Thursday, February 23, 2012


All of life

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” 
Frederick Buechner 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For the pod: Overwhelmed

The Scriptures…do grant clearly by their teaching that it is possible for a Christian to be depressed. Not that they justify this, but they do recognize the fact.

Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and for ever to your past. Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ. Never look back at your sins again. Say: “It is finished; it is covered by the Blood of Christ.” That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you. What you need is not to make resolutions to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying. No! You just begin to say: “I rest my faith on Him alone who died for my transgressions to atone.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Spiritual Depression – Its Causes and its Cures, 1965, p. 107, Used by Permission from Elizabeth Catherwood (daughter).

Today, I started my re-reading of the The purpose-graced life.

All our lives go through seasons and as I recall the last decade since spending forty days with Rick Warren's book I can testify to some great highs and a few deep lows. However, I have a debt of gratitude to this book that words can't describe. I discovered through it and in conjunction with a two month sabbatical of solitude and prayer reading Romans/fly-fishing/travelling what God had called me to do. Since then my life has been lived for most of the time with joy unspeakable through the wonderful revelation of justification by grace through faith.

Amid this though, I have also experienced trial, disappointment, the sudden death of my father, times of family turmoil, relationship failure and moments of doubt, fear and uncertainty. Jesus told us that was rather the deal. I also, looking back over twenty years, went through a time not long after becoming a Christian that I would now consider to be one of depression/spiritual/demonic oppression and spent about eight years as an insomniac. You're ready for a really good nights sleep after eight years I can tell you :) and I am grateful to a dear friend who committed to pray intensively for me and saw me set free as a result. My gloom, anxiety and insomnia were all experienced as I note after I became a follower of Jesus.

We have been praying as a church for someone via our prayer chain who is suffering from deep despair, hopelessness and depression. This is a very real thing on my heart and the hearts of a lot of us this week. So many in our days are battling depression. It is the pandemic of western culture and it is a very real problem but the solution to it is not simply that everyone does an Alpha course. That would be good and a start but people who are Christians also suffer just as much from seasons of darkness and depression. Given that a good chunk of the Psalms are what's known as laments David it seems had a gloomy season or two which is a tiny relief for those in this place, as did Job, Jonah, Moses and Paul.

This talk by Perry Noble, he says, is the most significant talk he has ever given. Many readers complain about the diet of American preachers they find on the blog. Apologies, I love the States- it's history, authors, geography, politics, its fly-fishing, its sitcoms (Now I can actually run the US having watched the West wing) and its variety of churches. Noble is a southern mega-church pastor with a splendid accent and a refreshingly honest direct manner that us English-types may find a little too direct. For some readers this is your worst nightmare. He's a classic, as he admits, type A, driven, ESTJ, not very pastoral, workaholic uber-evangelical church leader. I encourage you to overcome any problems with personality, delivery, theology and style and listen to the content. In this sermon called Overwhelmed Week 2 19th Feb (from 20 mins and podcast here 19.2.12) he speaks very candidly on the subject of depression which so many suffer from and he confesses he even contemplated suicide during his three year illness. I find it easier to listen to a sermon rather than watch as I find the mega-church thing rather grates on my 'Peterson gene' so you may want to download it to your phone and take the talk for a walk or a drive.

This is a tremendous problem in life and also in ministry. Too many are battling and isolated facing depression alone and I think there is a nugget or two in this talk that is very helpful. In my world, too many C of E clergy are struggling with overwork, under resourcing, solitary-working and severe lack of encouragement and pastorally-engaged leadership. One Bishop I met while searching for a Curacy reckoned about half the clergy in his diocese were depressed. The front-line clergy I have found, in the main, to be a terrifically sincere, dedicated and diligent bunch with enormous hearts operating often in challenging circumstances. One of the secrets I have found to be intentional community and I confess in my own life without it I could never be a pastor. Noble discovered this the hard way.

You may agree with the content or not but I am sensitive to the fact that a few of my readers have battled or are currently battling this right now so do feel free to offer some views or disagree. Martin Luther said 'All of life is repentance' and this is where Noble lands and you may be helped reading this essay. You may also be blessed by reading The Sermon on the Mount which is 'The purpose-graced life' for English/Welsh people. If you do find it helpful then perhaps share it with others who you think it might help. It's not a perfect sermon by any means but it resonated with some of my own story and seemed worth offering as a 'For the pod' so see what you think.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Who should study theology?

'I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.'
C. S. Lewis

You should.

