Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Twelve steps to being a Vicar

Recently,  I read this very helpful article called Vocation: Discerning your calling by Tim Keller.

I, like most Vicars, speak quite often to people about 'Calling' and the steps that one might go through to end up leading a local church. As the wonderful Reggie Perrin used to hear said often when he worked for Sunshine Deserts, "I didn't get where I am today without......."

1. Thirteen years at Sunshine Deserts doing what people tell me was apparently 'a proper job'

2. Reading Romans

3. Reading 'Let your life Speak'

4. Reading 'The Letters of John Newton' particularly this one.

5. Reading John Pollock's books on John Wesley, D L Moody, Billy Graham and George Whitfield and Murray on Edwards

6. Reading Courageous Leadership

7. Being involved in a Church plant and working for my local church being 'first tested'

8. Listening to these talks on Galatians and encountering the Gospel of grace.

9. Applying Proverbs 10:55

10. Giving up my job in faith

11. Spending 40 days going through 'The purpose driven life'

12. Spending six weeks in solitude dry fly-fishing and praying here

I am sure every Vicar has a slightly different twelve and there are probably twelve more which I will save for another time. Oh, one other thing, love Jesus a lot.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Don't be daft

"But Christians make their evaluations in light of eternity. "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever ( 1 John 2:17). Pity the person whose self-identity and hope rest on transient things. Ten billion years into eternity, it will seem daft to puff yourself up over the car you now drive, the amount of money or education you have received, the number of books you owned, the number of times you had your name in the headlines. Whether or not you won an Academy Award will prove less important than whether you have been true to your spouse. Whether or not you were a basketball star will be less significant than how much of your wealth you generously gave away. The one "who does the will of God lives forever" (1 John 2: 17)

Don Carson, For the love of God (Vol 1)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What does prayer do?

"It is not so true that "prayer changes things" as that prayer changes me and I change things . God has so constituted things that prayer on the basis of Redemption alters the way in which man looks at things. Prayer is not a question of altering things externally, but of working wonders in a man's disposition"

Oswald Chambers, My utmost, Aug 28th.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, August 26, 2011

More than gold

It's time to start praying and planning for the Olympics as a wonderful opportunity for the gospel to be shared, communities to be loved and served, visitors from around the world to be welcomed and Jesus to be glorified. You can find out more at More than gold. Talk and pray about opportunities with those in your church and your church leader and find a 'gold champion' in your church who will get people inspired, chivvied on and motivated. Now's the time to get onto this...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"We're the minority and we have a message to change the world"

I have read the first chapter of The King Jesus Gospel and you should too. Scott McKnight has written enough in it to get a few hot under the collar or offering some opinion or but it should I hope drive each of us back to the Scriptures and to a heart for unity around the gospel as it was first preached. I look forward to reading this when it's published. Why not check afresh the presentations of the gospel preached in Acts as a study. Here's a couple of quotes.

I want now to say this in a stronger form: I would contend there is a minimal difference in correlation between evangelical 7 children and teenagers who make a decision for Christ and who later become genuine disciples, and Roman Catholics who are baptized as infants and who as adults become faithful and devout Catholic disciples. I am fully aware of the pointedness of this accusation, directed as it is at us who have for years contended that we are saved while Roman Catholics are (or may) not (be), but I am trying to make just that point. I’m not convinced our system works much more effectively than theirs. I am happy to be proven wrong, but being wrong here won’t change the central challenges of this book.

John Piper, one of America’s most influential pastors and authors— and deservedly so—at a big conference in April of 2010 asked this question: “Did Jesus preach Paul’s gospel?” To answer it, he examined the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18, where we find one of the few uses of the word justified in the Gospels. Then John Piper concluded that, yes, Jesus did preach Paul’s gospel of jus- tification by faith. I would defend the legitimacy of Piper’s question, and I would also agree that the makings of justification by faith are indeed found in that parable of Jesus. So, it is entirely fair to ask if Jesus preached a gospel like Paul’s. But ... to begin with, there’s the problem of order and even of precedence: Isn’t the more important question about whether Paul preached Jesus’ gospel? Moreover, there’s another problem: Piper’s assumption is that justification is the gospel. The Calvinist crowd in the USA—and Piper is the leading influencer in the resurgence of Calvinist thinking among evangelicals—has defined the gospel in the short formula “justification by faith.” But we have to ask whether the apostles defined the gospel this way. Or, better yet, when they preached the gospel, what did they say?

It is interesting that I have read this while I have been reading Building a discipleship culture. In this book, Mike Breen says the biggest question that keeps pastors awake at night is "Am I or have I answered the call on me and every Christian to make some disciples?" We do tons of things in our churches but have we actually made any followers of Jesus who live lives even a little bit like the life Jesus lead. The fact is we now live in a post-Christendom world. I love Breen's baptism observation about the debates of Christendom vs the debate of post-Chirstendom. I would contend that most people in the Church, certainly the C of E, have NOT YET realised that Christendom is over and this might start to explain why we are making so few disciples of Jesus. Anyway, I am sure the debate prompted by McKnight's book will be a good one and it is one that needs to be had.

"We're the minority and we have a message to change the world. Let's have a go at it. " Mike Breen

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What is the 'right' gospel?

