Saturday, 20 August 2016

Mizpah! Who’s watching you?

As I was pondering prayerfully what to write I had two ideas floating around in my mind.  Now that I start writing I am unsure how they might relate, but I am determined to explore this further.  The first idea relates to the word Mizpah, which you can find in Genesis 31. The second idea relates to pretentiousness and affectation.

Mizpah is an oft-misunderstood word.  I have seen it in ornate plaques or carved in wood in the homes of Christians and in churches, usually accompanied with the words that immediately follow in the text: “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” (Gen 31:49) It sounds like a wonderful blessing, but it was actually a solemn warning.

Jacob had fled to save himself from the wrath of his brother, Esau, from whom he had first purchased his birthright for a pot of stew, and then, by claiming to be Esau, Jacob had tricked his father Isaac into giving the blessing that would have been given to Esau. I’m not sure who was the more devious and manipulative, was it Jacob or his colluding mother?  But in seeking refuge with his uncle Laban, Jacob found himself at the mercy of a man who seems more devious than himself!

Twenty years later, having been tricked into marrying Leah, and then marrying Rachel, all the time working for his uncle who had been disingenuous regarding wages, Jacob leads his household and livestock out secretly, and headed back home.  Laban was not best pleased and made a pretence of wanting to give them a party, and claimed to have had a revelation from God. The ensuing argument between Jacob and Laban ends with a memorial heap being built and an uneasy peace agreement being made.  It is then that Laban names the place of this truce, ‘Mizpah’. 

It means ‘watchtower’.  When he declares, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” He is not giving a blessing.  He is giving a warning.  Remember, God is watching you so you had better behave yourself!

There is no doubting that Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel, and the experiences he had been through, had resulted in a changed man.  But both Laban and Jacob had history of deceit, manipulation, self-seeking and deviousness.  It is therefore ironic that the parting of the ways should be marked with the reminder that God sees them as they are and will judge them on the basis of what he sees and knows.

Some thirty years ago I found myself deeply moved to pray, “From affectation and sermonising, dear Lord, deliver me”.  I cannot remember why I was so moved at the time, but it has remained a continuing prayer over the years, and as chastening a motto for me as the words of Laban would have been for Jacob.

Might it have been that I had fallen into the folly of being more concerned with my image and what other people thought of me, rather than what God knew about me?  Had I been crafting sermons for persuasive effect, rather than telling the truth plainly and allowing the Holy Spirit to do what God intended?  Whatever might have prompted the prayer, I have done my best to be comfortable with being the real me in the pulpit, and telling the story as simply as possible.

I have long suspected that Nicodemus was rather pretentious at the start of his meeting with Jesus one night.  He certainly wanted to give the impression of being more spiritual than he was.   The same charge could have been made against King David as he dispensed justice for a poor man whose only lamb had been taken by a rich man to feed a guest.  How chilling must have been hearing the words, “You are the man!” (Click to read the story).

During my management studied I was introduced to the concept of ‘power dressing’, and I might have practised it for a while.  My own Christian tradition has an aversion towards clerical clothes. However, there are more ways of being pretentious in the pulpit than putting on a robe.  I have also worshipped and worked alongside many robed colleagues who have not been the least bit pretentious.  Sadly, far too many of those of us who stand at the front in church are guilty of various degrees of affectation.  We need to remember that the God who sees us in the pulpit also sees us in the bath!

I knew a man who was a marvellous pastor and preacher, as a licensed Lay Reader in the Church of England.  He was subsequently one of the first to become a Locally Ordained Priest.  The wonderful man and godly servant I had come to know was immediately subsumed by a new persona he seemed to put on with his clerical collar.  Intriguingly, several of the most unpretentious clerics I have met have been Roman Catholic Priests, while the most seemingly pretentious was a Minister in a Free Church denomination.

But it isn’t only the clergy who are at risk of becoming pretentious and wanting to impress people with our oratory.  Any of us are capable of being deceived by our own ego, and projecting a persona that is not entirely honest when we go to church. What we choose to wear, how we speak and act can be far too easily about the impression we wish to create.  We prefer to be thought of as better than we are and, sometimes, better than others.  For those of us who preach, a little less time polishing and a little more time praying might be helpful.  Will you join me in prayer, please?

“From affectation and sermonising dear Lord, deliver us” Amen? Mizpah.

 From the Diary

Wonderful to welcome a new Anglican chaplain to the team at HMP Gartree.  The Revd Eric Rew had his licensing service last Thursday.

It was a joy to officiate at the wedding of Catherine and Mark today.  I had the joy of baptising Catherine a few years ago.
I have had several video meetings for Rural Mission Solutions during the week, and also been busy writing a paper for a forthcoming Pastoral Care Board Meeting for the Congregational Federation.

On Monday 22nd I have a meeting with a colleague in the URC in London as we plan a talk we shall share towards the end of September. We have a lovely opportunity but need wisdom as to what we include in the talk.

Tuesday 23rd – regular meeting at HMP Gartree.

Wednesday 24th – administration and possibly some work with the Mission and Society Board of the Congregational Federation.

Thursday 25th – afternoon Chaplaincy Team Meeting.

Friday 26th – Provisional rehearsal for Saturday.

Saturday 27th – 9.00 The Rural Mission Webinar (online seminar) on suggestions for mission during the autumn.  Gordon Banks and I have prepared an interesting programme that, among other things, reflects on missional responses to the start of the academic year, harvest thanksgivings, Halloween, bonfire night and Remembrance.  We are encouraged by the numbers already booked but we still have space for a few more.  If you can spare 45 minutes from 9.00 next Saturday morning I encourage you to attend.  You can do this from home or anywhere with internet connection.  You can use a computer, tablet or smart phone.  It is free but highly valuable.  If you have never attended a Rural Mission Solutions Webinar before why not give it a try?  You might discover something of value.  Registration in advance is essential.  To register CLICK HERE.

