Wednesday, February 23, 2011

True Grit

There is a scene in True Grit where one of the characters falls down a snake pit. It is terrifying and it uncannily reminded me of this sermon which I listened to recently in my early morning journey through Romans. Did you ever think to notice that Romans, the greatest exposition of the Gospel, only mentions Satan once (Romans 16 v 20) and that is right at the very end. I am learning from Chapters six and seven that our problem is truthfully sin not Satan. If you do watch True Grit be mindful of the rescue scene, the Saviour, the sheer death to life moment that happens. To remain in the pit is death but to come out is life- but its not without its scars.

Do read Piper's parable:

"Who Understands the Full Power of Sin?
No, you don't need to experiment with particular sins in order to know the power of sin in your life. Think of it this way. Someone says: How can you really know the power of the temptation to lust – say to look at Internet nudity – if you've never given in and experienced it? Let me give an answer in a parable. There are three men – women, you supply the necessary changes to make the parable fit your situation – and each of the three stands beside a pit of lewdness and sin. Three ropes extend out of the pit, one bound around each man's waist. The strength of this narrow cord is one-hundred-pound test.
The first man begins to be pulled into the pit that looks exciting, but that he knows is deadly. Five pounds of pressure, ten pounds, fifteen pounds. He resists and fights back. Twenty pounds, twenty-five. He digs in his heels with all his might. Thirty pounds, thirty-five pounds, and the rope starts to squeeze and he stops resisting and jumps in. Click goes the mouse button.
The second man begins to be pulled into the pit. Five pounds of pressure, ten pounds, fifteen pounds. He resists and fights back. Twenty pounds, twenty-five pounds. He digs in his heels. Thirty pounds, thirty-five pounds, and the rope starts to squeeze. He says, No! and fights back. Forty pounds, forty-five pounds, fifty pounds, fifty-five pounds. It's harder to breathe as the rope tightens around his stomach and it begins to hurt. Sixty pounds, and he stops resisting and jumps into the pit. Click.
The third man begins to be pulled into the pit. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five pounds of pressure. He resists and fights back. Thirty, thirty-five, forty, and the rope starts to squeeze. He says, No! and fights back. Fifty pounds, sixty. It's harder to breathe as the rope tightens around his stomach and begins to hurt. Seventy pounds and his feet start to slip toward the pit. He cries out for help, and reaches out to grab a branch – shaped like a cross. In the distance he sees his wife going about her business, trusting him; he sees his children playing, and in their hearts admiring him. And beyond them all, he sees Jesus Christ with a gash in his side standing, with both hands lifted and fists clenched and smiling. And filled with passion, the third man holds fast. Seventy-five, eighty, eighty-five pounds, and the rope cuts into his sides and the pain stabs. Ninety, ninety-five and the tears flow unbidden down his cheeks. One hundred and the rope snaps. No click.
Question: which of these men knows the full power of temptation?
If this were a message on lust I would look around this room and say, "Are there any soldiers here? Does anyone in this room have blood on his shirt and scars on his side? Do you know the power of temptation? Or do you just jump in before its power is spent?"
But this is not a message on lust. And all I am doing right now is answering the objection that the only or the best way to know your sin is to give into temptation and experiment with sin and taste the pit. Not true.
So I have only made one point from verse 7 so far. And that's all I am going to make today, namely, it's important for us to know our sin. Know your sin! This is Paul's first defense of the Law. He says, The Law is not sin! On the contrary, the Law helps me know my sin. And this knowing is a holy thing. This knowing my sin is a righteous thing. This knowing my sin and my self as a sinner is a good thing. A precious thing. A caring, loving thing. That's my point this morning."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nothing free?

"You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free except the Grace of God. You cannot earn that or deserve it."

Quote from the opening narration of True Grit

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"If you are young you must go"

Jackie Pullinger was speaking in Richmond at a little free church near us that we know and love. I love that at one moment she speaks at Westminster Central Hall (where I heard her a couple of years ago) to 3.5K and the next she has agreed to minister to 50 saints at a church weekend.

