Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Gleanings 17) Too personal

I realized that by bringing myself into the picture by telling of my own anxiety I was identifying with many in the congregation.  I believe that there are times when sharing honestly (and it must be honest!) may connect at a deeper level.  No longer is the preacher up the front, distant, talking spiritual truths which can sound rather general and can be easily dismissed.  When a problem faces the whole church and a preacher tells it like it is spiritual truth is no longer general or easily dodged.

However, in the sermon I told another story by reading out a letter I had received the day after the meeting from a young couple. (I asked them for permission and very fortunately they could remain anonymous since there were many possible young couples in the congregation!)
You stated last night that several people have already shown the foresight and faith to give for a future new building.  We are prepared to show the same faith in the future by covenanting £100 a year for the seven years necessary for a covenant, to ensure that we can build a new church/centre for the present and the future.  If we could all stand and speak with the conviction that Christianity means optimism in the future for God's sake, we'd have no difficulty in having a new place...
It is difficult to appreciate how much the pound has devalued since then.  I went online to discover that  £100 in 1973 is equivalent in purchasing power to £1,199.38 in 2019! This was a remarkably generous gift pledged when who knows what financial quagmires might lie ahead for this couple.  It seems crazy.  I commented 'When Abraham set off people thought him crazy but let no one doubt that he trusted his Lord and his faith influenced his conduct. When we set off let people think we are crazy, but let no one doubt that we trust in a mighty, living, loving God for whom we are prepared to take risks and climb in vision.

Yes, but I realized for the first time how a preacher can be in danger of manipulating hearers with stories like these.  Cicero, the Roman orator said that speech should teach, delight and persuade. The preacher's priority is always letting God persuade through Scripture and using personal stories with utmost sensitively.  It was a lesson I had to learn.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Gleanings 16) Connecting personally

The sermon contained more of me, and us as a congregation, than I had ever preached before. Beginning with the tragic mountain story (last posting) I said: 'The only way to avoid the risks of height is to stay at ground level....and that's just what most of us do in the spiritual realm. When we face the mountains of faith, when we are called to rise to a vision and respond to a call which leads beyond what we are used to, when we are challenged to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar, the known for the unknown, the safe for the risk, when we face the mountains of faith we want to stay put.' I then shared what happened to me after the meeting - my feeling physically sick, sitting in the car after the meeting. My fear about the future and blunt desire to stay at ground level, to stay with thing as they have always been.

Abraham setting out from the familiar (Gen 12) exemplifies how faith leaves the familiar for the frightening unknown.  I spent time reminding us of his journey - 'faith involves things you would never dream of doing normally.'  And moved onto how Jesus dealt with people whom he called to be and do new things and how he often said:' Don't be afraid'.

Faith is frightening but also reassuring. The sermon's second part took Rom 4: 18-25 - once God had given his promise Abraham had faith that God would stick by that promise. 'He did not analyse it, suspect it, rationalize it, over-dramatize it; he refused either to deny it or even to doubt it, but drew strength from faith and gave glory to God.  He was sure that God the Creator is powerful when men are weak and he promises the safest route (though not the easiest).

When God calls us to do things we would never dream of doing normally, and take risks we would never begin to calculate, and climb when it seems failure hems us in on every side then we begin to find out what a live faith is.  We don't know what would have happened if Abraham hadn't responded with faith - No Israel, No Old Testament, No First Covenant?  We don't know what will happen if we don't respond in faith, or do we?

As I review that sermon, though, I am left with a question about how personal a preacher should be.....

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Gleanings 15) A shaken preacher.

The special meeting about dry rot drew 160 people. After presentations there was a strong sense that rather than pull the building down, the rot should be eradicated with the large affected areas left bare and, a new false ceiling built underneath.  I no longer possess the details but we knew the expense was likely to be huge. I knew people had been praying with vision and one or two people actually pledged gifts to make something happen within the meeting. But the majority felt extremely uncomfortable and I had strong criticism afterwards about the way the whole meeting had become too emotional.!

Immediately afterward when most people had gone home I went to my car and sat down. For a few seconds I felt physically sick.  Tension roiled right through my body. I was overcome about the sheer unknown future. I asked myself: 'What will happen now?  What will become of us?  Will we all respond to the challenge?'  I felt real fear about the future.  All that seemed familiar, known and safe was under threat.

