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?