I first came across Jackie reading this passage in Chasing the dragon and having myself just received the gift of tongues her description of the use of this prayer language (1 Cor 12 to 14) fascinated me and I have remembered it ever since.

By the clock I prayed 15 minutes a day in the language of the Spirit and still felt nothing as I asked the Spirit to help me intercede for those he wanted to reach. After about six weeks of this I began to lead people to Jesus without trying. Gangsters fell to their knees sobbing in the streets, women were healed, heroin addicts were miraculously set free. And I knew it all had nothing to do with me."

She is now 65 and is still (actually more) burning with love for Jesus and ministry to the lost, the broken and the poor than ever.

Of her many words that my friend recounted to me one landed on my heart. It was her passionate missionary challenge that we answer the call to reach the lost who have not yet heard the gospel.

"If you are young you must go"

If you want to know what that might involve then listen to Doing missions when dying is gain.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Books on communicating better

Some Southwark Vicar pals and I are preparing some resources for the Curates at IME on how the church can communicate better. We all used to work in Marketing in our old lives.

This is the book list I prepared for it......

Cliff Atkinson                         Beyond Bullet Points
Bill Bailey                               The Blogging Church
S Belsky                                 Making ideas Happen
Marcus Buckingham             First break all the rules
Jim Collins                             Good to great and the Social Sectors
Phil Cook                               Why some churches and non-profits impact culture and others don’t
Disney Institute                      Be our guest
Nancy Duarte                        Slide:ology
Nancy Duarte                        Resonate: Present Visual Stories that transform audiences
Bob Franquiz                        Zero to sixty
Craig Groschel                        It
Seth Godin                            Tribes
Seth Godin                             Linchpin
Jeff Gomez                             Print is dead
Dan Heath                              Made to stick
Dan Heath                              Switch: How to change things when change is hard
Bill Hybels                               Axioms
Bill Hybels                              Courageous Leadership
S Johnson                              Where good ideas come from
Kuhlmann                                The Orange Code
Gordon MacDonald                Who stole our church?
Kem Meyer                               Less Clutter Less Noise
Moon                                        Different: Escaping the competitive herd
Delivering Happiness: The Story of Zappos
Tricia Neale                             From Vision to Action
M. Neumeier                            The brand gap
D. Pink                                      Drive
Dan Roam                                The back of a napkin
Al Reis                                    22 immutable laws of branding
Garr Reynolds                        Presentation Zen
Nelson Searcy                       Fusion: Turning First time guests into fully-fledged members of your church
Andy Stanley                          Can we do that? Innovative practices that will change the way you do church
Andy Stanley                        Seven practices of effective ministry
Tim Stevens                           Pop goes the church
Mark Waltz                             First impressions and  Lasting impressions

Stumped? How you can know the Bible is true

We each one of us need to get the reality of the authority of the Bible squared away once and for all. I remember reading a quote in Questions of Life years ago that made a deep impression on my soul.

"It is very important to hold on to the fact that all Scripture is inspired by God, even if we cannot immediately resolve all the difficulties. If we do, it should transform the way we live our lives. When Billy Graham was a young man several people (among them one was called Chuck) started to say to him, "you can't believe everything in the Bible". He began to worry about it and started to become very muddled. John Pollock in his biography of the evangelist, records what happened:

So I went back and I got my Bible, and I went out in the moonlight. And I got to a stump and put the Bible on the stump, and I knelt down, and I said, "Oh, God; I cannot prove certain things. I cannot answer some of the questions Chuck is raising and some of the other people are raising, but I accept this Book by faith as the word of God. I stayed by the stump praying wordlessly, my eyes moist....I had a tremendous sense of God's presence. I had great peace that the decision I had made was right"

[Questions of Life P.76]

Now I have something you might like to do.

