Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Off-centre sparklet 5) You are not your own ( 1 Cor. 6:19)

This is the last I am taking from John Hutton's book.  He recognizes these words 'You are not your own' belong in a passage about sexual immorality but he sees it as a big principle on which to stand.  That we can never act as though we are independent of one another and certainly of Jesus Christ.

He concludes by including the next words in 1 Cor. 6:20. We are not our own, for we are bought with a price even the passion and sacrifice of our Holy Redeemer...It is not a matter to argue about.  If you do not feel that so it is then in the meantime nothing more is to be said. I am quite sure that if any of us knew all the love, all the care, that a loving mother had felt for us, all the pain she bore for us first and last, we should feel it as our deepest act of honour to spare that mother the grief of a broken heart.

What St. Paul meant to say, I take it, was in effect just this: if people had only the imagination, the seriousness, the detachment from their own hot interests to see the Son of God, bending in Gethsemane, and bleeding on Calvary in order to bring God into our lives, they would understand the shamefulness of all careless and useless and sinful living; they would see that is was like striking Him on the cheek, crucifying afresh the Lord of life and putting Him to an open shame.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Off-centre sparklet 4) Hold fast (Heb 10:23)

This is a less off-centre two words!  Hold fast occurs several times in the AV and Hutton particularly focuses on Heb 10:23: Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.  He begins: The first word of God to us is always 'believe'; the second and last word of God to is is 'hold fast' 'hold on', 'endure' to the end. At first we may need no extra motivation but as we get older, or certain things happen, the pull of circumstance can be away'.

He warns how easily we can drift from early enthusiasm in matters of the soul...to grow cold,...at least cool and careless...to become tired of the strain, of the little duty here and the little scruple there and the little self-denial all the time....the danger of becoming indifferent, becoming less easily excited...yielding ourselves to the powers of decay and death which threaten our thoughts and religious principles long before we die.

To this depressing reality he says: First,  be forewarned: 'When this happens the need has come for us to think, to deal firmly with our own moods and half-formed purposes'.  Be put on our guard.

And second, remember how Heb 10:23 ends 'for he is faithful that promised.If this fails everything fails. Jesus will never let us go as we hold fast.

I am reminded of the words Spurgeon took as his Latin motto for his college: Et teneo Et teneor - 'I hold and I am held'.  The two sides of God's grace in action.  That he holds onto us in his faithful love yet needs us to hold fast too.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Off-centre sparklet 3) At that time (Matt. 11:25)

I know I mentioned some statistics and my discouragement..,...but I am easily cheered up by humans!  Just a couple of people said try again!  So I have with these three words: AT THAT TIME.  Who would base a sermon on these?  

Jesus is about to praise his Father because he has hidden truths from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children.  Matt. 11:25 begins 'at that time',  For John Hutton these words are worth pondering.

First, it's 'as though it were just then and not before that Jesus reached a new understanding of his future. The whole passage bears the interpretation that, just there and at a certain point our Lord saw clearly and accepted it as the will of God....that his message would find a welcome NOT in all hearts'. Was it part of Jesus' experience that setting out with happy confidence that people only needed to hear his words about God to accept them with joy he was later amazed at people's unbelief and rejection?  And at this time it breaks in how God's truths are hidden from some self-confident people.  This is the moment of learning a new truth as he praises God. Jesus was living and learning.  And so are we.

Second, he challenges about us seeing the principle that 'truth lies not upon the surface of things, but always beneath the surface, and nearer to the centre.' True, there is much 'darkness to dishearten careless people...but at the same time there is light enough for those who are patient and humble and sincere.'  And this principle means that we must keep awake. "The true purpose of life is that there shall remain alive within us a reverent and awakened attitude, our reach ever beyond our grasp.'

You never know what fresh truth will break into your life. 


Saturday, November 6, 2021

Statistics!

It's (somewhat cynically) said that statistics is the art of never having to say you are wrong. There's a BBC radio programme called "More or Less" which examines the veracity of statistical claims and it is fascinating when experts drill down into the realities behind headline statistics to discover how misleading they can sometimes be.

However, with my blog I have daily statistics about viewings.  I cannot be sure how they stand up to a reality check but I have had to take it seriously when my last postings received zilch viewers day after day. I had wondered whether I was beginning a lively series of 'off-centre sparklets.' Certainly it would pump a little life into some of these volumes of old sermons before they are pulped.  But the statistics have brought down to earth.  So, I bury this idea. 

But what else could I move onto next  that might create more interest?  I have been thinking about an all together different theme on growing older successfully/ So, perhaps that will appear shortly.  Perhaps!

 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Offcentre sparklets 2) 'where no oxen are the crib is clean'

How would you apply these 7 words from Proverbs 14:4? Hutton comments that ' there is one way in which you can have a clean crib and that is if you cease keeping oxen'. And that's not what cribs are for!  Uncleanness means unrest and turbulence but also life and action. Indeed, quietness, tameness and regularity  may be signs of death. 'Our religion prepares us not for a kind of life which shall be like a well-trimmed paddock, but for life which shall always demand heroism and supply the material and opportunity even for tragedy....The fact is we must take care of allowing ourselves to be afraid of the legitimate signs of life'.

And what particularly should we be afraid of for the best reasons?  In every age, the most authentic signs of life, and of new life, must come naturally from those who are young...the 'rising generation'.  We must take care not to be afraid of youth.  Such fear or suspicion of youth on our part is not fair. We were once young ourselves; and it is to our shame if when we were young we never had the passion to change something. An old head on young shoulders is a sad sight.

Therefore we should cultivate an hospitable way of looking at things....it is true that we who are older might combine to thwart the impulses of the rising generation and to turn back into darkness the venturesomeness of those who are now young. But even if we could succeed in such a policy, it would be one of those successes which would be more costly than any defeat. We might have a clean crib, but no oxen. The thing might serve our day and have the semblance of quietness.  But we do die; and if we do not cherish and invite and honor and trust the generation which just now is fresh and restless, why, it is not peace that we have secured but only a silent wilderness'

I know the language is dated but what a challenge.  Our church is currently seeing increasing influence of the rising generation!  Oh, to welcome the unrest and turbulence!

Monday, October 18, 2021

Off-centre sparklets 1) An explanation

I have a theory about preaching in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This was a great time for massively influential preachers and transformative sermons.  In my 12 volume series 'Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching" eight of the volumes focus on this period. (I will not sidetrack onto issues raised by editor's choices!) Great biblical themes are sounded out with significant outcomes for church and culture.

