Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year Ahead

I don’t know about you, but entering a new year always brings a measure of seriousness. God gives me another year with heavy questions about how best to use it for him. It’s so easy to ‘lose time’ – what a terrible expression! – or to ‘waste time.’ Time (with health) are immensely precious commodities, so often not appreciated until we no longer have them. Talk about using time best for God is not some grim and over-pious wish. God wants joyful living in every dimension of life and relationships with Him, family, friends, other believers at work and play. Yes, joyful living.

Three words strike me as important for 2011: Fruit More Maturely. They sum up my desire at the beginning of this new year. More maturely speaks about developing deeper character so that in every aspect of life there is less immaturity in the ways I think and act. I ought to be more kind, gentle, understanding, patient with greater self-control than used to be the case, say ten years ago. After all the Christian life is about a building process for believers so that ‘all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ’ (Eph 4:13). Of course this is a hopeless cause unless I allow and expect to be helped by God to grow more mature. This is why the word Fruit is so vital. It keeps me depending on the Holy Spirit who is able to grow and deepen character (Gal. 5:22). Without belonging to God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit – 2011 will be just like 2010. With the triune God, greater maturity in joyful living is really possible. Serious stuff but joyful.

How are you going to express your life-goals in 2011?

Christmas Reflections

Asking a friend this morning how her Christmas had gone, she paused thoughtfully and said:"None of it worked out as we had hoped. Illness and snow interrupted all the family plans. But, when I think about it, there were a few good things!' Actually, listening to her woeful story I can well understand why she had to reflect hard to find some positives.

Frankly, some of our Christmas plans didn't work out either. The friends we were due to visit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were hit hard by a bug and so we spent those days on our own. However, late on Boxing Day our family turned up to spend three wonderful days with us. Looking back, and thinking about it, there were several good things!

  • two great Christmas services on Saturday and Sunday which helped us to focus our celebration on Jesus by well-prepared worship. Exhilarating Immanuel stuff!

  • a tumultuous family visit with the grandchildren enjoying their first sleep-over with us. There's nothing like waking up with your grandchildren, munching breakfast and then walking to the river to feed the ducks. Squeals of excitement and much innocent fun.

  • experiencing authentic English small town life - a charming town square and narrow streets packed with Christmas interest. And the privilege of living in an old cottage with open log fire, sharing conversation in the flickering light (plus toasted marshmallows).

  • time for relaxed reading, such as a Christmas present: A 1950's Childhood by Paul Feeney that captured my childhood exactly in so many ways. And, of course, the many Christmas letters from friends across the world.

I hope that you have some positive reflections too!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Greetings

Though illness prevented our grandchildren sharing in most productions of their school nativity plays, Anton was able to perform once before swine flu hit him. I love this photograph of him in action. He played the innkeeper who normally has a downbeat miserable part. However, Anton apparently stole the show with his enthusiasm!
If you didn't know about the innkeeper role, it looks as though, surrounded by the sheep, he is expressing the sheer wonder of hearing the good news of the birth of Christ as a shepherd! Whatever, no one can doubt he is really getting into the action of the nativity story, with arms outstretched wide. How grateful we are for children at Christmas time for capturing its excitement and intensity - especially when they are our grandchildren.
As we near Christmas, let us put ourselves into the greatest story ever told - 'to you is born this day a Saviour who is Christ the Lord' (Luke 2:11). With joy I send this to brighten up my Christmas greetings to you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh no!

Some imaginative readers will be wondering what happened next after the last posting. In their mind's eye seeing us huddled in the warm waiting for the drips. Well, four hours later the mini -flood began as water spurted from (what turned out to be) three splits in two pipes hidden in the wall. Unfortunately, I turned the wrong water tap off (which in my defence looked like the mains tap) and as the water spilled into the main room we searched for another tap. Finding it hidden behind a large box, it then refused to yield to my efforts. As water seeped further we were saved by the plumber Joe who deftly, with large tools and mighty grunts turned the water off. He then worked hard to repair the leaks with new piping.

I felt so sorry calling the house owners who are visiting family in Australia. When you have people staying in your house you should be able to relax. But, our unavoidable absence at Spurgeon's had coincided with extraordinary cold to do the damage. The houseowner was so gracious in response and showed the best of Christmas, Christian spirit. We now are drying out and hoping for no more disasters of any kind!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yet More Frustration!

My visit to Spurgeon's College was due to conclude today on a high note (for me!), with my speaking at the conference for four London Theological Colleges. I anticipated two sessons with the Principals and faculties of All Nations, London School of Theology, Oak Hill as well as Spurgeons which would focus on issues related to Preaching as Worship. Last Thursday I prepared the sessions and was particularly looking forward to feedback from the UK perspective.

But...have you guessed (?) ...the heavy snows of Saturday plus forecasts of more snow on Monday led to the cancellation of the conference. It was a wise decision because travel conditions are atrocious. So, having waited five days for this event, we set off this morning to return to our cottage in Wallingford. However, we found the extremes of cold (-17degrees C last night) have frozen the water pipes solid. As we try and warm the house up we wonder if/when/where the burst pipes will appear. So I write this hugging a heater, and listening for drips. However, for many thousands of people this Winter weather has had far more devastating consequences. We are grateful to be safe and (relatively) warm, and hope that you are - wherever you are.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More Frustration

We have so looked forward to our seven days in London in order to see our family - especially our grandchildren Luca and Anton who were due to appear in their school Christmas plays. We anticipated being audience members puffed up with pride! Living overseas this was our first opportunity and we were going to seize it. But as we drove to London the news struck...Luca had swine flu and would miss the productions. The next day, Anton was diagnosed with swine flu too and missed his big day.

This latest outbreak has been malevolent claiming at least 15 lives and so we were told to stay well away. Luca had made good progress so today (Saturday) Simon said he would drive over with him to Spurgeon's College so that we could at last see one another. Well....over 4 inches of snow fell in a short space of time even as they were travelling to see us. They arrived but almost immediately had to turn around to avoid getting stuck in ever deteriorating conditions. Of course, we tried to make the most of the 15 minutes together!

Frustration is the word. As I commented last week, it's important to keep remembering that Jesus as Lord continues to reign over everything. That puts swine flu and snow into perspective but it's still frustrating.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Privilege of Gathered Worship

I have preached in two dramatically contrasting contexts in the last three days. On Sunday I was at Wallingford Baptist Church which was packed to the rafters to witness the believers' baptisms of three young people. Each of them spoke about their faith in Jesus Christ and with refreshingly personal stories also revealed just how important was the influence of other members of that church community - Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, friends and family. The baptismal pool is near the centre of the church, so the congregation (including all these key influences) gathered all around. It really was a church family event.

I mentioned in my sermon, that though I was not quite 14 years old I still remember the moment of my baptism so vividly. The coloured tiles (with a crack in one), the experience of speaking my vows and being immersed in the water, and the hymn that we sang. At the time it was as real as it could be - as much of myself as I knew given to as much as Jesus Christ as I knew. Of course, it wasn't all that much! But here I am over 50 years later still an ever-learning disciple. As a side-bar....I didn't have as much time to preach as I had planned (and hoped!) but it didn't matter in the least.

Last night I preached at the annual Carol Service at Spurgeon's College, London. It's over ten years ago since I presided over this great event....but it was just as I remember. A roaring fire in the main hall fire-place, friends from near and far, exultant students at the end of term, Christmas fare, and a well-planned service. What an opportunity to preach to this crowd! As a side-bar, the candle-light meant I could hardly read the Scripture passage and had to stand embarassingly close to the nearest candles....but my practice of preaching without notes came in handy. Seriously, it was another occasion when the much over-used word 'privilege' really applied to gathered worship. I hope you will experience some great worship over these next few days too.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Sometimes you hit a day like this! Our hire car is the most expensive part of our daily sabbatical costs and for that you hope it spares you trouble. But almost from the start the dashboard computer has misbehaved with alarming free-will. We could tolerate it going blank or creating confused patterns but one rainy cold night last week it immobilized the engine in Tesco car park. Eventually it relented and we could start up again. But yesterday it flashed up: acceleration reduced and dropped me down to a crawl -to the immense irritation of the queue behind. So, fearing the bureaucratic consequences I called the rental car company (Hertz). One guy said I should go to the nearest outlet in Oxford for a replacement vehicle. But calling Oxford I was told by another person that nothing could happen until I sent for the AA emergency team and they would declare the source of trouble and authorize me to gain a replacement. I explained that I knew the source of trouble...but they patiently repeated this was the procedure. 2 hours later the emergency repairman turned up. In the freezing cold he sat inside the car and pummelled the dashboard, hitting the little computer screen with full-fist and banging the whole area. Eventually he told me that the dashboard computer was faulty. What! He authorized the car's replacement. I called up the Oxford office again, but they said there would be no car until after 11:00 am today.

So began another frustrating day. My instructions where to turn off the busy road into Oxford weren't clear. We made several false attempts. We asked at a store and were several miles out of our way. Another store sent us right back into the city. After 40 minutes of searching we found it. The office manager was answering two phones at once and explained she was running two separate offices! She asked us if the petrol tank was full. Oh, no! I had filled it up a couple of days before but I honestly thought with all the extra pain this faulty car had caused they would waive cost of a little drop of petrol. No Way! What kind of customer service did we expect? She said we could pay her 45 pounds to fill the car up. We were appalled. It only costs 51 pounds to fill the entire tank. The nearest petrol station was way back through the traffic and another half-an-hour trip. And because it is notoriously difficult to find we needed a sketch map to show how to enter it. Weirdly, it was closed with cones barring access. Carol was off to investigate! A few minutes later they reopened and we could top up for 12 pounds.