Everyone I chatted to yesterday at St Mellitus seemed wonderfully gripped by the things they were learning. They also at the same time seem to be people with amazing passion for mission and evangelism that they are working out in the context of the local church. At a time when it is easy to be gloomy about the state of the church there is much to be encouraged about going on currently.

Most people think they are not clever enough to study theology. That is patently not true (Acts 4:3) and theology is in fact for everyone. If a numbty like me can study so can you.

If you are searching for a good teacher then why not try Alister McGrath, who is both brilliant and understandable. His Christian Theology: An introduction is a great primer on these things and is a very accessible read.

He has written a book or two over the years:) In one year alone I think he wrote eight.

I would also commend spending an hour with him give this lecture about his book called 'The Passionate intellect: Christian faith and the discipleship of the mind'. This may help you see that theology isn't so scary and that good theology taught by wise people can bring immense wonder, joy and transformation to the heart.

Maybe too you might even brave a module at The School of Theology as a way to dip your toe in or know someone who might like to?

Why not put the Godpod on your phone? Here is my v. brainy pal Sean on Episode 67 (who tutors on Ethics).

Oh, by the way my friend Rod who is also a theologian in the making and helped and encouraged me at Vicar factory in so many ways has a new blog that's worth checking out called Rod

Monday, February 20, 2012

The disciplines

My friend Audrey came to our Quiet Day on Saturday. She taught on how to spend time with God, how to read Scripture, the Cross, the baptism of the Spirit and the gift of tongues and hearing God's voice. She became a Christian in 1954 through Billy Graham in Haringey and has been following Jesus ever since. She shared some simply belting stories of the incredible things God has done down the years. She is burning more for Jesus at 81 than probably anyone I know.

Billy Graham preached to her from John 14:6 and she encountered Jesus through repentance and faith and as she said 'why on earth hadn't my Vicar told me it's a relationship with Jesus not a religion'. The answer is he may well not have known that....

Brilliant day.

It has got me thinking anew about the spiritual disciplines. Don Whitney's talk called Pursuing a passion for God through the spiritual disciplines is a good one to get you started and will also introduce you to Edwards.

Here are some books you might also want to check out:

The Life you always wanted: This is a great book for those who don't want to plough through Richard Foster.

The Celebration of discipline: Read this while flying from Moscow to Riga on a business and trip. The danger of the disciplines is you dispense with grace so keep rooted in that as you read this.

Monk habits for everyday people: I did a placement in a Benedictine monastery for one day a week at Vicar Factory. Convinced myself I am not cut out to be a monk but the experience was not without benefit. The whole silence business has never really been my strongest card :)

The Spirit of the disciplines: Read this in the mountains of Switzerland and was much blessed.

The Great Omission: He's rather become the 'yoda' of all this stuff and has some real wisdom to share. I confess I sometimes have no idea what he's on about but that's because he's clever and I'm not.

Eat this book: Well had to add a Peterson. My mentor, friend, translator of the whole Bible, lover and encourager of pastors, wise sage, hater of consumerism in all its forms and all round good guy. This is a super little book if you have any questions at all about how the Bible came about.

Ordering your private world: This was such an important book for me. As I finished it I discovered he'd fallen off his bicycle in an unfortunate incident which convinced me helpfully that it's the gospel of grace not all the spiritual disciplines we perform that count. Also a huge relief to be honest that he wasn't utterly perfect. Nearly fell off my bicycle myself having read it but that's entirely another story. Through reading this though MacDonald became a real encouragement and far off friend to me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dogma is the drama

In Indelible Ink there is the best appendix I know listing the top three books of a host of Christian people (over 100). One of these is Alister McGrath who used to run my Vicar Factory and he listed Dorothy Sayers Creed or Chaos? as one of his top three:
'Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.
It is the dogma that is the drama—not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death—but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realize that here is something that man might be glad to believe.'
(Quote via Trevin Wax)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday blog-sweep

I am looking forward to our Quiet day today and also to watching Harlequins play at home which will be slightly less quiet I imagine:) I do recommend 'The lost art of meditation' as a good book on biblical mediation for some post quiet day reading if you want it.

I spent a night at Naturally supernatural which was a time of blessing and refreshing and it was great to see our young people ministering in the gifts with such joy and confidence. When I was fifteen, I was doing all sorts of things but ministering in the gifts I don't think was one of them!

