Sunday, December 29, 2019

A Decade with Gratitude

Looking back I marvel at what's happened since 2010. 10 years begun full-time in the US, shifting to part-time in 2014 to full-time in the UK 2017. Different highlights ping along the way.  Being personal for a moment:
2011 publication of Preaching as Worship - wins a national award! Yippee!
2012 Aggressive Prostate Cancer with major surgery and good outcome. (Spotted by my US doctor in spite of no obvious symptoms and acted upon within weeks!)  Truly, we are grateful - especially since our UK doctor (a very good friend) had identical cancer which was not spotted and died rapidly, aged 62.  Also sold our happy Warrenville home to live in Wheaton and begin fixing-up our Cambridge home (not us personally!)  Milo, our fifth grandchild born - fills the quiver.
2014 Formally finish as C.W. Koller of Preaching with a memorable farewell evening in our Conference Centre with blush-making speeches all round.  It's wonderful to finish well and my seminary community made it happen!  Now appointed an Emeritus Professor of Preaching. Also a Preaching Award from Lilly Foundation requires another book and part-time consultancy developing new courses for ministers. Join Histon Baptist Church, Cambridge - our new Christian family. Break my right ankle/leg by fainting in hospital - complex surgery needed.
2015  Our US family has 6 month sabbatical in Cambridge.  Last older relative - John Davies- dies aged 91.
2017  US seminary relocates and my part-time consultancy comes to an end - a surprisingly good chapter to our lives. I suffer a minor stroke, mercifully at the bottom of the stairs.
2018 Make good recovery in time for a blissful GOLDEN WEDDING celebration.  Our family came together in Jesus College for a glorious occasion that we shall never forget.  This was the highlight of the decade.
2019 Again, illness blights with pneumonia and collapsed lung, followed by Lyme disease.  Yet, the skills of the NHS and loving attention of Carol, accompanied by much prayer, have brought me through.  Brought us through.
We both feel immense gratitude to God whose purposes have been working on through another decade in spite of us.  What a life!  Thank you Lord.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Christmas Greetings - slugs and crabs

Christmas joy, praise and the very best of wishes to all my readers for 2020.  And I need to add how humbled and surprised I am when some of you mention in your Christmas mail how you have actually read my blog.  So often my ramblings seem inconsequential, even to me, so my surprise at your tolerance is genuine.

This is a wonderful time in the Christian Year. I know how easy the familiarity of the Christmas story can blend in among all the seasonal trappings so that we can almost take the birth of Jesus on the nod,  As though his birth could be anything but utterly unexceptional and cosmic-changing.  It deserves our best reflections - that God could descend to our level and get mixed up in our mess and redeem us. Incomprehensible! And, yes, wonderful!

I love that sentence when C.S. Lewis muses in Mere Christianity  on the wonder of the Incarnation:
What God did about us was this. The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself; was born into the world as an actual man - a man of particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman's body.  If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.  The Man in Christ rose again; not only the God.  That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man.
Truthfully I haven't seriously considered what it would be like to become a slug. They are definitely not my favourite garden inhabitants.  Oh, the cost and risk of God's love for us.  Let's reflect and rejoice this Christmas. Blessings on you and yours.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Christmas love

Carol is entering her fourth week of labyrinthitis which began suddenly with severe dizziness and vomiting and now requires weeks of rest as she tries to gain balance by retraining the brain to use her still-functioning right ear.  It's all required immense patience.  I have reminded myself about my sermon on joy in suffering - of perseverance producing character and hope  Well, maybe.... eventually.

Of course, she has missed all the planned seasonal events so far these past weeks.  Our church house-group met without us last week for their Christmas meal. On Sunday morning I was in church on my own again when after the service one of the group asked me to go into the church porch.  It felt mysterious because a couple of other group members were waiting there clearly looking around for others to join us with no one saying anything.  A Quaker waiting experience.

Then, when numbers were complete, one of the group told me that at their Christmas evening they had talked about how they might show their love to us in a practical way.  From behind a screen they produced a very large (heavy) open box covered in bright Christmas paper.  Looking inside took my breath away.  Together they had assembled food and treats with everything tailored to Carol's food allergies.  Chicken, salmon, puddings, drinks, nuts, dairy free chocolate, diet Cokes, candles, baubles for the tree, plus some specials for me like home-made apple crumble deserts with custard. And more. I tell you, I was speechless. It was quite wonderful.  Quite wonderful.

Carol was near to tears when she saw me stagger in and looked in the parcel at the purpose chosen goodies.  She took them out one-by-one marvelling that they were just right.  There was a popular book a few years ago called The Purpose Driven Church.  Well, this was a purpose-driven gift powered by love and such care. Carol said you have to post on the blog: Christmas love because this is so wonderful to receive.  And so appropriate when we remember the greatest Love that came down at Christmas in Jesus.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Turning point 5)

Instead of teaching in Serampore, India, my first year out of college found me living in London, married, and (surprisingly) also wrestling with a call to Christian ministry.  I write surprisingly because this possibility had been the last option I would have considered long-term.  (Maybe that deserves a separate post?) Rapidly my whole life was changing direction all because what I hoped would happen hadn't happened and instead a sequence of events surged ahead which couldn't possibly have happened if my first hopes had not been shattered.

I began this reflection by referring to Rom. 8:38 - We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  The sceptic would say that this turn of events was just how life can turn out sometimes.  No need to bring God into it. And, indeed, I do wonder about the sadnesses in the story.  Like the collapse of the East Asian Christian Colleges organization. Such events can occur out of human errors of different kinds as well as God's seasons of effectiveness.  But faith trusts that all those caught up in this problem would find other positive things were now possible.

Similarly, Peter Tongeman when suddenly taken so ill really suffered yet went on to experience a future full of renewed health with undiminished responsibilities. (Actually, he and his wife were at our wedding). Yet. out of his illness came my big break.  Would I have met Carol otherwise?  Would I have sensed a strong call to ministry otherwise?  Those are unanswerable questions but only leave me with wonder that. though the Rom 8:38 promise raises complex issues in a fallen world of brokenness and illness, by faith we can dare to claim that for those who love God such turning points in our lives are ultimately positive.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Turning point 4)

I had only been in the job a couple of weeks when I was summonsed by Head of the Union. The head of my department (dear Peter Tongeman) had been taken very ill with peritonitis and he desperately needed immediately replacement as Chair of an International Student Conference in Switzerland - scheduled only a few days ahead.  Peter's responsibilities were immediately thrown into my lap - chairing all the sessions, preaching a sermon, and leading the group of British students (already selected from different student societies) by train and ferry to Zurich.

I was peculiarly unprepared.  Mercifully I found my passport (only used once for a brief visit to Paris). I was to meet the British party under the clock tower at Victoria Station. Given a folder with travel and conference details, plus all the tickets, none of my party was known to me.  On time members arrived and coming last, with an admirer lovingly carrying her bag, was Carol Bentall.

And this was the critical moment of the whole turning point in my life. The moment I saw her I knew she was the person I was going to marry.  No hesitation. Mind you the initial conversation was unpromising. Sweeping into the group she asked: 'Who is in charge?'  Knowing this was my opportunity I pronounced: 'I am'. to which she answered, looking me up and down, 'What you?'  It did take her some time to share my conviction about our future which received no encouragement while we were actually in Switzerland.  On our only free afternoon she went off with a tall, handsome Swede!  (Why do I remember that?!)

The whole experience was extraordinary. Sessions were noisy and controversial.  It was the era of student revolt and all that.  I am sure my inadequacies were exposed at many turns.  But, returning to England I knew my life had changed.  Courtship was serious - engaged after 3 months, married after 11 months. Interestingly, friendships made at the conference venue, the International Baptist Seminary in Ruschlikon, have continued to the present. Carol and I were to return several times variously as conference helpers, on sabbatical and, indeed, for a holiday exchange with the President.

I must round off this slab of indulgence before it runs away with me.  But one more post is required.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Turning points 3)

I remember friends promising to pray that I might find what I should do when I finished in June and somehow I heard that the London HQ of Baptists in Britain was looking to make an experimental appointment.  At that point there were around 30 Baptist student groups (societies) in different universities and they wondered if they could appoint a recent graduate full-time to liaise with all these groups, to help link Baptist chaplains and to raise the profile of student work in the denomination.  One of the immediate tasks (August, September) was to oversee the student commendation scheme when churches sent in names of students leaving them for different universities, to sort them into lists mailed to the relevant chaplains. The job was financially experimental too. It was assumed that any recent student would live at home or with relatives and all they would need would be money for traveling to work and food.  A kind of upgraded pocket money.

Feeling unreal about the whole prospect, I was interviewed and appointed.  The General Secretary of the Baptist Union said I had to be introduced to the Assembly Meetings at Westminster Chapel in April. Travelling by train I suddenly had a massive nosebleed which continued too long and left me feeling unable to move any facial muscles  Hundreds had gathered in the multiple galleries of this great London church and I found myself in the large pulpit area for the whole session. I felt acute panic that the nosebleed could erupt at any point.   When the moment came for me to be introduced to the President with kind words, a handshake and applause my exposure was total and my composure automaton-like. ' A sober nervous young man' would be the verdict!