Eventually we were given our next rental car - considerably smaller but with dashboard computer working! To put frustration behind us we decided to go park-and-ride and celebrate with two budget meals. "Ten minutes wait", the waiter said. Oh yes! 40 minutes later half our order came. The people on the next table sympathizingly said it was the slowest they had ever known. We smiled at the theme unfolding and began anticipating how they rest of the day might unfold. Yes, we were told to get on the wrong bus and eventually ended up with our car for a weary drive home. I commented (!) to Carol about the hours 'wasted' but she reminded me how life is like this sometimes. Actually being a Christian is much more difficult in frustration isn't it, but unless our faith works in frustration it's not very valuable, is it? Thank you Lord for being with me in this day, too.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Old Testament Prophecy (2)

As I have continued working on Isa 8:21-9:7 I have been intrigued by the question: “What difference would it make if there was no Christmas, no birth of Christ?” An astronomer friend of mine gave me a recent paper he had written on ten reasons why the moon is important for life on earth. It’s a dense scientific paper and full of interest. But as I read his list of reasons why the moon is essential for life on earth….I pondered what goes on the list about Christmas being essential?

Does Sunday’s theme of OT prophecy help me answer: “What difference would it make if there was no Christmas, no birth of Christ?” Yes! The more you look at the contrast between darkness and light, the more you want to emphasize one major difference if there was no Christmas is that God’s story would be stuck in the Old Testament in the dark. When people have turned their backs on God they ‘see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into outer darkness’ (Isa. 8:22).

Tragically, the next famous promise of Isa. 9:2 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” would be unfulfilled. No child is born, there is no wonderful counselor, no Prince of peace. No kingdom of justice and righteousness. There would be no light, no hope. No one will say the words: "I am the Light of the World, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Tragically, for many people God’s story has never come alive. Actually, they are stuck in the darkness and unaware of the profound importance to life on earth that the Light has come in Christ. See the wonder of this prophecy in Isa. 9:1-7 uttered around 700 years before the first Christmas yet FULFILLED gloriously in Christ’s coming for us to have the light of life. I am preparing a sermon with enthusiasm!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jesus on a list

Elton John was the guest editor of The Independent last week and he gave us some lists under the heading: Read my lists - and I'll tell you who I am. The first list was: 10 things I liked when I was 25 that I don't like now. This included: driving, travelling, alcohol/drugs and celebrity.

The second list was: 10 things I didn't like when I was 25 that I do like now. This included: photography, contemporary art, peace and quiet/staying in. But at number 9 was - Jesus Christ.

That brought me up with a jolt. What did it mean that Jesus Christ was a 'thing' he didn't like 25 years ago but now does? Has he been on a faith journey, or what? And does placing him at number 9 show Jesus' relative unimportance still? How intriguing to find the Lord's name showing up on a pop icon's list in this way. He made me think what I would put under similar headings....and how I would sum up my faith in 25years' stages.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Old Testament Prophecy

Next Sunday I am preaching again at Wallingford Baptist Church in their series on OT prophets. This time I am concluding the series and have been given the title: OT prophecy in the NT! As someone said to me:"Oh, that's such a small will you manage to fill in the sermon time?"

I have been thinking and praying about where to focus. Since we are in Advent, I have decided to look at the famous prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-7. Many Christmas services will hear its promise - 'The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.....for to us a child is born, to us a son is given." However, I am beginning the Scripture reading at Isaiah 8: 21,22 which stresses Isaiah's prophecy to a people in distress and darkness, to be thrust into utter darkness. In order to understand the need for great light....we must recognize the deep darkness! I shall also include the verses 4 and 5 about shattering enemies and garments rolled in blood. Generally, these are omitted in Christmas readings because they violently disrupt the happy flow.

What does this extraordinary promise, around 700 years before Christ's birth, with its mention of Galilee (verse 1) and a child who is heir to king David (verse 7), show us about OT prophecy in the NT? On Sunday, three candidates will be baptised in a believers' baptismal service and I know I must let God challenge us afresh through this text.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Get in the picture

Carol and I visited Abingdon today. In the main precinct we were surprised by a shepherd boy and young king who invited us into an empty shop where a stable had been set up. A baby lay in a manger, and passers-by were being invited to put on shepherd's clothes and enter this stable scene to stand behind the baby, and have their photograph taken. The whole imaginative idea was to jolt us in our Saturday shopping to realize that the Christmas story is for us.....we should make time to picture ourselves within its good news. After all, 'a Saviour has been born to YOU' (Luke 2:11)

Various churches were cooperating to staff the event, giving out free teas, coffees and mince pies and befriending any of us who stopped by. I tried on one of the shepherd's tunics but found myself trapped in a garment that proved far too small (too many mince pies already!) Then I was given a tabard and went with a 'king' into the stable, while the Baptist minister - David Fleming - took our picture. Just before me the Mayor of Abingdon had visited and been photographed with the baby Jesus in his arms (without his dressing in Middle East garb!)

The whole project is called: "Get in the Picture." You can go online and see the pictures. Date - Dec. 4th; place -Abingdon. But, most importantly, as you visit the site you will be invited to pause and reflect again on the Christmas story and its meaning. Several suggestions are offered to stop and make us think, plus full details of all the Christmas services in the area. What an imaginative way of presenting good news. I really hope and pray that many will be stirred for the first time this Christmas to get in the picture!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Biography (2)

Though I have read several lighter books recently (including two by Alexander McCall Smith), I was fascinated by another biography. Actually, the title first drew me: The Last Man Who Knew Everything. Andrew Robinson has written about the polymath Thomas Young (1773-1829), who was so brilliant he seemed to know everything! As a physicist he challenged Isaac Newton's theories and proved light is a wave. As a physician he showed how the eye focuses and proposed the three colour theory of vision, only confirmed 150 years later. As engineer he developed the modulus of elasticity. As an Egyptologist he was key to deciphering the Rosetta Stone. A major scholar of ancient Greek, a phenominal linguist, he was authoritative writer of all manner of subjects. I laughed out loud when I read that when he was pressed to contribute articles to a new edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1816 offered subjects: alphabet, annuities, attraction, capillary action, cohesion, color, dew, Egypt, eye, focus, friction, halo, heiroglpyphics, hydraulics, motion, resistance, ships, sound, strength, tides, waves and "anything of a medical nature." In the end he wrote many other articles as well, including a number of biographies. Three entries -Egypt, Languages and Tides -broke entirely new ground.

Yet, the biography shows him to be an attractive modest man who, motivated by curiosity, was never known to boast. Reading the book was hard work, richochetting from the details of one burst of brilliance to another. Celebrating his bicentenary in 1973 the London's Science Museum wrote: 'Young probably had a wider range of creative learning than any other Englishman in history. He made discoveries in nearly every field he studied." Whoa!

It is overwhelming and intimidation to spend time with such genius. At the same time as I was reading this book I was thinking ahead to a Christmas service I have to speak at. It struck me how rarely we think of Jesus as a brilliant mind who knew everything. Of course there are flashes of his prodigy brilliance as a child of twelve (Luke 2:47). But, throughout the gospel record, Jesus rubs shoulders with the most ordinary of people who are captured by his love, actions, integrity and spiritual teaching. When we read that Jesus "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant" (Phil. 2:6,7) it speaks volumes about the humility of Jesus, the greatest mind there has ever been, coming among us. Whoa!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dr David Russell

We have just been in Bristol for two days visiting family and attending the thanksgiving service for Dr. David Russell. He was 94 so had outlived many of his contemporaries though not his wife Marion, to whom he had been married for 67 years. Sadly, her alzheimers meant she was absent. What was my connection with him?

In 1967, straight from Cambridge University, I took up a newly-created post called: Secretary for Student Work at our Baptist headquarters in London. I was involved in working with 30 Baptist student societies (and chaplains) in universities all over the UK. The very same day I started work, David Russell began too! Except he was at the very top of the tree, as General Secretary of the Baptist Union. His track record even then was impressive. Having been minister in two churches, and college principal in two colleges, he was an academic (focusing on apocalpytic literature) whose eventual output included 13 books, but always a pastor who knew how to lead. And his leadership always had depth with sparkling wit (a rare combination). In the years since, his track record became ever more impressive in his national and international leadership.

You can imagine the service was a long one, as different people paid tribute to various aspects of his life. His family, his ministry beginnings, his principalships and academic life, his Baptist statemanship, his wider ministry especially in the field of human rights and support of E. Europe, and his commitment to the local church. How wonderful it is to live a long life of usefulness to God. At a truly thankful thanksgiving service I find that not only thanks come easily, but you are stimulated to be a better person yourself. A few things particularly struck me:
  • the focus on him as a person - several times speakers commented that it wasn't his books and achievements that really mattered but who David Russell was. Personal qualities are paramount.
  • how much he valued in old age those who kept in touch. Apparently, hearing from his former students was one of his greatest delights. I guess it's true for most of us that relationships are what count most.
  • his witness at the end. Even though he was so ill and needed dialysis three times a week he winsomely shared his faith with others. I am sure few fellow-patients knew his human achievements but they knew his Christian faith.

