Saturday, January 22, 2022

O-C S 6) The Discipline of Uncertainty Jas. 4:14

Years ago a friend enthusiastically introduced me to George Morrison (1866-1928) - a Scottish preacher famously at Wellington Church, Glasgow.  My friend bought me some of his books (5 in all) and dipping into them I find more off-centre sparklets. Morrison loved arresting titles as above for - Jas 4:14  'How do you know what will happen even tomorrow? (JB Phillips),  He sees this text as so obvious yet the Bible, the most original of never afraid of lending all its authority to commonplaces.  He asks us to think what we would lose if we did know about tomorrow. 

1. The element of surprise. Do we realize how deep our debt is to the unexpected?  Childhood is generally happier than childhood everything is strange - every day that breaks, even in rain, is big with a whole world of possibility.  In middle age we are past the unexpected...that is why many a person in middle age is haunted by a lack of interest in things.

2.The spirit of vigorous alertness - to something more than certainty.  I do not want a satisfying life. I want a life responsive and alert. I want to be quick to see and quick to seize upon the will of God. The feeling that we know not what may come that helps us to be watchful every day.

3. The tenderness of loveWherever there is love there is a wistful tenderness that nothing but uncertainty could give.  If we knew everything, love would be too hard. If we knew everything, love would be too easy.  It is far better that we do not know the secret of tomorrow.

4. A loss of trust in GodHere is a patient, and tomorrow morning she has to undergo an operation..   very serious and critical.  Why is she praying and her friends remembering her in prayer?  Why? Because all the skill of the world cannot tell her what a day may bring. The day is coming in the light of God when yesterdays and tomorrows shall have fled. Meantime life is richer and not poorer because we know not what a day may bring

Yes, the discipline of uncertainty!

Monday, January 17, 2022

Interrupted worship

Last Tuesday I was asked to preach for yesterday's worship.  The text and theme was a new challenge to me and I diligently set about preparing (as if you would expect anything else? Well, you might!)  My normal practice is to preach onto paper while internalizing the meat of the sermon so that I can preach without notes.  It takes a little while but the hope is that I can speak from the heart without paper being a barrier, and that I can adjust to responses and circumstances.

Halfway through worship yesterday, while we were singing, one of the fellowship crashed loudly to the floor.  It turned out that he had suffered a mild heart attack (and happily we learn today he is responding well in hospital).  At the time it seemed grim. A nurse in our congregation and others immediately rushed to him and an ambulance was called.  Sensitively our pastor's young daughter led us through prayer and an ambulance arrived in under 5 minutes.  (A great answer to prayer).  As paramedics worked on him, the whole church was ushered out into the Winter sunshine to give privacy and (what turned out to be) an extended time for muted conversations.

Half an hour later we were back in church - now an hour since the service began.  What to do?  Scripture reading was preceded by prayer and then I was beckoned to preach a shorter sermon. Carol timed it at 14 mins.  Yes, having it in the heart meant it was easier to adjust.  Someone thanked me that it was just two points in a few minutes. Another wrote her delight at my being short!  And it all makes you think, doesn't it?  Would extra time have helped people hear a word from God?  Does the Lord always need that prepared chunk of material to bless his people?  Good questions.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Another omen?

Following the last lighter-weight post I need to regale you with my visit for my annual eye examination.  It's not about the exam. but the process of parking in the small short-term pay-and-display car park close by.

The pay machine, by card only, had clear illustrated instructions of which buttons to press: hit start, then card, then length of time, then agree with yourself, and await instructions.  Slowly words emerged on the screen: Wait for reader.  Obediently, I waited.  Nobody else was in sight in the car park.  Eventually, seeing its instruction to insert card I pushed it hard into the slot with aplomb.  But nothing happened...after a couple of minutes the screen reverted to the process's beginning.  Undaunted I repeated the process with exactly the same result. 