This sermon by Matt Chandler is as good a one on the authority of Scripture as I have ever heard called Ultimate Authority Revealed (19th September 2010). We are called to always have an answer for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15) and this means equipping ourselves to be able to answer the question, "How can I know the Bible is true?" I don't care if you are a new Christian or the leader of a Church you are going to find this helpful and we all must refresh ourselves in our ability to answer this question confidently.

Imagine someone asks you that question today and then you have 15 minutes with them fully attentive and hungry to listen. How sure are you in your capability to walk them through an answer, to give them texts and to help them understand why Biblical authority is crucial to their lives?

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,..."

So why not get a pen and paper and listen to it. This will be a truly valuable time I promise you. Make notes. Look up the passages. See how the Bible itself demonstrates its authority. This 60 minutes will I think be a huge help to you in understanding how the Bible was put together, who wrote it and why we must bring our lives before the God it reveals in humility, reverence, obedience and awe.

Once you have done this another thing will occur. You will have untold confidence to evangelise. You may have noticed that people and Churches that don't believe Scripture has authority don't do any evangelism. It may even unlock a passion to do this for the very first time and look what went on to happen to Billy Graham? May the same be true of you I pray

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sure is the 4-letter word

My pal wrote this to me which I share:

"Great and challenging blog, as always. I am still trying to work through Chan's "Lukewarmness" questionnaire - which I failed miserably!

On the Wimber quote - which I, too, heard frequently - I have to confess that I disagree with Wimber on this (am I allowed to do that?). For me Hebrews 11:1 tells me that "Faith is a four-letter word spelt SURE" - quite different from RISK I think you will agree.

However, I also preach that "Love is a four-letter word spelt RISK" - because isn't that what love is all about? Putting yourself in a position of RISK, vulnerability, where you might be rejected, abused, hurt, taken advantage of, ignored and unrequited - but it might also be received, accepted, enjoyed and reciprocated and when it is, well, THAT is life in all its fulness. As the philosopher Willard Waller wrote, "In a relationship of two people the person who loves the least has the most power" - therein lies the RISK."

Truly don't miss listening to "Why we all need the gospel"

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Christ and Lord

(H/T Kingdom People)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Risky business

Wimber always used to say "Faith is spelt R.I.S.K"

I can testify to that.

Have we somehow created a Christianity and a Gospel where we think we can live lives that are almost indistinguishable from the culture around us but with a sprinkling of a bit of church going.

Where do we get that in the words of Jesus?

Tell me?  Where?

Now, you might know by now that this blog is a place where sometimes I preach to myself.

I awaken myself from my own lukewarmness and comfort and apathy.

I have my own frustrations that I am not more passionate for Jesus. Not more sold out. Too clinging to the things of this world.

I chatted to a friend recently who told me that he had started to wonder if the life that he currently has is it. He has on many levels a nice, good and very fruitful life. A lovely family, a beautiful home, wonderful kids and a job he is good at and loves. But Jesus didn't say our lives were to be safe and that God's priority is that our kids get good grades in nice middle class schools and we were to live in nice houses, with fancy clothes and friends and a happy summer break in the sun. Should our  strategy as Jesus followers be to avoid trouble, pursue comfort and dodge difficulty at all costs? Isn't that what all the people who don't yet believe in Jesus are all doing and they are all on their way to hell?

My morning mediation was 2 Thes 1 so hell and the importance of believing in Jesus are front of mind for me. This is the sort of passage that would make my delightful liberal clergy colleagues shuffle on their bottoms on their diocesan seats as we did bible studies together. I would usually pipe up with a smiling,

"Come on you lot who don't believe in hell what are we going to do with that one?"

It was usually met with a tut and an awkward silence. I would sometimes detect just the tiniest twinge of nervousness that if they are wrong on the whole "there is no such thing as hell" then there may be consequences- particularly when we were all ordained to tell sinners of it's reality. If people leading the church don't preach the Gospel, the Cross and call sinners to repentance then who the dickens will.