We were so thankful to be there!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Amos (3)

Because it was Remembrance Sunday, the service where I was preaching Amos took a different form. Held an hour earlier, it required slickness from the preacher to ensure the whole service was over in order for the congregation to walk to the war memorial. As the minutes ticked by I was mentally culling parts of my sermon! I tried to use my 20 minutes (which included the Scripture reading) to do some justice to this extraordinary bold prophet who roars like a lion in judgement on God's own people.

I chose two passages. Amos 1:1,2 to briefly set the scene for the man and his times. A shepherd (and tender of sycomore trees) who was propelled onto the national scene because God called him to prophesy. But I focused most attention on 5:11-24. God's judgement has such a hard edge because it is addressed to his own people Israel who, instead of living for him in holy ways, in justice and love, behaves just like the surrounding ungodly nations.

And how shocking it is to realize that God also expects us to live for him as a holy nation, royal priesthood, offering praise, abstaining from the desires of the flesh, conducting ourselves honorably so that the world notices and glorifies God (1 Pet: 2: 9-12).

Whenever God's chosen people behave like everyone else in ungodly ways they come under judgement ( 2 Cor. 5:10). Does God still roar?! I highlighted two issues in Amos and today:
UNJUST LIFESTYLES when God's people collude with a growing gap between the haves and have nots. Oppressing the poor is very subtle; neglecting poverty and the causes of poverty is very convenient.
SELF-PLEASING WORSHIP - devastatingly God has strong views about our worship. God says he hates their worship, their offerings and their songs (5:21-23). What a shock that must have been to people who were enjoying their worship but had disconnected it from the rest of life. I mentioned Mark Labberton's book: The Dangerous Act of Worship in which he critiques much contemporary worship that is so intent on pleasing people it domesticates God and fails to let him make a difference to them and the world.

I really wish that I hadn't had to preach such a tough sermon. But Amos should be heard today, shouldn't he?

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday in England when communites gather for services around war memorials in the centres of their towns and villages. At 11.00 a.m. we commemorate all who died in wars since 1914-1918 with two minutes' silence. It's a sombre day filled with sadness, especially in the light of continuing war and tragic deaths of young people.

Actually, in a town called Wantage not far from where I we are staying in Wallingford, the town war memorial records the names of two of my great uncles who died in the first world war, both very young men. My father took me to see their names a few years ago, and told me of their bravery. 1 out of every 10 men perished in that war. Hardly any family escaped loss.

I think the continuing harrowing war in Afghanistan means far more people are taking part in remembrance than I recall from the 1990's. So twice Carol and I have stood silently. On November 11th. at 11.00 am we were among the hundreds around the town square. Traffic was stopped. Shops ceased trading. Conversations halted. Young and old stayed motionless. Today, Sunday, a much larger crowd gathered with all the dignitaries, the armed forces and youth movements (such as the scouts) to sing hymns, say prayers and hear the names of every single service man killed in the wars from this one town of Wallingford. It was a long list. John 15:9-13 was read too: "Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends." Of course, Jesus was mentioned several times in hymn and prayers. His own self-giving sacrifice makes the greatest possible connection with today, and through him alone we have resurrection hope.

I said to a friend: "Look at this large crowd singing and praying. We hear so much about the new atheists and the tide of hostility against Christianity, but just look at how the whole community wants to remember in a Christian service." Of course, many different levels of understanding and commitment were present, but so too was an awareness that when it comes to the deepest life and death issues the Christian faith offers serious comfort and hope. Very serious.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Amos (2)

As I prepare a sermon on the whole book of Amos I am struck again by the contrasting sermons I could give. On one hand I could give a bible study sermon which describes Amos' call from being a shepherd and gives details about his historical setting as he addresses the surrounding nations and then focuses on the northern kingdom Israel sometime around 760 BC. And, most importantly, I could range over the content of his harsh prophecies which utter God's judgement on the greed, corrupted leadership, oppression of the poor and hypocritical worship of his people. Because Amos addresses a nation enjoying apparent prosperity and power, his message was all the more challenging to hear. Such a bible study would give a clear understanding of what Amos is all about and draw out some implications for us today.

On the other hand, without neglecting the historical particularities of Amos, I could preach this as God's living word today recognizing how God continues to call his people to account and roars judgement on injustice, poverty and self-pleasing worship. This becomes a tough message, just as unwelcome as when Amos first spoke! As I wrestle with the preparation task I know that I am being challenged about my easy acquiescence about society's treatment of the poor, and my lacking awareness that God has a view on my worship too! So I am constrained to take the tough path!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Caught Out!

I strongly believe in the value of sequential preaching and urge preachers and churches to plan series in order to nurture fellowship and mission. It can be especially helpful when a church is in an interim period without a pastor. Providing consistency of theme really benefits the church. So I have to be pleased when the Baptist church where I am staying in Wallingford has carefully worked out a preaching plan.

BUT, I find myself down to preach in a series on preaching the prophets. And my first sermon (for next Sunday) is on Amos. I have to choose the text and try to summarize the man, his times and his message in one go. Amos! The toughest prophet in Scripture, who specializes in bad news! Help! I am not sure I want to preach bad news next week.

How much easier it would have been to have freedom to pull out one of my recent sermons and preach good news! But I have to believe the series has been planned prayerfully and thoughtfully so I have to discipline myself to prepare a new sermon this coming week. Maybe I will share some more?

Friday, November 5, 2010

To Do Lists

Unpacking my briefcase here in Wallingford a piece of blue paper fluttered out. It was a to-do list I had drawn up some time before Easter 2010. It had 21 items on it including two sermons to be written, mentoring at the Oak Lawn church, many individuals who needed letters and emails, and a number of heavier tasks relating to conference preparation in Australia and elsewhere.

I often write out to-do lists - its helps keep me on track and with relish I cross out each item as I complete it. I am sure many of my readers do the same thing. However, with this list I was amazed to see how few items were crossed out. Perhaps I had mislaid it early on? It was so disturbing to look at the major commitments that remained undone. It immediately triggered urgency (and some panic) about missed deadlines. Yet, with immense relief , I looked down the list and realized they were all past and (most importantly) all fulfilled. I remembered how some of them seemed daunting at the time.

It was a good reminder how easily worries can dominate our thinking. Yet a few months later we can barely remember them. Jesus talked knowlingly about taking each day at a time. "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own" (Matt. 6:34). I still think to-do lists are a help (even on sabbatical) but finding this old list puts them into perspective!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


As long as I can remember I have enjoyed reading biographies and autobiographies. There's nothing like engaging with another person's life to throw you into deeper places about your own. The more honest the telling of the story, the more insights you gain. It's sometimes said that preachers should especially profit from reading biographies because they need to be exposed to the full gamut of human personalities, recognizing how gospel has to be expressed for all.

After the last three (very) hectic weeks we have landed in clover. We are staying in a bijou cottage (dating from the seventeenth century) in Wallingford, near Oxford. History is round every corner and beam. At last we can at last breathe more easily, unpack our cases and I can set up my computer for a longer stay and some major writing. One of our first jobs was to sign up at the local library and...yes...I got out a biography to read.

I enjoy reading about all sorts of people - famous and unknown. This book attracted my eye because it was commended as "one of the most tender portraints of a parent I have ever read." It is called Godfrey's Ghost - from father to son written by Nicolas Ridley. It tells the story of Arnold Ridley who was a playwright and actor who hit hard times yet became famous in his old age as Private Godfrey in the BBC sit-com Dad's Army.

Actually it's a book that tells you a great deal about its writer, Arnold's son, who frames his memories of his father as a story for his own son. It is incredibly revealing. He tells about his own anger and even jealousy of his father. He remembers very ordinary conversations with his father that he now realizes he is repeating with his son - often concealing deep emotions and concerns. It made me think of the conversations I have with my boys and of the need (at times) to be more real! Have you read any thought-provoking biographies recently.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Yippee! First galley proofs are done!

Some news for friends who have stoically followed my progress in writing my worship book over the last five years! I have just jumped over another hurdle! In the publishing process the editor sends galleys with details of all the clarifications, further research, extra writing etc. that are still needed. Normally a couple of weeks or so are given for the author to answer and return amended galleys. Of course, it helps if you have your books and papers around you. So I was greatly relieved that these 250 pages of galley proofs came a couple of weeks ago to my US address!

I buried myself in my basement study painstakingly dealing with the queries one-by-one. It took several days. Mercifully there was nothing dramatic to change. And yes, I was able to send it all back to my editor, before taking off for the last two months of my sabbatical in the UK. I now have to wait for the second galley proofs with print-ready pages requiring final review….due sometime at the end of the year.

Actually, I have mixed feelings. Obviously, part of me is mightily relieved to have reached this far with a book project that turned out to be more complicated than I thought. But, another part of me is frustrated because I know it could be better. Yet I know I must let go and let God and offer my “good is good enough” to his mercy!

Toronto (3) Walking a labyrinth

Staying in Toronto gave opportunity to walk through this city of many happy memories. I was especially intrigued by something new. A public labyrinth has been created (in 2005) based on the model in Chartres Cathedral. Colored blocks are set into the pavement floor, leading walkers on an interesting journey of 11 circuits until they reach the center. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has no dead ends. Rather it encourages you to move at your own pace and when you reach the middle to spend as long as you wish.

