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).

Michael's Missives

Laughing is a good medicine

I was sitting on a Boeing 767 on the return journey to Heathrow from Toronto.  The airline was showing the film “Patch Adams” about a doctor who made people laugh. He argued that laughter increased the positive antibodies that fight disease. He was denied his qualification by the hospital where he was studying because he upset their ‘tradition’ so he appealed to the medical board, won his case and was awarded his degree. The postscript to the film was there were at least 1,000 doctors waiting to be employed at his clinic.

Humour is good for you, but at times can be misunderstood. We have a multicultural society where often harmless raillery can be misread. The Americans tell jokes about the Poles, the English about the Irish, the Australians about the English and the Jews about themselves. At the present rate of law-making they will even ban the Jews joking about themselves!

English humour is sarcastic and self-deprecating, and many nations fail to perceive the cutting edge of their jokes, and are sometimes offended. In fact, the situation has got out of hand, so that now we have to be politically correct, because innocuous jokes of yesteryear are now viewed by some as having racist undertones.

I noticed a joke book in my library that I hadn’t read for years and thought I’d use one in this article, but hesitated to quote the source in case I was accused of being racial. Isn’t that sad? Here it is anyhow without the title of the book “a housewife took the clothesline she bought back to the shop because the garden wasn’t long enough!”

I am sure God is not straight-laced but has a sense of humour. I can imagine the disciples sitting with Jesus around an evening fire swapping stories and making quips, especially about themselves. In fact God MUST have a sense of humour he made me – and YOU. What does a new translation of the psalms say? “Bring the gift of laughter and come into His presence.”

Learn to laugh at yourself, don’t get uptight about suspect undertones, which aren’t there, and give as good as you get. Encourage others to laugh with you and at you and loose yourself from an unhealthy preoccupation with seriousness that borders on depression and an unwholesome introspection.

We are told that modern counselling is doing more harm than good for it centres people on themselves, their short-comings, their disabilities, their sicknesses. We now have neurotic children, for their parents are forever trying to ascertain faults that need correcting by professional analysis – why not just live with what they are – did God make a mistake?

When the misnamed Toronto Blessing (Really, the Father’s Blessing) was at its height there was laughter, some good some bad, but in it all counselling dropped to a minimum; pastors were delighted that their diaries were empty, and they actually had time to pray, read and think, instead of being besieged by worried depressed people in their churches demanding therapy.

In fact, a pastor’s life is usually dominated by people demanding attention, how blessed then to see their flock living on their own without their hands being held continuously. When I was a lecturer I assembled with many other such professionals from all walks and disciplines of life, and very rarely did they ever highlight their problems. It was refreshing, but what a difference when I became a full-time minister, all I ever heard was problems, problems, problems – I wondered where God was in many lives!

In a recent article it was stated that psychiatrists have come to the conclusion that the English ‘stiff upper lip’ is good for you, for it develops backbone. An inner strength is matured in lives, thus giving people the ability to weather the storms and difficulties in life with a smile, stoical though it may be, if you like, to laugh at our troubles.

Trials will come because even as sparks fly upwards man is born to trouble, nothing is perfect; we soon learn that, or should learn that, so we live with lesser things, and learn to enjoy them. The modern trend is to write laws so that we all live right which is bewildering to the current generation; there is no room for failure which is part of life. Children are barred from competition lest they lose, and mundane actives are banned lest accidents occur, accidents will always occur and out of that situation and our positive response strength of character is developed.

Michael's Missives

Christian the Lion

This article appeared in The Times newspaper some years ago “THE heart-tugging video diary of Christian the lion, a big cat who lived in a London antiques shop, has become an internet sensation – 38 years after he was returned to life in the African bush. The home movie has been watched 6m times on You Tube and other sites, rekindling celebrity for two Australians who bought a lion cub from Harrods in 1969 to impress their friends.

The trio became stars in Chelsea, playing football in a park, but Christian grew too big and at 18 months he was moved to the Kenyan wildlife sanctuary featured in the film Born Free.

A year later his former owners, John Rendall and Anthony Bourke, visited the sanctuary, but its founder, George Adamson, warned them to stay away from Christian, who was now in the wild and had his own pride. He said the lion would tear them to pieces.

