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.