Thursday, December 22, 2011

Watchful and Thankful

Do you ever do something that seems a complete waste of time that you think even the stolen locust verse will fail on? Yesterday, I drove to the 'Parking shop' in Twickenham to get a new permit only to find it had closed. Then I sat in a traffic jam for nearly an hour. Now, like you, I have a lot on and I don't know if anyone's told you but 'this is a very busy time of the year' for us Vicars what with all those oranges, candles and midget gems :) Anyway, I turned on Radio 4 and you'll never believe it but there was a program about John Peel called John Peel's Shed. What are the chances of that in the week I write about him ? I have to tell you it was pure radio joy and the story about 'Sandra' is a complete must-listen. The narrator is a comedy genius in my opinion- don't miss it.

Now onto weightier things. I also listened to this interview with Jerram Barr about The Heart of Prayer which blessed me. What a delightful and wise man who also wrote the super The Heart of Evangelism 

Here's a thought for some pre-2012 praying.

'Devote yourselves to prayer being watchful and thankful' 
Col 4 v 2

1. Be Devoted: Sometime over Christmas gather your family (or some friends) and devote a segment of time to prayer. Organise it or it won't happen. Maybe allocate a meal to talk things through and pray at the end.

2. Be Watchful: Do a review of the year. Let your kids reflect on what they have learnt in life and what has been going on in their hearts. Ask them how church has been and school and their friendships. Really listen (turn off your phones!) What have they struggled with and what has gone well. What have they read in the Bible that has impacted them or what talks can they remember. How have they been praying? Has Jesus answered? If you want to do an amazing thing in 2012 read The Jesus Story Book Bible with your kids. Truly DO THIS AS A FAMILY OR ON YOUR OWN (EVEN AS A GROWN-UP IF YOU WANT A FRESH WAY TO READ SCRIPTURE) IT WILL BLESS YOU UNIMAGINABLY. I have been reading it to our Primary School and we have near-on unleashed a revival. All the kids are now badgering their secular parents for Bible stories. How cool is that.

Anyway - share your 'watchful' stuff of the year and then pray together. Be honest. If you are a parent do be sure to repent in front of your kids. In your 'watchful' segment where you have messed up tell them. Admit fault and be honest with your failures and struggles. If you don't and are not in the habit of doing this you will just raise pious religious kids who think Jesus is about rules and having to get it all right. Religious kids almost all end up rejecting faith when they leave home.

As an aside, I have been blessed this year by Note to self which I have on Kindle via my phone. I recently read a chapter in a bad moment shopping in the Westfield Centre. A chapter every now and then, particularly on those bad days, really reminds you of grace. It's a real tonic.

3. Be Thankful: At another meal why not have an annual review of thanks. You could even be a bit American and start a Christmas tradition of having a thanksgiving meal where you do this. It might be become a nice family tradition if you always cook the same food etc. There is so much to say thanks for isn't there? Again, get the kids doing this thankful thing early.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Where does wisdom come from?

‘We are face to face here with one of the most vital subjects in connection with our Christian life. Prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul. Man is at his highest when, upon his knees, he comes face to face with God....It is the highest activity of the human soul and therefore it is at the same time a true test of a man’s spiritual condition'

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 
The Sermon on the Mount, Page 361

I have written quite a bit about Proverbs over the years. If you were looking for a book of the Bible to immerse yourself in during 2012 you could do worse than choose its wisdom. 'Your plan God's plan' proved a popular talk so did 'The Heart' which a friend listened to yesterday. Also, it's good to ask at this time of year as one buzzes about with credit cards and your lists a simple question, "How's my prayer life and my time in the Scriptures?" and ask of your church, "Are we/ have we been/ are we intending to be devoted to praying and what does that look like?" (Col 4:2).

Here are a few more recommendations for some 2012 wisdom preparation and a year end heart prayer and soul repair:

The Two Great Tests: In a season where you may very well be overwhelmed by the godless idolatry this talk will give your heart peace and perspective.

The Healing of Anger: If we are at all in danger of emotions spilling over it is at this time of year. Regrets and pain so easily surface in tandem with sherry, fairy lights and mince pies. This is worth a listen.

Planning: If you are in a mode to get better prepared and sorted for the year ahead you would do well to listen to this. It offers tons of practical wisdom on how to get all your ducks better in a row.

Friendship: Here is some wisdom on friends. As you scan your address book and wonder who to send a card to (if you send them at all) this might help you reflect on a God's eye view of friendship.

The Wounded Spirit: Sometimes we have to admit to ourselves that all is not well. We are all to a greater or lesser degree a bit wounded. Sin does that whether we planned on it or not. Facing our issues, habits or past is hard but much better it is faced than denied for another year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Nativity Story (through kids eyes)

Mike Breen recommends this film for your Christmas Eve services....

Who do we do our Carol Services for?

If you were a certain age in the 1980's and liked music there was only one man to listen to. His name was John Peel. He had the remarkable quality of being the most innovative and contemporary DJ, yet managed to be well into his 60's before Radio 1 retired him off. I think he would laugh at the thought that he now has an inaugural lecture (what does inaugural mean again- first I think?). Anyway, he now has one and Pete Townsend gave the first speech. He bemoaned the lack of innovation in music and had a good old pop at iTunes. You can watch a bit here.