We are glad to serve you and grateful for your support.


Monday, 15 August 2016


There is no doubt that the vast majority of Christians in the UK have little or no motivation for sharing the good news about Jesus with their friends or with strangers.  Whatever else might be required for our churches to be truly missional, nothing will be effective if we are not personally motivated.

Not many months after a profound spiritual awakening at an evangelistic meeting on Hastings Pier, I attended a similar meeting in the same location with some Christian friends.  We were all teenagers. A reasonable number of people had already turned up and we were standing near the back when we were approached by the guest evangelist.  “Are you all Christians?” he asked.  We proudly assured him that we were.  “Well, why are you standing here?” he said,  “Go outside and fish more people in!”  With that he thrust a number of flyers into our hands.

I had never done anything like that before.  The idea was to approach some of the many sauntering onto the pier and ask them if they would like to come and hear an interesting talk. Any momentary hesitation soon gave way and I found it not a threatening activity.  It gave rise to questions about faith which I answered as confidently as I was able.  Several people attended that evening because of the invitations we gave out.  Since that day his words, “What are you doing here?” have lingered with me.

My first opportunity to preach publicly in a church came about a year later when, as a teenage member of a mission team, I was invited to preach at the Sunday morning Holiness Meeting of the Salvation Army Corps we were serving.  The director of the Mission organisation felt it was inappropriate, but the Corps Commanding Officer, Captain Peak, insisted.  My text that Sunday was “Shall your brethren go to war and shall ye sit here?” (Numbers 32:6) (AV).  You can read the story behind this text from the first verse of the chapter.  Some of the tribes of Israel chose not to enter the Promised Land as they approached the borders after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. 

I suggested that the reason behind their request was partly that they had lost the vision for what God called them to be and do, that they had become complacent in the light of the blessings they had received from God, and that they had become self-interested, losing their understanding of being one nation.  The biblical account records Moses response to their request.  He claimed they would spread discouragement to others, that they would make God angry, and that it would result in more years of wilderness experience instead of entering into the blessing of the purposes of God.

The outcome was that they rallied, even to going at the spearhead of the invasion.  I have repeated that sermon from time to time as it continues to be generally apposite when it comes to motivation to mission in the UK. Many have lost the vision for God’s purposes for his Church and our common calling.  Sunday after Sunday we celebrate God’s goodness and the blessings without being motivated by the needs of others who have yet to hear the gospel.  This has a negative impact on others, displeases God, and probably accounts for the limited impact that most churches have upon the communities in which we are set.

The apostle, Paul, was clearly a highly motivated person.  In his letters he refers to two motivators in his life, both of which appear in 2 Corinthians 5. These are, “Knowing what it is to fear the Lord” and “Christ’s love compels us”.  To understand the first of these, we need to read the preceding verses where Paul writes about living to please God and knowing that we will all have to give an account of our lives.  A desire to please God and an awareness of our ultimate accountability should both motivate us out of concern for ourselves AND out of concern for others.

Verse 14 which speaks about Christ’s love, is not well served by the NIV translation which speaks of it compelling us.  Other translations of the Greek word, synecho, render it constrains or controls. Literally it means to hold something fast. It is as if Paul sees himself as captivated by Christ’s love so that who he is and what he does is no longer in his own control.  He can do no other, so he says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”  What is not clear to me is whether it is the love Christ has for us, or the love we have for Christ that puts us under such obligation and holds us fast so we can do no other.

Some years ago a friend from the Netherlands and I were asked to represent European Churches within the Council for Mission at a conference on evangelism in Kuala Lumpur. Almost all the other Churches were from South Asia, Africa and the Pacific.  Many of the Churches represented were located in situations where Christianity was a minority religion and where there was oppression.  But the missional stories from their various churches were of courage and faithfulness.  We from Europe felt ashamed.  We tried to explain the difficulty of working in a post-Christian context, but the reality was that our limited engagement in evangelism was probably down to a lack of love for Jesus.

In the passage of scripture about the Children of Reuben and the Children of Gad, Moses spoke about the influence a lack of motivation would have.  Conversely, I have seen how enthusiasm can be spread and grow where people are highly motivated.  This was seen in the sporting world over recent years where success in tennis and cycling has led many more to play and ride.

My friends, we are not motivated to share the gospel as we ought to be.  I fear that the root of this is that many have not been grasped by the love of Christ and that consequently do not really love him.  So we do not serve him as we should.  Have we lost sight of the fact that our lives are not our own, that we are bought with a price, and called to be part of the Church God has for his mission on earth. I fear that many will stand before God at the final judgement and discover that God is not impressed by the fact that we went to Church most Sundays but never told anyone of the God who loves them so much that he is willing to give his life for them.

Within the last few days I have been motivated to rent a storage unit.  I work from home but my office has spilled over into our living space.  Worse still I have brought into our home the remainder of two other offices that have been closed down.  Our home was looking more like a warehouse with boxes occupying our lounge, dining room and two bedrooms!  To resolve this I am gradually removing those things that are inappropriate and taking them into rented space where they can be sorted and where some will be removed permanently.  This motivation happened because I woke up to just how dreadful the situation was, and realised it would only get worse unless I addressed the problem. 

Our world is in a mess.  It will only get worse unless we are motivated to do something about it.  Perhaps one thing we could do is to sign up for the webinars designed to help rural and small urban churches become effective in mission.  The next one on Saturday 27th August at 9.00 to 9.45 will have suggestions for things we can easily do to share the gospel this autumn.  See below for details.

