Monday, January 31, 2011

Have you worked out how to follow Jesus?

A little Romans update.

After I became a Christian, I understood and witnessed something very profoundly. My own sin. Prior to this I was merrily 'having a laugh' with, as I foolishly discerned it, no consequences. Then I powerfully encountered Jesus and everything changed forever. I knew my sin. What I had been doing as sin, having received the Spirit, I now had awareness of. There was joy in my salvation, at least until I got turned into a legalist, but there was also a terrible awareness of my own sin when I grieved the Spirit.

I remember sitting down about a year and half into my new life and being terribly 'theologically' confused (which remained for over a decade). I had tried to read Romans 6. It was goobledeegook to me but I have to say with hindsight- not entirely. The basic argument was that because of the grace that flowed from the cross how could we go on sinning? We know as Christians that because of imputed righteousness through justification by faith we are free and saved so why do we continue in sin? Why do we still lie, worry, get angry, go out and get smashed, watch porn, have sex, get depressed, fail to sleep, spend money recklessly, not love our spouses as they deserve, ignore the poor, neglect our parenting, go on expensive holidays rather than give our time to bless others, bitch about our friends when they are not around or as has happened to some I know, give up following Jesus altogether. None of this can be what Jesus is hoping for in his followers- surely? (And yes, I am aware of spiritual warfare). I understood the principle of grace but I wilfully sinned anyway. Oh, and by the way I still do, it's in my nature and it's in yours too I'm afraid.

Doesn't this question interest you? It has captivated me over the last few months and my journey through 'The Greatest letter ever written' is slowly, wonderfully and amazingly clearing the fog. It is as though my heart is being transformed afresh by grace-new every morning. I have now reached Chapter 6 and this sermon 'Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase?' is the first step in the answer to the question that vexed me for years until 'New Freedom New Family' and vexes and defeats most Christians.

If you don't get this nailed down one of three things will happen:

1. You will end up liberal about holiness (these types, at least the one's who are saved, ignore their personal sin failures and inconsistent inner and outer worlds, become self-justifying and instead bang on about 'justice' and 'issues' making everyone else feel guilty. They sometimes consider themselves 'evangelicals' who have been enlightened and grown up but, as I observe it, their gospel has worthy words but little power. They quite often are very clever and have a PHD and you won't find them reading Romans)

2. You will end up defeated by unholiness (these types are longing to serve and follow Jesus and love him deeply but are plagued by their own failure and hypocrisy which saps them of effective witness and over time squeezes out all the joy of the Christian life. You won't tell others about Jesus because inside you are miserable and a contradiction and you can't see the point. Satan and his temptations, accusations and lies have silenced you.)

3. You will end up ignoring holiness altogether (these types say blow this for a game of soldiers I was mistaken with the whole Jesus thing. I've tried it and it doesn't work so I'm off. Don't whatever you do try to tell this lot they may be wrong because they will tell they have heard it all before and aren't interested. The bars, offices, universities and various others places across my city are full of these much-loved, hurt and wounded souls. They love Jesus but hate the Church, what it did to them and now every time they encounter a Christian they shrivel inside feeling condemned as a failure)

Here I turn to Lloyd-Jones who himself was much perplexed by Romans 6. He says what I have tried to but does it far better than I can:

"Nothing happens automatically in the Christian life. That is a very profound principle, for I believe that most of our troubles arise from the fact that we tend to assume that they do happen automatically. We persist in holding on to a semi-magical notion of regeneration which teaches that, because of what has happened to us, the rest of the story is, quite simply, ‘they all lived happily ever after’. But of course we know that that is not true . . .Obviously the antidote to that is to think, to have an understanding, to reason the thing out thoroughly. The world does not do that. The trouble with the world, ultimately, according to the teaching of the Bible, is that it does not think. If only people thought, most of their problems would be solved . . ."
Grace, that's the word. I say it again grace. There is hope and the way can be found and walked in freedom, in fact eventually, it can even be run. It is possible to be full of Jesus, be overwhelmed by grace and love and minister in the power of the Spirit. It really is possible to be released into peace and joy. I can testify to it. There is just the teeny-weeny hurdle of dying (John 12:24). Just a small hurdle someone may have failed to mention to you. It's a must for you to experience lasting rather than momentary joy. Most ignore this bit about dying but its reality and the unpreparedness of most Christians to undergo it explains most of the above. Death, the theme of Romans 5-8, is the secret that births the Spirit-filled life and it's power and the reality of joy. How does this happen and work? Why not get on the Romans bus at Chapter 6 and let's think these things through together.

