Monday, December 31, 2018

As the sun at noon..

Tidying up a corner today we came across some words of John Donne that someone sent us (forgive me - I have no record who did and when).  In light of yesterday's post they seem very appropriate for anyone whose 2018 has been a dark one.
He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; He can bring your summer out of winter, though you have no spring; 
Though in the ways of fortune or understanding or conscience, you have been benighted till now, wintered and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and numbed, smothered and stupefied till now, now, God comes to you.  Not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon...... 
That's how we look forward to living in the now of 2019.  A blessed and fulfilling 2019 to you.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

End of year blues

I don't want to moan but these last few weeks have reminded me of something that happened most Winters through my ministry.  After meeting all the extra Christmas commitments - preaching and all that was involved moving into a New Year - I frequently succumbed to 'flu.  Apparently it didn't happen in my first year of ministry as I look back in Gleanings, but it occurred regularly in succeeding years. 

And why am I reminded now?  Because I am currently in my tenth week of fluey stuff and Carol is in her third week!  My doctor calls mine a 'double-dip'.  After a virus at the end of October I became reinfected requiring antibiotics.  These appeared to work giving me back some bounce as Carol went down with virulent-keep-you-in-bed-eight-days flu. Then I caught her flu which hit me with a vengeance (in spite of having the flu injection).  'Oh,' said my doctor, 'I have never seen so much of this double-dipping as this year when patients have a virus, are well for a few days and then go down with something else.'  It's oddly encouraging to know that you are not alone.  Hopefully, you, my patient readers will have been spared this experience.

It is precisely in such end of year blues that the sparkle and joy of the Incarnation must shine.  We are not told how easily Jesus' birth went, nor the continuing state of Mary and Joseph's health.  Being in flesh never allowed them to escape times of blues, nor could their baby escape.  And because the Light of the World comes in flesh into the darkest places we should always remember his loving presence is with us right now. Immanuel.

I hope 2019 will be a fulfilling year full of God's loving presence all the way.  He makes all the difference.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Gleanings 7) Happy Christmas

On the evening of Christmas Eve some wanted another service (led by a deacon) but the majority left after a brief worship to sing carols in the neighbourhood. Many of the congregation lived nearby and to my delight not only did we make a joyful (fairly tuneful) noise together but many people came out of the houses to join in with us.   We don't seem to sing carols in big groups outside the church much nowadays. I still have a copy of the brightly coloured Bethlehem carol sheets we used.  It was an eye-opener how much we were welcomed.  Eventually, hoarse, we returned for mince-pies and coffee.

The next day began early  Before the short service several of us went to lead a brief service at West Bank.  The seniors were just finishing breakfast.  We came in with Father Christmas (a more or less willing deacon), sang, prayed and gave out gifts to these dear folk.  I used to visit this home regularly, as did several church members, and it seemed appropriate to make their Christmas morning special too.

Moving onto a full church, packed with families and favourite toys, I experienced a tradition which continued throughout my ministry - children showing me gifts that had been hand-picked by parents to cause merriment and sometimes, embarrassment.  Presents that I had no idea how to operate or really shouldn't have tried. But, the most wonderful part was the full-throat ed singing and celebration that Jesus has come, is with us.  There was so much joy.

Because this coincides with Christmas 2018 let me repeat one of the prayers I wrote:

Our Father, thank you for the glory that shone around the shepherds - ordinary, humdrum people like ourselves, doing their routine jobs. We thank you for the excitement and keenness of their response to the good news of Jesus and we remember the fear which drove them to their knees. May we be like them this Christmas, in the humdrum, worshipping with reverence and keenness.
We thank you for the star that guided the wise men - giving help and clarity to their journey.  We thank you for the wisdom you have granted us and for the source of all true wisdom about yourself - the baby Jesus revealing your love. May we be like the wise men, prepared to follow your guiding truth.
We thank you for the baby, whose destiny was to change this world of darkness and ignorance. Who said he is the Light of the World and who died to make sure the Light would never go out, but burn brighter and brighter. Let our worship we bright and joyful today. 
In the brightness of your glory we worship you,  through our Lord Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Gleanings 6) Rapid fire firsts to Advent.....

These early months were full of firsts on a steep learning curve.  My first harvest festival and my first baptismal class. I yearned for my first believer's baptism and 'preached for a verdict' (as W.E. Sangster used to describe evangelistic preaching) on Romans 10:1-15 Lips and Heart. When would it be?

My first Remembrance Sunday I discovered to be a very big deal because so many had lost friends and family.  And then my first Advent!  Those advent Sundays from December 3rd in sequence were my first proper experience of leading a church through part of the Christian year.  How much I was to value this discipline in the future and how much (helped of course by having a young family) I was going to love celebrating Christmas.

On Advent Sunday: The people were in expectation (Luke 3:15) compared the bustling Blackburn shopping crowds to the river bank where John the Baptist is preaching!  How easy to say we have seen it all as we prepare for Christmas.  Disappointment lurks as it did then.  The advent question is 'Will we be disappointed?  Knowing the story, Joseph and Mary, the baby in a manger, shepherds, and all that, we can say 'It's all just what we expected. Just another year." We can expect  no surprise and show no excitement. NO. This is the most impossible event in the world. Without Christmas there would be no Easter, no Holy Spirit with us now, no hope for the world.  We can never say 'He's just what we expected'. Like the crowds, we should stand and gape in expectation.  In the evening I preached on the Second Advent in Mark 13. with its challenge to 'business as usual'. For God has interrupted once and he will do again.

The pace towards Christmas quickened with further sermons like: The Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30) with its poignant analogy in the stable door and which speaks of the humility of Jesus, and humility for us, the church and the world if we heed his call to strive to enter by the narrow door. On the third Sunday evening the children led a Candlelight Service at a slightly earlier time.  As the children sang, with proud parents looking on, Carol and I felt such warming. We belonged within this big gifted church family.

Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday with a Carol Service in the morning,  Entitled The Brilliance of Christmas, it fell into sections:  The glory around the shepherds, The Star for the Wise Men, the Light of the World. I still have a record of all those who read Scriptures and other readings.  This was to be the stuff of my future ministry and for the first time it really did fill me with surprising expectation.
Interestingly, early on in the service the primary children left to sing at the Old People's Home just round the corner from the church.  This home, called West Bank, was to feature prominently in our commitments on Christmas Day too.

Oh, it was all so new, exciting....exhausting.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Mystery parcel

On 12th November I posted that I had moved from my seat in church for only a few moments to return and find that someone had placed a book there.  It was a great read on one of my heroes - Andrew White.  No one took responsibility, though I asked several people.  My appeal for the donor to reveal themselves continued apace with a notice in our church bulletin followed up by a personal appeal from the pulpit from Carol.  I was to ill to attend the service and in my absence she gave a stirring speech including the thought that maybe it was never intended for me as a gift at all!  Still I have heard nothing.

Then two days ago we received a large mystery parcel through the post addressed to Carol.  With no helpful post marks we removed the outer wrapping to find a beautifully wrapped box with a little card wishing Carol a Happy Christmas!  No sender.  The handwriting doesn't strike us as familiar.  We are left wondering who sent it.

As we approach Christmas this reminds me of a children's talk I often gave because nearly always we received cards which were unsigned.  One year I had a couple of anonymous cards and I asked the congregation about the senders.  Again nothing.  But the point was obvious!  When the greatest gift the world has ever received is given in the birth of Jesus we are left in no doubt who the sender is.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Joy to the world! The Lord is come: Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare him room....

Monday, December 17, 2018

Gleanings 5) Giveaway sentence

I mentioned my inexperience showing. In these early months I see mostly a random selection of texts and themes.  No big purpose seemed to hold sermons together.  Some sermons challenged people about their faith as in a sermon on 1 Cor 2:14-3:2. Which of the three are youUnspiritual man, spiritual man, mature man .1) Spirit absent  - threatens to describe so many who in practical living fail to look on the Cross and let the Holy Spirit guide their living - even in church so used to doing the Christian round of activities that we think this is the sum total of godly living. 2) Spirit present  - being born from above (John 3).  Paul says that the spiritual person has the gift of understanding, the mind of Christ, to perceive that the Cross is the power of God.  Spiritual people have access to a wisdom that the world mocks and the unspiritual dismiss.3) Spirit dominant - moves on from being spiritual babes to maturing and showing fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on.  Yes, it's easy to label others but what about ourselves?

Other texts popped up like Psalm 99 The Lord reigns/, Isaiah 28:14-22 He who believes will not be panicked,Mark 1:32-2:12 And a leper came to him .  Then I attempted a short series New Standards - 1) The new law of love, 2) New Worship, 3) New brotherliness.  I was working hard!

But in a sermon from Hebrews 5:11-.6.8  You cannot remain a good egg I had this giveaway sentence
Dear friends, I don't honestly believe that sermons make that much difference.  This growth in maturity to which we are all called must rest on our serious methodical Bible study, disciplined prayer life, ad dedicated use of devotional aids like hymns.

