Friday, August 17, 2012


A House

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

C S Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I spent last night listening to Sean Pollock (the cricketer) and a few other South African sportsmen speak about their careers. The line that kept coming through was that we should seek to have lives that are not about success but about significance.

Sean Pollock got this line from reading Half Time: Changing your game plan from success to significance by Bob Burford. The thing that we then learnt is that he and Joan and Tich are being  significant through a charity called LIV. It's an incredible ministry to Aids Orphans. Feel empowered to pray for them, to give, to get in contact with them and share their hearts for this urgent issue.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday Blogsweep

Five top books on ministry

I suspect that most contemporary Christians who are immersed in “pop-Christianity” today have never heard of them. I’m hoping that this post will change that for many.

Craig Groeschl at the Global Leadership Summit

  • “When I turned 40, I began to ask myself, ‘Are the best years of ministry behind me?’”
  • “God values maturity. If you’re not dead, you’re not done.”
  • “Don’t just delegate tasks to the next generation. If you delegate tasks, you create followers. Instead delegate authority to create leaders.”
  • “Authenticity trumps cool every time.”
  • On entitlement with the younger generation: “Back when I was a kid, you actually had to win to get a trophy.”
  • “You’ll likely overestimate what you can do in the short run but underestimate what you can do in a lifetime of faithfulness.”
  • “Respect is earned, honor is given.”
  • “If you are not intentional, it will not happen.”
  • On learning from a mentor: “Don’t copy what they do. Learn how they think.”
  • To the younger generation: “You are the most cause-driven, mission-minded generation in recent history.”
  • “Let us stand together for the glory of Christ and make his name known.”
The whole Summit is being blogged here

When identifying what we need to get done, it’s easy to think in terms of individual tasks. We need to fight against this tendency and think first in terms of mobilizing, equipping, and empowering others. If you keep a project list or task list, for some reason it becomes especially challenging to do this. Something about to-do lists seems to naturally incline us to think of things we need to do ourselves, rather than the things we need to do to equip others to get things done (which is a critical part of leadership).

“Do first things first” is the takeaway from Laura Vanderkam’s new eBook What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. Morning is “prime time for self-improvement,” USA Today reports in reviewing Vanderkam’s work. The article says,
Here are some of the things she says go-getters do before most people finish their first cup of coffee:
Exercise. A dawn workout is common among CEOs and other high-powered types.
Meditate or pray. Monks aren't the only ones who start the day on a spiritual note.
Work, often on personal or long-term projects outside the scope of their daily duties.
Fix a family breakfast — sometimes as a substitute for a family dinner — or play with their kids.
The Third Option 

If you can find a way to combine the best elements of the seemingly two different solutions into one remedy, then you have found the third option.
This third option is much more than a compromise which gives up something to quickly settle a dispute. The third option represents an elegant solution to a problem. It is the discovery of something better than the first two presented.

Jesus never said to plant churches 

Jordan reminds us that it's not really about planting churches. It's about making disciples. He ​warns us against the danger of cloning the ministry of others. He talks about the one overarching quality that it takes to plant a church. He talks about those who will come along and try to hijack the vision. He gives practical advice on things like naming a church, raising funds, and choosing a governance model. He warns that some of your greatest opponents will be pastors of other churches, and offers advice on how to deal with this. This is a book that was born out of the experience of a real church planter, and it shows.

Friday, August 10, 2012

To be delivered in the event of my death

Letters are wonderful things and these days we write so few of them. Emails yes and texts often but not the discipline of reaching for a fresh letterhead and writing the words:


Letters have a great Christian tradition that started with a man called Paul who wrote quite a few trying to sort out a variety of messes in the local church. Ever since, letters have been written by Christians to advise, to encourage, to rebuke, to explain and to share information. I have a few collections of letters that I return to over and over again. These include The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, The Letters of C S LewisThe Letters of John Newton, Death by love: Letters from the Cross, The Letters of Evelyn Underhill and The Heart of a Servant Leader. Letters are wonderful to read I think because they can be dipped into, they can be reread and they can say things very directly into a personal situation or circumstance that generalities can't do nearly as well. 