Britain has gone from God-fearing to God-jeering

I’m not sure what I believe, but I do know every word of the Creed, and when I say them I feel I am joining myself to generations who spoke those words centuries before I was born, and that custom is deeply consoling. I thought about my friend, stranded in New York by snow when her son was hurt in a car crash. Ann hadn’t prayed for years, but she slipped into a church on Fifth Avenue, “I can’t manage it alone,” she emailed, “I know that sounds strange.” Religion is strange, infinitely mysterious and easy to mock, but all I can say is that its rituals feel full, not hollow, as so much of modern life does. The Dorkists argue that you don’t need organised religion to hand down the wisdom of ages or a system of morality. Don’t you?

(via On-living)

Cost-effective compassion: 10 most effective ways to help the poor

“… what are the best ways to help those living in developing countries? By ‘best,’ I mean most effective: things that actually help people rise out of poverty, and that carry with them a sizable “bang for your buck”—programs in which the impact on the poor is significant per donated dollar. … A World Health Organization study estimates that the availability of clean water in a rural village reduces infant mortality by 35 to 50 percent, at a cost of roughly $10 per person per year. … Of all the long-term development interventions, child sponsorship received the highest rating.”

(via Preacher Smith)

Discipleship is about more than conveying information

It seems to me that the real question is what we really believe. It seems to me that we do tend to have two creeds—the one which we believe in our intellectual assent, and then the one which we believe to the extent of acting upon it in faith. More and more it seems to me that the true level of our orthodoxy is measured by this latter standard rather than the former. And more and more it seems to me that there is no such thing as an abstract Christian dogma—that each Christian dogma can be experienced on some level. [Francis Schaeffer]

Fishers of men not keeper of an aquarium

I just believe true disciples should care more about making disciples than freeze framing the church the way it was when they became one. Or wanting twenty-six programs customized to their liking. If the mark of Christian maturity is a bunch of people who want to create a museum glorifying and preserving their personal preferences and then sanctify it by calling it a church, count me out.

Do we really need attractional and missional?

To use an analogy, suppose you were hired by the owner of a baseball team to find players for the team, sign them to contracts, teach them to play baseball, get them ready in Spring Training and ready to hit the field to be a competitive team when Opening Day roles around. So you go to it.
Six months later, as Opening Day is a few days away, the owner of the team comes to the ball park to see how you’ve done. When he arrives, he’s a little surprised at what he sees. You’ve got more players than usual, but most of the players are severely overweight and when he asks them to take the field to play a scrimmage, they look at him dumbfounded. “We don’t actually play,” they say. “But we showed up to the ball park and are wearing the uniforms, so that’s something, right?”

Most believers have never been intentionally discipled and most believers have no clue how to go about discipling a new believer. The problem is that people don’t have a good understanding of what discipleship is. Here’s a definition for you:

Discipleship is truth transferred through relationship.

Bike for Burundi (do give generously...)

(via Twelve)

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Rice and Beans Challenge

The Rice and Beans challenge is being undertaken by a band of folk in our church. Tear Fund are encouraging as many churches as possible to participate in it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A purpose-graced life

My Bishop has called all the churches in his diocese (half of London!) to his vision of 'Faith Hope Love' which he has requested we launch in Lent which of course we are now doing. To complement this, we are also calling our church to spend Lent working their way through The Purpose-Driven Life which are a set of forty readings that unpack the gospel and how we might live out of it. Personally, I found reading it a decade ago absolutely life-changing and so helpful and I am looking forward to going through it again. I wrote this called 'Read and read some more' about it. If you are interested in its doctrine, you can watch Rick Warren's fascinating interview about it here (It's probably time well spent to hear from the author of something that has sold 30m+ copies?)  I am excited that people are responding so positively and of all that God is going to do. Feel free to join us. Pop a copy on the bedside table and read a chapter a night or in the morning and just see what happens.

We have called Sunday 'Purpose Sunday' and we are preaching morning and evening on Ephesians 2:1-10 so I have spent much of what has been a difficult week reflecting anew on grace. My friend will tell you why it has been so sad. When I face choppy waters that either I am riding or those I love around me are, the person whose words I often turn to is Eugene Peterson as someone who deeply understands grace. I know it's unusual to like Rick Warren and Eugene Peterson but I can't help myself liking them both- sorry. It's what makes me so interesting :) Warren is a monergist and Peterson is, I think, a Calvinist or is he a Catholic or is he a Quaker or a Presbyterian-it's rather hard to work him out which is what I so like about him. His book Practice Resurrection (a bargain @ £2.99) on Ephesians has been a real encouragement to me once again. As C S Lewis once said 'I can't imagine enjoying a book and reading it only once' and hence all my Peterson books are becoming dog-eared and much loved friends. He would no doubt re-title the best selling non-fiction book in the world as 'The Purpose-graced life'. I wouldn't wonder that Rick might well roll with that. The chapter entitled 'Grace and good works' is tonic for the soul in which Peterson writes:

.'...There is no other option. It's grace or nothing. There is no 'Plan B'

The air we breathe and the atmosphere we inhabit as believers and followers of Jesus is grace. If we don't know what grace is the last place to go looking for help is the dictionary. Grace is everywhere to be experienced but nowhere to be explained.....'