Of course, much does depend on the quality of our discipleship but here I let slip that I couldn't see sermons making much practical difference to people's lives.  In the years since I have grown more and more convicted about how much difference God can make to lives and communities when he empowers preaching.  Now it's all up to God to enable sermons to make spiritual impact but he also needs preachers who are expectant, open and humble.   I don't know whether I was any of these in these early months.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Gleanings 4) Beginning for real

Finishing training in the Summer I began in earnest on September 3rd 1972.  This was for real.  I was exercised about where to begin.  I wanted big themes. 

In the morning just four words: In the beginning, God ( Gen 1:1-13).  Emphatically everything begins with God.  These 4 words 1) put the world in its place.  I mentioned a friend who said to me "What I don't understand is why you need God.' How absurd to talk about our need! Without God there is nothing. It's not that man without God becomes a heap of dry bones or a handful of dust.  He's not even that - without God there's not even any dust.  In the very breath we draw to question God's significance we depend utterly and completely on him.  Its God first, humans second; God independent, man dependent; God Creator, man as maker; God as Love, man as loved.   These four words bring us to our knees in wonder and awe.

But, also these 4 words 2) put the church in its place.  Everything of value about our past and future as God's people depends on Him.  What a challenge to our pride, our spiritual assumptions, our future planning.   Our dependence on God should show in our humility, prayer, worship and listening to him  I told the story of the Hull politician Stanley Twidle who thought he had given such a important speech the local newspaper would be full of it. But he found just one line: Mr. Twidle also spoke!

 All this linked with the evening message:  In the beginning was the Word (John 1.1).  Jesus is the 1) first word - without him we would not have heard of God's love and gift of new life.  I warned of the church using a 'Do-it- yourself kit' and by our practice denying God the first word - excited by our own ideas, exalting common sense, talking all day without ever mentioning Jesus.   But Jesus is also the 2) personal word (v14) -  'we can meet Jesus as a person and in trust prove him future ministry in Blackburn will be spent spelling out what Jesus means to us - his personal word.  He is also the 3) last word  - Alpha and Omega who has the final word on us.

Yes, I was keen to push big themes but the following Sundays I was to reveal my inexperience.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Joy down memory lane

Last weekend took me back nearly thirty years - in the best possible ways.  Katherine and Lloyd Porter were visiting Cambridge with their daughters, having travelled from Perth Australia where they are both key leaders for Operation Mobilization.  Katherine is one of the eight-strong Global Leadership Team overseeing some 3,500 missionaries.  Lloyd is responsible for OM in Western Australia from where over 200 missionaries has been sent out in recent years.  Why was it so joyous to connect with them?

Because, in 1989 I baptized Katherine in heady days of conversions and sending out of missionaries in St. Andrew's St. Baptist church.  Upon graduating she went to Russia and served for 17 years, during which she met Lloyd.   And on this past weekend,29 years on, we not only spent time with this very gifted couple whose Christian glow lights up the room, but also on Saturday, at an Open House, other former students gathered to celebrate their time with Katherine in the Robert Hall Society (a Baptist student society based at the church).  One of them Michael Wray, who I had not seen since 1990, was our first Pastoral Assistant giving a year's service to the church following his graduation.  He brought four packs of very informal photographs of fellow students - on mission, doing pantomime, actually doing all sorts of studenty things.  The laughter as we passed these around, the memories stirred of others' names and personalities and the ongoing stories of their lives post-Cambridge were blissful to hear. Katherine commented  about the sheer wonder that all these people continue in Christian leadership across the world.

For Carol and me it was the first time we had sat down with a group of returning students with so many affectionate memories pouring out.  What joy down memory lane.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Gleanings 3) And next?

What happened afterwards? I heard nothing. Nothing at all!  Later I learned that many said I was too young for this 250 plus congregation church (and maybe it was the preaching too!). Disappointed, I went on to preach with a squint at another church which proved much keener to follow up with me.  However, just before I was due to preach with a view there, eight weeks later in the Christmas post came an invitation to preach with a view in Blackburn on 30th January 1972.

I am surprised at the sermons I preached. I really am. In the morning But Peter said 'No' (Acts 10: 1-16) engaged with the age old confrontation between man of habit, God of change; static man, dynamic God; man stays entrenched, God moves on.  I talked about experiments on 'learned responses' like those born blind who had recovered sight yet could not identify shapes they once knew by touch.  Now they had to count the corners by sight!  Peter finds personal habits, social habits and especially religious habits that have bound him are radically transformed and he cannot say No to God's new way.  I ended by confession that we look at those habits in our personal and church lives that restrict our response to God now. Dramatically different from my previous visit I involved myself in a willingness to be changed. And I needed to show the OT mattered too! In the evening 2 Samuel 18:24- 19:8 took some challenges from the narrative about David mourning his son Absalom.

An important notice (underlined) on the service sheet mentioned the Special Church and Congregational Meeting on February 8th. to make its decision about me.  This time I did hear back quickly that the majority felt (despite my 27 years) that God was calling me to be their minister. Carol and I had fallen in love with Blackburn and the church on our first visit and I remembered my pastor father's advice about discerning a call: 'You should fall in love with it.' We had and this confirmed it powerfully.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Gleanings 2) A squint

Baptist churches usually call their ministers after two preaches - first with a 'squint' and then (maybe) with a 'view'.  I had clean forgotten details about my squint  preach at my first church in Blackburn. The discerning church is supposed to learn much from this exercise -as does the minister!

My squint sermons on 17, Oct, 1971 were both evangelistic. First, John 10:7-21 focused on the crowd division after Jesus' Good Shepherd claims.( vs. 19, 20).  Mad, Bad or Good?  Second, John 3: 1-17 focused on Nicodemus asking 'How can this be" (verse 9).  I likened Nicodemus to a BBC commentator in a recent BBC documentary called The Jesus Trip. \It featured the unusual evangelist Arthur Blessitt who carried a cross and attracted crowds of ex-hippies.  At his Soul Clinic in Texas crowds of new disciples sang: 'You've got to be a baby...You've got to be a baby!  When the interviewer asked 'How?' this song was their reply. Not very sophisticated or satisfactory.

In John 3 Nicodemus is asking 'how' when Jesus says 'You've got to be a baby! Nicodemus finds this unsatisfactory and assumes the stance of sophisticated man: So, three points: 1) I'm not a baby is the response of 'conventional wisdom'.  I quoted J K Galbraith to make the point.  Nicodemus would like a debate.  2)'You've got to be a baby gives no scope for extended discussion.: Gavin Reid in The Gagging of God asked: 'Would discussion groups in place of the sermon imply that anybody's opinion is as good as God's?  While the church needs to be good at listening, and while it must be a welcoming community accepting those who will not dot every i' of biblical truth, it is not a debating society and the gospel is not up for discussion.  I concluded by challenging my hearers to say 3) I'm a baby..  You will never fully understand the mechanics of what God has done for you. You've got to be a baby. You can say 'Yes', or 'No' but not 'How' when you face Jesus.

Both these are a keen young man's sermons, aren't they? They reveal my love of John's gospel and of inductive sermon beginnings!  I sure wanted them to know that I was all about Jesus and us.  They met afterwards to consider me as potential minister.  Guess what happened?  .

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Gleanings 1) Intro

I have been thinking about dramatically thinning out my preaching archives.  In my first church in Blackburn I preached solidly (is that the right word?) for seven years - which means about 600 sermons. Preaching in my second church in Cambridge was mostly in a team with my associate ministers but I still reckon it's about another 1000 sermons. While I was at Spurgeon's College and in the US I preached many least another 500. Good grief!  The bulging box files confront me whenever I go into my study.

I remember a friend whose father was a very effective preacher asking me what he should do with the piles of his late father's sermons, all written in a meticulous hand.  Works of art, with underlining in different colours. Sadly, there is no positive way of describing the inevitable garbage disposal!  Apart from the greats in Christian history whose sermons are recorded, our preaching is necessarily for a time and a season. If the Spirit brought it alive it was back then.  

But, with the advantage/indulgence of my blog I am wondering if I can look back and see if there are elements  worth capturing.  I am calling them 'gleanings' because that refers to ideas etc. that are not acquired as a whole but are gathered or collected from different sources - in this case from sermons preached from 1972 until the present. My biggest problem will be selecting gleanings and not losing myself in nostalgic memories. Since each one took 8-10 hours to prepare (sometimes longer/shorter!) I invested a vast amount of time through the years.  Maybe 21,000 hours, 875 days? Of course my files of conference addresses, talks, lectures, speeches add extra groaning boxes.  Groans..yes!