I discovered some relatives of ours in the East End in Plaistow who allowed me to sleep on an air bed in the living room after everyone went to bed.  London was bewildering as I began journeying on the Tube to Holborn.  Everything was strange.  I shared Room 32 at the top of the HQ building with two (much) older men who led the Stewardship Dept.  I was given a typewriter but no secretarial help.  I began this weird new existence in July totally unaware what a turning point I was encountering.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Turning points 2)

Early in 1967, with continuing excitement about leaving in the Summer for India, I received a letter in one of those tiny brown envelopes which required folding a letter (at least) four times to fit inside.  Enclosed was a duplicated sheet produced by wax stencil in which the evenness of typing (or lack thereof) and mistakes were visible as ink seeped through patchily.  Along the top in block capitals was the heading: EAST ASIAN CHRISTIAN COLLEGES ASSOCIATION.

This utterly unimpressive letter began generically Dear Friend. The next sentence was devastating:  owing to various circumstances we are ceasing to function as an organization and any arrangements that have been made are ceasing to function too!   It was brief, without further explanation, to inform all donors, supporters as well as volunteers in the me. I couldn't believe something that I was basing my immediate future on had suddenly been wiped out.

Having been so pleased with my India future I was suddenly confronted by a blank sheet.  The question:'What are you going to do after college?' was thrown disturbingly open.  In shock I had no idea.  Absolutely no idea.

This event was to cause a turning point which was to change everything in my life.  Everything!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Turning points

Last week I was asked to speak at our church Women's Meeting.  (What echoes of the past when such meetings were packed and obligatory engagements in my diary).  It gave me opportunity to consider a new theme (new to me anyway) about the turning points in our lives.  When things didn't happen as we hoped they would only for other things to happen that couldn't have happened without the first things not happening.  If you know what I mean!

I took that extraordinary verse Rom. 8:38 - We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  And it is extraordinary..the conviction 'we know' that speaks of faith tested by experience and authenticated by the Holy Spirit. And the claim that for those who love God turning points in our lives are ultimately positive.

At the meeting I indulged somewhat in a flashback to 1966-67!  I was in my last year at college for a  Geography degree.  Like many leaving students I was keen to do something worthwhile.  I heard about an organization called East Asian Christian Colleges Association.  Apparently, they placed a few new graduate students in universities in E. Asia where they could teach their subject.  I was interviewed and offered a place at Serampore College in India for two years.  This was doubly thrilling. Serampore College was founded by the great Baptist missionary William Carey (and two co-workers) in 1818.  It is the second oldest university in India with an amazing track record of providing leadership.  This appointment also gave me opportunity to develop my academic interest in physical geography and form a basis for research and who knows what in the future!

In those days going to India was unusual.  Only people like the Beatles went....and missionaries!  The thought of these two years thrilled me.  When people asked me what I was going to do I confess I was fairly impressed with myself when I told them.  It seemed a golden opportunity.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Living without triumph

When our Christian book shop closed (and what a sad event that was) I bought some bargain books including The Freedom of Years - ageing in perspective by Harriet and Donald Mowat. One phrase caught my attention when they wrote of their Christian perspective on ageing as living without triumph. They consider this expression sums up much of the journey through ageing.

Now, at first this seems to fly in the face of Christianity's great faith claims - But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:57).  Aren't we supposed to remain people full of hope and joy right through to the end?  Wasn't that the point of my last sermon on joy?Yes, but this phrase emphasizes another truth about ageing.  That many of the events and experiences in our younger lives gave us immense satisfaction with a sense of personal achievement and certainty.  We were doings things that others noticed - especially those of us working in public life.  And, inevitably, memories of those accomplishments do stand out as moments of triumph.  Of feeling significant and worthwhile!

However, with increased ageing those moments of triumph may no longer be repeated.  Rather, we live in a present marked by the absence of those 'triumphant events and experiences' and if we are not careful our sense of significance and value can dwindle.  The challenge of living without triumph is to realize that in this different season of life we are no less significant and valuable to God. We learn that individual accomplishments are not the reason why God loves us. Indeed, individual accomplishments can easily pump up pride and self-importance.  No, slowing down to see a bigger picture of collective good where belonging to others, developing Holy Spirit fruit such as love, joy, patience, self-control, living in Christ's victory, is vitally important to who we are as God's children.

Just recently, some health issues have forced me to say no to some bigger commitments that in the past I would have undertaken with energy. In disappointment I am learning that living without triumph is a very different way of life but just as valid in God's love.  It may be that some of my older readers will agree?!

Monday, November 11, 2019


Yesterday I was surprised.  Someone stopped me after the morning service and thanked me for a sermon I had preached two weeks before.  She said: 'It was your illustration with the slide of a fruit bowl.  It has really stayed with me.'  And then she added: "It's the way that this fruit contrasts with the really ugly list of our normal human behaviour.  It's the contrast between these lists that really challenges me. Thank you for the picture!'

Yes, I was surprised - in at least two ways. First, that a simple visual like this had struck home enough to be worth mentioning two weeks' later. And it was so simple - just a bowl of fruit. Second, and amazingly, the serious point of contrasting the fruit in Gal. 5:22 with the sinful nature of v.19 was uppermost in her mind.  So often if illustrations can be recalled at all their whole point is frequently forgotten.

It was the first time that I had used power-point in my local church.  In the past I have shared in debate about the pros and cons of powerpoint in preaching and, indeed, of illustrations themselves. How much do they add or detract?  Powerpoint can so easily be abused as, by example, an overuse of words on the screen which threaten to undo the power of the spoken word.  Yet, here was a clear example of its value - especially to visual learners.

Surprises like this are always welcome!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Christian Joy 4)

After Sunday's sermon one lady said to me 'That was very hard to listen to and for you to preach.'  She was right!  Two passages (Rom 5:1-5 and Jas. 1: 1-5) speak of joy in suffering.  An extraordinary claim - especially for those suffering 'trials of every kind' right now. It deserved its 18 certificate.

I began by retelling how my College Principal, visibly upset by the death of a close friend, told us ministerial students (mostly in our twenties) how we were too young to preach on suffering. Too young in faith and life-experience. How true was that!

The sermon had two prime challenges, 1) Christian joy restructures everyday living. Unlike computer rebooting, Christian joy requires life-long commitment to begin each day reasserting how much God knows me, loves me, saves me (Luke 15:1-10) and how God gives me help every day to walk with him (Gal 5:13-26 ).  I had some fun with some T-shirt stories and suggested how these assertions should be on the front of the T shirt we put on every morning. But on the back would be these words: this leads to PERSEVERANCE, MATURITY, CHARACTER AND HOPE. The world admires these qualities. I told the story of Sarah Thomas who had recently swum the English Channel four times in 54 hours, Battling tides which turned an 80 mile journey into 130 miles!  But linking these four words with Christian joy doesn't make sense to the world.

2) Christian joy develops through dark times. Looking carefully at the texts we see how through the process of suffering and the testing  of faith joy can emerge. I quoted Leon Bloy: There are places in our hearts which do not yet exist and it is necessary for suffering to penetrate there in order that they make come into being. This part of the sermon became more difficult because I knew several people in the congregation are really suffering.  I shared how after 13 years of healthy ministry I was hit by a neurological disease and told I would never work publicly again and, yet ,in very dark places I learned that God was not loving me less, nor walking with me less so that I might even there show fruit.  I criticized that saying: Christians are like teabags. You have to put them in hot water to see how strong they are.  Actually, in hot water they show how strong God is in their weakness!

I asked permission of one of our members, Peter, who is dying of cancer whether I might tell what happened when I had coffee with him eight days earlier.  A lady who had not seen Peter for a long time came up to thank him for service he had given in the village. She said how sorry she was about his illness and how well he was holding up.  Peter looked up at her with a big smile. 'It's a gift', he said. 'God has given me victory'. His face was radiant.  That's the hope in suffering. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57).

Friday, November 1, 2019

Christian Joy 3)

I gave this sermon a 15 certificate.  It began agreeably with a picture of a fruit bowl with a list of the fruit of the Spirit in which joy belongs intimately with love, peace, patience and the rest Gal. 5:22).  What's not to like about that picture?  But however well meaning we are about living this good life it is quite impossible without first confronting the other list in Gal 5:19.

I used an ugly font to list some of them: sexual immorality, impurity, hatred, discord, dissensions, jealousy, selfish ambition, factions, fits of rage.  Tragically, this is human nature at work. Though no-one gets sent to prison for these (unless taken to extremes), from God's point of view this is disastrous. So far from his purpose for humankind.  Indeed he calls them 'sinful nature', using a word 'sinful' that in contemporary usage is rarely applied.  Only when we understand the conflict between living in this way (the natural, everyday human experience) and walking by the Spirit can we understand how serious is the daily challenge (15 cert. at least)!  This means (at least) 3 challenges:

WHICH WALK?   I told the story when I was Principal of Spurgeon's sitting in my local church with my mind full of a busy week. As the service ended but an elderly man leaned across and asked me: How is your walk with Jesus?  That question hit me in the gut.  All my 'professional' Christianity - was it being fitted into a natural sinful  walk?  As C.S. Lewis put it: The idea of reaching a 'good life' without Christ is based on a double error.  Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up a 'good life' as our final goal we have missed the very point of our existence. Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts.