The public instructions described it as an ancient symbol of pilgrimage and journey and invited people to begin with a question or intention and move quietly along its route. A couple of things struck me as I followed its pattern.

1) It took much longer that I thought it would. Several times I thought I was close enough to walk into the center, only to turn away and wind around and around. It greatly surprised me that I was walking for around 20 minutes (not all that slowly either), and while I walked I really was quietened in mind and heart. Actually I was thinking about my journey with Jesus Christ, and pondering how the questions he asks do not lead to short cuts but to deeper understanding. It all proved much more of a 'journey' than I thought.

2) It is situated just outside the very busy Eaton Center in the heart of Toronto which is packed with shoppers and surrounded by businesses. One or two people were watching me on the sidelines but nobody else joined in the exercise while I was there. I thought of the sharp contrast between a contemplative discipline and its opportunity to be quiet and the noisy busy world just a short distance away.

I am glad I spent time this way. I can still picture the slow journey looping backwards and forwards….all the time making progress and yet slowing me down. It gave me a surprising opportunity for reflection. We all need times like this, don't we?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Toronto (2) - Friendship

I have been privileged to visit Toronto many times (beginning in 1980). Carol and I were involved in summer interim ministry several times at Yorkminster Park Church - a cathedral Baptist church (and there are not many of those!)

After the morning service at Timothy Eaton Memorial on Sunday morning (see last post), we wondered if we walked round a few blocks to Yorkminster Park we could catch any friends after their service. The last time we were there (six years ago?) we regularly met with a group after morning services at a family restaurant opposite the church. Were we too late and would they still be together? As we rounded the block, wondering who we might see, we espied one of them in the distance. Excitedly we called out his name. He spun round and greeted us by name and then...with increasing joy...we saw his wife and the whole gang. Immediately we were at home. Hugs and smiles, and breathless conversation ensued as we gathered round a long restaurant table.

I never cease to marvel at the quality of friendship among God's people so easily re-activated. Heaven is going to be like this.

Toronto (1)

Carol and I have just spent an exhilarating three days in Toronto. Why so exhilarating? Well, we were helping Timothy Eaton Memorial Church celebrate 100 years of ministry. This is a cathedral church built on cathedral proportions with beauty expressed by architecture, stained glass and, especially, music. Though it was our first visit to the church it was so easy to identify with the stirring faith of this people through the last 100 years.

The preparations for special services on Sunday were made with exquisite care. In printed orders of worship, every word was considered. Not one was wasted. The Senior Minister, Andrew Stirling, preached in the morning with freedom and power to an immense packed congregation. He took the Jeremiah 18 theme of the potter and the clay. At one point he recounted the story of how successive generations over the past 100 years served God in specific ways in the face of wars, poverty, and other social needs. His refrain: "We are clay...God is the potter" kept the focus on God 's providence throughout the story. It was inspiring to be there. Truly.

In the evening I preached and developed the theme of gladness in Psalm 122. Again, the congregation was large with other churches in the area sharing, especially Yorkminster Church which contributed half of a massive choir. I spoke about two kinds of gladness. The obvious kind for our own sakes - an understandable reaction to a visible cause. I mentioned some of the people who would be glad that the centenary services had gone so well because plans had worked out etc! But another kind of gladness is not understood by the world. It is gladness FOR GOD'S SAKE - when people join together to give thanks to his name (Ps 122:4) for who He is and for what He has done. Its an unselfish gladness focussed entirely on God's worthship. It's worship! Of course, other things were said too...but we came away so thrilled to have been part of such a great event. And, several people said to me..."Yes, we are glad for our sakes...but we are glad because of God's grace and goodness." Oh Yes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Hubbub of Preachers (2)

I was humbled by the time and trouble two scholars took to read my papers and
then they gave presentations, inviting me to respond. Dr. Bryan Chapell is Professor of Practical Theology and President of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO., and Dr. Don Hedges is Associate Professor and Director of the School of Music at Trinity International University.

Bryan has written a top-notch book Christ-Centered Worship and he rightly pressed me on a couple of theological issues. (1) about the primacy of preaching the Bible. In a worship world of song, images, symbols and sacrament it is only the preaching of Scripture that "locks down meaning." Further, (2) he warned about my stress on the Trinity unwittingly downplaying the Christocentric heart of Christian faith in Jesus Christ. Never forget the "necessity of remembering the redemptive thrust in Jesus Christ," he warned. I certainly need to keep those truths in focus.

Don, with his perspective as someone very committed to music in worship, suggested that in the "worship wars" so far much preaching had been able to stay above the conflict. Indeed preaching had been allowed to continue largely undisturbed. However he foresaw preaching also being subjected to similar stresses in the future, as people began pressing for their preferences in how preaching itself is done. So, for example, the more formal preacher might be less favored than the informal etc. He made many other points warning that worship can be "too much" when it becomes too general, or "too little" when reduced to a matter of sensation, style, and personal taste.

They made many other good points too which opened up into general lively discussion. It all contributes to a continuing debate....I am so grateful for these challenges.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Hubbub of Preachers (1)

I am not sure what you call a group of preachers (a hubbub?) but last week I enjoyed speaking at the Evangelical Homiletics Conference (at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). The title was "Connecting Preaching and Worship" - just up my alley!

I took advantage of the two main sessions to describe my last five years' journey as a preacher and teacher of preachers. About how my settled life of teaching and writing was suddenly disturbed by a serious ambush. I was attacked by what I call a "gang of four." These four forces circled me and closed in, demanding that I take all them seriously. They didn't line up and ask politely to be noticed in turn. They formed a posse and coerced my response.

The four? (1) Big-picture worship that refused to be pushed to one side as less important than preaching. (2) Trinitarian theology that demanded it be given full reign to explain both preaching and worship. (3) Scripture that shouted loudly it wasn't just for sermons but the whole of worship. (4) Community Formation that insisted on building a people together like living stones (1 Pet. 2:1-12).

I raced through my story in a couple of hours describing how this gang of four brought me to a new place of understanding. I am sure many at the conference were really surprised at the way it developed. But the special part, for me, was the third plenary session when two academics responded to my lectures. I'll post a couple of issues they raised next.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Founder's Day

Back in the US in a whirl, I enjoyed a low and high on Friday. The low was my three monthly hospital visit for a series of injections into my neck to keep my neurological disease at bay. It was a reminder of my mortality (as if I need it)!

But within two hours I was back at Northern Seminary to speak at the Founder's Day Dinner - an annual occasion to give thanks in our 97th year for the life and witness of the community. I was given the theme: "Equipping the Church to Change the World." Not a slight subject! On video and on printed cards we were faced by many stories - of courageous work by former students in frontline ministry and startling testimonies by some of the incoming students this year. We also heard that enrolment was up 32% compared with last year. I spoke to some of my colleagues - "You won't believe just how full the classrooms are this term!" they said. Wonderful.

My session on Friday night was followed by my leading a devotional and discussion time with the Board on Saturday morning. It was encouraging to touch base and especially meet so many students. I really look forward to re-engaging with this great community but have a few weeks of sabbatical still to run. Next on my agenda is the Evangelical Homiletics Society at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where I keynote with two lectures! Thanks for following my progress. Prayers are greatly valued!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Sunday first

Last Sunday I was interviewed live over the 'phone during a morning service in N. England. Stuart, had contacted me out of the blue....I had not heard from him since he left Spurgeon's College in the mid-90's. He told me that he had been reflecting on some past experiences of Scripture coming alive and that he particularly remembered when I preached in college chapel. "Each time I listened to your reflections and sermons in the Bible you seemed to have found something that had truly inspired you...something you were almost compelled to communicate...and I couldn't leave until I heard what you had found!"

Stuart asked whether I would act as a "surprise" guest....that, as he was preaching about the Bible coming alive, he could talk about his past experience and then startle the congregation by calling me up by 'phone? It so happened that this was my last full day in England as I prepared to fly I positioned myself by the 'phone to take part in this congregational surprise.
I was thrilled that it triggered a good response. Stuart emailed me later passing onto me some of the positive comments that people made and the stimulus it had given to fresh Bible reading.

What an imaginative way to interact, and how encouraging that Stuart had such memories. Things like this keep me humble and thankful. Also, I wondered who I would like to interview and thereby surprise my congregation in some future sermon?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Silver Jubilee

Last Saturday was a rare day. Friends gathered at Chatsworth Baptist Church (already mentioned in previous posts) to celebrate 25 years since the founding of HOPE NOW - an amazing holistic missionary organization. Vic Jackopson has been the inspiration (under God) for this extraordinary work, focused in the Ukraine but with tentacles reaching across the world. With his wife Sue alongside every step of the way he has pioneered this work which brings gospel hope to the neediest - prisoners, street children, orphans, poverty-stricken and disabled. Yet also plants churches, supports students, runs major centres and is into almost everything (it seems) for the sake of Jesus.