My criteria for selection will (try) to edit items that are devotionally challenging stories, anecdotes and quotes. Sometimes illustrative of stages of my ministry who knows what I might find. I shall experiment for say 10 posts and then pause to reflect. As soon as it becomes boring with numbers of readers dropping off I shall cease.  That's a promise. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Christmas mice

Three years ago I posted that a group in the church had painted 150 stones with the baby Jesus which had then been hidden around the villages of Histon and Impington.  On the last day of school the children were told about these hidden stones and over the next days of their holiday they ferreted under hedges, behind benches, and beside trees in public spaces.  Once they found one they brought it to the church and were given a story book about Christmas with an invitation to a Christmas service with their parents.   It was a stunningly imaginative idea which worked really well.

Well, yesterday Carol and I joined a small group who spent lunch-time after church painting on 150 beautiful white flat round stones. Some church members had brought them back legally from their holiday abroad.  This time we had to paint mice.  A couple of carefully painted examples had been prepared. To simplify the process we were told to think of one sausage for the body and two potatoes for the ears.  Then with brown and pink acrylic paint we set to work.  The range of mice shapes was spectacular.  Some covered the front of the stones with tails encircling the back. Others showed exquisite detail with whiskers and noses all in the right place.

Mice and the Christmas story?  You didn't know?  Nor did I. This year children have to come to church to be given a book about the mouse in the stable when Jesus was born. Certainly different! Let's pray it makes connections for the best reason.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Korean blessing (2) A retold story

The Korean culture has immense respect for older people - I was told the language even has a different way of addressing them to show this respect.  And since Carol and I fit in that category you can imagine how well we were treated at their anniversary service on Sunday.  From the moment we arrived through the service and meal afterwards (they said the pork was hardly spicy....well, it's all relative!) the whole church family showed such love and thanks for our part 29 years ago.  They now hold a monthly English service with Korean in the background (though the sermon had interpretation) so on this occasion we were able to participate fully.

In the sermon I mentioned the story of their church member who tracked me down when I visited Seoul for the Baptist World Congress in 1995.  I felt it was a good illustration of the hospitality and generosity of a church that expresses God's love and shares joy with others.  And, of course, it directly focused on one of their former members. People love relevant stories though I confessed that I could not remember his name.

As soon as the service was over, their pastor, Pastor Soon-jo told me about this man who apparently had been in touch with him recently.  He is a professor, now retired, who lives back in S. Korea. On hearing I was back speaking in Cambridge he then told the pastor the same story that I used in the sermon.  Not only did his memory of the details match my own (!) but he sent renewed greetings and told how he had driven many miles into Seoul in hopes of finding me because of one desire - he wanted to thank me for the support and encouragement I had given in starting the church.  More than that, Pastor Soon-jo showed me a recent picture of him, before taking one of me and Carol to send back to him.

I am so glad all this happened to me - back then and now. This is Christian networking!  Such stories are to be retold, aren't they?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Korean blessing

In 1989 a group of Korean believers who had been worshipping in a family home approached me about their vision for a Korean Church in Cambridge.  Could they possibly use our church premises as their base as they reached out to Korean speakers in the city.  I remember those early days of wondering if sharing our premises could work out and, more than that,whether we might develop a meaningful partnership.  I am aware of churches sharing buildings whose only link is bricks and mortar.  Might we belong together?

As the church agreed to give them a spiritual home I met with their pastor and other leaders. We ate together (they brought their own food even though Carol had cooked some!) prayed together and began a journey of friendship.  Every so often I would preach, preparing a full script so that accurate simultaneous translation could occur.  We would join for the occasional feast when odours of their favourites of kimchi and the rest would fill the church premises.  And for special occasions such as the main Christmas service and our TV service they would participate in our worship.

In my blog posts 'A Cambridge God Adventure' I told the story of the Korean church member who having returned to live near Seoul remembered I was attending a Baptist World Alliance Congress in the city.  He remembered the date and traipsed around delegate hotels until he found mine and then patiently waited until I returned there.  I shall never forget his welcome and kindness.

This Sunday I am preaching there again for their 29th anniversary.  It will be easy to lead their rejoicing that God has blessed the vision of 1989 as they continue to flourish, though I am having to provide a full script again...not my 'preaching without notes' norm!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mystery Book

Last Sunday while I was greeting someone before the service began a book arrived on my seat, in a smart paper bag.  As soon as I found it I looked around to see who might have placed it there - with no success.  No one caught my eye!  Opening the bag I found a copy of Andrew White's autobiography: My Journey So Far.  Andrew is known as the Vicar of Baghdad but he gained international renown as a reconciler both between Christian and Jew and between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.  Despite pain (sometimes acute) from multiple sclerosis he had never given up in his desire to show love in the most dangerous situations and he is one of my great contemporary Christian heroes.  He really is.

I love what The Spectator wrote of him: Canon White is instantly, unusually lovable...He is pure of heart in the way few people over five ever are. It makes sense that he's spent two decades as a peace-maker, negotiation with tyrants and psychopaths, because he's utterly disarming.

He really is instantly, unusually lovable.  I met him at breakfast in Wheaton a few years ago.  A mutual friend had invited me and I was quite overawed thinking I would spend some time with this larger than life figure I had heard and seen so much in the media.  But his love and warmth were instantly and genuinely overwhelming.  He told me how he had studied at Ridley Hall in Cambridge while I was minister at St. Andrew's Street and how he heard so much about the church, though his loyalites to the Church of England prevented him from coming.  I couldn't believe it.  And when I read his book I marvel how in his time in Cambridge he connected with several Anglicans who were friends of mine.

My guess is that the mystery donor of this book had no idea how thrilled I am to receive this book.  Actually, Carol wondered if it was left there by mistake, or intended for someone else!  I expect I shall eventually find out who left it and whether it was intentional.  But I rejoice in jogged memories of this wonderful lovable man of God.  Such autobiographies and biographies are exhilarating and encouraging reads, aren't they?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Love (2) Accountability

My second Sunday in 1 John 4:7-21 took us to two places: Love on the Day of Judgement and Love in Histon Baptist Church.  A few people spoke afterwards about both these.  One person said that they had been struggling with a deep sense of fear about things they were guilty of because they were aware that 2 Cor. 5:10 speaks of our accountability not only about belonging to Jesus (for which faith commitment means there is no condemnation) but also the 'things we have done while in the body, whether good or bad'.  Hearing those verses about 'confidence on the day of judgement' (v.17) and 'there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has do with punishment' (v.18) renewed them with hope. 

One of the men present said that he had actually cried towards the end.  'I am glad that you began with judgement and ended with love and it really touched me as I heard the last part,' he said.  At the very end I told the old story of the apostle John's last sermon.  News went round that the ancient apostle, the last of the disciples still alive, would give his last sermon.  People trekked miles to be there.  What a special event it would be.  Old John was carried in the midst.  With a weak voice he said: 'Little children, love one another'.  People strained to hear.  Crowds on the outside asked those nearer what he had said. 'Little children love one another' they were told.  Then John repeated the same sentence. Again people strained to listen. And again he said the same five words, and again...and again.  Some people turned away disappointed and even upset that this old man had been allowed to embarrass himself and obviously showed signs of senility. But others realized that out of his lifetime's experience with Jesus this spiritual giant was summing up the most important truth about living the Christian life that he could ever say, and he kept repeating it just as God in his patience and mercy keeps reminding us today.  Yes, little children love one another.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Love (1) Behavioural science

On Sunday I preached in my local church because our pastor was away on holiday.  Two consecutive Sundays allow a little more delving into a text. I was given freedom of choice though was concerned to try and listen out for God's choice - which seemed to be the theme of love.  All kinds of passages hit me as possibles but in the end I focused on 1 John 4: 7-21.

The sermon fell into three parts (they don't always):  God's love breaks the rules of common sense, God's love breaks beyond emotion and God's love breaks into the world's behaviour.  The second section majored on verse 11: Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. I stressed how the oughtness of God's love punches through emotions, feelings, moods. Loving God with all our hearts (headquarters of personality) soul, strength and mind, involves all of us breaking through the excuses why we shouldn't love - don't know him, don't like her, don't feel like it, don't see it as my responsibility etc.

I quoted Charles Finney, a great preacher who led the Second Great Awakening revival in the US.  Though immense emotion accompanied many converts he was desperately concerned that new Christians did not come to depend on their feelings.  He wrote: 'They should be carefully taught however dull their feelings may be, if duty calls (to pray, to love) DO IT.  Do not wait for feeling DO IT!  Do not wait for it and you are most likely to have the emotions - the happiness of religion. (His block capitals!)

