Thursday, July 20, 2017

Celebrating faith in action

This evening I shall enjoy a BBQ (weather permitting) which celebrates 30 years since the opening of the St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church mission centre.  Actually, the foundation stone was laid in July 1987 but the story began much earlier.  It's been memory tickling to exhume old documents, photographs, and letters which I left behind (in musty boxes) in England when we lived in the US which tell the story (or part of it - mostly from my point of view).

As I look back I consider it to have been the greatest faith adventure of my ministry because it began with so few resources and only the vaguest of hopes.  The few resources drove us to disciplined corporate prayer the like of which I have never experienced since.  Our small number meant that the vision of being a loving Christian presence every day of the week on one of the main city streets in Europe seemed absurd.  Utterly ridiculous!   Yet we held to the conviction that it is not great faith in God that matters, but faith in a great God.

At the bottom of one box I discovered a thick file in which I began to write the story of how my ministry lurched through these years.  It was never published because, even though I was invited to publish it when the church had moved on to some glorious outcomes, I thought it could be a burden to those who would write subsequent stories.  Experiencing a God-time, a kairos, when all kinds of divine surprises leap in from every side is an unusual blessing and, by definition, it is a 'time' which passes.

However, since I have this 'luxury' of a blog (that I am still surprised my friends follow) I thought I might, some thirty years on, capture some of the highlights of this adventure.  Because it was a God-time and it was glorious...and all the Glory was and is his.  So, watch out for A Cambridge God Adventure.

Friday, July 7, 2017

49 years on!

One of the great surprises of getting older is the rapid reaching of milestones which, in my youth, I assumed meant a very great age (with earthly demise just around the corner).  Yesterday, quietly in the Cathedral Refectory at Bury St. Edmund's, Carol and I reflected on that glorious summer day in 1968 when our marriage adventure began in Chatsworth Baptist Church, West Norwood, London.

One of our convictions that looking back we realize has held firm right through these years is just how much God was involved in bringing us together 11 months before we were married.  It was truly a God-happening.  It was at an International Student conference in Switzerland when Carol (recently orphaned) was chosen out of many applicants to be one of 6 representing Great Britain.  However, I shouldn't have been there!  Absolutely no way. But, having just taken a job in London working with students I learned that my boss had been rushed into hospital with peritonitis and I was immediately catapulted into not only leading the British contingent by ferry and train to Zurich, but also chairing the conference and preaching a keynote sermon.  I had great trouble finding my passport that I had only used once before, let alone preparing for what turned out to be a fairly demanding conference (- especially with a vociferous Marxist Italian main speaker!)  Yet, instantly for me (though not for Carol....why was that?) as the group assembled at Victoria Railway Station under the clock I knew that Carol was the girl for me.  Oh, yeah!

We thought yesterday about the poor man Peter Tongeman whose peritonitis led to my good fortune. He was happily present at our wedding but it remains one of the great mysteries and wonders how much God uses the twists and turns of lives to weave together his purposes.  We give profound thanks that we see ourselves, actually can only really interpret all that has happened since, in terms of God working his purpose out. So, with surprise and joy we say, Thank you Lord.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Another list - from John Stott

My last posted listed some friends of Spurgeon which has led to a couple of conversations.  I always find it interesting to see summary lists of friends, influences, books when people look back and identify what has really impacted them.

Another book that was so easy to read, because it has many photographic illustrations (!) all from its author John Stott, celebrated his 80th birthday.  He looked back over the teachers who had impacted him. He drew an imaginary circle round the globe, plotted sixteen stopping places on it and stopped at each to highlight people who have been his teachers.  He calls it: 'People my teachers'.

He explains that they are all historical and some lived in the distant past like the apostle Paul (Turkey), and St. David (Wales).  Others are in the near past like Festo Kivengere (Uganda) and Richard Wurmbrand (Romania).  Some he has known personally like Dr. Paul White (Australia), Bishop Bjorn Bue (Norway).  For others he has visited their graves as with Shackleton on South Georgia and Temple Gairdner in Cairo.  He writes that many have made impact on his life either by a book they have written or by their reputations which means that one way or another he can share a personal anecdote about each.

Also included are:  Gandhi (India), Lilly O'Hanlon and Hilda Steele (Nepal), Hudson Taylor (China), Allen Gardiner (S. America), Charles Darwin (Galapagos), D.L. Moody (the American student world), John Franklin ( seeking NW passage), Thomas Becket (Canterbury and Choughs).  Are there some surprises?  Gandhi? Darwin? He writes: 'All of them have a lesson or lessons to teach us'.

Of course the list is not exclusive.  He had a gift for making friends all over the world, but I love its range which helps to explain how he was nourished in his own leadership. How much we can learn from others - especially those in the past.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Spurgeon and friends

A friend wrote to me saying that my recent posts about C.H. Spurgeon had persuaded him to read more which opened up many themes about this great preacher.  And there are many!  Before I move on in further blog ramblings let me mention a book in my library: Spurgeon and his friendships by Cunningham Burley, who relied heavily upon the insights of Spurgeon's oldest son, also called Charles Spurgeon. 
The book claims that Spurgeon possessed the genius for making friends. A great personality yes, but he had the grace of receptivity.  He 'cheerfully admitted that he owed much of his ascendancy as a leader and author to the loyalty of his comrades and the love of his friends.'