During this time of largely 'Christianized' culture preachers could assume that the big biblical themes were well known.  This allowed them at times to focus on unusual Scripture verses or even a few words to weave a sermon.  I call such sermons on unusual Scriptures off-centre sparklets!   Off-centre because they surprise by novelty of choice and sparklets because they sometimes radiate truth in surprising ways. 

I still possess a number of old preaching books from this period many of which I have bought for small amounts over past years.  As I gradual dispose of these (!) I have noted some particular off-centre sparklets which perhaps are worth preserving.  They often show originality of thought and connection.  My preaching students will tell you that one of my mantras in class was: Authenticity not Originality.  I was always concerned about students attempting to produce something original to impress than to speak God's truth from the heart. But these earlier days of Christianized culture with full and knowledgeable congregations allowed scope for preachers to quote learnedly and to imagine vividly.  

For example, John Hutton (Westminster Chapel 1923-25) has a sermon collection 'Discerning the Times which contains several off-centre sparklets.  Like his sermon on Proverbs 14:4  AV 'where no oxen are the crib is clean'.  Incidentally, he never gives any Scripture references...ever.  Does he assume that listeners will take his word for it or (less likely) already be able to place it?   Anyway, onto the next post.



Friday, October 15, 2021

Back in service 5) Follow-ups

 After my sermon on prayer two emails arrived. The first came the next day querying the parable in Luke 11: 5-13 about the friend's persistence winning through as he kept knocking on the door.  'It makes it sound as though God doesn't really want to answer our prayers ' wrote the emailer.  Certainly, it is an unusual not to say daring story. We must be careful about unpacking it.  As a prayer about intercession it is about how our prayers for others, like the friend knocking on the door for loaves for his visitor's sake, takes us into a maturing process by which we come to understand more of the ways that God works out his purposes.  The mystery of prayer must always leave the outcome to God.  How many times have urgent prayers for healing, for example, not seemed to have a positive outcome.  And then some do have a glorious answer. What matters is our continuing dependency and faith as children of a living Father - that he hears us and will answer in his own way.

When I initially introduced the idea of 'five' prayers for persistence I met criticisms that it made prayer some sort of mechanical exercise or worse a manipulative practice.  As though we were insisting God answer our way.  The truth is that we always needed to pray about what we should pray together. From the outset we sought the prayers to be in God's will.  I like the way in the parable that its a question of feeding a hungry guest with three loaves specifically required.  That does sound like something which God approves! 

The other email referred to George Müller the nineteenth century intercessor whose persistent prayers resulted in extraordinary work with orphans in Bristol. It contained his advice for believers...

‘Be slow to take new steps in the Lord's service, or in your business, or in your families: weigh everything well; weigh all in the light of the Holy Scriptures and in the fear of God. Seek to have no will of your own, in order to ascertain the mind of God, regarding any steps you propose taking, so that you can honestly say you are willing to do the will of God, if He will only please to instruct you. But when you have found out what the will of God is, seek for His help, and seek it earnestly, perseveringly, patiently, believingly, expectantly; and you will surely in His own time and way obtain it.’


That drove me back to my copy of his autobiography; subtitled: A Million and a Half in Answer to Prayer.  It's a dense book and, no surprise, it tracks well with Luke 11: 5-13!


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Back in service 4) Persistent Prayer

Nehemiah further shows us that SERIOUS PRAYER leads to MORE SERIOUS PRAYER, PERSISTENT PRAYER.

It’s clear from the dates that Nehemiah keeps on praying for four months. He really believes that God can lead and guide and change things through prayer.  Putting himself right in the heart of the prayer.  Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man he keeps on asking God for his right time for action.  This is no shot-gun prayer.  It's long-term.

When Jesus told about the man asleep (Luke 11:5-13) whose friend wakes him up for loaves of bread we have an extraordinary teaching about persistent prayer.  At first, the man asleep with the family tells his friend to go away.  Yet his friend keeps on knocking.  For how long?  Eventually, Jesus says the man gets up from his bed not out of friendship but because of his nagging persistence (some translations put it 'boldness').  Someone wrote to me after I retold this story and said that it sound as though God doesn't want to answer our prayers!  Well the truth is that praying to God requires maturity, dependence, expectancy in faithfully waiting on God's timing for his answers. Keep on asking, seeking, knocking.  Nehemiah does for 4 months.  Spiritual growth develops dependence and expectancy.  

I shared one of my precious possessions - a prayer record book from my Cambridge church where we sought to take Luke 11: 5-13 seriously.  I explained how much at the beginning of my ministry we longed for God to act.  I read the first requests in April 8,1980. 

1.      A new church organist (back in the day when the organ provided the only music!)

2.      Gillian, Marion and Rachel as they prepare for baptism. Remember especially Sunday 27th. April – baptismal service that many others may commit themselves to Jesus Christ.

3.      The Church conference on Saturday 26th April that the whole church may see more clearly what God wants us to do next

4.      The Jesus Christ is Lord festival, for David Watson and his team, for practical preparations and spiritual outcome.

5.      Martin Staple teaching English at Upoto Secondary School, Zaire with Baptist Missionary Society.

Not particularly daring or big prayers.  Yet, how God answered.  No. 1 took some time until we were blessed by a gifted student in his gap year before beginning university in our city.  No. 2 was breathtaking.  When I gave an appeal a married couple in the thirties asked for baptism, and at their service there was more response....and so on.   This prayer book records successive years of serious persistent prayer   I truly believe in it as one of God's powerful ways of working. 


 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Back in service 3) Serious prayer

Second, Nehemiah’s serious care leads to SERIOUS PRAYER. It takes only just a minute to say his prayer but it’s a summary of real vital prayer. He knows who he is speaking to - the awesome Lord of heaven who keeps his covenant of love.  He pleads, please listen have your eyes open as your servant prays. He knows his place and privilege. And he also knows how much he and his people have contributed to the mess of exile. There's confession. Yet God has given ultimate promises of hope, and he dares to include himself directly in how God will act.  Give your servant success.  He’s on the front-row with God.

I remember a church outing arranged by an enthusiast who had license to drive coaches and borrowed a friend's coach to take a group to see a very early production of Les Miserable in London.  This is years ago but the memory is vivid.  (And I checked it with Carol!) We just didn’t ask enough questions. About the coach which was so ancient with worn out seats, was massively underpowered with a noisy engine that seemed to be missing a gear or two. Worst of all it had no heating. And we should have asked about our block booking. We discovered that we were in the upper upper upper balcony.  Just under the roof.  Miles away from the action.  The cast was minute on a tiny stage. We were so high you could see behind the scenery.  It was so uncomfortable. I gave up trying to see.  Risking vertigo you longed to be closer like those people on the front row.  