Leaving on the windscreen on a piece of paper explaining how I had tried and failed, I beetled off to my optician.  Forty minutes later I returned to find a traffic warden leaving the scene. "Excuse me,' I said plaintively, 'I parked here but had trouble with my card.' 'Were you the gentleman who left me a note?' he said.  'Yes, I am. I really tried to make it work.'  'Well,' he said,' don't worry I left you alone!'  Mightily relieved I asked him whether other users had tickets.  He told me they did.  Well what did they do differently.  'With that machine,' he answered, ' you must never insert the card.  Always use contactless. But Happy New Year, sir!'   So that sort of worked out OK. Gracc amid complications. I really wouldn't mind that being how 2022 works out!

Monday, January 3, 2022

An omen?

I do hope to post some worthwhile God stuff in 2022 but something happened that surprised me....and I wondered whether it might be an omen of how the New Year might work out for me.

Carol and I were doing shopping after Christmas in a big store near us.  Our trolley (shopping cart to US readers!) was beginning to fill.  At times we separated as I went in search for some item and then searched for Carol's pink anorak to find her and the accompanying trolley.  I was delighted to find some tins of prunes, and nursing three tins awkwardly I rushed to find Carol.  About to drop one, I was delighted to find her quite close by and with a clatter dropped the tins in the trolley.

A strange but kindly voice said: 'You've got the wrong trolley, darlin'!'  Looking up at the face of the lady, also wearing a pink anorak, I blinked, blurted an apology, retrieved the tins and set about finding their proper resting place.  I was amazed at myself for making this mistake.  As I put the tins in her trolley I should have noticed the large packet of Cornflakes and many tins of cat food.  What mental process was going on....or not going on?   That's what I mean about the omen.   May this be the last really daft mistake.  Probably not.

May you be preserved from making too many daft mistakes in 2022!

Friday, December 31, 2021

Welcoming the New Year

I was reflecting with a minister friend about the Watchnight Services that we used to hold in our churches. I say 'used to' because they don't seem as popular today (though I could easily be proved wrong!)  In my first church in Blackburn, people gathered on New Year's Eve at 11:30 pm.  We sang, reflected on the past year, gave thanks and made confession and then prepared ourselves for the new year with prayers like the one below.   

At midnight I would turn on a portable radio just in time to hear the chimes of Big Ben and then with  immense joy we would greet each other.  It really felt good to be with the church family anticipating the future together.  And then we moved into the street outside to sing loudly The Lord's my Shepherd ! It was a tradition I happily inherited. In a densely residential area we hoped it made the right kind of impact. 

So, let's commit ourselves to a good new beginning:

Lord of the ages, 

you are our beginning and our end.

Everlasting God, we place our days within your care.

Eternal Father, we trust you,

For your faithfulness in the past, we thank you;

for your constant care we praise you;

for our future in your love, we place ourselves

into your keeping and offer our lives for your service;

through Jesus Christ, your eternal Son, our Saviour.  Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2021

And a Christmas Day Prayer

 by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Just a few lines, but a profound prayer for today.

Moonless darkness stands between

Past, O Past, no more be seen!

But the Bethlehem star may lead me

To the sight of Him who freed me

From the self that I have been.

Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;

Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;

New beginning, and alway;

Now begin, on Christmas Day.



Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Another Christmas thought

Before I put Godfrey Rust away let's read one more:

"Fear not" the herald said - yet until then 

I think the shepherds were quite unconcerned -

cold, perhaps, or quarrelsome, or bored, not 

expecting anything to happen, and anxious

only for the usual domestic reasons. What scared them 

was the sight of their clean, familiar sky ripped open

by beings from another dimension, 

brilliant with the news that God

has become a man, and is quite unlike 

anything that we expected - this is something

to be afraid of, this rude 

intrusion into the world we thought we had created:

the owner has turned burglar; breaking in 

to steal our Chubb-locked hearts, and throw the keys away.