Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Gleanings 10) While I wait..mixed feelings.

Apparently my biopsy result will take at least two weeks to emerge and in this limbo time I have returned to the file of my first year of sermons. Looking through this mass of material (and it is!) I am trying to discern emerging themes as I grew in experience.  My experimental evening services morphed into a series: Words with a Kick with themes like Forgiveness, Faith, Hope.

With mixed feelings I also see a morning series through February 1973 on Prayer. 1) A Dull Duty? which led to two other questions: Is prayer a duty? Yes. Is prayer dull?  Well, it requires persistence like many duties but talking with God steadfastly in prayer leads to deeply satisfying surprising places in God.s will. 2) Parachute or Paraclete? Parachute prayer is for emergency use only and can be very powerful but is used only in a crisis.  Paraclete prayer is about journeying every day with the Holy Spirit our Guide and Comforter (who enables us to say "Abba, Father').  3) Answered or unanswered? God always hears but the answer may be Yes, No, and Wait.  I quoted someone who lamented how his prayers never seemed to work - he'd pray for the sick and they were no better. 'Then I think that it is not good that God should do good in my way. And I do not know what is the best way for God to do good.  I only know that what He wills is the right way. I pray for all that seems good to me to pray for. But when I have done that, I like then to say to God: Do your will.  Do your will.  And I like to think that what He will do, I shall not understand, because me, I have the brain of a little beetle and He is the great God'.    4) The Practice of Prayer  1-Begin with the Father; 2 Practice daily; 3) End with action - 'a good prayer is not tested by our feelings or fervour at the time but by our behaviour afterwards'.

I said 'mixed feelings' because I hadn't at this early stage of ministry led the church in its corporate and personal prayer life to implement any of this.  Good words on Sunday but no joined up thinking, no link, with how we operated practically!  Only later, in my second church did I realize with horror this disconnect.  There's little point in telling people prayer is important if you don't share with them in doing it practically!

I wrote many prayers in this series.  Let me include one:
Lord, you so often astonish us - by granting requests which were only half-formed; by enriching our experience in unexpected ways; by reminding us of factors which we had overlooked.
However you answer our prayers, may the outcome be that we love you more, understand your purposes better and believe in you with greater confidence.  Through Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Waiting with hope

Yesterday's bronchoscopy apparently involved a rinsing as well as a biopsy. The doctor speculated that because I have an unusually narrow wind pipe (or whatever the proper anatomical term is!) into the lung which went into spasm during the procedure this might be responsible for some of the problem.  But who knows. Until the biopsy results we cannot be sure about anything though he did reassure me (with a wry smile) that I did not have mad cow disease which is featured in the clinic literature.  I am sure that's his one-liner with most of his patients.

So..more waiting.  I am booked in the Respiratory Clinic at the end of February and I am sure they hope that, providing the biopsy uncovers nothing sinister, the lung will have reflated by then.  But it is a time of waiting with deep hope in God's good purposes.  So many of you have been in touch from all over the globe - Carol's facebook page has been red hot.  Thank you for all your prayers and support in our weird time. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Next step,

Thank you so much for prayer and support in my medical saga - the latest prayer target, please, needs to focus on the bronchoscopy procedure that I must undergo tomorrow afternoon (Weds.) at 4:00 pm.  Obviously, the mystery mass in the lung requires more attention and a biopsy.

I only received details about the bronchoscopy three hours ago when the clinic insisted that it happen as soon as possible.  The speed of these different procedures is mightily impressive - a chest X ray the same day it was requested, a result the same night, the consultancy appointment a week later, followed by the CT scan with dye the next day.  And now the bronchoscopy within two weeks of the
start.   As my doctor said: 'The National Health Service can really move fast when you are very unwell!'   But there's a sting there!