[Page 94]

For more on grace read 'Our problem with grace

We have been singing a song about grace as a church over the last month and it is starting to get into my water. You would do well to let it get into yours too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For the pod: Discipleship

David Platt is the author of the excellent Radical and a preacher with extraordinary fire and passion for disciple-making. He says in this excellent talk called Disciple-making that Robert Coleman's "The master plan of evangelism" is the most important book he has read outside of the Bible.

He offers this quote from it:

"Disciple-making men and women is the priority around which our lives should be oriented. The great commission is not a special calling or a gift of the Spirit, it is a command- an obligation incumbent upon the whole community of faith. There are no exceptions: bank presidents and automobile mechanics, physicians and school teachers, theologians and home-makers, everyone who believes on Christ has a part in his work. The great commission is a life-style that encompasses every child of God. Here the ministry of Christ comes alive in the day by day activity of discipling whether we have a secular job or an ecclesiastical position. A Christ-like commitment to bring the nations into the eternal kingdom should be  part of it. If the making disciples of all nations is not the heartbeat of our life something is wrong- either our understanding of Christ's church or our willingness to walk in his way"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dawkins the smarty-pants fails the exam

This morning on Radio 4 :)

Truth is we all fail the exam.

That's the point.

I think Dawkins actually has quite a good sense of humour. You can tell that as he senses his 'oh shucks' moment.

Thank goodness I'm not saved by how much I read the bible or my capacity to remember long titles of books but instead by Jesus. 

Just Jesus.

That's terrific news.

"To remind the eminent evolutionary biologist, the full title of Darwin's work is:On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life."

(via Cranmer)

Going through the hard times

I have been thinking a lot about suffering in recent days and think that we must all try to understand and come to terms with some of the bigger questions surrounding it. It's hard because when you or someone you care for or pastor is in the midst of suffering what they don't seem to need at that point is a clever answer from you or an explanation of your theology of suffering. So often, when I visit those who are mourning, for example, the less I say the more effective I seem to be. Often times when trauma is being faced what is really needed is the ministering of the gift of mercy and I praise God for his good gifts and especially this one. 'Mercy' is a Spirit-given sense of how to be around those who are in pain, confusion and loss and how best to minister to and understand their needs. When you are walking into a situation that may benefit from this wonderful gift of mercy, as his child, ask the Holy Spirit to bestow it upon you and the Father does give to those who ask.

However, while I say a good answer is not always the most helpful thing it can sometimes be helpful and so it is also good if we have taken some time to work one out. This is particularly true for those who immediately surround a person in pain or difficulty and they will often be the folk who ask you the question "Why?" Pete Greig has written a terrific book called God on Mute that you may find helpful if you want to start working out some answers. Randy Alcorn has also done a very comprehensive study of the difficult questions surrounding these things in his book If God is Good . I have also been blessed by his work on Heaven which I read last year and is helpful on suffering. In 'If God is Good' he writes,

“We shouldn’t wait until suffering comes to start learning about how to face it any more than we should wait to fall into the water to start learning how to scuba dive.”
(via Tim Challies Book Review)

This post by Matt Perman is helpful called Correcting a misunderstanding on the Sovereignty of God and provides some helpful insight around what is and always will be a very searching issue. So when trial or trouble is faced what might we do as we walk along side others or indeed as we ourselves are called to walk through things.

1. Pray: It seems obvious but prayer is something we must all do. When you face trauma and pain so often prayer is the thing that is hardest to muster for yourself. We have in our church what we call a 'Prayer Chain' which is a church mobile to which anyone can text a need or the need of another and those who want to receive these texts can then pray. We have about eighty people who pray multiple times a day for all sorts of things. Sometimes these prayers are small things but they can also be extreme emergencies of sickness or difficulty. Those facing suffering or battles often need us to hold up their arms (Exodus 17) and as the body of the church that is what we are called to do. This little snippet called 'Prayer causes things to happen' I came across a while back and gave me a helpful insight that got me praying a bit more.