Or you could start at the beginning......

Friday, January 28, 2011

Read and then read some more

Many years ago now I spent 40 days reading The Purpose Driven Life. It has one of the best first lines I've ever read.

"It's not about you".

I commend you spending 40 days in it.

It's life changing (Lent?)

It was my first introduction to Rick Warren. I then came across him again at TED and he greatly impressed me with his faith, his peaceful honesty and his amazing generosity and global influence.

The P.E.A.C.E plan is incredible in it's ambition and vision.

""As we turn from being an audience into an army... from consumers into contributors, from spectators into participators... it will change the world." - Rick Warren

I then listened to Piper explain why he had asked him to speak at the Pastors conference (about which there was such a hoo ha).

Then I listened to the brilliant talk called A Battle for you mind.

From it, I was stunned by lots of things but most by the incredible amount of reading he does. It's astounding. He has read both widely and deeply. If he were to sum up why Saddleback has been so influential and why he has had such an impact on the Church and the world he might sum it up like this:

"I read"

"Actually, to be honest I read a lot"

Leaders are readers.

Maybe you don't think you are a leader.

Start then by being a reader.

You will be soon.

Something in me told me this man has some really helpful things to teach me and inspire me with.

Then, a couple of months ago, I discovered his podcast and this one on 'How to stay mentally fresh' really really blessed me.

Now, as people sometimes say about this blog- you like Americans. I know I do. Sorry. I love Americans and America. I love their passion, energy, their fly-fishing, their hamburgers, their very cold beer, The West Wing and the way they overcook their bacon. I do. I admit it. I like a lot of things 'American'.

I am also intrigued by Warren who is one of the most influential pastors in the world.

He has such a heart for Pastors and their wellbeing as witnessed by Pastors.com

In this podcast, he chats about reading and books with James Emery White and a Prof Richard Mouw from Fuller. They share wisdom on why read, what to read, reading diversely and what books have inspired them. It a simply wonderful way to spend an hour in the car or on a walk especially if you love the Church, love reading and love wise advice.

The one book they commend more than any other is this one.

Listening to this will inspire you to read. I'm hopeful and prayerful of it. Maybe it might start you reading. Maybe it might compel you to stop doing something so you can read.

Maybe start with The Purpose Driven Life. 3 Pages a day. You can manage that.

It'll be the best £2.26 you ever spend.

Read and then read some more.

Don't miss this podcast.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Grace in a phrase

C J Maheney when he is asked by others "How are you doing?" often replies with this:

"Better than I deserve".

He has found this phrase has given him more opportunities for sharing the gospel of Jesus with others than any other.

Wonderful. It's grace in a phrase.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

37%

One statistic jumped out at me from this survey.

The 37%.

Not that many Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians think abortion is wrong.

37%

I know, as I have been told by a friend- it's very complicated.

However, when something catches your eye you see it everywhere.

Cranmer reported yesterday about Nadine Dorries MP in Parliament.

She said this about the Church:

"The problem is the churches have withdrawn. Where I grew up the priest was king. We were scared of priests – the same with the vicars. The Church played a very important role. The Church set boundaries. So did schools, doctors, district nurses. But the Church withdrew, the state became anonymous and society went into freefall. One of the things about the Big Society is to try to put those boundaries back.

But the Church has to step up to the plate. Although they get involved in charitable works they tend to be on the state-funded fringes and I’m not talking about that type of role. I’m talking about a micro level. I’m talking about priests working with communities and admitting to a level of authority they used to.

Charity has been eroded, it’s just become another arm of the state. The Catholic Church has had a huge beating and it has to recover from that. Maybe the Big Society and the opportunities it presents to the Catholic Church may be part of the healing process for the Church."

We are silent and fall short on so many things.

I know, I get shouted at and sworn at about how the Church fails.

We do.

I admit that.

But this should not be one of those things.

“The Church of England was the worst and the only person in the Catholic Church who made any comment was Cardinal O’Brien. Everybody was silent because the churches were weak and cowardly in their position.

“I was even told by one envoy from the Church (of England) that Psalm 139 was ‘just poetry’. Weeks later they timidly came out and squeaked their words of support, which were no use to me at this point. The churches have really angered me during this debate.”

We need a voice.

We need to be better informed.

I need to be better informed.

I need to make time to listen to this.

Raise your hand.

The silence is palpable.

There are few voices and mine is not currently one of them.

