Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For what it's worth

Sometimes a book comes along late in the year that assaults you with it's passion for Jesus. For what it's worth is just such a read. I loved Crazy love as you know and if that had been written by an Englishman who had lived in Burundi it would have ended up as this.

Simon Guillebaud is clearly nuts (in a good way) and his book is a mix of his own daring adventures in Africa and tons of  quotes and stories of other similarly abandoned disciples from the past and present. His passion is that each if us would be sold out followers of Jesus who not only run the race but finish it too. At one point, he quotes Stanley and Clinton who have researched 'finishers' and what characteristics are needed to be one.

1. They had perspective which enabled them to focus
2. They enjoyed intimacy with Christ and experienced repeated times of inner renewal
3. They were disciplined in important areas of life
4. They maintained a positive learning attitude all their lives
5. They had a network of meaningful relationships and several important mentors during their lifetime.

[Page 70]

This book is one about finishers and 100% full on folk. Who wants to be 64% enthused about following Jesus? If, like me, having read this you realize you are a bit sub-100%, coasty (not sure that is a word?) and cosy this will give you a good kick up the xxxx and get you running again. This morning I listened to my daily dose of early hours Romans and if you can't be bothered to read this book then this sermon might have a similar impact on sorting out your priorities (while you have time to....)

Well worth putting this on the Christmas list and reading it by the fire with a mince pie. A resolution or two for 2011 cannot fail to come from encountering it.

A truly blistering read.

Monday, November 29, 2010

One question

I was reminded yesterday of Brennan Manning . I prescribe the Furious Longing of God at least once a year.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent conspiracy

I have been immersed for the last couple of weeks in Luke 10 and the story of the Good Samaritan. We have been preaching through the themes of 'The gospel in life' and it fell to me to tackle 'Justice'. As it happens, John Ortberg at Menlo Park is preaching through the same material which I haven't listened to but will be good. No doubt he probably got the idea from me:)

I have read and listened to a lot in my preparation. I read Generous Justice which I commend as a goto book on this subject. It's really well-reviewed here. I found Peterson's chapter in Tell it slant helpful. Don Carson here and Heidi Baker here ('The simplicity of love') are two very different takes on the same passage. I also listened to Keller's sermon on justice which brilliantly expounds Isaiah 58.

Justice often becomes a focus at Christmas. Lizzie as she led us in prayer this morning pointed us to the Advent Conspiracy. The basic message- less shopping and more focus on others and on God. Here here to that. You might like to use this in your church in the coming weeks.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Shells



Listen to the whole thing here.

I forgot to mention

I can't sleep.

No one cares because who on earth is going to be reading this at three in the morning.

It seems to have been one of those weeks. Good, difficult, amazing, hopeful, frustrating, gloomy and plenty of other words.

Why am I awake?

Well, an extraordinary thing happened on Wednesday and by Thursday I was in a meeting and "I forgot to mention it"

As it happens, a day earlier my friend "forgot to mention" it too.

Really, we both forgot to mention it.

This is not the sort of thing you forget to mention. Trust me.

But I did. I honestly did.

So did my friend.

I just needed to write a note to myself. Even if it is the middle of the night.

A mention to myself.

By the way, I have discovered some songs that will help me remember this week.

'Grace'

They have become the soundtrack to this week.

The songs make me cry.

Grace indeed.

Grace indeed.

Now I suppose I better go back to sleep.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy

Sometimes you find a person who writes a blog really well. They are also able to share the realities of what is going on in their life and their heart with humour and candour. I tend not to share personal stuff on the blog (my life and my thoughts are all rather boring I'm afraid). Anyway, Lesley Fellowes does and she made me smile this morning with her post so I share it. She's happy which is refreshing to hear and seems a jolly good thing. I hope it's catching.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Empty hands

"God gives where he finds empty hands"

C S Lewis in 'For what it's worth' by Guillebaud, P.25


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Monday, November 22, 2010

Chandler on prayer

The future

One of the things that was at the forefront of my thoughts and prayers over the weekend was the power of the gospel over sickness. I was ministering to a wonderful group and within this group there were not one but two men who have faced and are facing the challenge of brain tumours. One has been in remission by God's grace and is living years longer than his doctors expected. The other has had a more intense recent battle with lots of uncertainty, surgery, radio therapy and physical implications not least including hair loss. It was James who helped lead us in worship and his courage and enthusiasm for God were so moving and encouraging. He is a soldier not just in vocation but also in heart. As is his wife Felicity.