I was thrilled to be the preacher to help lead the celebration which also saw the induction of his successor - Jon Budgell. So many things stand out for me as I reflect on a wonderful occasion.
- God specializes in one-offs. I don't know anybody like Vic. Converted in prison, with a call to ministry that was unique from the first. I call him a Baptist Rambo, worthy of being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Chair of his trustees called him an 'entrepreneurial missionary' which is another way of saying he's made major mischief for Jesus.
- God sustains for lifetimes. Actually, Vic continues to work. Aged 69 he never sees himself retiring and is now committed to mentoring the tens of pastors who are in ministry in the Ukraine because of HOPE NOW. But we've known him for nearly 50 years and throughout illness and difficulties there has been continuous contagious enthusiasm marked by extraordinary gospel happenings. To think my wife and I have known him throughout....all the extravagant hopes at the beginning...seemed to have been fulfilled for God's glory.
- God gifts you the sixties to go on finishing well. I really think that the joy of this past weekend has been the meeting up with peers whose ministries have been very different and yet together of rejoicing in fruit. To rejoice with Vic has been very special.

There's much more I could say. You can find out more about Hope Now on its web site and Vic is now on concert tour in the UK so that others can join in. Thank you Vic and have enriched our lives and the kingdom more than you will know.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Outside the Baptist Church in the centre of Oxford there has been a public art project. Called Imagine, the artist Diane Bell has constructed a big book about 8 foot high and nearly 4 foot wide. It's made of wood with the covers open so that you can step inside to find a huge sheet of paper on which passers-by are asked to write. The artist invites them to respond in their own words to the question: "How do you imagine the world in the future?"

I talked with the artist who explained that so far 10 big sheets had been filled up with every sort of comment, from every age range about every kind of issue. She said that Oxford University Press was going to publish the results of her project. While I was talking several people came up. Some went in to write comments. One lady said, "Oh, I couldn't write anything now, I need more time."

I bent down and found a small patch. Around were crowded so many comments.
Peace not war
Imagine animals could talk
A big spoon to eat everything...Samantha aged 7.
Reading to my grandchildren
I do not want to have a haircut for a long time.

Someone had wrtten: There's no heaven. I wondered why.

I can't recall exactly what I wrote, but in between these remarks I scrawled.
Imagine a world in which God has brought everything together in his peace,through his kingdom in Christ where everything is united in love, wonder and worship.

This is the dream of people who have heard, and know its true that God reigns. What would you have written?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Preaching Day

The last few days we have been enjoying Bronte countryside in South Yorks. staying with some friends in a farm cottage. Weather has been mixed, walks have been stretching and internet access has been very erratic. So....I've been quiet for a few days (though another writing commitment forced its way into my daily routine!)

Last week I spoke at a national day conference in Oxford organized by the Evangelical Alliance. It was entitled: 360degree preaching and I was given a huge amount of lee-way with the subject matter! It was limited to 45 attendees and proved to be extraordinary lively with plenty of interaction.

A couple of things stood out for me:
First, all kinds of evangelical church were represented from traditional C of E to house church, from urban plant to rural, both black and white, with a smattering of academics present too. You know it really livens things up when such a range of people are present.
Second, was the surprise and delight expressed by several that this was the first conference on preaching they had seen advertised for many (many) years. One attendee from Devon had to book his train ticket well-ahead and told me he was convinced the conference would probably be cancelled because of lack of interest. 'I've not seen a conference like this for years' he said. 'I had no idea all these people would come!' Of course, 45 is not that many but could it be that church leaders are waking up to the pivotal importance of preaching? How I hope so.

As you can imagine I was thrilled to take part. Actually I mentioned blogging several maybe some of the attendees are even reading this!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dreaming Spires

This week I have been back in Oxford, at my old seminary Regent's Park College, leading a five-day ministry seminar on my book 360degree leadership. Interestingly, it's the first time that I have taught on this side of the Atlantic for 10 years!

It's been lively, with every member of the group fully committed and representing diverse situations of ministry. Beginning (mostly) as strangers on Monday we have grown into a tight-knit group full of trust, honesty, and love. It has helped that each day has begun with half-hour worship, led by different members. Nothing unites people more than worship. And, today (Friday) we heard four sermons - the outcome of four groups' sermon collaboration through the week. Wonderful!

Several members shared how the week had impacted them and their ministries. I have learned much too. When believers spend concentrated time together, special God-happenings can occur. We are so grateful for another positive growth time in the city of dreaming spires. If you belong to a small group over a period of time (concentrated or not) you probably know this experience too. Yes?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Another ReConnection

After meeting former fellow-students from 50 years ago, this last weekend awoke even older family history. Carol and I were back at Chatsworth Baptist Church, West Norwood where Carol came to faith,was baptised, and where we were married, and I was ordained. It was a celebration weekend in brightly refurbished buildings. Before the church filled up Carol and I wandered through familiar rows of pews remembering where we once sat and some big moments of the past. Reconnecting with old friends kept throwing us back into rich conversations about times shared and key people who had influenced us.

I preached on both Saturday and Sunday. I tried not to look back too much though I couldn't stop telling some stories! To one side of the newly refurbished church was a glass case containing an open book. On each page was inscribed the name of one person who had gone out into ministry from the church. Tens of names are inscribed on its pages, covering over the last 130 years. Bless them, they had opened the book at my name, underneath which was a list of the places of my ministry. How humbling!

How much I owe to this church for its nurture and prayers through the years I cannot tell. Yet again, a stirring from the past has taken me into deep places of gratitude.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Reunion with Edge

Last weekend I met with a group of people most of whom I had not seen for fifty years (or so). They were members of the Robert Hall Society -the Baptist student society of Cambridge University (named after a famous English Baptist preacher). All had begun as students between 1958 and 1965. Around 70 of us gathered to spend at day at Fitzwilliam College, concluding with chapel worship.

I have been to few reunions (so far) but this was definitely different. After an introductory talk on how much Cambridge has changed, given by a former member who is now a Professor of History at the university, five people spoke about their life journeys since being students. They shared so honestly about sadnesses, disappointments, illnesses along the way. Yet, overwhelmingly, their life work and relationships expressed such Christian faith that radiated through many different signs of fulfilment. They spoke about growth, God's surprises, service at home and abroad, and the continuing adventure of living for God. Someone later commented about the sheer hopefulness and forward-lookingness that expressed a commitment to go on living fully into yet older years!

It was good to meet old friends - it really was. But hearing such reflections made me think hard too? Just how would I sum up my life journey so far? And what about you?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Third week in Suffolk

Just to show you how the sun can shine in Suffolk, here we are with friends Ray and Yve! Enjoying an English Cup of Tea! Before arriving in Suffolk we continuted sorting out our past (in boxes and bonfires) and spent several happy days with our London family. I wish I could post photographs with them (Ray helped me above!) having many more cups of tea (though the wet weather rarely allowed us to sit outside).
Just to keep us rooted (!), we have learned that in spite of turning off the water supply in our US home, the valve proved leaky and filled up a faulty washing machine to overflowing.... innundating the immediate area and then flowing through the floor into the basement. For the second time in six months water has therefore wreaked havoc in the basement. Fortunately, a great neighbor and a very practical friend have stepped in to rescue the situation and are drying out the carpet and assessing the damage even as I write this. You just never know what's going to happen next, do you?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Second week in a blur

After reconnecting with friends and family at Abingdon we have moved onto Spurgeon's College, where I was Principal (1993-2000). When we left for the US we took advantage of the large attic in the main college building, and stacked a (very) large number of crates and boxes of worldly goods. Without any reflection or sorting we piled in everything including our children's books, toys and early artistic efforts, correspondence through the ages, collectible plates and royal mugs, art work and curtains, and (most seriously) my personal library.

Alas, the fire officer has decreed they are a fire hazard and need to be cleared out. Many of you will know the strains of sorting out a lifetime's clutter. I know we should not focus on material things subject to moth and rust....but many of these old boxes keep producing papers and photographs that bring gasps of delight in recollection. It's going to be tough reducing them but the discipline is vital. The main positive outcome are the many reminders of God's leading and sheer goodness in our past. So often we just don't make time to look back to remember and be thankful. Yes, there's rejoicing. But we have also planned a large bonfire for tomorrow!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Curious Security

Jet lag brings odd experiences. Our hire car - a Ford Focus - seems straightforward. With all our luggage piled inside we set off for our first stop in Oxfordshire. The key fob seemed standard - double press for double lock. Just to check I went back to the car and found the doors were actually unlocked. I tried again, with the same result. Consulting the handbook I only saw some complicated instructions about resetting the alarm sysstem. Leaving our luggage vulnerable we found a 'phone and called the rental company. 'Sounds like a fault with the cental locking,' said the woman. 'Call out the emergency service.'

Just before that drastic action I thought we should visit a Ford dealer. Two men came out of the garage to help. At first, exactly the same thing happened - the doors proved to be unlockable. 'Aha!', said one man, 'You have a sensor! Everytime you approach with the key it unlocks the car again. It does lock, but when you return it unlocks!' Oh, such sophisticated technology! I was secure all the time.

There are Christian lessons here. Psalm 16:1 'Keep me safe, O Lord, in you I take refuge' utterly depends on God's promise in Christ. It's complex but complete in all situations.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

First week in a blur

Probably it wasn't the best way to prepare for our UK visit (!), but last weekend with Northwest Baptist Church in Milwaukee proved lively and worthwhile. At the Saturday workshops I particularly appreciated the 'soulstorming' sessions on what factors make for effective small group work. Everyone piled in! For the second session, three sets of study notes had been written by different leaders on the same subject - my sermon the next day. I needed to evaluate each and decide which was to be used the next day! I pray that they go on developing their evident skills and abilities to listen to each other, in the next stages of the project.