From the Diary
The past week began with a farewell service at Yelvertoft where Doreen and I have served in ministry for the past ten years.  We are grateful for the kind comments shared on that occasion.

We then spent the next five days on Harborough Holiday at Home. This is a programme for older people in the community. On four days we had meetings containing a choice of activities, a helpful or entertaining presentation, a short gospel talk and a two course lunch (plus plenty of tea and coffee). On one day we went on an outing to Lichfield Cathedral, stopping at a garden Centre on the way.  It is a way of sharing the gospel through a social action and is very effective.  It was hard work and meant that over those days I worked probably 90 hours.  Pray that the love and message shared will bear fruit.

Last week the presence of three new men at the choir practise at HMP Gartree caused problems and I value prayer as I seek to resolve this.  In addition to my regular work at the prison on Tuesday afternoon I will be taking part in the licencing of a new Anglican Chaplain on Thursday.  Please pray for him as he settles into this new role.

Gordon Banks and I have started working on the webinar scheduled for 27th August at 9.00 and running until 9.45.  This contains suggestions for missional activity during autumn months and relating to the season and the key events it brings. This is the Saturday of the Bank Holiday but numbers registering to attend are increasing.  I strongly encourage you to attend this online seminar, which you can do from your home or a hotel room.  All you need is an internet connection with sound.  You can use a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone.  It is absolutely free but you do need to register in advance in order to obtain the link you will need.  This online seminar is appropriate for any Christians but especially those in leadership roles or who are keen to encourage their church in mission.  Please pass on the details to others.  You can find more on the Rural Mission Solutions website.  To register to attend go to

Please pray for Gordon and me as we fine-tune the presentation and for all who will be attending.

On Sunday 21st I was due to speak at a church in Narborough, Leicestershire but they have just written asking to change the date for my visit.  So this will give me an opportunity to be still and listen – no bad thing!

Thank you for your love and prayers.


Saturday, 6 August 2016

Honour & Humility

It has been an interesting week in the UK as we begin to feel the impact of our recent referendum, and as the Bank of England and government begin to manage the changes while also managing the country.  Obviously the last few days before the start of the Olympics dominated the news until David Cameron’s resignation’s honours list was leaked.  For the benefit of non-UK readers, this is a list of people who are given special honours including knighthoods or being made peers of the realm.  It was a relatively long list and some have questioned the entitlement of all on the list.

This announcement seemed timely as last Sunday, at HMP Gartree, I had preached on a verse from scripture that speaks about acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8).  Many years ago, when helping out the ministry at a church in Sussex, I preached on the topic of humility.  It felt as if it had been well received and had been a good service.  But as I said goodbye to the congregation afterwards, clearly people were bursting to say something but saying “Good sermon” seemed inappropriate to the topic!

There is, of course, a world of difference between being humbled and being humble.  I was amused by Hilary Clinton’s acceptance speech in which she said she was humbled by the decision of the American Democratic Party to appoint her as their candidate for President.  She didn’t look humbled – quite the contrary (and deservedly).  I think she was really feeling proud.  Being humbled is the consequence of another person’s acts or words that cause someone to feel less important than they had previously felt about themselves. It is usually meant kindly.

A story is told of a young man who had recently become a Christian and had been hearing about the need for humility.  Each week in the prayer meeting he would pray, “Lord make me nothing, make me nothing.” Eventually a more mature Christian man could stand it no more and interjected, Brother you are nothing; accept it by faith!”. Jesus told a story about a person who took a place of honour at a wedding feast which had to be yielded to someone more important (Luke 14:7-11).  Being humbled publicly is actually a humiliating experience.  He concluded his story by stating that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

At the time when Jesus walked this earth, humility was not a trait that characterised the culture.  It’s not that different today.  To be humble is counter-cultural in many situations.  Books abound on the subject of assertiveness.  Learning what it means to walk humbly with God is not easy.  Being humble does not mean making ourselves into a doormat for others to wipe their feet on.  Sadly, even among Christians I have seen and heard people being humiliated.  I have also met Christians (usually women) who have a poor self-image or feeling of self-worth.

Frankly, I am encouraged when people say that a sermon was helpful – or even good.  I have several good friends who have been awarded OBEs and have worked occasionally with a knight and a baroness.  While I am sure that I will never be nominated for any such honour, I suspect that I would not decline. One of the greatest joys in my life was to play a part in nominating a man who for years in retirement voluntarily kept our area of a village clear of rubbish and dogs mess, and the grass kept tidy.  He got an OBE. 

But the greatest honour must be to get the WDGFS (Well done good and faithful servant).  We do well to remember that Jesus gave honour and praise where it was deserved.  But we should seek the service rather than any reward.  We should also remember that the One who is our pattern humbled himself (Philippians 2:5-9) and we should embrace Paul’s exhortation: “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2: 3,4)

I like what CS Lewis said on the subject.  “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less.”

From the Diary
I set aside time this past week in order to attend to several tasks that had been neglected and to prepare for coming events.  It was a good idea but there is still a lot of time needed to catch up with various tasks.  Included in this is writing some thank you emails and letters.  If you should have received one from me, please be patient.

Last Saturday I attended a service of thanks for Brian and Clare Kennard as Brian “sits down” after being the Minister of Market Harborough Methodist Circuit for the past 9 years.  Brian and Clare were former associate evangelists of Mission for Christ when I was its General Secretary. It was a personal thrill when they moved to the town where we live.  Please pray as they explore avenues for future service.  Both have a heart for rural evangelism and I am keen to retain the link.

Last Sunday I took the morning service at the prison. Brian also serves as a sessional chaplain there.  On Tuesday at the prison I had three new choir members.  Incorporating new members into a small choir is never easy – especially if they have no experience of choral singing.  This Wednesday the choir is expecting to sing to some visitors on a special visit to the prison.