Anyway, we remain full of trust and hope and will report back when things become clearer. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

One of the 9...but

Friday evening - we have just returned from hospital after the CT scan with dye.  Warned that we would hear nothing until Monday I was startled when my cell phone rang in the hospital cafeteria.  It was my lung cancer specialist carer who wanted us to hear the news so that we did not have a 'hard weekend of waiting'.  He had made special effort to access the scan results. And the news is good.  No cancer was found in the lung mass nor in the lymph nodes.  So none of the malignancy that the consultant seemed to be expecting!   We are so grateful.

However, the lung is still partially collapsed and the mass still shows something is amiss. He said that I would be called back for tests, X rays etc.  So this pneumonia thingy continues to cause some mystery but the main fear of lung cancer has gone.  Praise God...this time I am one of the 9 not the tenth (see last post!)   For your prayers and concern we continue to be so grateful and tonight we rejoice.

9 out of 10 people who are referred are not diagnosed with cancer.

That's the statistic in the blurb from the Lung Rapid Access Investigation Service.  Going into yesterday's session with a delightful consultant we had high hopes that I was in the 9!  His cross-examination of my ill health saga so far was capped off by seeing my chest X ray.  I don't remember the medical profession being so open with details in my past.  However, I was shown an extraordinary sight of my abdomen cavity with a quarter blanked out by something white. This is what concerns us he said, pointing out the shape of my left lung.

Then I was introduced to my lung cancer specialist carer who took me to his room for further breathing tests.  He too is delightful and explained how hard he had worked to get me into the next stage of examination - the CT scan with dye.  Alas, one of the scanners has broken down but I am due for the last scan this afternoon (Friday).  We went round to scout out where the CT scan unit is and are all set up for our visit at 4:30 pm.

We have valued your prayers and concerns immensely and, as you can imagine, remain grateful as we go through this next stage and have to wait for results until after the weekend.  It is somewhat disconcerting to remember how 7 years ago awaiting biopsy results I was told by every doctor I met that the likelihood of cancer was remote.....so they shared in the shock when results showed I had aggressive prostate cancer requiring radical surgery.  We are trusting for a good outcome this time!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

An intermission

I regret to write that I seem to have contracted pneumonia and have been in bed the last five days.  I say 'seem' because the doctor does not yet know the cause of the partially collapsed lung...X rays, blood tests and sputum sample were all done when I was still upright (though coughing for England!).  The X ray shows a problem area but until the Chest Clinic examines this in more detail we do not know exactly what it is.

At the moment we are going with pneumonia which is unpleasant enough.  This means (I hope) a short gap in my posts, because even writing this gives a certain weariness. As many of you can testify in your own experience, the prayers, thoughts and practical action of so many friends have been immensely supportive.  Belonging to God's people brings such a depth of encouragement and both Carol and I know God's presence as in those John Donne words:
He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; He can bring your summer out of winter, though you have no spring; 
Though in the ways of fortune or understanding or conscience, you have been benighted till now...... now, God comes to you.  Not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon...... 
I am at the Clinic on Thursday afternoon and will report back.  Thank you for being part of the caring circle.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Gleanings 9) Talkback

Sunday evenings also gave opportunity for a Talkback experiment.  The leaflet promised: 'The minister will be under fire from the congregation following the evening service'. The idea was that in the service I would focus on a topic and after the benediction the congregation would talk back with comments and questions.

The first topic was DEATH.  Beginning with a recent opinion poll that 48% of Brits (especially men) said that we 'go out like a light' at death I ranged over various other options: Diluted Christian (God's going to make it OK, isn't he?); Spiritualist (some element of us will survive including separation of body and spirit); and the full Christian view with resurrection of the body at its heart.

The experiment continued for a few months with others 'under fire'. Topics included: CARING FOR YOUNG PEOPLE February -with Geoff Evans who was the County Youth Training Officer (and a Baptist friend); March - WHAT USE ARE MISSIONARIES IN THE MODERN WORLD? with missionary Jean McCormick; April - THE EMPTY TOMB - THE BIGGEST CON?;  May - THE TAKING OF LIFE - with Prof. Edward Popham of Salford University.