ASKING FOR HELP?  We cannot do it by our own efforts  We need God's third person - the Holy Spirit.  Some are wary thinking that the Spirit may force things upon us.  No never. He is God and he needs to be invited. He doesn't muscle in. That's why Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. We need to ask him.  I shared an old hymn which was very popular in my youth. It's second verse goes:
I need thee every hour
Stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power,
When Thou art night,
I need Thee, O I need Thee
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Saviour,
I come to Thee.  
To contemporary ears is sounds so outdated and excessive...every hour?  But it's a vital prayer.

WHAT VICTORIES?  I confessed that I was going to end with a great story of victory in the life of the Japanese evangelist Koji Honda, a giant joyful person I met many years ago.  But I realized this would dodge the issue about the victories, some of them very small, that God was wanting me (us) to win this coming week.  As a church we know that we are work in progress in showing fruit, like Joy.  Martin Luther quoted an old prayer: We ain't what we oughta be. We ain't what we want to be. We ain't what we gonna be.  But thank God, we ain't what we was.

For us, right now, this requires serious commitment. I ended with a prayer from one of our house groups a couple of weeks ago: Lord, there are lots of things that divide us. Forgive us for getting up one another's noses.  Help us by your Holy Spirit to live together with love and care (and I would add JOY).  

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Christian Joy 2

It's very difficult to preach about a found sheep and a found coin without exhilaration (Luke 19:1-10)!  Here in two deceptively simple stories Jesus lays out the source and cause of Christian joy - the startling truth that God knows us,  God finds us, God loves us, God rescues us.  No wonder multi-dimensional joy ends the two stories, joy with friends and neighbours, and joy in heaven.

To the rational mind, talk of a God who knows and loves me sounds absurd.  But this is not about making me big, but of making God bigger.  Not of a personal faith in God which is constructed to my satisfaction, but of faith in a personal God who acts in ways far beyond our understanding for us.  I mentioned an evangelistic talk I heard as a student when we were asked how much total knowledge of the world we possessed.  We smiled. 'Suppose you know 1% of all there is to know', he said. To which we laughed outright, thinking of the trouble we had finishing our course assignments. 'Isn't it presumptuous to assume that within that 1% you know all about God. Enough to reject him or to say how definitively how he works?'   In a world of string theory, cyber space, and continuous discoveries we need to take what Jesus says seriously about God's far reaching personal knowledge and love.

For God, his entire mission through Jesus Christ is to find people who are not where they should be within God's family and to bring them back.  I told the story of an Australian I met in Singapore. In his early thirties he was a helicopter pilot laying pipeline in Malaysia.  He told me how he lived on base with the lads. ' My life was diabolical. I got through one marriage. I lived with the lads - it was rough, crude.  But at the beginning of this year I met Jesus Christ and he changed me.  And I found near my base a little church who just held me within their family.  I couldn't believe in the most hellish, godless place God could find me, and keep helping me in this family.'  His face was wreathed in smiles as he told me.  So was mine.  This was joy.  Multi-dimensional,  In his life, among his church friends and echoing in heaven.

Of course, I was also able to speak about repentance which lies at the turning point from being lost to being saved.  The Communion service which followed gave us the best opportunity to celebrate being God's lost and found department together.

Preaching this was an immense joy.  You can imagine.  But, preparing for next Sunday will place greater demands on me!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Christian joy

The next three weeks, while our pastor is away, I am preaching in my home church.  3 weeks is long enough to take a theme into a little more depth. And in praying and preparation the theme of JOY surfaced strongly.  Perhaps, because many of us have found recent months of national uncertainty fairly joyless!  Mostly because Christian joy is sometimes overlooked as an extraordinary gift of God.  Understanding joy needs care because some equate it with jollity and extrovert enthusiasm   Of course, there is extrovert joy in Scripture - look at the intoxication of Pentecost Sunday.  But there is also introvert joy, a contemplate experience even in the face of suffering (Jas. 1:2).  It's a big and serious subject.

As the sermons are being written I realize that classifications borrowed from the film industry can be applied.  The first sermon on the source and causes of joy (Luke 15:1-10) is U certificate.  No-one can tease out the stories of the lost sheep and lost coin without getting Jesus' point.  Joy in belonging to God. Just underline the words joy and rejoicing!  The second has much more demanding content (Gal. 5: 13-26   ) and deserves at least a 15 certificate.  It places joy among the fruit (rightly connecting it with the other Spirit qualities) and contrasts it with usual human behaviour.  Two ways open up - the natural way of the flesh which is our daily default pattern or the Spirit way - walking and keeping pace with the Spirit.  And these two ways of behaving open up every day.

The third sermon really needs an 18 certificate because it looks at joy in suffering (Jas 1:2-8;Rom. 5: 1-5). To link joy with suffering takes us to deep places and I know that both preparing this sermon and listening to it will be demanding.  I shall keep in touch as this little series develops.  Perhaps you might like to look up the different passages and anticipate the messages?! 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Rembering Ron

Yesterday I was at the funeral and thanksgiving service for Ron Messenger (1923-2019).  Someone said to me: 'I hope there will be a good crowd.  When you are old not many will know all the good things you did.'  Well, the church was packed and the service inspiring. For me, he was the Baptist Mr. Counsellor.  From the beginning of my ministry I knew Ron as a pioneer of a therapeutic healing community of Greenwoods. Everyone in the denomination knew of him. With gentle authority he demonstrated such love and skill with some of the neediest, most troubled people.
You learn so much at a funeral. I didn't know of his service during World War Two as a navigator flying for the Fleet Air Arm. Nor how large his family was with five sons whose families now add up to nearly 40. Nor of his early enthusiasm with the Boys Brigade and his charismatic leadership of the community. Several words kept being repeated. We learned that the war changed him and forged the word FORGIVENESS as key to Christian living - which led him into ministry.  LOVE best described his life and ministry ever since.  Nobody seemed unimportant. And LISTENING marked his phenomenal ability to focus on you.  He used to say: 'Look how Jesus spent time with the one!'Oh, one-on-one....there was so much good to remember.

Personally, I shall never forget the wonder when in retirement he was willing to share his gifts as counsellor in my Cambridge church in 1989.  At first hand, I marvelled at his work in our Stoneyard Centre caring for people that I (and most of us) felt utterly inadequate to help.  He touched countless lives.  He led courses on pastoral counselling for the church (I still have the notes).  His marriage counselling was legendary including advising one couple they weren't ready to marry - and they agreed! To the leadership team he brought depth, experience and maturity...always with grace and a twinkle. So many stories of love and listening with forgiveness at their heart.

The last three years he was bed-ridden, totally blind and very deaf.  Yet he remained a shining witness with such faith in God's love.  We learned that one of his visitors asked him how he was, to which he replied 'Oh, it's good.  I'm learning to listen!  

Isn't it wonderful to have known and been influenced by people like Ron?

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Feels like Home

Recently I was given a book written by a pastor friend, Lee Eclov, with that title: Feels like Home.  He writes so well, packing the book with stories from his long ministry. What hit me between my eyes is his overriding conviction  - that the best way of viewing the local church is to see it as family.

He claims: You can’t feel at home in an organization. Summing up his ministry he says: 'I am not project manager, goal setter, strategist, but homemaker'. The church as God's household looms large (1 Tim 3:15 Eph 2:19).  Yet it contrasts with viewing church as organization.  It develops in a different way.  Vision statements don't work because it's about people who often don't fit in with vision. Outliers. In fact 'watching out for prodigals' is a top priority of God's household.  And growing family takes time - pastors need patience within God's family

As he teases out implications of belonging to Christian brothers and sisters he underlines the tension between nuclear family life and our first family in Christ and invites us to find a role within two families because a healthy church life is God's gift to any family.  Through all these he keeps illustrating by stories drawn through his long ministry.

His commitment to church as homemaker resonates with my own experience of him and his warm supportive ministry.  And his introduction continues to challenge me:
When Christians look for a church they are looking for a home.  They don't just need a place where they like the music or preaching, or where their kids are happy. They need a home because Christian discovery and growth can't happen without one.  The Bible knows nothing of Christians disconnected from other believers. Jesus' people are a family, "the household of God' (Eph. 2:19).  You might think a church that feels like home would be easy, but actually it is a miracle. Christian love and Christ-like service don't come naturally at fact life with our Christian family is counter-intuitive at every turn.  Everything that makes a church feel like home depends on the Holy Spirit working wonders within and among us. 
Do you sense a challenge too?

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Fresh ambitions

This last weekend I made a couple of commitments.  By now, readers will know of the somewhat random nature of my postings...flitting from one subject to another.  And actually this is about trying to reduce flitting!

The first commitment was renewing my gym membership for a year.  I have belonged to a gym for several years beginning in the US under orders from a fierce doctor whose dire warnings about my health really motivated me.   In following years, motivation has become erratic and occasionally absent all together.  But, with a fresh year's renewal I really want to develop more regular exercise.  So, that's one ambition.

The other concerns reactivating my keyboard which has lived in the attic for much of the past year.  I pushed it up there when we needed the spare room for accommodation.  It's not full size and I only bought it because my minor stroke left me needing to exercise my left hand. However, like the gym, enthusiasm for doing exercises waxes and wanes.  In my teens playing the piano was one of my main hobbies but all that is in the far distance. I have a CD which re-introduces me to basics of scales etc.  It backs single finger exercises with extravagant orchestration so that Old MacDonald had a farm sounds positively symphonic.

