Tuesday, September 14, 2021

9/11 remembered 2)

9/11 occurred on a Tuesday.  The rest of that week we shuffled along in shock and grief, just about doing daily work yet all the time hearing fresh stories of bereavement and courage. On Sunday it was likely that the church would have packed congregations at all three services.   Indeed, that was true nationwide. I was in the middle of a preaching series on Abraham.  That would not do!  What would? My old notes have brought it back to me.

Psalm 46 helped me - would it be right? Written in a mega disaster, a terrifying collision between good and evil with language of things falling that should not fall, it seemed to resonate terribly.  The psalmist calls people in disaster to the one and only source of refuge, strength, a fortress that cannot fall or be shaken - GOD.  When nothing else seems certain go back to the centre of reality -GOD IS OUR REFUGE.

I emphasized how God does not offer escape from reality.  Some people accuse Christians of escapists from real life.  No, coming to God is not opting out.  God is not our protector against trouble; he is our refuge and strength, a very present help IN trouble.  God does not secure us against disasters happening but within disasters he is there holding us.  So much we don't know. Billy Graham was asked why God had allowed 9/11, 'I have to say honestly that I don't know, that I can't answer that completely to my own satisfaction.'  

And secondly, therefore we shall not fear.  You might think that the psalmist would say: 'Therefore I shall be safe, I shall be protected'.  But fear is what we felt when the towers fell. Scared about what this meant for America, about coping with grief and anger. This psalm is one of the few where God speaks directly.  BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD.  Sometimes we take that out of context and apply it to our busyness and activism.  That's OK.  But it's context makes it clear that God addresses scared, terrorized people for whom everything seems to be falling apart.  What really matters in our fears is to know that God is unshaken, exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth. He holds our futures and the future of the earth in his hands. He has the final word over evil, shattered in the cross and to be consummated in the return of Christ.

I shall never forget that week (like so many who lived through it) and that psalm really helps me today.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11 remembered

Twenty years ago we had been in the US just one year.  Everything was still new to us,  One aspect of life that surprised me was the sheer ease of transport. Most months I had taken flights to some new state in order to speak or preach. (I was the new boy on the block!)  Someone had told me that getting on a plane was like catching a bus. It really was!  So casual and straightforward.

On the morning of 9/11 I was up early. Carol called out to me: 'Turn on the TV something awful is happening!'  And with so many across the world we couldn't believe what we were watching as the second plane flew into the Twin Towers and yet another into the Pentagon.  Shock waves were intense. My phone rang.  The Seminary President was out of town and he called to ask me to lead a service at the Seminary for the college community and for others in the surrounding community that morning.  He said I would know what to do!

I have never led a service like it - all of us numbed in utter bewilderment, sadness and fear.  People from surrounding offices, police, and fire brigade joined in. In the main quadrangle our service was simple with Scripture, quiet, prayers and just a few words.  What could you say?   Soon stories of personal tragedies multiplied.  Grief pervaded every conversation.   

On this twentieth anniversary there is much reflection on the changes inflicted on the US and the world by this event.  It has overshadowed the first part of the twenty-first century.  Immediately, the easy going, casual straightforward life-style we had enjoyed for a year was over.  I was interim pastor at First Baptist Church, Wheaton, and due to preach the following Sunday.  I really didn't want to.  It was quite a learning experience........ 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Hearing Yourself 2)

For the record, and for the sake of those who have suffered my teaching on communication (including recent YWAM sessions), I must correct an impression I have given. When I wrote last time about disliking to hear myself in recordings it's true. Some people may enjoy hearing their voices and look forward to replaying past recordings.  But I think I am with the majority who find any number of excuses to avoid the exercise.

But it is the VITAL exercise when you learning how to communicate well. In my teaching I have always included a final stage of reflection and monitoring after you have spoken.  I certainly had to endure it in my early days and endure is the right word.  In my training I was sent to the (now-defunct) Churches TV Centre where I was forced to see and hear myself in action for the first time in company with my tutors.  It was revelatory and educational....and alarming.  How much I needed to learn and those lessons stay with me still.  

And that's the truth about thoughtful feedback.  It is such a critical way to learn.  Of course, you can review yourself on your own though it requires considerable self-discipline and self-awareness.  At best, reflection should include other hearers who are prepared to give honest feedback.  So, yes, I confess continuing reluctance, but there's no better way to grow than to hear yourself.  I really needed to put that on record! 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Hearing yourself

I sometimes wonder about the strange items that creep into my blog.  When I was working full-time material was a-plenty...but in retirement consistency has gone AWOL.   Anyway, my son who teaches radio informed me during his stay that, over six years of interviewing Carol and me for an audio family history, my voice has been weakening. 'It's so much weaker than it was at the beginning Dad- I really notice it!'