Matt Chandler is a preacher who has blessed me. Someone recommended a while back I watch this sermon and here you witness him at the peak of his physical and preaching self.



Not long after this, Matt collapsed on his kitchen floor and was discovered to have a brain tumour. I have since been following some of his story and he has chosen to share his story with his church and the world.



You can follow his step by step walk here as he has faced surgery and shared his challenges.

There is a talk that came to mind that particularly helped me as we lost our wonderful friend Jo in Holy Trinity to cancer earlier this year at the age of 32. It is called Death is not dying and I commend it to all who want to grapple with the reality that we will all one day face physical death.  Many of us have not yet had to sit in the oncologists chair and heard bad news as James and Mark have had to. But we will one day. And the truth of the gospel as laid out in Romans is that those who have not received Christ are in the bad news chair but they have just not realised yet their desperate need for the gospel of grace. Bad news is only temporary for the Christian for the Good News is Jesus and he is alive and risen. Jesus heals today, that I know and believe, and as I laid hands on my sick brother I was contending for that. But it seems sometimes he does not heal when we ask Him. Another talk that speaks to this is called the Future which a friend recommended to me and was a sermon preached in her church in response to a young mother who died very young and very unexpectedly. It lays out afresh for us the hope of the gospel and the certainty we can have in Christ. We have a glorious hope.

So please stand with James and his family and do pray for them. Recent news praise God is good but they need our on-going prayer and support.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

AFCU

A blessed and encouraging weekend speaking to the AFCU in Germany accompanied by my pal Adam who led our worship with James.

What a truly wonderful gathering of faithful saints. Thank you one and all.

I spoke from Daniel about idolatry.

I also spoke about religion which reminds me of this talk called Jesus and religion that some might be challenged by and enjoy.

I love hearing about books that changed people's lives. One dear man told me of the book that set him free and unlocked the gospel of grace for him. It's called Victorious Christian Living by Alan Redpath.

Do pray for Mark and the AFCU and all those Christians serving in the services. Do also pray for another great organisation Flame International that Mark is involved with.

I still find myself banging on about Romans:)

I know I'm dull......

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Keeping learning

When the Head of Education of my Diocese asked me three years ago if I would like to do an MA I thought she was joking. I had just completed 30 or so essays at Vicar Factory so my response was "What is it that you think I don't know?" I then realised that this was not a negotiation and that whether I wanted to or not my learning was to continue and so it turned out to be.

These six are what 30K words has been expended on and I hope they have sharpened my saw:

1. What are you doing when you preach?

2. “I take up the Bible and I read.  Here are a million or so printed words, in which divine gold and human clay are mixed, and I have to take the gold and leave the clay” Austen Farrer, The Inspiration of the Bible.  Do I? What theologies of the inspiration of Scripture lead you to your answer?


3. What is missional community and how is it created today?


4. Jonathan Edwards is arguably the greatest pastor-theologian of all time. In what sense is his essay ‘The Nature of True Virtue ’a demonstration of this and why does this work still matter?


5. Are the skills of the pastor or the CEO better suited to leading a growing church? Discuss this in light of the growth challenges of Holy Trinity Richmond.


6. “Teams are the future of parochial ministry?” Discuss


I only have one hurdle to leap and that is a thesis. So for my next trick, I will be asking and answering the question- "Why should the Church of England plant churches and how should they do it?" and here is a reading list

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Three things to do as a cultural jolly

One: A pal went to Evolving English and enthused muchly about it.