Then we flew to the UK overnight Monday to be greeted by a change in the weather. Up until now, a warm dry Summer has provided good holiday weather. Since our arrival temps. are down and rain is ever-present! Never mind....we have already enjoyed two days with friends in Shillingford and are now in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. I am in enforced isolation from the internet....the only way of contacting the cyber-world is by signing up for a session in the local library! By this technique I have at least managed to read some mail and post this.

From time to time I hope to keep in contact.....thanks for reading. I hope wherever you are the summer is proving a time of renewal.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Remembering August 3 1969

Last night a group of Wheaton friends shared in celebrating my birthday with cards and a fun gift. But, to my surprise, my wife Carol said she wanted to tell the group something first.

She flipped back 41 years to a Sunday when I preached in our home church in West Norwood, London. She described my nerves as a young (very) inexperienced preacher facing my first preaching at both morning and evening services, and how I vomited beforehand in sheer nervous tension! I really did feel overwhelmed.

The morning sermon was tidy, worthy and short. I survived! But the evening was the main service with over 500 people crowding into the church, and filling its galleries. I had prepared and prayed hard to preach on the divided reactions to Jesus in John 10:19-20. With dry mouth and accompanying nervous sensations I began my sermon. A stillness came over the congregation and me.

Then, in the middle, I had my one and only experience (so far) of God unmistakably speaking to me. That's the only way I can describe what happened. Suddenly, even as I was speaking, I heard clearly a voice say: "Michael, I call you to preach." It was the last thing I expected to happen. Indeed, the way that I was feeling, racked by nerves, this would have seemed the least likely occurrence. And while I "heard" this word, there was a peculiar intensity in the sermon that several hearers commented about afterwards.

I know that sceptics can swiftly dismiss such an event as some kind of subjective wish-fulfilment. But, I look back to it as a foundational experience of God's grace at work in my life. Remembering is an important part of Christian worship, ensuring that we recall God's work in the past. I was so grateful that Carol reminded me of this event, 41 years later!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Effective Small Groups (3)

I like that comment a couple of posts back which refered to some of the qualities needed for effective leading and sharing in groups - like knowledge, trust, prayer and love!

I am sure that any list of factors should reinforce such qualities at (3) and (4). Perhaps -
(3) Gifted group leaders. Among other qualifications we should include: good preparation with flexibility and willingness to listen to others; pastoral concern for every group member; discipline with time to keep balance between teaching/interaction and introverts/extroverts (!); love that doesn't miss the main point of helping fellow disciples grow. Of course, like many leadership gifts, these need to be learned and nurtured.

And at (4) Gifted group members. Yes, much depends on the leaders, but the willingness of group members to commit to each other is absolutely vital too. This too is a matter of God's gifting. Their preparation, ability to listen, pastoral sensitivity, self-discipline and love is essential for effective group life.

What else needs to be added to my priorities 1-4?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Effective Small Groups (2)

If a group covenant is a high priority (1) so are good group resources (2). No matter how skilled a leader or committed a group, so much depends on the study material that they use. How well does it engage group members beforehand? Is it clear and relevant? Not only for the head but for daily living? Are the questions open and lively? Does it so set imaginations alight and hearts aflame that the group has difficulty in stopping?

At the workshops next weekend I shall be meeting a group of people whose main job is writing such material based on the weekly sermons. What an important job they have! And what other important factors should we include on the list at (3) and (4)? All suggestions welcome.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Effective small groups

What are the factors that make small groups successful?

On Saturday August 7th. I am leading two workshops in Milwaukee which will focus on leading small groups as the church develops some new patterns. I hope, since they are workshops (involving others sharing in work!) that I can brainstorm with the leaders about factors that make small groups work in their own experience.

One expert claims that the number one factor is:
Do have a clear covenant or contract of purpose for a group that is accepted by all members. Agree why the group is meeting and what you want to achieve in the life of its members.

I can think of many other factors. I am not sure which are the most important and in what order I would put them. Can any of you share out of your experience of small groups?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Farewell to FBC Wheaton

Today marked the end of my eight week series, and the joy of consecutive preaching in the same pulpit. Thank you to wonderful friends at the church who supported and prayed through this time. It's only a month now until their pastor, Mike Rowe, returns from his splendid sabbatical and the church has other preachers covering through August. Now, in these next months (as my sabbatical study leave continues) I shall seek to write a book on Truth Spaces for group Bible study. Hopefully there will be a positive outcome to share with you...eventually.

One or two asked me today what was next for me! Thanks for asking. Well, Carol and I are looking forward to beginning our postponed visit to the UK in order to see family and friends. However, before then, in addition to a couple of writing projects to finish up I shall be at Northwest Baptist Church in Milwaukee on August 7th & 8th. They have received a grant from Lilly Foundation, through the Calvin Institute of Worship, to develop their Sermon-based Small Groups process (SBSG). I am leading two workshops on August 7th. one of which will engage with my preaching preparation for the following day, at the two morning services.

It sounds a very well-conceived project and I am sure that I shall learn as much as I teach! Perhaps I will have a chance to ask any of you who are small group leaders for your help on the way! Watch this space.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (25)

We are getting close to Sunday and I have been thinking about some questions to be included in the church bulletin to help us go on wrestling with issues in this next sermon. Flowing out of my preparation I have suggested these.

Q1. “Easy believism” makes you feel good because it doesn’t challenge your thinking, your culture or your relationships. What are some of the signs of falling into “easy believism”?

Q2. Christian claims do cause offence. Have you had any experiences of others being offended by Christianity?

Q3. In John 6:66, many disciples leave Jesus. When he asks “You do not want to leave too, do you?” what does that reveal about the kind of Lord he is?

Q4. How can we best help each other to remain “long-stayers” with Jesus?

I know that some of you have been stimulated by one or two of these questions in the past. They are only starters for thinking through what the Lord is saying to us today. Eventually I want to be able to include the best kind of questions in my bible study book on some of Jesus' questions! So any other ideas will be very gratefully received!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (24)

As I prepare for worship on Sunday with John 6:53-71 I have been hit by the fact there are two questions here. First - "Does this offend you?"(verse 61) and then "You do not want to leave too, do you?" (verse:67). These are very personal and challenging questions aren't they? This passage contains hard teaching - that's actually what the disciples say (verse 60). These questions need to be read carefully in context.

Though its only Tuesday and much sermon work is to be done, it seems that my sermon impact is taking shape like this:
By God's grace, what this sermon will SAY: Jesus is realistic about the discipleship drop-out rate.
What this sermon will DO: encourage us as disciples to stay close as we go on growing into truth spaces with him.

Let's keep reflecting and praying.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (23)

I was so glad in this morning's sermon to be able to use a story emailed to me by a member of the congregation. It referred to a particular crisis he had just gone through and his discovery of God's presence. He mentioned the help he received from his small weekly prayer group. After both services some men came up to me and said: "I know who you were talking about!" I was glad I had his permission to use his story! But one of them said: "It's just great to hear about what difference faith makes in every-day life of one of us!"

I believe there is immense power in the congregation telling up-to-the-moment faith stories. Not just the preacher constructing a set-piece sermon but hearers directly contributing the pieces. Thank you for continuing to share.

My last sermon in this series focuses on the question "You do not want to leave too, do you?" (John 6:67) It's a question of loyalty. It's asked in some complex teaching on Jesus the Bread of Life, and the Scripture passage will run from John 6:53-71. However, I may also include Mark 4:13-20, the story of the sower and the seed because I see some strong connections.

I shall post some more of my preparation shortly. Thanks for preparing with me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (22)

I am so grateful to those who have responded by personal email to my worship preparation on this blog....several stories are painfully personal yet speak volumes about how Jesus Christ continues to come alongside us in the twenty-first century. And I know many others have been following progress! Thank you.

These questions arise for me from this next sermon. Perhaps they will help trigger responses as we go on preparing together.

1. Our words reveal our character. Reflect on occasions when you have heard good words which showed Christian character?

2. Why do some say these words “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do the things I say?” are some of the saddest words uttered by Jesus in the New Testament?

3. Only when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) will our true character be shown. What practical difference does this truth make to our lives as individuals, and as a church community?

4. Are there ways by which we can encourage each other to be accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ in our daily living?

Looking forward to Sunday!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (21)

Someone has said that this question of Jesus in Luke 6: 46: "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?" are some of the saddest words in the New Testament. Certainly, they raise the vital issue about how disciples actually behave as Christ-followers.

As I go on preparing Luke 6:43-49 I see strong parallels between the two sorts of tree and the two builders. My sermon impact is therefore shaping up like this:

By God's grace, what this sermon will SAY: Jesus questions how disciples respond to his words and actions by their own words and actions. What this sermon will DO: challenge each of us about our personal and corporate accountability in words and actions. Here is a profound check to character and behavior.

This is going to be demanding. Please keep praying and preparing with me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wheaton Preaching Montage

Imagine my surprise when I received this photo montage just a few minutes ago from Jim Whitmer, who photographed a preaching sequence this morning (in the contemporary service at First Baptist Church, Wheaton). He said that he thought that showing a preacher in motion might add to the "listening experience" on-line. I am very flattered to think that he took all this trouble. I am not sure whether it will aid anyone's interaction (!) but I am so grateful to him. I have always thought that photographs of preachers standing still (with mouths open) fail to do justice to the preaching dynamic. I look forward to further motion for the last two Sundays in this sermon series.