How long will these fresh ambitions last?  I know the peril of going public but that's part of the pressure I need to put on myself.  Maybe I'll let you know.

Friday, September 20, 2019

An Akenfield Baptist

A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me a copy of 'Akenfield - Portrait of an English Village' (1969) by Ronald Blythe.  He said that I would be intrigued by its many village characters who tell their stories on its pages. Featuring a small Suffolk village in the 1960's it comprises direct speech monologues from forty-nine residents linked togther by the author's insights.

In the section 'God', we hear a deacon of the village Strict Baptist Chapel describe how he became a Christian (at a village tent mission) and his life in the church ever since. Warmly and positively he details how the chapel works and how making an open confession of Christ in baptism is essential.  He explains that the church chooses its pastor and needs to pay him as well as maintaining the church and manse.  At that time it had no pastor (because of the 'money problem').  However he reflects that twenty-five years before they had a full-time pastor and ran the church for just 3 shillings a week.

We could do this because the pastor was, well, a saint you might say. He was Akenfield. Ask anybody. Nobody ever did so much good or was so kind. A rich friend from Ipswich, a rare big businessman who wasn't one of us, gave him a car -this was when cars were rare in the village - and he never used it for his pleasure.  Only for others.  It was known as the 'hospital motor' because he used it to take patients and family to Ipswich and Melton hospitals.  It never mattered what time of day or night it was.  We don't quite know where this man came from.  Anyway, he stayed and cared for us, and none better.  He stayed thirty years and was one of us. 

What a tribute to an 'under-shepherd' of the Good Shepherd! I have been privileged to know a few saints like this - I hope you have too.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Visiting family

Over the last few days Carol and I have been on the road visiting ailing family on both Carol's and my sides. This accounts for nil postings recently. Such visits are rarely easy (many of you will readily recognize why!)  Fitting in with family who are much older or, in my brother's case, younger but dogged by ill health, requires sensitivity....which I hope we showed.

We return home glad to have completed the trip.  Though it involved less than 500 miles the 'being on the road' aspect proved to be exhausting....particularly the hours spent on the M 3 onto the M 25 and up the A 1M on the way home.  Often at walking speed (it seemed) the sheer volume of traffic, complicated by road improvement schemes fueled exasperation.  Really - what a surprise?!

Returning home late we planned a major shop the next morning to replenish stores.  Travelling towards the store we found that the entry to the main approach road was closed.  No warning anywhere!  Joining a lengthy diversion we arrived much later, rewarded ourselves with a coffee, shopped for provisions and then set off for home.  Except, that as we joined the line of cars leaving the car park we found ourselves stationary.  Normally, it takes about 12 minutes to reach home.  But we were in a monster queue that took 50 minutes to clear the store with a further 10 minutes of journey.  Another hour in the car again!  I commented to Carol about the Christian gift of patience....but I am not so sure it was helpful.

Anyway, I have had a little moan....forgive me.  We've all been there!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Gen Z values

It is obvious that this latest generation is highly tech savvy and obviously this was vital in explaining the wildfire way that Jordan's vision (see last post) spread across the US and into Europe.  As I listened to him describe what he sees as some of the distinctive features of Gen Z I noted some contrasts.

   -  They want to see change.  I suppose Greta Thunberg is the poster girl for this characteristic but this new generation is reckoned to be more highly charged about wanting to make a difference.  They desire to get involved in big issues.
 -    They want community.  Belonging to small groups is deemed valuable especially when they are involved in change. Collaboration matters.
 -    Story and conversation are valued strongly and are key to enthusing others of their own age.
 -    They can be wide-eyed with wonder when confronted by the new.

However, alongside these characteristics Jordan mentioned:
   - They are troubled by mental ill-health in larger numbers.  Anxiety is common - a recent survey found that 23% of this group was in depression.  Some of this is likely provoked by comparisons and trolling on social media.
  -  They are much less likely than previous generations to have a Christian world view.  He mentioned a Barna survey in the US found that less than 4% of this group had a Christian world view. For most Gen Z the Bible is a closed book and church is alien.

I am left with real concern for this latest generation - it seems with so many positives yet serious negatives. How we oldies need to keep praying for them, especially when they are in our families and churches!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Meeting Generation Z

Recently I have been reading a little about the latest generation born between 1999-2001 that have been dubbed Generation Z.  Past classifications such as Baby Boomers, Generation X have prepared us for the next iteration and with hesitation because of the dangers of their massive generalizations we can discern some definite changes and differences. Of course, my grandchildren have already taught me some by their hyper tech savy awareness and immersion into the digital world. Social media is their breath!

This interest was sparked by meeting Jordan Whitmer a couple of days ago when he came to visit us in Cambridge.  He shared how he had passed beyond Generation Z having (just) reached 21 years.  However, as a Gen Z member he demonstrated what he sees as some of the distinctives about this next generation.  When he was 16 he felt God's call to witness to his peers and with 5 friends, using social media, they planned a meeting in their home town of Harrison, Arkansas. They called it How to Life. Expecting a few tens, they gathered 750 teens in a rally where 75 made commitments of faith in Jesus Christ.  Other high schools joined in as news rapidly spread throughout 20 different US states, coast to coast.

A teenager in Wigan read about it which led to How to Life taking off in England with an international conference in 2018 in England and Hamburg.  Jordan was over here because the movement is now spreading to other countries in Europe.  As he puts it: 'Teens listen to other teens more than to any others'!

My day spent with Jordan introducing him to Cambridge and its history was sheer delight.  His interest in Reformation history, his mature self-awareness even as the founder and CEO of this rapidly expanding movement (which could so easily lead to conceit), and his clear vision for winning others made him a memorable visitor.  I learned so much and was encouraged by his perception that among Gen Z there is receptivity to the gospel and when teenagers feel empowered remarkable spiritual things can happen.  I'll mention a couple of things next........

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Photo realistic computer animation and a punt pole

With our grandchildren staying for a brief visit I had opportunity to be with Elliot (13 years plus) and Sophie (10 years) for at least a couple of experiences.  One dismal wet day I decided to take them to see The Lion King.  I had read about this billion$ grossing movie with its photo realistic computer animation remake of the earlier Disney animation. I had also read some mixed reviews!

In the small studio with about 50 recliners and ample space all round, we stuck popcorn and drink on a swing table between us and laid back (almost flat) for the pre-programme and then the (very) long movie. I know I am losing some hearing but when the lights went out it was deafening. Both children agreed it was too loud (though perhaps they were humouring me!)  Anyway, the movie itself was extraordinary, bringing animals to life in spectacular scenery and I gawped at the wonder of technology today. So, a very contemporary deafening experience.  My grandchildren besotted with ipads and games felt right at home.

On their last full morning Elliot wanted to go punting again.  He had already made a couple of happy attempts and wanted to expand his skills.  Going upstream my son punted leisurely towards Granchester/ Just river bank scenery, ducks and swans. Sophie was helped to wield the pole and her smile of triumph as she sat down was a delight.  Elliot then took over.  Unfortunately, the river bed was quite sticky and trees overhung either side.  His strenuous efforts took us from one side to the other and back.  And then the pole firmly stuck in the mud and (fortunately) Elliot let go. Suddenly we (and some onlookers on the bank) were enthralled by adventure.  Paddling furiously back to the pole we rescued it with such laughter.  Genuine enjoyment in the moment. Of course they took a video and pictures on the iphone but I couldn't help but contrast these two experiences.  One created by technology for us.  The other...just messing about in a boat. There's nothing like creating your own enjoyment together, is there?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Proud father

When Rob was a teenager he volunteered one Summer at Addenbooke's Hospital radio in Cambridge.  Visiting the wards, gaining requests and communicating greetings he fell in love with the process of radio.  Of course, this was very local but it was sufficient to spark enthusiasm for the whole world of radio. His ambition became fixed on 'getting into radio'.  As parent I sought to be wise!  I cautioned him about having too narrow a focus. About the danger of shutting out other possibilities and, of course, the possibility of serious disappointment if it didn't happen.

But his focus on radio never wavered once!  At Oxford University though he was reading English he with a couple of friends launched the first UK's FM student radio station.  It hit the headlines though his Principal said that if he had spent  the same amount of time on his academics as setting up the radio he could have excelled!  However, since then he has gone from strength to strength, collecting an unrivaled number of national awards for his own university station in the US, founded Student College Radio Day, and the international student radio organization that has been held this week. Always radio!

And for the first time this week at the conference I heard him speak. It was an extraordinary sensation to listen to Rob in full flow with wit, clarity, content, great skill and contagious enthusiasm communicating his passion, now so obviously fulfilled.  I was immensely proud of him (and his wife has been the most supportive partner in it all).  To see his dream fulfilled with such gifting was quite overwhelming.  I know why I cautioned him those years ago but I am delighted to see he stayed with his vision.  Quite wonderful.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Thinking Radio

Yesterday, I was at the 2nd. International Student Radio Conference - Alternatives 2019 - at Jesus College, Cambridge.  Those readers who know of our son Robert's work with student radio will guess that Carol and I were both there in the bonds of parental relationship!   Following up from our Golden Wedding at the college this time last year, Rob resolved to organize this radio conference at the college too.  It's been very hard work - representatives have come from all over the world and trying to bring the admin. and content together has involved Rob and Lori sleepless nights and the rest.   But it has launched with a very good spirit though many attendees were delayed.