Why am I telling you this? Well perhaps, like me, you will have been to or laid on a Carol Service. These days you seem to have a choice- traditional or innovative-and which do you think 'Church folk' generally prefer? You guessed it. So often for the people who don't come to church we lay on a 'traditional' service we think that 'they' really like that 'they' then rarely come again to. Eh? I thought 'they' liked it. Is it not that 'church folk' like Carol services and post-Christendom folk don't know what they like or what a Carol Service is 'supposed' to be because the truth is they increasingly aren't coming to church? The vital statistics are telling us that.

This year we decided to have a service that was more representative of what we normally do on a Sunday. We tried not to worry if 'they' would like it and took a risk on more traditional folk not getting their carol fix. We reworked Carols with alternative tunes, added some creativity, some testimony and then had a good old non-seeker friendly worship experience right bang in the middle of it all. Do you know what happened? People seemed to encounter God. 'They' as far as I could discern seemed to love it. We didn't get it completely right by any means and quite a few have given me 'views' and I am still reflecting, hence this piece, but I do think the risk was worth it.

Now I know we don't want to encourage this sort of thing catching on in the C of E at Christmas but can I give a John Peelesque nudge for a corporate try at something authentic, worshipful, unapologetic and dare I suggest even 'new'. If Pete Townsend was giving the church some advice he might ask us about our A & R department and say, "Why don't you lot write some new Carols and sign some new bands?". "New?". Whatever next. As Matthew Parris said in his great article in the Times on Saturday we need to be a people who 'Stand up for our faith' and maybe that means some innovation whilst also clearly declaring the Gospel. Did I mention that the average age in the pew in the C of E is 61 and most, it's fair to say, do not enthuse about 'new' as the late John Peel used to. Never mind singing about a bleak midwinter- we're actually in one! As Craig Groeschl wonderfully says,

“All people [or churches] end up somewhere in life, but few end up there on purpose.” 

I caught some of a debate about worship and 18 minutes in Piper is asked the question "Is worship for believers or non-believers?"  No prizes for guessing his answer. I have been pondering this one for our Church plant. I think we should also be asking this question especially about our Carol Services don't you? Are they for us or are they for 'them'? However, is not the most important thing surely that our worship is in fact for God and what really matters is not if we like it or our visitors like it but that God likes it. That's the real test. How do we know the answer? Well, that's probably a different post and in the meantime you would do well to read this excellent book called Now to him: putting Christ back at the centre of our worship.

As I've been on about music, the Reformissionary has just released his Best albums of 2011 which are always worth checking out. I think John Peel would enjoy it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ten things as a starter kit for 2012

A while back I wrote 30 things for a soul MOT.

Now is the time to start preparing our heart and minds for the things that may lie ahead in 2012. Here is a starter kit that might bless you.

1. Listen to 'Your plans God's plans'

2. Watch this

3. Plan to start using a journalling bible

4. Read 'Why work?' over Christmas.

5. Load these podcasts and sermons that have blessed me in 2011 onto your phone/pod for 2012: a. Keller on most things 2. Pete Grieg on praying 3. Jonathan Martin on church and life 4. Steve Furtick on the lost 5. Platt on discipleship 6. Groeschl on innovation and evangelism 7. Driscoll on Proverbs 7. MacDonald for teaching 8. Rich Nathan on growing and culture 9. John Peters on the Spirit 10. Ponsonby and Piper on Romans

6. Get hold of 'For the love God' and start using it on January 1st

7. Read 'How does the disciple live'

8. Plan a morning of solitude, Scripture and silence having listened to Running with the witnesses.

9. Listen to this while you peel your Christmas potatoes and stuff the turkey.

10. Read 'Three Questions on productivity' and 'Productivity is really about Good Works'. If you are one of those "This is the year to get organised"people then read 'Getting things done' and these posts on how to do it. If you are content to remain a bit higgledypiggledee (how do you spell that?) then just ignore Point 10.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What does it look like to repent and believe?

Telling others is quite a passion in our church at the moment (and I hope always will be). A courageous lad convinced his RS teacher at school to let him speak about his Christian faith and then allow his class to ask any questions they wanted. The whole lesson was allocated to this. I don't know about you but I was doing lots of things when I was 14 and I have to say apologetics wasn't one of them. He showed this great testimony to his classmates. I also suggested this resource of Keller answering questions as part of his preparations.

Our Carol Service today @ 6.30pm here. All welcome.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

For the pod: Why we all need the gospel

I don't think I have ever shared this as a 'For the pod' quite simply because it is such a bone-shaking sermon called 'Why we all need the gospel'. I just love it that Francis Chan has the pluck to go to Piper's church and suggest that just maybe the pastors listening (it was a pastors conference!) may not actually be saved.

David Keen wrote this about a Chan quote I posted recently

"I hate the internet, life would be much more comfortable if I didn't keep coming across stuff like this."

Hold on to your hat David.............