For some people prayer is always in a far balcony.  Never close up. Yet, the most thrilling thing about prayer that Jesus promises is that we have front row access.  Jesus never explained how prayer works - its metaphysics.  It would have been good to glimpse how certain things in God's kingdom are left contingent on prayer - just how much he needs us to pray. But we couldn't begin to grasp its monumental scale in God's working.  It is one of the huge Christian mysteries - how God can hear each of us.  What Jesus says clearly (Matt 6:6,7) is that if you have a room and it has a door, then you may go in, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen and he will see what is done in secret and reward you.  Jesus says we have access. Immediate and personal.  Extraordinary. 

And that's not all.


Friday, October 1, 2021

Back in service 2) Serious Care

This upcoming sermon (on which I am still working!) is titled 'Facing Hard Times'. It is appropriate for so many of us in Covid limbo and particularly for this man we meet in Nehemiah ch. 1.  Living as a captive in Persia he has made the best of conditions forced upon him.  Showing loyalty and a sense of responsibility he has risen within the king's household.  As cup bearer he is chief steward, right hand man, close to this fearsome foreign power.  But miles away from his people's story in Judah and Jerusalem.  Doing his best.

His story is vivid. In Nehemiah 1 it all changes when his brother Hanani returns from travels (perhaps he was a trader), He has actually been back to Judah and Jerusalem.  Nehemiah questions him about what he saw. The response begins a sequence of events to change history and teach us key truths.  He reports 'The survivors are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire. God's holy city - centre of so much promise and history is in ruins. The great story of Exodus, prophets priests and kings seems over and done with.  Disgrace is a miserable word.  They knew they once belonged to a great future. They were God's people on the move but now their disobedience has led to this ruin.

What happens next is a sequence of actions which prove to be key principles about how God works with people and people work with God.  It is serious spiritual stuff.

First, SERIOUS CARE.  When Nehemiah hears about the trouble and disgrace he takes it intensely personally, seriously.  He really cares, with compassion and urgency about what is happening to God's people. He grieves, mourns and fasts.  Consumed with a deep sense that this new really matters he really cares.  God has always been able to work with people who care about the things God cares about. Look at any of faith's movers and shakers you'll find they are first moved and shaken into deep concern.

Like William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army in his last sermon:  While women weep as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, I'll fight; while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, where there remains one dark soul without the light of God I'll fight. I'll fight to the very end.

Serious care means involvement with God's concerns. The text doesn't warrant us pondering whether Hanani felt any strong feelings. After all he had actually witnessed the destruction.  But his name is not at the top of the book.  It's Nehemiah takes it hard and personally.  As we shall see.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Back in service

Our new minister, Chris Farmer, is approaching his third Sunday with us.  He's starting a sermon series titled: Moving forward - Covid and Exile.  And I have been asked to preach next week!  What a flashback to when I belonged within a preaching team where Sundays would be planned ahead with Scriptures allotted and even outlines provided.  Chris has provided this in full detail.  Really full detail. He wants the church to think about how we move on from lockdown. To be honest about our feelings and to keep focusing on how the Lord is encouraging us to move forward. My Scripture is Nehemiah 1: with the theme Facing Hard Times.  

It's several months since I last preached and it's been strangely demanding responding to a fresh opportunity and to think through his links between Moving Forward, Covid and Exile in the Old Testament. And Nehemiah in particular.  I wondered about times when a nation has been attacked by something big and everything is shaken.

No surprise, in light of my recent posts, I was drawn to the questioning when 9/11 occurred.  So many wondered if things would change afterwards for better or worse. How priorities might be shaken up with people thinking more about big questions. About God? About believing and behaving? Ministering in the US when 9/11 happened I saw in the days afterwards that churches were packed and people were kind.  And Christian leaders wrote about how different the church could be.  Some, like Philip Yancey, wrote that there could be revival. A massive step forward with God.  But on the twentieth anniversary some of the same people reflected how it hadn’t happened.  In fact, things had gone backward.

Covid’s attack on our nation and the world is very different and we are still living with it.  But, we also wonder  whether things will change afterwards for the better or worse. We have been living different lives for over 18 months. Covid shut us down. Forced us inside. Broke up patterns of our lives. We lost family and friends. We lost social contacts. Things we assumed would go on were stopped.  For Christians, churches were closed. Good habits of worship, fellowship, prayer together in flesh were smashed up. Inside us we felt different. Will we go forward or backward?.

Do slmilar questions arise in the Exile?..... 

I

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

9/11 remembered 2)

9/11 occurred on a Tuesday.  The rest of that week we shuffled along in shock and grief, just about doing daily work yet all the time hearing fresh stories of bereavement and courage. On Sunday it was likely that the church would have packed congregations at all three services.   Indeed, that was true nationwide. I was in the middle of a preaching series on Abraham.  That would not do!  What would? My old notes have brought it back to me.

Psalm 46 helped me - would it be right? Written in a mega disaster, a terrifying collision between good and evil with language of things falling that should not fall, it seemed to resonate terribly.  The psalmist calls people in disaster to the one and only source of refuge, strength, a fortress that cannot fall or be shaken - GOD.  When nothing else seems certain go back to the centre of reality -GOD IS OUR REFUGE.

I emphasized how God does not offer escape from reality.  Some people accuse Christians of escapists from real life.  No, coming to God is not opting out.  God is not our protector against trouble; he is our refuge and strength, a very present help IN trouble.  God does not secure us against disasters happening but within disasters he is there holding us.  So much we don't know. Billy Graham was asked why God had allowed 9/11, 'I have to say honestly that I don't know, that I can't answer that completely to my own satisfaction.'  

And secondly, therefore we shall not fear.  You might think that the psalmist would say: 'Therefore I shall be safe, I shall be protected'.  But fear is what we felt when the towers fell. Scared about what this meant for America, about coping with grief and anger. This psalm is one of the few where God speaks directly.  BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD.  Sometimes we take that out of context and apply it to our busyness and activism.  That's OK.  But it's context makes it clear that God addresses scared, terrorized people for whom everything seems to be falling apart.  What really matters in our fears is to know that God is unshaken, exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth. He holds our futures and the future of the earth in his hands. He has the final word over evil, shattered in the cross and to be consummated in the return of Christ.

I shall never forget that week (like so many who lived through it) and that psalm really helps me today.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11 remembered

Twenty years ago we had been in the US just one year.  Everything was still new to us,  One aspect of life that surprised me was the sheer ease of transport. Most months I had taken flights to some new state in order to speak or preach. (I was the new boy on the block!)  Someone had told me that getting on a plane was like catching a bus. It really was!  So casual and straightforward.