There is quite a bit of chitter chatter over Scot McKnight's new book called The King Jesus Gospel which I am sure he is pleased about. McKnight writes one of the finest blogs around called Jesus Creed and is a theologian, author, biblical commentator, teacher and seemingly all round good and clever guy. The book explores the question 'What was the original gospel?' -that preached by Jesus and the Apostles in Acts. Presently,  he observes, gospel preaching in the pulpits of the Western church is seemingly rather ineffective in transforming lives and culture and engaging this generation. Why is this? You can read a sample here.

A few people have collected definitions of 'The gospel', most notably Trevin Wax,  but also recently Rachel Held Evans  (members of different tribes and quite interesting to compare definitions). I also enjoyed David Keen's musing called Firing a gun in the air about this question of the gospel and what it means when we preach it 'right'.

At times as a Pastor, I am learning that sometimes your best efforts, your most passionate preach of 'the gospel', your most fervent prayer and your deep and heartfelt sacrifice seems to achieve so very little in the lives of others. At least on the face of it. As the I thought about all this, I was reminded of some words Frederick Buechner wrote that gave me comfort and solace. Somehow, I seem to need them today:

"Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you . . . remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business . . . even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . "

If you want a good listen then 'What is the gospel?' may do you well. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

What God wants most from us

"Brothers and sisters, I really feel that I've heard from God about the future of our church. While I was away, I was calling out to God to help us- to help me- understand what he wants most from us. And I believe I've heard an answer.

It's not fancy or profound or spectacular. But I want to say to you today with all seriousness I can muster: From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church. What happens on Tuesday night will be the gauge by which we will judge success or failure because that will be the measure by which God blesses us.

"If we call upon the Lord, he has promised in his Word to answer, to bring unsaved people to himself, to pour out his Spirit among us. If we don't call upon the Lord, he has promised nothing- nothing at all. It's as simple as that. No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our times of prayer"

[Fresh wind, Fresh Fire, Page 27]

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fresh wind, Fresh Fire

I came across Steve Furtick watching the Nines. Something about him grabbed me and he seemed, at very least, to be full of faith. I then read his book called Sun Stand Still and when I was ill in bed earlier this year I watched 'This is how we changed the world' (the extraordinary story of how he planted his church). He then appeared on the Elephant Room and held his own in the company of big men with foreheads like flint. It is unlikely he will ever be able to be too unsound with friends like these. Recently, he spoke at the Willow Leadership Summit.  Not a bad CV for one who has barely turned thirty.

When I read 'Sun stand still' he has a chapter in it called 'Page 23 Vision' that quotes the book he read that set the course of his life. I underlined most of the page. It's called Fresh wind, Fresh fire and I distinctly remember at the time thinking that I really must get around to reading it. Anyway, last Sunday morning a friend, who now lives in Egypt of all places, walked into church and handed me this very book and told me I must read it. I told him the story of Page 23 and Furtick and said I would send him the passage from the book. Here it is:

"A few months after my commitment to Christ, someone slipped me a book called Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by a pastor in Brooklyn named Jim Cymbala. It was the first Christian book I ever willfully read. And it read like a highlight reel of the miracles God had performed in Cymbala's church. Addictions broken. Families restored. Souls saved. A city illuminated. I was mesmerized.

As I sat at my parents kitchen table with the book open, hands still wet from washing the dishes, I stumbled across a line that set the trajectory of my life. It was on page 23:

'I despaired of the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf'

It's hard to put into words how tightly that one sentence gripped my imagination. Somehow the Holy Spirit translated that line into a tangible impression in my teenage heart, and I knew: one day I'm going to start a church in a big city to reach people who are far from God"

In the last two weekends Steve Furtick and Elevation Church have baptised 2158 people. Really, 2158. I don't know about your church but that is a few more than ours. Do watch the inspiring film and do pray for this dear, passionate, aflame man and his wife Holly and their family. The enemy must be ticked......

Oh, and I am now reading the book.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

One for the pod: Three types of people

John Peters is a great and passionate preacher and is not one for the faint-hearted. He is a church planter and has a passion to equip and resource the church in this country and world-wide. In this sermon given on Sunday 5th June @ 6.30pm  (you will need to scroll to the right date) he preaches on Ephesians 4. John has a theory about three types of people in churches. These are:

1. Adventurers

2. Carers

3. Truth-tellers

I wonder what you will make of this and which, if any, you think you are? It all comes down to how you go to the cinema:)

The real 'Big Society'

Tom Wright has written an excellent piece in the Spectator:

"This is the real ‘Big Society’. It’s always been there; it hasn’t gone away. Check out the volunteers in the prison, in the hospice, in charity shops. It’s remarkable how many of them are practising Christians. They aren’t volunteering because the government has told them we can’t afford to pay for such work any more. They do it because of Jesus. Often they aren’t very articulate about this. They just find, in their bones, that they need and want to help, especially when things are really dire. But if you trace this awareness to its source, you’ll find, as often as not, that the lines lead back to a parish church or near equivalent, to the regular reading of the Bible, to the life of prayer and sacrament and fellowship. To the regular saying and singing of prayers and hymns that announce, however surprising or shocking it may be to our sceptical world, that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and active in a community near you."

Do please read this rest here.

