Michael's Missives

One degree out

“The remains of a fleet of 17th century French warships, victims of a fatal navigational mistake, have been discovered off Venezuela, more than 300 hundred years after a reef dashed Louis XIV’s hopes of seizing the Dutch Island of Curacao.”[1]

Seven of the fleet’s 18 ships and 500 men were lost because the fleet was off course by one degree.  The aim of Vice-Admiral Jean d’Estrées to capture and subdue the island was thwarted by human error after the attack had been minutely prepared with the best artillery France could supply – half of it finishing at the bottom of the sea.

A one-degree error and the timber hulls of the ships were just torn apart as they sailed for shore. They had unwittingly headed for a reef off the Island of Las Avas, 50 miles east of Curacao. Mr. De Bry, head of archive research, said that “d’Estrées was a good soldier and an incompetent sailor,” but was later promoted to rank of Marshal of France – nothing changes!

When Civil Engineering contractors undertake a tunnelling project they start both ends at once and meet in the middle, well that’s the theory, and it usually works. But, if they are out by less than one degree there can be serious implications and they certainly don’t meet in the middle – I know I was a trained as a Civil Engineer.

I was once asked to set out a 275 KV substation to an accuracy of one eighth of an inch to three hundred and sixty feet (old imperial measure). Almost impossible, but it had to be done because of the rigid aluminium connectors between the concrete arms. We went through the seven correcting exercises to ensure we were accurate, especially as we were using a steel tape that measures differently with each degree of temperature!

Accuracy is essential in many walks of life, not least in our standing before God. If anyone is accurate it must be God, for his eyes see everything and can measure our shortcomings better than anyone else. His is the standard against which all is measured. This is what Amos the prophet said: “Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.” (7:7 KJV).  This is why the Ten Commandments are so important.

A plumb line is a heavy weight, usually made of lead, on a strong wire line that hangs down; it is not a linear measure, but tests verticality.  Anything out of true by even a fraction is highlighted. In 1955 I was once in charge of building one of the tallest cooling towers in the country at Hams Hall ‘B’ Power Station, they were 350 feet high (107 metres) and to do this we hung such a plumb line with the bottom lead weight hanging in a 20-gallon barrel of oil to resist swinging.

When we stand against God we can see not only a one-degree error but also that we are wide by a few inches (millimetres) or miles (Kilometres). We all miss the mark and would all have the hulls of our lives dashed open if we were not guided by God.

He came as our plumb line and then put his Spirit within us so that we can live right to his standard or measure. God now measures us against His Son who has made us in his image – “Christ in you the hope of glory.” What a relief! I may be incompetent but God isn’t. Changing back to the first metaphor, He knows where the rocks are, and has navigated a safe passage for us. We won’t miss God by any fraction; if we are saved we are dead (live) on course for eternity – no rocks.

Lastly, when the winds of adversity blow he will sometimes hang us in oil (Holy Spirit) to resist the pressures of life. Clothed in the Spirit is a good place to be and condition to be in.


[1] The Daily Telegraph


Michael's Missives


“Humans seem to always want more” and the current generation is no exception. No matter how much people earn they always want more. Experts have found that irrespective of what people earn they always estimate that the amount they really need to live on is just a bit beyond their means. Many blame it on inflation which is the loss in purchasing power of a currency unit such as the pound or dollar, usually expressed as a general rise in the prices of goods and services.

The Americans have conducted a survey where people were shown a list of items and were asked to name which were essential or crucial for living a good life and to disclose which of those items they owned. They surveyed the same people years later and found that, although many had now acquired most of those items, their list had grown and they regarded others on the list as vital. One illustration was the size of the houses they bought. In the early 1970’s the average new home was 140 sq. metres (1484 sq. feet) but in 2005 it was 225 sq. metres (2385 sq. feet) – 62% more.