Preaching at Wheaton (20)

Several of you have spoken about this morning's sermon - especially that the disciples were badly frightened twice. Said one of you: "I would definitely have been badly frightened by that storm, but I know I would have been even more terrified when Jesus calmed it down. Just imagine the enormity of discovering who Jesus was!" Immersing in God's inspired story enables us to glimpse through the disciples' eyes twenty centuries later. And marvel! Others shared about special need for Jesus' care as they face fears this week. God's word continues to speak.

Next Sunday (July 18th) we listen to another question - in Luke 6: 46: "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?" This occurs in some teaching of Jesus which immediately raises questions about how much of the context is needed here. The question in verse 46 clearly leads into the story of the men who built either on rock or without foundation. Yet, the preceding verses about a tree and its fruit (verses 43-45) also seem significant.

As I prepare to look at this question of Jesus I shall therefore engage with Luke 6:43-49. Perhaps there are parallels between the two sorts of tree and fruit and the two builders? The question itself seems to be a question about OBEDIENCE.

Let's spend some time listening to these words in this new week, preparing for worship, always remembering we have a Side-by-Side Lord Jesus who comes close and asks questions. Please let me know about any insights.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (19)

Each week I provide a number of questions in the church bulletin to trigger continuing response to God's word beyond the Sunday morning sermon!

This short story (Mark 4: 35-41) raises so many important questions for reflection:
1. What would you say to people who claim that God should look after believers and protect them from bad things happening?

2. What are the implications when Jesus stills the storm for us facing fears today?

3. In what ways can we “under believe” when faced by fears?

4. This story reminds us that Jesus provokes awe. How can we ensure there is awe in our worship?

5. It is part of being human that we have fears. Do you have a story about experiencing real fear recently? In what ways did the presence of Jesus make a difference?

Question 5 is particularly the one to which I hope friends will respond. Do any of you out there have a story about experiencing real fear when the presence of Jesus made a difference? Real stories make for powerful preaching - any help? If it's confidential then please use:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (18)

This week's Scripture passage (Mark 4: 35-41) is short but graphically shows the disciples are badly frightened in this storm. Even though they are with Jesus bad things still happen! His two questions "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" deserve careful attention, especially in the context of two kinds of fear we find in this text.

It is still early in my preparation but the sermon impact is shaping up like this:
By God's grace, what this sermon will SAY: Frightening things happen to Jesus' disciples but he is with them to calm fears, yet he provokes greater spiritual fear! And what the sermon will DO: Allow God to help us deal with our natural fears and develop our awe.

Thank you for immersing in this story with me. All your responses continue to be welcome.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (17)

Well, July 4th. turned out to be quite an occasion - even for an Englishman! After our morning service the church served about 4000 hotdogs to neighbors as we watched the Wheaton parade! Earlier, on this day for celebrating the Declaration of Independence, the questions and teaching of Jesus in Mark 8:22-9:1 challenged us to Declare Dependence on him. And this is the demanding issue of faith as Jesus asks: "Who do you say I am?" (Mark 8:27)

This coming Sunday we look at the questions Jesus asks in Mark 4:35-41. This story of the calming of the storm is the classic nature miracle, and raises massive issues about the kind of Lord Jesus Christ we worship. Just how much do we claim: "For by him all things were created (Col 1:16)?

Jesus' questions probe another TRUTH SPACE: "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" As we look at this short story together let's go on asking what God is saying to us and seeing to do with us! Any reflections will be welcome.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton - a visual

Half-way through my summer interim preaching I thought I would give a visual! This is me making a point (!) in the "contemporary" service, which is held downstairs in the gymnasium. Many thanks to my gifted photographer friend Jim Whitmer who took it without my noticing and suggested I post it on my blog.

Preaching at Wheaton (16)

No, that won't do! I suggested yesterday that I finish the Scripture reading at Mark 8:33 but the more I look at the text the more I realize I have to go onto 9:1! I know it involves much more detail but the rebuke Jesus gives Peter (verse 31) leads into verse 34...."Then he called the crowd to him...."

This gives an extraordinary context for the questions Jesus asks. Though it's still early on in my preparation (it often takes me more than twelve solid hours!) my sermon impact is shaping up like this:

By God's grace, what this sermon will SAY: Jesus asks questions about eyesight, and about himself with a specific personal question about "Who do YOU say that I am?", yet he opens up demanding teaching about his own suffering and what discipleship means. What this sermon will DO: challenge each of us afresh about personal faith and personal discipleship.

I know July 4th. will be a Party Day, but what a difference it makes to EVERYTHING to hear these questions of Jesus! Let's go on preparing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (15)

Yesterday's sermon on "Who are my mother and my brothers?" led to several responses, including some very painful ones. Some have come out of anguished human family relationships into experiencing God's family. Let's go on reflecting on what it means to be brothers and sisters in God's family on any given day!

This coming Sunday we look at Questions of Faith. You will already know in this brief sermon series how important it is to ask where a Scripture passage begins and ends! This week I invite you to immerse in Mark 8:22-33. Yes, it begins with the blind man in Bethsaida. Especially look at the four questions in this passage. Do you see connections between them? And how do they relate to us?

Thank you for partnering with me as we prepare for worship together.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (14)

In Sunday sermon preparation I have been thinking especially about God's family growing outwardly to do God's will in the world.

I love that description in our weekly church bulletin:
While our building is located at 1310 North Main Street, First Baptist Wheaton is a community of people devoted to following Jesus wherever they find themselves on any given day.

On any given day! This is the scattered church impacting society like salt grains in daily living. In what ways are we practicing as brothers and sisters in God's family on any given day? I am always grateful for stories and insights about real happenings.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (13)

As I have immersed in Mark 3:20-35 the repercussions of Jesus' question: "Who are my mother and my brothers?" (verse 33) keep widening. It seems that Jesus is claiming a new kind of family. He looks at his followers and uses the language of family, of blood ties, of love and loyalty, to describe what happens when doing God's will grounds a revolutionary new sort of community. Wow!

It's early days in my preparation but my sermon impact is shaping up like this:
By God's grace, what this sermon will SAY: Jesus shocks us by redefining what it means to belong to his family. And what the sermon will DO: challenge us about the two directions of his "family life" - growing inwardly in love and unity of fellowship and growing outwardly to do God's will in the world.

It's clearly a question with radical implications. I should love to hear any stories from you about your experiences of being in God's family. If they are confidential please use my personal email: As always, thanks for sharing in our worship preparation together.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (12)

Next Sunday (June 27) we hear a radical question from Jesus: "Who are my mother and my brothers?" (Mark 3:33). I call it a Question about Family. And what a question!

Often, looking at a Scripture passage it is difficult knowing where it is best to begin and end. Here, it is tempting just to focus on Mark 3:31-35. In the NIV (for example) these verses form a separate section. However, it seems to me that we ought to begin at Mark 3:20 in order to see the wider context. So let's look at Mark 3:20-35.

As in previous weeks I invite you to immerse in this passage with me, being particularly aware of the question that Jesus asks. I am really encouraged to know that many of you are following these posts. One or two have said they almost posted a comment! Please do! But if you would prefer just to say something personally to me then please use: Thank you for preparing with me. It makes so much difference.

Preaching at Wheaton (11)

These very odd questions to fathers about snakes and scorpions triggered an unusual sermon about prayer this morning! A couple of things caused particular comment.

First, my prayer journal book (I only showed it during the 9.00 am service) relating to how a particular church practiced prayer from 1980-1993. My wife Carol said I should have shared at least one (!) story from it about the way that God, our heavenly Father, worked (extraordinarily) through the prayers of his children. Perhaps at another time! But I am looking forward to what God is going to do with his praying children at FBC.

Second, the FATHER acrostic. I suggested some key implications from Luke 11:1-13:

F - FOCUS - on Matt. 6:6 - about the room, closed door, and prayer to the unseen Father. Take specific practical action focusing on the real relationship made possible through Jesus. He is unseen, but this spiritual relationship is the most important one for eternity.

A - ADORATION - there is no one like our heavenly Father, Creator, Holy, Wise, Loving and Gracious. Let's use Bible descriptions to praise Him as he deserves.

T - THANKSGIVING - because everything good in life is His gift. We should try to get into double figures every day saying "Thank you Father."

H - HONESTY - it's vital to be "real" in this relationship. Finish sentences which express to God your problems, doubts, fears and possibilities. If you have trouble even beginning to pray, tell him!

E - EVERY DAY - this relationship needs continuous connection. We don't need to spend long periods of time but we do need daily relationship. No days are wasted. There are no unimportant days in God's creation.

R - RECEIVE - in prayer it's what God does that matters most. He promises his Holy Spirit to give strength, healing, conviction, direction and that's the wonder of prayer. He turns "Yes, but how" into " Yes...and how!"

I am sure you can find other ways, better ways, to develop this acrostic. I know that having immersed in this passage again is enlivening my prayer life. May God's word in Luke 11:1-13 help your praying too. I'd love to hear any responses.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (10)

As I have spent much time this week, concluding with study and prayer today (Saturday), I have grown to see how much tomorrow's sermon on prayer actually relates back to practical questions following last week's question. When Jesus asked the paralyzed man if he wanted to be whole (John 5:6) we know the outcome was his healing. But there is a critical gap, isn't there, between that man hearing good news and actually standing up on his own two feet? It's the practical bit of processding spiritual possibility into reality. I call it the "Yes But How?" bit. Too often we skate over this. We preachers announce good news and move quickly to an assumed good response.