Two: I am going to see the new Mike Leigh film Another year this week.

Three: The Caneletto is now on at the National Gallery which my sister enjoyed.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Absent

I found myself sitting at a church event recently and I realised I was the only man at the table. They were wonderful women to eat with, don't get me wrong, but it got me thinking about the challenge the church has to attract men into its midst. Apparently 65% or so of attendees in the C of E are women. A friend from Vicar Factory was so perplexed and fascinated by this that she did her MA thesis on it. The best known book on the subject is Why men hate going to church. A pal who has been staying with me is always banging on about this issue and is very involved with CVM whose mission in all in their name.

In all the talk of women bishops, I have not heard much debate (if any) on the impact on non-attendees in churches and particularly men who do not yet know Christ. There is plenty of internal noise, debate, stupid comments and genuine passion about this issue but not much thought given to those not coming to church. This is not so much an issue about strong, gifted women and their leadership (there are many such women) but is it also about weak men, their lack of leadership and their apathy?

The truth is I think those not coming to church (particularly men) don't really care about women bishops and a whole host of other matters that church committees debate. A shocking thought I know. This is worth remembering as everyone gets more and more hot under the collar-as they will. One blogger is currently campaigning against the Anglican Covenant? Yes, me too. The truth is the C of E has never been terribly interested in or focussed on those not coming and would in these days do well to remember William Temple's observation that we are the only organisation that exists for it non-members.

Look outwards dear people. Look and see the harvest fields, the broken, the lost and those who have not yet heard the hope of the gospel. Talk about that, think about that, pray about that and then let's get on with it shall we. We need to wake up church and perhaps this starts with the churches many many sleeping and passive men.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One for the pod

We have recently started a new ministry in order to meet the needs of vulnerable women (of whom there are many) in our community. I recommended my friend who heads this up to listen to this which speaks to the spiritual dynamics of this issue. She did so this morning and found it both helpful and challenging. Others may find this helpful to.

Decision time

This morning in my daily reading I found myself in the account of the Crucifixion. I spent some time once again reflecting on the Cross.

It struck me that aspiringly great men write books about themselves. Truly great men have books written about them. This is true recently of both Blair and Bush. Leaders who have led a life of power then self-justify there actions by writing about them.  How differently Jesus saw things-Matthew 10 v 39.

Michael Hyatt has a good post called 'How leaders make tough decisions' on the leadership lessons of George Bush including the interview he recently gave. It is worth watching and I wonder what you make of this man having done so?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Happily 'old-school'

Anybody who knows anything about anything has to put the hours in as Outliers will tell you.

I met a pal today for breakfast and we had a good old catch-up and laugh. There's nothing better than good friends. As we chatted, he asked how I manage to find time to read and listen to talks. Then he said 'I bet you are an old school pastor who studies until 11 everyday'. My Vicar's father-in-law, who is contentedly 'old-school' and a wise buzzard, told me it was a standard habit for Curate's and Vicar's alike in the Church of England to give themselves over to study and prayer for a good part of each day-usually the mornings.

Here's a question. What else are we supposed to be doing? Emails, powerpoint presentations, chatting on the mobile, rushing to meetings, spreadsheets, committees, administration and building projects. Eugene Peterson who I have written about before has written three books the summary of which is broadly-Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

Read the bible, pray and listen. And listen well.

Does that mean you don't do anything else? By no means. But if you fail to do these things the 'anything else' may end up being unfruitful, exhausting, works driven, worldly and over the long term pretty pointless. That's why I am increasingly wary of talk of the 'latest thing' (Then again, I may just be feeling grumpy today)

We had a fun time talking about John Stott over coffee and my pal had a few great stories of this wonderful man's habits. He did quite a bit of study you may not be surprised to learn. I was also reminded of Keller today and these talks with Edmond Clowny which revealed that for years every day he listened to a tape of a British preacher (Stott, Lloyd-Jones and Dick Lucas). One talk every day from eight to eight forty as he ran.  Every day.