Puzzled that it should be so obvious I did some research.  Our church website keeps recordings of sermons and I thought I would listen to my last sermon to check this deterioration. (I confess that listening to myself is one of my least favourite activities and I have not checked out any of these recorded sermons).  Well, you can imagine my surprise when I found this sermon on 'Blessed are the persecuted' only to hear an unrecognizable voice in an amusing cartoonish high register.  A little like Mickey Mouse.  Had the recording been mysteriously speeded up? Or maybe, it's a true record of how I truly sound in full flow?

It's all added up to a chastening experience.   The web site notes a number of downloads the sermon was supposed to have received yet there have been no whispers among church listeners that my voice sounds different.  Is this a tell tale sign about genuine listeners?

Carol tells me that my voice is definitely weaker but not higher.   So I shall have to settle for that.    

Monday, August 23, 2021

Making plans

Two years ago, when we saw our son Rob and his family in England we had plans to see them the following year in the US.  We booked flights for the following Easter in 2020.  Do you remember how the world worked....flights booked, diary filled.  Done.  'Now I have a word for you, who brashly announce, "Today-at the latest, tomorrow-we're off to such and such a city..."  You don' t know the first thing about tomorrow.(Jas. 4:13 The Message). How much we have been reminded by Covid 19 that we don't know the first thing about tomorrow.

Anyway, this past week Rob flew over to us for six action-packed days.  Hurray! He took 6 Covid tests in order to obey government regulations!  Once here, with great caution, he met up with family and friends for some delightful times.  I know many separated from family overseas will understand our joy. Sadly, he was alone and the whole process was messily complicated by these tests and then Hurricane Henri as he journeyed home today.  Sadly too, his basement is flooded owing to said hurricane so it will be a sober homecoming.

Our paid fares become void next March so who knows when we shall be able to travel safely to see our US family. So no brash announcements.  As James writes: 'Instead, make it a habit to say, "If the Master wills it and we're still alive, we'll do this or that (verse 15).  Yes, if the Master wills it.  A good reminder wouldn't you say?

Monday, August 16, 2021

Loosening a good habit

Recently, a minister friend shared how he feared that Covid 19 had loosened some people's desire to be together in church.  'I worry that some people may not want to come back', he said.

Also recently I dipped into one of the many old books of sermons (often flowery and wordy) I possess in which John Hutton wrote of the Christian Community:

There is one thing about which the New Testament is decisive and incontrovertible - that Jesus founded a Church.  It was formed and stands by the operation of two great movements, brought together by the force, first, of a great love, and, second, of a great terror. The warm love to Christ and the terror of deep darkness, the awful sense of what a thing life is if Christ be not true.

It seems to me....that the whole art of life, the whole art of living, believingly and joyfully, the whole art of recovering our confidence in the Church of Christ in this world, is by knowing where to put the accent between these two great moments. There are times when it encourages us...for what a place of love, of kindness, of tenderness, the Church with all her shortcomings is! Where else in this hard world are the poignant sorrows of the human heart honoured with such understanding? What a forlorn thing this life of ours would be if the Church, and all that it stands for would be eliminated or withdrawn!

This is worth a pause.  How forlorn is it to loosen the good habits of church?  




Wednesday, August 11, 2021


Sometimes in church something grabs you spiritually.  Words stun by their appropriateness. The Holy Spirit propels them to hit the target.   On Sunday prayers were led by our new youth co-leader.  Carefully she led us through praise and intercession into a final prayer.  It's called the Prayer of Relinquishment - and how radical it is.  Perhaps you have said it before.

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to you. 

May your will be my delight today.

May your way have perfect sway in me.

May your love be the pattern of my living.

I surrender to you

my hopes,

my dreams,

my ambitions.

Do with them what you will, when you will, as you will.

I place into your loving care

my family,

my friends,

my future.

Care for them with a care that I can never give.

I release into your hands

my need to control,

my craving for status,

my fear of obscurity.

Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish your

kingdom on earth.

For Jesus’ sake,


Richard Foster wrote:  It is the prayer of relinquishment that moves us from the struggling to the releasing…this prayer is a bona fide letting go, but it is a release with hope… God is not destroying the will but transforming it so that…we can freely will what God wills.”  How much difference this prayer has made to my week.