Rob asked me as a former student of Jesus College to welcome them with a word about the city and the college.  I began by mentioning that Cambridge is statistically in the driest part of the UK.  Guffaws echoed round the room since it had rained heavily all day and wet weather is set to continue through the rest of their stay.  Oh, blame the shifted jet stream!

It is easy to overwhelm with welcome facts but I knew I had to communicate the thrill of staying in a place of such history.  You never know who studied in your room in the generations before!  Because it was a radio conference I had to tell them about former student Alistair Cooke who emigrated to the US.  In 1946 he was commissioned to give 13 weekly radio sessions which became 'Letter from America'. After only a few weeks the BBC knew they were onto a winner.   He continued giving weekly 15 minute talks....well, for how long?  I asked them to guess.  No one got it!  Until 2004!  He had broadcast for 58 years without a gap - a world radio speech record.

Earlier, before the conference started, at a coffee morning I had asked the group of older friends we meet with how many remembered Letter from America.  Everyone round the table did!  With animation one after another told of episodes they remembered - like his eyewitness to the shooting of Robert Kennedy.  Yes, radio connects.  I hope the conference inspires many.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reformation Cambridge 4) Fresh learning

I mentioned how I had learned new things.  After the cool we were hit again by the heat as we walked by the Market Square into Great St. Mary's - the University Church.  I had no idea that in the window of opportunity for Reformers granted by a different monarch (1547-1553) one of the great German reformers, a personal friend of Luther, a brilliant scholar and a powerful preacher had actually come to be the preacher in this church as well as Divinity Professor.   Martin Bucer is one of those names that should be better known.

He came to Great St. Mary's and preached from a three-tiered pulpit set up at the front of the church. So influential was his preaching that when he died after only two years in Cambridge (in 1551) the town and gown mourned him in vast numbers.  3000 people gathered at his funeral as he was buried in the church.

Sadly, the story does not end there.  Soon afterwards when Mary came to the throne she ordered his coffin to be dug up and his body burned with his ashes scattered in the nearby Market Square.  Later Queen Elizabeth 1 ordered the ashes to be collected and reburied in the church.  A plaque at the east end on the floor now remembers this great man.

In the sweltering heat we paused to take in this bit of history.  For me, it led to finding out more about Bucer.  One biographer reflects that he hasn't received enough attention for his influence on others was immense (especially on Calvin who claimed Bucer's commentary on Romans was one of the very greatest!)  So many aspects of his work sparkle - like how he initiated small discipleship cells for the spiritual renewal of believers with an evangelical service of confirmation (he designed) being a focal point of commitment to Christ.  What a story we belong to!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Reformation Cambridge 3) In the cool and wow.

We passed through the crowds gathered round the locust clock (apparently 5.3 million visitors came to Cambridge last year) and went down a narrow alley opposite King's College to the church of St. Edward King and Martyr.   On the ancient church door was pinned a notice to keep the door shut.  However, it was ajar held by an empty beer crate.  Entering the darkness the drop in temperature was startling.  By many degrees!

With gratitude many of the group sat while I described how this had been the college chapel for Latimer and Bilney.  Outside the bishop's authority it could therefore be the one place in Cambridge where Reformation truths could ignite.  And on Christmas Eve 1525, one of the reformers Robert Barnes preached the first Reformation sermon in England.  He had known Luther and come to Cambridge to head up an Augustinian monastery.  The pulpit from which he preached is still at the front. Called Latimer's pulpit you are not allowed to climb it but many of us touched its pitted surface.  This is where it first happened!  On a side wall a plaque marks how reformers had met at the White Horse Inn as new ideas fermented before this church became the birthplace of the reformation.  It also notes how Barnes, Bilney and Latimer were all burned to death for their witness.

The professor leading the group, sitting in the welcome cool, said: 'It's hard for us now to realize just how revolutionary all this was.  Everything was changed.' We stayed there for several minutes quietly reflecting.  Revolutionary, yes.  In the cool, wow!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Reformation Cambridge 2) The clock and plaque

The group of students I was hosting was on an assignment about post-Christianity.  I shared how the latest British attitude survey put 52% as non-religious with 26% of the population avowedly atheist, who are better at passing on their atheism than the small Christian percentage passing on their faith.

As if to prove the point.... I had scouted out the reformation walk beforehand. Walking along King's Parade (towards the iconic King's College Chapel) I saw a large crowd spilling across the road with their cameras out.  It was close to one of the most significant reformation sites.  However, moving closer I saw they were all looking in the opposite direction at the Corpus Clock which shows a monstrous locust-type creature gobbling up the seconds on top of a 5 foot high disc clock. Unveiled in 2008 by Stephen Hawking it is a strange sight.  Indeed its designer called it a chronophage - literally time eater - with the words in Latin beneath: 'the world passeth away, and the lust thereof.'

Admittedly, it is an unusual sight.  However, on the opposite side of the road is a blue plaque commemorating the White Horse Inn where the first reformers met in secret to discuss Luther's books which had been smuggled down river in 1521.   It is called 'Little Germany' for obvious reasons. The modest plaque adds: the birthplace of the English reformation.  Just near this spot scholars like Thomas Bilney (Trinity Hall), Hugh Latimer ( Clare) and Nicholas Ridley (Master of Pembroke) dared to think through Scripture afresh that believers may have a direct relationship with Jesus Christ, unmediated by priests, a relationship of grace, justified by faith and all that.  All these three men (and more) were later to be martyred for their daring.

Nobody was interested in this plaque.  But nobody.  Parked in front were several motor-cycles preventing you getting close.  Returning with the group of students this scene was repeated.  All the interest was expended on the clock with nil interest in the site of the revolution that was to impact the world.  Sadly it served as a poignant example of post-Christian Britain.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Reformation Cambridge 1) History frisson

I had little idea how much background in Christian history these students had.  And how much/little interest would there be?  In my introduction I mentioned how amazingly God joined up the dots for the English Reformation in Cambridge with a good edition and translation of the New Testament (1516) , successful smuggling of Luther's books down the river (1521),  gifted reformers meeting in secret (1523) and then the very first Reformation sermon (1525).  Later the boy king Edward VI (1547-1553) provided a brief window of opportunity for the Reformers before crushing persecution and the burning of 300 martyrs under Mary 1.

That 1516 edition of the Greek New Testament with a brilliant Latin translation was the work of Erasmus, who was brought to Queens' College Cambridge to fulfill this work.  Two of the students caught me afterwards.  'Erasmus of Rotterdam', they exclaimed. 'What was he doing in Cambridge?  We have been studying him and he seems to have been a very big influence on the Continent helping to prepare for the Reformation'. You can imagine my delight.  Genuine interest! And when we reached Erasmus' Tower at Queens' College and looked up at his study window I could sense some frisson for these two.  Really? Up there!

There is real irony too.  John Fisher, the President of Queens', brought Erasmus to his college but as a Roman Catholic detested the Reformers and Luther's interpretation of Scripture.  Indeed, he ordered the burning of Luther's books in the Market Square.  Erasmus,  also Roman Catholic had no intention of breaking away from Rome though his personality and brilliance emphasized that religion should be about who we are and not what we do in a faith that is deep and reasonable.  As one historian put it: 'He did most to make educated Europe think that things must change because they could not be borne any longer.'

Friday, July 26, 2019

Hot, hot Cambridge

Yesterday, Cambridge registered the highest temperature in the whole UK at 38.7 C (just over 101 F).  I was due to play host to a small group of students from Anderson University, South Carolina, who were on a course while visiting England.  Their two accompanying professors are well-known to me and I was looking forward to spending the day with them all  My task was to give a talk/lecture on evangelicals in post-Christianity and then to lead them on a Christian heritage tour particularly marking the birth of the English Reformation (which occurred in Cambridge).

Two days beforehand we were warned that Thursday July 25th would be among the hottest days ever recorded.  Little did we know just what it would mean for those travelling by rail and going on walkabout on a city tour!  Their scheduled train from London was cancelled and their eventual train limped along on rails twisted in the heat.  The Cambridge Uber taxi driver didn't know where the St. Andrew's Street. Baptist Church was and took the students in the opposite direction to St. Alban's before being corrected by a frantic professor by phone.  I was due to speak first in the church - I assumed for at least an hour before lunch. But all that planning went south.  True, I gave an introduction to the walking tour but the lecture/talk was jettisoned.

After lunch at Nando's (iced drinks) the walk itself was amended on the hoof.  Of course, I had determined to cut it short but as we dragged along in the intense heat, with one student in a wheel-chair, I kept reducing it.   Yet, we hit the main spots and, sometimes wide-eyed with wonder, the group stayed with it.