Golfers hit buckets of balls

Footballers practice free kicks

Musicians listen to great music

Great preachers have read and listened to (you guessed it)- great preachers.

Today I listened to a wonderful talk on grace . Truly masterful. You need to hear it. You do. If you can find a better one then do let me know. It is one of 244 .

Just imagine what might be if you listened to one of these for the next 244 days. Not that you will. But just imagine how saturated in God's word you might be. Just imagine what might happen to your heart. Just imagine how you might change. Now you won't I know because you're busy and have important things to do and achieve. Really busy in fact. Really really busy.

But just imagine though, for a moment, if just one person did (As Mark we learnt in 'An introduction ' did with MLJ and it transformed him and those around him).

For a second. Just imagine.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Hallelujah

On a wet day just before I leave to do a school assembly this lifted my soul. Watch and listen in wonder.

A much-neglected means of grace

The Radical Disciple has been well reviewed elsewhere so I am not going to do what others have already done save to say this is worth reading. What struck me most was I think the last section of the book when Stott talked so movingly about three things- death, tears and reading.

Some years ago now this blog was birthed in the Bodlein Library when I should have been writing an essay. I had no idea what a blog was and much less about what to write about. It continues to have pitifully few readers. However, over time it has become clearer to me that one of its functions has been to share my reading with others. One or two encouraging souls have happily found books here and shared the blessing reading them has been with me.

Now, at about the time I started blogging I happened upon a remarkable book called Indelible ink. It is fair to say that the opening essay by John Stott had a deeply profound impact on me that continues to this day and it simply says that to mature in Christ and in life you must read. All would do well to read this important essay. His advice to us was that we should read widely, read plentifully and read thoughtfully. John Piper adds to this conviction in his new book Think.

Here is some of Stott's remarkable sign-off:

"Our favourite books become very precious to us and we even develop with them an almost living and affectionate relationship. Is it an altogether fanciful fact that we handle, stroke and even smell them as tokens of our esteem and affection? I am not referring only to an author's feeling for what he has written, but to all readers and their library. I have made it a rule not to quote from a book until I have first handled it. So let me urge you to keep reading, and encourage your relatives and friends to do the same. For this is a much-neglected means of grace".........."That is why I have assigned the royalties to all my own books to the work of Langham Literature, to enable more believers and their pastors in poorer parts of the world to obtain good Christian books both in English and in their own language to be so strengthened in their faith and their preaching. I wonder if I might encourage you to consider this and the other ministries of the Langham Partnership, which are dear to my own heart, as worthy of your interest and support"

[The Radical Disciple, Page 140]

If John Stott has been a blessing to you in any way perhaps an act of thanks might be a gift in line with his wishes which you can do here.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Saturday ramble

I really enjoyed watching Influencers and have been wondering who they are for me. Probably all the stuff I stick on the blog. It's interesting that Jay-Z came up as a key influencer. I am sure all those trend-setting types probably read it here.

Unlikely.

I am excited about Romans and the hunger is happily spreading to others due to Romans: An introduction. I am reading Douglas Moo and it is so helpful. Also listened to a couple of these in the car which pack quite a punch. The first one (of 224......) tells of the influence Romans has on Piper. Epic stuff.

I am enjoying the Radical Disciple and will share some thoughts on this incredibly important book. If you are a follower of Jesus you would do well to make time to read this from a true 'influencer'. He may however never be likely to star in a film such as one cited at the start :( This book is written by a single, celibate,  birdwatching, elderly authority on Romans (among other things) who now lives in a retirement home slightly south of London.  This commentary on Romans 5-8 changed the course of Piper's life as he vividly tells it in this talk:

"I went to college thinking that maybe I would be a doctor or a veterinarian. Then in the summer of 1966, between my sophomore and junior years, my whole life-direction changed, in the painful and precious providence of God. He called me to the ministry of the Word. That fall I had signed up to live with three friends in a dormitory suite. But midway through the year I knew I needed more solitude to study and pray the way I felt driven to study. For the next year and a half I lived alone in the single room of another dorm. And there I remember - I can see it and almost smell it - reading John Stott's little yellow book on Romans 5-8 called Men Made New. The effect on me was to seal the calling to be a faithful minister of God's Word. So Romans confirmed my conversion, and Romans confirmed my call to the ministry of the Word."