Truthfully, though weekly offerings just saw us through regular commitments these were low considering the congregational size.  Giving was not our strong point. The financial implications of some big financial project were frightening.  Suddenly the church was faced by a mountain to climb. And that was the picture I had.  A mountain to climb by faith - full of risk.

Recent news had told the story of three schoolboys who were climbing Snowdon on the safest route - along the railway track.  Yet, tragically all three had fallen 600 feet to their deaths. Joe Brown the world-renowned mountaineer in the 70's was asked how this could have happened. Apparently, it was very safe apart from one short section, only 100 yards long, but with a sheer drop either side.  Here frozen snow could make the surface treacherous.  Climbers were tempted to rush across because it was such a short distance!  But that risked disaster and over 20 climbers had perished at this point in recent years.  There is no completely safe route when you climb a mountain.

As I thought about my next sermon I titled it :Faith - frightening yet reassuring (Gen. 12:1-5; Rom 4: 18-25) and decided to begin with this news story.  I now realize that I was more personally engaged with this sermon than I had ever been before.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Gleanings 14) Blessing then...and now

Looking for signs that this difficult church business meeting about dry rot actually began to make a difference to my preaching I found that shortly before the meeting I preached on Blessing (Deut. 28:1-14).  Blessing as 'God's power on the move like a surfer's wave engulfing and carrying high..."soul power" for the whole person, a whole people, who might know God's success". But, enjoying such blessing has a condition - 'if you obey the voice of the Lord.'  Blessing means experiencing God's power but his power comes through our obedience.  As I ended the sermon I definitely had this business meeting in mind:

'Deut. 28:2 warns us that if there is no obedient commitment then we shall not know what to aim for and the power at our disposal will not only be wrongly directed but it won't have the undefeated, unconquerable blessing of God.  That's what we should pray for as a church and as individuals. That the blessing of God shall come upon us and overtake us, leading positively and confidently forward, because we are committed, joined together in the massive band of people belonging to the Kingdom of God, with Jesus who leads us on to greater things.'

It seems such an obvious thing to do, doesn't it?  To listen to God as a whole people about his will in the practical problems they face.  And to hear publicly God's will through the preached word.

Two days ago an old friend called from Blackburn. A widow whose husband died a couple of years ago. She talked about the days when I was their minister in Blackburn and then she said: ' Just recently I was looking through the piles of old papers he kept and I came across his prayer book.  It was begun in the 70's and I found where he was praying for you specifically by name and that big meeting that we had in back July 1973 about what we should do about our building.' 

You can imagine what blessing that gave me. And what timing! I told her I was at that moment looking back at those days and how much I learned as a young minister.  And how much I owed to friends' prayers like her husband's.

Something was happening!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Gleanings 13) Bells and facing an elephant

My last post about gleanings from early sermons brought me to the dismal reminder that ever since my first Sunday in Blackburn I had seen signs in the roof and walls of serious building disease. High scaffolding in the early months of 1973 brought further investigations showing how widespread was the dry rot.  Just what was the future of the church building?

As I look at my sermons I see them trundling through stand-alone sermons - picking out key themes such as the Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.  But each one was entirely detached from the current dire situation. The Trinity sermon: Above all, Through all, In all  (Eph.. 4:6)  praised God who has dominion over us, communion with us and possession within us. I ended: ' By these three simple prepositions the scope of God's working with us leaves nothing out...Let us never underestimate any aspect of God's working.'  The same service bulletin had a notice urging members of the church and congregation to attend a special church meeting three weeks later to 'discuss the future of the church buildings.'  Maybe a connection between the 'God whose working leaves nothing out' and our practical building dilemma was in my mind.  But it wasn't explicit in my preaching.  I needed to get on a major learning curve about connecting preaching with real people and real situations!

One church member was a delightful retired Welsh Baptist minister.  When he wished to encourage me he would say with lilting accent: 'That rang five bells today!'   Mercifully he didn't grade me with lower bell counts...that rang one bell today! I appreciated him (as you can imagine) but it reinforced a expectation of little stand-alone sermons, little teaching/inspirational bubbles, to please people. No, I needed to join the dots between God's revealing transforming word in Scripture and my particular congregation, in this particular place, with this particular need. Was I ever going to mention God and dry rot?