Saturday Blog-sweep

Is Cameron right to call Britain a Christian country? Cranmer has the whole speech for you to read

Kingdom People's Ten Favourite Reads of 2011

Massive on-line collaboration and Must-reads on the psychology of being (via J R Briggs)

4 ways to move ahead in the New Year instead of remaining stuck

Rules for Reverends now exceeds 100!

Jeff Vandersfelt on How to share your faith and on Life on mission

It's not that I have to it's that I get to

Churchill for pastors: 5 Leadership lessons (via Dash House)

"One crazy road trip where Jesus is the driver" says Mark Driscoll. Don't miss watching this insane documentary about the history of Mars hill. "Money stifles innovation" he says and the account of how Mars Hill got on the web is fascinating. If you want to plant a church you should probably watch this and if you don't once you've watched this you never know, one day, who knows? It couldn't be more crazy than this :)

How to apply Scripture when it does not apply directly and personally to you (via Preacher smith)

Why studying the Bible won't (necessarily) change your life

Tim Keller on coming together on Culture

How to use the iPad 2 as a typing machine (via Jesus Creed)

34 Hitchens quotes that probably won't offend you (the picture of him in the gym is utterly priceless!)

(via 22 Words)

Friday, December 16, 2011

The end of each year as the end of your life

I can't stop thinking of Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) this morning, a remarkable and engaging man and this obituary is worth reading.

Why plant churches? is the most read thing I've written all year amazingly. Today, I am meeting with the Bishop of Southwark to talk about church planting and mission which I am looking forward to. He has spiritual oversight over the whole of South London down to Reigate, Croydon, Greenwich, Richmond (about 7 million people the vast majority of whom have no contact whatsoever with the institutional church yet reside in its parishes). He certainly needs our encouragement and prayer in these days.

Nick Spencer wrote this in the Guardian on Wednesday in relation to the new British Social Attitudes Survey.

'I feel it is incumbent on me to admit the following: the latest instalment of the annual British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey reads like a nightmare for anyone (like me) who is concerned about the future of the Church of England. Chapter 12 of BSA 28, published last week, feels more like an Anglican epitaph than a chapter of social analysis.'

Piper has some sobering thoughts and reflections in this film at the end of another year and his quote landed with me as I reflect about Hitchens, the C of E and think about my own 2012 and all there is to be done. It might make me (and you?) more focussed on what we should really all be doing and prioritising if we imagined next year as our last, as this one turned out to be for Hitchens.

"......the end of the year has occurred to me as the end of my life where I treat the end of a year as though this year were my life and it is now over and now I meet Jesus.....' 

John Piper

(via Adrian Warnock)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best reads of 2011

1. The King's Cross:  This has made first place not because it is by Tim Keller but because it is the book that seems to have brought most blessing and encouragement to others in 2011. I have been recommending it constantly all year to my church and as 'Live Life', our discipleship group, we have studied the gospel of Mark together because of it. As ever with Keller, it is a grace-saturated, faith-inducing read that has become my 'give-to' book for new believers in order to get them off the runway on the fundamentals of the gospel. Give this book away to anyone and everyone who you want to know Jesus and grow in their love and knowledge of Him. You could do much worse than choosing to read this as a husband and wife or with a friend or simply as a 'remember again' read on the good news. We must always be a people who are 'remembering again'. Real treasure lies for you within these pages, I promise you that. The nicest story I heard about someone being blessed by this book is of a wife being truly overwhelmed witnessing her husband sitting in bed next to her reading the King's Cross. She could never in a million years have imagined such a scene. You have people in your lives, families and offices you think will never know Jesus don't you? GIVE THEM THIS BOOK, pray like billy-ee-o (how do you spell that?) and see what happens.

2. Bonhoeffer: It is hard to capture how this book impacted me as it seems to still be working itself out. I have discovered that biographies are so often the 'way-in' to a writer, particularly if you've never read any of their books. The next one on my list is this one. It worked that way for me with Edwards and Lloyd-Jones and was the same with this but something altogether more profound went on. This is not just the Bonhoeffer story. It tells the chronicle of his times with all it's infamous horrors and the architects of it, who include the German church. Have you ever wondered how such a thing as the holocaust could ever be enabled to happen? This will explain it for you and terrify you as it tells what happens to a nation when the church rests in passivity and collusion with its pervading culture. When the church ceases to preach the gospel be very afraid. There are some wonderful insights into the whole theological story of the early twentieth century, if that sounds a bit dull to you, it won't be. You will also get to know Karl Barth reading this and also many others who were on the European and American scene. The battles that are now playing themselves out Bonnhoeffer so accurately predicted. He was indeed a prophet and one who we should all turn our ears to afresh in order to perhaps better understand our own times. A shout out to Gary for putting me on to this- thank you!