As air-conditioned youth I guess they will always remember it as an adventure in the heat. 'What happened when you visited England?  Well, it was one of the hottest days ever recorded and there wasn't a single moment of air-con in Cambridge!   But, as I shall mention in my next post, I found it a refreshing learning experience,,,,and I love the heat!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Surprising connections

Our church house group only has ten members. At our Sunday church picnic I sat next to one in a beautiful garden. Sharing an enjoyable bring and share lunch we relaxed.  And, as you do, conversation meandered widely. I mentioned the fingerposts that my friend had repainted and how excited he was.  With a jolt he sat up: 'Why, that's exactly what I have done in the Cambridge area.  All kinds of different metal posts, sometimes at ground lever and often in a bad way.  It's hard work I can tell you. Yeh, that's what I have done.'  Fancy that, another enthusiastic for repainting metal sign posts.

And yesterday at our small group BBQ (in this extraordinary heat-spell) I sat next to another man.  In conversation I touched on the task I have tomorrow of taking a group of US students on a Christian heritage tour in Cambridge.  I mentioned Erasmus of Rotterdam and how we will walk past Queens' College where he came to translate the New Testament.  My friend smiled broadly.  'I worked at Queens' for many years.  Erasmus worked up the tower (now named after him) and I painted his study room as part of my job there.  Oh, yes, its quite a place - you can see the Erasmus Tower from the street.'  He went on to advise me who to talk to in order to gain proper access and to other important artifacts.

Alas, on our tour I won't have time to take the group but I was struck by how these two casual conversations within three days of each other touched on stuff I was just thinking about.  It just shows the importance of conversation - talking and listening to others.

In my preparation for the US visit tomorrow I have learned much...I shall share a couple of posts shortly.

Monday, July 22, 2019

West Country break

Last week we were away visiting friends in W Somerset ( That's why even fewer posts than usual). Stuart is an artist (with his own shop in Porlock) and Christine is a County Councillor.  Both are Christians - that's how we met them.  Every time we catch up with them they take us into very different worlds.  On arrival they gave us a roast meal welcome and he presented me with a book :A field guide to Exmoor's traditional roadside fingerposts (2019).  You see what I mean by different worlds!

On page 15 Stuart is pictured up a ladder repainting one of these posts.  A campaign was launched in 2017 to repair these cast iron signposts many dating from the beginning of the twentieth century.  They looked to retired volunteers to take on the task. The book gives exhaustive details about their designs and the process of cleaning and rubbing down with a wire brush, treating bare metal with a primer and undercoat, applying top coat and then the black lettering.  Several signposts are featured because of special historical features and oddities.  Only one is painted red at Luccombe. Stuart told us that we would pass this red post when we drove to our lodgings.  He also mentioned the only post with one moveable finger on our route.  It says: Porlock 3 miles but because it is on the corner of a narrow lane it has to move to allow larger vehicles pass.

Never having given much thought to these fingerposts I now noticed them every time we drove around. The moveable finger to Porlock was often pointing in a completely opposite direction (apparently the wind will move it as well as mischievous passers-by).  The red post gleamed!

Reflecting on this holiday experience I thought how marvellous to keep so interested and involved - two folk in their 70's so zestful for life.  I preached in their local church and there was Stuart playing the flute and Christine greeting everybody.  A great example of ageing!  Yeah!

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Cambridge day 2) That detour

Just to add...I mentioned that my grandson and I dashed into the church restaurant for a quick bite. Extraordinarily, we found Carol sitting there.  She had planned to eat elsewhere but had finished up there. Greeting her, breathlessly highlighting key points of our day so far, I tore off my jacket and hung it on the chair-back, as we placed our orders.  Alas, time ran out on actually eating the snacks because we had to rush to a lecture which introduced potential students to studying Geography in Cambridge.  It proved very profitable.  Afterwards, reaching into my jacket pocket for my car key I realized I had left my jacket with key on that restaurant chair.  I hoped that Carol had seen it before she left...but no.

It was someone else in the restaurant who put two and two together.  Realizing that Carol would likely be waiting for a bus home, he dashed round to find Carol still waiting at the bus stop.  I don't know how many other bus stops he tried but it was a minor miracle he found the right one.

Carol, no doubt muttering about her absent minded husband folded the jacket but felt something heavy in its pocket.  My car key but no car park ticket.  With the ticket she would have been able to take both jacket and key home.  Instead she would have to find me somehow. Puffing her way to the Geography Dept. which she had never visited before, an academic saw her worried state, heard the story, texted me and promised to keep the key safe in her room.  Missing the text, I 'phoned home, to hear this saga and then set about finding my key. Unfortunately, by this time, the academic had left....but eventually a staff member opened the right door.

I would have seen this as an irritating experience that dampened the day. However, as we  searched for the room containing my key, the professor who had earlier spoken at the lecture met us in the corridor and engaged my grandson in a conversation which turned out to be key.  He could ask one-to-one questions.  What a bonus.

Reflecting on the whole day my grandson said "I don't think it could have gone any better!'   How about that!  That's enough about that day......but, as you can tell, I enjoyed most of it.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

A Cambridge day (1) A grandson's dream

This week my seventeen-year old grandson called me and asked if I was free the next day.  Cautiously, I admitted I was. 'Well, it's the Cambridge University Open Day and I wondered if you would go round with me.  I only have a 'partial ticket' which allows me a little access but one person can go with me." 'What are you hoping to study?' said I.  Past conversations with him have ranged over a wide number of options!  'Geography', he replied.  'Really, that's exactly what I studied' I told him, though I think he already knew that.

Arriving by train we raced down to the Geography Department building.  Holding his partial ticket expecting some rebuffs, instead we were able to plunge into full engagement with tutors, students, lectures.  Told to visit some of the colleges where geographers cluster we visited St. Catherine's, Emmanuel, and Downing before dashing into our former church's restaurant for a 15 minute snack.

This led to an unexpected detour which I shall mention next.  But staying with geography for a minute I found myself wallowing in memories of 1964-67 when I read geography in the same place, same lecture theatre (exactly the same!), same library etc.  We went up to the library where the librarian greeted us warmly.  Hearing that I was an old boy he found the volume containing the final examination papers for 1967.  'This is what you took', he said. My final year was devoted to geomorphology.  As I looked at these papers, the font, the questions, the smell (it seemed!) I just escaped falling into a trance!  It was surreal. This was my life!  And here, standing beside me, was my grandson possibly coming to the same place.

Doesn't life have surprises for us?  This was a good one!  I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Smoke alarm

Last Saturday at 10:00 pm the smoke alarm directly above our heads in the sitting room suddenly shrieked with a piercing squeal. The battery needed replacing.  Just as our energies were sleepily decelerating I had to fetch the step ladder from the garage and find the right screwdriver to reach into the alarm's aperture which supposedly simply releases it from the ceiling.  To my exasperation, no matter how hard I tried with different approaches the alarm refused to budge. The shrieking continued to gain in pace. It echoed through our house and we were sure would penetrate our neighbour's sonic range too.

After more failed attempts I decided to knock on my neighbour's door and ask for help. I know it was late. I apologized!  His wife, seeing my face assumed that at the least Carol had fallen down the stairs.  It was obviously an anticlimax to hear that it was only a smoke alarm problem.  Apparently, his alarms look very different.  As a practical man he mounted the ladder and applied pressure in several attempts.  Failure again. (I confess a little relief that it was not simply resolved).  'I may have to break it, ' he said. 'Go for it' urged Carol as the noise continued.   Exerting a mighty thrust the alarm came away...broken. It was still shrieking in his hand until a new battery was fixed/ 'I think it might have been broken before' our neighbour said.   Well, maybe.

Fitted back loosely the last three days have been mercifully quiet.  But on Sunday some visitors for an evening meal were sitting underneath and to our horror it started again.   'Oh, no' we chorused, as we retold the story.  Our friend smiled broadly. 'It's not that' he said.  And then he scraped his rubber sole on the wood floor to make an identical shriek again.

I can't think of learning many lessons from this experience though we note how good neighbours are a blessing and some friends are mischievous. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


For months our TV has been playing up.  The remote button has failed to register '1' which has meant much jiggery-pokery as we use 2 or 9 and go down or up to find some channels.  The guide button has also failed.  Then several channels we used to receive have gone totally blank and even some that we can see occasionally cascade into pixels at inconvenient moments.

We have repeatedly (you're telling me) promised each other that we would get onto the TV helpline .....and weeks have passed.  Part of the delay comes out of past experience when neither of us could understand instructions given us over the phone as an increasingly agitated agent told us which leads to disconnect and buttons to press.

I got the impulse last week to finally deal with it.  I got through to an agent who called me 'Dahrling' She said her birthday was near mine and clearly could see that I was an old boy who would respond to her affection!  Help! It was obvious I needed a new remote she declared and ordered a replacement to arrive the next day.  When it did we could hardly believe the difference it made - we recognized just how slow many other buttons had also become.

However, the problem with the programmes would need a two hour session she said.  This was booked for yesterday.  With abundant affection she began the session by asking me to go to one of the missing channels.  Promptly, with the new remote, I did.  Then I needed to press a couple of buttons before hitting an entirely new purple one.  Instantly the dead channel became alive.  I expressed my delight.  Two hours were not needed.  She gushed her joy dahrling.

'Why didn't we do this before?' questioned Carol.  What a good question.  And it applies to a number of more significant issues too!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Less usual moments 2) Magician's touch

At my watercolour evening class (3 years ago) the teacher advised us to use good quality paper, paint and brushes.  He particularly mentioned sable brushes - wonderful for holding paint and flowing lines etc. he said. I quickly found out that they were priced top of the range...really top.