On the morning of 9/11 I was up early. Carol called out to me: 'Turn on the TV something awful is happening!'  And with so many across the world we couldn't believe what we were watching as the second plane flew into the Twin Towers and yet another into the Pentagon.  Shock waves were intense. My phone rang.  The Seminary President was out of town and he called to ask me to lead a service at the Seminary for the college community and for others in the surrounding community that morning.  He said I would know what to do!

I have never led a service like it - all of us numbed in utter bewilderment, sadness and fear.  People from surrounding offices, police, and fire brigade joined in. In the main quadrangle our service was simple with Scripture, quiet, prayers and just a few words.  What could you say?   Soon stories of personal tragedies multiplied.  Grief pervaded every conversation.   

On this twentieth anniversary there is much reflection on the changes inflicted on the US and the world by this event.  It has overshadowed the first part of the twenty-first century.  Immediately, the easy going, casual straightforward life-style we had enjoyed for a year was over.  I was interim pastor at First Baptist Church, Wheaton, and due to preach the following Sunday.  I really didn't want to.  It was quite a learning experience........ 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Hearing Yourself 2)

For the record, and for the sake of those who have suffered my teaching on communication (including recent YWAM sessions), I must correct an impression I have given. When I wrote last time about disliking to hear myself in recordings it's true. Some people may enjoy hearing their voices and look forward to replaying past recordings.  But I think I am with the majority who find any number of excuses to avoid the exercise.

But it is the VITAL exercise when you learning how to communicate well. In my teaching I have always included a final stage of reflection and monitoring after you have spoken.  I certainly had to endure it in my early days and endure is the right word.  In my training I was sent to the (now-defunct) Churches TV Centre where I was forced to see and hear myself in action for the first time in company with my tutors.  It was revelatory and educational....and alarming.  How much I needed to learn and those lessons stay with me still.  

And that's the truth about thoughtful feedback.  It is such a critical way to learn.  Of course, you can review yourself on your own though it requires considerable self-discipline and self-awareness.  At best, reflection should include other hearers who are prepared to give honest feedback.  So, yes, I confess continuing reluctance, but there's no better way to grow than to hear yourself.  I really needed to put that on record! 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Hearing yourself

I sometimes wonder about the strange items that creep into my blog.  When I was working full-time material was a-plenty...but in retirement consistency has gone AWOL.   Anyway, my son who teaches radio informed me during his stay that, over six years of interviewing Carol and me for an audio family history, my voice has been weakening. 'It's so much weaker than it was at the beginning Dad- I really notice it!'

Puzzled that it should be so obvious I did some research.  Our church website keeps recordings of sermons and I thought I would listen to my last sermon to check this deterioration. (I confess that listening to myself is one of my least favourite activities and I have not checked out any of these recorded sermons).  Well, you can imagine my surprise when I found this sermon on 'Blessed are the persecuted' only to hear an unrecognizable voice in an amusing cartoonish high register.  A little like Mickey Mouse.  Had the recording been mysteriously speeded up? Or maybe, it's a true record of how I truly sound in full flow?

It's all added up to a chastening experience.   The web site notes a number of downloads the sermon was supposed to have received yet there have been no whispers among church listeners that my voice sounds different.  Is this a tell tale sign about genuine listeners?

Carol tells me that my voice is definitely weaker but not higher.   So I shall have to settle for that.    


Monday, August 23, 2021

Making plans

Two years ago, when we saw our son Rob and his family in England we had plans to see them the following year in the US.  We booked flights for the following Easter in 2020.  Do you remember how the world worked....flights booked, diary filled.  Done.  'Now I have a word for you, who brashly announce, "Today-at the latest, tomorrow-we're off to such and such a city..."  You don' t know the first thing about tomorrow.(Jas. 4:13 The Message). How much we have been reminded by Covid 19 that we don't know the first thing about tomorrow.

Anyway, this past week Rob flew over to us for six action-packed days.  Hurray! He took 6 Covid tests in order to obey government regulations!  Once here, with great caution, he met up with family and friends for some delightful times.  I know many separated from family overseas will understand our joy. Sadly, he was alone and the whole process was messily complicated by these tests and then Hurricane Henri as he journeyed home today.  Sadly too, his basement is flooded owing to said hurricane so it will be a sober homecoming.

Our paid fares become void next March so who knows when we shall be able to travel safely to see our US family. So no brash announcements.  As James writes: 'Instead, make it a habit to say, "If the Master wills it and we're still alive, we'll do this or that (verse 15).  Yes, if the Master wills it.  A good reminder wouldn't you say?


Monday, August 16, 2021

Loosening a good habit

Recently, a minister friend shared how he feared that Covid 19 had loosened some people's desire to be together in church.  'I worry that some people may not want to come back', he said.

Also recently I dipped into one of the many old books of sermons (often flowery and wordy) I possess in which John Hutton wrote of the Christian Community:

There is one thing about which the New Testament is decisive and incontrovertible - that Jesus founded a Church.  It was formed and stands by the operation of two great movements, brought together by the force, first, of a great love, and, second, of a great terror. The warm love to Christ and the terror of deep darkness, the awful sense of what a thing life is if Christ be not true.

It seems to me....that the whole art of life, the whole art of living, believingly and joyfully, the whole art of recovering our confidence in the Church of Christ in this world, is by knowing where to put the accent between these two great moments. There are times when it encourages us...for what a place of love, of kindness, of tenderness, the Church with all her shortcomings is! Where else in this hard world are the poignant sorrows of the human heart honoured with such understanding? What a forlorn thing this life of ours would be if the Church, and all that it stands for would be eliminated or withdrawn!

This is worth a pause.  How forlorn is it to loosen the good habits of church?  

 

 

 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Relinquishment

Sometimes in church something grabs you spiritually.  Words stun by their appropriateness. The Holy Spirit propels them to hit the target.   On Sunday prayers were led by our new youth co-leader.  Carefully she led us through praise and intercession into a final prayer.  It's called the Prayer of Relinquishment - and how radical it is.  Perhaps you have said it before.

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to you. 

May your will be my delight today.

May your way have perfect sway in me.

May your love be the pattern of my living.

I surrender to you

my hopes,

my dreams,

my ambitions.

Do with them what you will, when you will, as you will.

I place into your loving care

my family,

my friends,

my future.

Care for them with a care that I can never give.

I release into your hands

my need to control,

my craving for status,

my fear of obscurity.

Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish your

kingdom on earth.