Thursday, February 28, 2019


Very thankfully I can report that the X ray this afternoon showed my lung was now at least 90% inflated. In fact, the Registrar put the before/after Xrays on the same screen so that I could see the good news for myself.  Rather like a washing powder commercial with ugly patches on one Xray alongside an almost clear one.  It is an immense relief and we owe so much to our many friends, all over the place, who have upheld Carol and me through these weary weeks.

The doctor was a little wary about my flying long distances but not prohibitively I think we can plan to make up for our long-postponed visit to see our family in New York and friends in Chicago.  Because my visit earlier in the week to a swallowing clinic (did you know there were such things?)  I still have to undergo ingestion tests which apparently involve X rays and a barium drink.  So, there is a still a medical question mark and I won't be discharged without clearer answers.  But we are so grateful and can look ahead to fulfilling speaking engagements etc.

It's been an extraordinary journey with some dark twists and turns and several new experiences. Eating a banana, yoghurt, a biscuit and then drinking water under the eagle eye and prodding finger of the swallowing specialist was certainly a first!

We believe that prayers have been answered - we praise God for healing through the wonders of the National Health Service which, though under strain, has proved full of compassionate skill.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Good Church Guide 1989 (yes..1989!)

(Still awaiting lung Xray....)  I have just found this 1989 book. Mercifully, it has a disclaimer that it's not about distinguishing good from bad churches. Only the Lord can do that! Rather it is an information guide about 2000 churches with little symbols rather like a National Trust Handbook.  In Cambridgeshire 8 Baptist churches are listed including the church where I was minister (in 1989) St. Andrew's Street and Histon Baptist where I am now in membership.

For each church, after providing address and telephone number there are three main sections: Historical Interest, Membership and Worship.  Stars accompany historical interest. St. Andrew's Street has three but Histon has four stars with a note 'two red brick buildings set in lawns'.  Membership shows both listed membership and the size of the average congregation.  In the book's introduction it explains that usually the membership size is larger than the attendance.  However, for both churches it is reversed with much larger congregations than membership. A good sign! Worship has a number of symbols. For music both churches have the combination of the Baptist Hymn Book and Songs of Fellowship. For sermon length St A's has 20-25 minutes, Histon 25 minutes.  Both have family worship, house groups, and support missionaries but Histon has an extra symbol for Healing services.

I doubt this book had a wide readership.  It doesn't seem to have had any successors! 30 years on I reflect on some changes such as how much music in worship has changed, and how the place of healing had a significant role at Histon (and a lesser one at St. A's).  But I also rejoice in the stories of these two fellowships and my God experiences within them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Prayer fact check

In these days of social media claims and counter-claims, we are warned to be on the lookout for fake news.  Sometimes fact checks are provided by objective analysts who survey the data in order to try and set the record straight.  Thinking about my last post: 'In yer face' I was wondering about a claim I read recently.  It was in a book The Open Secret (1906). As an aside, let me say that I often find stimulus in reading old books (especially by preachers). Written by a man who in his day was an influential preacher - R. F. Horton- its language is inevitably a bit 1906.  So, he writes of the 'prayer closet' thinking of the quiet place to which we go in daily prayer   Anyway, this is the sentence that made me stop and think.

 People who have met God much in the prayer closet cannot but recognize each other in the world; they have a secret sign and a mutual understanding; in the golden atmosphere of prayer their outlines merge and their hearts unite.

It made me think.  Do people who pray consistently and quietly on their own recognize others who similarly practice prayer like this?  Do they have share a secret sign with mutual understanding?  Is there really a golden atmosphere of prayer that unites people at a deeper level?

Of course, you have to be practicing prayer that truly meets God in order both to be recognizable to others and also to realize that you are recognizable by a secret sign!  Looking back over my ministry I can recall certain people who immediately struck me as having a deep interior spiritual life (though I certainly was on the shallower side!) Sadly, I guess the opposite applies too.  I remember Sister Margaret Magdalene speaking at a ministers' conference and warning that the prayerless person stands out a mile a way. Horton's claim in an old book raises an important point - is it true or false?

Saturday, February 16, 2019

In yer face

A strange thing happened in our church house group this week.  We were looking at the subject of prayer in (Mat. 6 5-15) and discussing (among other issues) how we might be in danger of hypocritical prayer when one member of the group suddenly spoke up and described his daily practice.  This involved using a liturgical prayer to the Trinity which then set the scene for other prayers. Then he looked straight across at the group leader and said: 'How do you pray?' 