Instead, as the film shows, Christian rushed towards them, putting his paws on Rendall’s shoulders and licking his face in joy. It is a moment of touching friendship that has reduced millions to tears. After the meeting, Christian was never seen again.”

At the end of the short video the words appear thus: “love knows no limits, true friendship lasts a lifetime. Get back in touch; you’ll be glad you did”

The story of affection between humans and animals is not new, but a wild lion is something exceptional. For those who have watched this video it is indeed heart-warming. History is replete with animals who are loyal to their owner, and who display immense affection. For those of us who own animals, we have that pleasure and knowledge. Even if you correct them, which at times you have to, they still display that uninterrupted faithfulness.

This turned me to human friendship, which is a rare commodity. If you can boast one good friend you are rich indeed. Let the philosophers of earth speak – “True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it be lost.” (Charles Caleb Colton). “Your friend is the man who knows all about you, and still likes you.” (Elbert Hubbard)“Friendship that can cease has never been real.” (Saint Jerome). Lastly, “Friendship without self-interest is one of the rare and beautiful things in life.” (James Francis Byrnes)

And now the Bible: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Prov 27:6) and “A man that has friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov 18:24). I suppose the greatest friendship in the Bible between men is that between David and Jonathan, which is recorded or summed up in this one text “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (2 Sam 1:26) and, they were not homosexuals! I have kept the text in the Authorised Version of 1611 to give it that ancient ring, which is language that inspires. We can sometime so modernise scripture that it fails to grip.

However, I believe that one of the greatest friendships is found in the Song of Solomon, in Song 5:16 – “His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” The dusky maiden is talking of her beloved the king. Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines and then fell in love for the first time; it was love that was under-girded by philos – friendship love. When all fails a marriage can be sustained by friendship. That is why it is wisdom not to rush that kind of relationship until friendship has been established.

But above all these kinds of friendships we, those of us who are born again, have Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, as our friend. “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” (John 15:15).  How precious! “He sticks closer than a brother”

Michael's Missives

Age and Greatness

Bruce Forsyth, the British entertainer, has celebrated his eighty seventh birthday and is still making the occasional appearance on television. It seems amazing that anyone that age could summon the strength and capacity to perform in that profession at that age. But, Dr. Robert Schuller Snr was still preaching at eighty in the Glass Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.

Winston Churchill, Britain’s greatest person by popular vote, was not really a success until his seventies. Age only serves to heighten some people’s fame, although in America it is easier to achieve greatness with age, for they have a more open stance on maturity.

Joshua and Caleb, the two positive spies of the twelve, sent to search the Promised Land were still serving God well into their eighties and their leader, Moses, was not called until he reached eighty. I say all this to illustrate that with God age is no barrier to fulfilling the divine will. They say that Politicians and ministers grow better with age, and that is sometimes correct, but it cannot be applied indiscriminately.

My old pastor retired at sixty and went to live in Otterley St. Mary in Devon.  He continued to preach until he was ninety two, still driving himself around the country lanes, and died at ninety three. He came to HICC when he was eighty-four, and after his sermon there was hardly a dry eye in the place. The question on everyone’s lips was “where did this guy come from?”

He was originally a youth leader in the local Baptist Church but got baptised in the Holy Spirit, and so did some of the other young people. The church elders complained about the praise noise they made, and so they were forced to leave, and almost unwittingly started a new church – The Full Gospel Tabernacle. I started attending in 1949 as a young lad of 15. He was then in his zenith and was preaching like a man possessed and so he was – with the Holy Spirit.

Whenever we went to Devon for a holiday we called in to see him and always waited until the tea and cakes were over to hear him pray a blessing on us as we left. Heaven came down in response to his fervent prayer; it was like liquid gold raining down. It lifted our spirit, energized our soul and challenged us to live better. Age was forgotten – he touched heaven. All those years combined in one paean of praise and thankfulness to his Saviour.

