Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A secret stream

'But prayer isn't just one thing among many. It's like a secret stream, flowing along unseen, refreshing everything else we do and making things happen in ways we can't understand, and often don't expect, but prove themselves real time and again'

Tom Wright in 'New Testament Prayer for Everyone' (p ix)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ten things for a Monday

1. I enjoyed Lenny Henry discovering Bob Dylan in the 'What so great about...? series. I drove across Patagonia fly-fishing, reading Romans and listening to him and my world has never been quite the same since.

2. On that subject someone who has started attending our church read Romans all the way through on holiday. It blew them away. If you want a primer then the Mighty and merciful message of Romans 1-8 might be a start.

3. Keller and Al Mohler are very clever chappies who here discuss 'What is morality?'

4. I have fallen this morning on the words of my old friend Eugene and am reading Working the angles for the third time.

5. Everyone should have Blue in their collection.

6. Lord Grantham saying in Downton....'I always think Catholics have something of the johnny foreigner about them' has got the Telegraph musing. What will we all do once this series finishes.

7. The latest chapter of the Emery White book was about Luther and here he is being wonderfully honest about both his piles and his prayer-lessness.

8. I got caught for speeding (35 in a 30) and discovered a friend in our church has also been over-zealous on the accelerator. As he said to me rather profoundly yesterday- 'It's a limit not a target'. We are now both attending a speed awareness course in Shepperton.

9. I watched Mitt Romney make a speech and offer lots and lots of promises. Apparently he's going to be much better than the last guy. We should all probably watch the new Lincoln film to see what Presidents of old were all about.

10. For our times of Following and fishing I've taken to buying everyone Wine Gums and have awakened anew my addiction to this crack cocaine of confectionary.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Life isn't about the money

I have noticed that these days I am reading less but the things I am reading I read more slowly and think about more. I have been doing that with 'A travellers guide to the kingdom' and it's been a real blessing. It is also interesting just as I am pondering faith, work and the Dorothy Sayers essay 'Why work?' so is James Emery White in his next chapter which I have just read. Must be the Holy Ghost wanting to teach me (and you perhaps?) something.

His essential point is the importance of us thinking not materially but vocationally and you need to start this young he recommends (Kathy Keller on Catechising your Children is worth a mention as an aside). So this little quote is possibly one for parents who may be finding it hard not to get caught up in the educational and material arms race of our day. Life is more than a row of A stars and a fat bank balance.

......'I was so disturbed when I spent a week speaking to hundreds of college students from across several states at a camp in the mountains of Virginia. As I would linger and talk to students over meals, I would ask them about their lives, and specifically what they planned to do with their majors [degrees]. Most had no idea. And the thought of their major reflecting any sense of calling could not have been more alien to their thinking.

I remember asking a junior, "Why are you majoring in mechanical engineering?"

He said, "I don't know. I guess because I know I can get a job."

I instantly knew that if I had asked him "Why do you want to get a job?" he would have said "So I can make money"

And if I were to have asked him why he wanted to make money, he would have said, "So I can buy things, do things- so that I can live."

And if I were to have asked him why he wanted to live, he would have said, "So I can be happy."

And if I were to have asked him why he wanted to be happy, he would have said, "That's what life is about."

No, it is not. What life is about is who God made you to be, what he has called you to be, and the journey of trust over a lifetime that brings clarity in the end. God desires nothing more than to infuse our heart and mind with a sense of meaning and purpose, and to call us to the front lines of what he is doing on this planet in light of his divine plan for our place and our role. If we don't answer this call, we'll fill our lives with what will feel significant: racing through our schedules, building a portfolio, climbing a ladder. But it won't be greatness. It won't be fulfilment. It won't be destiny. We will be seduced into thinking it is but it isn't. And as a result the world will stay the same, when we could have left the one unique mark God created us to leave.'