For Jesus’ sake,

Amen.

Richard Foster wrote:  It is the prayer of relinquishment that moves us from the struggling to the releasing…this prayer is a bona fide letting go, but it is a release with hope… God is not destroying the will but transforming it so that…we can freely will what God wills.”  How much difference this prayer has made to my week.


Friday, August 6, 2021

Oddities 3: Winnie the Pooh - Rabbit's positives.

 Christopher Idle also highlights certain marks that demonstrate that Rabbit is a committed Baptist.

He loves organizing people.  He enjoys passing Rissolutions (signed Rabbit) and having what he calls a Busy Day.  Reviews of Resources, Five-year Plans, Mission Statements all these are clearly up Rabbit's street or down his burrow.   Imagine what the others would make of it all.  Pooh might rub his nose in a thoughtful sort of way.  Piglet wonder if they were among the Fiercest Animals while Eeyore muttered: 'Not that it will do any good any of it'.   Rabbit has already masterminded his eleven-point plan for capturing Baby Roo; his greatest Busyness is on 'Just the day for Organizing Something...or for Seeing What Everybody Else Thought About It', In other words a Denominational Consultation.

2. The Washing.  Rabbit really believes in it. When the great flood comes Rabbit is the first to be immersed. When Pooh get's wedged in Rabbit's front door it reminds us how washing remains the Way In, which for Anglicans is a sticking point.  True Kanga washes too but more in the form of obsessive repeated rituals, involving Roo.

3. Innumerable Friends and Relations who represent all the sub-division, splits, persuasions and separations within the Baptist world.  This is the most conclusive evidence.   These include some exotic titles such as Alexander Beetle, Henry Rush, Early and Late, Small and Smallest-of all.  These names speaks of an extended family. Some of the Friends are not really Relations and many of the relations are certainly not Friends.


Denominations are no longer as prominent in much 21st century church life but his reflections on Pooh gives amusing insight.  I guess that's why I kept this article.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Oddities 2) Winnie the Pooh

So many of my old newspaper cuttings are dated and in a way this one is, because it was written about the church denominational scene in the 1970's. Christopher Idle, one of the Church of England's prolific hymn writers at that time examined: The Theology of Winnie the Pooh.  

I see that a new Winnie the Pooh story collection is to be released shortly to celebrate the bear's 95th. anniversary so why not mention this cutting. I realize that for some readers these book characters may be hazy in memories at best.  But I chuckled as I read this. 

Idle explained that each of A.A. Milne's famous characters had denominational identities. He had no doubts that Rabbit is a Baptist.  Unlike the Pentecostal Tigger, Rabbit neither bounces people into the river nor speaks strange tongues -' Worraworraworraworraworra'.  Nor does Rabbit mother everyone like Catholic Kanga with her liturgically repetitive offspring Roo.  

Rabbit is not so high-flown as Owl, but earthed in the world. He does not need such learned language as his Reformed and Presbyterian friend.   Nor is he so easily excited with Methodist Piglet's enthusiasm.  While serious in an 18th century way, Rabbit cannot retain the gloominess of Eeyore, who know no denominational label but is found in all of them.  Above all he is is not Winnie the Pooh. No-one ever accused Rabbit of having Very Little Brain. Rabbit does not wander through the Forest aimlessly, vaguely compiling pointless statistics of his steadily diminishing assents (honey) nor does he walk around in circles pursuing non-existent quarries (Woozles) like his easy going Anglican friend.  

Don't forget this is an Anglican assessment of the characters. More strikingly he also sees the positive signs that Rabbit is a committed Baptist!....see next. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Oddities 1 - A note to the preacher

When I left for the US in 2000 I left bundles of papers in the UK to be sorted later.  Only now am I struggling through these masses of old newspaper cuttings and personal papers. I am uncovering oddities.  For example, a note passed onto me after a service when I was minister at St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church.

Please, please, PLEASE!

1. Can we have some more 'proper' hymns and not just the statutory two at morning service - usually chosen from the same half dozen.

2, Can we give Paul a rest for a while and get back to Jesus.

3. Have some more of Michael's humour in sermons - which differentiates them from long years of worthy (but dull) dissertations and drives home the points with unerring accuracy!

Why did I keep this?  I think it was part of my 'listening to my listeners' process which blossomed into some of my writing as a preacher.  Not always comfortable (far from it) and always to be balanced by others, yet vital.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

An Accident 4) Mental Re-construction

Hopefully this is my last accident posting as we nudge closer to a replacement car.  But I must relate the session Carol and I had with a retired police Inspector, who belongs to our church.  He called and offered to give us both a post-accident talk in order to help us face driving again.  From his long experience of dealing with people involved in accidents he has devised a way of providing a kind of mental reconstruction.  Actually, he mentioned that he had offered to help others but few had wanted help.

Well, we said 'Yes please'.  He arrived with a large notepad and wide felt-tip pen.  He began drawing road plans, including the crossroads where the van had smashed into us.  Painstakingly he began to point out the hazards in each scenario, emphasizing the need to 'cover the horn' , ever ready to use it as a warning, as well as braking to notify the driver behind.  The high levels of anticipation required as you drive everywhere. As he tore off each sheet to draw yet another possibility he kept reinforcing the danger of assumptions that creep in over the years.   Especially assumptions that there is no danger round the next corner.

It took me back to my driving lessons (also with a retired police chief) with the deliberate anticipation of the possible hazards in different situations.  Was it helpful?  Most definitely.  As I reflect on the moments before our crash I realize that having enjoyed a coffee at the Emmaus charity store, I was too relaxed driving along the hedge-lined road.  Yes, I had low levels of anticipation as I approached that cross-roads.

So going back to basics is to be recommended. I am a chastened driver.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

An Accident 3) 18 days later

At last, 18 days later, I have heard that my car is definitely a write-off and I have been allotted a sum towards a replacement car.  The frustration of dealing with the insurers is nearing an end. My neighbour told me last week that I am far too nice and kind to be dealing with the hard realities of my accident!  He told me when an organization is obstructive: "A red mist descends and in rage I tear into them, disturbing their tea break.  Perhaps they thought they could fob me off one more day....my anger (and imagine the language) rips into their organization and its incompetence and uselessness.  That's the way to get noticed. Michael, I think you probably don't have a nasty bone in your body,' he said, 'so you really are out of step with what it takes in today's world.'  

It makes you wonder about all the anger and assertiveness that does seem so often to be the way the world works! Perhaps I have been out of step.  No red mist moments.  But, after all I have just been preaching the Beatitudes!   Anyway, the immediate aftermath of the accident is over. A friend has loaned us a car while we try to organize a replacement and we remain grateful.