3. Unbroken: This is story of one of the most incredible lives ever lived. Louie Zamperini was an athlete, a pilot, a prisoner of  war and a wonderful man of faith. It is extraordinary what he went through and survived, as though he almost lived three lives in one. I am not sure why I connected so much with Zamperini, perhaps it was because my own father was a prisoner of war in Korea. The tales that are told of his torture by the Japanese were harrowing but were also amazing because of his courage and resilience. My father survived similar things and always viewed the rest of his days as his 'second life' which managed to produce me. Always behind this story and all our stories is the steady hand of God's providence and the battle that there is over each of our souls. If you have known anything of the grace of God and have experienced the new birth you will be familiar with how we all fight but happily eventually lose. Zamperini is not different from you and I on that one and how it plays out is compelling stuff. 

5. Fresh wind Fresh Fire: This has been more than just a book to me and I discovered it through Steve Furtick, who might just get the new podcast of the year award. He tells the story of what he has come to call his 'Page 23 Vision' that he had while reading this book at his parents kitchen table aged 16. He has since gone on to plant Elevation Church and spoke this year at Willow Creek to 100k leaders across he world. Not bad to get all that done by the age of 32. Now, I have no aspirations to run a mega church but I do however long to pastor a church that prays and expects the kingdom to come. As I am embarking on planting one in 2012 this book will be a continual reference point for me to keep myself and my people on the task of calling on the name of the Lord. Why is this book so special to me? On the morning that I watched 'Page 23 Vision' and this baptism film which incidentally made my heart burn I resolved to finally get around to reading Cymbala's book. THAT VERY MORNING our ex-church warden Andrew, who now lives in Egypt, was in church for one day only. He marched up to me with a smile and thrust Fresh wind Fresh fire into my hand telling me I just had to read it. He has never given me a book before or since. In that moment, God got my attention.  

6. The Papa Prayer: 'The true centre of prayer, its real point , is relating to God' so says Larry Crabb. We all have lots of questions about prayer and if, like me, you have been following Jesus for a while the list grows longer not shorter. Yes some amazing things, but these are married with non-answers, confusions and seemingly wrong answers in some instances. Crabb asks lots of the things we have all thought but never quite managed to put into words. Deep pastoral things come to mind as you read this and you will be reminded of specific people and particular seasons of prayer where maybe prayer has not seemed to do what it says in the book (it does exactly what it says in fact and this will help you see that). His basic thesis on praying seems to be 'Come as you are' not as you think God wants you to come. If you are in a mess- tell him, angry- tell him, happy -tell him. Reading this reminded me a little of the fantastic book Answering God that Peterson wrote on the Psalms. Papa prayer also tells us again who it is we pray to. He quotes John Piper saying 'No man stands on the edge of the Grand Canyon and says, 'Aren't I something!' I hope lots of you who want to explore prayer more honestly and to pray more fervently and enjoyably will be blessed by this book. Paul wrote 'Devote yourselves to prayer being watchful and thankful' (Col 4:2) and I hope that will be so for you having read this helpful book. Be devoted to prayer dear friends.

7. The One Thing You Need to Know: I do enjoy a business/management book every now and again and came across Buckingham through the Willow Leadership Summit. He used to work in research and is now a guru with a great belief that we should be about our strengths and not our weaknesses. I have struggled on this one and am often foolishly hoping I may become someone I know my weaknesses are never ever going to let me be. Nor should they. If you want to read one book on leadership, management, vision and all the other bits on bobs you could not do better than this one. It's packed with all sorts of great quotes and illustrations and some really helpful advice on doing life a bit better and more effectively. Although I am probably more Eugene Peterson than Bill Hybels, the Bishop's in the C of E could well do with putting this on their Christmas lists particularly on Vision (how to develop a clear one). Buckingham tells us of 'The Stockdale Paradox' which is 'a willingless to look at the brutal reality of a situation but remain hopeful that one will overcome it'. Doesn't the C of E need a bit of that right now. If you think it's time for you to do a little less 'being' and a tad more 'doing' this will certainly put a bit of zip in your doo-dah.

8. Serious TimesEvery now and again you read a book and as you are reading it you think of people you would like to give it away to in the hope that they will read it too. I do that rather a lot with books and I am sure most of them remain unread on the bookshelves and bedside tables of those I give them to. Why did 'Serious times' make my pulse race? Well, it's because it is a book about how to have a significant life. A life that is called, a life that sacrifices and a life that makes an impact. Who doesn't want a life like that? I have a burden for such lives because my own life languished and, in so very many ways still languishes, in ineffectiveness in its response to the gospel. I long for my life and those lives I pray for and try to encourage to be gripped with a single-minded abandonment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This book reminded me of that and offered me a narrative on how that might come to be.

9. Rumors of God: experiencing the kind of faith you've only heard about:  This is a late entrant onto the list and came as a recommendation from the excellent blog of J R Briggs who may get my 'best new blog find' prize for this year. The first thing you need to get over is that they have spelt the title of the book wrong but once you've done that there is so much to enjoy. This is written by two pastors and is worth reading just for the story told in the first chapter. Reading it reminded me of how I felt when I read the prostitute story in those first pages of 'What's so amazing about grace?' that is probably imprinted on most of our minds. These two men come across as thoughtful, dynamic and gifted pastors and each chapter has something original to say. Recently, I complained that so many Christian books steal from the same narrow canon of authors but this is not the case here.  It is full of good teaching, interesting quotes, new angles on things and encouraging stories. It is well worth popping on the list of the books you plan to read in 2012. 

