Tuesday, May 23, 2017


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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

A beam of encouragement!

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Life stages

On returning home last weekend we went immediately to an outdoors' tenth wedding renewal of vows with reception - an imaginative happy event (and the rain kept off...just!)  The next day we drove to an Induction Service in Kettering (an hours' drive away).  The preacher was my very gifted successor at Spurgeon's College - Dr. Nigel Wright - who himself retired three years ago.

He challenged the new ministry team not to 'go off the boil'.  To these younger ministers he spoke about his own ministry journey which described as going through distinctive stages:
Radical -  The beginning was marked by writing challenging books in a challenging ministry.
Mainstream - Becoming a founder of a renewal movement within the Baptist denomination
Establishment -  Becoming Principal of Spurgeon's College and President of the Baptist Union
Old School - in early retirement as he now looks back and realizes he belongs to an older generation yet remains active
Has Been - enough said!
(Incidentally, the first three stages are written up by Andy Goodliffe in a formal academic appreciation in the latest Baptist Quarterly Journal).

I joked with Nigel afterwards about the process of discerning the transition from old school to has been! Thinking of life in terms of stages should lead to gratitude to God for life and purpose.  In my own story that's true - how are you doing?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Public kneeling

Flying out from the US four days ago brought the usual problems of balancing the weights of our suitcases.   With a limit of 50lbs (US non-metric!) I began juggling between our three cases a few days before leaving.  We travel with a measurer - it's hook goes under each handle and as the suitcase is raised the needle gives a reasonable read-out.  Eventually I had moved heavy articles with sufficient care that each case seemed to be marginally under the limit.

But, as you will have likely guessed, in the main Departure Hall at O'Hare airport the official baggage weigh-in proved I had been optimistic.  The first case to go on the scale was 47 lbs.  I relaxed.  The second case was 51lbs and the third was also 51lbs.  The wearily cheery clerk said: 'Easy - just take a pound out of each and put it into the first.'  However, the cases are butterfly designed, flopping open at the middle to expose the entire contents on either side.  To my horror I found myself obstructing far more of the queue than I intended.  As people stepped around my kneeling figure I removed items from one offending case,  and then the another, to place them in the first case.  Standing up, flushed with accomplishment, I then found out that this case had become a 1lb too heavy!  Overcompensating! On my knees again!

Carol pleaded - 'What is one pound over in the big scheme of things?  Good grief, they don't weigh passengers themselves!'   However the machine said OVER WEIGHT.  Sheer legalism! Anyway, we have made it back....and rejoice at overcoming travel obstacles!  Thanks to those of you who prayed for our journey.  Alas, my airport kneeling did not contribute positively to prayer!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Collegiate joys

I have just returned from Grand Rapids where I met with representatives of the other 16 seminaries involved in Lilly-funded preaching projects across the US.  Many are academics involved in teaching preaching.  Sometimes, the fact that many academics are introverts and slow to warm up (have you ever noticed?! ) makes these experiences hard work but these past three days have been filled with joy. They really have.

It was my last such conference and that fact added a dimension of memory and thankfulness as I caught up with teachers I have met in different places over the last seventeen years.   At several of their seminaries I have given lectures and preached, staying a few days on their campus, making friendships and memories.  One of the three professors at Gordon Conwell, Boston, which I have visited many times reminisced about Carol as well: 'She really is something!' he said - and he clearly meant it to be a compliment.

Of course, I shall miss the collegiality of this annual meeting but isn't it encouraging to know that your work and presence has been noticed!  In different ways I hope that is true of all of us as we come up to retirement. (Often that means making sure we express our appreciation to others too). At some point I may post about the future of the preaching project that I started when it becomes clearer with the leadership of a new President and a new Director of the program.  But this occasion truly expressed the best kind of valediction on a very different part of my ministry.  I return to the UK with immense gratitude to God for doors he opened.