Afterwards a psychologist in the church approached me with a sparkle in his eye.  'Exactly', he said. 'That's behavioural science that I practice all the time.  I tell my patients DO IT even though you do not feel like it and the emotion may follow!'  Well, we are made in the image of God so it's not too surprising to find the principle at work.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Life lessons

A few days ago I had to speak at a Men's Breakfast in my church in Histon.  The organizer suggested that I speak on the secret of  50 years of marriage but it took only seconds (and Carol's high amusement) to reject that idea!  However, it made me think about what life lessons I might pass on from these past fifty years or so. What might I say to a mixed group of believers and others that might be interesting and provoking?   I only had 10 minutes or so and I had to select a few:

1.  Live for a big picture - something that not only gives perspective and holds you through the tough dark times but which makes you grow stronger.  I spoke briefly on my Christian faith as the big picture with its two characteristics.  Its carrot - the sheer attractiveness of Christian living with its emphasis on love, forgiveness, service, honesty etc. And its stick as I live with accountability before a God who calls me to accountability for my actions 'done while in the body, whether good or bad' (2 Cor. 5:10).  It is this high sense of accountability that means I should never cultivate an insignificant life but live for bigger purposes - proactively rather than re-actively.

2. Never underestimate the power of kindness - so often kindness is mistaken for softness.  It is assumed that leadership needs strength of character not kindness.  But actually the strongest most mature character knows the power of kindness to turn a situation of hostility, tension and breakdown and set a better agenda. 

3. Never lose your curiosity.  This seems of much lower order but to take real interest in everything and everyone builds lives and relationships of immense strength. Asking questions and listening carefully are vital skills for full living.  Self-absorption kills such hopes.

I gave some illustrations along the way to reinforce how I was learning these lessons.  And at the end I challenged the group to think about what they might identify as some life lessons.  It's a stimulating exercise.  Try it.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure 89) Anything to add?

Someone commented about this story: 'If it could happen in St. Andrew.s Street Baptist Church it could happen anywhere!'  It wasn't because this was a particularly needy church beset by dire problems.  Not at all. It was just that in its long influential history in the centre of Cambridge its best days seemed well behind it.  Visit it and you found a small band of mostly elderly believers in a large church building.  Middle-of-the road, theologically mixed, and formal in style.  A continuing gentle decline seemed almost inevitable.

Posting all these blogs about the fresh happenings was not intended to pump up another 'success story church' for some self-glory.  Rather it was to recognize that a story begun with so few human resources discovered the unlikely ways by which God can work out his purposes immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us (Eph. 3:20).  I hope that it will be an encouragement to readers and stir up faith.

However, I also recognize that God does work in seasons, in what Scripture calls kairoi - God quality times.  He brought so many different factors together with dramatic effect within a short period of time.  Another friend looking back on it said: 'I was so grateful to have lived through that special time.  I know God can give those times but I also know I cannot keep expecting them!'  That made me think hard about living with responsibilities in less exciting times - God is still working his purposes out though less dramatically.  Someone else warned me that they saw a danger of some idolatry as church people looked back to these good days.

I am not sure what may happen to this collection of blog posts.  A historian friend said that I should ensure it ends up in the church archives so that the personal experience of one of its ministers wasn't lost.  Well, maybe.  But thank you everyone for reading so far and to any who can add colour, correction, encouragement please be in contact:  I am sure there are things to add.  Blessings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 88) The how.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  As the church story went on I found myself invited to speak about undertaking 'faith projects' at various conferences and churches.  I always stressed that I was a surprised as anyone (except the Lord of course) about what actually happened. Sometimes I was asked for specific advice - just how do you develop a big scheme? I recently found notes on seven points that I gave on one occasion:

1. Don't do it unless the Lord gives you no choice. Begin with his vision and seeking glory for him.
2. Only do it with prayer and keep praying, praying all the way.
3. Seek God's unique plan for your church because of your community's need. Don't quickly copy another.  Ask what is God's strategy for your premises where you are. Launch out where he sees the fish.
4. Keep communicating - every issue must be open and every decision shared.
5. Expect opposition - every step forward for God will be under attack.
6. Expect rising costs - projects always seem to cost more than first envisaged.
7. Expect great things from God, Attempt great things for God.

I was with someone two weeks ago who lived through the entire Cambridge God adventure. He has been a member of St. A's for several decades so my ministry and this vision was put into perspective. 'Looking back,' he said, 'I believe the most important thing that happened in your time was prayer.  As a church we really prayed through those years and I shall never forget what happened.'   I think he was absolutely right.  Number 2 above was essential for all the rest.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure *87) One highpoint...and a bump!

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  I am near the end of this story because its unfolding from 1990 onwards is so densely packed I wouldn't be sure how to pick out appropriate highlights. So just a couple more posts.

Mention of the TV morning service in my last post reminds me of one significant highlight which I cannot miss because when our congregation and its mission went national it was a kind of summary event.  August 4th. fell awkwardly because it was both family holiday time and out of term.  I remember my wife Carol urging people at a church meeting not to go away on holiday!  Certainly, when the day arrived the church was full. Interestingly the service began with David Beer,  my successor as Free Church Adviser to Anglia TV (I had to resign when dystonia hit me), explaining about the church by sitting in the Stone Yard Centre restaurant.  In a few frames he encapsulated the whole story of faith and mission. Then the camera went through the doors into the packed church.

Everyone was on best behaviour.  Our different music groups combined to make music. We sang a new hymn written by our music leader. Drama brought Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress to life.  Leaders led prayers and read...and I did my thing!  It seemed joyfully to sum up so much of our journey together.

However, not everyone was on best behaviour.  Returning to our home, high as kites, we discovered our house had been ransacked.  Thieves seeing publicity for our big event took full advantage of our absence and burgled our house at leisure.  We didn't have much of value, but what little we had was found!   It brought us back down to earth with a bump.  But it couldn't take away from our worship experience and when I have occasionally seen the CD recording since I can only rejoice again in what the Lord did with us all. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 86) One random sample

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  My recall for this story has inevitably been patchy. Long ago, diminishing space meant I had to let go my collection of monthly Messengers (our church magazine) though these would have given me far too many memories for 86 posts.  As it is, I still have a large box of St. A's memorabilia with countless photographs that, given assiduous attention, would probably overwhelm any story telling.

But I was surprised to find just one random Messenger for September 1990 in the box. There's so much in it. Its opening Comment  itemizes several issues each beginning 'Our New' -
- assistant minister - Simon Houghton who served through the rest of my time at St. A's into the following interregnum.
- manse - with the setting up of Simon's new home on Tavistock Road.
- pastoral assistant - A new graduate Helen Bray succeeded Michael Wray,  I realize that I failed in my posts to do justice to this stream of graduates who stayed on to give a year's service.   Their contribution was significant as was the roll-call of names as they went on to make impact in the wider church.
- neighbours - the Cambridge Community Church (known now as C3) had outgrown their meeting place in Hills Road Sixth Form College.  From September 1990 they began to worship in the cinema next door to us. Their Senior Pastor Ian Rawley kept us in touch with all their plans and we happily welcomed them. What a difference such 'house churches' were to play from this period on through to today.
- opportunities - the City Council Planning department had  just given permission for Anglia TV to bring all their bulky transmitting equipment onto St. Andrew's Street for a national Sunday service on 4 August 1991.  This TV service was to provide a far-reaching opportunity for the gospel - those of us who shared in it will never forget.

Just a sample from one full magazine. So many others and so much else belongs within the story!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 85) Vernon's story

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Vernon Gosden, a prayerful man of great integrity (and author of All the Power you Need 1977) proved an immense gift to us as the Building Fund Treasurer.  In 1994 he wrote his own account of these events to send out as encouragement to donors.  Based largely on the different leaflets that we produced, sadly it gave very little personal reflection.  I would have loved to read about his experience at the heart of events where his role was vital - like the Day of Willingness.

He was always encouraging.  Early in 1984 he dug out a story for the church magazine of  Mr. Doubt-the-Lord (written by R. Hudson Pope) who jeered at Christian when he faced an impassable wall of great thickness blocking his pilgrimage.  Christian began to doubt for the way back was shrouded in mist yet it seemed impossible to go forward.  Vernon described how we were Christian pilgrims who had come some way but mounting costs faced us like a wall of great thickness. 'Has the Lord fooled us and led us to a dead end where He either cannot or will not help us?  In the next issue he described Christian reading the words of the psalmist 'By my God have I leaped over a wall,' then by bounding faith leaped over.  Kneeling on the other side Christian thanked God for giving him faith, agility and courage.  Of course, Vernon then laid out the challenge for us to go on praying and giving before our wall,  giving especially attention to covenanting gifts for extra income!

He finishes his story as only a Treasurer could (!):
So by the end of 1990 all outstanding bills had been paid and there only remained the repayment of Interest Free Loans and the Bank Loan.  Gifts continued to be received, especially during 1991 (£86,000) and by the end of 1993 the Fund's total receipts reached the outstanding figure of £1,115,700.   During the years since almost all the Interest Free loans were repaid and it is estimated that all the loans will be dealt with by 1996 - 12 years after the fund was opened.   The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy (Ps 126:3).
In an accompanying letter to this account he commented how well this story could be complemented by hearing from the Director Graham Thomson, other key workers and of course the testimonies of those helped and who came to faith.   Oh, yes.  I should love to receive reflections from others.  Leaping over the wall involved so many as the Lord continued to make 'new people'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 84) Just stop!