Here is my morning meditation just in case you were curious what prompted all this.

"This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed."

People believing in Jesus and being obedient to Him seems to be really pretty important or did I miss something?

So, what then shall we do with the time we have left?

This is the question my friend is posing to himself, only gently, and to his family and it is good to ask yourself  the same things.

Don't presume on it being long. It might be, but don't presume on it.

By now you might have guessed that Francis Chan might be about to be mentioned.

In the summer, when my friend finished reading Crazy love she turned to me stunned and said this:

"What am I meant to do now?"

It was one of those moments.

His sermon below shook me to my core.

It has really really shaken me. Truly.

This sermon may even make some of you ask yourself if you are saved.

It did that to me.

Better to know now than later I figure.

I have concluded I am by the way, which is a relief all round.

If this doesn't shake you and drive you to your knees in repentance I don't know what will.

If this doesn't get you laying all your heart, all your stuff, all your plans and submitting them anew to Jesus then you probably weren't listening.

It's called "Why we all need the gospel"

 "Have a nice day"

Friday, February 18, 2011

Be filled

Be filled.....................

4b. Baptism into Christ and the Holy Spirit from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

4c. Baptism into Christ and the Holy Spirit from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

4d. Baptism into Christ and the Holy Spirit from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

Romans: An update

I am now 80 sermons into my early morning adventure and have completed Chapters 1-6.

No 80 is truly electrifying and listening to this (if you can make the time) may well unlock justification by faith in an unfathomable way for you.

This long and steady journey is literally transforming my soul.

"This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes. Therefore I want to carry out my service and, with this preface, provide an introduction to the letter, insofar as God gives me the ability, so that every one can gain the fullest possible understanding of it. Up to now it has been darkened by glosses [explanatory notes and comments which accompany a text] and by many a useless comment, but it is in itself a bright light, almost bright enough to illumine the entire Scripture."

Preface of the Letter of St Paul to the Romans by Martin Luther

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Billy Grahams "One of twenty"

Still sick.

I have discovered the joy of Wallander which I got given for Christmas.

I do enjoy a gritty crime drama- it rather reminds me of Prime Suspect.

I have also been writing a sermon on Psalm 16, reading a biography of Charles Spurgeon and reading a wonderful book about church planting.

All this has got me thinking a bit about evangelism.

The other day a man at church introduced me to someone over coffee like this:

"This is David, he introduced me to Jesus Christ"

It rather took me aback.

The real truth is that I was the last in the chain.

There is a little quote in Church in the making of Billy Graham who says it so well.

"Billy Graham once said that it takes twenty people to lead someone to Christ. The first person thinks she had nothing to do with it. The last person thinks it was all him. The work of cultivation was those first nineteen people. And if they're not careful they can think all their effort was for nothing"


Thinking about sharing the love of Jesus with others as a link in a chain of gospel love is so helpful. You may not be the preacher who finishes the job or feel your efforts contribute little but believe me when I tell you that you count far more than you can ever imagine. Think of each day in terms of being one of the 20 in a cultivation of love and who knows who will be thankful for you when we all arrive in glory.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

HTB Leadership Talks

HTB has provided a wonderful resource of talks from their Leadership conference. The main talks were first-class (they were filmed so you can watch them) some of the seminars were better than others and some pals were a bit disappointed with one or two. However, most of this seminar content is absolute gold-dust so take some time to navigate your way through it all. If you are a follower of Jesus you are sure to find something that will encourage or teach you.

These were the highlights for me:

1. Paul Scanlon 'The power of building a risk taking life': He leads a church in Bradford and his amazing reminder of the purpose of the church is a must listen for any church leader or church member. The church exists for those who are not yet coming and he explains why this must be using his own story. This talk will inspire you afresh to cope with mess, to risk and to try new things in your church. Don't miss this.