But for anyone who has said, since last week, "Lord I want to be well" how does the practical process of healing and renewal work? How do we put our wills into Jesus' power? How do we get through this interval bit, between hearing good news and living it!

I see tomorrow's sermon on prayer as a vital response to this "Yes But How?" part. When we enter the prayer relationship that Jesus talks about with his heavenly Father (in Luke 11:1-13) then we belong to an intensely practical process. Please pray that tomorrow's worship will help us all grow in practical prayer relationship.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (9)

As I have immersed in Luke 11:1-13, I have become more convinced than ever that these questions to fathers: "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion? throw extraordinary light on Jesus' preceding teaching about prayer. And isn't Father's Day a good day to preach about this?

My sermon impact is shaping up like this:
By God's grace, what this sermon will SAY: Prayer is all about our relationship with God our Father - being, asking and receiving from Him. And what the sermon will DO: awaken us to the wonder of our heavenly Father who gives us to Holy Spirit to help us stay close in relationship, and encourage renewed prayer practice.

Much is going on here. Let's keep preparing and, as always, any of your insights along the way will be gratefully received.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (8)

When I was planning my sermon series (many weeks ago) I had forgotten that Sunday June 20th. marks Father's Day! Remembering fathers involves a wide range of emotions, but it's good to be positive!

Interestingly, in the list of questions Jesus asked there is one set of questions that specifically asks fathers about their actions. In Luke 11:1-13 we first have some familiar teaching about prayer and a parable, and about waking up a neighbor for bread. Ask, Seek, Knock are key commands. How many times have we heard this?

Then suddenly at verse 11, Jesus addresses some questions to fathers: "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion? What's the point of these questions? The more I look at them, the more differences I see they make to all Jesus' preceding teaching about prayer.

So, on this Father's Day it will be good to focus on these questions Jesus asked fathers! As before, I invite you to immerse yourself in this passage. Unlike the last two weeks it is not a narrative text but some teaching. Yet within it, Jesus dramatically engages with us in our family life? What do you see going on here? As always, I am grateful for any responses.

Preaching at Wheaton (7)

This morning the second question in the TRUTH SPACES series led us into deep places. When Jesus sees the paralysed man, who had been helpless for 38 years he doesn't immediately say: Get up! Take up your mat and walk. He could have done. Indeed, later he does. No. He slows down the encounter by asking this question: Do you will to be well? (John 5:6)

We saw it's a question about spiritual will-power. Human will-power is about self-belief and says "I can do it." Spiritual will-power is about putting will into Jesus' power to change. Its not self-belief but Jesus-belief; not "I can do it" but "I will that Jesus Christ does this."

We saw how this question about putting our wills in Jesus power addresses physical healing, moral healing, and social healing. At one point I raised the question "What do we believe Jesus is capable of doing in the twenty-first century? Too often modern skepticism about supernatural power has killed off any spiritual will-power to trust in Jesus to make changes in us today."

Several of you promised afterwards to think through personal implications of questions in the bulletin. But we know it's not just a cerebral response that's needed. Indeed, one person said they wanted to go forward for ministry -"How I wish I could have been able to respond there and then!" Let's be open to the Lord who keeps asking: "Do you will to be whole? "

Thank you for praying and preparing alongside me...these questions take us into demanding areas don't they?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (6)

I don't know about you, but I have found that question in John 5:6: "Do you want to be well?" a very challenging one. Clearly it is a question addressed to the will of this man. The Greek word emphasizes: Do you will to be well? But it's not just about his will-power is it? Is Jesus is asking about how much his will-power is willing to trust in Jesus' power for healing?

And there are several dimensions to the healing too. Obviously it's about physical healing because he is a long-term invalid. But there is also moral healing and even social healing hinted at in this story.

As I prepare the sermon I see its main impact as:
By God's grace what this sermon will SAY : Jesus gives a reality check about our will-power's willingness to trust him for healing - physically, morally and socially. What the sermon will DO: confront our will-power and commitment to trust in his power to make us more whole.

Lots of issues come into my mind and heart from this story. Let's keep open to what He wants to teach us. What particularly impacts you?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (5)

On June 13th. I shall preach on the next searching question, in John 5:6: "Do you want to get well?" As before, I welcome you to join with me in immersing in the whole story of the healing at the pool in John 5:1-15.

Let me remind of the preparation process I am trying to follow (!):
1) Prayerfully read John 5:1-5 out aloud, spending quality time immersing yourself into this story. Listen with the help of the Holy Spirit.
2) Ask what God is saying and doing in this encounter, especially when Jesus asks this invalid of 38 years the question: "Do you want to get well?" Responding to Scripture means not only understanding its message (what it says) but obeying what is does, at it makes fresh demands on our lives.
3) What surprises you about Jesus' question?
4) Join in with me as I ask the same questions and try to focus on what I call the sermon's main impact: "By God's grace what this sermon will SAY is....and DO is...."
5) If you are able, post your own insights on my blog.
6) Keep praying for the worship on June 13th.
7) And, yes....please post your responses on my blog in the days afterwards.

I am so grateful for all the love of the church family at Wheaton already so evident with just one Sunday gone. Pastor Mike Rowe and Maggie are due to have landed in Turkey earlier today on their sabbatical, and we keep praying for them a time of deep refreshment too.

Preaching at Wheaton (4)

Well....we're off! I preached the first in my short TRUTH SPACES sermon series this morning on John 1:38. Several people expressed surprise at the strategic placing of this question "What do you want?" Such an open-ended question lies at the very beginning of Jesus ministry. Yet, Jesus actually knows the answers (John 2:25, Mark 2:8, Matt. 12:25, 22:18) Jesus does not ask questions for him to find out about us, but for us to discover with him what we don't yet know about ourselves.

We saw this honest invitation probes their motives. When they ask where he is staying it seems that they want to know if they can spend more time with Jesus. Will he give them more of himself? By his welcome: "Come and you will see" they learn that Jesus comes alongside with transforming friendship. He is a side-by-side Lord, not a top-down Lord.

This sermon set me thinking. Even between the two services it changed greatly. I continue to think about it as I write more this week. I posed some questions in the service sheet:

1. When Jesus asks: "What do you want?" of people who are following him what sort of answer do we give? (We can follow him out of respect for others, belief, needs and despair). What are our answers now?
2. Jesus invites Andrew and his friend to come and stay with him. In what equivalent ways can we stay with Jesus today? (It was wonderful to conclude with Communion which gave us space and time with Jesus in exactly the way he commanded - but what other ways?)

Many other questions arise too. As you go on thinking please let me know your responses. You can post them here, or send me a confidential email on, or hand write a note! Thank you for sharing this journey.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (3)

I wonder what has surprised you about Jesus question in John 1:38? So much is going on in this story through which God continues to speak. What insights have you gained? For example, when Jesus asks: "What do you want?" to those who follow him, what kinds of reasons do we honestly have for being in church? Honestly!?

As I have been preparing the sermon I see its main impact as:
By God's grace what this sermon will SAY : Jesus invites people to be honest with him and spend time with him as he promises to give them space and time. What the sermon will DO: encourage every disciple and would-be disciple to be honest in response and stay close to him.

This is likely to be refined as Sunday gets closer! Please let me know your responses? You can either post publicly on my blog or, if it's more confidential, let me know on

Thank you for sharing.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (2)

I have asked First Baptist church (via their June bulletin) to help me.

Please can you help me? I am preaching a series called TRUTH SPACES, all about the questions that Jesus asked in the gospels.

It is said that you can tell how wise people are more by the questions they ask than the answers they give. Our questions reveal so much about us - our depth or
shallowness. Questions develop relationships, opening up new possibilities. When the world's greatest personality, Jesus Christ, asks questions we should sit up
and take notice. He doesn't just teach with authority (though he most certainly does) but he also invites ordinary people to open up to him. He invites them into truth spaces.

I invite anyone (with internet access) to prepare along with me by and reading and responding to my blog. For those without internet access I really welcome written input too. I shall post details of each sermon some days before I preach and encourage you to prepare with me sharing your own insights and stories. This is not a new idea to me, nor some gimmick. I have used my blog over the last cople of years to invite others to joine me in preparation elsewhere. I thas led to some profound experiences. As a preacher I have grown and as worshippers together we have been to deeper places.

My first sermon (June 6th) will be on the question Jesus asks in John 1:29-42: "What do you want?" I invite you to do help me prepare in the next few days:
1) Prayerfully read John 1:29-42 out aloud, spending quality time immersing yourself into this story. Listen with the help of the Holy Spirit.
2) Ask what God is saying and doing in this encounter, especially when Jesus asks these two would-be disciples the question: What do you want?" Responding to Scripture means not only understanding its message (what it says) but obeying what is does, at it makes fresh demands on our lives.
3) What surprises you about Jesus' question? Yes, you!
4) Join in with me as I ask the same questions and try to focus on what I call the sermon's main impact: "By God's grace what this sermon will SAY is....and DO is...."
5) Post your own insights on my blog.
6) Keep praying for the worship on June 6th.
7) Post your responses on my blog in the days afterwards.