lecture at Fermilab designed to educate lay people. Dr Dan Hooper spoke on: “In Search of our Universe’s Missing Mass and Energy.” He explained that what we can see – a book, a cat, or our planet – makes up only 5% of the universe. The rest, 95%, is totally invisible and comes in two categories: dark matter and dark energy. At length he explained how little we know about dark energy. At one point he commented how “lucky” we are to be in a universe where the balance with dark matter and dark energy allows human life! How much did I understand? Well not as much as I would like. But, as someone fascinated by popular science I always feel stretched and overawed when anyone talks cosmologically. Actually, I think that all preachers benefit from occasional doses of cosmological talk.

Second, my son Rob and daughter-in-law Lori are staying this Thanksgiving Week. They brought Elliot (my third grandson) who is 21 months and as delightful a child as you can imagine. Really! When he puts his hand in mind and smiles up at me, it gives me the greatest feeling in the world. How precious life is. One minute baffled by how much of the universe is invisible. The next minute holding the miracle of a grandchild. I could go on and on…..

Third, I preached for the first time at Zion, Illinois on Sunday (Nov 18) at Christ Community Church. The story of Zion’s foundation as a theocratic community is a stunning one, and its founder – John Alexander Dowie - a charismatic Scotsman was pastor of this church, which stands central to the entire community. Much has happened since those early days. You can read the story on their web site. Many positive things struck me during my visit. At the end, the Senior Pastor, Ken Langley, took me into the inner sanctum where Dowie’s original round table is, (complete with hidden button to summon bodyguards), and a striking portrait. Ken asked me and my wife Carol to guess the age of John Dowie in the portrait. His flowing white beard and deep furrowed eyes put him, in my estimate, well into his eighties. In fact he was 59, the year he died! Burned out by all his responsibilities. I have often been challenged by the “burn out rather than rust out” commitment of greats such as C.H. Spurgeon and D.L. Moody, who were so utterly consumed by living for Jesus and his kingdom. Can you actually do any great things with and for Jesus Christ without losing much? (John 12:25, 26).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Taking the plunge!

After standing on the sidelines for too long I've decided to jump in to the world of blogging. My work and travels both sides of the Atlantic have already stimulated a lively matrix of connections and I want to provide a place where I can reflect briefly and connect with friends.

It's late on Sunday November 18th, and I shall be posting more tomorrow!