2. Sir Peter Vardy and Brian Souter: These guys run huge businesses and love Jesus. They share their stories and offer some wisdom for the church. Fascinating and a real nugget or two in these interviews.

3. Church planting: If you have any plans to plant churches (and if you don't then maybe this will enthuse you). This is a real 'how-to' and offers HTB's learning to all on the many issues of planting churches in an Anglican context.

4. Bishop Paul Williams 'Developing leaders around you': When you hear this you will find it hard to believe this man is a Bishop in the C of E but he is and it should encourage you greatly. He has stunning leadership gifts, vision, a passion for mission and a desire to transform London in his generation. It excites me what Paul may be able to achieve over the next 20 years. Do pray for him. Amazing stuff.

5. Pete Grieg: Many of you will know Pete as the founder of 24/7 and this final talk is compelling not least because it contains testimony to a wonderful miracle. Too much of today's church has ceased believing in a God who acts, restores life and heals and Pete encourages us to believe in these things afresh.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


"Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with a rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed"

C H Spurgeon, Autobiography, 1890

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This is how we change the world

I am sick so Lemsip and rest seems to be the order of the day

Being ill is rather dull and to pass the time I watched the amazing story of Elevation called 'This is how we change the world '.

It is worth an hour of your time if you want to be inspired about planting churches.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Clearness committee

After my post about 'Let your life speak' a dear pal in Canada was amazed that having never heard of Palmer he had included a quote by him in his Sunday sermon and then I blog about him in the very same week. He sent the quote to me:

"It can also help to listen to the voices of others. The Quakers have what they call a “clearness committee”—a small group of persons who know Christ and know us to help us discern what we think God might be saying to
us or leading us to do.

That’s what Parker Palmer employed when this gifted educator was offered the presidency of an educational institution. In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Palmer recounts how he had been growing in prominence and renown in educational circles. One institution determined that meant he would make a good president. So they offered him the job. Career-wise it was a no-brainer—more money, more power, more prestige, more influence—a no-brainer. Parker said he had pretty much already decided to accept the job, but he still invited a clearness committee to help him sort out God’s voice in all of that. At first they asked easy questions about vision for the school and leadership practices and the like. And then one of his friends asked this question: “What would you like about being president?” Oddly enough, Parker had to think about this one for awhile. “Well,” he said, “I wouldn't like the politics of it, wouldn't’t like fund-raising, wouldn’t like having to give up my study and my teaching.”

“That wasn’t the question,” his friend said. “I asked you what you would like about being president.”

“I’m coming to that,” said Parker as he continued to list things he
wouldn’t like about the job. The questioner asked for a third time. And Palmer writes:

I felt compelled to give the only honest answer I possessed, an
answer that came from the very bottom of my barrel, an answer
that appalled even me as I spoke it. “Well,” I said, in the smallest voice I possess, “I guess what I would like most is getting my picture in the paper with the word president under it.”

Palmer thought they would laugh, but they didn’t. They sat in silence contemplating what Palmer had just said. Finally, the questioner broke the silence and said, “Parker, can you think of an easier way to get your name in the paper?” The response cracked up the group and cracked open Palmer’s
heart. He turned down the job. He decided to stick with calling instead of career.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mentoring questions

Last week, I read this post called 'Six great questions to ask leaders' and it landed with me so I copied it into my iPhone notes to reflect on it some more. I then spent two days at HTB and my pal Miles taught on these same questions and said they have found them to be the most useful they have found for mentoring and raising up leaders.  Twice in a week made me sit up.

As I reflect on them, I think everyone is mentoring someone. A parent encouraging a child, a friend encouraging a friend, a boss overseeing an employee or a teacher a pupil.

Do read the full post but these are going to be helpful to me and to you too I hope if you lead anything or mentor others.

1. How are you?
2. What are you celebrating?
3. What challenges are you experiencing?
4. What do you plan to do about those challenges?
5. How can I help you?
6. How can I pray for you?
7. Who is emerging?