Also, expectations of which facilities and fittings should now come with a house have risen. Our first house purchased in 1959 had one bathroom and no downstairs toilet; today people would expect ground floor facilities and a bathroom ensuite to the master bedroom as well as a main bathroom. Back in 1959 the kitchen would have a sink unit and a small coal-burning stove and a pantry. Now it is a fully fitted kitchen, preferably with a granite top, extractor fan, fridge freezers and of course central heating.

The interesting fact that emerged was that no matter what people bought two decades ago, the disposable income left over after taxes and paying bills was approximately 10% and is now zero. This depletion could be attributed to the pressure to spend more and live to a new income level. It is thought that it is not the old scenario of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ but as Robert H. Frank would say it is the “cascading wealth effect.”  It seems that those at the top of income distribution who enjoy more luxuries, increase the standard of living for those people below them. This means that coffee makers and toasters now come in stainless steel.

No matter how much effort the government puts into controlling inflation in the end we, the people, need to control our expectations. The solution cannot be simple, but being a Christian can help. We are not, or should not be, influenced by possessions; at death we lose everything except those internal qualities of the soul. Perhaps our yearning should not be for a two-car garage but at least a terrace house up there in heaven. What we sow in lifestyle now we reap in that heavenly future but we have lost the fact of eternity – !

As social conditions in the West increase, the need to dwell on themes of eternity has diminished. The church no longer sings, “Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest.”  Its yearning for golden streets, silver lakes and gates of pearl, has been replaced with a triumphalism that makes earth into heaven. The serene sunlight of that celestial city is shunned for the infrared lamp of an eternal holiday. The land where roses never fade has been replaced with tinted silk blooms, which only need dusting.

No longer are the preachers exhorting weary pilgrims plodding to the place of bliss, for the land of pure delight has already begun. Our mega churches suggest they are the satellites of heaven itself, and the combination of hype and holiness answers the need for upward flight to an everlasting spring. Name it and claim it seems to be the answer. You can be rich here, and when you are rich you don’t need God, except in ill health.

The mood has changed since the turn of the century.  Whereas the gospel express to happy land was the secondary focus, it is now the prime point of concern, and the journey occupies our attention. Nearly everybody wants a first class seat. Forgotten is the text: “. . .  a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33-34). The problem is identified and intensified by a lack of teaching on the second coming of Christ.

Michael's Missives

Double Dip

At dinner parties there are often dips, either salsa, heavy on coriander, or guacamole, with blue tortilla chips. In an early episode of Seinfeld in 1993 the “odious George is berated for double-dipping at a funeral buffet. A bystander is appalled to witness George dipping the same crisp twice with his saliva into a single bowl.”  Because this was and is a comic show the anxiety about germs seemed misplaced, almost a neurosis, but an American food scientist, Professor Paul Dawson of Clemson University, recently demonstrated that double-dipping is no joke.

He, plus nine research assistants, conducted an experiment on double-dipping and concluded that George was wrong, dips really do transfer colossal amounts of bacteria.  Volunteers were asked to take a bite from a Wheat Thin and then dip it for three seconds into a controlled dip (cheese, chocolate syrup, a commercial salsa, and three test bowls of water of varying acidity).  They had to bite and dip in varying permutations, 3 dips without biting and six dips with biting.

The samples were then analysed and double-dipping either three or six times transferred 10,000 bacteria from mouth to dip. Just a few renegade double-dippers could transform a bowl of humus into a molecular weapon. Therefore the question asked was “Before you share some dips, ask yourself, ‘would I kiss everyone here?’ ”

Most bacteria are harmless but for food scientists all bacteria outside the human mouth count as pathogens (agents of disease). When I first came to London 24 years ago the communion service had a common cup for the servers and ministers, and individual cups for the congregation. One Sunday morning I casually asked the senior minister about ‘Aids’ and next Sunday the servers and ministers had individual cups – Significant!