While in Wheaton (where we once lived) we saw that the art shop is closing down after over 100 years of family ownership.  Everything is marked 50% down so I looked at sable brushes.  Under lock and key they were originally priced $300-500 plus.  The brush I had my eye on was still nearly $240 half price!  A week later they had reduced prices again but it was still $180.

The salesman saw us dithering.  Carol said she might make it a special birthday gift for me. Then he spoke: 'Honestly, sable brushes are over-rated.  I have one and it's nice to use but you can get really good brushes much cheaper.  After all, it's the magician's touch with whatever brush they are using that really counts.  The brush doesn't do the magic.'

I laughed.  Partly because he was doing the shop out of a sale by being very unsalesman-like.  But mostly because he is exactly right.  It's the artist and measure of their gifting that really matters. That applies to other aspects of life too, doesn't it?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Less usual moments - can you smell burning?

While we were in the US most days took usual shape.  However, one or two odd things happened. One occurred on our shorter flight (just under 2 hours) between New York and Chicago. As we were seated on UA755 Carol asked me if I smelt burning.  I detected a very slight smell and dismissed it.  An hour into our flight which had left on time the captain announced we were returning to New York. Somebody was unwell and there was a maintenance problem. Finding a doctor on board quickly resolved the medical problem - the young lady returned to the seat behind us saying it was just nausea.  But....the maintenance problem continued.

Returning, we were told the plane was being taken out of service because...guess what?  The oven was faulty and a new oven had to be fitted.  It had been smoking!  Carol was right.  Of course. Waiting in the departure lounge, with a drip feed of sometimes contradictory information we were eventually informed the same plane was being refitted so that we would be flying on it after all.  Bottles of water and snacks were provided to keep us going for the five hours' wait.

It is tedious to relate how the flight was further delayed on the runway and the luggage took ages to appear at baggage claim.  The journey had taken  as long as between London and New York. Deplaning, Carol mentioned to a stewardess that she had smelled burning when we first sat down. 'If only you had mentioned it!' she said.  Would it have made any difference?  We shall never know.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Back from the US

We have just spent nearly four weeks visiting our family in New York State and friends in Illinois where I worked for over 15 years.  Though woozy because of jet lag we rejoice in the many many good times sharing with family and friends -it seemed we had only been away a week rather than the year (with bad health and all...).

All those who have lived for a time in two places can experience the weirdness of transplanting between cultures. Gerald Locklin wrote this poem: Where we are

I envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london,
wales and spain,
l.a. and paris,
hawaii and switzerland.

There is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are.  I have
always loved both the freshness of 
arriving and the relief of leaving, with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope.

We are profoundly grateful for the powerful Christian friendship that marked the freshness of arriving.  There are so many stories of meeting up with friends - three times in Illinois different groups, adding up to over 40 people, arranged group meetings.... and every day was packed with conversations and food.  And the weather was warm and bright too. We are truly grateful.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Gleanings 26) Thanks for these beginnings

I admit that dipping into the archives, as with these cuttings, is likely to have mixed value and limited appeal.  And this is true of trudging further through years of sermons and ministry in Blackburn.  I have already told the story of my ministry in Cambridge (at length!) and do not propose to prolong telling the Blackburn ministry.

Suffice it to say that, above all else, the large number of sermons through my seven years spent there helped me grow into lively expectation of preaching Scripture. 2 Tim. 3:16 declares that Scripture is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness and though I recognized (I think) early on how easily it can be manipulated I also learned about the power of God's transform individuals and a community. Time and time again God's word struck through sermons like a two-edged sword.  So, in my personal development I can see how my early experiences laid foundations not only for the demanding pulpit in Cambridge but for my passion and writing about preaching in the later part of my life.

To satisfy curiosity I should report that this first year ending with the "Sit In' led to a five year story during which the vision for a new church developed into reconstructing striking new premises with over £70,000 given by church members and friends.  A Community Room was also developed with a full-time Church Social Worker becoming a partner in ministry.  Blackburn's chief executive was quoted in the paper: The church should be congratulated on its spirit of adventure in undertaking this reconstruction, which besides giving a spiritual uplift to the town has made a significant contribution to the architectural heritage.

I shall always be grateful for these beginnings - I learned a great deal. Thank you for following some of these gleanings.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Gleanings 25) Viewpoint - Cricket

This is the last of the cuttings I have and it switches mood! It also speaks of a time before T20 and all forms of speeded up cricket!
I have just been watching some cricket. For me the perfect English summer day is to sit in a deckchair and hear the thwack of a well-timed stroke out on the cricket green. But I  know many people would disagree and murmur: "It's too slow a game for me." I suppose they would be more interested if every ball knocks down the wicket or is walloped for six. The ideal game would end up like that concoction of highlights that you see on television news when a test match is reported. Every moment shows either a wicket falling or someone getting a hundred. Cricket is not like that. It's not just the wickets falling and the big-scores - it's all the hard graft, the defences, the subtleties and the tension that fills up the time in between the big events.
And these make the game so interesting to me.  This is exactly what happens in our own lives - there are the big events of course, but it's the days between them that really count. Our lives are full of times when nothing seems to happen except for hard graft but - as in cricket - these are the times in which we are preparing and building up for the big events. we have to learn that every day can be used profitably, however uneventful it might seem.  That is why we are commanded: "Make the very most of your time (Col. 4:5) This is our responsibility before God.
In Graham Greene's place "The Living Room" there is a tragic failure of a crippled priest who is unexpectedly confronted with his young niece seeking help. Later on in the play he confesses: "For more than 20 years I've been a useless priest. I had a real vocation for the priesthood, and for 20 years it's been imprisoned in this chair. Last night God gave me my chance. He flung this child here as my knees asking for help, asking for hope.  I said to God 'Put words into my mouth' but he has given me 20 years in this chair with nothing to do but prepare for such a moment, so why should He interfere? And all I said was. 'You can pray.' If I'd ever really known what prayer was, I would only have had to touch her to give her peace." 
The tragedy of not making the very most of our time. No one can tell what you and I will have to face - that is why we must take every opportunity to pray and prepare, growing in God's love as we "Make the very most of our time".

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Gleanings 24) Viewpoint - Corruption

There's a terrible smell in the air. Corruption seems to be in every headline. But Watergate, Poulson, T. Dan Smith, allegations about the police, suspicions about M.P.'s - these are but a well-publicised whiff of a decaying odour many of us breathe in every day, because the places where we live and work also see the pressures which are dishonest, unethical, untruthful and corrupting. 
Christianity is brutally frank in its diagnosis of our mess. Its blunt assessment is found in that often misquoted verse: "The love of money is the root of all evil."  Note it's the love of money, the overmastering desire for more that pushes men into dishonesty and its harvest of corruptions.  Whenever man loses perspective and puts money so high on his list of priorities that it dominates all else then he is in severe danger. The fact that we belong to God and we live in God's world is forgotten,. Instead we plunge into the labyrinth of deceit and self-seeking. 
If the diagnosis points to man getting money out of proportion and forgetting God, what is the cure?  I believe there is only one cure and that is to know a greater love than anything we feel for money and possessions. That greater love is seen in God's gift to us of Jesus Christ, who died that the stinking mess of this world and our deceits and self-seeking might be cleansed. When we see God's love for us at Easter all the stress we put on money and material things seems far less important.  There was a sign outside a church which read: HELP STOP TRUTH DECAY.  Certainly truth is under siege and men are anxious in the swirling stench of corruption.
But the only way we can stop truth decay is with God's help as we grasp his love and get things back into proportion. There is nothing more important than knowing the love of God. If we begin to grow in that love then money and its threat of corruption will be knocked off its pedestal and we shall have helped to stop truth decay in our hearts.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Gleanings 23) Viewpoint - The Exorcist

Now this is really dated!
Even if you are a rare film-goer like myself, you will probably know that Blackburn is screening "The Exorcist" for the first time this weekend. The Council has approved its showing after some of its members have had a private viewing. Part of me is reluctant to mention even this fact because whatever I say, I know, shall be giving further publicity through his column - and that's exactly what the film makers want. This film has become a huge box office success just because of the warnings against the film and people's inflamed curiosity.  Films are part of the entertainment industry and there is a small group of people filling their pockets with delight as "The Exorcist" taps a new world- the supernatural- for its entertainment value.
That's the thing that worries me most. This commercialization of something real, tyrannical and fearful. Perhaps you saw and heard the first audience in London to witness this film.  The TV cameras were there. People talked of fright, of nausea. Some of those people who never gave a thought to God came out believing with fear in the devil. Because this is no ordinary horror movie. It is based on a book which in turn is based on an actual case of demon possession.
Some entertainment! I realize that psychiatrists and parsons have already had a field day with this film but I must emphasize that this strange world "The Exorcist" unveils IS real, tyrannical and fearful. It's not all in the mind.  Man has something to fear outside himself and this realm of evil which the Bible sums up in the description "Satan" has to be taken very seriously. We see Jesus Christ confronting the powers of this dark realm - these demonic forces which tempt him and which, in the end, crucify him. Believe me, you cannot be in the Christian ministry long without realizing the power of evil and its self-destruction as some people are enslaved by it. But we thank God that Jesus Christ has won a victory over the demonic powers. As Paul writes: "He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them (Col. 2:13) This is the vital part of the meaning of the cross - it's God answer to the realms of evil and terror. We find it difficult to understand but we can claim its victory.
This film, and I presume there will be others to follow it, speaks of something which is real. It does so for commercial ends - that's why I shall not add my money to the millions of pounds already made. I shall not see it. My belief is that for some people who will go to see it, this new dimension of the demonic will come as a shock - and they will have fear.
As a Christian minister, I want to stress that the power of Christ has already come to grips with evil and has overcome , so that Jesus can promise us instead of fear - peace through his victory. It is no good being realistic about the power of forces unseen, without claiming as true the words and deeds of the one person who declares that he has dealt with sin and evil - Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Gleanings 22) Viewpoints - Christian Aid