2. Ask for wisdom: I know in my own life that when I am amid a difficulty the way I pray is very often to ask God to get me out of it. James 1:2-5 suggests that what we actually need is wisdom and to ask God for it. Wisdom gives us the ability to process and comprehend and walk through the things we are going through and give them an eternal rather than an immediate perspective. 

3. Be in community: We are encouraged to 'keep meeting together' and when we walk through pain with others they are able to carry some of the burdens. So often I am amazed and left in wonder at our church when we are called to walk through a season of suffering together with an individual or a family. It causes me anguish conversely when someone is facing suffering without the comfort and support of the body of Christ or when someone has ceased to be part of a body and then faces trial. It is often our network of home groups that come into life in extraordinary ways when one of their number is suffering which is why I would encourage you to join a community/home'/life group in your church if you are not in one. Our stepping on point for community we call Live Life.

4. Know the gospel: I have found a little book called Note to self to be a real help. The person who most quickly forgets the gospel it seems is me. Actually, in truth it's all of us who so quickly forget the gospel and perhaps at no time more so than when life hits the buffers. Reminding ourselves regularly of God's goodness and writing his grace on our hearts helps us when trouble comes. I return to this talk called 'If God is good why is there so much suffering in the world?' often.

5. Practice thanksgiving and worship: Gratitude does not come naturally. The world is full of people who when you open the door for them while entering a shop fail to say thank you. Then you realise that person is actually you! The truth is by nature we are not full of thanks and spend so little time thanking God for his amazing favour and mercy to us. We have so much to thank him for and have been blessed with so much. Learning to practice thanksgiving and to spend time in worship and to express this in generosity to others is a helpful way to prepare yourself for suffering. I have been doing this in my car recently listening to The Loft Sessions.

6. Believe God acts: As is often said we live in the now but the not yet. We are called to pray for the Kingdom to come and we are to expect it. When someone is sick we pray they would get well. When someone has a need we ask for God to meet it in the midst of their suffering or indeed we together meet that need. Matt Perman writes, 'So, even though God is in control of all things, we are never to allow that to be a reason or excuse for not helping another in need or fighting evil with all our might. (Indeed, 
it’s God’s sovereignty which is our best cause for hope.)

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture

Romans 8 
 The Message

Monday, February 13, 2012

Beautiful outlaw

Sometimes people give me books and that happened recently when a friend gave me John Eldredge's latest called Beautiful Outlaw. Eldredge has encouraged me greatly down the years and his newest work is not an exception on that count. In very simple terms, it is a book all about Jesus and how this contrasts with religion. This seems to be all the rage as a topic currently.  The book seeks to connect you to Jesus as he is in the gospels not the Jesus as religious people would like to communicate him to you.

Only yesterday, I chatted with a man in a pub about Jesus. As so often happens, people tell me all about themselves, according to Dale Carnegie this is a good thing, but then the inevitable question comes, "So what is it that you do?" The moment I tell anyone my job so often I immediately get the person's reason for rejecting the gospel. This nice man retorted, "The problem is religion has caused so much trouble?". This opened the door to a really interesting discussion about Antigua, grace, Jesus, the people of Richmond, the Cross, sunsets, sin and terrible neighbours.

I know evangelism is easier for some than others especially if you are in the '...some to be evangelists' category. However, every Christian I think should be equipped to move on from any apologetic subject to Jesus and when you do so you are into a place where you can explore all sorts of wonderful deep and interesting questions of the heart. Then, if you know the Scriptures a wee bit, you can wield the sword of the spirit and 'the beautiful outlaw' always unleashes himself.  I love seeing 'the beautiful outlaw' at work.

"Consider this one piece of evidence: millions of people who have spent years attending church, and yet don't know God. Their heads are filled with stuffing about Jesus, but they do not experience him, not as the boys did on the beach. There are millions more who love Jesus Christ but experience him only occasionally, more often stumbling along short of the life he promised, like Lazarus still wrapped in graveclothes.

Can you imagine anything more diabolical?

If you sent someone you loved to school for a decade, yet they remained illiterate, how would you feel about the education? If you referred someone you loved to a doctor, yet despite years of treatment, they not only failed to recover from the cancer but contracted HIV, hepatitis and gangrene, what would you have to conclude about the treatment?

I am not making accusations I am stating facts. There are noble churches and movements bringing Jesus to us. But alas, alas- they are the exception not the rule" [Pages 8-9]

The last chapter of the book suggests the best plan upon completing it is to start the book again and I think I might just do that. By the way, if you want to see a master apologist at work speaking beautifully about Jesus check out Keller answering Oxford students questions on evolutionary genetics, homosexuality, sex and various other matters.