If you want to read about this more you should get old of Exponential.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Heroic followers

What a joy to spend a couple of days at HTB.

The joy was seeing such amazing friends and the encouragement that they are to me- they are all heroic followers - to quote Bishop Paul. I will point you in the next few days to the highlights of the conference.

As readers will know I am always recommending something and it was the Francis Chan talk on prayer that I pointed pals to. It will give any passion you have to pray a shot in the arm I think. Make time to listen to this talk. I say it again- make time.

I have also recommended Martha and Mary to loads of folks and many have listened to this talk with their husband/ wife. It is a great resource for a 'date night' and may lead to a good conversation and pray with the one you love.

I saw Chan speak at HTB last year on love and his book Crazy love is a great big kick up the backside for the evangelical church. He observes so much hypocrisy and a general lack of focus on the things that Jesus seems to want us to focus on. A good kick every now and again is no bad thing.

Who wants a life on a beam anyway?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Let your life speak

I am at the HTB Leadership Conference. Bishop Paul Williams spoke this morning inspirationally about Jesus.

He mentioned in his talk one of the books that changed the course of my life. It's by a Quaker called Parker Palmer and is called 'Let your life speak'.

If you want to think afresh about calling and vocation this is a great place to start.

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A bit of a debate

Lesley who has a blog I enjoy and who seems to be a very jolly liberal and has answered three questions I asked

Some years ago I tried to explain the gospel and answer the question for my colleagues at work when I was leaving for Vicar Factory and gave them 'What's it all about?'

Not a great work of apologetics I fear but it has led to one or two finding out bit more about the way to Jesus.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Becoming useful

God is looking for people to use, and if you can get usable, he will wear you out. The most dangerous prayer you can pray is this: 'Use me.'

Rick Warren

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Launching Street Pastors

I spent the whole of my university career falling out of night clubs bladdered.

I once fell through the window of a kebab shop smashing it's glass- disgracefully drunk. This was not my finest hour :(

I then moved to London and continued to drink too much and continued to fall out of nightclubs drunk.

I would like to tell you I then became a Christian and all that stopped.

It didn't I'm afraid. It took me far too long to awaken to the gospel and sin and it's power.

Yesterday, I became excited afresh about the most amazing initiative.

It's called Street Pastors and we are launching them in Richmond.

This all started in London in 2003 in Brixton Baptist Church as a response to gangs, gun crime, drunkenness and social disorder.

It started with 18 Street Pastors (15 women and 3 men) and now there are over 7000 in most of the major cities and leisure centres and it's now spreading across the world.

The US is only just catching on and for any of my readers across the water do please awaken to this amazing initiative and spread the word through your blogs.

It wonderfully brings together 'the urban trinity' of the police, the local authority and the church (all these gathered yesterday for the launch). Every Friday and Saturday night, teams of Street Pastors go onto the streets to care for people and offer them love and help.

Help to get a taxi home

A calming influence to break up a fight

Medical care for the wounded, emotionally distressed or hurt

Flip-flops for a girl who has lost her shoes

Water for the thirsty.

This is all supported by teams of people who pray constantly from 10-m until 4am.

We met with about 15 different church leaders across the denominations (no one from the Catholic church sadly but we hope and pray that may change) and we have agreed to launch in the Summer. We will hopefully have 20 Street Pastor volunteers initially and we have our recruitment event on 16th February here at 7.30pm.

The training is rigorous.

Do please watch the film below- it will give you a real flavour for what this is all about.

If you are a Church leader and this resonates with you, why not take the bull by the horns and get this going where you are or come to the event and get a feel for what's involved. Paul who runs Kingston Street Pastors is one of the most inspirational and passionate people I have come across in a long while.

If you want to read about it all first then get hold of the book by Les Isaacs.

