Friday, May 20, 2022

You've hardly changed..NOT

On Sunday May 21st 1972 a (Buddy Holly) bespectacled ministerial student was ordained into Baptist ministry, in Chatsworth Baptist Church, West Norwood (where we were married in 1968).  So many rich memories of the occasion crowd in - with Barrie White the preacher and my dear Dad sharing in the laying on of hands.  Members of my first church in Blackburn travelled down to share in the service, and one of them took the photo on the front of the Induction Service leaflet and blew it up so that nobody with poor eyesight could miss it!  Tom Baldwin, one of my future deacons, was the official Blackburn town hall photographer who loved enlargements.  

Carol and I are quietly and thankfully sharing memories this weekend with a good dollop of wonderment about the 50 years since.  All with profound gratitude to God who has seen us through. I know it's asking your forbearance but I hope to post some reflections soon.


 

Monday, May 16, 2022

25 years on

Yesterday, one of my former Spurgeon's students - Martin Caesar - celebrated 25 years since he was ordained into ministry.  He asked me to preach again, 25 years on.  It was an exhilarating book-ending day.  For all sorts of reasons:

  • Striking continuity. Martin and his wife were just as I remembered!  So committed to each other, to serving the Lord together, with a family now grown and embedded in church leadership elsewhere.  Later he shared sad news of some contemporaries who are no longer in ministry.  But what a thrill to catch up with his own story.  Strong and committed through 25 years.
  • Signs following. His current Baptist church at Biggleswade (BBC !). Warm in friendship and buzzing with life, it was swollen by representatives of the three churches he served earlier in ministry.  Thanksgiving spilled over into every part of worship.  People genuinely wanted to celebrate his 25 years so far.  And to be together with him.   How happy to visit a church like this.
  • Humility. With genuine humility Martin spoke to me before the service about his embarrassment with the personal focus on him. But he ensured that God was at the centre of the celebration by placing communion service at the heart of our worship,  emphasizing just how he/we owe everything to the God's grace in Jesus.  Prayers with hands laid on them as both made a fresh dedication 25 years on.
  • Partnership. Ali, his wife, spoke in the service with such love and encouragement. She had collated reflections of Martin's 25 years from the three churches. What a joy to see her in action, so much part of the journey.
  • Just fun. The communal meal afterwards was some meal....especially the deserts.  Christian hospitality.
Martin began as student the same year I started as Principal. This was the very first time I saw with my own eyes how a student with so much potential, making heavy vows and commitment at his ordination, had fulfilled so many hopes for his ministry.  What encouragement all round.  And it made me think.....see next post..... 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Cabbages and Music

In the last post a phrase struck me - 'the  mystery of music.'  As someone for whom music is vital, who listens to CDs (on my old Walkman) before going to sleep, these words provoke. Written by a Christian lawyer at the beginning of the twentieth century, Arthur Clutton-Buck. 

If we grow cabbages, we are necessarily in a relation of use to them.  But there are other things that we cannot understand at all if we see them only in the relation of use. If I listen to a symphony by Beethoven expecting it to give me some information of use to myself, information that will help me to increase my income or cure my indigestion, I shall not hear the music at all, and it will be to me a mere chaos of sounds. The music does not exist to give me useful information...True, to perceive it will profit me; I shall have the delight of experiencing beauty. But the paradox of the process is this, that I shall not experience the beauty if I try to experience it with an eye to my own profit....If I am to experience the music as it is, I must forget about myself and all my demands and expectations, and allow myself to fall in love with it, if I can; I must allow that relation, which is the music to happen to me.

Now according to Christ, the universe  in its nature, is not like cabbages that we grow for our own kitchens; it is like music. Its reality consists in a relation that is not a relation of use to us at all, and we must get ourselves and our own wants and demands and expectations out of the way....But, further, to be aware of that reality of the music of universe is the highest good, the highest happiness.  Then we ourselves become part of the music; we are by hearing the music constrained to make ourselves part of it; for it is a real music, irresistible in its beauty, and we cannot but dance to it when we hear it. He himself heard it and danced to it; and the beauty of his dance, of his life, of his whole state of being, has for two thousand years allured the world, even while the world would not understand the meaning of it. .

Hmmmm! 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Thankful for our senses

Being quiet in the garden also reminded me of some words by Edward King, (an English bishop at the end of the nineteenth century).

