Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Heights for 2009

Happy New Year to all. Check this out for a welcome to 2009. Amazing. Grace and peace to all.

10 best reads of 2008

Some like to list books published in 2008 i.e new books but I prefer to reflect on the books from any year that have crossed my path in these last 12 months. Thinking back, there have been quite a few so selecting a top ten has been fun. Lots that I enjoyed didn't make the list-there were some novels and poetry that I loved. The Shack of which I had reservations didn't make it but in terms of impact on the Christian world and dialogue perhaps should have. Driscoll nearly had two or three in my list and John Fowles journals were unputdownable but very particular to me and possibly without broad appeal (worth taking on holiday if you want to spend it with a self-obsessed wayward atheist genius). I enjoyed Yours Jack but haven't quite finished it yet and also a couple of good books on evangelism Dever's and Questioning Evangelism.

As I was preparing this list, I happened upon a fascinating article by Karl Rove called Bush is a book lover (H/T J Taylor). Over 100 in the year and the bible from cover to cover which is not bad going when trying also to run the world! Finally, obviously the two Tim Keller books are givens as my books of the year so below I list the best of the rest:)

1. Martyn Lloyd Jones Volume One and Volume Two by Iain Murray

2. And the lamb wins by Simon Ponsonby

3. Good to Great by Jim Collins

4. The Disciplines of Grace by Jerry Bridges

5. Why we are not emergent by DeYoung and Kluck

6. Sex, Sushi and Salvation by Christian George

7. Death by Love by Mark Discoll

8. Explosive preaching by Ron Boyd-McMillan

9. The Irresistible Revolution Shane Claibourne

10.Embracing Grace Scott McKnight

Monday, December 29, 2008

Oh to be young

Watched this and it reminded me of being a student and is a rather wonderful and moving BBC film. The Cure provide the soundtrack and it brought back memories of my youth. If you remember the 80's you will love this. Those were the days.....

Music of 2008

Steve McCoy offers up his recommendations of the best albums of 2008..

It got me thinking on the music that I have enjoyed in 2008. Music for me is so often associated with people and places. My album of the year is Glory Revealed which I have listened to more times than I can count so thanks to Si for his recommendation. Also Where the light is which is the most stunning live music I've seen in ages. Duncan and Sonja introduced me to Amy McDonald and her annoyingly catchy tunes have been running around my head in recent months. Soul Survivor was a great memory from 2008 and the sound of all all our teenagers singing Whoa from This is our God as I pulled into the car park in our minibus at church makes me smile. My sister gave me an album by Rosie Thomas which is hauntingly beautiful. My pal Will used a song by Casting Crowns in a talk called the Altar and the Door which has stuck with me- the album of which I was given for my birthday and it's great. Kim Walker's wonderful album Here is my song is another one I have played and played together with We cry out. Trevor and Kate gave me the new Kathryn Scott album I belong and the song based on Romans 8 got into my DNA. Finally, Jo introduced me to Third Day and Chronology 1 has been played in my car often.

Anyway, I am sure there is more but I hope some of this may be happy listening for you.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I have long had an admiration for Dr Lloyd-Jones who many consider to be the greatest preacher of the 20th Century. Tim Keller quotes him often in his sermons and R T Kendall considers his 'Sermon on the Mount the book that changed his life. A couple of years ago I met a splendid fellow Ray Gaydon who is MLJ mad and blessed me with his ancient reel to reel collection of his sermons and a set of tapes on Ephesians 6. Imagine my joy upon finding in the biography that it was Ray's pulpit from which MLJ preached his final sermon (page 737). Finally this post prompted me to my 2008 challenge which I have just completed.

Reading the two volume story of his life in one year.

So that's the background to the recommendation of a challenge you may like to take on in 2009. My advice would be take a volume on holiday with you-once you have read one you will be looking forward to your next holiday opportunity to tuck into volume 2.

I took Volume one 'The First 40 Years' on holiday with me to France and read it in five days. I could not put it down. It tells the story of his childhood, his work with Lord Horder as a doctor and his call to Aberavon and the subsequent revival that ensued. What is most mesmerizing is the story of his preaching. This is an account of a man who preached and did so with such power, conviction and passion that his words are still having an impact to this day. He understood the nature of the gospel and the need for the new birth in a way few ever have.