As polite English people who tend to be private on such matters this was a considerable shock.  But our group leader began to describe how he prayed, often while in the car,  Then it was the turn for each of us to share our daily practice.  Only six of us were present which probably helped the openness.  It still took several minutes to listen to each other and reflect.  Aware of the dangers of hypocrisy we all admitted our practice was not always consistent.  It was a really deepening experience. 

Being put on the spot spiritually is unusual for most of us.  I recall as Principal of Spurgeon's College being present in my home church of Holmesdale, South Norwood.  Alas, I rarely attended because most weekends I was away preaching.  After this morning service, an older West Indian gentleman sitting close by turned and asked me: ' How is your walk with Jesus?' It was a shock....but I thought afterwards it shouldn't have been.  I know it will expose hypocrisy but that is the key question.  And 'How do you pray? is another.  How would those questions find you?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Gleanings 12) Elephant in the roof

During all the time that I was offering my first sermons I was aware of a massive problem. A discovery had been made  in the months between my accepting the call to Blackburn in early 1972 and actually arriving. Surveyors and architect had found very extensive dry rot in the roof and walls.  In fact, it was judged to be so serious that it posed a huge question mark over the future of the church buildings.   Perhaps major repairs at great cost might save the building but it was suggested that maybe because it was so large and high it should be demolished and rebuilt!

I first heard about this when the church leaders wrote to me with the news and in 'good conscience' said that they would release me from my call to the church.  As they put it - it seems unfair to place such a heavy burden on a new minister.   I wish I had kept that letter!  Looking back it now seems such an unlikely scenario. I guess it may have happened to other ministers facing their first pastorate but with some naivety (I now realize) Carol and I prayed about it and replied to the leaders that we believed the call was still operative.  We would still come.

I had no clue what this might mean for my future ministry.  And from my first Sunday I could see the large areas of wall and ceiling where the plaster had been stripped to lay the problem bare. The elephant really was in the roof.  I no longer possess minutes of those early meetings when I arrived -so much background stuff is lost in memory.  But as I have been gleaning through this sermon file I was looking for the first signs that I would be facing this elephant, with my people, from the pulpit.

I really needed to...but how? 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Biopsy - some good, some mystery

Definitely some good!  The doctor informed me yesterday that the bronchoscopy revealed kiebsiella oxyloca infection (in case you are asking!) but no evidence of endobrochial mass. An immediate injection was required but earlier sinister possibilities seem to have faded away. Hallelujah! My Christian doctor commented that my pneumonia had been serious and it would take some time for me to feel really well but that we could see how prayer had worked through these weeks.  'We have a good Lord!' he said.  And we all fervently agreed.  Of course, though this is difficult to think through, we would still need to say that we have a good Lord if it had turned out to be lung cancer.   God's goodness is a constant!

However, some lung mystery remains.  The cause of my problem requires further analysis at a Dysphagia Clinic and the state of my collapsed lung cannot be assessed until Feb.28th. when we assume the hospital will look to see, with fresh X rays, how much of the lung has inflated.

Through all this weariness we rejoice in your prayer support and care which has made a tremendous difference.  My hope is that I shall only need to post once more on this drawn out illness...soon after Feb 28th. with a full(er) lung.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Gleanings 11) A great day for the piano player

(Still waiting biopsy results...soon!)  In my record collection I used to have a Duke Ellington disc, recorded live, and on the back of the record sleeve it said: 'A great day for the piano player' as it described the extraordinary circumstances of the particular live recording.  For a preacher there should be many great days but in my first year I discovered the thrilling dynamics of preaching at Easter. Looking back at these first sermons I catch the wonder and privilege.  I see several features that were to prove true for the rest of my ministry.

First, through the pacing of Lent and Sundays after Easter the gospel account of Jesus' last days captured me and gave such energy to re-enacting the agony and triumph of Easter. That wonder has never left me. I had reveled in my first Christmas but preaching at Easter became so significant for me that right up until the last couple of years (when I have sat in the pew) I have preached every Easter. That's over 46 years in very varied contexts - UK churches, festivals, and US churches of different stripes. Titles of those first sermons include: The Inescapable Cross (John 12:20-32), The courage of Jesus, Blessed are the meek (Zech. 9:9-12,Mark 11: 1-11), The Silences (Mt. 26:14-29,36-46) Die with him to live with him (John 20: 1-20; Rom 6:3-11), Is God alive today? , Full of gloom? (Luke 24:13-35).