For more on this theme do listen to 'The Reason for Living'

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Every good endeavour

Keller has a new book coming out called Every good endeavour about how the gospel operates in our jobs and workplaces. As someone who spent a long time doing what people tell me was 'a proper job' I do have a great heart for encouraging people at work. The truth is, it's hard to work out your faith and understand what it means to be a Christian doctor or teacher or artist and all the inherent pressure that comes with this. A few folk in our church attend 'Artisan' which seeks to understand faith in the context of the creative arts and the media and in my view there should be lots more groups like this for all sorts of different vocations.

Last week, I reread the Dorothy Sayer essay 'Why work?' which is well worth taking the time to read. Although written over sixty years ago it is packed with good insights into the motivations we have behind our work. So if you are doing 'a proper job' this day and are a follower of Jesus may the Lord bless you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A question to ask yourself

'The world was made so that Christ might be born

David Ferguson

In recent weeks I have been doing lots of things but I have especially being trying to do lots of watching and learning. Frankly, I know very little about anything really but I do know there are those around me who know a ton. My job is perhaps developing an ability to be able to ask the right questions. This involves the slow process of finding, meeting and listening to the people of peace in my community which just takes a while. I am attempting to work out, or a better word might be 'discover', what the needs of my church, my community and my city actually are. Reading Missional Renaissance a couple of years ago put me on to this pattern of thinking (a US context but the principles stand).

What do the schools need?
What do the families need?

What do the young people need?

What do the elderly need?

What do the toddlers need?

What do the businesses need?

As I do this I have a constant question in my mind which is this:

"Can we [the church and or individual Christians] do anything about this?" and then if the answer is yes then this leads on to the challenge of 'How?' and 'When?' and 'Who?'

Now,  those of you who read this blog with any regularity know that I do know what people need. They need to hear and receive the gospel and witness its transformative work and power. Too often I think, we separate to the two and either focus on the 'hear' or the church simply turns itself into the social services to 'do' often doing a less good job with little transformative power. We need both the Spirit's power and a transformative impact.

I am always inspired when people respond with with a yes to the question "Can we/I do something about that?" These two films may inspire you to believe that God can use you as an agent for change in this broken world of ours and that when we pray 'your Kingdom come' Jesus might mean it for you or indeed us be the answer.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ten things for a Monday

1. I listened to Furtick's great sermon called 'You don't suck anymore'' and in it he suggested the practice of reading Romans 8 out loud all the way through for a week. My time was longer than his at 6.54 and I am planning on doing likewise for seven days.

2. Should you concentrate on your strengths or your weaknesses?

3. The apple argument against Abortion

4. Keller's Catechism questions and speaking about Centre Church

5. How do you define a win?

6. If you liked Spooks you might like 'Hunted'

7. Rowan Atkinson on Reform Section 5

8. There is a lot that is bonkers concerning rapture theology and you might like to watch this very informative film for a primer. Do also buy And the lamb wins as your go to theological reference for such matters.

9. Why you're not reaching the unchurched

10. Michael Hyatt will help you sort your inbox and other productivity issues. Subscribe to his This is your life podcast if you want to be a little bit more intentional about life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Brokenhearted Evangelist

'Every Sunday evening Mrs. Spurgeon was accustomed to gather the children around the table, and as they read the Scripture, she would explain it to them verse by verse. Then she prayed, and her son declares that some of the words of her prayers her children never forgot. Once she said, “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance they perish, and my soul must bear swift witness against them at the day of judgement if they lay not hold of Christ.” That was not at all in the modern vein, but it was the arrow that reached the boy’s soul. “The thought of a mother bearing swift witness against me pierced my conscience and stirred my heart.” There was enough in him to cause his mother anxiety. His father recalled that his wife once said to him, speaking of their eldest son, “What a mercy that boy was converted when he was young.”

In the first sermon he published in London, he said, “There was a boy once—a very sinful child—who hearkened not to the counsel of his parents. But his mother prayed for him, and now he stands to preach to this congregation every Sabbath. And when his mother thinks of her firstborn preaching the Gospel, she reaps a glorious harvest that makes her a glad woman'

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

For the pod: From the poolroom to the pulpit

The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.