The second volume 'The Fight for Faith' was just as compulsive and tells the story of MLJ at Westminster Chapel and his incredible influence over evangelicalism in Britain and the world in the latter part of the 20th Century. Here is a confession. I arrived at theological college terribly ignorant of church history and culture. I had been in the same church for over a decade and wasn't even sure I knew that I was in fact evangelical (by this I mean I would not have been able to give it a label). Oxford then opened up to me a whole world of doctrinal debate, division, controversy and confusion from which I had been blissfully ignorant. Perhaps with hindsight that was a good thing. Sadly, I am shielded from such things no more. The section on the birth to the Charismatic movement in the '60's was compelling as is LJ's reaction to it. This second volume gives you a potted history of things and why they are the way they are and it is masterful. It informs on so many of our current debates in a lucid and fascinating way and it is clear that very few involved todays schismatic issues have bothered to learn from the lessons of the past.

There are so many things I have taken away that they are too numerous to mention but here are six.

1. The need of preaching
2. The need for regeneration
3. The need to pursue sound doctrine and teach it to others
4. The need to preach the gospel from all of scripture
5. The need to read the Puritans
6. The need for extraordinary courage,energy and fortitude if you are to do the first 5.

These two volumes have left me a changed man. MLJ (listen to him here) complained that preachers do not read enough and most shy away from what he called 'big books'. These are 'big books' in every sense of the word and mine are now covered in annotations and markings-1600 pages of them. If you are a preacher you need to read this story (most, as MLJ predicted, won't I fear) but I am in no doubt that if you listen to the good Doctor and let him be your teacher he will renew your soul and you will be transformed.

This at least is my prayer for you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Bill shares what's going on in his parish with an inspiring film. Driscoll on his discovery that silence is golden.. A bit of music and thought from Flyleaf. Keller on the Gospel and the poor and his recent talks to the urban plant life conference I attended. A warning about having a 50/50 gospel. Finally Pope Benedict on Martin Luther and the 'wondrous exchange' (H\T Kingdom People)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Three stages

I have been enjoying the letters of C. S. Lewis 'Yours Jack'.

'Our regeneration is a slow process. As Charles Williams says there are three stages:

(1) The Old Self on the Old Way
(2) The Old Self on the New Way
(3) The New Self on the New Way'

(Page 171)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Big questions

Rick Warren answers tons of the big questions which are also on video. Tim Keller offers pastors some questions for a bit of self-evaluation and his 10 questions for expositors. Not a question but never mind- Tim Challies offers his eight top albums of the year. I am really enjoying this as my Advent read with essays by Lloyd-Jones, Calvin, Keller, Packer, Whitfield and Earickson Tada.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


A friend sent me this and it made me chuckle:

There was a man who worked for the Post Office whose job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses. One day, a letter came addressed in a shaky handwriting to God with no actual address. He thought he should open it to see what it was about.
The letter read:

Dear God,
I am an 83 year old widow, living on a very small pension.
Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had £100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension payment. Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with, have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. Can you please help me?

The postal worker was touched. He showed the letter to all the other workers. Each one dug into his or her wallet and came up with a few pounds. By the time he made the rounds, he had collected £96, which they put into an envelope and sent to the woman. The rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of Edna and the dinner she would be able to share with her friends.

Christmas came and went. A few days later, another letter came from the same old lady to God. All the workers gathered around while the letter was opened. It read:

Dear God,

How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift of love, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift.

By the way, there was £4 missing. I think it was those buggers at the Post Office.


Monday, December 15, 2008

A smile, a read and a photo.

One reader has complained that my blog has been a little serious of late. This video of Viral Videos of 2008 can never be accused of that and offers you a reminder of how diverse humanity can be! Obama's words set to the tune of Rick Astleys 'Never gonna give you up'-inspired stuff . Should generate a Christmas smirk ( but odd in parts and some lively language in the last clip).

Before watching it here are some weighty 2008 book recommendations from the Westminster bookstore to quickly return the gravitas. Advice from the Internet Monk on the strains and stresses of a young family and church that includes 115 views on how to cope. If this is you, I don't think you are alone! For those in commerce here are Business Weeks best books of 2008

Finally, check out these picture from the Hubble space telescope 'Advent Calender'-they will take your breath away.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The leader you need

Tim Keller on the sort of leader a Church needs.

"My dear friends, most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus’ costly grace. The number one leaders in every church ought to be the people who repent the most fully without excuses, because you don’t need any now; the most easily without bitterness; the most publicly and the most joyfully. They know their standing isn’t based on their performance."