These yellowing newspaper columns I have just found cover a range of issues.  I can't remember how many I did in total but I have three from May 1974 and another in summer 1974.  Of course the language is sometimes dated (man!) and the contexts are also dated - like the controversial first screening of 'The Exorcist" movie in Blackburn. As I review them I often see an enthusiastic, young preacher using this column as an extension of  his preaching!  How amazing to think that this high circulation daily newspaper gave space to such explicit stuff.  The first viewpoint was an obvious one for a Christian minister to write - Christian Aid Week. Sadly, this remains intensely relevant.
It is Christian Aid Week again - the annual pricking on our consciences about the poorest people in the world. As we are tempted to find small change for the envelope that popped through the letter box, let me tell you a story. It's called 'The feeding of the five thousand - how it didn't happen".   
The crowd sat patiently in the late afternoon sun, waiting to be fed. "Is there really bread for everybody, Mama?" asked a child at the back. 'Yes, dear. The Master is giving it to His disciples now." The child rubbed his eyes. " Will it be long?" Mother took him on her lap. " No, they're passing it to the front row now." Slowly the child's eyes closed. When they opened the sun was low in the west. He sat up quickly. " Did you save me some, Mama? I missed it, didn't I?  Mother stirred uneasily. 'No dear, It's not come yet. The front row is still eating." The child returned his head to her lap " I'm hungry Mama, Isn't it here yet?"  Mother looked anxiously ahead. " No, I think there's something wrong. The front row is having some more." The child sighed. " It's no good being in the back row,is it Mama?"
When the last tinge of colour faded from the sky the child sat up again. "I bet there isn't any!' he declared.  Mother shook her head. "Yes, there is, I can see them eating it."  Darkness fell and at last Mother got slowly to her feet. " Let's go home. They said it was for everybody, but I guess it's only for the front row after all."  
Let all of us on the front row take note and make this week the beginning of concern and giving for those missed out as we enjoy God's world. If we fail to help there will be a tragic story - the feeding of the millions: how it didn't happen.  

Monday, May 6, 2019

Gleanings 21) But what happened?

It's all very well remembering sermons that may have put people on the spot but what actually happened in the 'Sit-In'?   I had to look it up to recall the exact details and I found a copy of the front page headlines of the BAPTIST TIMES, October 11th. 1973 £26,000 sit-in that saved a church. Actually, it was £26,446!  (Astonishingly the value of this £ sum compared then and now is estimated at today's spending power around £230,780!)

The paper reported: The minister, Michael Quicke, told an astonished church that the result of the 'sit-in' had been a massive £26,000 and that the future of the church looked secure. He told the church: 'Never in the life of this church have three days meant so much. Through you, God has spoken his Yes, when many thought it would be No. I believe this is the beginning of something really great for God'.

I love it that Carol was also quoted: 'We have been thrilled with the way people have responded. We are all one hundred percent together in this, and we have no doubt that with our work and sacrifice we shall succeed and see new church premises built which will be of real service to the people and really be to God's glory'.

In my gleanings I recognize the partnership that Carol gave right from the start of ministry, in spite of a baby to look after and some ill-health.  100% together n it was right! Actually, I used to read my morning sermons to her last thing on Saturday nights though too often she nodded off before the end.  She joked that she had to go to church to hear how it finished.  Yes, any account of my ministry should include Carol's commitment all the way.

Among yellowing newspaper cuttings like the above I also found copies of  "Viewpoint" that I wrote (with other clergy) in our main evening regional newspaper.  Some still have relevance....perhaps!  See next time.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

King Ahab and wife

Arriving at church on Sunday, a teacher in the children's work asked me whether I could help act out a part for their morning class.  She explained that I was to be King Ahab - one of the notorious figures of the Old Testament. A gold crown (slightly too small) and a purple robe (also minimal!) were provided with a script to follow which emphasized that I was to strut arrogantly and regally as I made my entrance.

At the right moment as I waiting outside the door the teacher opened it with the words: 'And who do we have here?'  In I swept, exuding nasty authority, and exclaiming that I was King Ahab, the seventh king of Israel.  And that I was married to Jezebel who was very beautiful.   Just at that moment Carol stuck her head round the door to see what was going on.  The teachers burst into laughter and, of course, I repeated the line!   However, the story turns sour as Ahab said that Jezebel had introduced him to the god Baal and that he was now worshiping Baal instead of the old-fashioned God of Israel.

One of the children was primed to confront me as the prophet Elijah and tell me that there would be no rain in judgement upon me...and I am glad to say that God had the last triumphant word in the painful story.

I haven't been to visit the children's and youth work for years and as I saw all the work the different teachers had put into the morning sessions I was reminded of the vital, demanding, and skillful effort that our teachers put in month by month, year by year.  How easily their role is taken for granted!  We owe them so much for their dedication.  Thank you - everyone who works with our children in church.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Gleanings 20) On the spot 3

I started Gleanings because my stack of sermons needs pruning/burning? and before taking drastic measures I looked back to my beginnings in Blackburn in the 70's.  In the building crisis my short series called: BUILDING FOR THE LORD shows me wrestling with Scripture with dangers of manipulation lurking everywhere.

Sermon 2) UNDER ORDERS (2 Samuel 7: 1-18) began with the story of Saddleworth (in Yorkshire) where an ex-sprinter councillor argued for an Olympic-sized running track.  People said 'What a good idea.' The expensive track  was joyfully completed but ever since it has been permanently water-logged and unusable.  King David pleased with his rich palace thinks it a good idea to build God a rich temple too.  Consulting prophet Nathan, he received an immediate green light only for God, later that night, to break in with his rebuke.  David is not to build his temple.  No. Man is wiser after the event; God is wise before.  David and Nathan have to learn to be under God's orders.   I emphasized that a) God only knows and warned how we can all make Nathan's mistake. 'We should saturate every step with prayer as we look to our future. There can be no jumping at the good idea until we are sure it is God's order'.  And b) God only succeeds - we do wonder what God is up to?  It's a strange sort of success as David is told to look to his son.  And we are told to look to God's son and a strange sort of success in the crushing agony of Gethsemane and desolation of Calvary. But under God's orders Jesus completed the task and now as we look to the cross we see it empty, deserted - the failure of man's worst to annihilate God's best. And in his power God would have us stay under his orders today....

Preachers should often ask as they preach Old Testament stories - how is Jesus wanting to tell this today? How does this Old Covenant story belong with the New Covenant?  And are they just using a story to make a personal point?  Good questions.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Lady Selena

I am just back from speaking at the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion Annual Conference.  In the heady days of eighteenth century revival with John Wesley and George Whitefield, Lady Selena experienced dramatic Christian conversion which led to her extraordinarily fearless witness to all - peers and servants - as she established preaching centres using every ounce of influence and wealth for the gospel. Facing opposition from the established church, she reluctantly organized her connection of churches of over a hundred chapels as a group of separatists.  She stands out as one of the most significant women in Christian history.

Knowing that I was going to speak, a US professor friend wrote to me: 'The Countess of Huntingdon! Oh, wow! dear Lady Selena.  I had no idea her Connexion still existed. Where do these congregations exist?'    I read this to the conference who ,with laughter, wanted to reassure him that they still exist! I promised to write and let him know.  True, numbers of churches have shrunk to 22 and some of these are small but the connexion's spiritual life with its partner connexion in Sierra Leone was evident from the very first.  Carol and I loved sharing sessions and meeting friends from places ranging from Ely, to Middleton, to Eastbourne to St. Ives, Cornwall. Children and young people had very lively parallel activities. Interestingly, at a Mission Marketplace churches had been asked to bring details of their recent outreach. I went from table to table, picking up leaflets as members enthusiastically described their hospitality projects, schools' work, overseas' commitment, work with special groups etc.  Wonderful.

In my three talks on the Connexion's tag-line: Welcoming, Supporting and Networking" I introduced some of the challenges that come with being a missional church.  Of living in the faith and vision that GOD IS AT WORK EVERYWHERE AS HE GATHERS AND SCATTERS HIS CHURCH AS MISSIONARIES.  I warned them to be ready for OUCH moments when God would ping them with a fresh challenge and maybe rebuke!   People told me they experienced several of these.  Indeed one person said they were sitting near the door to escape too many more!

So, I am grateful I was well enough to undertake this.  The Connexion website had asked prayer for me earlier in the year and when I first arrived I was encouraged by the people who asked me about my health and said they had been praying.  Thank you Lord for opening up to Carol and me another part of your great family.