Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Car Park Rendezvous

When we retired to Cambridge I mused that it was a city where we had a bit of personal history which meant that though we had been away 25 years we would occasionally be happily reminded of our past.

The other day an errand took us the other side of town and we visited a supermarket that we rarely use. Parking, donning masks and getting shopping bags ready we were surprised to hear the man about to load shopping into the car parked next to us. He spoke! Wearing a mask which slightly delayed recognition he greeted us with such enthusiasm. As he spoke the years rolled away.  He was a youth leader in our Cambridge church - an entirely voluntary role into which he flung himself headlong.  A gifted teacher, his rapport with the young people, combining immense energy and Christian zest, helped many young people make Christian commitments. Others were in the leadership team but his contribution was outstanding.

'Oh, how I miss those days!, he said. 'I'm still in touch with all those young people and they are still going strong for God. Some are church leaders now and I follow their marriages and family happenings and all that sort of thing'.  His face beamed.  Right there in the car park, I was suddenly reconnected with my past and realized with joy how the story has gone on and on.  We made promises to keep in touch more conscientiously.....and I hope we do.  There's nothing like picking up an old story of past joys and discovering it remains contemporary.

Friday, September 18, 2020

GPS frolic

This week we were invited to a Covid aware 80th birthday - just four of us for tea in the garden. We had not visited them before so I punched their details into my GPS -  postcode, full address and house number.  Their village is less than 6 miles away and we left early just in case we caught a traffic problem. Carol had warned them that even with a Garmin voicing directions I can easily get lost.

With joy we entered their one long twisting road of new houses, with nooks and crannies at every turn.  They had told us they were tucked away in a corner and we should look out for their white car and park beside it.  To my alarm, no sooner had we driven into the road than Garmin announced we had arrived though clearly not at the right house - not in a corner, no white car.  Carol said the house number was 30, so we drove round to find it.  It had no white car but many cards along the window ledge. No one replied at the front door so Carol went round to the garden.  Mercifully she met no fierce dog nor fierce anyone.  Wrong house.  Driving further along we saw a house tucked in a corner with a white car and Carol knocked on the door to discover a delightful couple who invited her in to phone our friends and find exactly where they were.  It was then we realized we had not brought details of their phone as well as house number.

We tried our friendly Church Elder on the phone to get the details but he was out for a walk.  So, with Carol telling me she would never drive out with me again, we began to drive painstakingly up and down this long road in the hopes our friends would see us.  We were surprised how many white cars there were.  Our friends had promised to look out for us....but for forty minutes we explored every nook and cranny without seeing anyone.  Filled with doom we drove along the entire road yet again when we spotted our friend waving furiously in a corner.  Apparently we had visited earlier and he had actually seen us from the front window, come downstairs to greet us only to see us career off again.  The number of their house was nothing like 30.

How utterly stupid to visit someone without their address and phone number!  I know!  I really know! Happily I can report that we had a good time once blood pressures had subsided.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Old Codger

Yesterday, I had to be in church an hour early so that the whole service could be run through with the zoom master and team which involved extra work on making sure the power point was not in too much danger of being poisonous (as last post!)  When the service went live there were 30 people in church (with masks on and socially distanced) and a church friend Andrew was leading the service.

Something embarrassing happened just before the sermon.  I went up on the platform ready to speak and I saw that he had a print out with my photo on it with some of the details of my education, ministries etc.  To my horror he said that he needed to explain to people who I was since many of them would not know. So he read out some of the biographical stuff.   Afterwards he said to me; 'You didn't like me doing that, did you?'  I said no and how it reminded me of past occasions, especially in the US, when a screed was read before I spoke. (Actually I think British people can often react badly against this and probably some found it extremely irritating).  'Well', he said, 'I don't want people to think you are just some old codger who has wandered into Histon Baptist Church!' 

I had to smile.  Old codger it is!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Power point poison

I have been preaching again these two Sundays at my local church and they are keen on using power point for preaching. That has become the tradition over many years. So, I am currently completing a short set of slides. Looking out through my office window I saw a friend walking his dogs on the road and thought it would be good to greet him.(All distractions welcome!) Going outside I told him that I was in the middle of working on power point for my sermon to which he exclaimed: 'Power point poison!'  'You don't like power point?' I asked rather unnecessarily. Emphatically he told me that so often the content on the screen swallows up the speaker so that you just don't listen properly and all the words just slide off instead of sticking.  The technology comes between speaker and hearers and poisons the art of listening.

It's a long time ago that I posted some blogs on the merits and demerits of power point. When I heard my friend it reminded me how very negative they can be for some people. Certainly, because I preach without notes I am necessarily constrained by power point but I also recognize that congregations develop their own response patterns dependent on the preacher's usual style.

I have ended up with just nine slides for Sunday.  Because we use zoom I am unable to click the next slide and the IT team needs to operate the slides.  I asked them to show each slide briefly and then return the screen to me.  The team leader was puzzled:;'Normally, we leave the slide show running the whole time'. 'Ah,' said the worship leader, ' he wants to see the whites of the sinners' eyes!'  I wouldn't put it exactly like that but I am hoping it will be a good compromise between seeing the speaker and having salient points emphasized on the screen.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Another word on Bunyan

With my interest in preaching I must add this. As a young adult Bunyan could neither read not write.  He did not make Christian commitment until his late twenties and did not preach until almost 30 years old. Yet. this late developer was to become known world wide as a Christian writer of long lasting influence as well as a gifted preacher. 

He describes how in his church fellowship 'some of the most notable among the saints with us' perceived that he might be a preacher and they asked him to accompany the preaching elders to give his testimony or even a sermon.  I guess it was to test his gifting.  Well, they found out soon enough.  He was immensely surprised to find himself a preacher as the hundreds flocked to hear him.  Often in the open air on village greens, in barns, in private houses and sometimes even in parish churches people's lives were changed as he preached. A biographer comments that his passionate sincerity coupled with a  concern for the souls of his hearers meant he always worked to find some word from God which would awaken their consciences. The biographer says he also preached with fear and trembling.

In his book Grace Abounding he writes'In my preaching I have really been in pain, and have as it were travailed to bring forth children to God; neither could I be satisfied unless some fruit did appear in my work.' He goes on to say that ' it pleased me nothing to see some people drink in opinions if they seemed ignorant of Jesus Christ' but rather those who found ' the worth of their own salvation, sound conviction of sin, especially for unbelief, and an heart set on fire to be save by Christ , with strong breathings after a truly sanctified soul. That it was that delighted me; these were the souls I counted blessed.'

I was struck by his humility and his focus. Genuine surprise that he was selected to preach and anguished trouble if his preaching made no difference!  The high call of preaching.  Here was no passing on information but only desire to be used by God to transform.  I am glad to be reminded of him.