She is right that the Church needs a prophetic voice.

Think about these things.

Talk to friends

Listen to stories

Send this post to your Pastor

Pray

Write to your MP

Write to Nadine Dorries

Do something.

As Cranmer concludes:

"We have become a ‘stiff-necked’ people who will not listen to God's words. We have forsaken God to serve other gods even to the extent that we would sacrifice our own children, spilling 'the blood of the innocent’.

Mannaseh's grandson Josiah tried to bring about reformation among the Israelites. After renewing the Covenant between God and His people, Josiah ‘desecrated Topheth which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to make his son or daughter pass through the fire to Molech’ (2Kgs 23:10).

The State may need another Churchill.

The Church may need another Luther.

Parliament may need another Wilberforce.

But the unborn cry out for a Josiah."

They have them the other side of the water.

But we must find ours.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Guest post: Converted? A reflection on Tim Keller's conversion

My pal David is a thoughtful friend and we discuss 'matters theological' regularly. I asked him to have a muse on the Keller conversion interviewHe is my very first guest post:

 "The Keller interview made me wonder whether I need to put a different theological spin on my conversion experience when I was sixteen. Here are my thoughts...Is it perhaps, that what I thought was my experience of the  new birth may have been more of an awakening to the reality of sin as a consequence of  discovering there was such a thing as God’s law (and such a person as God who gives the law).  My conversion at that time was from a conscience free enjoyment of all the usual sins of teenage hood, to a panic about sin and judgment and an anxiety that somehow my wickedness would make me end up in hell.  Fear got me running into the local Baptist church, into manic bible reading and salvation by works. Every day I would ask for forgiveness from this celestial law-giver for my catalogue of sins, none of which I wanted to stop, or could prevent myself from doing. At the time, and for many years afterwards, Jesus seemed to be no more than a confusing theological appendage to the whole business of my own works righteousness campaign.


I had assumed this new God/law consciousness that I experienced and my efforts to please him through not sinning combined with lots of cries for forgiveness was my conversion experience, but on reflection (or at least reflecting on Keller’s comments)  perhaps it was more of an awakening experience.  A necessary preliminary to the real work that was to come. A kind of setting up the tee for the later hit of grace.    On reflection, it seems that for years I was doing little more than week in and week out circling Mount Sinai, locked up as a prisoner under the law, experiencing all the misery of failure which only heightens the alternative attraction of sin.  Classic Galatians/Romans territory.

It took me years before I even began to experience the release of grace through faith.

So was I converted at aged sixteen? Had I experienced the new birth?  I wonder whether Keller’s musings on his own conversion to a proper understanding of grace is generally applicable. I think I would be a little cautious in imposing the template of his own understanding on my own experience or anyone else’s. Keller would never in a million years suggest a works based gospel. But the problem with using the annotations of his experience on our own is that it may in the end reduce the extraordinary extravagance of God’s grace. The question mark I have against this is that God is too generous to wait for our human understanding before he saves us – I hope! There is a danger that we  build a general theology out of Keller’s individual experience.  Isn’t it that God does the saving and our language, understanding, experience always catches up with a deeper appreciation of the work of grace later on?  

The problem with linking salvation with a proper intellectual understanding and emotional experience is that whether or not you have received God’s grace becomes dependent on my own cognitive ability to grasp the doctrine, and then the proper emotional wiring required to feel it. Both of which (and anyone with any pastoral experience will affirm this) have been wrecked by the fall.  And a dependence on our own understanding gets us back – all be it very subtly - to works; have you understood enough or experienced enough in order to know you are saved. Back to works, law, anxiety and fear... unless you work at your understanding of grace you can’t have been saved by grace!

Keller’s awakening to God’s grace may well have been the moment of his conversion, but I don’t think I am yet ready to rewrite my own journey with the Lord. I think I was converted at sixteen through grace, and through grace understood grace more richly many years later." 


Thoughts?  

Learning to pray

I have been encouraging someone I know to pray out loud when others are around.

It's hard- I remember the fear that gripped me when I first braved a few words to God in the presence of a few fellow saints. I think the disciples were rather scared of praying and they were certainly confused about how to do it. My friend will pray soon, I am confident of it, and it will unleash great things.

Another friend does pray out loud with others. What I love though is she always starts to pray in English but when she gets going she often flips to German- her native tongue. We have no idea what she saying but it is always a holy moment for me.

Prayer starts in the secret place.