Actually, we are especially grateful because today marks our 53rd. Wedding Anniversary. Still together!


 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

An Accident 2) Aftermath

It is now 13 days since the crash.  A couple of things have happened and other things haven't.  Obvious were the shock reactions we both had in different ways. After 24 hours, I suddenly went into Artic freeze - unable to warm up during the day and at night, in spite of 4 blankets, a hot water bottle and bed socks.  Apparently a common reaction.  Carol sunk into deep fatigue and a reactivated illness. It is surprising how long shock waves continue with flashbacks.

Wonderful has been the reactions of friends and neighbours.  In our carless state they have covered our shopping and medical journeys with such kindness.  Phone calls, emails have brought sympathy and support.  We are immensely grateful.  So many have been praying for us - the support has been tangible.

Other things haven't happened - the prime culprits being our elusive car and insurance company.  Together they have dodged persistent investigation about progress. At last, I have learned that I will be told by Friday whether the car is a write-off or not. So, we remain in suspension until the end of this week.

In my devotions I have been challenged:  Preacher, you preached on: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, the will walk and not be faint (Isa. 40:31).   Now trust in God's promise!   Yes, it's no good spouting great God words in the past.  They are for living now.  He is for now!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

An Accident

It's extraordinary how a dull Thursday morning, visiting the Emmaus Community (on the Ely Road) for coffee, could turn into such a traumatic mess.  As someone said to me 'That's why we call it an accident!'  Taking a back road to avoid major hold-ups on the A10 I approached a cross roads.  What happened next is a bit of a blur. The police and insurance reports will likely record that as I came into the main road to turn left I was hit by a van at the front on the driver's side. Shunted across the road at speed.  Who was at fault?  Good question.  I am sure I looked right and would have seen him but....! Nearby residents said it was an accident black spot with a previous collision just a week befor.

What is truly extraordinary is that the collision shot my foot down on the accelerator and we ploughed across the road straight for a large stone marker welcoming us to the village of Landbeach.  As Carol screamed for me to stop I found myself making a swift left turn that grounded us safely between the stone pillar behind and a telegraph pole ahead, with a solid street sign about 6 inches away, parallel with the car on the left hand side.  3 obstacles any of which could have done further damage to us.  Onlookers commented on the miraculous driving.  And it was.  We sometimes talk about God's protection and even guardian angels.  Well, this was some skillful driving of which I have no memory.  Many other things could have gone wrong too - a sudden break in oncoming traffic spared a further collision.

Reflecting (in this time of considerable after-shock) we give thanks for God's protection, for the amazing kindness of Landbeach villagers who brought us refreshments and enabled comfort breaks!, the help of passing first-aiders, the pleasant other driver was not seriously injured (though he did go to hospital for a check-up overnight), and a villager who drove us back home. Within the nearly six hours so much kindness

Alas, I have discovered my insurers are rated very badly and confused communications between them and outsourced support means the car remains in six days limbo (so far) until an engineer examines whether it is a write-off or not. :So we are in limbo too though neighbours and friends in the church are really helping us.  I'll let you know the next chapter.


 

Monday, June 21, 2021

On a hillside 30) B8 Truth 3 The promise

As with all the beatitudes there's a promise: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!  At no point in the Beatitude Jesus escapes real life.  It’s a whole life-style that causes an affront.  Jesus knows that none of these eight beatitudes are possible without his love and power. Rather, with him, mourning, hungering and thirsting to do the right thing for God, peace-making, gentleness with the strength of steel, mercy giving and bearing persecution is the best way to live.  For the best way to live and strange though it seems he claims all this adds up to being blessed, happy God’s way.  Even facing persecutions and insults.  

The Message paraphrases Matt. 5:11,12 : You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. Not only that - count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it , I do!  And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

 So, let's be God botherers because we love Jesus!

Saturday, June 19, 2021

On a hillside 29) B8 Truth 2

 

Jesus' followers provoke reactions today.  When Jesus says he has given the world no excuse he also says If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first.   As it is, you do not belong to the world but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  You face people with God. Some of the disciples would be martyred.

I feel deeply uncomfortable when I consider all the serious persecutions in our world and dare to apply this beatitude to myself. To think that I might provoke hostility is not welcome news. I would like people to think well of me.  And I know how easy it is to keep quiet. But it seems that Jesus includes us when he continues: Blessed are you when people insult you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. He includes reactions which happen in the world we live in - such as insults. I have certainly been insulted when people heard I was a Baptist minister - occasionally in social situations. It was Oswald Chambers who wrote it is easier to be a Christian in a prison cell than at a party!

When Carol and I were involved in a local radio station they openly called those who made the 'God spot', the God-botherers.  Sometimes it was clear they felt what we were doing was a waste of air-time and even dangerous fake news which made them angry. God botherers can make people angry.  We are in a culture that allows us to do our Christian stuff but expects us to keep it in a private box, or in permitted, and ignorable, God spots. On the margins.  It really doesn’t mind us meeting in church and having limited radio and TV appearances and an occasional civic role.  But it doesn’t want people to take Jesus to seriously in real life.  Because in conventional wisdom there is no place for the radical good news of Jesus impacting real life. But Jesus wants to impact others through us. Whenever you take Jesus seriously in the way you live and witness it can make others uncomfortable, sometimes angry even in our easy-going culture. 

There was a poster: IF YOU WERE ON TRIAL FOR BEING A CHRISTIAN WOULD THERE BE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO CONVICT YOU.  I don’t know how many stories we have of facing people with God who hate us for it.  Anonymous Christians go under the radar.  Jesus followers make people uncomfortable. I think of the person in a toxic work environment full of blasphemy and anti-Christian hostility who bravely rebuked them by saying he was a Christian.  I think of the Christian accountant who was asked to turn a blind eye to some of the transactions that an important client wanted endorsing and not to ask awkward questions.  He couldn’t with integrity do what was asked. He spoke to a partner in the firm and it was made plain that his job was on the line. Oh, I know many do have stories like this.

 


 


Friday, June 18, 2021

On a hillside 28) B8 Truth 1

Jesus provokes negative reactions.  While he was a lad in Nazareth everybody liked Jesus. What a pleasant boy growing up so nicely they would say as they left the carpenter’s shop. ‘He grew up both in body and wisdom gaining favour with God and man’.( Luke 2:52) But the first time Jesus speaks in the Nazareth synagogue and tells of God’s mercy to all, these same people rise up drag him to a cliff where they would have killed him.(Luke 4:29) Why?  Because he faces them with God. It’s stunning that at as early as Mark ch 3. religious leaders ‘began to plot to kill him.’ They cannot bear that Jesus faces them with God. 

