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?..... 


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!