The ‘legal’ situation I have referred to in earlier letters continues to cause concern.  I am a co-trustee under a Will of a friend and former colleague in Mission for Christ, who died some 36 years ago.  In order to fulfil our responsibilities, we feel we have no alternative than to sell a property in which my friend’s daughter (now elderly) has been living.  While we are sure that this is in her best interests and is unavoidable, she does not want to cooperate and the matter has come to the County Court.  There is clearly tension between immediate pastoral concern and what is right in the long term. Please pray for wisdom and grace as we seek to manage this.

Sunday 7th August we have our farewell service at Yelvertoft, and Doreen and I are looking forward to meeting up with friends there once again.

Monday 8th to Friday 12th August we hold Holiday at Home in Market Harborough.  This is a programme for older people which we put on to bless them in Jesus’ name.  Each day there are all kinds of activities, talks and entertainment.  A small team is drawn from local churches and I help to administer this event.  Please pray for our chairman, Keith and the team through this week. Pray for opportunities to share something of our personal faith.

Saturday 13th August I will share as a team member in the group seeking to encourage and support some 30 churches in their mission programmes.

Please encourage people in your church to register for the online seminar with missional ideas for the autumn months.  Gordon Banks and I have a host of suggestions for activities that are manageable by small churches.  Some you may have heard before, but there may be some new ideas you can put into practise in your church this autumn.  It is free to attend the seminar.  All that is needed is an internet connection with sound.  You could use a PC, tablet or smart phone.  Please do not miss this opportunity.  It is on Saturday 27th August (Bank Holiday weekend) and will run from 9.00 to 9.45am.  Registering in advance is essential to obtain the link you will need.  Go to

Thank you for your prayers and for the practical support received over the past few weeks.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

Release the Potential

I sometimes wonder whether my vision for seeing hundreds of rural churches becoming truly missional in ways that are appropriate for them and the communities in which they are located will ever be realised.  But if the 10,000,000 people in villages and smaller country towns in the UK are to be evangelised it is a must.  There are insufficient specialist organisations with full time evangelists to even do 2% of the task.  Of course contemporary media and engagement outside village life opens up the possibility for people to hear and respond to the gospel, but this does not remove the responsibility for each church to do its part.

Many years ago, in association with my late colleague Monica Cook, we launched a programme about releasing the potential of children in faith, ministry and mission.  It was a radical concept at the time, but since then others have come to the same conclusions and realise that Christian children are much more than the church of tomorrow.  Like adult Christians, they need to grow in their faith and discover and use the gifts that God has given them as part of the Body of Christ.

As Monica took this vision to churches and shared it in special events we discovered children who had effective pastoral, teaching or evangelistic ministries.  Of course, how these were developed needed to be appropriate to their age, and with appropriate expectations.  But it brought fresh understanding of ministry with children and not simply ministry to children.  Some of those children are now adults and in church leadership roles.

Recently, as I have pondered the challenge of effectively sharing the gospel throughout the rural areas of the UK, I have imagined an army of women engaging in intentional evangelisms.  Historically, when jobs have needed to be done it is women who have frequently stepped into the gap.  This was illustrated classically during the years of the Second World War.  When doing my university studies in management, one tutor pointed out that women make the best managers of change within organisations.  Recently, the Chartered Management Institute, of which I am a member, published an article in its magazine highlighting 35 significant women managers under the age of 35.  Their competence in leadership is beyond dispute.

During my first pastorate I attended a conference where a researcher asserted that one Christian in ten has the gift of an evangelist. I decided to test this by exploring my own situation.  I took as the criteria for determining the gift of an evangelist, anyone who was comfortable articulating their own journey of faith.  To my joy I found that we had more than 10%.  Many were women.

By now, some readers will be saying, “Why not?”.  Some conservative friends will be raising their eyebrows, while I am in danger of being dubbed a sexist by others.  But I don’t want to be distracted by either point of view.  The Bible provides evidence of women evangelists and I don’t think that should be ignored.  The woman who met Jesus at a well shared her experience with her neighbours and a whole Samaritan village came to believe Jesus to be the Messiah (See John 4). It was also women who first brought the news that Jesus had risen from the dead.  This took place within a culture where the testimony of women was often treated as unreliable.  In UK society, and certainly in most villages, women have an equal role with men.  There is neither a biblical nor social barrier to impede an army of women evangelists.  So what might be needed if it is to become a reality?

Firstly, we need to remember that an evangelist has a story to share, not a product to sell.  The sooner we dispel the image of an evangelist being an extrovert public speaker, the better.  Not that women cannot fit that model perfectly well.  Indeed, my most profound spiritual awakening came as a result of listening to a woman evangelist.  It is the concept of a ‘professional evangelist’ that I would like to see fade.  The term ‘lay’ does not sit well with Christians of congregational persuasion, but I want to state that ministry (including evangelism) really belongs to the laity, and professional ministry is unbiblical and a nonsense! (That’s a discussion for another time).

So we need a vision of an evangelist as an ordinary Christian who has a story of a faith journey to share, and can do so in ordinary conversations.  This does not depend upon gender.

Secondly, we need to remember that it is the story that has the power (Romans 1:16).  Human persuasion is unnecessary.  But the story that we share is inevitably only a part of the whole revelation.  Evangelism is not about setting forth a whole treatise on who Jesus is, his pre-incarnation existence, his place in the Trinity, the issues of justice and propitiation, and explaining the mystery of the life beyond this life.  No, it is a simple story that should be rooted in personal experience.  Remember that man who, born blind who was healed?  All he could say when examined by the authorities was, “This I know, I was born blind but now I see” (John 9:25).  Remember the woman at the well?  All she said was, “Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:28-30)

So we need to have confidence that the story of who Jesus means to each of us is part of the gospel and is a valid story to share so that God will use to draw others to himself.

