Monday, April 30, 2012

Two personal dates - et teneo et teneor

Just recently my blog has been more personal than normal - for obvious reasons perhaps!  Now this month of May brings two significant dates.
On May 3rd. I hear from my surgeon whether the cancer has spread.  It has been three months since surgery and his post-operative comments were encouraging.  But the weeks of waiting have brought vicissitudes (I like that word) of mood.  Some days way UP with a huge bounce of positive spirit, often prompted by friends and by gathered worship (especially at Easter).   Other days DOWN with dispiriting tiredness.  Of course, this comes with the territory of waiting.  It is an inevitable part of our journey, and Scripture emphasizes this by its many narratives of waiting for God's promises to mature.  Thank you for your encouragement over these months' waiting, and I shall let you know as soon as I hear. Actually, some have asked me to ensure that Carol writes the posting!

On May 21st. I celebrate the 40th anniversary of my ordination into the Baptist Ministry in West Norwood London.  I still have a copy of that service sheet with its black and white photograph of me on the front, earnestly peering through thick-rimmed Buddy Holly specs.  At anniversaries we customarily reflect on how rapidly time has passed (and doesn't it just?) and how much has happened.  Sometimes we marvel with genuine astonishment that any of it happened at all!  I really feel like that! Carol and I had absolutely no idea what ministry might mean.  When I say 'no idea' I do not exaggerate.  From the first pastorate in Blackburn which was entirely 'out of the box' in many ways, to ministry in Cambridge that taught me so much, to Principalship at Spurgeon's (how on earth did that happen?), to academic life in the USA (how bizarre)!  But, looking back, every step has been guided by our triune God.  I know (too well) my mistakes and disobedience along the way yet, in spite of that, God has held us both in his gracious plans right through.

I have a little wooden cross given me by Spurgeon's College which is designed to be held with a prayer guide.  It is based upon the college motto, chosen by C.H. Spurgeon - Et teneo et teneor - I both hold and am held.  One of Spurgeon's prayers reads:
I commit myself to you, O faithful Creator;
To your keeping, O Saviour of the pierced hand,
To your keeping, O eternal Spirit who is able to keep me from falling and to make me holy. Amen.

That's a great prayer for both these May dates!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Great seminary news!

It has just been announced that Scot McKnight will join Northern Seminary this summer as our New Testament Professor. Scot is a colossus in the world of evangelical scholarship whose prodigious output has greatly impacted the church. It is not just multiple books and journal articles (written very accessibly too), but an extraordinary blog which pumps out challenges throughout each week.  I asked him about his creativity at interview and he explained that he is up at 5:00 am every morning to start writing and, if possible, he continues right through until the evening. He is strictly disciplined and will not be distracted by anything because writing is the locus for his God-given creativity. 

What continued to thrill us as we spent time with him was his passion for the gospel, his love for students, his gifts for teaching and inspiring others, and his ability to relate so warmly and easily to us in the mission of Northern.  Frankly, the quality of a seminary depends greatly on the quality of its faculty.  With the arrival of Cherith Fee-Nordling as our Theology Professor and now Scot McKnight, the seminary is quite remarkably strengthened for God's kingdom purpose.  Scot is a big-picture believer and we shall all be impacted for good.  Thank you Lord for this move!

Scot posted about his move at  and the seminary expressed our excitement at  These are great days at Northern.  Thank you to all of you who support us.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Great Evening

Easily the best part of last night was greeting the many friends who had made the effort to attend (though the food was good too!)  Carol commented how thrilling it was to see the parking lot filling up as we neared 7:00 pm.  In the reception area I kept turning around to find newcomers jostling through the crowd.  In particular,  I was especially encouraged by friends from the churches I have served at First Baptist Wheaton, Calvary Memorial Oak Park and Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church and from the two small groups to which Carol and I belong. I think the furthest traveler was from Champagne, Illinois, and the spread of support from so many and presence of several notable leaders was incredibly positive.  On the way home Carol and I began many sentences: " Did you speak to so-and-so?  How are they?  Wasn't it marvelous they came!'  Oh, Yeah!  Seminary trustees, faculty, staff and students really added to the occasion too.

When I wrote the book: Preaching as Worship I gained a small team of six readers.  They received copies of each draft chapter as it emerged and their comments proved invaluable (though sometimes I had to steel myself to read constructive criticism).  Four of that team were present (the other two are in Canada and Washington!)  I realized afresh how much I owed other people in my journey with this book.  For me, one special moment occurred when someone who belonged to Calvary Memorial Church gave live testimony to one of the illustrations in the book.  Spontaneously, she shared her story of what it is like when the preacher opens up sermon preparation to the wider fellowship and everyone grows in discipleship.  It was a golden moment when I gave thanks that my book is not just blah!   Thanks to all of you who were able to give support for my big evening especially to the seminary staff who excelled themselves in all the practical arrangements - floral decorations, delicious food, manning the bookstall, streaming the video, and ensuring fresh Starbucks coffee!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Live-Streaming Tonight

I learned a short time ago that my evening is going to be streamed alive TONIGHT.  I know this will be too short notice for many readers and in the depths of night for others!  But it marks a first for Northern Seminary.  I have just been upstairs to the chapel where the event is being held and marvel at the equipment and preparation.  In particular I note markers on the floor which indicate the limits of my wanderings to stay on camera as well as show my power-point! 