Saturday blog-sweep

Keller on does God really change things

Is disproportionate punishment ever justified

An 18-minute plan for managing your day (h/t Dash house)

The Ease of a life without vision

Mike Breen's 'Saturday links'

Jesus, Paul and the People of God- an appreciation of Tom Wright

30 ways to bless your workplace

What do you wish you knew that you know now

The Forgotten Foundation

If only we'd listened to Rowan

One life

Friday, August 19, 2011

What are you hoping will save you?

'The Bible says that our real problem is that everyone of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus. Whether it's to succeed in our chosen field or to have a certain relationship- or even to get up and walk- we're saying, "If I have that, if I get my deepest wish, then everything will be okay." You're looking to that thing to save you from oblivion, from disillusionment, from mediocrity. You've made the wish into your saviour. You never use that term of course- but that's what's happening. And if you never quite get it, you're angry, unhappy, empty. But if you do get it, you ultimately feel more empty, more unhappy. You've distorted your deepest wish by trying to make it into your saviour, and now you finally have it it's turned you on.

Jesus says, "You see, if you have me, I will actually fulfil you, and if you fail me, I will always forgive you. I'm the only saviour who can do that". But it is hard to figure that out. Many of us first start going to God, going to church, because we have problems, and we're asking God to give us a boost over the hump so that we can get back to saving ourselves, back to pursuing our deepest wish. The problem is that we're looking to something besides Jesus as saviour. Almost always when we first go to Jesus saying, "This is my deepest wish," his response is that we need to go a lot deeper than that'

Tim Keller, The King's Cross

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Missional communities

One of the key realisations for the church in these days is the acknowledgement that we have become a post-Christian culture or some commentators are calling us pre-Christian. The implications of this is that our dialogue is no longer with a nation who view their lives or their morality through a Judeo-Christian paradigm. 'Proper morals' as Mr Cameron likes to call them is now a relative thing to most. Steve Addison in Movements that change the world starts his book with a wonderful account of the life of St Patrick and his extraordinary missionary endeavours. It is well worth a read.

Here's the big idea: "You are a missionary"  You might reply, "No I'm not, I live in a Christian country". Answer: "No, you don't".  That's why I am calling you this: "A missionary." Just like St Patrick.

If we start to view things in missional terms the change of thinking essentially requires a shift from 'You come to us' to 'We come to you' and there has never been a more important time for us to get to grips with this. It really has dramatic consequences for how we organise and see 'church' and what it is. It becomes rather less of a gathered weekly worship experience and requires instead living seven day a week shared lives. The latter is a much higher bar that will take some adjusting to- at least it does for me.

A few churches have awakened to this and Mike Breen is probably the leading proponent of this shift to mission-focussed groups and living. These are the churches that I know have enacted this change but I am sure there are more: St Thomas Crooks, St Mary's and their Clusters, St Barnabas Kensington (my former church), The Crowded House, The Point and St Andrew's Chorleywood.

If you want some reading on this: Breakout, Missional Renaissance, Breaking the missional code, Clusters, Total Church, Buiand The  Passionate Church should get you started.

After a few years of thinking about all this, I now believe that recent events put fresh challenge on what it means to truly engage people with the love of Jesus for the transformation of society. This film will give you a flavour. It's called 'What do missional communities look like?' and Jeff Vanderstelt's tears at the end of it really moved me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Inner Policeman

My Bishop was on Newsnight (from 8mins) and he quoted the Chief Rabbi and his suggestion that what we need is 'the inner policeman' as he commented on the riots. I have been reflecting on what this might be as he was not given the opportunity by Kirsty Wark to expand on what this actually is which I think he would have liked but sadly wasn't given by the BBC. Perhaps I might suggest a four-point plan on how this grace-inducing law enforcement mechanism may be attained. What, we might ask in these days of moral questioning, is the place of the Church and does it have any contribution to make that politicians (as Willet's declared), socialism (as Benn advocates) and the Chief Rabbi and many other able thinkers and leaders are clearly able to do. Rowan has got the ball rolling. This is the challenge for each one of us and here are a few thoughts.

1. The Declaration of the Gospel: The Christian gospel is not an option, one among many, for societies ills and the problem of the human heart. The gospel is the idea and is revealed in the person of Jesus who lived, died upon the Cross and is risen and who will return to judge the living and the dead. This is laid out  in the New Testament and I refer you again to the article I have already posted only because Keller says it better than me. It's called 'The Centrality of the Gospel'.

