Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The most important thing in preaching

"After every Sunday-evening worship and another sermon, Dr Buttrick invited the seminarians- there were seven or eight of us- to his penthouse manse on Fifth Avenue overlooking central park.......We asked him questions and he asked us questions. There was no agenda. .....On one of these evenings he was asked by one of the students something about preaching. Something on the order of "What is the most important thing you do in preparing to preach each Sunday? I think we were all surprised by the answer, at least I was. His answer: "For two hours every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon I walk through the neighbourhood and make home visits. There is no way I can preach the gospel to these people if I don't know how they are living, what they are thinking and talking about. Preaching is proclamation, God's word revealed in Jesus, but only when it gets embedded in conversation, in a listening ear and responding tongue, does it become gospel"

(Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, Page 86)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The happy few

Franz Kafka in a letter wrote, "If the book you are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it?....A book must be like an ice-axe to break the sea frozen in side of us." Eugene Peterson lead me to that quote and he is as you know one of my people. To run the race of faith you need a healthy cloud of witnesses- some of them living, some dead. If you read this blog even a little bit you will know I have had many down the years. They are the people Gordon MacDonald calls the happy few. How do I know who they are? I suppose I know by looking at the bent spines on my book shelves. The most bent I have come to see are my best encouragers and most faithful counsellors. They are the people I trust. The thing I am learning is that my encouragers will not be the same as yours and you must beware of too strict a paradigm of what you think you ought to be reading. There is the same danger in reading as there is in life. We like to hang with the people who make us look good even if we would rather be friends with the rather less cool and unpopular people. Imagine if I gathered all my people in one room and asked them to guess what they had on common. They would never in a million years guess it would be me.

Here are some of them: David Lodge, Gordon MadDonald, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan Edwards, Sister Wendy, Mike Breem, Philip Yancey, Mark Driscoll, John Irving, Samuel Rutherford, R T Kendall, Tolstoy, Oswald Chambers, John Piper, Frederick Buechner, Dallas Willard, Lewis, John Newton, Don Carson, Bill Hybels, Richard Foster, Simon Ponsonby, John Wimber, Robert Massie, John Ortberg, Donald Miller, Rick Warren, Larry Crabb and last but not least without whom I wouldn't have a list at all-Tim Keller.

This year on Men on Mountains one friend recommended as his book of the year The Papa Prayer. I had missed this and as it is written by one of my people it is winging its way through the post to me and will go on the pile. Interestingly, my current read is a book that changed a man's life (Kafka would like that) and by providence it arrived in the post the very same week my fellow Southwark clergy blogger and all round good chap Gary wrote a blog post about it. Not a light read but a profound one and good for a thick old muppet like me. Here is Gary in his own words:

"In 1980-1981 four of us students shared a house in York and one by one we read Schaeffer's The God Who Is There. I've read quite a few books in my life but this is one that actually changed my life for good. I was actually a different peson as a result of reading it.

Through Schaeffer we learnt about true truth, the infinite-personal God, the mannishess of man, and life below the line of despair. It was liberating and exhilarating stuff.

Schaeffer gave us a biblically faithful philosophical framework to understand the intellectual world we inhabited at university in the early eighties. He opened our eyes to understand and interpret contemporary literature, art, and philosophy, and thus to read the signs of the times.

The title of one of his latest books both sums up his philosophy and what he gave us who were already Christians and others who were seekers after the truth. It is called simply He is there and he is not silent.

Against the claims of rationalism and radical theology, Schaeffer reaffirmed that the infinite-personal Trinitarian God of the Bible existed really and objectively and that he had spoken through the Scriptures in words of true truth to the people he had created. These are the foundational truths of a Christian worldview, of Christian living, and Christian ministry."

Something might be in the air with this one.........

Keep reading friends. Keep reading.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New frontiers: the story

Earlier this year I read and greatly enjoyed No well-worn paths. In case you don't get around to reading it here is the film of the book.

This is Newfrontiers from Newfrontiers on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The first eight

This morning in our prayer meeting before our service one person was struck anew by a verse from our reading. She commented, "That verse was one of eight I was given when I came forward at Billy Graham and I committed them all to memory". Afterwards, I asked her when that was, "1954" she replied. Praise God. If you want to read of the impact of Billy Graham then the biography by John Pollock is a great read.

I was challenged anew about committing scripture to memory. How many in our churches have eight verses committed to memory? Here's how you might go about starting to get a few in your head.