It starts when we realise that there is something to learn and that there are good things to receive. Pete Greig, the founder of 24/7, is a good person to hang out with if you want to learn to pray and he has just preached through the Lord's prayer.

He is a good teacher.

Here is a thought and an exercise for my friend.

1. Go to a secret place

2. Close the door

3. Kneel down

4. Pray out loud

5. Use these words

6. Repeat this for seven days

See how you get on.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why are there so few evangelists?

I am something of an evangelist. Not a very effective one I fear, but I do have a consistent and growing longing within me to speak about Jesus to those who do not yet know him.

I spoke a while back to a liberal Bishop in the C of E and he asked me what I loved about ministry. This was an easy answer for me. I told him I loved it when people get saved and shared with him one or two recent 'salvation' stories. Recently, I preached on idolatry (page 3) and a man was born again (see my recent discussion post on what this might mean). There is no greater joy. At the end of our conversation, I was left with the strange sense that this dear and kind Bishop had absolutely no idea what I had been talking about. The theology of such Bishops might explain why there are rather few evangelists leading churches in the C of E. What you believe drives what you do and who you recruit to lead.

But the wider question is really why are there so few evangelists across the board- even in evangelical churches? Well, I think you need to understand two things to be an effective evangelist. They seem contradictory and at odds but you need to get both of these straight in your head.

The first is you need to believe in the reality of Hell. If you don't currently you might find reading this helpful. You need to believe that there is no greater horror that awaits a human being than to come under wrath and be cut off for all eternity from Jesus. Read Rev 19:11-21 for an insight. You need to get the fear of the Lord deep into your bones and see that God doesn't want to but will send unrepentant people to Hell.

In this very interesting survey only 37% of evangelicals in the UK believe in hell but 54% believe in inerrancy. Work that one out (views on annihilationism, the view John Stott holds may account for this?). At least liberals are consistent and clear, albeit wrong. That just tells me that British evangelicals believe in the Bible but aren't reading it,  which is probably true. If they aren't currently reading, then they should at least make time to watch some good theology.



If you think Jesus is nice and cuddly and pastoral and relaxed about holiness then to be honest liberals have it right-why bother with evangelism and the need for conversion. The truth though is the bad news is terribly, terribly bad and when you really get this in you the evangelist starts to awaken.

The second crucial thing is you need to know the incredible longing of God to welcome us into heaven and into the father's arms of love. The evangelist must love Jesus and cultivate a burning love for others and this comes through prayer. Ravenill helped me so much on this. The bad news is very bad but the the good news is very very very very very good. There is such rejoicing and joy and wonder and love and pleasure over one sinner who repents. He welcomes sinners. God is a Prodigal God and if you don't know this then why not take yourself, your small group or your church through these six weeks. It will transform them, I promise.

Our God is one who welcomes back

I am so thankful for his mercy and grace.

Enjoy this which someone recently sent me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Born again? One man's influence

I am mid-flow sermon editing and writing but take a break to share one thing.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will know that it started largely out of my search for Tim Keller resources on the web. I happened upon a blogger who had collected together some rich Keller resources and he then introduced me to blogging and the joy of sharing things.

This week a Keller interview was published and watching it was truly fascinating. It has made me ponder one particular question.

When did I become a Christian?

Or to put it slightly differently, when was I born of God? (this was a crucial 'lights going on' sermon for me)

Given that both Keller and I thought we were Christians when we probably were not, it might be a good one for all of us to ponder.

Tim Keller thinks that to be born of God is to be born experientially into the revelation of the gospel of grace. Lots of people know about justification by faith, the gospel, the bible, the church, communion and grace but have not actually experienced Jesus upon their hearts.

Here is my take on what happens when you are born of God. Christianity is not a set of facts we believe but the revelation of the place in which we stand, as justified sinners. To be born of God is to be moved (entirely at God's initiative) from standing in one place under death and wrath (denied by some but an unavoidable and stark reality laid out in the gospels and Romans 1-3), through the cross, to stand anew in the place of life, now justified. Grace is literally a place in which we stand (Romans 5 v 2) and being born is realising this. It is as though the eyes of your heart awaken by the Spirit, look all around in utter amazement, see Jesus and say 'wow'.