9. One Day: This is a novel that I read in one sitting travelling on the Eurostar from La Rochelle to Paris and parts of it made me laugh out loud. I am not sure if that's because so much of the content seemed strangely familiar to me or because the time-frame is one that I almost exactly lived through. Sometimes these lad/chick-lit reads can be rather predicable, smutty and are often incredibly poorly written. Not so with this one. It is packed with emotion, cultural commentary and good humour. On the serious side, so many people in my city and my parish live lives like this. In fact, there are Tribes of them and I love this tribe and have a heart for them because in some ways it's my own. But the life lived as this herd of people doing and buying the same things as every one else, when it all comes down to it there is nothing eternal, little that lasts and not much that is redeeming to show from it all. This book makes me want to make that different. Perhaps that is not Nichols' is point however it is the one I took out. Oh, and some idiot let an American make this film and I can't yet bring myself to watch it. Yorkshire accent surely means Yorkshire accent . It is no doubt an unquestionable disaster on the screen as this form of English humour almost never translates into American. Apologies to my American readers, who I love dearly, but it's true on this one I'm afraid. 

10. The Pastor: One of my favourite pastors is Eugene Peterson. He became famous for his contemporary translation of the Bible called 'The Message' but he is much better known if you happen to be a pastor as a writer of books around what 'being a pastor' actually means. I have read most of them and each one has been a blessing and I have also enjoyed his amazing five part series of theology. A Christian life that never walks its way through 'A long obedience in the same direction' is a barren one. However, this is the book most Peterson fans have all been waiting for, the story of his life. He must be over eighty yet still manages to write such beautifully crafted sentences about what it means to live and work out this Jesus life. In recent years, like so many when they get a bit older, I think he has just had a bit of fun writing attributions for books that he knows are going to get lots of people hot under the collar ('The Shack' and 'Love wins' just to name a couple). I don't think he gives two hoots what anyone thinks about him which is why I like him so much. He has tons to teach our non-reading business/gadget/iMac generation of pastors with all their techniques and schemes about what we are all actually supposed to be doing. Sadly most are too busy tweeting to bother listening to his advice and giving time to read the books he recommends. He introduced me to John Calvin among many others. The truth is, I am enjoying this book so much I have not yet finished it and have been reading it all year. It is one to be savoured. So what might be his summary advice to pastors from the extraordinary life he has lived? Maybe this: "Teach your people to pray" but I will tell you for sure when I have actually finished it.  

Best reads 2009

Best reads 2010

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Love without a 'then'

I've been turning this over in my mind:

'Scripture teaches that people are saved by grace through faith-they're not saved by faith through grace. I once heard a pastor say it like this: "Grace creates conditions for faith; faith does not create the conditions for grace". In other words it is God's kindness toward us in the midst of our guilt that enables us to believe in him; it's not the expectation that once we believe in him, then he will be kind to us. God loved us when we are still his enemies, not once we have it all together.

The gay community hears the church say: "Change your ways, then God will love you" The Muslim community hears: "Change your ways, then we will love you." The atheist hears :Believe in God, then he will love you." But what Jesus actually says is, "I love you now. As you are. Come to me. Receive my grace."

You don't have to change for God to love you. God loves you as you are. This is what enables you to change. Paul said: God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance" It is not faith, then grace; it's grace, then faith'

Rumours of God, Whitehead and Tyson

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best sermon of 2011

I confess the best talk that I listened to this year was one that I had very low expectations of. We took a crowd to see Jesus Culture at the Hammersmith Apollo. I am unsure at the best of times about the idea of a touring worship band and assumed the talk might be a little bit of a 'me-centred' bless up. Anyway, with my Charismaniac-omter fully cranked to high I set out for a jolly and, so I thought, fairly unchallenging night out. How wrong I was. How very wrong. The talk given by Banning Leibscher entitled 'Bikes, bartering and baking cookies' was one of the most challenging things I have heard in a long while and the young people sitting all around me were left dumb struck. It might just have been a word for me (a far from young person) and the place I was in but I think it may be more than that hence I share it with you.

In summary, because I know many of you won't be able to hear it- Christ wants all of you and me and you need to submit fully and give him your all. This was his word to the assembled young people, "He calls you come and die" he told us "totally and utterly. This talk and the fourth chapter of Crazy love about the lukewarm have been the two wrecking balls for my plans for a nice comfortable gospel and nice comfortable life (which of course I am still desperately trying to hold on to like a drowning man grabbing onto a buoy as the tide goes out). I know preaching is a dish best served live so it might not translate on DVD but it's good stuff. I think the only way you can listen to the talk is to buy the album Awakenings but there you go. It's stunning.

"Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don't have to trust in God if the unexpected happens-they have their savings account. They don't need God to help them-they have their retirement plan in place. They don't genuinely seek out what life God would have them live-they have life figured and mapped out. They don't depend on God on a daily basis-their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is their lives wouldn't look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God."