I read this book because a friend recommended it to me. I've never met Chris but I like what I now feel I know of him having read his warm and thought-provoking letters. He seems authentic, questioning, well-read, funny, honest and he likes Eugene Peterson so he's got to be OK. The book takes the simple idea of what it looks like to write a letter to a friend (some Christian's and some not) about a topic summarised by the chapter titles. They have pithy titles like 'Everything', 'Faith', 'Belonging' and 'Sin' and Chris endeavours to explain the word to a confused reader in the hope that once they have given his letter an audience they will be a bit closer to getting the concept than they were before. These are letters written about real things to real people (some with names changed) and each one has the air that it has been a truly lived through experience or conversation. He explains:

'In the letters that follow are the things I really want to say in the event of my death. Some are things I haven't dared say, felt confident enough to say, or just got around to. Others have been regular themes in many a conversation. But this is not some manifesto for life; it's addressing particular things to particular people. These are letters that I have written, printed off and signed, and which reside in the top drawer of my desk; the ten letters to be delivering in the event of my death'   

The thing I like about these letters is they seem to capture some of the circumstances that many of us have spoken, thought or witnessed our way through down the years. They are addressed to normal bods like an atheist, a staunch conservative Christian aunt, a famous Christian man, a yoga teacher, a newly baptised baby and a theological student. And Chris seems like a normal bod-he must be he's a Vicar in Reading- which is possibly as normal as it gets. I was racking my brain for some pertinent funny fact about Reading but I couldn't think of one which about sums the place up. However, I do remember watching a documentary about a slightly strange man who owned Reading football club and owned shopping centres. He wanted to put Reading on the map and I must confess I am not sure he has quite succeeded with that yet. Maybe Chris is the man for this. Reading is also, perhaps though, where most people exist spiritually and in some ways it's the best postmark letters like these could have in our post-modern, sometimes very bland, searching and relativistic days.

I particularly enjoyed his letter to the Famous Christian Man and as someone who writes a blog that does on occasion make these folk even more famous it spoke to me.  He describes the dangers of what Simon Walker calls 'The front and back stage' and our tendency to not integrate them authentically. It's so easily done and I should know because I've done and do it (thank goodness for my truth-telling friends). A good dose of Nouwen's In the name of Jesus from Chris was very helpful.

'I'm writing this because I have been present when, during an interview on stage, in front of thousands, Famous Christian Man was asked what the church in the west needed, and he unhesitatingly answered, 'More people like me'. I am writing because there is a gap between the projected image and the reality. I am writing because this is dangerous. For everyone. 

But to be honest, maybe the main target of this isn't Famous Christian Man, or the Christian subculture. Maybe it's the part of me that still feels regret and failure that I am not Famous Christian Man myself'

[Page 139-40]

Do get this book. It will help you and encourage you and Chris is a clever chappy so you might, like me, learn a thing or two from his wide reading and shared wisdom. If it's not too offensive to say it, this book might be one for the loo. A pick up and put down kind of read and it is also certainly one to be kept in the armoury of 'to be given away' to friends. 

Just as I got to the end of this post I had the idea of writing all this in the form of a letter to Chris to share my thoughts on his book but I've written this now so I'll leave that one to you. 

Anyway, see how you get on. I think you'll enjoy these. 

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Questions of suffering

Keller wrote an interesting article in response to the Colorado Batman shootings in answer to common questions people ask about suffering.
'As a minister, I’ve spent countless hours with suffering people crying: “Why did God let this happen?” In general I hear four answers to this question. Each is wrong, or at least inadequate.
The first answer is “I guess this proves there is no God.” The problem with this thinking is that the problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God.'
You should read the rest of the essay called 'My Faith: The danger of asking 'Why me?'
You might also like to check out this podcast called 'Questions of suffering'

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Arrow

Piper and Ravi Zacharias recommend this 10 min film for use in church or to send to friends who don't yet know Jesus. The acting isn't going to win an Oscar but the message is profound and well told.

Friday, August 03, 2012

How to be radical

Francis Chan told us at New Wine that he has teamed up with David Platt to produce some discipleship material to encourage us all to crack on more radically with the great commission. It should be interesting stuff and I will keep you posted. Platt is the author of Radical which I have spoken of in the past and is a critique of consumerist Christianity. Well worth a read.