The answer to all this research is that you first put a spoonful of the dip on your plate and dip into that, and only that. But, how do you communicate that to your guests and still count them as welcome guests. There are some people I certainly would not swap spittle with, and the thought of supping up their saliva is horrifying. However I’m not a dipping man, so hopefully I’m relatively safe. However, I bought mocha and a croissant recently and noticed the waitress was sucking her finger before she served me. Not quite as good as kissing but almost!

It’s the same with showering, I often hear the phrase, I shower when I get up in the morning, this means they fall into bed with the dirt of the day, and only wash on arising. That makes me twitch. Using public conveniences, travelling in crowded subways, sweating (men) and perspiring (women) and then straight into clean sheets, well clean for one day!

Everyone has their own standards of bodily purity, which to them is adequate for their lifestyle. It’s like holiness, something I never think about. In Christ I am holy therefore accepted by the Father. Whenever I dip into life I am happy I am preserved from sinful pathogens, no matter who deposits their bacteria “for greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.”  We have divine power acting for us combating untoward contamination. It’s like an internal safety gown, sterilized and perfectly adequate for today’s spiritual contagion.

Peter wanted Christ to wash him, “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ ” (John 13:8-10) – Jesus was speaking of Judas. We became clean at Calvary, showered into wholeness. Now, it’s merely daily washing of feet and hands. The daily brush with godless life in Britain can contaminate us, but not affect our original imparted holiness. We are “completely clean” from day to day, “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).

From the Pastor's Pen

@HICC January 2016

As the curtain closes on 2015 and dawn breaks on 2016 we may begin to reflect and contemplate in a way that perhaps we do not at any other time of year. Reflection and memories can trigger very powerful reactions and emotions in us. These can be helpful or harmful depending on how we handle them.


I remember the excitement in my heart when, as a little boy, I skipped along at the side of my mum or nanna and made my way to the family home known as 37 Mill Lane, Billingham. The sound of crisp untrodden snow seemed mellow and hushed by the drifts as it crunched under my feet. The smell of fish and chips wrapped in newspaper tantalised my taste buds and made the walk from the top of the lane seem so much further for little legs. This was a typical Sunday evening after a service in the family Church that was experiencing a tremendous move of the Holy Spirit. If only one could go back and savour once again moments etched on the memory that have served to shape the people we have become. I remember being surrounded by the love of an extraordinary family who knew how to love, laugh and cry together as they journeyed through life on route to the higher calling of God.

While we treasure every memory we cannot return to relive any moment that has passed. It was just a few years ago that we as a family drove down the lane and parked where the old house once proudly stood surrounded by mature trees and high hedges. You can still walk through the same garden gate and walk the paths laid by the hand of my grandad. If I was to open the garage door that still stands today I am sure the smell of oil and leather would cascade over my senses and take me back to moments when I would watch my grandad standing at his workbench as he cobbled the family shoes. Sadly the actual house has been replaced by a modern pair of semi-detached homes that are void of character. The building may have gone but my memories linger long.


It would be only too possible for me to allow nostalgia and memories of bye-gone days to affect emotions and distract my focus from the future. We rightly celebrate the things God has done in the past but we are called to press on in the purpose of God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit Paul the Apostle wrote these awesome words, Philippians 3 v 12 -14 ………. ‘I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do. Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus’. The previous verse reveals Paul’s highest goal for his life. ‘I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead’. He speaks of the possibility of the Spirit filled believer living in the power of the resurrection of Christ.

There is a literal, physical resurrection in the future for us, but here Paul is referring to resurrection life being lived while we remain in the body. This is only experienced as our old self is being crucified with Christ. Not a literal crucifixion but a spiritual laying down of ourselves in surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. He also refers to the believer walking through times of suffering for the sake of Christ and his purpose. Whatever this year may bring, we all must set our vision on the road ahead. Be it smooth or rough we must live it for the glory of Christ. Sometimes our greatest moments of victory are experienced in the darkest hour. May God empower you to complete everything he has purposed for you in 2016.