2. The Call to Repentance: If the church has a role, it is surely in calling both itself and the nation to repentance of sin and belief in Christ. What we saw on our televisions was not 'their' sin, it was all our sin and the sooner we and every echelon of society (rioters, bankers, students, MP's, young, old, you and me) wake up to this fact the better. We would all do well to commit 2 Chronicles 17 v 4 to memory and act upon it. Sin is of course personal but it can also be collective and there are times when everyone has to fess up (Jonah 3). Those ordained are commissioned to call people from their sin, self-love and self-preoccupation into belief and relationship with Jesus and into an encounter with the Holy Spirit. The challenge for all of us tasked with this is that any cursory reading of the Scriptures tells you that calling people to repentance never goes down terribly well. It's much easier not to and opt for a quiet life instead. In some ways, that is what David Cameron is doing in his judgement on morality, he just doesn't have the spiritual tools in his armoury to bring about the change he and all of us long for. What he needs to do is declare Jesus and the Cross and it's resurrection power but that's actually not his job- it's the Churches job. The trouble is, and we are all culpable here- the Church has not been doing it (as Andy Hawthorne so ably described at the National Prayer Breakfast). In so many ways, the church has been colluding theologically with secular culture for decades and in doing so it has become utterly irrelevant to many. In so many places, we offer nothing more than an incomprehensible (and largely unexplained to the non-adherant) religious ritual, a brief moral platitude given by someone wearing a dress and a badly played tuneless hymn. No surprise really the young men of this nation are not bashing our churches doors down. What it should have been doing and is happening in some places is calling people to repentance and faith and telling them about Jesus in a life-transforming way for this generation. Our inward-looking debates on woman bishops and human sexuality currently look pretty powerless and parochial in the face of wholesale societal meltdown. Let's all read afresh the ordinal in the BCP and perhaps ask ourselves if we have been faithful to the missional task it calls us to. Watching the footage it is clear that in so many ways I for one have failed.

3. The Telling of the Story of the Scriptures to our Children: The word of God is transformational but, as Amos warned (8:11-12), there are times when famines come over lands and nations. These are not famines of food but of a knowledge of the word of God and his statutes and decrees. Interestingly, what the people of God had done was forget the Scriptures and the law of the Lord in favour of material comfort and overt consumerism. Sound at all familiar? I have spent this year reading the whole of the Bible to our local primary. Week by week they have heard the story of Genesis to Revelation. At the end of the summer term, I was walking past a class and the kids literally shouted out and begged me to tell them a story from the Bible. Are all the kids Christians? By no means. But is there something that happens to every human heart when it is exposed to God's words that lays a foundation stone on which fruitful things can then be built?  Just ask the kids and the Head Teacher. At some point that no one quite remembers when it was, we stopped telling the story of the God of grace to our children (Duet 6:4-9) and it is just shame that nobody noticed. We are now reaping the horrors of this neglect.

4. The Need to Pray for Cultural Renewal: Abraham Kuyper discovered that ‘there is not a thumb’s-width in life about which Christ does not say: ”Mine!”’ I have, like you, been reading the commentators and to sum up their thoughts in case you haven't had time, "It's a complex issue". The mess we witness is down to a combination of education, family breakdown, fatherlessness, poverty, ill-discipline and hoplessness, drugs and alcohol, poor urban planning and a lack of welfare and social policy reform. Am I dim but isn't that what political parties write in those manifesto things that they promise to enact when we vote for them? To expect a quick fix is wholly unrealistic and Miliband is right to caution against knee jerk solutions. As the riots were happening, I spent last week with a lady from our church and two of her seven children and she is testimony to the fact that transformation happens one person at a time and rather slowly. Her life, if you asked her to tell you about it, has not been without many setbacks and traumas but it is also an incredible witness to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (the inner policeman does indeed have a name) that birthed new life and hope where formerly only desolation resided. Hybel's wrote in Courageous Leadership that the local church is the hope of the world and "It's the local church or it's light out." He's right. The Big Society it seems to me is essentially hoping to create local churches but without Jesus, the proclamation of the gospel and without the Holy Spirit's power. A laudable aspiration but one that is fundamentally flawed. The Big Society will in fact take place when Christian's take responsibility for whatever sphere of influence in our cultural life God has planted them in. This is the vision that Kuyper gave us. Transformation will occur as Christian's regain this vision for their work and lives being not just about there own personal fulfilment but about a much bigger goal of transforming society itself through sacrificial living and service of others. This will only come about through prayer.

Some next steps

Can I recommend a few things that you may find helpful as you reflect on the causes and implications our recently rioting land. Firstly, a must-read is Nick Davies's incredible Dark Heart: The shocking truth about hidden Britain . It is a few years old now but it will tell you about the realities for many of the poor and marginalised in our society and we can only assume, given recent events, that things have got worse not better. Secondly, reading The Spirit Level will help you see the problems caused when there is a large gap between the rich and the poor which is surely now firmly Britain's story. Next, reading Francis Schaeffer's The God who is there tells of what happens when truth becomes a relative thing. For a read about cultural transformation, Cultural Making will tell you much of the stuff Kuyper spoke of but in a contemporary and more accessible context. Finally, you should read Generous Justice to be left in the place of hope that all is not lost and that God does indeed have a plan and the offer of hope for all.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Proper ethics?

I am still reeling from the idea that what 'they' need is apparently 'proper morals'. Really? People have, according to the Prime Minister:

'a complete lack of responsibility, a lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing, a lack of proper ethics, a lack of proper morals'. 

How does he propose we fix that I wonder? Could all those with a lack of 'proper morals' please say "I" (Luke 5:31).  The PM has presumably remained silent.

What about the radical idea that it might in fact be a lack of Jesus and a wholesale rejection of the Gospel by the nations liberal cultural elite. It's just a thought.

If you see Mr Cameron do give him a copy of The Centrality of the Gospel and we might all do well to read it carefully and prayerfully.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Andy Hawthorne addressing the National Prayer Breakfast six weeks ago

I spent the week being taught the story of Joseph under the title 'God's in charge'. Listening to this speech given in July don't you think God and his plans might be one step ahead of the chattering classes and all their theories? Andy Hawthorne runs the amazing Message Trust and The Eden Project.