I will thank him for the pleasures given me through my senses, for the glory of the thunder, for the mystery of music, the singing of birds and the laughter of children. I will thank him for the pleasures of seeing, for the delights through colour, for the awe of the sunset, the beauty of flowers, the smile of friendship and the look of love; for the changing beauty of the clouds, for the wild roses in the hedges, for the form and beauty of birds, for the leaves on the trees in spring and autumn, for the witness of the leafless tress through the winter, teaching us that death is sleep and not destruction, for the sweetness of flowers and the scent of hay. Truly, oh Lord, the earth is full of thy riches!  And yet, how much more I will thank and praise God for the strength of my body enabling me to work, for the refreshment of sleep, for my daily bread, for the days of painless health, for the gift of my mind and the gift of my conscience, for his loving guidance of my mind ever since it first began to think, and of my heart ever since it first began to love. 

Taking time to be thankful through our senses is vital for our health and our worship.  I really need more such times!

 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Garden Meditation - Creation Pizzazz

We have a small garden and I have very limited horticultural skills.  But this last week the colours, shapes and forms have exploded with blooms and blossoms crowding green leaves. Shrouding the garden shed clematis and potato vine have covered every inch with delicate pink/violet flowers and bright blue flashes.  Pansies and primroses brighten beds and hanging baskets.  Trees, bushes, birdsong, clouds, sunlight. Yesterday I sat and marvelled. And some words of Annie Dillard came to mind:

Why so many forms? Why not just one hydrogen atom? The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font. What is going on here?  The point of the dragonfly's terrible lip, the giant water bug, birdsong or the beautiful dazzle and flash of sunlighted minnows, is not that it all fits together like clockwork, for it doesn't, particularly - but that it all flows so freely wild,...that is all surges in such a free, fringed tangle. Freedom is the world's water and weather, the world's nourishment freely given, its soul and sap; and the  creator loves pizzazz.


Terrible things are happening in our world which deserve our attention and prayer. Human cruelty seems boundless.  But moments of awareness, of sensing beauty around us, deserve our attention and praise too.  We mustn't miss the creator's pizzazz!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Gratis!

Now, for something completely different. Yesterday, at Tesco's where we do our main weekly shop, we enjoyed a FREE lunch!   Completely gratis courtesy of the management. The backstory to this act of generosity covers several weeks' of solid campaigning by Carol. Six weeks ago she saw that the toilet serving the café was out of action causing inconvenience (!) for customers and especially young families.  Seeing others' distress Carol asked to see the manager and demanded action.  As she put it, nicely, 'It is illegal not to have a functioning toilet!'  The manager (also called Michael) said that repairs were in hand.  They were awaiting parts.

The next two visits found no progress on the toilet front.  The cafe manager said they had tried and tried but perhaps Carol could talk with the top store manager.  So, four weeks ago she struck up a warm relationship with top manager Darren who promised personal action. Delightful though he is, the following week found no action.  By now, Carol was known to all the café staff who greeted her as their special friend and fighter for rights.  Apparently, there was another store manager even more powerful.  Owen heard Carol's forthright plea, confessed it was the first he had heard of it and promised immediate action.  The campaign had reached the top.  Definitely, it would be sorted.  Michael promised us a free meal next time we were in.

Yesterday, Carol was greeted by exhausted staff who couldn't wait to tell her that plumbers really had been trying to repair it but still without success.  Michael said we deserved a free meal (well, Carol did) for all her fighting so far.  And so we sat down happily to egg, chips and a wrap.  Of course the saga goes on but Carol has made several new friends. Just thought I would let you know.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Widening media

These Easter eggs have really gained traction.  Hundreds of people have now seen them in the past three weeks with many stories as church members have sat on benches nearby to talk and share.  Up until last Sunday I had contented myself with some sedate posts.  I rather like the pace of blogging which suits me....a couple of short pieces every week or so with a small but faithful readership.

However, on Sunday to greet people 'Happy Easter,' I made the rare move of posting a shaky video on my facebook and to my astonishment viewings are nearing 300 with comments from friends across the world.  

Even rarer (these days) I was involved in a broadcast interview this week on Cambridge 105 radio.  Nobody else was available so I was given 7 minutes to describe how a village church could involve its children, young people and others (I was the oldest) in creating an art installation in order to tell the most important story of all.  A clip of the broadcast can be found easily.  Just google Cambridge 105 and see it on the home page (for a little while anyway).