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). The last couple of posts have told yet again of wonderfully good things happening. Utterly unexpected and undeserved.  At each turn of the story so far through the years the Baptist Times (our weekly denominational paper) had printed  about us - often on the front page.  The Day of Willingness was also given front page treatment: ONE DAY'S OFFERING.  It faithfully recounts the story of the day's giving and then quotes me: 'In the upside-down Kingdom you lose in order to gain!  We're in the foothills of experiencing the joy of receiving the amazing riches of God to give them away'.

Then follows a good summary of how things were developing:
The Stone Yard Centre has been fully open for over a year. It has a staff of 14 full-timers and many volunteers. Its restaurant has over 3000 customers each week and has become a popular Christian meeting place in Cambridge.  The church calls the centre their 'shop window'. Part of the centre's ministry is the Job Search programme which in three years has found over 300 jobs for long-unemployed people. Counselling services are available through the Rev Ron Messenger and the Cog Wheel Trust which specializes in family relationships.  Stone Yard also boasts a library and Christian Resource Centre. However, Michael Quicke says that in spite of all the facilities, 'the key to the centre's life is the rich diet of formal and informal activities for all ages seeking to witness and serve in the city centre. These range from the Mums and Toddlers' Rainbow Room to the Friday Focus luncheon club for older people. Though the centre has been costly the church has continued to give away in mission. We have been able to support three long-term and six short-term misisonaries. We also sent over £22,000 to Romania last year.

After this story appeared the editor of the Baptist Times informed me that he had received a very strong letter from another minister pleading with him to stop printing articles about St. Andrew's Street. 'Enough is enough. Just stop.' I can really understand why he felt so irritated. I really can.  All this apparent heaping up of good news is hard to read when perhaps your own situation is languishing....who can bear it?   And, honestly, I don't think I appreciated just how wonderful it all was at that time and though we always talked about giving God the glory it couldn't but help give the church a bit of glory too. Two weeks ago I met someone who had shared in this story: 'I never realized how good it was at the time', she said.  Oh, it was good and to God be all the glory!

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 83) Just at the right time

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). Looking back I realize that not one of my places of ministry has known financial plenty.  Every organization I have ever been involved with has always required faith and generosity to meet annual budgets and as for big projects, like the Stone Yard Centre, the struggle never seemed to end.  We rejoiced in the Day of Willingness and many acts of sacrifice (and there were many) but financial stress continued with a background of national economic slowdown.  In budgeting our commitments to mission remained a priority but other problems loomed.

One critical issue was to find a home for the Director of the Centre and his wife, Graham and Val Thomson.  They began life in Cambridge renting but we needed something more permanent.  With all the other financial pressures this seemed a forlorn task. Yet on May 5th 1991 we learned that one of our dear members, Mrs. Elsie Norman, not only bequeathed a substantial sum of her estate to the church upon joy....her house in Leys Avenue.  It seemed like an action replay of the extraordinary gift of the house for the associate minister in 1983.  Just when we needed it!  Just!

The role that some of our older saints played by their praying and enthusiasm for the church is one of the unsung themes that needs to be voiced.  It thrilled me when I visited our elderly members to hear their excitement and commitment to all that was happening. They really belonged within the church family. And then to see it in the way they had written their wills was deeply moving.

Although so many older friends played very significant parts in this story I also should mention Miss May Pigott who died around the same time and who also left a substantial part of her estate. May was a spectacularly loyal saint, of strong views and long service in the church - particularly as an Assistant Treasurer who kept the Sunday offerings overnight (guarded by her dog) before banking on Mondays.  Like so many older friends she was exhilarating to visit because the church community meant everything to her and her enthusiasm shone out.  That's church family.

Monday, September 3, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 82) A slip of paper

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). As I began my sermon I did not expect the vestry door to open for quite some time.  I preached my normal length of 20 minutes but there was no movement so I continued for another 10 minutes.  I have mentioned before my concerns about not abusing preaching minutes.  I knew that to go on and on was abuse!  Since many of the congregation were seated in positions where they could also see there was no action from the vestry I sensed inevitable growing restlessness.  It was taking longer than on the previous Easter occasion.  So, I announced the last hymn.

But, even as we were singing, Vernon opened the door and gave me a slip of paper. He had just finished calculating the gifts and promises.  And, yet again, I looked out on faces full of bright anticipation as I held another practical step of faith - written down on a piece of paper in pounds and pence.  I announced that £56,903 had been given and promised of which £24,039 was immediate cash to meet bills.  By the evening the total had risen to £61,746 of which £26,809 was available.

As we stood to sing the Doxology we knew that Willingness owned the day.  What joy there was. Since then inflation has dulled memory of how far £62,000 would go.  In fact, using an inflation calculator which measures past figures with contemporary ones I can hardly believe what that would be worth today-  £199,000!  Indeed, looking back the people of St. A's had largely given and promised since that first step of faith in 1984 over £750,000.  In today's value it would be £2, 415,000.

Though some assumed that this large sum must have been bankrolled by a few wealthy individuals, Vernon assured me that right to the end it remained a congregational effort involving many sacrificial but smaller sums that together added up so gloriously and significantly.

Alert readers will have spotted however that there was still a considerable financial shortfall...some struggles and surprises were still in store.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 81) Really... again?!

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  The September Church Members Meeting squarely faced dire financial facts.  The gap was daunting.  Yet astonishly the spirit of the meeting was uplifting and enthusiastic in face of the problem.  Looking back I realize that the growing church membership and the reality of being present on the main street 24/7 with so many good things happening had sharpened faith and expectation. The meeting turned out to be gloriously positive.

People spoke about one last day to complete this financial challenge. Can you imagine it?  Asking for gifts yet again!  I was bowled over....after all we had been through with a real possibility of giving fatigue the church wanted to press on once more.  One Scripture resonated with us: 'Now finish the work so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means'. (2 Cor. 8:11).  That text spurred us to declare that we would hold a Day of Willingness on November 18th. 1990.

As before, in Easter 1984, the day was to be preceded by nights of giving (and prayer) on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday beforehand.  Everyone received letters asking them to be prayerful and to be open to willingness.  Willingness of generous hearts was all important!  Rather than me sitting in the vestry to receive gifts on those three evenings Vernon Gosden, our Building Fund Treasure, took responsibility.  And each evening people came to pray and give.  Those of us who had been around for Easter 1984 were reminded of a developing spiritual momentum we felt back then.

We agreed that the morning offering on Sunday November 18th would also be added to the total. As on the previous Easter occasion as soon as the offering was collected Vernon took to the side vestry to add it to the gifts and promises of the previous three night.  The signal that he had completed the task would be an opening vestry door. I could finish preaching.  I wondered how long I would need to preach this time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure * 80) Ever changing

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Always people were coming and going.  Our associate minister and wife, Nigel and Sarah Manges with their first child moved onto Dronfield Baptist Church in Summer 1990. Simon Houghton succeeded him and was inducted into ministry on September 23rd 1990.  I learned so much through the three associate pastors I experienced as team members as they brought their distinctive gifts to help lead the church forward.

At the same time church members were of course coming and going.  The most positive moves were of students who had come to faith and were now moving onto careers all over the country - I continue to hear about church leadership that many of them exercise.  That was a great export.  Sometimes we had to engage in the much more difficult exercise of pruning the church roll of those who no longer shared in our life.  In 1989 we removed at least 25 people in an attempt to be more honest in our statistics which required a great deal of pastoral care and sensitivity.  How difficult it is to keep an accurate list of church family members!

Yet, so much was happening through 1990 as the Stone Yard Centre drew in hundreds of people for all its activities.  We had become a Christian presence on the main street and with joy men and women continued to come to faith in Jesus Christ, Lord of the upside-down kingdom.  Actually, during the year 48 members joined us of whom 25 were baptized.  Each of those baptized had their own story of being found by God and how their witness invigorated (as well as challenged) fellowship life. A. W. Tozer said: 'Give me a new Christian before he has met too many other Christians and heard too many sermons'.  This was raw discipleship.  Tough though many of the challenges were in our commitment to serve the city, the very vision to undertake this revealed Jesus alive and at work in our midst.  It was a thrilling time to be alive in ministry.

Yet, I cannot skate over the crisis that was to face us in Autumn of 1990.  The finances of the centre were still trouble.  A gap remained over  £100, 000 (actually I think  £105,000) even taking into consideration all the loans, promises etc.  this debt stared us in the face.  The Church Members Meeting in September had another crisis to face.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 79) Internationalism

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Involvement with the homeless particularly focused attention on using the premises during Winter but once the restaurant area and halls were all open and geared up we found ourselves at the heart of much else - especially a Summer outreach programme.

