Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What does the New Year hold?

The new calendar holds many blank pages.  I have hopes for several projects (and, actually, I shall want your help on a couple of them!)  However, this past year of cancer checks and a broken foot has rammed home the truth, so often neglected, that as finite human beings we just do not know what lies ahead, do we?   Yes, we make plans, and we need to, yet the big road trip is dependent on many factors outside our control but not God's.

I have chosen this prayer of Thomas Merton for the preface of a workbook I am writing to encourage preachers to join the Chicago NKP initiative (see earlier postings).   I like its humility and openness and I think it works quite well for beginning 2015.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end
Nor do I really know myself
and the fact that I think I am following
your will does not mean
that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that my desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
I hope I will never do anything
apart from that desire
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road.
In the many uncertainties ahead may we seek to do what God desires in 2015.  All good wishes for a fulfilling year ahead!



Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day Preaching Surprise

On this day after Christmas, facing the first of the turkey leftovers and too many opened boxes of half-eaten goodies, it is traditional in England to rest and enjoy the holiday.  Go for a walk certainly, but mostly put up your feet!

So, I could not believe my eyes when relaxing with my i newspaper that I learned that Pope Francis has turned attention on priests who bore - or even repel- the flock with turgid sermons.  He has approved a nine point guide to better preaching.  Priests should include in their New Year resolutions a commitment to ensure that sermons are no longer 'autoreverential, purely moralistic or indoctrinating. The homily should not be a light entertainment show but should nonetheless avoid sounding like a conference or a lesson.  The priest should appear like a mother talking to her child with sermons grounded in Scripture.

The Italian press has approved of this message, with one paper declaring 'very often today, priests don't put much thought into their homilies - and that's why many churches are empty.' 
The last thing I expected today was a papal challenge about the need to renew contemporary preaching.  But I applaud loudly and feel that one of my New Year resolutions - to give my best to the 'New Kind of Preaching' initiative - is bang on target!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Responses please

To my horror I have realized (very late) that my Yahoo account has been sending out my messages but likes to delete any responses you make!  I have wondered several times recently whether friends ever received my email. My 'Sent File' shows it was definitely sent.  But, to my great embarrassment I have discovered that friends' replies had been wiped out of existence, even while their systems assured them it had arrived.  This explains much of my recent administrative confusion!   Should you be one of the unfortunates who is still awaiting my reply to your reply please try again on:

However, this miscommunication chimed with a seasonal thought.  That the greatest message the world has ever heard that God so loved that he sent his only Son is intended for responses from everyone.  And those responses will always be heard.  As I prepare for yet another set of Christmas services I want to be sure there is no over-familiarity, no jading and fading, no miscommunication!  Rather, an authentic 2014 response.  I am always helped by others' prayers.  This year I am praying a challenging prayer from Alan Gaunt.

Lord Jesus Christ be born in us again,
live in us for the sake of other people.
Let your coming be glorious in us so that its light
may go on increasing and increasing,
filling the world,
till joy bursts like balloons and bangs like crackers,
full of great gifts:
love, truth, peace, health, singing and delight,
rushing through this world,
through every world, through the universe,
brighter than a billion suns.
From your cradle to your Cross,
through your Resurrection, take us with you,
this year, every year:
till we come with you and all creation
to the full glory of God and praise you with him
in the Holy Spirit for ever.   AMEN.

A VERY HAPPYLIGHT-INCREASING,  JOY-BURSTING CHRISTMAS from Carol and me to all my faithful readers.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Visit to a village church

Yesterday, we shared in the service of Framlingham Baptist Community church which meets in a local school refectory. There is no current minister so it was led by various members.  A music group accompanied the powerpoint screen songs. The informality was obvious from the outset as we sat around tables with tea and coffee (which cooled off during the first group of songs!)  After several members of the congregation gave spontaneous prayers of thanks, the main leader (an architect) led a time of reflection in which he went round many members of the group (there were about fifty of us) and gave thanks by name for every story of blessing present.   It was amazingly personal yet sensitive with concern for confidentiality. Communion in the middle of the service was preceded by a catechism where the whole congregation answered a number of questions about the meaning of the Lord's Supper.  The Advent sermon which followed proved to be highly imaginative with video and visuals.

As we came away, Carol and I commented on the extraordinary level of friendship and welcome that this village church had given us visitors.  Perhaps being seated around tables with coffee at the outset encouraged such warmth.  But what struck me most was the high quality of participation.  I estimate that nearly half the congregation was involved either in leading or through prayers or stories during the service.  I know that humans cannot discern levels of 'worship in spirit and in truth' (John 4:24) but here was a congregation that seemed to really belong together on God's mission.  In honesty, meeting around tables with coffee is not how I prefer to begin worship.  But, at times, it's good to have my preferences and prejudices rebuked!  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Writing Bible Study Notes

Way back, thirty years ago, I used to write bible study notes, sometimes daily for IBRA, Scripture Union and sometimes weekly with a column in the Baptist Times. Such studies are helpful for disciplining daily study, though much depends on finding the right match.  As John Owen commented: 'In the divine Scriptures there are shallows and deeps; shallows where the lamb may wade, and deeps where the elephant may swim.'  Sometimes I have felt mismatched like a sheep in the deeps.

At the moment I am trying to finish a series on Ephesians for the Scripture Union series called Encounter with God that wants to inspire by theological depth and pastoral warmth.  It's quite a challenge.

However, a bizarre thing occurred. It just so happens that one of my Baptist Times series was on Ephesians. It ran for 36 weeks from June 14 1984 until April 4 1885. How on earth do I remember those dates?  Well, as I was thinking about all the hard work I had once put into this weekly column I wondered what had become of it.  In one of our bookcases there was a plastic basket of artists' materials.  I cannot remember looking at it since moving into our Cambridge house (or long before then).  I haven't a clue why I rather idly removed the top box of oil crayons three weeks ago.  But to my utter astonishment, a bundle of yellowing newspaper columns jumped out. Attached to them was a letter from a lady who had faithfully cut them all out and sent them on to me.  Everything else in the basket was art materials.

I  read the studies recollecting vaguely my work ! Each is 600 words in length and, as you can guess with 36 columns, I was able to deal with the whole book verse by verse (with illustrations too).  However, Encounter asks me to do a very different task.  I only have twelve studies with around 300 words each. And, what really makes it demanding is the requirement to focus on a key theological theme in each block of text. In fact, instructions to writers insists that they do not write commentaries!   So, I am encouraged to do a new thing...and what is glorious and the continuing gift of inspired Scripture is seeing truths with fresh eyes and deeper experience. I want to complete the task by it's plenty of wading/swimming to go.