So, exciting in many ways!   Here endeth the Easter egg saga!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 9) The best day EVER

The best conclusion to any story EVER - the Empty Tomb and the Resurrected Jesus.  These last two eggs were painted by the youngest painters.  The Empty Tomb painting had help from their teacher with the children's hand prints radiating the morning sky (in Ukraine colours - quite coincidentally)!  And some of the church young people painted the last one, looking out of the tomb onto a landscape transformed by the risen Jesus. 

This morning's service was packed out with chairs brought in. With exuberance the congregation made response to Jesus Christ is risen - He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Actually, several times during worship! Many languages were spoken by our international congregation during the service and at its conclusion the majority of us shared in a magnificent feast prepared by our international members and friends.  Such happy celebration.

I hope that you have experienced Easter joy today!  


Friday, April 15, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 8) Following the story

Though each artist worked in isolation the contrast between the Last Supper and Jesus praying in the garden proved to be stark. We move from fellowship around the table into the dark grief of Gethsemane, Jesus' arrest identified by a betraying kiss from Judas and the brutality of the Cross.  These next three eggs go to the heart of Jesus' sacrifice.





Today from 10.00 am till 2;00 pm we had open church to welcome the village to share in the Easter story with different churches sharing in the welcome, providing all kinds of activities for families (including donkey rides)!   Complementing these activities, several churches held more usual Good Friday services!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 7) Following the story

Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, the picture of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey formed the backdrop to our service.  Tall bamboo canes and rich foliage transformed the church, and palm fronds on every chair encouraged maximum participation. 

Tonight we focus on the Last Supper.  Our minister designed this second egg, holding the famous Rublev icon in mind, with its three divine figures seated around a table.  He contemporized it, adding a chalice on the table and the washing of the disciples' feet.  Its golden colours stand out in marked contrast with what it to come.


Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 6) Attempting a visual

Today I found an old (very cheap) camera and tried to capture the eggs, after having been frustrated by newer technology.  Sadly, the sun failed to shine.  It makes so much difference to the impact.  But at least it should illustrate the vision that sparked my last few posts. Alas, the stand which explains each picture obscures the Empty Tomb egg.  



But I look forward to giving more detail these next few days!

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 5) Making impact.

Just enjoyed a week away with our London family in sunny Minehead.  And it was surprisingly sunny compared with other UK weather!  On my return I couldn't wait to find out how the installation of the seven eggs had worked outside the church.   Apparently, really high winds had threatened and new stakes were now holding down each one.  

But the important news was that throughout the week people had stopped to look at their depiction of the Easter story and more than that...had talked with church volunteers who were strategically placed at two benches.   One friend told me how a man had walked slowly along the eggs and in conversation then asked for prayer. It seems that many other stories can be told about our visitors. Our two local newspapers have sent reporters who have interviewed our pastor and his wife about the project and taken photographs.  I expect we shall see something in print shortly.

How we long for the Easter story to make fresh impact this year.  And that's the big prayer this Easter.  In the middle of all the bad news, much of it so terrible emanating from the Ukraine (reminding us of so many other easily forgotten battlegrounds) that Jesus goes through this terrible week towards his brutal death to bring the world back to God.  Overcoming its brutality in love, forgiveness and new life in his kingdom on resurrection day.  He really does change reality for the better!

(I was hoping to post a picture of the seven eggs,  but my Android camera does not talk to my blog.  I wish I was more gifted with IT!)  

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Seven Easter eggs (4) Seeking to do justice


The dimensions of the egg were larger than I had imagined.   I unscrewed the supporting stake from behind so that it could just fit on my easel.  I had a scene in my mind.  Taking a broad brush and some grey paint I sketched out how Jesus might look in the foreground.  On his knees, pleading. Slumbering disciples would be indeterminate shapes in the background.  I wanted a design that would emphasize Jesus' loneliness as well as his anguish.  Rather than crowd the scene with trees I planned an open space which would emphasize just how much Jesus was left on his own in the Matthew account. 

More difficult was choosing tones that would not only show this was night time but a time of grief and agony.  Could I find strong moonlight tones with enough light on Jesus' face?  Would trees and night sky in the background complete the top half of the egg?  And could the foreground vegetation and trees echo some of the pain in their structure and colours?  

When I finished, I placed the egg on the bench outside my garden shed.  Interestingly, the overhanging tree throws shadows onto the picture which add an unintentional element to the design.  I know the photo below is not clear but I thought I should include it, since you have had patience to read the last posts. Closer to Easter I shall report a little more on how the ultimate 'installation' worked out in the church front garden . 