Hundreds of overseas students flock to Cambridge each Summer in order to learn English and enjoy this beautiful city.   A vision grew to become the International Student Outreach programme which involved us with other neighbourhood churches in providing accommodation on Summer evenings for serving refreshments with friendship and witness.  Henry's (at Holy Trinity) and Andy's (as St. Andrew's Street) served tens of students with teams of Christians - themselves drawn internationally - hosting these events.  An annual highlight was our turn to host one Sunday service which would focus entirely on reaching overseas students.

Giving hospitality for Christian events in Cambridge gave us many opportunities.  One significant long-term relationship arose when the Cambridge Korean Church asked whether we could become their base in the city.   Meeting on Sunday afternoons, they launched their community in December 1989 and immediately became part of us (a relationship that holds fast right until the present). We loved their friendship, sharing occasional joint services and their feasts!

When I visited Seoul, Korea to speak at Baptist World Alliance meetings  I was utterly stunned on the second evening to find one of the Cambridge Korean Church members awaiting me in the hotel lobby.  Apparently he had taken note of a conversation in Cambridge about my visit and knowing he would be back in S. Korea by then made the decision to find me. Unsure where I might be staying he had visited many hotels where delegates were lodged, eventually finding mine and then waited patiently for my return.  His desire to take me home to meet his family was sadly impossible because they lived some distance from Seoul and my commitments filled much of my time. However, he stayed overnight in order to spend time with me the next day.  What kindness.  That's hospitality!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 78) A lone voice

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Details about the sermon series were easily at hand because I have written about it on a couple of occasions, particularly in a small book.  Doing Theology in a Baptist Way was written by four Baptist college principals in 2000 and I was responsible for the section on 'Theology and Preaching'.
The significant starting point for me is Baptist identity with the specific context that belonging within the Baptist tradition provides. Because of our distinctive commitment to live under the Word of God together, gathered as believers focused on word and sacrament, a community comprising those who have been baptized or who are on the way to baptism, we of all people should stress the corporate nature of the preaching event. 
I argue that preaching and community are reciprocal realities - those who hear are gathered into community of faith with the preacher.  Not an audience but congregation. 'The sickness of preaching is not to be cured by individual remedies to render the preacher more interactive, narrative or multi-media in style. Rather the hope for effective preaching lies in the involvement of preacher and listeners in shared life together in Christ, shaped by God's word.  Corporate preaching.

Unsurprisingly I tell this story about the homeless as an example.  I summarize it:
As the main preacher I found myself both bruised and sustained by the demands of preaching to myself and my community in new ways which exposed me to upside-down ways of living there and then. At no time can I recall such disturbing personal wrestling, such vulnerability, and such answering grace in God's truth.
This conviction about preaching and leadership has burned within me and has been expressed in much of my writing ever since (especially 360degree leadership: preaching to transform a congregation),  I really do believe that hearing God's word for a whole people energizes preaching and church meetings in/for God's big purposes.  However, as I title this blog....I fear I remain a lone voice as few contemporary preachers seem interested in God's leadership through preaching.  But, it's my story anyway!

Monday, August 6, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure 77) Edgy living.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  My first church secretary commented many years later that he reckoned this was the most significant series of my ministry.   Others have told me how they experienced this series somehow (by the Spirit) brought us to a sense of engagement together so that as a community we experienced something new.  We moved towards a freshly discovered edge of living in the kingdom.

I have noticed how the language of 'ministry on the edge' has recently become fashionable in some circles.  For us, this immediate challenge of living out the values of God's upside-down kingdom with the homeless felt edgy!  And the highest highlight of my many church member meetings was when we faced the proposal of making our main Upper Hall a safe place for the homeless to sleep.  Early discussion repeated several hesitations, some of them serious.  We prayed as a people seeking to do God's will, knowing that it involved overnight staffing as well as altering our premises.  In our ears the challenge of living in God's kingdom echoed.

To my wonder (our wonder I think!) the meeting was unanimous that we should offer our hall.  The full-time coordinator of Winter Comfort, Nick Dykes, came to speak to us about the consequences of providing such accommodation.  And during the Winter months of 1991/2 nightly attendance varied from 10-25 with 114 different people sleeping.  Through dedicated follow-up some 25 of these people were eventually found alternative accommodation.   The following Winter numbers were up and for 4 months a total of 50 volunteers (many from our own church) formed teams in overnight shifts.

As envisaged there were some difficulties.  One of those sheltered was found murdered the next day. Interruptions to church daily life were more common.  But there were joys too.  Some members set up a Bible study for those who wanted to attend and many experienced surprises as these vulnerable people shared their stories and reciprocated friendship.

The story was to roll on and in a few years our sister Baptist Church, Zion, gave their adjoining Sunday School block to become a homeless shelter called Jimmy's which is still in vital ministry. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 76) A rebuked preacher

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). While the church was sympathetic to helping the homeless in principle, several voiced concerns about the practicalities of providing accommodation in premises which already had a wide number of other uses.  Open our doors in this way and it could dominate our mission.  Already we had drunkenness sometimes interrupting worship services - what else might happen? What would be the knock-on effects on the general public using our restaurant, or our children's work using the same halls.  Wouldn't it change our whole ethos on the main street and make it less easy for strangers to come in?  Oh, you can imagine the fears and how understandable they were!

The rebuke about shirking this need was one of the factors that led me to preach a sermon series called 'The Upside Down Kingdom'  which I preached directly to myself as well as the church. The first sermon was called 'Down is Up', based on Luke 1:46-53.  I began:
Most of us are conventional, happily fixed in our own culture where we've been brought up to do certain things in certain ways. So we try to make Jesus conventional and predictable too. We play safe and over-spiritualize, concentrating on the comforting words of Jesus. If we come across revolutionary words we try to avoid their practical implications which might affect us socially, morally, politically, economically.......
Titles like: Blessed are the poor, Losers Finders, Loveable Enemies, Last is first, Low is High, Peace with a Sword, Unseen is seen brought deep challenges Sunday by Sunday.  And I found myself repeating like a refrain these words:
When Christ comes among us he turns everything that people thought about life upside down. Something new is happening among us, right now.  God says 'My kingdom is here. It's a kingdom of love and service, The least are the greatest, outcasts are welcomed, adults become like children, enemies love each other, leaders are servants of others'....
Was a God-happening occurring?

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 75) On our doorstep

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Each year the national Baptist Assembly (with delegates from churches all over the country) passed public resolutions calling for action on a number of themes. A resolution deploring the growing number of homeless people, especially younger people, on our streets called for local churches to act on their behalf.  We knew we had to.

The church set up a Homelessness Task Force which began to focus  minds and hearts. In the April Church Meeting in 1990 they reported that in Cambridge an estimated 250 single people were living on the streets, squats or overnight hostels.  They mentioned a new organization called Winter Comfort that was working towards providing help during the winter months.  Several individuals took up the practical challenge of working with projects such as the Cyrenians and others were concerned about the politics of homelessness and not just the symptoms.

But, the 'symptoms' were unavoidably confronting us as a whole church.  Whenever we left worship, we were faced by homeless people requesting food and money and during services needy people were drifting in asking for help.  When the weather deteriorated we found people sleeping on our front steps.  Of course, with the restaurant area next door we were able to give drinks and shelter on Sundays and a team of volunteers developed skills at befriending those who came to us on Sundays.  But what about the much bigger problem of overnight accommodation and in the worst of weather?

I vividly remember the shock when I invited the founder of Winter Comfort to have coffee with me in the Stone Yard Centre.  After briefly looking around at this new church venture he stared at me and said: 'But what are you doing for the poor?  Can't you use your property to give shelter overnight?'  I realized how much easier it was to focus on issues like unemployment and loneliness than on giving over our premises to sleep the homeless.  It was a rebuke I have never forgotten.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 74) Reaching Out

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  During these tumultuous months a number of countries came to the fore - each deserving far more time than I can give.  UGANDA featured through our missionary Martin Brown.  CHAD (the poorest country in the world) because of Mario Thompson who was translating the New Testament into the as yet unwritten language of the Maba people.   in N. Chad.  We shared her astonishment in her discovery of a book in Paris which appeared to help in translation. What stories we shared as we commissioned her on Harvest Sunday, September 24th.

ROMANIA loomed large because our relationship began back in May 1985 when the church was twinned with 2nd. Baptist Church in Oradea.  In harsh Ceasescu days Sheila Moore, accompanied by my father (who taught himself Romanian), became our first ambassadors and links developed with the pastor Dr. Nic Georghita visiting us for a second time in Autumn 1989.  Plans were made for me to visit with my father (it would be his third visit) in Spring of 1990.  However, in December before we went the world was glued to the news of Ceasescu's downfall and our prayers outpoured for friends in this church.