And do please pray.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The hole

"Farthest from your mind is the thought of falling back, in fact it isn't there at all. And so you dig your hole carefully and deep and wait" 'Curratie' Scrapbook of the 500 PIR

[Quote from Brand of Brothers I wrote in my journal in 2004]

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Friday, February 04, 2011

Where are the sages?

If you have time to listen to the first ten minutes of United with Christ in life and death-Part 1 you will be asked the question "Where are the sages?" It has been in my head all week and it is worth each one of us mulling on. How do I become one? Is there anything that I could be doing now that might make my life deep and wise and fruitful in years to come for God's glory? I am not yet wise but maybe one day I might be. We are meant to be redwood's, that is, people with deep, strong and lasting roots living the sort of lives that you can drive a car though and are still able to stand (Jer 17:7-8). Lives that in thirty years time might have some things to impart to another. Imagine that. Make some decisions today for that. Set your sails for it. 

This thought has combined with me being asked in a staff meeting what books I would recommend to my church as resources. Now that's quite a question. Thinking about reading prompts me to reflect so much on God's grace. You see, as a child I was no reader. I was a bottom-set man, never made the top-set for anything and never got an A in any of my exams, ever. The top-setters were always the readers. I was the one looking out of the window wondering what biscuit we might get at break time. I was 'thick', 'dim' and 'lacking potential' and other delightful descriptors we give each other at school. I can recall reading not many more than fifteen or twenty books in my first 20 years. The Hardy Boys, a few Agatha Christie's, Cider with Rosie, Kim, The Hobbit , My family and other animals, Pride and prejudice, To kill a mocking bird, The Moons' a balloon and Bleak House (most of which I was forced to read as compulsory 'holiday books'). I am still not sure what Shakespeare was all about though by good fortune my allocated play was 'The Merchant of Venice' which I loved. I still only managed a C.

I started to follow Jesus at the age of twenty two and read probably twenty 'Christian' books in the first 2 years following my conversion-mainly biographies of the Charismatic-evangelical saints (Brother Andrew, Pullinger, Wilkerson, Rees Howells etc). Anyway, not long after that I found myself living in Moscow working for a tobacco company trading cigarettes with the Russian mafia and rather went off reading God-books. Now there's a surprise. However, I do now have a few stories that if I told you them would make your hair curl. Sin doesn't shock or surprise me which is I suppose good considering how things have turned out. Sometimes I meet posh BCP 8-o'clock types who say "Oh, I think it's frightfully good to have had a life before one goes into the Church". A've no idea.

I was cold in Moscow inside and outside. I remember asking my colleague Lisa who was something of a reader to 'bring me some books' from England which she duly did. I have a memory of my flat in Moscow reading my way through the pile she gave me-there was not much else to do. One of them was Peter the Great which is, I think, the book that unlocked a desire in me to read. I worked my way through its 980 pages listening to the Counting Crows on repeat.  I then don't think I read a Christian book for over a decade- I read novels, biographies, business books, politics and some history but it was mainly novels as I recall. I did most of my reading as I travelled on business, often spending time delayed in various international airports.

Then at some point eight or nine years ago I had an encounter with the gospel of the grace of God listening to these. From that moment on, I started reading books that I hoped might set me along the way of the disciple. I felt I needed to catch up on the time I had wasted. I started to read enjoyably and relentlessly and have been doing so ever since which has been a wonderful treasure hunt through thousands and thousands of words. 
So, over about four hours one afternoon/evening this week I scanned my shelves and memory to draw up a list that I have called 'Books in the rather slow making of a Jesus follower' which is now on my sidebar. If you want one book to unlock your own list then start with Indelible ink (it has the most extraordinary appendix). There is a whole other list of the ten 'lukewarm' years which is probably equally, if not more important and interesting reading. I think I have forgotten as many books as I have on this list. I have a habit of giving books away and never remembering who I have given them to. I haven't included any theology-wonk books I read at Vicar Factory and have only included books that I have read cover to cover. Anyway, all this to say I hope there might be something you find that you might enjoy. 