Here are a few other thoughts. Generally, women are more empathetic than men, and empathy is an important quality for an evangelist; women tend to be more social creatures and gregarious than men, which makes them good communicators; and in my experience, women are often more courageous than men when it comes to facing challenges. Some older women might lack self-confidence and might need extra encouragement.

So here’s the challenge.  Start by thinking about your regular congregation(s) and see how many of these (male and female) demonstrate at least some ability to articulate their faith journey. Does it match the researcher’s 10%?  Next (if you are a church leader) create the opportunities for them to share some of their personal stories of faith, and so grow in confidence. Rural Mission Solutions has programmes that can help develop both confidence and skills.  For example, the free webinar of sharing your faith with your friends is a good place to start.

If you have a story of faith to share (it does not have to be spectacular!) and feel uncertain about sharing this or you do not have encouragement in your church to develop this gift, please drop me a line.

Remember, an evangelist has a story to share, not a product to sell.  Be a story sharer and encourage your Christian friends to become story sharers.

From the Diary
On Sunday 17th July I took the evening service at Welby Lane Mission Church, Melton Mowbray.  This was a first time visit to this church.  On the way from Market Harborough I felt compelled to turn off in a village and visit the local church where I left information about Rural Mission Solutions.  I have had a warm response from the church.  Both the welcome at the church at Melton and the journey to and from home were a source of pleasure.

On Monday 18th July I met with a couple being married on 20th August at Yelvertoft, Northants.  As I prayed with them I was reminded of the adage that evangelism should always be done pastorally and pastoral work should always be done evangelistically.  The same principle informed the service of thanksgiving for the life of Gladys Simmons at Herstmonceux, East Sussex on Thursday 21st July.

On Tuesday 19th July I shared in a video conference for the Churches Rural Group, but unfortunately I had some technical problems.  However, it was a useful meeting.  Video meetings offer significant potential when our work includes people with a wide geographical spread.

The coming week starts with ministry at the Family Service for Goodwood Evangelical Church, Leicester on Sunday 24th.  On Tuesday 26th I shall make my regular visit to HMP Gartree. On Wednesday 27th I will share in a meeting of the Planning Team for Market Harborough’s Holiday at Home.  Numbers of people booking to attend this event have been encouraging.

On Sunday 31st July I will be taking the service at HMP Gartree.

Many have asked about Doreen’s recovery after surgery.  Sadly, she had two falls recently which seem to have opened up the internal wound causing blood to accumulate over a large area under the surface.  This has set back her progress but we expect this to pick up.

Thank you,


Friday, 15 July 2016

It makes you smile

While I am cautious about the practise of applying for oneself verses of Scripture, given in one context or to a particular people, it did seem strangely apposite that on the day when I gave up the secular employment to work full time in a mission (for a fraction of my former salary) the text on my calendar was “You shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace” (Isaiah 55:12 AV).  I have to say, looking back over the years, that although there have been times of deep sorrow there has also been a lot of joy.

Some years ago, when interviewing someone for a senior position in a Christian context, we asked the candidate if he could tell us what he considered to be his weaknesses.  He paused, and then said, “I’m told that I could smile more often”.  His unexpected response was not inappropriate.  Sometimes I think that I should smile more often.  It is all too easy to become intensely serious about Christian ministry and mission, and obscure the joy.

You may have heard me say, or have read previously, one of my favourite stories about a Church Secretary who was supposed to meet a visiting preacher at a train station.  Unfortunately, he found himself repairing his car and not in a fit state to meet the guest.  He therefore gave his young son the name of the man and sent him off to the station to meet him.

On the way the boy forgot the name but reasoned that the person he would be meeting would be wearing a clerical collar and so easy to spot.  The appropriate train arrived and the boy scanned the passengers alighting but failed to see anyone wearing a clerical collar.  Undeterred, the boy reasoned that the visiting preacher would be carrying a black briefcase.  But there were several men carrying black briefcases.  He looked at them carefully and selected one who he thought looked possible.

“Excuse me sir,” he said, “Are you our visiting preacher?”  The man looked at him kindly and said, “No son, it’s indigestion makes me look like this”!

Of course, our lives are touched by times of sadness, but in the darkest of valleys there should still be a spring of joy bubbling somewhere.  The word, happiness, I am informed has a root word meaning chance.  Therefore, happiness is a state of mind affected by circumstances.  Whereas joy, for a Christian, comes from the deep assurance that God has hold of us no matter what happens, and only wants the best for us. Such assurance lifts us up out of the mire of despair.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians, written from prison, is notable for its general joyfulness.  Paul encourages them to rejoice.  He writes about being content whatever his circumstances.  His trust and hope in God is evident.  I wonder whether his mind went back to the first time he and Silas came to the city and were falsely accused and landed up in jail.  You will remember what happened when they started to sing hymns at midnight.

Dear reader, if your present circumstances weigh heavily at this time, please do not try to work up some joy.  That is impossible.  But please rest in the knowledge that God loves you more than you could possibly understand.  The very worst we could experience in this life is still only temporal.  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that even Jesus in his darkest moment, was able to endure the cross for the joy that was set before him.  Don’t lose your confidence in God and the joy that “comes in the morning”. May God grant you is peace and gentle joy.

A few years ago there was a report from many quarters that the moving of the Holy Spirit was making people laugh.  I was sceptical until, in a meeting and standing next to a young woman in physical pain, I was suddenly aware of her shoulders shaking as she was overwhelmed with joy and could not resist laughing.  Looking back, I can recall others who had encounters with God that caused irresistible mirth. Isn’t joy part of the fruit of the Spirit?