J K Galbraith coined the expression ‘conventional wisdom’ as the mass of things that the mass of people want to hear.  ‘Individuals, most notably the great television and radio commentators make a profession of knowing and saying with elegance and unction what their audience will find most acceptable’.  And writes Galbraith, ‘the only fatal blow to this sort of wisdom occurs when the march of history flings up something which it cannot explain’.

He could have been describing Jesus when he strides into history with its false comfort of conventional wisdom to make that fatal blow to upset our usual way of thinking. For he will tell us a mass of thing that the mass of people don’t want to hear. Because he doesn’t begin with us, our relationships, economic, politics…our aims in life.  He begins with God, a holy God who created us, a holy God with whom we have broken relationship. Fallen far short of what we should be.  Yet, God who is a loving Father who has sent his son to redeem us, to save the world if we respond to his grace. And the mass of people don’t want to hear.  We are wired to please ourselves and live with conventional wisdom.

People who enjoy life as it is without God demanding attention are happy with their life styles and don’t want another way, not even the WAY. People who live in half truths don’t want the truth, not even the TRUTH. People who scrabble for more and more don’t want to hear about losing themselves in God’s life not even the LIFE. 

 I once had to lead a Bible week and they asked me for the title.  I chose: The confrontational Jesus. The planning committee agreed but when I arrived one leader told me he didn’t want to think of Jesus as confrontational.  'He was always kind and gentle', he said.  Actually, everything about him confronted and convicted our world far from God. Meek yes, but gentle with the strength of steel.  He faced people with God - the head-on clash of two irreconcilable value systems.  If Jesus hadn’t come we would have continued with our half-knowing, Old Testament knowing, laws to be followed, sacrifices to be made.  But now he has made it clear that we are all lost without him and the cross.  They have no excuse. They would not have been guilty of sin if I had not come and spoken to them. As it is, they no longer have any excuse  ( John 15: 22).  He faces them with God.  Now they know.  Now we know.


Monday, June 14, 2021

On a hillside 27) B8 Persecuted and insulted

I began preaching the Beatitudes in January and completed them in June! Someone called them the Christian Everest because they sum up life with Jesus in ways that really stretch us and require the best of us. Certainly they challenge me. And, now, the last one: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  It’s the only beatitude that Jesus makes personal.  He looks directly at them: Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Very PERSONAL.  Looking at me.

Listeners on that hillside needed to hear this. The world of the first church was a cruel one for Christians.  Several disciples were martyred. Many believers would be persecuted for their faith. Before end of the first century the word for witness and the word martyr had become the same word.  To witness to Jesus publicly risked death.  And it is brutal reality today. 340 million Christians today desperately need to hear this beatitude. What?!  Someone calculated there were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than in the previous 19 centuries put together. But today, OPEN DOORS, the organization that seeks to pray and support the persecuted church, claims persecution is more severe than ever. 340 million Christians with 9,488 church attacked last year.  Current ranking of the top 50 counties in the world where Christians are persecuted sees No. 1 N. Korea, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria….with others climbing higher in the list like China and Sri Lanka.  Who can forget Sri Lanka in Easter 2019 when 9 suicide bombers, with a group linked to ISIS, entered 3 Christian churches while worship was going on. Easter Day! The blast killed 269 people with simultaneous attacks in 3 hotels. Families lost. Always stories. Like Anusha Kumari, in tears: My husband and my 2 children died once; I die every second she said in tears

What courage to stand up for Jesus when the state authority has forbidden Christian faith or when Islamic fanatics attack.  So, millions really need to hear this beatitude.  And we need to remember them in prayer.  However, the big question for us is how much we really need to hear this.   We who worshiped at Easter with no thought that gunmen would burst in. How relevant is this beatitude to me? Our situation is so different in this country. Yet, there are three truths of this beatitude that are important for us today.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Dualoguing 2) a gimmick?

I know that the monologue sermon form (sometimes with a preacher's chosen pattern such as three points) is a common model but when you sample the rich variety of New Testament words for preaching there is little evidence that early preaching resembles what has become the norm for us today  No one can be dogmatic about what a sermon should look like. There are no uniform packages or pigeonholes in the New Testament.  I once wrote: 'In the twenty-first century no one can authoritatively declare that one size fits all or that there is one biblical pattern. There has never been one ordained pattern, and in our age of turbulent change, we should expect just as much diversity as we find in the New Testament'.  (360degree preaching)

The two voices of dualoguing can bring many advantages:

  1. Freshness in preparation - when two people pray and exegete Scripture together it takes more time and much more listening to each other and to God.  When people really immerse in Scripture together with preaching in mind it both concentrates and expands the preparation process.
  2. Wideness in expression - two people brings different voices, experiences, and styles into one sermon. For listeners, the relevance likely reaches wider.
  3. Deepening of experience.  On Sunday I was working with a young person with very little preaching experience.  Her willingness to share with me in preparation and to participate in prehearsal where we preached our notes to each other provided a good model of two-way team learning.  At one point I was too complicated and she agreed.  With gifted would-be preachers I wonder whether this might prove an effective resource - teaming them up with experienced preachers?
Of course, it all took much more time out of our schedules.  But proclaiming God's word deserves our time, doesn't it?

Monday, June 7, 2021

Dualoguing

Yesterday at church I had the joy of collaborating with one of our gifted young people, Megan.  And it was joy! We led the whole service together. Though only eighteen, her story is already full of God-happenings with a strong sense of God's call into full-time service.  Within the service I interviewed her about this call. Her story was clear, honest and wonderfully inspiring. It really was. At the end the masked congregation (a full-house within government regulations!) cheered and applauded. 

Before, when we met in our garden five weeks ago, I asked Megan whether there were particular Scripture passages that meant a lot to her so that we could focus on one of them.  Her Bible is full of under-linings, jottings in margins, fuller notes.  We prayed and talked over a couple and decided on Col. 3:12-17.  It's the positive wardrobe God promises to clothe us with.  We agreed to spend time separately in reading the passage aloud and exegeting the passage to hear what God wanted to say to us and through us. 

Of course, we needed to meet more to share our work, to listen to each other as well as how to plan out the dual sermon process.  Twice we met in the church building and heard each other and developed a pattern for our preaching which involved Megan beginning with a short intro followed by me (similarly brief). then Megan preached a longer time, followed by me.  Yes, we highlighted two main issues in our own ways and no, we didn't go on too long. 19 minutes actually. 

