Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A House Blessing

A few days ago I led a service for The Blessing of a House for a couple of friends who have retired and moved to a new home.  Around fifty people gathered for the service (which was followed by great food in their back garden!)  I have never conducted such a thoughtfully prepared service for a house blessing, with service sheets for everyone to participate in readings and prayers.  In the past I have tended to lead a prayer or two in a new home rather informally.  But this was five star treatment that showed serious intent in this new beginning.   I loved some of the prayers, especially when everyone joined in asking God to bless different aspects of the house: the place of food, of books (oh yes!) of sleep, rooms of ease and comfort, room of guest ,concluding: 'Bless the Door to this house and be the Good Shepherd to all'.

One of the big challenges for our friends is the transition from very busy lives of full-time jobs into (semi-) retirement in their new home.  How difficult is that?  I guess some find it much easier to adjust than others.

During the service I made a few personal comments about our friends and God's promises for them.  And I also quoted from a section of Oswald Chambers' devotions that I had read the day before.  Chambers is reflecting on the Mount of Transfiguration and Peter's desire to build three tents on the mountain top for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
The test of spiritual life is the power to descend; if we have the power to rise only, there is something wrong.  There must be power to descend.  The mountain is not the place for us to live for we were built for the valleys.  This is one of the hardest things to learn because we want repeated moments on the mount.
 Yes, it is hard to descend and particularly in the ageing process we have to learn this.  It is not that God will bless us any less!  Rather, we need to know that he will bless us in the valleys in less heady days. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gloucester 50 years on

On Sunday I was at Brunswick Baptist Church in Gloucester (in the west of England) where I was baptized as a teenager in 1959.  My father was minister there 1953-1961 and this turned out to be an extraordinarily consequential period of my growing up.  The church building that I knew so well has long gone, to be replaced by much more compact premises still in the heart of the city on Southgate. Going back to preach there (in its 200th. anniversary year) proved to be exhilarating.  Why?  Partly, because of the liveliness of the current church, its vibrant fellowship and obvious love.  It's wonderful to see yet another generation's continuing witness.  Partly, because of the quality of the leadership.  One of the key leaders, Graham, was in the youth group way back in my time and he, with his wife and family, have given a lifetime's love and devotion to the church ever since.

But there's another very personal reason.  A reunion was arranged for the Saturday evening when I met a friend who also had been in the youth group of whom I had not seen or heard for over 52  years.   Tony was (slightly) older than me in his teens.  He proved a powerful Christian friend who helped to galvanize my early zeal, taking gospel tracts (by the handful) out onto the streets, into the park, and on one notable occasion on a train where together we visited every compartment thrusting out good news.  I remember one tract had the current Prime Minister's quote on the front: 'We've never had it so good!' as it spelt out the danger of missing out God.  We preached in teams in local churches, helped the elderly by gardening, and engaged in lengthy prayer meetings for revival.  It was a red hot time.  I wondered what Tony would be like now.

I was thrilled to the core to see and hear him again, just as I remember.  Just as warm, full of God's spirit.  He told me how my father taught him New Testament Greek and to play the mandolin!  How he had become a Pentecostal pastor, spending his last years in mission work in Malaysia where he met his wife.  In retirement he has now come back to the Brunswick church with his family.  On Sunday he introduced me before I preached and I could not believe how like the old times it was.  Two friends with lives in parallel over five decades had suddenly found each other. 

He had a couple of black and white photos of our era.  One showed four young men: Tony, Derrick, Gordon and myself, studying a Bible together.  Three of us became pastors, all of us continued in faith.   Carol said to me: 'Wouldn't your Dad be pleased to see what has become of his young people?'   Well, in the communion of saints he will know!   It is no surprise that the weekend was exhilarating, is it?