Francis Chan, Crazy love

Monday, December 12, 2011

Telling others

So many are trying to get things all together in time for Christmas so that it's just perfect. You know those ad's (apart from this one) that are glowy, smiley and completely untrue. Sadly, what they mostly precipitate these days is an increased credit card debt trying to live this unattainable dream. Perfect house, perfect tree, perfect presents for the kids, perfect sumptuous food and all the 'right' perfect people around us. I honestly think that the greatest lie of this time of year is that perfect is actually achievable.

If you want something to jar you out of that delusion this sermon will and amazingly it went to Number 1 on iTunes downloads. A sermon about the crucifixion Number 1 on iTunes- who would have believed it (a deeply deeply full-on one to boot just so you're warned). However, at least a few more people might be awakening to the fact we are so very not perfect but for Jesus. There is only one who is perfect at this time of year and that is Jesus and he is alive and the saviour and hope of the world.

Every year when I worked doing a proper job I would invite friends in my office to our Carol service. Sometimes they even came. Then, when I resigned to start this chapter of the book, lots of people kept on asked me 'Why are you leaving?'. The summary for them was simply that God had called me to tell people about Jesus (Romans 10:14-15). I had to tell so many this that in the end I decided to write an email so that when someone asked I could simply say 'I'll send you my email.' 

Here's the thing. I didn't want to leave having worked with friends for thirteen years and not have told them the gospel and the best way I came up with doing that was to write it out and email it to them. It potentially made for an interesting farewell when you have an internal email with over 3000 users (I decided in the end not to send it to 'All users' but nevertheless hundreds had got the email by the time I left). Imagine working next to people year after year after year and NEVER getting around to telling them about Jesus. Tons of people are in that place. 

Now you don't have to be a weirdo and remember they have to work with you every day but they DO need at some point to hear the gospel and you are one of his followers and the way that happens is YOU TELL THEM or invite them to listen to someone like me who will do that for you. You are salt and light and in the absence of anyone else I'm afraid you're the messenger. You're the grand plan. You're it until Jesus finds a more suitable sinner to take the job. I have a renewed passion for this 'telling others' business having preached on the second coming last weekend. Please tell someone as the Spirit gives you a prompt to (and He will if you ask him to)

That email is called 'What's it all about?"and it's my best attempt to explain the gospel to people. I am sure a few Pharisee's will pick holes in my attempt but it is a fifteen minute read that I wrote as best I knew how back then for the people I worked with. I wrote it because I wanted them to believe in Jesus. Recently, a friend emailed my gospel essay to a friend in Hong Kong as a way of telling them the good news and it had a wee smidgen of power and another friend posted it on facebook as a way of telling his friends. Anyway, my passion remains that we must be a people who tell others and if my short-ish effort can help you tell your friends about Jesus then please do send it, post it to facebook and wait to see who might click, tweet it, email it or print it off and give it away. Perhaps combine it with an invitation to your Carol service and see what might happen. Alternately, for the visual types you could post this. 

I love this time of year basically cos I get to tell lots of people who would never otherwise hear of Jesus about him. It's why I left my nice comfortable job and pension. Last week, I got to tell 250 parents of kids at a posh nursery the gospel. The nursery owner gives me three minutes, yes three minutes, to do that and I think it is the most important three minutes of my year. How many people responded? One. But was it was worth it? Oh how it's worth it. Amazing. It's truly truly amazing when anyone comes to know Jesus. May I never ever tire of it.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011


We must wrestle earnestly in prayer, like men contending with a deadly enemy for life. —J.C. Ryle

Saturday, December 10, 2011

For the pod: A sermon tattoo

David Platt and his book Radical and his Secret Church have impacted me this year. I love his passion for disciple-making, community, mission and radically loving the poor and those in need. It's a great cocktail. He is however pretty full-on as you might expect of someone who calls his book 'Radical' and he would never be described as wooly.

He is anti-consumerism (in churches and of stuff) and is v good pals with Francis Chan and shares his Crazy Love outlook (incidentally Chan is speaking at New Wine this year which should put a rocket up us). Having spent yesterday in the Westfield Centre I confess I am with them on the consumerism.

He is very single-minded about disciple-making and this talk lays out the Vision God has given his church.

Some talks you listen to have an illustration that stays with you and this one has one that will be with me for quite a while. Here's my question to you? Have you ever felt the urge to tattoo something you heard in a sermon on your body? No, I didn't think so. It's what you might call having a lasting impact as a preacher. This talk is worth listening to just for that story but it is also very good teaching and full of passion.

Enjoy being very challenged.

Saturday blog-sweep

Seth Godin: The world has completely changed in the last five years

Kevin de Young's top books of 2011  and his best read of the year and some sneak peaks and some others best reads

Hitchens on what he's learned from Cancer

Why cynicism might kill a generation

Practical ways to avoid consumerism this Christmas

A divine slap in the face

Six things I wish I had known when I started leading small groups

Making reading a family affair

Are you righteous?

A digital nativity

Mike Breen on Church as family

Friday, December 09, 2011

Pray-as -you-go

Two of the Men on Mountains did an Ignatian silent retreat as part of Sabbaticals from Vicaring. One was more temperamentally suited to it that the other and I'm not sure I wouldn't go completely insane being silent for 30 days:)

Today I introduce you to the Jesuits (God's marines).