I wonder sometimes what people passing by think of us when we come out from a church service.  Does our demeanour communicate that knowing God and salvation is something to smile about?

Once when going to a church for the first time in the middle of a bitter winter I was shown into the choir vestry before the start of the service.  I had been sitting in a very cold minister’s vestry and on the way saw a small congregation clearly feeling cold in the sanctuary.  The choir vestry, by contrast, was warm and cosy, so I suggested that perhaps we should invite the congregation to join us.  Most of the choir laughed, until a sonorous voice intoned, “Can we remember where we are”!  That certainly set the tone for the service!

If you are a miserable sinner, please become a joyful saint.  It will do you good and probably bless others.  I pray that you will have a really joyful Sunday this weekend.

From the Diary
This Sunday evening (17th) will be my first time ministering at Welby Lane Mission, Melton Mowbray.

I took two school assemblies this past week.  One was my final visit to the school following my retirement from the pastorate at Yelvertoft.  I found that they had prepared a scrap book full of post-its on which children and staff had written such amazing things. Many said how much they enjoyed my assemblies but there were also references to things I had taught them which they had remembered, and a thanks for telling them more about Jesus.  Doreen said that she was moved to tears as she read what they had written.  Your prayers for my schoolwork contributed to this, so thank you.

On Tuesday morning this week (19th) I shall take part in a video meeting of the Churches Rural Group, before going on my regular visit to HMP Gartree.  Please keep praying for more men to join the choir.

On Thursday (21st) I will be back in Sussex to take the funeral of an elderly lady who was a member when I was minister at Herstmonceux Free Church.  Please pray for the family as I seek to share the Christian hope on this occasion.

Next Sunday (24th) I will be taking the Family Service for Goodwood Evangelical Church, Leicester, and as I write, I am praying for a musician as their excellent team will be away.

If you have been praying for Elizabeth Ingram and me as we seek to manage a difficult situation for which we are trustees, then thank you.  We had a useful meeting with a solicitor and barrister in Eastbourne this week.  Sometimes, doing the right think is not comfortable but responsibility should not be shirked.  Please keep praying for grace and wisdom.

Having stepped down from pastoral leadership at Yelvertoft I am not desperate to fill my diary every weekend.  Some bookings have come in and I hope to use this new situation to get back to some churches I have not been able to visit for some time.  Please feel free to contact me if you think I might be of service to you and your church.

Finally, I would like to send you back to Isaiah chapter 55.  It is rich with wonderful words.  Which one blesses you the most?

Thank you for your support and encouragement,

15th July 2016

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Correct me if I'm wrong

On one of my visits to schools in the past I listened with interest to the way in which a teacher sought to correct the behaviour of a pupil.  She had asked him to remain behind after assembly, but she had done so with a gentle tone.  I was to learn that the boy had a tendency to react inappropriately.  He would get angry, wave his arms around, and be dismissive of any instruction where he felt he was criticised, and claim that no one listened or no one understood him.  You may know people like that.

On this occasion, when the other children had left, the teacher started by praising the pupil.  The school had a reward scheme and several adults in the school had rewarded him for behaving well over lunch.  The teacher reinforced this before talking about the immediate activity in which he would be involved.  “I want you to enjoy it,” she said, “to get the most you can out of it.  But you won’t if you start to get angry.”  She then went on the provide a coping mechanism that the boy could use if he began to feel frustration building up.  The boy listened quietly.  Finally, the teacher finished by assuring the boy he was not in trouble of any kind; what she had been saying was only with the intention that he would enjoy a better experience.

It was a privilege to be present at this master-class on admonition.  In the New Testament there is a Greek word, noutheteĊ, which many English translations have as “admonish”.  Others use “counsel” and/or “instruct”.   The Greek word occurs some eight times in the New Testament, and I would like to focus on Romans 15:14, for which the King James uses the expression “… able to admonish” and the NIVUK has “… competent to instruct one another.”

Many years ago, I read a wonderful book entitled Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams. In it he outlines what he calls “nouthetic counselling”. He argues that a sign of mature Christianity is reaching a situation in which we are able to give and receive correction – but done in the right way.  One of the strengths of many Christians is our passion about what we believe and do.  One of the great weaknesses of many of the same Christians, is the inability to express ourselves with gentleness and positive support.

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul writes about their competence to instruct one another in the context of other qualities they express:

“I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves
are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and
competent to instruct one another
.” (Romans 15:14)

This seems to imply that goodness in addition to knowledge is important if we are to instruct others appropriately and effectively.  It also implies that spiritual maturity enables us to both give and receive such instruction.  When someone says, “Correct me if I’m wrong…” that is not always what they mean!  But it is an attitude we should have.

I repeatedly state how much I value those who read what I write and who pray for me regularly.  Some kindly respond with encouragement.  One person does so almost every time.  Very occasionally, other friends take issue with what I have written.  I value these, every bit as much as the ones who applaud what I have written.  One good friend, very helpfully, suggested that in my last letter, using the word abandon in my comments about leaving the EU was inappropriate.  He was right, of course, and I edited the version on the blog. 

It was foolish of me not to take greater care and I apologise to any whom I might have offended.  The word used was not what I was seeking to express.  I refer to it now because it is a helpful and good example of what the apostle Paul wrote about to the Christians in Rome.

Why might we find it difficult give or receive admonition? These are really two separate questions, and I would like to ask the reader to provide the answers.  Perhaps you would be kind enough to write two lists.  I suspect that within your answers there will be something about how the other party acts or reacts.