(H/T Dash House)

Culture Watch: 10 funniest ads

In my old life I had a fun job working in marketing on Hamlet and so I always have a watchful eye on matters media. A recent article in Campaign offered the ten funniest ads of all time and it is good to see that Hamlet featured. I am biased but I would have it at Number 1. Enjoy. The Peter Kay ad is genius.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The stable door is open: any one can come in

This was published in the Times last year and is by our very own Archbishop of Canterbury- Rowan. It is a wonderful piece (H/T Onliving)

Year after year, church attendance at Christmas continues to defy the trends. Disconcerted clergy find themselves putting on an extra carol service or Christingle. Cathedral deans start worrying about health and safety regulations as the number of people standing at the back is still growing five minutes before the service starts. And in spite of all the high-profile antiGod books published this last year, I suspect it’s not going to make much difference to these swelling numbers in church over Christmas.
So what’s going on? I don’t think it’s that people’s doubts and uncertainties are all magically taken away for a couple of weeks in December. But once in a while people need a chance to face up to the bits of themselves that they cheerfully ignore most of the time – a chance to notice what might be missing in their lives.

And Christmas gives us just this. It gives us a story to listen to. It gives us a sense that what matters most deeply to us matters to God too. And it gives us a moment of stillness in a more and more feverish environment.

It gives us a story. If you go to a carol service, you’ll notice that it isn’t just about the story of Jesus’s birth. It starts right back at the beginning of human history and tells us that everything started well and then everything went wrong, and we got so tangled in habits and attitudes that trapped us and damaged us that we couldn’t get out again.

So the question stares us in the face: “Is this your story?” Did you start well and then find yourself snarled up in things that drain your life and energy? There won’t be many people for whom that doesn’t ring a bell or two.

And then the story goes on to say something quite strange and surprising. God steps in to sort it all out. But He doesn’t step in like Superman, He doesn’t even send a master plan down from heaven. He introduces into the situation something completely new – a new life; a human baby, helpless and needy like all babies.

And it’s by that introducing of something new that change begins to happen. Like dropping a tiny bit of colouring into a glass of clear water, it starts to affect the whole glassful.

The Christmas story doesn’t try to explain how it works. It just says: “Now that this story, Jesus’s story, has started, nothing will be the same again.” So we’re not being asked to sign up to a grand theory – just to imagine that the world might have changed. And most of us can manage that for a moment or two. Christmas lets us hold on to that for just a bit longer.

And it tells us that what matters to us matters to God. Most of us have deep-rooted instincts about all kinds of things – about our families and children, about the need for fairness and forgiveness, about honesty and faithfulness in private and public. A great deal of the world we normally live in seems to ride roughshod over many of these instincts.

We get panicky about what our society seems to be doing to marriage and families, about the forward march of a technology that doesn’t ask the moral questions, about the cynicism and brittleness of a lot of political talk and the celebrity culture.

Christmas reminds us of a God who is completely committed to the weakest, who uses power only so that human life can be fuller, more peaceful and generous, who gives us the help we need to make our relationships stable and faithful – and who requires of us a complete honesty about ourselves, and gently, steadily, chips away our self-deceptions. Christmas tells us that our best instincts about human nature and what’s needed for a healthy world and society aren’t just things we’ve made up. They are rooted in the way the whole universe is shaped by God.

Often people demand “moral leadership” from religious figures. Confession time: like others, I suspect, my heart sometimes sinks when I hear this, and I think, cynically, that it’s just about people wanting religious leaders to tell them that they’re right.

But there’s more to it than that: it’s not that folk simply want bishops or vicars to lay down the law all the time. But they do want sometimes to be assured that their hopes aren’t empty and their fears aren’t stupid, in a world where things change so fast and so disturbingly.

They want to know that there is a “home” for their feelings and ideals, that the universe has a shape and a purpose. And yes, religious leaders will be failing in their job if they can’t meet this need.

But as I’ve hinted, it’s not just a need for words. It’s a need for space where you don’t have to struggle, to fight for your place at the table.

You’re just welcome for who you are. It’s a bit of a paradox.

We usually spend the weeks before Christmas in a feverish nightmare of anxiety and driven busyness, as if we were going to celebrate the festival by making our normal situation even worse! But then there comes a moment when we really have to take time out if we’re going to stay sane. That’s the moment when people start thinking about church.