Sunday, March 27, 2022

Seven Easter eggs (3) Some theology

Thinking about how I might paint the Gethsemane episode I was struck again by its pivotal role in the whole Easter story.  When Jesus pleads with his Father that he might not go to the cross, he is in deep grief because this is the moment of facing its horror. Not just physical dread (though that would be painful enough) but spiritual dread of separation from the Father. Facing the cross - its dereliction, sin-bearing, loneliness and grief as never ever experienced before. 

In Gethsemane Jesus is wrestling with the costs of Calvary.  Can he avoid the cross?   Is there some way that the Father can let the cup pass him?  Can his mission to save the world be accomplished without this ordeal?   This is the time of decision.   Facing the cross before the act of crucifixion.  It's the cross before the cross.  Because in this agony in the garden the greatest decision in the history of the world is made.  Jesus commits himself to die.  In all that will happen next - the injustices and cruelties of betrayal, arrest, imprisonment, judgment, floggings, the climb to Golgotha - Jesus knows he is doing God's will.  With equanimity he faces his accusers, with forgiveness his persecutors, with love his mother.  He is controlling his destiny because his destiny was decided in the garden.

How do you put this theology into paint?  Was there a way to convey the agony and horror of Jesus seeking to avoid the cross?  I know the other option was to focus on his yielding to God's will but so much of the description relates to the tension, struggle - the sheer anguish.  That's where I chose to focus. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs 2) The choice

A few days later I was enjoying a coffee with our pastor. Chris, when he applied (gentle) pressure about which egg I would choose.  Some had already been chosen, including The Last Supper which he was painting himself.  As conversation developed I learned he had been to Art College and I more readily understood his keenness for the whole project. On his smart phone he enthusiastically showed me the sketch he had made for his egg - based on Rublev's famous icon of three figures around a table. With imagination his design also included Jesus washing the disciples' feet.  It really communicated.  He explained he would be using warm, encouraging colours.

As we talked, I realized afresh the contrast in the Easter story between Jesus and his disciples sharing bread and wine (warm colours) and the awful darkness of what was to follow.  Judas the betrayer leaves the table and it was night. (now that sentence paints doesn't it?)  And then Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane,  He leaves all but three of his disciples asking them to sit and wait as he goes to pray. Then, with Peter, James and John he moves away with obvious grief and agitation. Indeed he tells them "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and stay awake with me.' And going a little further he throws himself on the ground, praying in agony 'My Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me." (Matt. 26:36-46)  Luke tells us that 'in his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.' (Luke 22: 44). 

Chris said that, if I took this scene, its dark and cold tones would make such a contrast with his set next to it.  And so, in this way, my choice was made.   

Friday, March 18, 2022

Seven Easter Eggs (1) A vision

Our new minister's wife is bursting with ideas!  Among them is an ambitious proposal to show an art installation (yes, that's what it's being called) on our church front lawn.  Seven large Easter eggs (over 4 feet high) have been cut and primed ready for different members and organizations to paint Easter scenes.  Supporting frameworks have been attached so that they can be firmly grounded together. The children and young people each have an egg to paint and a few of us have been volunteered into taking part.  As you guess (because I am posting this!) I am among them and have been committed to one of the scenes below.

We began with this list:

Jesus enters Jerusalem 

Last supper 

Jesus praying 

Arrest and trial 

The Cross 

The tomb 

Resurrected Jesus 

It was a challenge looking at this list and picturing how I might respond.  Each has dramatically different possibilities. It is decades since I last attempted anything like this.   Soon some were chosen and I found myself wrestling with my eventual choice among those left.   Next post!


Friday, March 11, 2022

Back in 1812

 

I subscribe to Today in Christian History and was struck by an occurrence today back in 1812. William Carey is one of the great Baptist missionary pioneers.  I had not heard of this particular incident in his life.  What a challenge to persistence when the going gets tough!

March 11, 1812: Fire engulfs missionary William Carey's print shop in Serampore, India, destroying his massive polyglot dictionary, two grammar books, sets of type for 14 eastern languages, and whole versions of the Bible. Undaunted, Carey said, "The loss is heavy, but as traveling a road the second time is usually done with greater ease and certainty than the first time, so I trust the work will lose nothing of real value . . . We are cast down but not in despair." News of the fire also catapulted Carey to fame, bringing in abundant funds and volunteer labor (see issue 36: William Carey).

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

O-C S 10) The separating Power of Things Present

Just to dip into Morrison again - in that list of things that cannot separate us from the love of God like neither death nor life, angels nor demons....he chose three words: neither things present (Rom 8:18).