May I ask you also to reflect on where you think you fit into that verse from Romans 15?  Are you easily correctable?  Do people welcome the way in which you provide correction?  There is something here about kindness and what that means when you see someone act inappropriately, or fail to act appropriately.

Drawing on a real example of good admonition from my school experiences is all well and good, but it would have been better if a similar example could have been drawn from church life.  But we can do better. Correct me if I’m wrong!

From the Diary
It has been a busy week with long working days and short nights. I have spoken at a number of assemblies in two different schools in recent weeks.  It’s great to hear a cheer when the children see me and I love it when parents tell me that their children come home and tell them what I did at school that day.  But this is a seriously important ministry so please pray this week as I am in ne schools on Monday and Tuesday.

Feedback from both prisoners and others concerning my work in HMP Gartree is also encouraging.  I love it when people talk about making the Bible come to life.  This coming Tuesday I will be back at Gartree where the numbers in the choir have shrunk.  Some men have moved to other prisons and some have new responsibilities that conflict with the practise times.  We are trying to enrol new members and this is important as we hope to organise an event in early September, and will only be able to do so if we get a few more men.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week I was in Swansea chairing meetings of the Congregational Federation’s Inter-Church Board.  I think the Board and several others present were happy with the outcomes.

I got back home to Market Harborough at 9.00 on Thursday evening and worked halfway through the night preparing for an important legal meeting in Eastbourne the following day.  This relates to a trust under a Will, and Elizabeth Ingram (co-trustee) and I value prayer.  The meeting went well so thank you if you prayed especially for that.  Wisdom and grace still needed to obtain the best outcome which, I fear, will not be what everyone will want.

Twice during my train journeys other passengers have engaged me in conversation and then sustained them.  The first was Robert, a scientist working in London.  He is a Christian and we had a useful conversation overheard by other passengers.  I had particularly felt I should pack a booklet to pass on so I gave it to Robert who planned to give it to his 15-year-old son.  The second person was a Philippine woman called Evelyn, who was facing several problems in her life.  I was able to encourage her and was aware of a good Salvation Army church in the town where she lives (not far from me).  As she got off the train she told me she would go to the Salvation Army, and gave me a hug and kiss.  Who knows what God will do as a result of these chance (?) encounters.

It has been good to have a couple of free Sundays.  Doreen and I were refreshed by last Sunday’s church experience. While we appreciated the worship, testimony and Bible teaching, what was most encouraging was the hospitality, which could not have been better. See the guidance notes about a better welcome on our website.  Click here.

Sunday, 17th July is Rural Mission Sunday.  Please would you try to ensure that this is marked in some way in your church.  Your prayers for Rural Mission Solutions and the Rural Evangelism Network, and others involved in rural ministry and mission will be appreciated.  One person in six in the UK lives in a village, scattered area or small town.  Please pray for refreshment, renewal and revival of rural churches.  In the evening of that Sunday I shall be ministering at Welby Lane Mission Church, Melton Mowbray for the first time.

On Sunday 24th July I will be back at Goodwood Evangelical Church, Leicester when their usual music team will be absent.  It would be good to find someone who might join me that morning to help with the music.

Prayers please for Lynne and her family (Yelvertoft church secretary) in hospital after an operation to remove a cancer from one of her kidneys; for the family of my old friend and former colleague, Alfred in hospital following a heart attack; and for the family of Chris (living in France) who worked with me in the sixties and then went to France in mission.  He has been called home to glory.

I close by once more thanking you sincerely for your interest and prayers.  Don’t forget to make those two lists about giving and receiving instruction.  You might also find it helpful to join me in some self-examination on the subject.

I pray the Lord will abundantly bless you.


Saturday, 2 July 2016

Facing a Different Future

Some have described it as a ‘wind of change’; others have spoken of an ‘earthquake’.  What is indisputable is that, in the UK, we are facing a different future.  For Christians this means trying to understand the times and spirit of the age and then to live out our faith and bring god’s word into the situation in ways that are relevant.  Christians are meant to be prophetic both in how we live what we say.  Of course, these are early days following a major change, so we should be careful and prayerful as we seek to engage in the ‘double listening’ essential for Christian witness.

Since the referendum my thoughts have turned to two Old Testament characters and one prophetic passage that has been subject to misunderstanding.

The first character from the Hebrew Scriptures is Joseph.  At the age of 17 he seemed to be confident about his future.  But events changed and he successively found himself rejected by his brothers, the object of a murderous plot, sold into slavery, taken to a foreign country with an alien culture, falsely accused of rape, thrown into prison, and forgotten by a friend.  All that probably by the time he was 29.  He could have become an angry young man.  He could have been bitter and resentful.  But he chose instead to serve others within the context into which he found himself thrown.  As such he showed himself to be the better man.

The second character is Daniel. Bible commentators seem to agree that he was a young man when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and took captives to Babylon.  They went, not as tourists but as slaves, forced to live in an alien country with an ungodly and alien faith and philosophy. He too could have been bitter and resentful, kicking against the circumstances forced upon him.  But instead, like Joseph, he rose to the occasion and chose to serve others and to serve well.  Neither Joseph nor Daniel compromised on their personal faith but maintained integrity with who they work within God’s purposes.  For Daniel, that meant taking a risk with his life and facing the possibility of being eaten alive by lions.

Whatever, the world in which we might have wanted to live, this is the world in which we are living.  Like Joseph and Daniel, we need to be strong in faith, and be the best kind of Christians we can be in these times, even if we find some aspects rather alien.

The prophetic passage on my mind is in Jeremiah 29.  Verse 11 has become a favourite of many, but there is a bad habit of taking it out of context.  False prophets at the time were making all kinds of promises of better things just around the corner. How welcome those misleading words would have been.  People who had thought God had abandoned them to their enemies would have welcomed the suggestion that the situation would soon be reversed.  It would have been light at the end of the tunnel.  But it was untrue.