He probably didn’t realise it but he was a great man. His name didn’t ring through the churches, he didn’t appear on television, he never wrote a book, but the lives he changed were numberless. He just preached the Word with passion and humour. That was sufficient, we didn’t expect anything else and we didn’t need anything else. God’s anointed word dealt with our needs and aspirations. He kick started us into life.

Preaching is different today, and there is something missing. He was not topical neither did he play to the crowd, he just simply explained what God meant by what he inspired and wrote through men of God. His life was peerless, and separate. He walked and talked like a man of God, and so he was. Age simply refined him to greater heights and depths. I suppose I try to unconsciously model myself on him, but fall far short.

Jesus said: “…Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:43-45). Greatness, leadership, and influence at any age comes from learning to serve people, to meet their legitimate needs. Jesus shows us His downward mobility from heaven to earth, to the cross to the grave, and to the skies. Charles Wesley wrote in a hymn explaining as only he could about Jesus’ self-emptying. “Emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race!” After the resurrection Jesus stood on the lake shore and made breakfast for the toiling disciples. I have always said if you want to be a great leader, learn to cook breakfast.

Cavett Robert wrote, “If we study the lives of great men and women carefully and unemotionally we find that, invariably, greatness was developed, tested and revealed through the darker periods of their lives. One of the largest tributaries of the River of Greatness is always the Stream of Adversity.” If we run from trial we run from greatness. Life in all its vicissitudes makes us what we are.

Michael's Missives

A Dog called Oscar

A dog called Oscar had as his friend a white cat called Arthur; they were constant companions. One day Arthur died and his owner buried him in the back garden. Next morning he awoke to find Oscar curled up beside Arthur in the same basket where they always slept. It seems that Oscar went out through the dog-flap, dug up the cat, dragged him back to the house through the dog-flap, put him in the basket, and licked him clean and then fell asleep exhausted. It was quite a feat for Arthur was a huge cat and used to help Oscar climb onto the sofa. Both animals were inseparable but Oscar now has a new friend, a small kitten called Limpet.

We had two miniature Schnauzers who shared a large basket and Cadbury, our Chocolate Point Siamese cat, used to sneak up and climb in as they settled down to sleep. The three were clearly friends and when Schweppes died Fritz her brother searched the garden, under every bush and tree trying to find her. He clearly missed her and became pensive at her disappearance – but she was not buried in the garden!

Friendship, even amongst the animal realm, is a heart-moving, wonderful and rare thing. If you have one friend you are rich. Many are the quotations from philosophers and famous people on friendship. “Books, like friends, should be few and well chosen” said Samuel Paterson, and “I keep my friends as misers do their treasure, because, of all the things granted us by wisdom, none is greater or better than friendship.” — Pietro Aretino (1537). It was Len Wein who said “A true friend is someone who is there for you when he’d rather be anywhere else.” And the Bible comes to our aid with this saying: “An honest answer is the sign of true friendship.” (Proverbs 24:26)

I am sure that Jesus has a greater love for me than that dog had for Arthur, and Cadbury had for Fritz and Schweppes and, speaking reverentially, on Calvary He ensured I was licked clean! “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:13-15). What a great friendship!  Aren’t you glad Jesus is our friend?

The maiden in the Song of Songs says “He is my friend.” He is the friend to all those who call upon Him. “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov 18:24). He sticks to us through thick and thin, as they say; the ups and downs of living in all the complex vagaries and vicissitudes of tumultuous trials and opposition.

He knows all about us, and yet is still our friend; that is the mark of true friendship. We cannot hide anything from Him, we are an open book, which he can read effortlessly. But for all our faults and shortcomings he is still our friend. “Love is rarer than genius itself. And friendship is rarer than love.” (Charles Peguy). That is a strong saying, for love and friendship must be present in a marriage, for if it is just love then love can fail, for it could be lust.  To make a bond like that work, it must have friendship for it was Dag Hammarskjold who said “Friendship needs no words…” The silence of marriage is exactly that, or should be.

The climax of friendship love is to die for the other. Lip-love is proved suspect if it is disinclined to forfeit life itself. But Jesus is no such fraud; he not only died but in his resurrection he also showered us with underserved grace. Jonathan risked death to assemble with David; Jesus not only risked death but went under the murky waters of the grave so that we might partake of that crystal flowing river. Our value is estimated by our worth to God and that worth is confirmed by the death of His only son; we are very valuable to God.