Friday, June 24, 2011

How to get wiser

I was chatting with friends last night after Live Life and our discussion turned to Proverbs having spent the evening doing God at Work. My friend has spent two weeks meditating on a couple of verses and he shared them with us:

"It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out" Proverbs 25 v 2

"Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings, he will not stand before obscure men" Proverbs 22 v 29

Proverbs is a mini-guide to life. My friend then said an interesting thing, "Since I have been coming back to church I have realised that I have been given a second chance to be the good wise son described in Proverbs...." (The perfect wise son is, of course, Jesus) It is never too late to get wise so here are some starter resources:

1. These talks

2. Or these talks

3. This commentary

4. Or this book for a simple starter

And if you want to start with just one listen then Your plans God's plans is the place then buy the whole series.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Heart exposure

Gatherings of Christian leaders are funny things not least because of the things they reveal in my own heart. I attended a wonderfully helpful morning on church planting this week and found so much of the material and the testimony encouraging. There were many friends to see and and good stories of success being told. James Dobson once famously said that 'Comparison is the root of all inadequacy...' and I saw so much in my own heart that remains un-sanctified.  I am in Chapter 12 in my Romans adventure and listening to Let your love be genuine was really timely for me. Who among God's people wouldn't need to listen to this?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


J. Campbell White writes:
Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ's purpose toward the world he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ's undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards
Excerpted from Secretary of the Laymen's Missionary Movement, 1909.

(H/T Abraham Piper)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Praying for the city

It was wonderful to pray for this great city with 16K others in the O2 from countless cultures and churches. It was a tiny glimpse of heaven. We were blessed by so much but the Jesus House choir were something else. They have so much to teach us all about joy. Thanks too to the dear folk at HTB and the wonderful grace-filled worshippers of Hillsong for their passion for the gospel, their heart for this fine city and for their faith and prayer. This initiative marks a desire to reclaim Pentecost as the true festival of the church and last night made a great stride towards that end. Who knows where we will be next year. Wembley? The Olympic stadium even?

As Matt Redman notes in this interview there are a 1000 reasons to worship God and "...there is something special when the people of God in the presence of God meet to bring praises to God" Pick one of them and do join us next year and bring others with you.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pentecost 2011

A church I was part of a while back went through a phase of practicing what they called 'soaking prayer'. The basic principle seemed to be intentionally resting in the love, presence and goodness of God. I'm all for that. A pal of mine recently listened to Come away with me  from this album and he told me that as he was walking to church one evening listening to the first song he freshly soaked in the love of God. Feel free to be blessed likewise- make some space, listen and rest in the Lord. I am hoping for a bit of that as I gather with 20k others tonight to celebrate pentecost. They still have a few tickets- we're taking our youth and sundry hangers here

Saturday blog-sweep

The purpose in life

Senna: A review

Fostering a praying church

My soul yearns

Email checklist

What Rowan really said in the New Statesman

Dick van Dyke

Driscoll on porn

The impact of a father reading to a child

Tim Keller on discerning vocation

Friday, June 10, 2011

Making good better

I went to a Growing leaders evening and they played this to illustrate the point that leadership training is about making the good better. It made me smile.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


The first Christian book I ever read was The cross and the switchblade. I can still remember almost the whole story in my minds eye. What I bet you didn't know is that David Wilkerson (who died a couple of months ago) preached this.

(H/T Ben Armett)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


We are starting a new sermon series having preached all the way through Acts over the last year. Our next series is inspired by a book called A Christian Atheist: Believing in God but living if he doesn't exist. Here are some of the chapter titles of this book which is worth checking out:

When you believe in God but are ashamed of your past

When you believe in God but don't think you can change

When you believe in God but don't share your faith

When you believe in God but not in his church

Craig Groeschl planted about 15 years ago and it is an extraordinarily innovative and fruitful place. I have been enjoying his latest sermon series which is called Weird. You should give it a listen.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The bread tin

A man in my church is involved with a charity called 'The bread tin' and was speaking enthusiastically to me about it over the weekend. In these days, entrepreneurs and business/banking folk do not often get good press and I would like to give them some. This initiative seeks to bring together those with skills and resources to organisations and people who could benefit from them. Do mention it to those you know who have a philanthropic heart that they might like to combine with entrepreneurial passion. This seems to me to be a terrific idea.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The pastors job

James MacDonald founder of Churches helping churches said the best advice he was ever given was by his dad (who was also a pastor) was this:

"Feed the people, love the people and admit when you are wrong-that's the whole job"

He offers it during this panel discussion that I happened across and collects together more pastoral wisdom in these five men than you can shake a stick at. A great Vicar pal really loves Chuck Swindolls Insight for living podcast and you might too.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Beseech him

"This is what God can do. This is what God has done," Martyn Lloyd-Jones said. "Let us together decide to beseech him, to plead with him to do thus again. Not that we may have the experience or the excitement, but that his mighty hand may be known and his great name may be glorified and magnified amongst people"

God-sized vision: revival stories that strengthen and stir, Colin Hansen.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The purpose of the church

I have started passing the Elephant Room DVD's around to a few folk in my church. This is great way to encourage them to think through their doctrine.