This happened to Keller in a class taught by Richard Lovelace ( N. B his essay on Evangelical Spirituality is an interesting read) at Gordon-Conwell seminary having already been selected for Ordination. Some people it seems can be ordained whether 'reformed', 'Charismatic', 'Catholic', 'Anglican', 'Baptist' and numerous other descriptors man has come up with and not be born again- what a thought...... For what it's worth, I think my season of birth was driving to and from work down the A3 (not quite as worthy as saying it happened while I was at theological college in Oxford as Keller can say but such is election:) It occurred over a couple of months listening to these 30 talks in 2002. At some point on these journeys the gospel landed on my heart and changed me. I have not been the same since. How to change is one of the 30 and here is the Jonathan Edwards sermon 'Justification by faith alone'.

This issue of the necessity (a 'must' to quote Jesus exactly) of being born of God is absolutely fascinating to me- theologically, doctrinally, evangelistically, missionally, pastorally and so many other sorts of 'alley's' (forgive the pun). Keller's story of his Gordon-Conwell conversion is the most blisteringly thought-pondering thing that I have heard in quite some time.

Do clear 45 minutes to watch the interview which is also packed with other treasures. I also commend Part 2 about his excellent book 'Generous Justice-how grace makes you just'.


Thoughts or comments?

People's prayer

C H Spurgeon took a holiday to Europe and while on it someone asked him, "What is the secret of your ministry?" He replied, "My people pray for me"

I am so grateful for the people who pray for me. I don't currently face any particular drama or struggle (other than all of them) but I realise that so much of me is sustained by the prayers and kindness of others. If, when you remember me, you could pray Ephesians 6:19-20 or 2 Tim 4 v 17 or any other Scripture that you feel might help me run the race with strength and courage even, and especially, when the cost or chains come my way.

Thank you too for anyone who reads this blog. Any reader encourages me and I don't thank you often enough. Recently, a reader who discovered C S Lewis here sent a text that read, 'Just read Mere Christianity-breathtaking'. That encouraged me. My readers are rather few but are special people. I keep this blog to hopefully bless each of you in your following of Jesus.

Grace to all this new day.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jesse Owens: don't give up

I often return to Hebrews which says '...Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us....'

"There is something that can happen to every athlete and every human being; the instinct to slack off, to give in to pain, to give less than your best; the instinct to hope you can win through luck or through your opponent not doing his best; instead of going to the limit and past your limit where victory is always found. Defeating those negative instincts that are out to defeat us, is the difference between winning and losing-and we all face that battle every day"

Jesse Owen

Keep running dear friends. Keep running.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Being generous

It falls to me this weekend to commend the truth that because God had been overwhelming generous in giving up his Son to give us eternal life we should respond by being generous to his church, its work and glory. It's a tricky thing for pastors to preach on because so often the same familiar passages are expounded- 2 Cor 8 and 9 or Malachi. Last year I preached from Luke 19 on Zacchaeus and this year as my challenge to myself I am preaching from Romans 4:25-5:2. I am still immersed in Romans and am now 58 sermons into my early morning journey....

People sometimes ask me "How much should I give?" I usually reply by saying give whatever you like out of the grace you have experienced but if you want to know how the Scriptures measure things it is whether or not you are 'richly generous'. I love that you can't quantify what qualifies as 'richly generous'. A friend told me that he has been tithing (offering your first 10%) since he became a Christian at the age of 16. He noted it is much easier to learn how to be generous when you don't have very much to be generous with. £1 out of £10 seems less that £100k out of £1m even though it is the same proportion. I think it is hard to argue that we should be less generous to God in light of the cross than the OT, so I see 10% as my 'starter for 10'. I was greatly impacted years ago reading Robert Murray McCheyne on why Christians should be generous and especially to those who are poor. Keller quotes him in Generous Justice and maybe his words will impact you as they did me.

Oh that we might all be more generous. That's my prayer.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The 8-minute Bible

If only many more could recount the story of the Scriptures as well as this.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Human Planet

I found this quote I had copied out as I read through a journal I wrote in 2004. It makes the case well for why you should keep a journal and Ron Klug will help you get started:

"My story is important not because it is mine.....but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognise that in many ways it is yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track...of these stories of who we are and where we come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. To lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but spiritually"

Frederick Buechner



(H/T Take your Vitamin Z)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Self-examination

Some recent events have prompted me to some self-examination. Jesus told a story about a pharisee and a tax-collector, one being humble and grateful for God's mercy, the other full of pride. We all so easily lean towards pride and self-righteousness. Edwards wrote a sermon called 'The necessity of self-examination' and in it he is very helpful on how to undertake a self-deception audit. We would all do well to make some time and to take his counsel.