Second, Easter morning was also a believer's baptismal service - with the Romans 6 text.  Janet, Kathleen and Brian were baptized and in the evening shared their conviction that God is alive today. It was a thrilling way to testify to being Easter people right there and then.  This was another element that was repeated right through my ministry - combining the Easter story and its transforming message with contemporary transformed people.  In honesty I must admit that some of the congregation objected through the years.  As one person forcefully told me: 'Having baptisms really spoils the day with its great hymns and family holiday spirit!'

Third, I was introduced to witnessing with other Christians in dramatic ways. On Palm Sunday 1973 the Blackburn churches set off from 6 assembly points to walk through the city for a service in the Cathedral.  I shall never forget the excitement of seeing so many coming together and the Provost exhorting us to shout out: Jesus is King!  At a later Easter I was the cathedral preacher for the day and the Provost (who became a good friend) said it was a real Baptist preach!  What did he mean?

Oh, yes, a great day for the preacher.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Gleanings 10) While I wait..mixed feelings.

Apparently my biopsy result will take at least two weeks to emerge and in this limbo time I have returned to the file of my first year of sermons. Looking through this mass of material (and it is!) I am trying to discern emerging themes as I grew in experience.  My experimental evening services morphed into a series: Words with a Kick with themes like Forgiveness, Faith, Hope.

With mixed feelings I also see a morning series through February 1973 on Prayer. 1) A Dull Duty? which led to two other questions: Is prayer a duty? Yes. Is prayer dull?  Well, it requires persistence like many duties but talking with God steadfastly in prayer leads to deeply satisfying surprising places in God.s will. 2) Parachute or Paraclete? Parachute prayer is for emergency use only and can be very powerful but is used only in a crisis.  Paraclete prayer is about journeying every day with the Holy Spirit our Guide and Comforter (who enables us to say "Abba, Father').  3) Answered or unanswered? God always hears but the answer may be Yes, No, and Wait.  I quoted someone who lamented how his prayers never seemed to work - he'd pray for the sick and they were no better. 'Then I think that it is not good that God should do good in my way. And I do not know what is the best way for God to do good.  I only know that what He wills is the right way. I pray for all that seems good to me to pray for. But when I have done that, I like then to say to God: Do your will.  Do your will.  And I like to think that what He will do, I shall not understand, because me, I have the brain of a little beetle and He is the great God'.    4) The Practice of Prayer  1-Begin with the Father; 2 Practice daily; 3) End with action - 'a good prayer is not tested by our feelings or fervour at the time but by our behaviour afterwards'.

I said 'mixed feelings' because I hadn't at this early stage of ministry led the church in its corporate and personal prayer life to implement any of this.  Good words on Sunday but no joined up thinking, no link, with how we operated practically!  Only later, in my second church did I realize with horror this disconnect.  There's little point in telling people prayer is important if you don't share with them in doing it practically!

I wrote many prayers in this series.  Let me include one:
Lord, you so often astonish us - by granting requests which were only half-formed; by enriching our experience in unexpected ways; by reminding us of factors which we had overlooked.
However you answer our prayers, may the outcome be that we love you more, understand your purposes better and believe in you with greater confidence.  Through Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Waiting with hope

Yesterday's bronchoscopy apparently involved a rinsing as well as a biopsy. The doctor speculated that because I have an unusually narrow wind pipe (or whatever the proper anatomical term is!) into the lung which went into spasm during the procedure this might be responsible for some of the problem.  But who knows. Until the biopsy results we cannot be sure about anything though he did reassure me (with a wry smile) that I did not have mad cow disease which is featured in the clinic literature.  I am sure that's his one-liner with most of his patients.

So..more waiting.  I am booked in the Respiratory Clinic at the end of February and I am sure they hope that, providing the biopsy uncovers nothing sinister, the lung will have reflated by then.  But it is a time of waiting with deep hope in God's good purposes.  So many of you have been in touch from all over the globe - Carol's facebook page has been red hot.  Thank you for all your prayers and support in our weird time. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Next step,

Thank you so much for prayer and support in my medical saga - the latest prayer target, please, needs to focus on the bronchoscopy procedure that I must undergo tomorrow afternoon (Weds.) at 4:00 pm.  Obviously, the mystery mass in the lung requires more attention and a biopsy.