We still have this half-buried conviction that church is a place where, at least at this time of year, we ought to be able to feel at home. We turn up, tired and overwrought, perhaps, still thinking vaguely about what we haven’t done and need to do before tomorrow. And then the story unfolds. Yes, this is our story, and yes, we can for a moment believe that this birth makes a difference. Yes, God cares about the kind of world we want to see and his faithful love is the basis of what makes a really liveable life. And no, we don’t have to do anything for this time except take it in. There are no entrance qualifications. The door of Jesus’s stable is open and anyone can come in and sit down.

None of this – I can hear the atheist protesting – means it’s true, surely? Not in itself, no. But it suggests that, if God is a “delusion”, as some would like us to believe, then quite a lot more of our human life is a delusion as well, including many of our deepest values and our hopes for forgiveness and peace. All sorts of things will make up your mind about whether it is true or not – and naturally I want people to believe it is and I’m happy to have the arguments. But you will never understand why it might matter for it to be true unless you can take in what the Christmas story is saying to us about who we are and the world we live in.

So, arrive early! There are millions who still want to ask these questions and hear the story. And there are millions for whom it’s not just a piece of our “heritage” – a stately home to visit – but a place to live. God is for life, not just for Christmas.

Every blessing to you all for a very happy Christmas.

Rowan Williams is Archbishop of Canterbury


I went to see Driscoll and Scott Thomas speak on the 20 Characteristics of a Church Planter the notes of which have just been posted. Tim Challies on his Top Books of 2008 and the same from Trevin Wax. They are both prolific readers. Also a lecture on the historical background to Islam on MP3. Finally, a friend emailed me with his frustrations at organizing his Carol Service so here are some productivity tips for him!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I am currently reading the Old Testament Evangelistic sermons of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Advent is traditionally the time in the Anglican Church when we call our hearers to consider not only the incarnation (the first coming) but judgement (the second coming). One of the first signs of a softening doctrine is one that neglects this reality of the gospel. This is not something you could ever accuse Lloyd-Jones of.

"You know the final tragedy is due to the fact that man turns away from God, instead of turning to him in his trouble and misery. In his folly man has put his own ideas in place of God's and thought nothing of this idea of judgement; but when he begins to awake to the knowledge that somethings is wrong-when he hears the voice of God-then his instinct is to get away from him. This is the greatest tragedy of all."

Sermon on Genesis 3.

Other books on the go are the wonderful Letters of C S Lewis and a grace-filled book by Brennan Manning called A Glimpse of Jesus. Manning offers the superb idea of a year of jubilee for all those who have been rejected by the church. Would it be so.

"If you don't have to be afraid of God, you don't have to be afraid of anything." Brennan Manning

Brennan Manning and Lloyd-Jones in the same post? Grace and Judgement surely working together.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Here are a few things that caught my eye. Not many-been rather busy doing lots of stuff.

10 notable Top 10 lists (H/T T. Challies)-HERE

20 books you should read in your twenties (granted, I am not in my twenties but some are also, maybe, just maybe, you can read them if you are a bit older.-HERE

The internet monk's seven observation's for parents-HERE

20 unusual churches-HERE

Books make good presents (although these may only appeal to theology nerds)-HERE

A couple of Tim Keller interviews-HERE

There are a few good short posts on keeping Spiritual passion alive-HERE

Finally, this morning I went on an adventure to get the church Christmas tree with Adam and Tricia and got into a conversation about election, choice and total depravity. It all came from the fact that I spoke at something recently and on Sunday one person responded on the basis of what I said (of the 200 who where there). Adam was at the angel end of the tree defending Arminianism and I was at the root putting the case for election. Oh the things we find to while away a festive morning in Richmond. In response, a cheery Christmas post on Total Depravity!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

One word for the gospel

My friend was sitting watching his kids swim the other day and he noticed a woman next to him reading a new age book (you know the sort of thing they have by the bookshelf full in Waterstones). He had done nothing much more than ponder its title when out of the blue she turned to him and volunteered her thoughts and questions about the purpose of life and the universe.

She then asked him squarely-

"What do you think it's about?"