Did I mention Stott has sold nearly a million books, but then again if you are not a Christian his name would mean nothing to you. But, as Malcolm Muggeridge so aptly put it, 'only dead fish swim with the current.' [p.28]. Praise God for John Stott's life and his on-going influence on so many of us.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Natural enemies who love

"The church is ...... made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality,common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together....because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance.....They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus' sake"

Carson 'Love in hard places'

(Keller 'Gospel in life' P.75)


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The Vision

Pete Grieg's 'The Vision and the vow'.

TODAY

The Lausanne Conference in Cape Town passed off with no Christian I know mentioning it. Krish was there and offers some helpful reflections and it is worth taking time to read them.

This was by all accounts one of the best films.



(H/T Tall Skinny Kiwi)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

WORD: The bible on a coffee table

Someone at church has shown me a copy of Word and I love it. It is produced by Hillsong and is the NLT produced in a magazine style. What a great thing to give to those who have not yet discovered the joys of the bible. Everyone I have shown it to wants a copy. I am going to be showing my copy to my group on Alpha tonight as we discuss 'How and why should I read the bible? '

Culture Watch: Jay Z

I had the thought this morning listening to the Today programme that one day Jay Z might be President of the USA. He has interested me for a while since I watched a BBC documentary on him and I then saw him play Wembley (finger on the pulse me:) He is a role model for millions, fashion icon, billionaire (when you add in Mrs Jay Z who happens to be Beyonce) and is now a writer. He has launched a decoding scavenger hunt for those who want to read his book. When, as a rapper, you find yourself being interviewed on Radio 4 on the most serious news programme in the land your career is either over or it's time for us all to sit up and take notice. So Jay Z for President- you heard it here first....

As an aside, our new website has a blog and we should all it seems be off to see Africa United.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Children's books, Prayer and a Song

A pal of mine has sent me a fraction of a book he has birthed in recent months and I have to say it is really rather good. Years ago, I spotted a talk by Keller on some website that he had given about J R R Tolkein and never got around to listening to it. Then I couldn't find it again. How happy am I that I have found it once again thanks to Mark Meynell. I immediately recommended The Significance of J R R Tolkein to my friend.

I have been meeting with some dear friends to pray for over a decade. We say we meet once a month but to be honest it is every other (although remarkably we are meeting again in November which will be a first). I so value their encouragement. Find a few friends to pray and be real with- it's a lifeline. Anyway, as we were leaving, one of our number played us a song. He said that he discovered it on an album his wife had bought and in recent weeks it has become his prayer. It took some finding but I too plan to make it my prayer. It is called Bones. 70p well spent.

Sometimes there are sermons that require courage to preach. This was as good a preaching of grace and truth as you will hear for Part 5 and it rightly fell to the Rector himself to do this one. Lesley, whose blog I greatly enjoy and is wonderfully challenging and thoughtful (even though I disagree with just about everything she writes) won't I fear like this sermon and I wonder too what President Josiah Bartlett would make of it?

Monday, November 01, 2010

REVIEW: The pursuit of the holy

'The pursuit of the holy: a divine invitation ' is the new book by Simon Ponsonby which I happily read last week as I holidayed in Cornwall. Simon asked me to share some thoughts here as I have done before. My plan, to be honest, was to read each chapter slowly day by day, but as it turned out I found myself wanting to read on, which I duly did, and one chapter easily turned into three and more. Having said that, this is a book that deserves to be lingered with, to be picked up and put down and to be revisited periodically.