'It is true, that our hearts are exceedingly deceitful; but God in his holy word, hath given that light with respect to our duty, which is accommodated to the state of darkness in which we are. So that by thorough care and inquiry we may know our duty, and know whether or no we live in a sinful way. And everyone who hath any true love of God and his duty, will be glad of assistance in this inquiry. It is with such persons a concern which lies with much weight upon their spirits, in all things to walk as God would have them, and so as to please and honour him. If they live in any way which is offensive to God, they will be glad to know it and do by no means choose to have it concealed from them'

[Works Vol 2, Page 176]

Friday, January 14, 2011

Revival

Martyn Lloyd-Jones....read about revival, taught about it, advocated for it, and prayed fervently for it....."I do not understand Christian people who are not thrilled by the whole idea of revival"...."If there is one respect in which God confounds the wisdom of the wise more than any other it is revival"

[Hansen and Woodbridge 'God-sized vision"]


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday thoughts

This TED talk is one of the best and here you can watch a Behind the TED talk 2010 . It prepares me for when I get asked to speak:) (h/t B. Armett)

KXC is now up and running so do be praying for them-I love planters and planting. I like the descriptor 'Hubs'

If you want some free leadership coaching sign-up here

If you want to know how to understand this generation and what they are all about then read Millenials

God-sized vision will get you excited and praying for revival.

A pal doesn't think Paul McKenna will make you happy and it really made me chuckle.

Reading this might tell you what a technology fast looks like.

A friend stayed up late into the night reading The Help in a oner.

Truly loving watching this. I know, I know they are now on Series 4 and I am just getting around to it.

Why Robert Crampton stopped drinking so much is a fascinating commentary on our very British middle-class disease. I am still frustrated and holding out against the Times pay-wall :(

Finally, Challies with a reflection on Haiti and a film with the words "I don't feel right here" which will stick with me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One Ronnie and his Blackberry

Laughter is great. One of my happiest childhood memories is sitting down with my dad and watching the Two Ronnie's. We laughed so much together watching it. In those many hours of comedy I think I learnt a little bit about what laughter is and how to make people laugh.

This is genius. True genius.



(H/T M Hyatt)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How do you get on with my quiz?

A friend gave me a book for Christmas and urged me to read it- Christ formed in you: the power of the gospel for personal change by Brian Hedges (actually generously she gave it to quite a few in our leadership team I think). I read it in two sittings and it greatly blessed me- particularly the feast of C S Lewis it contains. The forward probably best explains why you might want to read this book. It is written by Don Whitney and has a quiz and it so struck me that it is worth quoting to you in full. If you have trouble with the quiz (do take it yourself) then this might be a good book for you to read.

Here it is:

"Do not try the following when you are discouraged by the lack of spiritual progress among those in your ministry setting. In other words, if you have been experiencing disappointment with the spiritual condition of those in your discipleship group, Bible class, or church, wait awhile before you attempt the experiment I suggest. For if you aren't discouraged before you try this little quiz, you almost certainly will be afterward.

Distribute pens and paper to all who are present. Then ask, "How many times do you think you have heard the gospel?" Some listeners, especially those who have been Christians for many years or who have attended Bible-preaching churches from childhood, may roll their eyes and say, "Thousands of times." Others will nod, affirming their repeated exposure to the gospel.

"Good!" you reply. And since most of you profess to be Christians, you certainly had not only to hear the gospel, but understand it well enough to believe it and be saved,  right?"

Again, you'll see relaxed, confident affirmations all round.

Great! Since you're all so familiar with the gospel, I'm sure you won't have any problems with this simple exercise. Please take a sheet of paper and write down the gospel. In a paragraph or so, write down the message people must hear, understand and believe in in order to be right with God and go to heaven"

Watch people freeze.

"Please, go ahead now and write a paragraph declaring the gospel which you say you have heard perhaps a thousand times and which you understand and believed when you were saved."

Now, in an increasingly uncomfortable silence, people will begin shifting in their seats, shuffling their feet, and staring at the sheet of paper. Many will not know what to write. The only thing more discouraging than these empty sheets will be some of the things people actually do write"

What will likely become depressingly apparent in this pop quiz is that an alarming number of those in your group are unclear on the most basic and important message of the Bible. Despite the fact that by their own admission they have read or heard countless presentations of the gospel and claim to have experienced new life in Christ through its power, they are unable to convey even the ABCs of the message of salvation"

[Pages 9-10]

We would all do well to read this book, but not only read it, also to mark it and inwardly digest its message. Brian Hedges has done a super job in providing a deep, accessible, warm, intellectually rigorous, doctrinal and very pastoral book on the gospel. It will introduce you (among many other things) to:

1. The gospel and its power
2. The spiritual disciplines
3. Justification by faith
4. C S Lewis
5. Tim Keller
6. John Owen
7. Richard Lovelace
8. Jonathan Edwards
9. The problem of idols
10. Sin and what we need to do with it
11. The Spirit
12. Grace, suffering and community.