Tons of people struggle with the idea or discipline of 'a quiet time' don't they? Maybe you are one of them.

'Pray as you go' is a potentially fresh way you can pray, listen to Scripture read and very simply prepare your heart and mind for each day.

It very simply sets the lectionary reading into a format for prayer, music and reflection that you can then pop on your ipod. If you are someone who might want to grab 15 minutes with God and perhaps you have struggled to find a workable way to do that.

Maybe you are a mum with young kids but you might be able find ten minutes or you have a commute on a train or bus that you could redeem or you might just want a new fresh means of spending time with God.

You can walk across a park doing this, or sit on a bench or take 10 in a pub or a coffee shop or listen in the car. It might just be something you have on the pod to do every now and again. Anyway, I hope it may be a blessing to some so why not give it a go and see how you get on.

Available as a podcast on iTunes. 

Thursday, December 08, 2011

How to transform a nation

Finished and sent off my CV.....

I read this post called 'What happened to the book reviews' by Tim Challies and couldn't agree more. If you're a bit of a reader you will soon start to notice that the pool of Christian books draw from the same, fairly limited, canon. The quotes from Lewis, Chesterton and others continually reappear which is not in and of itself wrong but just goes to show that only the few are able to write anything original or with quotes you have not read before.

A friend tells me my sentences are too long so I am putting On writing on my Christmas list. I told him to read Ephesians 1 and that Paul's written Greek could also be a bit lengthy :) Also, if you want to see a man who has done a bit of reading then check out Rick Warren's personal library. For years, so he tells us in this fascinating interview called 'How to stay mentally fresh for ministry' he read at least a book a day. Is this perhaps a contributing factor to his being possibly the most influential pastor alive and the author of the world's best selling non-fiction book? See him interviewed here about the Purpose driven life.

If you are interested (which you probably aren't), the best non-fiction book I have ever read is Peter the Great by Robert Massie. It is a massive tome and I read it day after day every evening lying on a sofa in my flat in Moscow. He remains an inspiration for me and he literally transformed his nation. So imagine my joy to discover that Robert Massie, now 82, has written the biography of Catherine the Great. This one is also going on the Christmas list.

Now of course, there are not many who manage to transform a nation. It takes creativity, courage, new thinking, battles, rule breaking, preparation, learning and resilience. Peter the Great has all those things and, it has to be said, an extreme partying and vodka habit. Wouldn't it be a thing if someone felt called to do that for the Church of England (apart obviously from the Vodka and prostitutes:).

Andreas Whittam Smith of the Church Commissioners said this to General Synod:
“I have seen large companies perfectly and impeccably manage themselves into failure. Every step along the road has been well done. 

“Every account is neatly signed off.”  

Then finally they find they have “gone bust”, he said. “I sometimes feel the Church is a bit like that.” 

He added: “I wish that all of us would have a sense of real crisis about this. 

(h't David Keen)

Now would be a good time for a Peter or a Catherine or even a Warren don't you think?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Way

One day I am blogging about an 18C Puritan Calvinist, the next I am bigging up a film about Catholic/Spiritual/ Life pilgrimage. I am either confused or interesting you'll just have to decide. Anyway, last night I gathered with some friends to eat and watch the film 'The Way'. I found it to be a truly wonderful and moving experience that brought tears to my eyes. A tale of broken-ness, loss, friendship, community, simplicity, life, death and faith. If you can't think of anything for your Christmas list do put this on it. Interestingly, I am also reading a book given to me by a Catholic friend called 'Letters from the desert' that seems rather providential timing. He often despairs at my Protestant ways :) Much to reflect on currently. Oh and I've been reading the BCP 'Ordering of Priests' to get the job spec for my CV.....

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

For the pod: The Chieveley Profundity

Yesterday I wrote my CV for an interview I have next week (don't ask). Now that's a funny old business. I always remember Dan Allender saying in Leading with a limp that if, like St Paul, you started your CV by saying 'I am the worst of sinners' (1 Tim 1:15-16) no one would ever give you a job. I wondered about whether or not selling a container of Silk Cut while living and working in Moscow to a slightly scary man from Armenia in mid-1993 was relevant to the role of Clerk in Holy Orders in the C of E. I have decided to leave that specific incident off for the time being but it certainly ticks the box for the Pauline qualification. Oh, and he had a gun in his briefcase. Also, do you think I can list the fact that I can do the highland fling under 'Achievements'?

Anyway, on now to the pod recommendation. I remember spotting a funny looking man on the cover of a book in the biography section of a Christian book shop and for whatever reason I bought it. His name was Jonathan Edwards. He would, no doubt, have told me I bought it by the providence of God and it is providence too that you are reading these words about him :) Now, I probably should have been cautious about reading a book about a man who wears a curly wig but through its pages I was introduced to an extraordinary mind, pastor, thinker and theologian and great friend of George Whitfield who is my preaching hero. Here though is a warning- reading Edwards is really rather hard as I discovered when I decided to do an essay on 'The nature of true virtue'. It is a pig of an essay to read (which I had to do about seven times before I came anywhere near to comprehending what he was on about). Why bother doing any of this you may wonder? Well.....