A.W. Tozer

A friend's excellent dreadlocked Bishop says the Anglican church is in a 'perfect storm' and something HAS TO change or it'll all be over. It's a crisis but in a lovely English way no one likes to mention it.

In planting a church I have come to understand something very quickly. If the church is to grow people have to be saved and that will happen in two ways:

1. Through preaching the gospel, hearing the gospel and people receiving Jesus
2. Through people in my church (who are fantastic) thinking that this matters and, indeed, that nothing else is more important than encouraging people into the way of Jesus. It's all for me about  making disciples who are able to make disciples of others and are passionate about doing it. 

Tonight thirty of us start Following and fishing. I'm excited. Do pray. We're eating Lasagne...

A pal told me that he's just got a brilliant new Spiritual Director who is a Charismatic nun. It made me chuckle.

One person who may not I suspect have a Charismatic nun in this life is Dr Johnny Hunt of Woodstock Church in Georgia. He is a tub-thumping Baptist preacher who has more fire in him than all the clergy in the Church of England put together. You see he knows deep in his bones that those who are not yet saved (salvation has to be a 'saved from...' experience to have any true reality) are destined for eternal separation from Christ and torment in hell. I know some of you may be annihilationists but I have always thought whether you will be vapoured or tormented is something of a detail and neither sound that great. Hunt states that his life purpose is the preach the gospel and to take as many people to heaven with him as he can. He a barn-storming, fire-preaching, Bible shouting megaphone of a man. Love him. He's doing a pretty good job of his life mission too by all accounts.

Listen to his excellent story From the poolroom to the pulpit and it's here for the podcast (Sermon 11)

Here is your homework class.... 

For the preachers:

Ask yourself if the sermon you will preach next Sunday is likely to see anybody saved? Do you even desire that and believe that people will be (Spurgeon said expectancy is crucial)? Have you prayed and asked very specifically that people would be born again. When was the last time you called people to repentance and faith in Jesus not at some time in the future or through a ten week course but right in the here and now? In the 'kairos' moment rather than the 'chronos'.  And when you preach, do you preach with the conviction that those who are listening's lives depend on it. Learn from how Hunt uses the truth of Scripture, his personal conversion story and listen to his fearlessness and catch a bit of it I pray. Learn from how he so clearly and powerfully presents the gospel from Romans- its stunning. Also pray for some courage and boldness that you might do the same.

Now for all my other readers. Some of you may be saved and some may not. Why not listen to this amazing testimony and when he prays at the end why don't you pray too. I did. I was born again again For some of you this might happen for the first time. And why not burn the talk on a CD and give it to a friend or neighbour or post it on your Facebook wall. 

We've got to get on with it church. Time is running out.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Keller's Five Questions

These are the five questions Keller asks of a text as he reads it for himself.

1. How can I praise him?

2. How can I confess my sins on the basis of this text?

3. If this is really true, what wrong behaviour, what harmful emotions or false attitudes result in me when I forget this? Every problem is because you have forgotten something. What problems are you facing?

4. What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this text?

5. Why are you telling me this today.

Why not spend ten minutes with this passage  and give the questions a whirl and perhaps even journal them out.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Zealous for one thing

“A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed-up in one thing — and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives — or whether he dies; whether he has health — or whether he has sickness; whether he is rich — or whether he is poor; whether he pleases man — or whether he gives offence; whether he is thought wise — or whether he is thought foolish; whether he gets blame — or whether he gets praise; whether he gets honor, or whether he gets shame — for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing — and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God's glory. If he is consumed in the very burning — he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn, and if consumed in burning — he has but done the work for which God appointed him. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, and work, and give money — he will cry, and sigh, and pray. Yes, if he is only a pauper, on a perpetual bed of sickness — he will make the wheels of sin around him drive heavily, by continually interceding against it. If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua — then he will do the prayer-work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill. (Exod. 17:9-13.) If he is cut off from working himself — he will give the Lord no rest until help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of "zeal" in religion.”