All the Keller Oxford talks are available here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

This week

It's so easy for me to want suffering-free discipleship.

The trouble is that is not the gospel.

All the beauty and angelic tones of Whitney Houston are no longer. Gone this week.

A husband who said to his wife of forty-five years as he did "I don't know you" as altzeimer's takes its grip this week.

Jesus-loving friends who walk though unfathomable gut-wrenching loss that I can only imagine this week.

Courage as cancer is battled this week.

And resilience needed once again as the cloud of depression settles for yet another day this week.

The line "It's coming" spoken in this sermon doesn't really take on reality until 'this week' becomes your week. 

I am going to think on the words "It's coming" as I break bread for my people today, many of whom know or have known what 'this week' looks like.

My 'this week' is coming too and now is surely the time to prepare for it (Romans 5:1-5).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday blog-sweep

Tim Chester

'Many people love the idea of community. But when we eat together we encounter not some theoretical community, but real people with all their problems and quirks. The meal table is an opportunity to give up our proud ideals by which we judge others and accept in their place the real community created by the cross of Christ with all its brokenness. It’s easy to love people in some abstract sense and preach the virtues of love. But we’re called to love the real individuals sat round the table'.

Hello Rob Bell

If a 20 year old told you she was entering full-time ministry because she wanted to serve God and make a difference in the world, what questions would you have for her? How would you respond?

I would ask her if she's a Christian. If she said "yes," I would say "Too late! You're already in full-time ministry! The real question is: what are you going to do with your God-given passions and energies? Who are you going to help? What are you going to make? Where are you going to serve? Go do that, and release yourself from the need to give it labels.

Asking better questions

Asking “How big is your church?” is like asking, “How’s it going?” Neither one is a question that asks anything meaningful. If you are really interested in how a person is doing or how a church is doing, you will ask better, deeper, more meaningful questions.'

Lost for words

'I have started to recognise my escape routes. And their futility. The thing is – we become so used to numbing our pain in these ways that we no longer recognise our behaviour as anything other than ‘normal’. Everyone else does it – why wouldn’t I?

This morning, I read these wise words from Richard Rohr: “We must be taught how to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of pain before we have learned what it has to teach us.”

The Story of Sheffield

'I went to the Bishop and asked if he could give us a few other buildings in the city that were no longer being used. There was a precedent for this as another church, Holy Trinity Brompton in London, had been given additional buildings. And he said this: “Never. Watch my lips so we are very clear. Never.”
“Well here’s the thing, Bishop, I have no room left in the church. What am I supposed to do with all of these people?”
“Why do you want to grow anymore?”
“Because it’s the Gospel imperative and it’s what Jesus wants us to do. “Go and make disciples and such.”
And I kid you not, he said, “Yeah, I don’t think that’s right. You’re putting too much pressure on the other clergy so I need you to stop growing.”
“But I’m not really even doing anything. It really is God!”
“That’s great, but I need you to stop it.”
Needless to say, there was a certain separating of paths at that point.'

Stackhouse on Piper

'Let’s keep hearing John Piper on the good things he has to say. And let’s just set aside those things he says–and we all say such things at times, especially those of us, like him and like me, that say a lot–that really aren’t so good.'

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Kitchen Window

'One day a man decided to board himself up inside his house.

He sealed off the doors, the windows, even the chimney. He left only one opening-the kitchen window-through which anyone wished to speak to him was forced to speak. Fortunately, there were people that still wished to speak to him, so they called on the man at his kitchen window.

Over the years this fellow came to the conclusion that the world was such a place in which people only speak to one another through kitchen windows. He wrote a book in which he argued that human discourse cannot and does not take place in any other way than through kitchen windows.

The Kitchen Window School was founded shortly after his death'

John Eldredge, Beautiful Outlaw: experiencing the playful, disruptive, extravagant personality of Jesus, Page 154

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, February 09, 2012

It's worth it

Yesterday was an amazing day.

Guess what I did? First, I had lunch with some new friends from Bristol who read the blog. They happened to be in London as a family and sent me an email so we had lunch together. We talked about all sorts of things and then had a wonderful time of prayer. It was stunningly encouraging to hear their story and witness all God is doing in their lives and they were a true encouragement to me (we all need that). I had no idea that the bits and bobs I put here could be worked for any good but they seemingly have been quite profoundly in their lives.