Do something

I have been thinking about a quote I read recently. My context is of course the Church of England.

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living"

Jaroslav Pelikan

(H/T Theresurgence)

I have been wondering how many Bishops and Priest's in the C of E have ever been to visit Soul Survivor, which has now been running for nineteen years. That's not a criticism it's simply a question. A recent survey of my Diocese told me that its churches have less than 1% of people aged 17-18 in its congregations. Sadly, we also recently rationalised the post entitled 'Diocesan youth advisor'. The average age in our churches nationally is over 60. How many of our churches are prioritising reaching young people in their mission? Do I prioritise it is currently a pressing question for me. And if I am going to what is that going to look like?

I have to say that spending the week with our 25 teenagers in the mud and rain is my favourite week of the year. It really is. It fuels me for the other 364. Just thinking of all God has done in the past few days moves me to tears. Not least, thinking of the hundreds of kids stirred by the Spirit to follow Jesus. Hundreds. Now were they all genuine salvations? Only He knows that. But if we ever tire of seeing young people saved we are in the wrong game. Go get another job. Really. Do something else.

Here's an idea. If you lead a church or have a heart for young people hop in your car next week for the day and visit Shepton Mallet. Go to a few seminars, talk to youth leaders, worship with 12k young people and witness the Holy Spirit powerfully at work in teenagers.

We are called in the BCP to 'declare the faith afresh in each generation'. We need a fresh look at what 'afresh' means. It's urgent. I still passionately believe the local church is the hope of the world and in the face of the riots if you are part of any church you might like to do the following:

1. Watch the footage again
2. Gather your church to pray.
3. Gather as a PCC/ Eldership/Leadership Team and critically evaluate your mission to young people. Don't have any other item on your agenda. What's working, what's not. How much of your resource do you allocate to children? When was the last time you saw a teenager saved? Imagine what a 17 year old thinks of the service you put on. Ask them. Do you have a youth worker or children's worker and if not why not? (just for once don't say we haven't got any money and let God worry about that). Who speaks for teenagers on your PCC?
4. Ask the question 'What could we do?' Open questions are good and allow you to be creative and dream some "what-ifs". Write down all the "what-ifs" on a flip chart.
5. Maybe contact Kick London or YFC or YWAM or The Church Army or HTB Youth or Oasis or Tear Fund Youth  or Fusion or UCCF or Open Doors Youth or Soul Action or The Message Trust or XLP and see what they are up to and see how they might help.
5. Turn all your ideas into some sort of plan. Call it the 'We must do something' plan.
6. Ask the church to give of time and money and gifts to resource it.
7. Pray some more and then expect the kingdom to come as you live out the plan by faith.

Now is the time folks. Now is the time.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

If you watch one thing on the riots coverage make sure it is this

I have just spent a week in field with 12K teenagers. The young people of this land are very much on my heart and despite all the bad press I am prayerful and hopeful of the good that will be worked out of this disaster and pain by Christian young people for their generation. It's well worth spending 15 minutes watching this.

Patrick Regan of XLP was meant to be speaking to us instead he is now helping the government. Do pray for him as he witnesses to gospel hope to the leaders of our land.

Saturday blog-sweep

Faith based youth work finally gets a bit of press

J I Packers preaches John Stott's Memorial Sermon

Everyone is welcome

Top 10 reasons for London riots (according to leading commentators)

Riot statements from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London

Hybel's five words summarising the core of Christianity


Four questions leaders should ask themselves

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Radical change

"Count Nicolas von Zinzendorf, a German nobleman who was born into great power and privilege and lived from 1700 to 1760, was one of the founders of the Moravian Church. Over the years he spent his wealth down to practically zero doing good deeds, pouring himself out for others. Why? What happened that motivated him so radically? As a young man of nineteen, he was sent to visit the capital cities of Europe in order to complete his education. One day be found himself in the art gallery of Dusseldorf gazing at Dominico Feti's 'Ecce homo', a portrait of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. This image of the suffering Lord was very moving to Zinzendorf. Underneath the painting the artist had penned an inscription, words that Jesus might say to any one of us: "All this I did for thee, what doest thou for me?"

Tim Keller, The King's Cross

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


'....even the church is full of Jameses and Johns, go-getters and status-seekers, hungry for honour and prestige, measuring life by achievements, and everlastingly dreaming of success"

John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 286-7

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The true cost

Simon Walker has some interesting thoughts in his excellent book on the things we have witnessed in our nation over these past days:

"The true cost of losing social capital

Healthy societies have always relied to a great extent on their social capital to contain their underclass; but if that capital is reduced, more people—young, elderly, sick, unemployable—slip down, into the ‘nether world’ inhabited by the likes of Paris’s invisible old people in 2003 and the poor of New Orleans in 2005. As I have argued above, in the absence of the informal social care provided by our social capital, the state has to take responsibility for policing, supporting and caring for the community. It is inevitable that, for both financial and logistical reasons, it is not going to be able to do so.

If it is true that the underclass in the West is being swollen both by the dispirited migrant communities and as a result of the loss of our social capital, we are in trouble—for two reasons, one economic and the other to do with security. First, our society will not be able to afford the cost of care for all those who need it. Second, it will become increasingly difficult (as well as expensive) to police the global underclass, which is the primary source of the growing criminal population, dehumanized by a mix of cynicism, boredom, hopelessness and anger. Dealing with this population worldwide will be far costlier than addressing the causes. However, the really insurmountable obstacle to containing the global underclass is that it now wields an unconventional power of its own.