Now, as an evangelist (by the way if you are a Christian you are one too), this is what I would consider to be an open goal. My friend ( a Pastor) knew this also to be true but by his own admission he stumbled. Sometimes when sharing the gospel with an open football goal all we need to do is kick the ball vaguely in the right direction and it should go in. But we often don't do that do we? We so regularly tell people the mechanics of playing the game of football (how you choose a team, how many players, what the kit is, how the rules work) rather than just sharing the joy of kicking a ball around with others.

After all that's what the woman wanted to know. Yes she needed truth but the sort of truth that would lead her into the way and the life. In contrast, following his best effort all my friend felt he had left the lady with was a bit more knowledge. So, rather annoyed, he decided to send three friends, me being one of them, a text which simply read:

"Sum up the gospel in one word".

Now there is a challenge. D. L Moody was asked the same thing and the reply he gave was 'Others'. I've always like that.

Mine, for what it's worth, was 'Grace'. Paul wrote 13 letters and if you read them he starts each one with grace and he ends each one with grace. The gospel begins and ends with grace.

What were the other responses? Well, one was 'Hope' and the other was 'Significance'. The next day he bumped into someone else and they said 'Purpose'.

So what would your one word be?

By the way whether or not we are a follower of Jesus we all have a word. We all have a salvation project. We all have our life and identity hanging on something.

We all have to put a word to the something.

The question is "What is it?"

Friday, December 05, 2008

Post-alpha reading

We have just finished our Alpha Course which has been great. Here are some resources I recommend as good follow up.

30 Days by Nicky Gumbel- This is a set of bible readings with an introductory comment on each one. A really good way to get in the swing of how to do it.

A purpose driven life by Rick Warren- I went through this a few years ago and found it wonderfully helpful. Perhaps one to put on your Christmas list and start the 40 day journey in the New Year?

For the love of God by Don Carson- This is the method of reading the bible I have used for the last few years.

One man's way of reading the bible- This is an interesting article on how one seasoned Christian has decided to read the bible and a reflection on the things he's learnt.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller- A fantastic book and perfect reading for those braving a first season of immersion in 'Church'

What's so amazing about grace? by Philip Yancey- Grace (as one of our number commented last night) is a word I use an awful lot. Here is a great book on what it means.

Chasing the Dragon by Jackie Pullinger: This is the book I remember reading straight after Alpha and it still impacts me to this day.

Anyway-hope some of this stuff might be useful and there are plenty more recommendations all over this blog!!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Answers to hard questions

The other day I was with friends in Westminster and while waiting to meet them at the tube I bumped into one of my bible teachers from Oxford called John Lennox. He gave one of the lectures I will remember for the rest of my life on biblical interpretation using 1 Peter. He is in my view one of the keenest minds and most able apologists around.

Here he is grappling with the some of the big questions of our age:

Is God Good?

What about Dawkins and Hitchens?

What about science and the bible?

What do we do with suffering?

Well worth watching this if you want to see him at work on a variety of tricky questions.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I am second

Sometimes you stumble on something that moves you and speaks to you in an truly unexpected way. Perhaps it's the timing of such a thing or just the raw honesty and truth that you witness displayed. I am second tells stories of lives. Real stories-where the word real means real.

I have been moved and I hope you will be too.

The one I have embedded is Brian Welch from the band Korn-if you know anything about heavy rock you will know Korn is perhaps its personification. The only other story I have watched is by a man called Nate Larkin. He tried being a Pastor and failed and now by grace upon grace he truly is.

Extraordinary stuff.

The truth will set you and me free.

If only we will let it.

(H/T J.Wilson)

Back from the Alps

I had a splendid time in Morges, just outside Lausanne with my friends Pip and Rolf and Lily (my God-daughter) and Pia. I went winetasting, swam in a thermal spa, ate fondue, visited their church and went to the Montreux Christmas festival. I confess I thought the festival would be full of stands selling dodgy aftershave and three for the price of two deals on Santa wrapping paper but happily the Swiss have considerably more taste than we do.

Here are one or two things from a very quick scan of the world. 100 most notable books from 2008 and 10 tips to better reading. Top 10's of 2008 and top movies of 2008.

Also How to encourage a blogger this Christmas

A couple of other things- Keller's two talks on Preaching to the Heart and a a good Driscoll talk given to the latest bootcamp.

(H/T Steve McCoy)

More will follow if I have any time.

Saturday blog-sweep

 Some interesting books for pastors The State we're in Attack at dawn Joseph Scriven Joy comes with the morning When small is beautiful