As an aside, a dear pal emailed me from Canada to say how impacted he has been by Why men hate going to church and he wishes he had read it years ago when it came out. It's causing him to rethink everything. It's now on my list because I haven't read it either.

So how can you be more radical? Read about people who are more radical than you and let God's grace do the rest. Platt says in this clip how important biographies can be to upping your radical-o-meter. I really do agree.

H/T Out of Ur

I can still remember sitting on a park bench months after having become a Christian captivated by John Pollock's biography of John Wesley (amazing- only four quid with Newton to boot). Now twenty years later by amazing grace I am ordained into the same church he was. I then went on to read a tiny little book about missionary pioneers called 'On Fire for God' which offers little pastiches of great Christian lives and my heart was then truly gripped. My life was a total mess but little did I know that my trajectory was being set through the reading of these two books.

If I was sitting you down on a park bench today I might also place into your hands:

C T Studd Cricketer and Pioneer

In the Shadow of the Almighty

Chasing the dragon


David Martyn Lloyd Jones The First Forty Years

John Wimber

In Pursuit of his glory

Take one of them on holiday with you and you never know what might happen.

Feel free to let me know your favourite Christian biography or one that has impacted your walk significantly.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

For the pod: Everyone's reading porn

I want you to listen to this sermon and don't be put off by the title. Imagine it is just called 'Grace'. The section about 'trying' being an indicator of your lack of understanding of the gospel is truly brilliant and the observation of Edmund Clowny about the true nature of love in marriage at the end may well change your world. Listen to this and again I say listen. This then leads me into a few thoughts about 'mommy porn'.

Yesterday, I was standing in my kitchen listening to Magic FM (do I really now listen to Magic?) and the news told me a startling fact. Wait for it and I hope you are sitting down. Fifty shades of Grey has become the best selling book of all time and has now outsold Harry Potter. Didn't we all get rather hot under the collar at one point in the charismatic church about Potter being demonic and to be avoided at all costs? We haven't done this over the 'mommy porn' probably because we are all reading it- an awful lot of people apart from me that is ( I would tell you if I had it's just I've just been a bit busy what with one thing and another) Surely by now everyone has given the sales stats :)

Now, don't worry I am not going to write a load of moralistic tosh about how naughty everyone is. We are all naughty which is the whole point and precisely why we need a Saviour- (1 Tim 1:15) From what I remember about reading porn (haven't done it though for a while) it was always rather poorly written and the reviews tell me this book is no different. I confess though I have found even the reviews rather unhelpful to my sanctification let alone actually reading the content of the book. And anyway, what with church planting and moving house I haven't had a moment to sit down to get my head around the popularity of this new literary genre. It's not like porn is a new idea.

Why am I telling you this?

Well it all comes down to how we understand the gospel. Most people think a Christian is a good person who does good wholesome things and they then merit a whoopy-doo from God and he lets them into heaven. You, my dear good news grounded readers, know better than that and know that's utter religious nonsense and that you are a sinner destined for hell but for the saving grace of God who opened your eyes to see Jesus dying for your sin on the cross and absorbing the penalty and his wrath on your behalf (for more on this read The Cross of Christ or Death by Love) and this includes our proclivity for escapist titillating sadomasochistic romance idolatry. Seemingly a good chunk of people who will listen to a sermon on Sunday will be tucking up with a bit of porn that they have intentionally bought, probably on their kindle:), and may well have been reading on the tube on the way there.

Let's get one thing clear. You're not saved by reading or not reading porn- you're saved by grace. Please dear preacher, if you are one, don't preach a tutting sermon about all the people 'out there' who are reading this shocking book and what a reflection on the state of things it all is. Please, please, please don't preach that sermon. It's just not the gospel.

The truth is we read romance porn out of our very real misaligned longings and C S Lewis probably puts this better than anyone else in Mere Christianity:

'Most people if they have learned to look into their hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in the world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of a foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, [and no 'mommy porn', my addition], can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we have grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.' 

And yes as you might expect me to say the answer is of course Jesus so put the book down and find instead ultimate and lasting satisfaction in his grace. Lewis is right, everything else is quickly fading away.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


'Every religion has a prophet who is pointing people to God. Jesus is the only one who says, ‘I am God, and I am coming to find you.’

Tim Keller via Keller Quotes

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