So will I one day be a sage? I have no idea and fear I am a long way off, but I do intend to keep reading a few things in the hope that perhaps in my old age I might have something to impart to my grandchildren. As to whether that will ever happen, well that's a whole other story.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Can you live without Jesus?

I met up with a pal who I put on to reading Crazy love. We spent a bit of time discussing this hugely challenging quote it contains from John Piper.

See what you make of it:

"In his book God is the Gospel,  John Piper essentially asks whether we are in love with God.

'The critical question for our generation-and for every generation- is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, no violence and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, and all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven if Christ was not there?'

How many of you will read those words and say, "You know I might be OK with that"

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

For the pod

Charlie my old Vicar did a super job on preaching Romans 2:1-4 and his description of what Hell is to be like is very challenging. I also commend a full catch-up on Simon's Romans series.

John Peters blessed me on John 14 (9th January) and has prompted me to reflect on what my negative press may be. I am sure I have lots.

No well-worn paths

Over Christmas some wonderful friends took me to their church. It is called City Church and is part of NFI. At the end of the service their pastor Simon gave me the biography of Terry Virgo as a gift and I have spent the last month reading it.

If you want to be inspired by a truly amazing leader and also to be given a potted history of the Charismatic/ House Church movement then No well-worn paths is for you. This is testimony that there is no limit to the amount that one person sold-out for Jesus can be used for his glory. There are some real nuggets of wisdom to be gleaned from reading Terry's story. I also learnt recently from Terry Virgo's blog that he is moving to Kingston so we are to be neighbours. If I were to sum up their secret as a movement it might be that they fast and pray.

If you want to listen to as good a talk on prayer as there is around then listen to this.

There are so many non-C of E churches in this land and many of them are doing wonderful work for the Kingdom. I had the joy of teaching last weekend at Ortford Manor for a local church called The Vineyard. I gave five talks on love from 1 John 3, 4 and 5 and it was such a blessing to spend time with these wonderful saints.

1. Love that is lavished (1 John 3:1-3)
2. Love that has competition (1 John 5:21)
3. Loving that pays for each other (1 John 3:4-23)
4. Love that has an enemy (1 John 3:24-4:6)
5. Love that has paid for it all (1 John 4:6-end)

We had people from France, Spain, South Africa, Poland and America as well as all us Brits. As Keller says, if you have the nations gathering it is a mark that you are preaching the gospel. If your Church is homogenous then perhaps the converse may be true?

I am very excited about a couple of books that are pending. The Kings Cross by Tim Keller and also Eugene Peterson's new memoir The Pastor. You should have both on pre-order.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Someone like you

Yesterday was a rather heavy post.

Today is something lighter and a recommendation of some music.

The first cassette I ever wore out was by Iron Maiden, but things change.

A friend whose album I hope you will one day hear puts me on to lots of good music but he doesn't like female singer songwriters. They are just not his cup of tea. Now he may be right and Q's list of the Top 30 albums of the last 25 years agrees with him and contains no women. I think Q and my friend have a blind spot on this one. Imagine having a collection of music that didn't contain Tapestry, Blue, Other Voices Other Rooms, Stones in the Road, Tiger Lily, A few small repairs and I could go on and would even include Fearless (which won 'Best album at the Grammy's). I have confessed it before- I do enjoy a bit of country.

Now on to the album you should buy. You should do so before it becomes one of those that people say "Oh, I love the new album by Adele" and put it on at their dinner party. I hate that sort of album.

But here's the thing. I think 21 is work of genius sung but a woman with the voice of an angel. I like a bold claim so if you listen to a more stunning and moving song about lost love this year than 'Someone like you' then I will eat my hat. Hat and eat. It might make you cry, particularly if you know what it means to have loved and lost.

So may this song move you and this album introduce you into the joys of the female singer.

I don't care what Q think.

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