1. He is possibly one of the top ten theologians, if not minds, of all time
2. Most of the things that prompt you to start a sentence, "I wonder what..." Edwards has looked into the Scriptures and all of the thought that was available to him and pondered it better than you and I will ever probably manage- even with Google.
3. People are still reading him avidly three hundred years after he went to glory which might tell you something. The same may not be the case for Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer, but I am happy to be proven wrong.
4. He was making sense of charismatic woop-up's long before John Wimber ever came along and his reflection on the Religious Affections has yet to be bettered.
5. Everyone should have at least one friend who wears a curly wig.

This talk called 'Sweet sorrrow: The happy root of holy living' unlocked a truth that was deeply deeply profound for me. It happened, just so that you know, as I drove past Chieveley Services on the M4 on Saturday which is an unnecessary but amusing detail to share. Now the talk is by John Piper who I know, because lots of my readers tell me, is not everyone's cup of tea. On this one though, might I suggest you cut dear John and his, at times, unfortunate manner and views some slack. Piper's statement in this talk that Edwards knew something at 20 that 99% of pastors will never comprehend let alone their congregations made me truly sit up and listen. I think it might be where he got his thought for 'Don't waste your life' which if you haven't watched you should. It might prevent you ending up old collecting shells....

Now, when it comes to the Chieveley profundity, as it will henceforth be known, Piper had to say it three times and translate the sentence from the Edwards sermon into his own words and then explain it twice. In short, you really will need your thinking caps on for this one my friends- Edwards is no Yancey, Ortberg or Hybels (all of whom I love) but may I commend you to make the effort and fire up the old grey matter for this one. If you get this thought and then read Ephesians in one sitting I guarantee your world will be a different place. Perhaps a comfortable chair with pen and paper, a long walk in the park with the pod, an hour in a coffee shop with a journal, a drive up a great British motorway (if you choose the M1 you might have your own 'London Gateway' services moment, formally known by its proper name as 'Scratchwood' if I'm being a true service station pedant, or indeed you may have a Newport Pagnell revelation)  This isn't an easy talk but it really is potentially life changing.

So what I am so excited about? It's the fact that God is more pleasurable and contains more joy than anything else you can experience in this life. Now I have known this for some time and hence changed the whole course and vision of my life because of it but the penny dropped for me in a fresh way. And I agree with Piper that most Christians don't get this at all which is why they are more excited about their loft conversion than Jesus. The Edwards thought is kind of summarised in this quote from Rumours of God: experiencing the kind of faith you've only heard about (which may well make a late entry onto my list of books of the year) and if you have no idea what Piper is on about reading this excerpt might tell you the same thing in a rather more accessible way.

'Let me guess. You would like to have more money-financial stability, a comfortable living environment, perhaps a newer car. You'd have a progressing career, be respected in your field. You'd like to have emotionally healthy friends, who are energetic, encouraging, spontaneous and fun. Maybe you'd wish to change something about your appearance- lose a few pounds, be taller more athletic. If you're single, you might desire to find a life partner, someone supportive, kind and attractive (not just on the inside).

Maybe you want to have kids. Or maybe you already have kids and you want them well-educated, high-functioning, successful, well-mannered children who do better in school than your friend's kids

Or perhaps you'd like to be famous and influence millions of people around the world for the greater good.

There's nothing inherently wrong with these dreams. They are the carrots the media dangle in front of us. But what's interesting is that for the most part, the desires and dreams of Christians are the same as non-Christians. Essentially we are dreaming and longing for the same things. This seems odd- shouldn't we be different from non-Christians. Shouldn't our dreams be fuelled by a different story?"

They should indeed. Oh my goodness, truly they should indeed.

If this awakens in you a desire to know a bit more about Edwards you might like to start on the George Marsden's A short life of Jonathan Edwards.

These talks are also well worth checking out:

Pursuing a passion for God through Spiritual Disciplines: Learning from Jonathan Edwards

A God-entranced vision of all things: Why we need Jonathan Edwards 300 years later

Interview with Piper on Edwards

Jonathan Edwards: The life, The man and The legacy

Monday, December 05, 2011

What we lack

"Does anyone think that we today lack preachers, books, bible translations and neat doctrine statements? What we really lack is the passion to call upon the name of the Lord until he opens up the heavens and shows himself powerful"

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Page 150

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Cutting against the grain

"One does not escape that easily from the seduction of an effete way of life. You cannot arbitrarily say to yourself, I will not continue my life as it was before this thing, Success, happened to me. But once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle you are equipped with the basic means of salvation. Once you know this is true, that the heart of man, his body and his brain, are forged in a white-hot furnace for the purpose of conflict (the struggle of creation) and that with the conflict removed, the man is a sword cutting daisies, that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door and that the fangs of this wolf are all the little vanities and conceits and laxities that Success is heir to—-why, then with this knowledge you are at least in a position of knowing where danger lies."

Tennessee Williams 'The Catastrophe of Success'

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