Saturday, 30 July 2011

Hello - Can Anybody Hear Me?

A regular feature of life in the village where we live is the hot air balloon. They launch from a well-known castle, a few miles away and often pass quite near and sometimes right overhead. Over the years, we've been treated to some impressively low passes - the sort where you can hold a conversation with people in the basket without having to raise your voice - when the pilot has attempted to put his craft down in the field behind our house and has had to abort at the last moment.

One Saturday afternoon, my wife and I had been on a shopping expedition and were returning home. It was autumn time and the weather was damp and fairly still and time was drawing on. As we came to the village centre, several balloons could be seen hanging in the air around us, like great multi-coloured fungi. Instead of making the final turn for home, I continued up the lane towards a cluster of them and could see one particular balloon much lower than the others, coming across the chicken farm to our left. It wasn't difficult to read the pilot's intentions: He was aiming for that field behind the house and he was low enough and close enough to hear the stream of Anglo-Saxon coming from the basket. Things did not seem to be going quite to plan!

My wife said to me: "Let's drive underneath him" and I can remember an almost immediate check - not, perhaps, an audible voice, but certainly a strong impression: "Not a good idea". I replied: "No, things sometimes fall off" - and halted a few yards from where I estimated the balloon would cross the road. It cleared the farm fence, crossed the road, clipped the boundary hedge to the right, then rebounded and landed squarely in the middle of the tarmac, less than two cars' lengths in front of us. At that range it's impossible to take in the size of one of those things, without getting a serious crick in the neck!

At this point someone wearing a DJ and bow tie leaped out and started dancing in the middle of the road, yelling: "Come and hang on! Come and hang on!" By this time, two or three more cars had drawn up to watch the circus, so we all dutifully trotted over, took hold of the basket and walked it to the verge, whereupon the pilot collapsed the envelope over the hedge, into the field. A few moments later the chase crew arrived, packed the thing away into its trailer and the drama was over.

It would have been interesting, trying to explain that one to the insurance company: "Your car was written off by what, sir?" I like to think it was the Holy Spirit's prompting and, fortunately, I took notice, rather than being taken up with the moment. The Scriptures refer to the Spirit as 'counsellor' and 'teacher'. Some have tried to argue that He is no longer active, no longer needed perhaps, as He was in the times of the early church, but I see nothing in the Scriptures to support that viewpoint. I believe he still wants, as he always has, to teach, to lead, to advise the believer. But are we listening? Or are we all so busy with all our noise and activity that He can't get a word in edgeways?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head

I'd like to meet St Swithin and ask him why he is associated with rain! We got lots of it on Sunday 17th July, when we staged 'O for a Thousand Tongues' on the Castle Lawn in Tonbridge. Unlike 2008 when the sun shone, we did not get 1000, but we did attract about 350 hardy souls who worshiped with us as the heavens opened and clouds on the horizon carried back the empties. The Castle Lawn is a great amphitheatre for events and the powerful P.A. sent the message in song and Scripture way out over the battlements, down the High Street and into adjoining homes. Our speaker, Andrew Marsh, from Christian Concern, gave a wonderful Address, disproving the point that Christians can't speak of their faith and concerns in the open air. Someone is conning them!

It's easy to witness when the sun is shining, but what was amazing was the perseverance of the Absolute Gospel Company team and, indeed, the spectators. Down came the rain and up went the smiles, even with the water trickling down the back of the neck and soaking programmes. As an American once remarked: "England would be a great country if you put a roof on it"!

We were reminded of the last time we toured in Israel. We seemed to bring the rain with us; rain for a dry land. Standing and singing on Masada, above the Dead Sea, we saw rain clouds over distant Jerusalem. Visiting Nazareth Village, we took shelter in the synagogue and sang, whilst the rain poured down. By Galilee, in the safety of our snug kibbutz, we saw the thunder clouds roll out over the lake and when the group visited the Golan Heights, there was the rain again!

I guess Jesus was out in all weathers; certainly the Gospels seem to bear that out. Storms at sea, hot noonday sun, Israel seems to get a good variety. In our number-obsessed western faith, we forget He spoke sometimes to one, two, a group, hundreds and thousands. All seem to bear fruit. Were umbrellas in use then, or an ancient version thereof? Certainly the eastern shepherd experienced all weathers. So did the sheep. Indeed Jesus said weather watching was pretty intense.

Raindrops have indeed fallen on our heads on a number of occasions when we have been singing. We've also felt the cold winds blow and the searing sun beat down. We've sung in the cool of the evening and the bright air of a baptismal morning, on the banks of the Jordan river. Oh, yes and we've also sung in the safety and warmth of a church. "Go ye into ALL the world".

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

God's Left a Message on the Answerphone.

I have a very old friend who has a lovely speaking voice. Sometimes, and certainly on occasions when I am in need of encouragement and he happens to ring me, I ask him to read a passage from the Bible over the 'phone. He doesn't know I'm feeling low and I wouldn't tell him, so he has no idea what his gentle voice does for my spirit. The way he reads the Scriptures really speaks to me.

Significant contributions to our culture, 'phones, aren't they? You can give completely the wrong impression on the 'phone. It's all in the tone of the voice. If only people realised what they appear to convey when they answer. Some people drop their voice when they hear yours, giving the impression you're not important, or you've interrupted their day. Other people greet you warmly. All with a bit of plastic technology held in your hand. Phones come with news like a bolt out of the blue. Some conversations stick in the memory. I remember the last conversation I had with my father, the night before he died. I was half listening to him as I was watching 'Match of the Day', little realising that would be the last time I would hear his voice on Earth. I can remember ringing the number of a friend and putting on a funny voice to announce the birth of our first daughter. Down the wire came the stern voice: "and this is Swanley C.I.D."! I'd got the right number, but dialled the wrong code and ended up at Swanley police station. Such is life.

'Phone calls can bring healing or, sadly, the fracturing of relationships. They are one of the most powerful instruments for communication. Today, as you walk down the High Street it seems that nearly every young person is on the 'phone, or texting. I watch my younger daughter's fingers speed across the keyboard and I feel totally inadequate and....old.

By the way, God's got a 'phone number. Only takes a second; never engaged; and the call's free. He longs to hear from you and the message you get will always be for your good. Jeremiah 333: Look it up. Better still, dial it. He's always in.

This Saturday we celebrate a great message from God: The 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, in the beautiful setting of the 13th century church at Leigh in Kent. The following Sunday, we are seeking to send out a message from the castle lawn in Tonbridge, Kent: 'O for a Thousand Tongues' we are calling it and encouraging a thousand people to come and sing out the message of salvation. That message has been on God's answerphone for two thousand years. Am I stretching the metaphor a bit? Maybe. Just get on the 'phone!