He warns that things present, everyday tasks, can blind us to the great realities of God's love in Christ. 

- because of their exceeding nearnessYou can blot out the sun with a coin if you only hold it near enough the eye.  The round of present duties....absorb us, commanding every energy. Near things are so swift to tyrannize...we all need moments of withdrawal. To halt a moment just to say 'God loves me', 'God is here'...to take away the coin to see the wonder of the sun.

- because of the difficulty of understanding present things.  It's always easier to understand our yesterdays...but it is difficult reading love in the dark characters of present things. 

- because of the distraction of things present.  Life isn't a little bundle of big things; it's a big bundle of little things.  What things escape us in our unending busyness.

Jesus gives us the perfect example of untiring labour and unruffled calm. He gains the conquest over things to come. When Calvary was coming He was joyous. He set His face steadily towards Jerusalem. Yet....never doubting the love of God to him, certain of it in his darkest hour, through broken days , through never-ending calls.... not only did he master things to come, but he did what is often far more difficult - he mastered the separating power of things present. Do not forget He did all that for us. In a deep sense we do not win our victories; we appropriate the victories of Christ. That's why the apostle says: 'All things are yours - things present, things to come - for you are Christ's and Christ is God's. 


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

How big is my family? 4)

As we embrace this other family we remember that families can be great to belong to.  Jesus died to bring people together in the deepest way possible. We are related through his blood.  The church should be unlike any other group in the world because when you obey God and know his love in Jesus, you belong to a family of brothers and sisters without barriers. Age, gender, able-bodied, disabled, ethnicity, social standing, education, wealth.....all and more, broken down in the family of Jesus. WOW.   In the service I asked Carol to say something about her experience of finding her heavenly Father and belonging to a church family when she was left on her own because of her mother's death.  And what a difference belonging to God's family has made in her life.  (Carol wasn't sure she was going to share. We had left it open. But as I went to speak she whispered that she felt she should.  And it proved a pivotal testimony!)

But it is also true that families can be complicated to belong to.  We didn't choose each other. What an assortment of different people we are.  We should prefer to draw a circle around people like us. To be able to ignore others. To make our family small.  Thinking about the Baptist family earlier in that service is demanding enough. Really to work on relationships, to hold in prayer, to give support to people in other churches. But that is only the simplest stage of expanding our horizon.  How many others, belonging to God, are our brothers and sisters?   I chose another Scripture with our family responsibilities in mind.  Therefore, as we have opportunity let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers (Gal. 6:7).

So, that question: How big is my family? crystallizes a profound challenge for each of us.  Doesn't it? I think it takes a lifetime to work through the implications for my two families - beginning at home and in my local church.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

How big is my family 3)

It will be no surprise that Mark 3:31-35 was the text I chose.  It's easy to visualize the story.  This house is packed out. Jesus is teaching, as only he could, with those closest (probably disciples) seated like him.  Most people are standing, packed together, spilling out through the doorway into a dense crowd outside.  All leaning forward intently. They don't want to miss a word.  I am sure Jesus had a voice that could carry far to everyone.

A small group arrives outside.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, with his brothers. Earlier in the chapter we are told they have set out to do an intervention.  Maybe they thought he neared burn-out, or they could help prevent trouble with the authorities.  Elsewhere (Mark 6) we learn of his brothers: James, Joseph, Judas, Simon as well as some sisters.  The crowd is too dense so they tell someone to pass the message on Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.  It's carried through the crowd until it reaches Jesus.

What happens next is extraordinary.  Interrupted, he questions: Who are my mother and my brothers?  How long does uncomfortable silence hang in that room?  Then, looking at those seated in a circle around him (what an intense look that would have been) he says: Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.'

A few years ago I told this story and when the service was over, the first person out the door looked furious. 'I don't like what he said.  It was really cruel, a terribly unkind put-down of his mother. How could he?  While I replied that he was teaching us something important about family she turned on her heels and said loudly: ' Well, I wish he hadn't'. 

She supposed that Jesus was diminishing his own family. Putting them down. But the truth is bewilderingly inclusive. He's not excluding his Nazareth family.  Read on as you see his love for Mary and her part in the story, with James who probably wrote the NT letter and Jude who also has a NT letter....who belong with him in an entirely new family. Where God comes first, bonding them in his love, forgiveness and new purpose together.  New creation said Paul. Chosen people, royal priesthood, royal nation, said Peter.  Born again into belonging together as brothers and sisters.  