I do sometimes wonder why I bother blogging and if it's worth it but a few people really do find it quite encouraging :)

Also yesterday, my sister won a prize and I am very proud of her. Thirty five years after she left school (or to put it rather more correctly the school helped her leave :) at 16 with no A-levels she has been awarded an Open University degree in psychology but not just that. Out of over 1800 students she came top. Not just a first but the top first in the country and so they gave her the special prize they have for that. She managed all this while being a single mum bringing up two boys. Amazing. Truly amazing. Well done sis! It was all worth it. She will hate that I have written this on the blog but tough :)

As it happens, I bumped into a friend on Tuesday by coincidence (not that we at all believe in that) and we both reflected that were it not for my sister neither of us would be Christians. She led my friend to the Lord. So if you enjoy this blog and it encourages your discipleship it is only here because my sister heard the gospel and came and told me. I am forever in her debt.

And the blog is a place where you might......

1. Be equipped to be a better evangelist by Tim Keller

2. Reflect on interesting things about what  it means to be a disciple

3. Be encouraged by 50 things to write in your journal

4. Hear of something called a 'Clearness committee'

5. Discover the best sermon ever preached? (strong stuff so you've been warned)

6. Find out that revelations happen while driving past UK service stations

7. Discover a song called Bones that deeply moved me on Tuesday night

8. See an inspirational ad that ran during the Superbowl

9. Encounter someone as wise a Ravi Zacharias

10. Or just be made to laugh

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

For the pod: Authentic Christianity

Last year we preached through a series called "The Christian Atheist' inspired by a book by Craig Groeschl. This required us to look at the gap between what Christian's say they believe and how this works out in their (our) lives. This is never more so than when we are confronted by some of the really tough and extreme things that Jesus has clearly told us but so many ignore and even seemingly whole swathes of a denomination can manage to ignore. 

Why is there so little mission and evangelism in the church today? As David Keen asks so aptly have we just chosen the option of 'Rearranging the dog collars on the Titanic'? By the way, you'll be pleased to know that yesterday the General Synod spent the morning discussing adjustments to the levels of wedding fees which were then agreed which will be a huge relief to many readers (blog not lay or perhaps both:).

Now back to the sermon recommendation. This is a hard word and Keller in this talk Authentic Christianity from a series entitled 'The Hard Saying of Jesus' unpacks the idea of heaven and hell and judgement but does so managing to land us standing firmly in the place of grace (Romans 5:2). However, it is a prompter to awaken us afresh to the stakes and the shear height and depth of them. Would that the church might awaken too in these days.

This one is well worth a listen.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Avoiding toys

"... I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam's sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!"

C. S. Lewis in The Magician's Nephew

We have just started a new sermon series that I have entitled 'The Walk to the Cross'. I preached on this verse the other day and was much helped in my study of it by Clinton Arnold's 3 Crucial Question's on Spiritual Warfare and Thomas Brook's Precious Remedies against Satan's devices. I am preaching on Nehemiah 4 on Sunday so my reflections on the spiritual realities of the Kingdom continue.

It seems obvious to me on any reading of the gospels that Christ is opposed by a real enemy with very real schemes and if you have not yet comprehended this you would do well to read Waking the dead. If you do, it will tell you that the most fierce battle of all is over the state of our own hearts:

"Sometimes I use the phrase "wartime life-style" or "wartime mindset". The phrase is helpful- but also lopsided. For me it is mainly helpful. It tells me that there is a war going on between Christ and Satan, truth and falsehood, belief and unbelief. It tells me that there are weapons to be funded and used, but that these weapons are not swords or guns or bombs, but the Gospel and prayer and self-sacrificing love (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). And it tells me that the stakes of this conflict are higher than any other war in history; they are eternal and infinite: heaven or hell, eternal joy or eternal torment (Matthew 25:46)

I need to hear this message again and again because I drift into a peacetime mindset as certainly as rain falls down and flames go up. I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth "home". Before you know it, I am calling luxuries "needs" and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don't think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people groups drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me time and time again towards a wartime mind-set."

I'm excited about my friend Matt, who planted St Alban's, coming to preach on Sunday.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Who should be the next Archbish?

The Spectator ran an interesting article speculating on who might get the top job of Archbishop of Canterbury. Strangely Rod Liddle omitted to mention me :)

A pig just shot past the window.

Now there are apparently six names in the frame but if I might be so bold might I suggest a seventh (and there are more).

Imagine for a moment if there was a Bishop in the C of E (or dare I venture even others who are not yet garbed in purple) more interested in the gospel, church growth and a hopeful future than in managing decline and internal church politics and issues.

Imagine if there was someone who understood we are now required to be missionaries in our own land.