I only received details about the bronchoscopy three hours ago when the clinic insisted that it happen as soon as possible.  The speed of these different procedures is mightily impressive - a chest X ray the same day it was requested, a result the same night, the consultancy appointment a week later, followed by the CT scan with dye the next day.  And now the bronchoscopy within two weeks of the
start.   As my doctor said: 'The National Health Service can really move fast when you are very unwell!'   But there's a sting there!

Anyway, we remain full of trust and hope and will report back when things become clearer. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

One of the 9...but

Friday evening - we have just returned from hospital after the CT scan with dye.  Warned that we would hear nothing until Monday I was startled when my cell phone rang in the hospital cafeteria.  It was my lung cancer specialist carer who wanted us to hear the news so that we did not have a 'hard weekend of waiting'.  He had made special effort to access the scan results. And the news is good.  No cancer was found in the lung mass nor in the lymph nodes.  So none of the malignancy that the consultant seemed to be expecting!   We are so grateful.

However, the lung is still partially collapsed and the mass still shows something is amiss. He said that I would be called back for tests, X rays etc.  So this pneumonia thingy continues to cause some mystery but the main fear of lung cancer has gone.  Praise God...this time I am one of the 9 not the tenth (see last post!)   For your prayers and concern we continue to be so grateful and tonight we rejoice.

9 out of 10 people who are referred are not diagnosed with cancer.

That's the statistic in the blurb from the Lung Rapid Access Investigation Service.  Going into yesterday's session with a delightful consultant we had high hopes that I was in the 9!  His cross-examination of my ill health saga so far was capped off by seeing my chest X ray.  I don't remember the medical profession being so open with details in my past.  However, I was shown an extraordinary sight of my abdomen cavity with a quarter blanked out by something white. This is what concerns us he said, pointing out the shape of my left lung.

Then I was introduced to my lung cancer specialist carer who took me to his room for further breathing tests.  He too is delightful and explained how hard he had worked to get me into the next stage of examination - the CT scan with dye.  Alas, one of the scanners has broken down but I am due for the last scan this afternoon (Friday).  We went round to scout out where the CT scan unit is and are all set up for our visit at 4:30 pm.

We have valued your prayers and concerns immensely and, as you can imagine, remain grateful as we go through this next stage and have to wait for results until after the weekend.  It is somewhat disconcerting to remember how 7 years ago awaiting biopsy results I was told by every doctor I met that the likelihood of cancer was they shared in the shock when results showed I had aggressive prostate cancer requiring radical surgery.  We are trusting for a good outcome this time!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

An intermission

I regret to write that I seem to have contracted pneumonia and have been in bed the last five days.  I say 'seem' because the doctor does not yet know the cause of the partially collapsed lung...X rays, blood tests and sputum sample were all done when I was still upright (though coughing for England!).  The X ray shows a problem area but until the Chest Clinic examines this in more detail we do not know exactly what it is.

At the moment we are going with pneumonia which is unpleasant enough.  This means (I hope) a short gap in my posts, because even writing this gives a certain weariness. As many of you can testify in your own experience, the prayers, thoughts and practical action of so many friends have been immensely supportive.  Belonging to God's people brings such a depth of encouragement and both Carol and I know God's presence as in those John Donne words:
He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; He can bring your summer out of winter, though you have no spring; 
Though in the ways of fortune or understanding or conscience, you have been benighted till now...... now, God comes to you.  Not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon...... 
I am at the Clinic on Thursday afternoon and will report back.  Thank you for being part of the caring circle.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Gleanings 9) Talkback

Sunday evenings also gave opportunity for a Talkback experiment.  The leaflet promised: 'The minister will be under fire from the congregation following the evening service'. The idea was that in the service I would focus on a topic and after the benediction the congregation would talk back with comments and questions.

The first topic was DEATH.  Beginning with a recent opinion poll that 48% of Brits (especially men) said that we 'go out like a light' at death I ranged over various other options: Diluted Christian (God's going to make it OK, isn't he?); Spiritualist (some element of us will survive including separation of body and spirit); and the full Christian view with resurrection of the body at its heart.

