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


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!