Tragedies emerged as Romania became open to the West and the desperate plight of the orphans touched one of our members in particular, Dave Brunning, who drove a lorry to help in some of the worst deprived areas. What he saw changed his life.  His photographs and testimony on his return hit our church and far beyond.  This began some remarkable heady days as he spearheaded a LOVE ROMANIA campaign, filling lorries with necessities, including washing machines for the orphanages. His compassion and zeal touch us all.  On Radio 2 he raised £3,000 on two mornings alone. Appeals for 2 tons of soap power, 2 tons of children's teaching material, 7 tons of seed barley, 2 tons of paper, medical and clothing supplies.  Milton Baptist Chapel became the clearing house for mounds of material as the campaign raised over £20,000 and sent 28 tones of materials.

Few of us will forget living through these days of action.  Of course, this wonderfully complemented mission at home, which was crowned by basing the national Billy Graham Live-Link for our region with us. A large satellite dish perched strategically on our roof.  Over 160 people attended counselling preparation sessions in our Upper Hall with thrilling outcomes as hundreds attended and many made faith decisions for Christ.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 73) The Jigsaw Leaflet (c)

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  It is a great danger that in telling this story  only the few in obvious public roles are mentioned and the roll-call of other names (which is mighty extensive!) is just assumed - countless volunteers, helpers and prayers.  Actually, the momentum for all that was to happen came from the collective response of people too numerous to name. That was why the last key blank piece of the jigsaw leaflet asked 'Would you like to be part of the volunteering, praying, giving? And so many did.

In particular I should add the day-in-day-out commitment of the Treasurer, Vernon Gosden, and three men who succeeded each other in John 1:6 AV fashion: 'There was a man sent from God whose name was John.'  Because they were available' between jobs' these men gave their all to supervising the project liaising with architects, builders etc. and enabling detailed work like fitting out the commercial kitchen.  What a gift they were: John Abbott, John Whitmore  and John Watts.  Their expertise and dedication mightily blessed the project.

The Summer of 1989 was scorching (like our current one) and we were finally in position for a proper opening on the weekend of Saturday June 10th and Sunday June 11th. The build-up involved much practical work in order for the building site to be sparkling clean with beautiful floral displays. On the Saturday 500 people came together for the official reopening by Malcolm Allsop who was Senior Producer of Current Affairs for Anglia TV (and an active lay reader). Months later he was still talking about it: 'Your vision and the way it has been enacted is a lesson to Christians everywhere.'  It was such an exciting time. A new hymn was written by our organist, Geoff Warren - 'We are the body of our Lord Jesus Christ'. Yes!

The next day, Graham, Ron and Jenny were commissioned by Rev. David Harper (our Area Superintendent) for their ministries through the Stone Yard Centre and evening worship contained reflections from leaders who had seen the process so far.  An exhibition in the upstairs hall displayed brochures, photographs etc about the story so far. Looking back it seemed that God had been leading at every stage. There were too many coincidences not to be God-incidences.  Graham interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire said: 'We are sitting on a miracle'.  We were!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 72) The Jigsaw Leaflet (b).

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  The sixth picture showed Ron Messenger who was also an astounding answer to prayer.  One deacon said it was like asking Gary Lineker to play for the local football team.  He was the best known counsellor in the Baptist denomination and he came to undertake part-time counselling work after having spent the previous 25 years in counselling ministry - 20 years in the residential community of Greenwoods and the last 5 in the Family Ministry of West Ham Central Mission.  Ron's self-effacing gentleness with a strength of steel had immense impact on us all as he trained befrienders in the restaurant, gave marriage guidance and dealt with extremely demanding psychiatric cases. And what maturity he brought to our ministerial team.

The seventh picture shows Jenny Robinson-Joice.  In response to her own traumatic experience she had founded the Cog Wheel Trust to provide a Christian family counselling service.  She saw such need in Cambridge and with skills (and volunteers) was seeking to meet it.  But she required a central base.  Her prayerful search for this base paralleled the church's desire to develop marital and single-parent counselling.  On the top floor of the Stone Yard Centre she began with a Drop-In Centre which was to gradually build up its ministry.

The eighth jigsaw piece had the faces of John Peck and Steve Shaw who were project workers and co-founders of College House with a mission to apply the Christian faith relevantly to every part of life. With an office beside the library and resource centre they ran seminars, courses on a variety of themes including an introductory course on developing a Christian world view.

Looking back I marvel at this team of gifted leaders who came together in this new story...who could possibly have foreseen this a few years earlier?  Well, God...obviously!  But the rest of us were stunned by answered prayers.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 71) The jigsaw leaflet (a)

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Of all the leaflets and brochures we produced I treasure most the one we called the jigsaw leaflet. It comprises a jigsaw of nine pieces with one left blank.  Each interlocking piece has a face of someone who came into the story of the Stone Yard Centre - often from extraordinary journeys.

Along the top row alongside the obvious faces of Nigel Manges and myself is the face of the Director. Ending 1988 we had no idea who this might be. Advertisements went out early January 1989 with interviews scheduled for February.  Our Monday prayer meetings continued with particular focus on God's right person for this post.

Unknown to any of us in the fellowship Graham Thomson from Exeter was following a parallel path. Having been in business until five years before, he then became Deputy Warden of the Grapevine Family Centre for single parent families for the previous two years, and before that Co-ordinator of the Palace Gate Centre - a community centre attached to South Street Baptist Church, Exeter.  Graham felt called to full-time Christian service and all the steps of applying to Regent's Park College to train for Baptist ministry (and there are many of them) were being taken at the same time as our story unfolded. At the college interviews one of the tutors who knew of our situation suggested that this might be exactly what God was calling him to.  Graham's subsequent 'phone call to me immediately placed him among those short-listed.  And, it proved to be a glorious God-incidence when he emerged as our Director and we prepared to get to know Graham and Val in all the gifting they brought the church.  What a difference they were to make.

The second row had Roy Toseland who had been running the Job Club sine 1987 having previously been a professional football player and in business before training at Romsey House Theological College and coming to us.  The fifth jigsaw piece showed Mandy Dibsdale, our Catering Manageress who had previously been a chef in a local well-known restaurant before beginning to oversee the Stone Yard Restaurant.

Just four more.....

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 70) Look back in wonder

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  The possibility of appointing a Director accelerated enthusiasm to flesh out the details about how the Stone Centre might operate on a daily basis.

In October we held a Stone Yard Brain and Heart-Storming Conference.  I have a bulging file for this full afternoon because it required careful preparation to ensure maximum participation. Guidance for group leaders were provided. Think and Pray handouts were given beforehand asking everyone -
1.To list the four particular things or activities they would like to see in the Stone Yard Centre and why.
2.  What would you be willing to DO about your answers?
3.  Are there any particular problems you see? How should they be faced?

And wow did people participate. Six groups worked hard with their insights later summarized on yet another sheet.  I showed overhead acetates from the earlier day conference in 1986.  They highlighted some hopes and dreams for the centre which included:  help for the unemployed, counselling for families under pressure, and daily lunches in a restaurant.  All of these seemed so far off.  Now we marvelled at their prophetic insight and sheer cheek!  Now, some two years later these were becoming reality.  Roy Toseland was leading the Job Club for the unemployed and in September we had appointed Mandy Dibsdale as our Catering Manageress of the restaurant.  She immediately began planing for an opening on November 8th, providing lunch-time meals as well as routine coffee, tea etc. Others were also appointed to make the vision work alongside her.

We looked back in wonder at answered prayers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 69) Nudges and surges

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  All the time that this story was nudging forward finances were also nudging upwards.  Sometimes spectacularly.  Twice on Sundays in 1988 I was able to announce such nudges from the pulpit. (I was always worried about taking the edge off the gospel message but these encouragements were after all part and parcel of seeking to live in God's good news).

The latest disappointment of finding yet more dry rot was offset by an announcement I had been able to make in May that a trust had been able to provide around £45,000 to meet this latest set back.  Another step forward. But a more remarkable thing was still to happen. I was able to share on Sunday September 18th. an anonymous letter which came out of the blue -
Dear Michael,
I understand that it is not possible to appoint a Director for the Stone Yard Centre because of the financial position.  I have been thinking about the matter as I consider it to be very important that we begin as we wish to continue from the start as it is very difficult to generate enthusiasm to the full potential after a delayed start.  I should therefor like to offer £12,000 per annum for three years towards the remuneration of a full-time Director for the Stone Yard Centre. 
         Yours sincerely,
A Church Member.
Spontaneously the church rose to sing the Doxology.  For months we had prayed about a Director without a clue how it might be possible.  What a surge of confirmation. One person said: 'We've keep on being challenged about giving away to Sudan, Bangladesh, Romania, Barnwell but just look AT WHAT WE'VE BEEN GIVEN'.  Yes...a fresh surge indeed.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 68) An empty shell

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Now, open yes. But that's how one leader described the new centre - an empty shell.  Great visions were far off still. Perhaps too far off?