Buy copies, give them to others, start a reading group, read it with your wife or with friends but whatever you do get some of this stuff into your bones and when you have done so pass it forward to others. The gospel is to be known and shared and my prayer is this book will equip you to do both more passionately, effectively and lovingly.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Maturity

.....Tim Keller says, "you are only as spiritually mature as your weakest trait."

('Christ formed in you: the power of the gospel for personal change' by Brian Hedges, Page 161)


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, January 09, 2011

C S Lewis

A friend at church is reading Letters to Malcolm. Every time I have seen him recently he talks to me about Lewis and quotes something. I recommended Lessons from an inconsolable soul to him and from it he copied out this quote and sent it to me:

"Lewis’s pursuit of Joy by means of rational defenses of objective truth has had liberating effect on me. He freed me from false dichotomies. He demonstrated for me and convinced me that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not inimical to deep, soul-stirring feeling and vivid, lively imagination. He was a “romantic rationalist.” He combined what almost everybody today assumes are mutually exclusive: rationalism and poetry, cool logic and warm feeling, disciplined prose and free imagination. In shattering these old stereotypes for me, he freed me to think hard and to write poetry, to argue for the resurrection and compose hymns to Christ, to smash an argument and hug a friend, to demand a definition and use a metaphor. It is a wonderful thing when a great man shows a struggler how to be himself."


You could do worse this year than get some C S Lewis under your skin.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Load up the ipod for 2011

There are so many resources available to encourage and grow Christian disciples.

Most churches these days have media sections to their websites that allow you to freely download sermons. There is so much treasure on the web it is sometimes rather overwhelming but there are rich seams to dig if you know where to find them. There are a few large resourcing churches/movements that enable free access to teaching on doctrine, Christian living and mission- one of the best examples would be the Resurgence, but also  HTB , New Wine, Redeemer, Desiring God, Willow Creek, Lifechurch.tv and The Gospel Coalition. There is enough teaching on these websites alone to keep you going for a lifetime.

As readers may know, I tend to listen a lot to preaching from across the water. Down the years a few American preachers have impacted and influenced me- (links given to resources ) John Wimber, Rich Nathan, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll (see the Resurgence) John Ortberg, Matt ChandlerLouie Giglio, Eugene Peterson, Rob Bell Andy Stanley and John Piper)

Every now and then I also enjoy listening to a Christian biography and always have one or two on the pod.

This side of the water the preachers (among many other) over 21 years of following Jesus who have blessed and encouraged me are: David White, John Peters, Nicky Gumbel, John Irvine, Peter BlundellSimon Downham, Mike Breem, Mark Stibbe, Charlie Cleverly, R T Kendall and Simon Ponsonby (who is teaching a fantastic series on Romans).

The St Paul's Theological Centre is great if you want to access some excellent theological resources or are wondering about taking on some more rigorous study. Their podcast is called Godpod.

I always have a few MLJ's on the iPod too.

Some podcasts you might find good are Catalyst, Zondervan, Insight for living, The PassionRick Warren Podcast for Pastors and Andy Stanley's Leadership Podcast  (particularly if you aspire to running a mega-church which I don't but you might:) Joking apart even if you don't feel very 'purpose-driven', Rick Warren especially has some real wisdom and is the real deal and has much to share with those who love mission, evangelism and the church. Pastors would do well to hang out with him through his podcast. Hugely encouraging, thought-provoking, resourcing, idea generating and faith-filled- and pastors need that.

My most recent listen was Piper's address to 20k students at the 2011 Passion conference called Getting to the bottom of your joy. It is really worth checking out but be prepared for a challenge (one for a solitary car journey or tube ride). A terrifying first half hour where Piper suggests millions of nominal Christians are not actually born again and then the second half on the love of God for the believer (phew.....)

My pal Miles also blessed me over Christmas with How to keep going when you are weary and losing heart.

Hope some of these might be a source of blessing and prompt you to load up your iPod's for the year ahead.

Feel free to share any podcasts and preaching that you enjoy.