Bishop J C Ryle

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Take care

This is a helpful reminder that if we don't care for our own souls, health, friendships and heart then it may not end well. If you don't I'm not sure anyone else will.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Seeking a New Vicar

Thanks Gary. Love this film which makes a nice change from the utterly uninspiring ads one usually sees in the Church press. Brilliant :) Who is to say which nation has the best sense of humour but we must be right up there surely. More of these please....

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

How to be successful

The central issue about the Bible is whether we live it.

John Alexander

Recently, I visited a church service that had many young people attending. This greatly encouraged me and I was blessed by the experience. I heard a wonderful preach on the parable of the two Sons by Michael Ramsden which I commend to you. However, one thing I did notice was how few people in church these days have physical Bibles. Now this is not necessarily an indication of the state of our Bible reading, as I know many now have access on their phones- YOU version being the most popular. Nor is it a comment on any commitment to taking the Bible seriously -but for me there is something about the word of God- in a physical sense. 

Now perhaps I am just old school. At a wonderful prayer meeting held with other churches a few weeks ago, a lady stood up to share something and I noticed in her hand a much read and clearly loved copy of the Scriptures. It was very dog-eared, faded, it had pages falling out and every leaf appeared as though it had been poured over for hours at a time. As it happens, I know this women to be being powerfully used by God among the poor, addicted and broken. Someone once famously said that if your Bible is falling apart you won't be. There's truth in that.

Here's my question.

How is your Bible reading going? How is your dedicated time with God? How is your prayer life? What are you studying? What are you learning? How's your obedience to what Jesus is saying to you? Is he saying anything? Are you giving him time to speak?

Now I am preaching here as much to myself as to you. Here though are a few thoughts and things you might find helpful.

1. Buy a Bible: I was chatting with a Vicar pal and he was saying he likes to have a Bible that he feels attached to. My last Bible has all but fallen to pieces and became like a good friend so I have been looking for a new one for a while and happily found one over the summer. There are no end of options, styles, sizes and translations. Personally, I preach from the NIV but also use the ESV for study.

2. Allocate time: It's obvious but your Bible won't make any difference to you unless you read it. For most of us this is the start of the day but if you have a young family or are not a morning bod then find another time. It need only be five minutes- we can all find that. Now, if you want to really get to know God and his ways you will also need to enter into some more dedicated times of study and Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods is as good a book as you will ever probably need. Remember, Joshua was told that his very success depended not on his intellect or his talents but on his preparedness to meditate day and night on God's word and submit himself to it in obedience.

3. Ask the right questions: My dad used to say to me often 'Think son, Think'. Usually, I have to say, he said this when I had done something idiotic. The same is true of God. We are not passive religious automatons, we are people primed to engage with the living God by engaging our brains and wills. This post called 'Grow affection for Jesus' offers some really good questions Driscoll asks when studying and spending time reading the Bible

  • What does the Scripture say? (Scriptural question)
  • What does it mean? (Theological question)
  • Why don’t I believe it? (Apologetic/heart question)
  • How is Jesus the hero? (Christological question)
  • Why does this matter for my mission? (Missional question) 

4. Have a plan: There are hundreds of plans and for what it's worth I use For the love of God and have done for some years. This was the Bible reading method of Robert Murray McCheyne with a 'grand narrative' commentary from Don Carson.

5. Pray: Life is not an exam set by God about how much Bible knowledge you have. It is about having a relationship with Jesus, learning his ways, renovating our hearts (worth a read) and seeking to become more like him. God's plan for how this happens is through his word by the Spirit. Our Bible reading leads us to prayer or hopefully should do. Using the questions above and turning them into conversation with Jesus might be a way to put fresh zeal into your times of prayer

6. Keep a record: I make a few notes most days in my moleskine journal. It might be a few names or situations I am praying for, an account of something that encouraged me, a worry or concern, a list of some things I am thankful for or sometimes I just copy a verse or two out that has spoken to me. One book called How to keep a spiritual journal is a great springboard to starting a journal.