Why don't I let Simon tell you in his own words the passion that propelled him to put pen to paper once again as he lays out his challenge to each one of us:

"Our gospel won't be listened to if it isn't lived by us. Church cannot influence or infect society with something that has not infected her. A salt-less salt cannot savour and flavour. A church cannot light a fire if she is not on fire. And so, faced with a society in crisis, in wickedness, it is time for judgement, repentance, holiness to begin with the house of God (1 Peter 4 :17). We need a reformation, a revival- and holiness is at the heart of it. The Church must again find and follow Jesus-not as doctrine to be believed but as Lord to be served, a life to be lived-only then can she speak with integrity and be accepted"

You see I think most of us want the Church to be marked by lots of things-prayer, community, mission, passionate worship, church planting, cultural engagement, empowered preaching, justice- but how many of us would include in our lists holiness. That's all a bit up-close and personal. Perhaps many authors might shy away from a book on holiness fearing accusations of legalism or a 'works-based' gospel or quite simply that they don't feel holy enough themselves to write about such matters. Simon by his own admission (and as he frequently tells us!) is not very holy-he tells a lovely story in the book of the catalogue of sin he recognized in his heart during a short walk along a street in Oxford from St Aldates to Blackwells. But he does desire holiness. That is perhaps the whole point of this book- to birth a desire for such things in his readers.

The danger of books on holiness like those written by Foster, Ortberg and Willard is they end up being books about the disciplines or 'sanctification-manuals'. I still remember the day having read my way all the way through Ordering your private world  (and loved it by the way and I still do), I learnt that Gordon MacDonald had ended up falling off his bicycle. I was under the delusion that if you read this sort of thing and did the stuff they recommended it was supposed to prevent you running off with the church warden. The message is so often do lots of waking up early, writing in journals, reading old books by Saints, fasting from telly and a bit of time in caves up mountains alone and you ("one day my son") might be as holy, wise and learned as me [or not as it turns out!]. The trouble is, if you don't understand the gospel when reading this stuff, you simply embark on a rather dissatisfying joyless life of religion. Unless I missed it, Simon hardly mentions such things at all except to critique John Wesley on his misguided pursuit of perfectionism. This is not a 'how-to' manual on fasting, bible reading and solitude instead it is a work of practically applicable doctrine to be ministered to your soul in the hope and prayer that it will birth renewed Spirit-filled holy living in us.

I think his chapter entitled 'Without blame' is at the core of what Simon wants us to know. In Christ, we have been made holy and are justified once for all and set free. What a huge relief all round this news is- you might even go so far as to call it 'good news'. We are sanctified out of this justification and never the other way around. The response then is live life out of this reality, live life out of grace and live life better and holier because that is who we are. We are loved sons and daughters-adopted, forgiven, cleansed and equipped to go into a lost and broken world.

Why then is this not happening in the Church you may well ask? Well, perhaps because many who attest to know the gospel don't actually know it. Even some, dare I venture to say, who are in the midst of leading churches that, in name at least, call themselves 'evangelical' but are in fact killing themselves in justification by works and are subsumed in Jesus + 'me me me' idolatry. Perhaps this realization is what has caused Simon by no coincidence, having written this book, to now take on the formidable task of preaching through the entire book of Romans. He has a good chapter on Romans 6 and it will be interesting to see if Simon changes any of his thoughts once he has preached through chapters one to five. I confess I am with MLJ and am not sure I quite yet get Chapter 6. As it happens, I preached on Romans 1 only yesterday so give me a little more time.

Do make time to read this book and I would love you also to spread the word if it blesses you and you think it has value for others. Maybe even a reader the other side of the water might take on the task of reviewing it? The chapter on justification alone is worth the price of the book but it contains so much more- not least a wonderful bibliography which theology geeks will enjoy.

Thanks Si for this book. I know how costly it was to write it and I pray that it's message may bear much fruit for Jesus and the glory of his bride in this nation and beyond.