The range of friends is listed under different headings.  Wonderfully it begins with Susannah his wife, and Charles and Thomas his sons.  In spite of all the pressures he genuinely valued his family as friends.  This is a good reminder for Father's Day this coming weekend.
Ministerial Friendships include Joseph Parker, Alexander McClaren, Dwight Moody and De Witt Talmage- it is challenging to see his warm open links with other great preachers of his day. How preachers should admire this when competitiveness and jealousy can  so easily prevent such friendships.  I have books on and by all these men and it is thrilling to think they were friends.
Philanthropic Friendships include William Booth, Lord Shaftesbury and George Muller.
Soul Kinships - John Ruskin, William Gladstone, Henry Ward Beecher, Robert Louis Stevenson...but also children.  Friendship with children marked out his ministry.
Dumb Companionships includes 'Dick' the cat, 'Punch' and 'Gyp' - his dogs.

Looking at this list and reflecting on these different headings leads to personal questions about my grace of receptivity and who might belong in my circle.  It really makes you think, doesn't it?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Political choices

Britain is embroiled in a general election.  Cambridge is a hotly contested seat with the two main parties exchanging members of parliament in the last election.  Unsurprisingly, we have been visited by both parties in person and have literature pushed through the door almost on a daily basis as Voting Day (June 8th) rapidly approaches.  On the national scene the party leaders have been fighting for our votes with competing manifestos and, as any you of reading this in the UK will be well aware, the resulting dynamics are complex (to put it mildly)!  There never has been an election like it, say some pundits.

William Temple, an Archbishop of Canterbury (died1944) who was renowned for his preaching and writing was especially concerned about supporting economic and social reform.  Today I was reading some of his comments:
Herd and Fellowship - The real defence of democracy is...that by calling upon people to exercise responsible judgment on the matters before the country at any time, you develop their personal qualities; you make them feel that they belong to one another in this corporate society, and so you tend to deepen and intensify personal fellowship. You are leading people forward from the relationship of the herd to that of real fellowship by the mere process of calling upon them to take their share in the government of the groups of which they are members.
Its sounds as though it comes from a different, altogether more reasonable era, doesn't it?.  Yet, the possibility of developing personal qualities by exercising political judgment, of ensuring we move out of a herd mentality sounds good. I need to record that I have been giving scrutiny to the local candidates with awareness that responsible judgment places great responsibility on me to think with a Christian mind.  As Temple writes elsewhere:
Political Test - Man is created for fellowship in the family of God: fellowship first with God, and through that with all God's other children. And that is the primary test that must be applied to every system that is constructed and every change in the system that is proposed.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Discovery by stealth!

I do not wish to embarrass her and must therefore let her remain anonymous but the lady I mentioned at the end of the last post gave me her card as she was leaving.  I was surprised to see its printed picture bore the words: Rehoboth Children's Homes Trust (with her own name on the back).

Going online I discovered that in 1981 she and her late husband founded this children's home in the Philippines because they witnessed the desperate needs of so many orphaned, abandoned and neglected children. With desire to give them the best of Christian nurture and education the work began with a local pastor and wife becoming the first house parents.  In the thirty-six years since then it has grown so that currently 70 children are being cared for residentially and through their education programme. The trust is connected with Godmanchester Baptist Church as part of their wide mission concerns.

This is one of the wonderful truths about the Christian family - that you can find out almost by accident so many good works that flow from faith.  I remember once reading a quote about the best part of Christian kindness is that it is only discovered by stealth! 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Spurgeon follow-up

I have not been able to find about Richard Knill's response to the eighteen year old Spurgeon, though how could be not have been thrilled. However there is an interesting record of a conversation a few years later.

Knill was with a group of friends enjoying dinner when the conversation turned to the hot subject of a wonderful preacher who was pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in London.
'What's his name?' asked Knill.
 'Mr Spurgeon'.
'I know him' said Mr. Knill.
'No, no,' a friend replied, 'I think not!'
'Yes, I do, sir!  I saw him at his grandfather's house some years ago when I preached in the village for the missionary cause, and have always been convinced that he would one day be a most extraordinary character in the Christian world.  I remember taking the lad into the garden, I conversed with him and prayed with him, and found that he possessed a mind far beyond his years.'

Isn't it interesting how Christian stories intertwine and how we can look back and remember connections.  Richard Knill's was a major one and deserves its place in Spurgeon's story....but on  lesser scales have you experienced connections like these?

At the Waterbeach meeting a lady who told me she was blind asked to speak to me afterwards.  She recounted how she was visiting Cambridge and worshipped at St. Andrew's Street while I was minister some thirty years ago. Even though she was not staying long she filled in a card to join a house group and I arranged this with her. Apparently this led to the most amazing friendships which have lasted until the present.  Indeed she had just spent time with one couple in Dundee. 'I owe so much to that group. All because I filled in a green card and you followed up!' she said.  Oh, to be surprised by such connections.