Again the church set itself to prayer and agreed a Day of Prayer for Monday June 13th. Running from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm it focused on two parts, the details of which were agreed by the regular prayer meeting on June 7th.  It remained vital to pray about what we should pray.
- First, on major church needs that the Holy Spirit would freshly motivate us in many aspects of church life.  These were listed to include the leadership, youth work and continuing mission commitment.  Who we were as a community of God's people really mattered.
- Second, there were specific prayers for the Stone Yard Centre.  For guidance about personnel - the Director, Administrator, catering staff, volunteers.  For the first arrangements that activities would form a solid foundation for God's future work. For continued joyful giving and the leadership of the centre's management committee.  Lastly, prayers dared to ask for an official opening in Autumn 1988 when it would be full of mission!

I quoted Andrew Murray on the day's preparation sheet: 'A prayer meeting without recognized answer to prayer ought to be an anomaly. The mark that there has been true united prayer is the fruit, the answer, the receiving of the thing we have asked: 'I tell will be done for you by my Father in Heaven' (Matt. 18:19).

On Sunday June 12th 1988 we were able to use the restaurant area for the first time - serving coffee to the morning congregation after worship.  For five years we had been unable to do this and a buzz of greeting and conversation filled the premises.  Partitions had come down so that for the first time in two years we could access the passage to the lower hall.  The kitchen and toilets sparkled in their newness.  From then on it was open on Saturdays serving refreshments to a growing number of users.  A group of happy volunteers helped to make the shell ring with friendship.

Yet it was still an empty shell throughout most of the week.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 67) Naming and opening

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). During much of the early story of the building project it was dubbed the 'Christian Centre'.  Few believed that this was the best long-term title.  The process of naming proved fascinating.  Alongside many good suggestions, our church historian - Ken Parsons (who had devoted years to researching local Baptist history) made a claim. 'Why don't we call it the Stone Yard Centre?', he suggested. 'That takes us back to our roots in the early eighteenth century when the first group of believers met in a stable in Stone Yard and worship began.'  Cambridge has a number of  famous 'yards' like Lion's Yard, Kettle Yard, all speaking history!  As the church meeting listened to the different ideas this name of Stone Yard resonated as a link with our city past.  The majority agreed to this name and today it has become a little part of city life.

Though I had been brought grim news about what we could not do in this new building, the church agreed that we needed a public opening soon. I was now well enough to be present when the President of the Baptist Union, Dr. Colin Marchant, cut the ribbon on May 1st 1988.  He was recovering from a terrible bout of shingles which had disfigured one side of his face and I was still visibly twisted - so we looked the oddest of though the sea had given up its dead.

The congregation filed through the new door into a (potential) restaurant area and then climbed up stairs to the first floor rooms and then further up into the spacious roof space and a small apartment set at the very front. The restaurant area had been set up with displays from each church organization. Always the danger of a project like this is that it can syphon off all a congregation's energy and commitment.  But, among the displays was rampant Missions Council enthusiasm and its work for the Sudan, Bangladesh, Oradea in Romania, and Barnwell (a Baptist church in Cambridge).  Each of these commitments had seen major gifts as though to emphasize just how much the 'outside' world counted.  We knew we had a long way to go to see the Stone Yard fulfilling God's vision but we were convinced we were on the way!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 66) Prayer and Poison

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Few of us enjoy injections but I remember my desire to get that needle deep into the twisting muscles at the back and front of my neck!  I was told that if I was one of the fortunate patients I would be unlikely to see any effects until after the seventh day.  Oh, how everyone prayed as I returned home and began waiting.  Seven days came and went with no progress.  Every morning when I awoke my twisting head was agony to lift from the pillow and it stubbornly remained unchanged.  I could only look ahead by forcing my right hand up against my chin to ram up my head.

Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve days all passed with no improvement.  Carol and the boys tried to hide their desperation that it was going to fail.  I felt utterly helpless wondering if the toxin was still working inside my muscles and whether it could be potent enough to stop the twisting.  Whether God the healer was at work in this process. And the nightly prayer meeting kept going.

On the thirteenth morning I woke up and for the first time in many months I could look ahead! I lifted my head up straight (or at least straighter).  I actually had some control!   I shouted out the good news.  Delirium broke out.  Rejoicing spread rapidly through the church.  I was obviously still nowhere near being upright in stance and the pain had not entirely abated but I was coming out of a long dark tunnel.

Vernon had proposed that the nightly prayer meeting continue until Maundy Thursday.  How extraordinary because it now looked possible that I might actually be able to preach on Easter Day.  Someone in the gallery later described that morning service which was led with such joy by Nigel.  He said I was obviously far from healed.  My body was still twisted with my head tilted on one side.  Everyone could see that as I stood before them. Yet, when I went up into the pulpit, I seemed to be set free and preached with freedom.  The National Hospital had warned me that stress would always make the dystonia worse, yet here I was set free. 

As friends know, I have proved to be one of those patients who requires botulinum injections every three months to keep offending muscles paralyzed.  And, to my immense gratitude, such injections have continued ever since.  Carol calls the story as Prayer and Poison.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 65) Bad news and positive poison.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Some days of illness were just misery. One day, Albert Hull, a church leader who was helping as project administrator came to visit in order to 'put me in the picture'.  With other leaders he felt that I should not be left in the dark. He was so kind and gentle as he explained how the vision needed major corrections in light of problems we were encountering.  Planning for a restaurant as a welcoming pre-evangelism project now seemed far too ambitious and needed to be shelved.  Current finances could never allow us to even consider appointing a full-time Director of the centre.  Anyway, little could justify the appointment when several outreach ideas seemed to be coming to nothing. What would he/she do?  Plans to provide counselling to needy people was another area which regretfully needed to be postponed.  In my low physical state this sounded bad news turning worse. And to round it off he shared that he and his wife were retiring to live in another city!

Then I learned that the builders working behind the church had crashed into yet more dry rot with a further £45,000 needed.  The estimate for the project now soared to £869.000.  Bad news was really compounding!

Even as the church prayed every night I seemed to deteriorate.  But, extraordinarily, a few weeks before Easter, Carol (a Radio 4 addict) heard of a medical trial being undertaken at the London National Neurophysical Hospital for dystonia patients.  Brand new, early experiments at Baylor University, Texas, encouraged hope that injecting botulinum toxin straight into malfunctioning muscles could paralyze them.   Carol begged our Addenbrookes' consultant to push for me to be included in the London clinical trials.  This toxin is very dangerous indeed but apparently it could be positive!  Her advocacy (and prayer) won through.

I recall going by stretcher into a lecture hall at this hospital with tiers of white coated doctors looking down on me.  After examination, the consultant declared that I was an appropriate candidate to join the trial.  I was warned that US trials showed success rates varied dramatically.  A considerable proportion showed little or no change, and a only small fraction responded really successfully.  The rest found different levels of relief.   When I reached the day of the injections (and signed papers waiving hospital liability for many possible disturbing side-effects)  I knew the power of prayer upholding me.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Golden Anniversary

Yesterday Carol and I celebrated 50 years of marriage with wonder and thanks. (Actually I had to visit the doctor's in the morning for my ears to be syringed!)  When I was a minister attending golden anniversaries I always saw the couples as elderly with decrepitude just around the corner.  I felt a mixture of joy in their longevity together and sadness that they were now so very old! But if you actually arrive at 50 years of marriage I need to report that you don't feel that old facing imminent decrepitude.  Rather you remain astonished at the rate of the passing decades.

Though we have to postpone our family celebration until our US family can join us in August, we have experienced such a rush of congrats. from all over the world.  Many of the generous messages are undeserved but delightful to read.  Words are treasured.  One card called us -
To heartily celebrate one of the greatest gifts you've ever received -
God's gift to you of each other.
Enjoy recalling all you've shared
The memories, laughter,
Blessings, joys, trials and triumphs
That have enriched your life together
In so many ways.
You're incredibly blessed and a blessing to many.

We have recalled highlights from July 6 1968, leafing through the twelve black and white photograph album of our big day.  More importantly we have reminded each other of how special our relationship has been to each other through the years.   Our wedding was homespun with homemade invitations and service sheets.  Looking at one I see that we chose hymns carefully.  They are old ones!   I like how one of them begins and ends:
Now in the days of youth
When life flows fresh and free
Thou Lord of all our hearts and lives,
We give ourselves to Thee.....

Spirit of Christ, do Thou
our first bright days inspire,
That we may live the life of love
And loftiest desire:
And  be by Thee prepared
For larger years to come...

It has been a life of love which owes everything to God.  Ir really does!  To all of you who remembered us and have travelled some of the way with us - thank you so much.