When you trust Jesus and place God first you belong to two families!

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

How big is my family 2)

After all the congregational interaction I mentioned a visit to a primary school where a board was covered with many little figures clustered according to family size underneath the question HOW BIG IS MY FAMILY?   The children counted their immediate family groups at home - an obvious place to start.  But easily this number grows as grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. are added in.  And if you plot a family tree you have a bigger dimension still.

I made a couple of general points. 

1.  Families can be great to belong to.  After all we belong naturally, sharing the last name with relationships and memories grown through belonging together. Old photographs show past Christmases under the tree, holidays with ice cream on our faces and milestone birthdays. With smiles all round.  At its best, families mean that we can relax and be real, for no one knows us better and is so closely related. We are blood relations.

2. Families can be complicated to belong to.  Because we didn't choose the others in our family. Your parents, brothers, sisters are givens - whether you like it or not.  And relationships can be difficult and fragile. A woman said to me: 'I have a sister but I fell out with her years ago. We don't speak.'  Parents can divorce and siblings fall out with each other.  Badly. Sometimes family life can be wonderful.  But at other times it can be horrendous.

We needed to hold these two things in mind as we turned to Scripture.


Monday, February 21, 2022

How big is my family? (1)

Yesterday, I was preaching at Oundle Baptist Church on the theme Belonging Together.  Meeting in a school hall, the congregation was seated around tables (cafe style) for an all-age service. But, alas, there was no heating and no food or drinks!  We sat in buttoned up coats, hats, scarves.  Some had brought blankets and even hot water bottles.  Not quite God's frozen people...but nearly.

My friend had planned the service imaginatively with songs and exercises.  He talked about family trees and showed us his work with his grandson tracing his own. (Apparently, he's researched back to the seventeenth century but we were spared too much detail).  Unusually, he then asked everyone to write down on large pieces of paper all the churches and Christian organizations we had ever belonged to.  Sitting opposite us was a young American mother whose husband is serving in the forces over here.  We discovered that she came from the very same small (and I mean really small!) town of Hillsborough in Kansas as our daughter-in-law, Lori.  Of all the places in the USA!  We are cross-referencing her family details with Lori. Her list obviously included many US churches, as did ours.  We were asked to reflect on the church families we had belonged to  and give thanks for their influences.  Hearing lists of the many different churches was stunning.  And, as our leader put it, all these past influences had now been blended in the DNA of Oundle Baptist Church. 

Yet another exercise involved us reading out to each other three stories from parts of the national Baptist family. The work of the Baptist Union was vividly described by a series of slides and then each table had a different set of three prayer topics: a Baptist college, a Baptist association of churches, and one particular local church.  For me, that was a first.  To focus on belonging together (which is the Baptist logo) with a focus on Baptists took some chutzpah.  Rarely, do we focus on the Baptist family - partly because often, many in our congregations come from other denominations and frankly it is hard enough praying for the local family needs.  So, it was a really different engaging time!   And, I'll mention something else too....... 

Friday, February 11, 2022

O.C S 9) The touch that reveals Mark 1:41 Jesus.... stretched out his hand and touched him

Covid has changed much behaviour.  Especially our not touching things.  But this meditation from Morrison emphasizes 'in the touch of Jesus, instinctive and spontaneous, what a deal of his glory we discover.

his touch revealed his brotherhood - as in this story of the leper who hoped for a cure but never dreamed he was going to find a friend. When Jesus touched him - him the outcast...loathed and shunned - it was something he never would forget.  He would tell his wife,.. gather his friends and say "He touched me'.  In all his loneliness that he was face to face with One who understood.

- his touch revealed His large authority - it was quietly commanding, healing. As in the story of the widow of Nain when he touched the bier immediately the whole procession halted.  Just his touch.

- his touch revealed His restfulness"Come unto me and I will give you rest'   The infinite restfulness of Jesus flowed out through the very act of touching.

- his touch revealed his uplifting power - as with Jairus daughter. They called it death, but Jesus called it sleep.  Then he touched her - took her by the hand- and the gospel tells us that the maid aroseHis touch had power.  He touched water and...it became wine, and the wine became the symbol of his blood. He touched language. He touched Simon, and Simon became Peter. What the devil touches he degrades. Everything that Jesus touched is lifted up to higher, nobler levels.

I am reminded of the old evening hymn I used to sing:

At even when the sun was set,

The sick O Lord, around Thee lay,

O in what divers pain they met,

O with what joy they went away!