Ironically, the very technology that so often we have assumed to be accelerating our progress towards a more humane society is also enabling the forces of chaos to work towards its destruction. Mobile phone technology, for example, allows al-Qa’ida’s loose network to coordinate its activities and to manage its funds. Technology is morally blind, and the opportunities the Web provides for invisible, untraceable flow of information helps a group of terrorists to operate just as much as it helps a group of social entrepreneurs."

Simon P Walker, Book Three, The Undefended Leader Trilogy: Leading with Everything to Give, Lessons from the Success and Failure of Western Capitalism, 2008 and 2011

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Esperanza Trust

My friend Jenny is involved with a great charity called The Esperanza Trust that we are supporting through our church this year. She convinced me to do the voice-over for the excellent film below which was really fun to do (I'm Antonio:). In the face of global financial crisis, fear and civil disturbance why not be utterly counter-cultural and kingdom-minded and give some money away to this fruitful work. You can donate on-line.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Two paradigms of prayer

"The paradigm that is far more commonly accepted among Christians today is what I call the "Get things from God" paradigm. What's the point of prayer? Well, to get something from God He might be willing to give. And that something usually is a blessing that, if given, will make our lives more comfortable. A better job, more money, a loving spouse, expanded ministry-the list is long. So we pray much. We babble on.

There is another way. The second paradigm for prayer, anticipated by the prophets (see especially Habakkuk), taught by Jesus and practiced by Paul, sees prayer as a unique opportunity to get to know God better, to surrender gladly to His will and to depend on the Spirit to advance His will through a way of relating to others. We might call it the "Get to know God Better" paradigm for prayer.

....This book is a call to shift our paradigm of prayer. After buying into the wrong one for so long living in a Christian culture that promotes and assumes it in a thousand ways, the shift may be difficult for many of us, it's a new paradigm. It may be a brand-new thought- and a radical one- that prayer is getting more of God rather than getting more from God"

[The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb, Page 70-71]

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Papa Prayer

"If we remain in self, if we're not drawing on God's love as the most treasured reality in our lives, we'll treasure something else-and we'll pray for it. It may never cross our minds that we're praying for a second thing, that we're using God, even trying to control Him, more than worshipping Him. The danger is especially great when the thing we are praying for is the promised perk of the spiritual life.

Listen to this warning of Oswald Chambers: "We utilise God for the sake of getting peace and joy, that is, we do not realise Jesus Christ, but only our enjoyment of Him. This is the first step in the wrong direction."

Do we see the danger Chamber's finger is on? It's very subtle. Jesus Christ does satisfy our souls, but not always right away. Sometimes we have to trust that one day, not now we'll know beyond doubt that  God's requirement to remain in Him perfectly aligns with the deepest desire of our hearts. In the moment, however, giving priority to our relationship with God may not produce the maximum satisfaction in our souls that we legitimately desire.

If we value our satisfaction in Christ more than Christ Himself, we remain committed to ourselves and not Christ. We may think we're committed to Him, and in a sense we are- but only as a means to an end. The end is not Christ's glory but our satisfaction.

We may think we're worshipping God and praying in the Spirit when all we are doing is using Him, as a woman who wants a baby might use a man to gain what she believes is her greatest good. The fruit of the relationship is more treasured than the relationship itself. When the provider fails to provide, when the woman doesn't get pregnant, or when the joy isn't felt, the temptation to look elsewhere to gain what we want becomes irresistible. Or we pray harder to win the provision from the provider. And relational praying means nothing."

[Page 57]

The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb is the best book on prayer I have read in a long while. I may go so far as to say it will transform your understanding and enjoyment of prayer.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Does God change his mind?

One of the most joyous things I do also happens to be one of the least attended. On a Wednesday, our older folks gather for worship and yesterday I agreed with John Stott in saying that these times of corporate worship can be ones of truly being caught up in 'wonder, love and praise' . This was especially so as we sung the last verse of 'Crown him with many crowns.'

The text expounded was just one verse that I had never really contemplated before- Mark 14:16

"And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover"

Seemingly, the disciples were rather surprised that all was going according to plan, but Jesus wasn't.

After this, I went for lunch and a friend asked me this question:

"Do you think God changes his mind?"

Of course, the follow up to that is (if the answer is no) is what on earth is the point in praying? John Stott who arose for 70 years at 5am to pray needn't have bothered. Should he just have had a lie in? I directed my friend to an interesting essay entitled 'The Sovereignty of God and Prayer' which is worth spending some time musing over. It was written in 1974 and I noticed its author seems not to have needed to update it since. I would certainly include this man in the big guns of prayer (see the list later)

I make no claims to be able to answer this question in one post but my thought is this. What if prayer and worship are not about us but are in fact about God? Stunning thought I know. Prayer may be about communion with Him, contemplation of Him, thankfulness to Him and reverence for Him.

The truth is we don't by nature want it to be about Him- we want it to be all about us. That's why we find sermons like these so seductive: God's plan for your life, A dream on your heart, What are you looking for? and Patient endurance gets you to the summit. We really do love the word 'you' in a sermon title and have an insatiable appetite for such things. Twelve thousand and counting.