What struck me throughout the entire process was how much we can learn from each other.  Megan's radiance and conviction about the sheer possibilities of being clothed by God with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  For a sometimes jaded oldie like me it was an inspiration to hear this good news again. Afresh. When people say that the young people and children are the church of tomorrow that old correction puts it right - No, TODAY!-  I know left on my own I would not have preached on this passage as we did together.  

Of course, any deviation from a normal sermon preparation process takes much more time.  But is it worth it! Oh yes!   If you want to hear the 19 minutes go to Histon Baptist Church web site, hit Resources, then Sermons!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

On a hillside 26) B5 The rebound

 

(This week I have been working on a dialogue sermon with one of our young people - I will tell you more shortly!)  I know I just need to finish the mercy beatitude B5 because it is a rebound beatitude. But a rebound between whom?  God throws his mercy loving kindness at us…we throw it out to people in need, to people who hurt us.   We may not get thanks back.  It’s often anonymous anyway.  The rebound is not from people - it's from God.  He keeps on throwing his loving kindness out to us. The rebound is between God-us-God.

Just look again at the chilling conclusion of the story Jesus told about the man thrown into prison because he failed to forgive the smaller debt: This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart. 

When we fail to show mercy our hearts become mean and closed off  - we break the loop of God's forgiveness.  When we calculate where and when we are going to share our love and forgiveness we have forgotten how generous Jesus is with us. Always. When in pride we insist we shouldn't have to forgive first we are challenged how much God loved us first. When pettiness threatens relationships God's forgiveness shows us the big picture of God’s great love that has found us.

But when we are in God's rebounding mercy loop we join the happiest people in the world!


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Friday, May 28, 2021

On a hillside 25) B5 Connecting the dots

 

Jesus' point hits hard. The man whose impossible debt is forgiven failed to connect the dots. He had been spectacularly forgiven.  In deep deep trouble something that was astoundingly good had happened to him. And yet when he meets this other man who is in his trouble with him it makes no difference to his behaviour. This is a story for people who don’t connect the dots between saying to God: ‘thank you for giving me Jesus, for loving me so much that on the cross he died to give me eternal life for this spectacular good thing that has changed my life….and how I behave with the people I’m with right now – family, friends, neighbours. Everything that they have done wrong against me is so small in comparison.  Jesus is saying: Something really BIG and wonderful has happened to you when you meet me.  God’s thrown out his mercy like you would never believe…so you throw out mercy too.  No longer should we say: Why should I care? Because God cares so much for me.  And that should make you and me the most grateful merciful forgiving people.

Looking back I realize those people I have known in my ministry who did not believe they could ever be forgiven by God are those who most show this. This man was sent to me by a friend because he was in a terrible mess, he poured out a life of ruin and damage to others as well as himself andin tears he said: 'Can God forgive me'?  It didn’t seem possible to him.  And in the miracle of giving his life to Jesus and asking him to be Lord and Saviour he became an unstoppable force of mercy giving.   It challenged us as a church. Because it wasn’t just his personal life that now viewed every need as a challenge.  And it did.  The Cambridge News ran a story trying to track down the taxi driver who had seen a man collapsed on the street, had bundled him in the car and taken him up to A and E.  Sat with him.  After treatment had taken him home.  All out of the goodness of his heart.  Well, of course it was Jack.  And he involved us!  He became passionate about orphanage children in Romania and took pictures of these children. In tears he called us to action. To send out medical supplies and food and so much else……and exhaustingly insisted we show mercy.  Not just one year….but the next year. Thousands of needs cry out but the forgiven heart that knows the goodness of God just pushes on.  Merciful people are truly happy people because they know the forgiveness of the king and they pass it on.

Monday, May 24, 2021

On a hillside 24) B5 Two men

In Matt. 18:21-35 it seems that Peter has been hurt by his brother. He asks Jesus how many times he should forgive him. (Is this his brother Andrew? Because family is where some of the deepest hurts occur). But, of course it could be anyone close. Peter suggests 7 times is enough.  But Jesus answers - not 7 times but 77 times. By definition, you cannot keep count of mercy.  You have to keep going.  The cycle has to be broken because through Jesus all the hurts against God have been forgiven.  Where there is no mercy we have to break the chain with love.  Countless times. Why should I be the one who has to keep showing mercy?  Why should I care?

Two school boys grew up to have completely different lives. One, a born leader and money-maker, an entrepreneur whose inventive mind was always seeming to come up with hugely popular ideas made millions, lived in style.  The other failed at everything he did and lived on the borderline. A really sad story of things not working out well. Obviously, they lived in different worlds but the poor man was so desperate at a particularly needy time that he threw himself on his friend’s mercy and asked for a small loan about 250 pounds.  'I’ll pay it back', he promised.

One day the wealthy man received a brown enveloped marked Private: HMRC Inside were several sheets of paper and he couldn’t believe his eyes. It said that he had been subject to a searching audit and that he now owed 3,243,765 and 3 pence.  In panic he visited the tax inspector and found it was true. He was in deep trouble. Living to the maximum he would have to lose everything to pay the debt and even that wouldn’t cover it. He appealed to a tribunal.  Please please give me a chance to pay off the debt.  Please be patient with me. And to his utter amazement the tribunal had mercy and more than he could ever have expected it cancelled the debt. Social media buzzed.  Tictoc went frantic.

Back home he bumped into the school friend who still hadn’t paid back a penny.  The forgiven man should have been in the best of moods, but he turned, and actually grabbed and shook this poor man.  Dropping to his knees the poor man pleaded Please, please give a chance to pay off the debt. Please be patient with me.  But the other man refused.  It wasn’t long before social media picked this story up…and people were livid.  Victimization they called it. Vicious, cold hearted mean small mindedness.  The story went viral.  The tribunal was reconvened. We canceled your debt because you begged us. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on this man as we had on you.  Your debt is reinstated which meant immediate imprisonment because he had forfeited the freedom he had received.  He would remain there until all of the debt was paid.

That is another way of telling Matt. 18: 21-35.  Oh exaggeration you say. Well, I admit the idea of the tax authority letting you off a big debt does stretch imagination but Jesus deliberately chose figures to stun us. 10,000 talents was millions sterling. The annual taxes of all the province of Palestine only amounted to less than 1000 talents. Herod’s revenue was only 900 talents.  The other debt was a few pounds. The first debt was impossible to pay. Quite impossible. The man may fall on his knees. Be patient with me. Have mercy.  It couldn’t happen. The second debt quite possible to pay but it is rejected.   There's a point Jesus is making!........