The experiment continued for a few months with others 'under fire'. Topics included: CARING FOR YOUNG PEOPLE February -with Geoff Evans who was the County Youth Training Officer (and a Baptist friend); March - WHAT USE ARE MISSIONARIES IN THE MODERN WORLD? with missionary Jean McCormick; April - THE EMPTY TOMB - THE BIGGEST CON?;  May - THE TAKING OF LIFE - with Prof. Edward Popham of Salford University.

Some people were willing to participate with some genuine feedback.  But others seemed disengaged. Maybe presentations were sometimes too abstract or, perhaps, too obvious.  I recall one of my outspoken members challenging me on THE BIGGEST CON - 'Why tell us things we agree with anyway?!' (Much later in my Cambridge ministry I found far more seekers who didn't agree).

However, the whole exercise raised questions about preaching itself.  How much was this proclaiming the gospel?  And could such dynamics work with a much larger group anyway? 
Shouldn't my preaching always be looking to make connections and receive feedback through the conversations and living of the congregation? This desire to collaborate continued to grow throughout the later years of my ministry with some further experimentation (which I think was more effective).  But, anyway, we tried!.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Tale of two Amaryllises

Something happened at 2:35 am that reminded me of a series of children's talks in my Blackburn church.  I had been given a pot with a green stub sticking out and told to keep it moist.  The label said: An amazing amaryllis - keep watering and you will be amazed!.  Never having grown one before I was surprised to see signs of life within a week.  So I began to take it to church as a 'show and tell' with the intention of underlining Jesus' description of his kingdom work as seeds growing, mustard seeds into trees etc.   Once or twice more the growth was so dramatic that children shared my astonishment. on following weeks  Now a meter tall and promising some blooms what would happen next?

Three gigantic blooms sprang from nowhere and I looked forward to capping off my talks with such splendid signs of God's growth.  Loading it carefully into the car I was as gentle as possible.  Yet, somehow when I arrived the blooms had dropped off the stem and I was left with a handful of crumpled flower and an amaryllis stalk.  Did I confess to the church?  Of course, and I think I tried to make some worthy point.  However, many people never forgot the final day of the amaryllis showing.  Many years later a couple were reminiscing: ' Do you remember that plant that we watched grow only for it to go wrong at the end?'  Yes, I remember!.

And what occurred at 2:35 this morning?  For only the second time I have grown an amaryllis which again grew enormously to bloom with three red trumpet flowers. Magnificent, set on a bookcase.  Until early this morning when it became too top heavy and fell with a mighty crash, smashing the pot, cascading the soil and scattering the bloom. Sleep was also shattered as we awoke from deep slumber and I rushed downstairs expecting something far worse than attack by an amaryllis.  We are recovering.

I don't think I can make a worthy point a second time!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Gleanings 8) Wax stencil and printer ink

During my first Advent and Christmas in Blackburn I attempted to publicize forthcoming services.  My first New Year in ministry. I prepared a tri-fold leaflet using a wax stencil and Gestetner duplicator machine which required messy inking and hand cranking. (Anyone working in an office in the 70's will remember!) It's appearance was as amateur as you can imagine.  On the front, using a stylus I drew a number of cartoon conversation bubbles with typed words - Something's happening on Sunday evenings. Where? At Leamington Road Baptist church 6:30 pm. What?  Thought you'd never ask - see over.

Inside I have details of five upcoming Sunday evening services.  Really - Sunday evening?  Although these were by far the poorest attended they also gave immense scope for doing things differently. Many churches have found similar scope as evening congregations dwindled these last decades.

Foremost on the leaflet was my first Baptismal Service - 7th Jan.1973.  In the morning 4 people were baptized and in the evening What this day means to me was a conscious effort to give the baptismal candidates plenty of time for each to speak about their faith. I have often described baptismal services has having multiple preachers for there is no more powerful witness than lips and heart at baptism. Pauline, Miriam, Andrew and Russell - two older ladies and two young people - were fellow preachers that day. Also, Paul Carter spoke about his Christian life as he also joined the church.

These names begin a glorious list which sums up the best part of my Baptist ministry. (I note in a recent publication on Baptist ministers in retirement that some pastors mention how baptisms in their ministries were the highlight too). How I treasure these names and rejoice that Paul became youth leader, deacon and still remains a key deacon in the church 48 years later.

I began to discover the unique evangelistic power of believers' baptisms which was to mark the rest of my ministry. When ordinary people say why they belong to Jesus for life they connect with seekers like no-one else. I was learning how God's kingdom grows.