The truth is that in the Protestant tradition we do tend towards the individualistic. My quiet time, my needs, my church, my congregation, and what God is saying to me. It's why, bar the few exceptions like John Stott, Protestants in the main are a pretty prayer-less bunch, as someone noted as a handful of us gathered yesterday to pray. Busy people with a busy life-plan to live out for ourselves and praying are unhappy bedfellows.

If you want to know about prayer what you need is a Catholic. Catholics have a sense of something larger than themselves and an understanding of the church as 'us' rather than 'you' that we Protestant's do find hard to get our heads around. To truly grow in prayer what you really need is a Balthasar on Prayer (Eugene Peterson's recommendation of the best book ever written on prayer) or an Augustine on Confessions or a Theresa of Avila's Interior Castle or a Sister Wendy on Prayer or Thomas a Kempis Imitation of Christ (A stable for John Stott) or indeed the catchily titled Edwards (a Puritan rather than a Catholic) treatise 'A humble attempt to promote explicit agreement and visible union of God's people in extraordinary prayer'. You won't find these authors promising you the world with a glitzy cover and their smiling tanned faces beeming at you from the shelf of a Christian book store. These are books that take a bit of reading, a lot of contemplation and will definately require a bit of time (something most people tell me they have none of.) However, they are well worth some discerning investment. These are the big guns so if you want an answer to the question "Does God change his mind?" you might want to start by asking them rather than me I'm afraid.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Walk: It's that simple

I once heard Tim Keller say the Christian life is about walking not summersaults. A summersault, he said, is a spiritual moment, an God-encounter, a kairos incident and these are good and important but you can't make progress by summersaults alone. To make progress, you must walk: left-right, left-right, left-right. He then went on to explain that the left and right of walking are quite simply reading the Bible and praying. Want to grow in love and faithfulness with Jesus? Then discipline yourself to do a bit of walking every day.

John Stott was the 'walker' of walkers and he taught countless numbers the simple discipline of reading the Bible and praying. Do let this account of his daily routine inspire you to be a person who rises early to seek the Lord. My old Vicar always used to say (and I think he borrowed the thought from Stott) if you want to grow in wisdom and faith the one thing you need above all else is an alarm clock. Set is early, get out of bed, open your bible and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

Here is John Stott's regime that we would all do well to echoe (some of you might need to go to bed earlier to achieve it:) :

"The day begins for Stott at 5 a.m. He swings his legs over the side of his bed and starts the day in prayer:
 Each morning, having read three chapters of Scripture and meditated prayerfully over them, he pulls out his prayer notebook, takes off the rubber band, and prays for friends, family, ministries, and even strangers.
Inside the notebook is a daily prayer list that is under constant revision. In minuscule print, the pages are divided into four columns: for evangelism or new converts, for people who have decisions to make, for the sick and bereaved, and for miscellaneous requests.
Each day he reads through, prays over, and amends these four columns. Beneath the columned pages is a short stack of prayer guides. Stott prays daily through the requests of up to seven different organizations to which he is connected.
Finally, having worked through the various handouts and pamphlets, he comes to an old, well-worn page with a handwritten one- month calendar. Each day has a list of names, some dating back 30 years, some just a few months.
For Stott, prayer is the rhythm of each day. From the discipline of regular intercession in the morning, to spontaneous prayer at the end of a pastoral visit, to bent knees shortly before bed, each day is marked by simple, unpretentious, direct, and persistent prayer."

(H/T Dreaming beneath the spires)

What an inspiration this dear man is and will continue to be for centuries to come.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Does God want your dreams to come true?

Here is something I have been pondering and that I want you to reflect on with me on. A pal told his friend about Jesus in our local pub and recommended he attend our church. As it turned out, his friend decided to get on the train from Richmond and go to Hillsong and I confess I was royally pleased to hear of anyone with a seeking heart and a preparedness to go to church anywhere. The result of the visit to Hillsong completely amazed my friend as his pal arrived back in the pub after his church-going experience on Sunday and declared at the top of his voice to all who would listen that it's all about the grace of God. He had filmed the worship on his mobile and was overwhelmed by the welcome he received and the joy, singing and dancing he witnessed. I know my local pub well and it is usually me declaring the grace of God to its regulars so this really is a truly unusual turn of events.

Last night, I decided I would listen to the sermon called 'Living in the grace God has given you' that had caused this first time visitor to Hillsong such exuberance and enthusiasm. As it happens, it was given by Brian Houston, the founder of Hillsong, who happened to be visiting London from Sydney. Now, he is a great communicator and preached verse by verse from Corinthians but I have to say one or two things caused me much food for thought as I listened and gave me some context for why the grace of God was declared with such passion later in the pub garden. One reader I know is doing his Phd on preaching and I wonder what he will make of it? When we are told God is concerned about our dreams coming true who wouldn't be full of beans for a message like that? Who doesn't want ten blessings? They have incredibly (or perhaps not so once you listen) managed to gather a congregation of 12k people in London alone around messages such as these. Our first time visitor will I have no doubt been 'gossiping the gospel' (to use Michael Green's expression) over his garden fence this week, and will be inviting his friends to visit with him. Twelve thousand has become twelve thousand and one and rising. Better a life spent in a church with sometimes questionable doctrine than in the pub with none at all? Or not? Actually, I know of those in pubs with sounder doctrine than most of those in church. Go figure.