Michael's Missives

500,000 a – twitter

A few years ago there was an internet campaign to save a radio station that broadcasts nothing but birdsong. It is what they call “the whistling call of the wild” as the sound of British birds from a country garden is played on a continuous loop.  They are resisting the possibility of a commercial programme taking over and replacing it. Apparently over half a million listeners have tuned into this programme with an ever increasing audience choosing to wake each morning to this soothing sound. Such is the demand the company have had to produce better sound by upgrading the recording.

These listeners have stumbled across Birdsong as they were searching on their digital radio stations. It starts at 6:00 a.m and closes at midnight and is a 20 minute-long recording of the birds singing in chorus. Those birds included are the Buzzard, Blackbird, Robin, Tawny Owl, Curlew, Herring Gull, Skylark and Nightingale. Glyn Jones, Operating Director of DigitalOne, has said “that most of the 159,000 weekly audiences from One Word (the programme Birdsong replaced) have now listened to it, and because it has caught the public’s imagination, at least another 340,000 have come on board as well.”

The recording was made by Quentin Howard, chairman of DigitalOne in his Wiltshire garden in 1991 as the sound effects of an amateur production of a dramatics play. He did not realise when he did it that the sound from the edge of Salisbury Plain would become so famous. Its possible termination is because it has to run uninterrupted, and therefore there can be no commercial breaks, so its life is potentially doomed for money rather than Birdsong talks, not whistles!

It seems that certain bird sounds evoke memories of our childhood, and a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: “we actually have birdsong as our telephone hold music and it is not uncommon for people to ask to listen to it a while longer.”  Swifts and Nightingales remind people of spring, Sea Gulls of their holidays; and the Blackbirds of the sunset.

My sudden awareness of bird song was after I had inserted some hearing aids. I had been to hospital because my hearing was clearly defective. I was asked to insert my head into a three-sided cover and, when I heard some sort of sound, to tap the outside of the cover to indicate to the doctor that I was hearing something. After some time I felt a tap on my shoulder and I withdrew my head to face an earnest young nurse who said “Do you understand Mr. Carr what you have been asked to do” “yes,” I replied “but as yet I have heard nothing” She,
slightly embarrassed, realised that my hearing was so bad they had to up the volume. Eventually my hand started tapping and the test was soon finished.
Two hearing aides were prescribed and eventually I was able to use them, but not for long. It seemed that my life on building sites had destroyed my ability to hear the higher regions, not uncommon in such cases, so the hearing aides were to replace this deficiency.

I sat at a restaurant table in a hotel and put my hearing aides in, and suddenly there were the birds, I had forgotten how sweet they sounded. However, the down side was the colossal noise of knives and forks on timber tables, it was horrendous and distracting. And, as I sat in my car listening to the engine it sounded like a sooped-up racing car, as the engine emitted its working noise. I took them out, for I couldn’t hear Patricia speak, only the sound of the car.

I have not worn them very often since then, I prefer the quietness, but it reminded me of the text “The time [or the sound] of the singing of the birds is come.” (SOS 2:12). It was a herald of spring; the love language of the dusky maiden in love with the king. Lovers can hear all sorts of innocuous sounds that only they can hear and understand.

When they said to me I had lost my ability to hear the ‘higher regions’ I thought that may be so in the physical but not in the spiritual realm, I can hear God quite well. He speaks to our heart not our ears, lest they be the ears of the heart. However I did hear God speak once, and only once, I was pushing my lawnmower round the side of my bungalow in Solihull, where I lived, when he jumped out of the bushes and quite distinctly said “Give it up.”  He meant my bungalow and ancillary comforts and go to London, I did; the rest is history and possibly the future for HICC.

If I had a digital radio I would no doubt tune in to Birdsong, but it would be so loud my wife could hear it in the bedroom from my study and I don’t think she would welcome that kind of noise in her sleep. So, I tune in to God and listen to what he is saying, I am sure the birds are nice but he is better.