Imagine if there was someone who spoke often of evangelism, unity, growth, Jesus, prayer and revival.

Imagine if there was someone who was more interested in the glory of Christ than in the triumphing of their own tribe or their particular theological agenda.

Imagine if there was someone who knew how to grow churches and make disciples.

Imagine too if they were an evangelist (now there's a idea we haven't tried before)

Now imagine if you found such a man and then you took the extraordinary decision of giving him the job of leading the church in our nation.

Imagine what might happen to the church and the country if you did.

But where might one find such a man?

These words spoken a few weeks ago by a bishop in the C of E might offer a clue of at least one man and I found his words so hopeful, faith-filled and refreshing.

These are days when movements start from the ground up rather than top down and they rock nations.

Now would be a good time for that to happen in the C of E don't you think given our current major minus?

Do be praying for the crucial appointment of the next A of C over the coming months.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A day of news and debate in the dear old C of E

You know sometimes when you are opening a present and you expect it might be something quite exciting and then you open it and you've simply no idea what it is. That well describes my emotions at the announcement of my two new Bishops having been told by a few that I would be very pleased. I know nothing about either man I'm afraid. One of them has a blog which is called The Republic of Heaven which I will enjoy reading. I will be praying for both these men and can be nothing but hopeful about the things God may do through them. It is shaping up as an exciting new season for the Church in London- it surely has to be given the state of the things.

The Church Mouse is back out of retirement with one post called Ladies Hats which is worth reading.

I responded a while back to Driscoll's critique of the British Church with a long post called Politeness. Don Carson, possibly one of the greatest living protestant theologians has tipped in a measured reflection on the state of the British Church. It is interesting that he does not have HTB nor others in the charismatic stream at all on his radar in his analysis. Perhaps because he has had no contact with these tribes but there may be other factors at work. He does make a slightly superior sounding point at the start of his piece (presumably vis a vis Driscoll's more limited knowledge of UK culture) about his understanding of the church in our land which I have no doubt is pretty refined. However, he reveals his knowledge/perspective to be slightly limited in making no mention of other evangelical movements but that might be because his audience is a conservative evangelical one. To suggest though only conservative pulpits have good preaching is far from the mark in my opinion though the point on their zeal for planting is well made. His comments about church attendance in Yorkshire being less than that in Japan is one for us all to ponder. As an aside, he apparently has memorised the NT in Greek so frankly who cares what I think. Haven't quite got around to that myself :)

Then there is The Letter to the Times that is causing quite a curfuffle. I am sure retired Colonel's all over Wiltshire choked on their bran flakes yesterday morning. This issue is constantly on and off the agenda and so often those on both extremes of it seem to me to miss the gospel. Tim Keller puts that statement into rather more erudite words than I could ever muster.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A necessary dismantling

I watched this again and it moved me.

"It is impossible to risk your life to make others glad in God if you are an unforgiving person. If you are wired to see others people's faults and failures and offences, and treat them roughly, you will not take risks for their joy. This wiring - and it is universal in all human beings- must be dismantled. We will not gladly risk to make people glad in God if we hate them, or hold a grudge against them, or are repelled by their faults and foibles. We must become forgiving people.

Don't start raising objections about the hard cases. I am talking about a spirit, not a list of criteria for when we do this or that. Nor am I talking about wimpy grace that can't rebuke or discipline or fight. The question is do we lean toward mercy? Do we default to grace? Do we have a forgiving spirit? Without it we will walk away from need and waste our lives"

Don't waste your life

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

For the pod: The vision of Jesus

I haven't posted a 'For the pod' for a while so here is one.

I am indebted to HTB for more reasons than words can describe. John Hays said something about leadership on Monday at St Mellitus that I have been thinking about since. You must, he said, create an 'affirmational culture' where it is all about things that can be done not the reasons they can't. There are just too many reasons for not doing something aren't there? People, if you lead, will need affirmation he said- this sadly does not come to us naturally.

I have learnt what an 'affirmation faith-filled culture' looks like from my friends at HTB down the years. Bill Hybels was apparently astounded they start each year with nothing in the bank and no reserves. I love witnessing people who have bountiful vision fuelled by possibility and there is no one more full of this perhaps than Nicky Gumbel and his tangible sense of 'what can be' is very, very, catching.

'The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.' said Helen Keller (who was blind + deaf) which he quotes.

This is a great vision talk and is called 'The vision of Jesus'. There is also a great encouragement for my pal Peter in this talk who set up Alpha in Zimbabwe many moons ago and also led me in my first baby steps as a disciple for which I will be forever grateful.

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