Dear readers, I know you are a theologically astute bunch and many of you know the Gospel and love Jesus deeply. You also love this great city and long to see it prosper and come alive to Christ and Hillsong are as committed to that as any I know. But you know enough to know that to preach the Gospel there are some components that are unavoidable for each one of us on our road to salvation. There is the need for us to face the unpleasant subject of sin with all its consequences and realities for us and our neighbour, there is the need to caution people to count the cost of following Jesus, there is the mandate that salvation comes by repentance and belief and finally, there is the stark truth that the way into the Kingdom life is through the Cross and the Cross alone. This is an offence to all but an unavoidable one that must be proclaimed with humility, courage, honesty and grace that ultimately brings life and freedom. As you listen, do look out for mention of these things in this message. Put yourself in the shoes of a first time listener and what they are being promised and what they might be hearing. What are you being promised as a follower of Jesus? Of course, God is inclusive, generous, grace-filled and faithful but he is this to us because of his shed blood. All of us must eventually bow the knee and be made aware of own poverty of Spirit to enter in. That is the only way and it is, as we are told by Jesus, a narrow one that not many walk.

I confess I am torn. I am with Paul when he declares in Philippians 1:18 that he is glad that Jesus is being preached and I too most certainly am. Gary Clarke is seemly a very gifted and inspiring leader who has sacrificed much to plant this now flourishing church in Central London. I also know that Hillsong is having an impact globally with acts of justice and great compassion through A21. Many of their songs sung in our churches are tremendously good and some have been a great blessing and strength to me personally during difficult seasons. These songs are the fruit of wonderfully gifted and wholehearted worshippers and songwriters raised up by Hillsong- even American Idol have Shouted to the Lord. They are also reaching the young of this city and others around the world where many churches and denominations are quite clearly not. They have so much to teach the C of E about worship and welcome and being a place of hope, youth and life. But Paul also said rather strongly we are to declare Christ and him crucified which I know Hillsong do do. I have heard Gary do it with great passion and power. But our doctrine should not be something that is hit and miss and this experience landed for me on the miss side. I long to see the good (I can hear the Sydney Anglicans tutting from here:) and you might I hope disagree or agree and I genuinely would like to hear your thoughts.

A friend who runs a charity ministering to the needs of single mums and abused and abandoned women has been reading Death by love that I recommended to her. She told me yesterday how struck she has been reading one of the chapters by the reality that it is our sacrifical lives that are meant to bring glory to God and that we greatly misunderstand the gospel if we think that the purpose of the Cross is God's desire to bring glory, comfort, success and wealth to us. Incidentally, she recommends that everyone reads this book, I do too-buy it now. I was very mindful of this conversation as I listened last night. So there is a final thing I want you to do for me. I want as a comparison for you to listen to Doing missions when dying is gain. This is a sermon that I return to often and it always makes me weep every time I listen to it. Same Bible as Hillsong but a rather different take on the gospel. I am getting our mission team who are off to Uganda in a few weeks to listen to it before they go.

On Sunday night I too preached. Not to a mega-church but to the faithful few of my flock. I talked about worry and trouble and Jesus. I told people about Paul who was shipwrecked, flogged and ended up getting beheaded. Was this his dream scenario one wonders? I spoke of the Cross. I did the best  I knew how to be faithful to the Scripture but others will have to be the judge whether I was or not. As I sat down, it struck me as rather an un user-friendly and strong message. However, at the end of the service, one young man came up to me and asked me to pray for him to become a follower of Jesus.  I told him he had to pray for that not me. I looked him in the eyes and told him that following Jesus would be very costly to him, I told him that he must die to his old self, I told him that he must repent of his sin and once he has done that I told him I was confident he would experience the Holy Spirit's seal of grace, son-ship and life eternal. His tears as he prayed were holy tears. I dared not promise him an easy time, I have no idea if he will run the race with perseverance (I have no idea if I will either) and I don't think his dreams will come true in the way he currently dreams them. They are currently full of his idolatry as all of ours are at our point of new birth. I do know though, that the God of grace does unimaginably more than we can ask or imagine but He seems to do it through trouble and suffering but also amid much rejoicing and joy unspeakable.

I have I hope been balanced and I hope I have left this open to some debate

Where do you land?

What do you think?

What strikes you as you listen to both these sermons side by side?

Which moves your heart and passion for Jesus more?

Is it OK to be a bit health and wealth if the fruits seem so widespread and impactful on so many?

Is it better to be very sound but very dead?

Have Hillsong got things to teach us?

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Story of Keith Green

I am always interested in people who tell me the book that has most impacted them- the most recent recommendation is Keith Green's The cry in the wilderness.

I have a friend who reminds me a bit of Keith Green. He is a seeker of truth, he gives truth to others (including me) and I so value it, he is an evangelist, he is a reader and he sometimes gets angry and fed up. He knows his life is far from perfect and that he gets things wrong and that he needs grace (Matthew 5:3) but Jesus appears to be using him to impact many in an eternally significant way by making the Gospel known to the sort of people who most need to hear it (Mark 2:13-17).

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