Thy touch has still its ancient power,

No word from Thee can fruitless fall:

Here in this solemn evening hour,

And in Thy mercy heal us all


 

 

 

Friday, February 4, 2022

O-C S 8) The gracious ministry of helpfulness Isa 41:6

Morrison loved this verse: 'Each helps the other and says to his brother, "Be strong!" (Isa 41:6).  He admires a tombstone with this epitaph: 'George Philip Tyson, Died October 7th 1871. He was a helpful man'. Just that  

1. This is a universal ministry...each helps the other.  This sweet ministry of helpfulness is one that is possible for everyone ..it links with everyone. Everyone.  A minister said to a little girl: You will be a great help to your mother some day, and she said 'I'm a great help now!'

2. It calls for quiet discipline. It does not come by nature. You have to be thoughtful to be kind.  If you are always saying 'I can't be bothered', you will never be a helpful person. People who never look out for what is good, like blow-flies, always settle on some little festering spot...My dear friend, don't you be like that. Life's a hard business for the best of us, those who keep a smile upon their faces. It is a poor ambition to belong to the society of critics. 

3. It is a very undistinguished lowly ministryGreat services reveal your possibility, small services reveal your consecration, and it is consecration that the Lord wants.  He quotes Wordsworth (a sure sign of an older preacher!) 'The best part of a good man's life, His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love'.

4, It is always an unconscious ministry.  Every battle that you bravely fight, every temptation that you meet, every burden that you quietly carry, every sorrow you come smiling through is helping others when you never dream of it. 'Character' said Mr. Moody,' is what you are in the dark'.  I do not know anything in life that has got such powerful reactions on yourself.  If you want to be happy....the one great secret is to be a helpful man.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

O-C S 7) A thankful spirit - Col 3:15 And be thankful

Morrison reminds us that most of Paul's readers would live in very humble circumstances. Many were slaves. Yet Paul never seems to offer his sympathy but rather encouragement to be thankful.  We abhor ingratitude yet so often find daily thankfulness in the sense of Scripture difficult - to bear our common burdens cheerfully, to meet our common sorrows without murmuring.  But note:

1 Thankfulness really depends on our view of GodAs is our God, so is our gratitude. If all that happens to us comes by chance, then of course no man can be grateful.  In the old pagan world the noblest gospel that was known was that of fortitude and resignation. Then came the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and resignation was swallowed up in thankfulness. And it was not because their lot was different: it was really because their God was different.  Love that stooped from heaven to the cross.  This thankfulness is very conspicuous in Jesus Christ.  You do not think of Jesus as resigned; you think of Jesus as rejoicing....even on the night when he was betrayed.

2. The grace of thankfulness diligently cultivated is one of the secrets of true happiness.  It is not the happy people who are thankful. Is is the thankful people who are happy.  Happiness does not depend on what we have; it rather depends upon our point of view....we come to see His loving hand in everything. Ungrateful people are never happy people. And that's why Christian life is always joyful.

3. Noble service. Service is changed down to its very depths when we realize that we have been redeemed....with the blood of Christ.  What can we say each morning that we waken but "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift." It may be a secret you have never learned. Think of all you owe to God in Christ.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

O-C S 6) The Discipline of Uncertainty Jas. 4:14

Years ago a friend enthusiastically introduced me to George Morrison (1866-1928) - a Scottish preacher famously at Wellington Church, Glasgow.  My friend bought me some of his books (5 in all) and dipping into them I find more off-centre sparklets. Morrison loved arresting titles as above for - Jas 4:14  'How do you know what will happen even tomorrow? (JB Phillips),  He sees this text as so obvious yet the Bible, the most original of books...is never afraid of lending all its authority to commonplaces.  He asks us to think what we would lose if we did know about tomorrow. 

1. The element of surprise. Do we realize how deep our debt is to the unexpected?  Childhood is generally happier than age....in childhood everything is strange - every day that breaks, even in rain, is big with a whole world of possibility.  In middle age we are past the unexpected...that is why many a person in middle age is haunted by a lack of interest in things.

2.The spirit of vigorous alertness - to something more than certainty.  I do not want a satisfying life. I want a life responsive and alert. I want to be quick to see and quick to seize upon the will of God. The feeling that we know not what may come that helps us to be watchful every day.

3. The tenderness of loveWherever there is love there is a wistful tenderness that nothing but uncertainty could give.  If we knew everything, love would be too hard. If we knew everything, love would be too easy.  It is far better that we do not know the secret of tomorrow.