Of course, unfortunately, it will make no difference to the quality of the content tonight but at least it means a wider range of friends can participate!  I am really grateful to all my friends on staff here who have rallied to set it all up so beautifully with flowers, eats and displays.

So, you can go on our website: and click on the streaming link.  Or, go directly to  Exciting isn't it?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Taking the long view

Recently I was talking to a friend about my future hopes to be fulfilled by completing some projects. Rather sharply he responded: "Be careful about saying that you want to be fulfilled. That's not the way you should view things!" He then told me about the statement by Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador in 1980. "I'll give you a copy" he promised. Well, some time has passed by and I have just received it. And am I grateful?!

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit beings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.We are prophets of a future not our own.

Doesn't this really demands serious attention? I tell you, I keep returning to this words with gratitude for their perspective. Perhaps they are helpful to you, too? Much to ponder over.

Surprised by butterflies!

Last night we drove into Chicago to celebrate a friend's 50th. birthday. His party was held in the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, located in parkland north of the city center. As you would expect there was much happiness with good food, great friends and lively music. But what hit me most of all was an experience early on.

Since the party was held in the nature museum we were allowed to enter the butterfly haven. I had never been in one before and had little idea what to expect. Going through double sets of doors, we entered a tropical garden, with trees, pools of water and exotic plants. It was approaching dusk and the lighting was low. Entering we passed beneath low branches of an overhanging tree. Acclimatizing to the heat and light suddenly I saw them. Tens of extraordinarily colored butterflies, hanging down just above our heads. All different shapes and sizes. Then I realized that as you looked they were everywhere. Yes, everywhere! Actually around a 1000 butterflies of some 75 species! Some as large as small birds swooping high above us. Others opening their gorgeous wings on luxuriant leaves, or fluttering from plant to plant. It was just stunning. If you were still they landed gently on you. One friend's bald head attracted particular attention!

Isn't it marvelous that there are so many ways that you can be awe-struck at the extravagant beauty of God's creation. I confess that I had never stopped for more than a minute to marvel at butterflies before! Butterflies are one of our 50 year old friends special interests (and why his wife had chosen this as a surprise venue for him!) And I was thrilled to be surprised too, and to marvel afresh.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two Northern Happenings

I know my readers are scattered far and wide, but I need to publicize a couple of activities for those closer to Northern Seminary.

First, on April 20th, 2012, my evening event is open to all at 7:00 pm. It is called: Michael Quicke - the journey of the book Preaching as Worship! It will be the first time I can celebrate and reflect on the outcome to these last five years of wrestling with issues of worship. And 'wrestling' is the word. I am thrilled that some friends have already told me they are planning to make the effort to attend. It will be held in the chapel room in Kern Hall, round the back of the seminary buildings at 660 E. Butterfield Rd. Lombard.

Second, I am excited to announce my involvement in Northern Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry in Preaching and Congregational Leadership. I will join Dr. Joel Gregory and Dr. Ralph West as the featured professors for this program. Dr. Joel Gregory and Dr. West will team-teach the first course which begins on June 4, 2012. I will teach the second course in September 2012. You will never guess (!) that this second course will be Preaching as Worship and is built on my book Preaching as Worship.

I believe that this course is a great opportunity for anyone seeking to develop their skills for preaching and congregational leadership. There is limited space so I encourage interested students to apply now. More information is available at

There is much to look forward to. Of course, I shall let you know how April 20th. went!

Saturday, April 7, 2012


What a wonderful day! We often say 'Happy Easter' to each other but that fails to do justice to the ground-breaking mirth of greeting one another today, here, in the presence of the only person who has ever died and risen from the dead, and who therefore changes everything we know about life and death. Everything! Not just what we know but what we can experience too. God's grace has overcome my sin and won victory over spiritual death so that I can enjoy eternal life.

I love the words in Terry Falla's 'Be our Freedom Lord"
Universe, and every universe beyond,
spin and blaze,
whirl and dance,
leap and laugh
as never before.

It's happened. It's here! The new creation.

Christ has smashed death!
Christ has liberated the world!
Christ has freed the universe!

You and I and everything are free again,
new again, alive again.

This has been my first Easter as a cancer patient (still wondering what the outcome of my surgery is). Undoubtedly my darker walk has deepened my worship this Easter. The Tenebrae service on Friday was profound in its gradual darkening of the sanctuary as the appalling cost of Christ's sacrifice sounded out inexorably step by step. And the Easter celebration today lifted my heart as we shared in the centuries-old tradition of 'flowering of the cross' and sang out: 'He is risen, Alleluia'. Yes, everything changes for the better today. A glorious mirth-filled, joy-crammed Easter to you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Holy Week

This is such a spiritually significant week. Yesterday the children processed down the main aisle in our church waving their palm branches, and vividly connected us with THE story that changes the world. Yes, it really happened - Jesus Christ entered the city of death and new life for us. And every step of the way we can share with him this week. Even though I do not come from a strongly liturgical tradition I always try and relive each day this week with Scriptures, prayers and (of course) gathered worship on the great days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and (hallelujah) Easter Sunday. At no other time in the year can we walk so closely with our Savior. It really is the most important week ever!

Yesterday we sang a hymn that I had not heard for some time. As it tells something of the story of this week it makes it personal, and I shall use it each day. May this be a spiritually deepening week for you too.

My song is love unknown,
My Savior's love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But oh, my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then "Crucify!"
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suffering goes,
That He His foes
From thence might free.

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav'n was His home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein He lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.