On the inside cover of the DVD is this quote from James MacDonald:

"The purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is not to reach people, or feed the poor or any other of those important 'by-products.' The purpose of the church is to elevate and honour God's great Son in the minds and hearts of those who gather in His name. Period."

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Giuliani on Leadership

Some wonderful friends took me on a surprise birthday day out. It was such a great day and if you ever get the chance to have lunch in the Unicorn then you are in for a real treat. One of the things I did on our adventure was buy a copy of Leadership in the Oxfam bookshop in Henley. It was a snip at £2 for an almost new hardback edition that originally retailed at £16.99. I love a bargain.

I read this book very quickly and enjoyed it. I was able to read it fast because I am learning How to read a book. There is tons in this book that I was able to skip largely because I have little interest in the detail of being Mayor of New York. There are lots of names and details of roles, people and tasks that I simply couldn't care less about (like how the fire department runs)- so I passed them by. What did interest me is hearing the story of a man who lead a city and nation through one of its most troubled and difficult periods in recent times. Giuliani unsurprisingly has a tip or two on how to lead people which I thought I might learn from.

1. Public vs private: He makes the point at the start that there is a difference between the public and the private in life. 'What I have not included are details from my personal life. The dissolution of my marriage, for example, had nothing to do with my public performance and never affected it in any way' [x]. Really? It is here that we see the difference between secular leadership models and the biblical one. The Scriptures say that your private world does matter- your thoughts, your marriage, your sin, your parenting etc- are crucial credentials for leadership. In fact, these are the marks of qualification for any form of spiritual leadership in the Church. The secular leadership model runs differently and says 'Run our city even if it causes you to screw up your marriage'. With that caveat,  Giuliani seems to have run the city pretty well.

2. Be relentlessly prepared: When he took over the job of Mayor he resolved to learn by listening. A good principle: 'I decided to learn everything I possibly could about the workings of New York's city government'. I also like the question he asked which is perhaps one more leaders should apply. Here it is:

"If I were the Mayor what would you tell me to do?" [56]

Substitute the word 'Vicar' for 'Mayor' and ask the same question of your community and you may get some interesting answers.

3. Be open and honest: 'Every leader, whether in government or business or elsewhere need to internalise the idea that being open and honest about the enterprise is always the best course. Whenever there's a doubt whether to make public a damaging fact , err on the side of disclosure. That disclosure may have a momentary negative effect. But there are two compelling reasons to disclose it. First, it's eventually going to get out anyway, and will be worse because people will wonder what else one is hiding. Second, over time, open and honest forthright leaders build faith with investors and constituents, which is valuable when one eventually does require the public's confidence in the face of bad news' [92]

4. Be responsible: 'As a leader, you have to begin with the proposition that you are responsible, then analyse whether there s something you could have done to prevent disaster or prevent future disasters' [93]

5. Be ideological: 'Great leaders lead by ideas. Ideology is enormously important when running any large organisation.' [171]. He goes on to say ' A leader must not only set direction, but communicate that direction' [183]

6. Be prepared to listen to the other side: Dick Cheney gave him this advice, "You're going to have lots of times in which your principal has to make a decision, and there are three people on one side and three on the other. Go out of your way to make sure the side you don't favour gets a fair hearing'

7. Be committed to study, read and learn independently: Giuliani clearly applied the Covey principle of saw-sharpening. This is a good chapter.  'As usual I turned to a book 'How to write, Speak and Think more effectively', by Rudolf Flesch, which came in handy time and again as I sought to master the art of communication'. I have ordered a copy.

8. Be an optimist: 'Once a leader gives up, then everybody gives up, and there's no hope'. He goes on to say ' It's up to a leader to instil confidence, to believe in his judgement and in his people even when they no longer believe in themselves. Sometimes, the optimism of a leader is grounded in something only he knows-the situation isn't as dire as people think for reasons that will eventually become clear. But sometimes the leader has to be optimistic simply because if he isn't nobody else will be. And you've got at least to try to fight back, no matter how daunting the odds' [298]

9. Be a rebuilder: If this book has a backdrop it is obviously 9/11 and it is here that Giuliani's leadership rose to the fore. As he states, it was all but written before this event but in some ways it was the practices that had informed his life and so enabled him to rise to the challenge. At the end of the book he recalls being at the Memorial at Ground Zero with a Rabbi, 'At the Memorial Joseph Postanik gave perspective to that reality. "The eye is composed of light and dark, " he observed. But you only see from the dark part" [373].

You can read this book in less time than it takes to watch a DVD and if you lead anything there are certainly things to learn. Giuliani writes well, is very engaging and if you want a window into one of the most shocking moments in modern history then it will give you that and more.

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