4. A loss of trust in GodHere is a patient, and tomorrow morning she has to undergo an operation..   very serious and critical.  Why is she praying and her friends remembering her in prayer?  Why? Because all the skill of the world cannot tell her what a day may bring. The day is coming in the light of God when yesterdays and tomorrows shall have fled. Meantime life is richer and not poorer because we know not what a day may bring

Yes, the discipline of uncertainty!

Monday, January 17, 2022

Interrupted worship

Last Tuesday I was asked to preach for yesterday's worship.  The text and theme was a new challenge to me and I diligently set about preparing (as if you would expect anything else? Well, you might!)  My normal practice is to preach onto paper while internalizing the meat of the sermon so that I can preach without notes.  It takes a little while but the hope is that I can speak from the heart without paper being a barrier, and that I can adjust to responses and circumstances.

Halfway through worship yesterday, while we were singing, one of the fellowship crashed loudly to the floor.  It turned out that he had suffered a mild heart attack (and happily we learn today he is responding well in hospital).  At the time it seemed grim. A nurse in our congregation and others immediately rushed to him and an ambulance was called.  Sensitively our pastor's young daughter led us through prayer and an ambulance arrived in under 5 minutes.  (A great answer to prayer).  As paramedics worked on him, the whole church was ushered out into the Winter sunshine to give privacy and (what turned out to be) an extended time for muted conversations.

Half an hour later we were back in church - now an hour since the service began.  What to do?  Scripture reading was preceded by prayer and then I was beckoned to preach a shorter sermon. Carol timed it at 14 mins.  Yes, having it in the heart meant it was easier to adjust.  Someone thanked me that it was just two points in a few minutes. Another wrote her delight at my being short!  And it all makes you think, doesn't it?  Would extra time have helped people hear a word from God?  Does the Lord always need that prepared chunk of material to bless his people?  Good questions.


Friday, January 7, 2022

Another omen?

Following the last lighter-weight post I need to regale you with my visit for my annual eye examination.  It's not about the exam. but the process of parking in the small short-term pay-and-display car park close by.

The pay machine, by card only, had clear illustrated instructions of which buttons to press: hit start, then card, then length of time, then agree with yourself, and await instructions.  Slowly words emerged on the screen: Wait for reader.  Obediently, I waited.  Nobody else was in sight in the car park.  Eventually, seeing its instruction to insert card I pushed it hard into the slot with aplomb.  But nothing happened...after a couple of minutes the screen reverted to the process's beginning.  Undaunted I repeated the process with exactly the same result. 

Leaving on the windscreen on a piece of paper explaining how I had tried and failed, I beetled off to my optician.  Forty minutes later I returned to find a traffic warden leaving the scene. "Excuse me,' I said plaintively, 'I parked here but had trouble with my card.' 'Were you the gentleman who left me a note?' he said.  'Yes, I am. I really tried to make it work.'  'Well,' he said,' don't worry I left you alone!'  Mightily relieved I asked him whether other users had tickets.  He told me they did.  Well what did they do differently.  'With that machine,' he answered, ' you must never insert the card.  Always use contactless. But Happy New Year, sir!'   So that sort of worked out OK. Gracc amid complications. I really wouldn't mind that being how 2022 works out!

Monday, January 3, 2022

An omen?

I do hope to post some worthwhile God stuff in 2022 but something happened that surprised me....and I wondered whether it might be an omen of how the New Year might work out for me.

Carol and I were doing shopping after Christmas in a big store near us.  Our trolley (shopping cart to US readers!) was beginning to fill.  At times we separated as I went in search for some item and then searched for Carol's pink anorak to find her and the accompanying trolley.  I was delighted to find some tins of prunes, and nursing three tins awkwardly I rushed to find Carol.  About to drop one, I was delighted to find her quite close by and with a clatter dropped the tins in the trolley.

A strange but kindly voice said: 'You've got the wrong trolley, darlin'!'  Looking up at the face of the lady, also wearing a pink anorak, I blinked, blurted an apology, retrieved the tins and set about finding their proper resting place.  I was amazed at myself for making this mistake.  As I put the tins in her trolley I should have noticed the large packet of Cornflakes and many tins of cat food.  What mental process was going on....or not going on?   That's what I mean about the omen.   May this be the last really daft mistake.  Probably not.

May you be preserved from making too many daft mistakes in 2022!