Some people were willing to participate with some genuine feedback.  But others seemed disengaged. Maybe presentations were sometimes too abstract or, perhaps, too obvious.  I recall one of my outspoken members challenging me on THE BIGGEST CON - 'Why tell us things we agree with anyway?!' (Much later in my Cambridge ministry I found far more seekers who didn't agree).

However, the whole exercise raised questions about preaching itself.  How much was this proclaiming the gospel?  And could such dynamics work with a much larger group anyway? 
Shouldn't my preaching always be looking to make connections and receive feedback through the conversations and living of the congregation? This desire to collaborate continued to grow throughout the later years of my ministry with some further experimentation (which I think was more effective).  But, anyway, we tried!.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Tale of two Amaryllises

Something happened at 2:35 am that reminded me of a series of children's talks in my Blackburn church.  I had been given a pot with a green stub sticking out and told to keep it moist.  The label said: An amazing amaryllis - keep watering and you will be amazed!.  Never having grown one before I was surprised to see signs of life within a week.  So I began to take it to church as a 'show and tell' with the intention of underlining Jesus' description of his kingdom work as seeds growing, mustard seeds into trees etc.   Once or twice more the growth was so dramatic that children shared my astonishment. on following weeks  Now a meter tall and promising some blooms what would happen next?

Three gigantic blooms sprang from nowhere and I looked forward to capping off my talks with such splendid signs of God's growth.  Loading it carefully into the car I was as gentle as possible.  Yet, somehow when I arrived the blooms had dropped off the stem and I was left with a handful of crumpled flower and an amaryllis stalk.  Did I confess to the church?  Of course, and I think I tried to make some worthy point.  However, many people never forgot the final day of the amaryllis showing.  Many years later a couple were reminiscing: ' Do you remember that plant that we watched grow only for it to go wrong at the end?'  Yes, I remember!.

And what occurred at 2:35 this morning?  For only the second time I have grown an amaryllis which again grew enormously to bloom with three red trumpet flowers. Magnificent, set on a bookcase.  Until early this morning when it became too top heavy and fell with a mighty crash, smashing the pot, cascading the soil and scattering the bloom. Sleep was also shattered as we awoke from deep slumber and I rushed downstairs expecting something far worse than attack by an amaryllis.  We are recovering.

I don't think I can make a worthy point a second time!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Gleanings 8) Wax stencil and printer ink

During my first Advent and Christmas in Blackburn I attempted to publicize forthcoming services.  My first New Year in ministry. I prepared a tri-fold leaflet using a wax stencil and Gestetner duplicator machine which required messy inking and hand cranking. (Anyone working in an office in the 70's will remember!) It's appearance was as amateur as you can imagine.  On the front, using a stylus I drew a number of cartoon conversation bubbles with typed words - Something's happening on Sunday evenings. Where? At Leamington Road Baptist church 6:30 pm. What?  Thought you'd never ask - see over.

Inside I have details of five upcoming Sunday evening services.  Really - Sunday evening?  Although these were by far the poorest attended they also gave immense scope for doing things differently. Many churches have found similar scope as evening congregations dwindled these last decades.

Foremost on the leaflet was my first Baptismal Service - 7th Jan.1973.  In the morning 4 people were baptized and in the evening What this day means to me was a conscious effort to give the baptismal candidates plenty of time for each to speak about their faith. I have often described baptismal services has having multiple preachers for there is no more powerful witness than lips and heart at baptism. Pauline, Miriam, Andrew and Russell - two older ladies and two young people - were fellow preachers that day. Also, Paul Carter spoke about his Christian life as he also joined the church.

These names begin a glorious list which sums up the best part of my Baptist ministry. (I note in a recent publication on Baptist ministers in retirement that some pastors mention how baptisms in their ministries were the highlight too). How I treasure these names and rejoice that Paul became youth leader, deacon and still remains a key deacon in the church 48 years later.

I began to discover the unique evangelistic power of believers' baptisms which was to mark the rest of my ministry. When ordinary people say why they belong to Jesus for life they connect with seekers like no-one else. I was learning how God's kingdom grows.