Friday, January 07, 2011

I've got to get you into my head

There is an old song that goes "I've got to get you out of my head". At this time of year I think Christians tend to be thinking the opposite. They want to get God into their heads and a new year offers fresh resolution to do so. They love Jesus and know that the treasure of the bible is a gift and is the way God has ordained that we should have our lives and minds shaped around him. Sadly though, most don't succeed and instead friends, work, the internet, shopping, ebay coveting, TV and Facebook win again. The greatest obstacle is, I think, seeing Scripture-reading as another task among many to be done. So here is my thought for you. Why not see it as a love affair to be embarked upon?

1. Reading through the whole thing

I use For the Love of God. I take about 18 months on my yearly plan and I follow the McCheyne pattern. I tried this year to do the Soul Survivor 1 year plan (happily a few are still going) but have returned to my faithful dead Scottish friend.

2. Read a section for a month

We are under grace, so for those with busy lives or young kids why not pick one book- Colossions, Jude or a Psalm for example and spend a month reading just that whenever you have time. Forget 'a quiet time' i.e one place one time, and just immerse yourself. You may find this frees you from legalism and guilt. Jot your insights and prayers in a journal and commit as much as you can to memory. When you feel you're done-pick a new bit and do the same. You'll be amazed how much you discover and pray through in a year.

3. Read just one page

For years my bible reading was non-existent. I survived on a diet of My utmost for his highest which I had on my bedside table and read from time to time. Each page is full of a lifetimes truth and my copy is now very dogeared. They have turned out not to be such wasted years.

Finally a few tips for you on bible memorisation set to jaunty music.

 or

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Learning to lead @ HTB

We are all learners. I believe that leadership is something that can be learnt and prepared for. If you are looking to learn how to lead then this might be something you might want to do in February-The HTB Leadership Conference. If you are a church leader then why not bring your team along.

There will be three streams aside from the main sessions:

1. Leading you church
2. Vision to action
3. Church planting

I attended last year and it was a great blessing. Do pass the word to others you think might be interested.

Rowan Williams on the Bible



(H/T Lesley)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Blog-sweep

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't tell you Keller has a new book coming out soon.

I have been listening to the new Take that album 'Progress' and think they are writing some really interesting lyrics. Don't know if anyone else noticed?

I liked these insights from an experienced pastor called '10 things I wish someone had told me'.

I always like finding a new blog that recommends a book list so will be tracking 'Some strange ideas'.

If you are still in New Year mode Chris Brogan has a couple of books he finds helpful at this time of year.

By the way, did I mention Santa brought me a Kindle. Michael Hyatt has some thoughts comparing it with the iPad.

Finally on your reading this year, a good piece on quantity vs quality.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Asking the 'why?' question

His book called 'Start with why' looks interesting and might be something to spend your Christmas book token on.



(H/T Cawley)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Albums of 2010

Steve McCoy introduced me to what a blog should be. He is a real music lover and produces an annual review of all the music I missed in the past year. It is always a great read and often births an album purchase or two.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Resolved for 2011

Happy 2011.

Resolutions are things we tend to make on the first day of the year even though we know that most of us won't manage to be abide by them for a day, let alone a lifetime. I reread Edwards resolutions today and it seems from them that his overarching desire is that his life might be lived to the glory of God. Some time spent mulling on any that strike you might be time well spent.

At this time of year I like to read a self-helpy, things can be different, 'glass half-full' book and so this year I chose 'Mastering the seven decisions'. It's a pseudo Christian + 'people who help themselves' book but there is a nugget or two in it that has helped me and made me ponder/plan for the year ahead. Andrews studied the lives of hundreds of significant people and tried to work out what they had done and how they had lived in order to bring about 'personal success'. He has worked these into seven principles.

Here are some of things I wrote in my journal having read it:

1. Get up earlier

2. Smile

3. Read more

4. Make and hang out with wise friends

5. Forgive

6. 'Be willing to make decisions. That's the most important quality in a good leader' General S Paton

7. "What one thing should I eliminate from my life because it holds me back from reaching my full potential"

8. "Leadership essentially boils down to two things: your perspective or belief about yourself and a quality called 'likeability' "

9. The author read this over 400 times.

Taking some time in the next few days to pray, jot down some intentions for the year in a journal, choose some books you might like to read, assess relationships and friendships, choose something to eliminate and evaluate your habits (good and bad). This post on preparing for the year ahead I found helpful.

There is the blessing of a little sabbath lull before the gun goes for 2011 so why not use it.