The unwelcome words of Jeremiah 29 were that deliverance was not around the corner.  They were going to be in captivity for many years; time to settle down, build houses, raise families, marry off your children and enjoy grandchildren.  It is against that background – and only against that background that God declares that he still has plans for them.  There is future and hope, but not just yet.  Not only must they endure their present situation but more than that they must “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29: 5-7)

I do not believe that God works within the political life of nations in the same way that he did under the Old Covenant.  But I do believe that we, as Christians, are called to be blessing to others and we should pray for them that they will prosper.  We should pray for God's blessing on our own nation and for what we will become. But we must also pray for God's blessing on those from whom we will be separating politically.  Both at home and abroad there are some who feel hurt and concerned about the future.  Our actions affect others.  Whether or not you chose the course on which we are now set, God expects us to discover how he would want us to behave and live out prophetic lives for his glory.  No room there for either pride or sour grapes.

Facing My Different Future
I am excited by the change I face this week.  While my first calling was as an evangelist, God has graciously added gifts and ministries over the years. My first experience in pastoral ministry began in 1966 following a church-planting mission in Kent.  In 1968 I was called to a joint pastoral ministry in Hastings where I served for 21 years.  After a short break I was called to the church in Herstmonceux, which I served for just over 14 years.  That was an incredible experience as we put into practice the principles behind developing tailored mission strategies.  The after another short break I was called to Theddingworth and Yelvertoft.  I discovered that I had misunderstood the expectations of the Theddingworth church and so resigned from there but have continued at Yelvertoft to the present.  It has been a good journey.

However, this week my ministry in pastoral leadership at Yelvertoft comes to an end and I pass the baton onto Jim Lyon, who I believe will do a good work.  But the opportunities to teach from scripture on a regular basis, and engage pastorally with church members and the wider community have come to an end.  I will certainly miss it.

The reason for my retiring from Yelvertoft is partly because I felt they would be better served by someone younger, but also a desire to put time and energy into promoting evangelism in the rural areas of the UK.  There is much to be done and with some 10,000,000 people living there (including over 1.5 million children, our vision remains to help rural churches engage in appropriate, effective and sustainable strategies that share the good news of Jesus, help people discover a saving faith, grow in discipleship and share in God’s mission.

Retirement from the pastorate at Yelvertoft will mean a significant drop in income, but Doreen and I are not in personal need.  But I am an unashamed advocate for the ministry in which we are engaged with others.  Fifty years ago (almost to the day) I entered full time ministry supported by a network of 36 people who gave two shillings and sixpence a week (12.5p) to support me and who saved up small change in boxes to cover ministry costs.  These days ‘crowdfunding’ has been an exciting way of helping to establish new businesses and provide employment for thousands of people. 

200 people giving just £1 per week (or equivalent) would help to ensure our operational costs are met.  Some churches we serve are able to contribute but as many of the churches we serve are small, we offer our work free of charge. Praise & Prayer News goes out to over 300 people each week.  We highly vale the prayer support that this raises. We are also very grateful for those who are able to support us financially, though this is less than 10% of the recipients.

If you think you can help to keep us serving others you will find information below as to how you can donate or set up a standing order.

Doreen Facing a Different Future
Less than two months ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer.  Four weeks ago she underwent radical surgery.  Pathology examination of surrounding tissue and blood vessels showed no spread.  In the past week she has resumed most of the routine domestic work and tells me that she is grateful to be free from the restrictions imposed by her carer (me) following her operation.  We give thanks, but are acutely mindful of, and praying for, so many friends who are going through similar circumstances battling cancer.  Thank you for the enormous number of loving messages over recent weeks.

From the Diary
Gordon Banks and I led an online seminar on Summer Mission Ideas which, according to those who attended, proved very helpful.  On this occasion we managed to record the session (lasts 45 minutes) and you can see this on the Rural Mission Solutions website by clicking this link.  It is also available on YouTube.

The take-up on the opportunity to attend these helpful webinars is disappointing.  We will be exploring what the reason for this might be.  From our perspective we are offering for free a high value educational opportunity from which churches and people can benefit from the comfort of their homes.  Please pray as we seek to grow the audience base.  We have room for 100 people each session.

Since the last Praise & Prayer mentioned about greater availability following my retirement from pastoral responsibilities, we have received several request from churches. We can travel and as we enter this new phase of ministry there is space in my diary if I can be of service to you.

Pray for Katrina as I work with her re-launching the children’s and families’ ministry of Rural Mission Solutions.  The first few months are bound to be challenging.  You can read more about Katrina on the Rural Mission Solutions website.

The week’s diary includes: Monday School Assembly; Tuesday Hospital check-up for Doreen, my regular work in prison, and travel to Swansea; Wednesday and Thursday Chairing the Congregational Federation’s InterChurch Board meetings in Swansea; Friday meeting with lawyers in Eastbourne.

Another colleague, Canon Elizabeth Ingram, and I value your prayers for a complicated and confidential matter in which we carry a responsibility as trustees of a Will.  Successive trustees since 1979 have found this challenging and we are hoping to make some changes for the benefit of all concerned.  Not all the changes we have proposed have been welcomed.  Please pray that reason and common sense will prevail.  I have to prepare a legal report and will value your prayers.

Please pray for the Friends of Obambo team.  While neither our ministry nor I are now actively involved in this ministry we began around 1995, we have good friends who are seeking to ensure that excellent work done by my former colleague, Monica Cook, continues appropriately.  They are faced with a difficult situation to manage following her death.  I believe they will be writing to their supporters in the near future.

I am deeply grateful for the prayers that support our service for the Lord.  Thank you.