7. Cultivate a habit: Covey told us all in the Seven habits that you can form a new practice in 30 days. Intentionality is the key which means implementing what Peck dubbed 'advance decision making'. Instead of spending time with God and his word being something you are really meaning to get around to doing why not make it something you just do. Day be day, week by week. You don't negotiate about brushing your teeth- you taught yourself the habit and because you do it your teeth haven't fallen out. Deciding to read the Bible will do the same for your soul. If you are new to Bible reading then try working through 30 days.

8. Remember Grace: Too many (most) apologise about 'quiet times' or their failure to enact something resembling one. Relax. Start all the stuff I have just written about with the gospel. You're chosen, you're loved, you're justified and saved by his intent not yours. And certainly not by your Bible reading. Rest in that. Abide. Remain in it and start from there. Once you see grace I pray you won't be able to put the Bible down. 

Friday, October 05, 2012


'One of the great tragedies of our life is we keep forgetting who we are'

Henri Nouwen

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Karibu Centre

Beth, who is a part of my merry church planting band, is raising money for the Karibu Centre. I know you get asked to give and to sponsor lots of things but I watched Beth's brilliant plea and she convinced me. She will probably do that to you too. She's trying to raise $4k and a few of us can I hope give her a hand to get to her goal. Anyway, it seems to me that in lots of ways you only get to keep what you give away and this might be an option for some giving away......

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Know thyself

'If we do not know ourselves to be full of pride, ambition, lust, weakness, misery and injustice, we are indeed blind. And if, knowing this, we do not desire deliverance, what can we say of a man'

Blaise Pascal quoted in 'Loving mercy' by Simon Ponsonby, P 122

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Three colours

Do watch this little film called Three Colours .

A letter to the new Archbishop

This is written by J John, the evangelist through whom I came to know Jesus:

'A letter to the new Archbishop of Canterbury

Note: I am sending this out before the Archbishop of Canterbury is appointed. This way l can be thoroughly neutral and avoid anybody thinking that I am commenting on the person appointed! J.John

Dear Archbishop,

First of all may I add my congratulations to the many that you will have received on your appointment to this historic and vital ministry. I know that you will soon be very busy settling in at Lambeth Palace but I thought that I would offer you not just my prayers but also some suggestions!

1) Be encouraged. You have been given an extraordinary task in difficult days. Indeed, it is hard to think of a more problematic time for the Church of England for nearly five centuries. Nevertheless, believe that it is God who has summoned you to this position. You may not feel adequate for the task (I would be concerned if you did) but the important thing is not your strength and abilities but God’s, and of that we can have no doubt.

2) Aim high. You will be told by many that you have inherited an impossible task and that failure is inevitable. Doubtless those who say this mean well but to accept their verdict is not only to deny that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is stronger than any circumstances but it is also to guarantee the very failure that they prophecy. In Britain at least there is now a moral vacuum that is almost terrifying; we must pray that at this dark hour the Anglican Church will be able to restore the values and principles we desperately need.

3) Read God’s Word. From now on you will be inundated by paper and its digital equivalents: there will be endless memos, reports, statements and letters as well as unending emails. You will have to deal with them but as you do remember the words of Geoffrey Fisher when, as Archbishop of Canterbury at Queen Elizabeth the Second’s coronation, he described the Bible as ‘the most valuable thing that this world affords’. Nothing that has happened in the nearly sixty years since then has altered that verdict. In the Bible you will find light for the darkest days, wisdom for the severest problems and encouragement for the hardest tasks. God has spoken! Listen.

4) Keep Christ central. The little phrase ‘It’s all about Jesus’ may be trite but it is true. Determine that your teaching will be centred on Christ. If you keep talking about Jesus you will suffer no lasting harm; if you ignore him you will enjoy no enduring success. And do not simply talk about Jesus. As much as it is possible, model yourself on him. That other little phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ can be endlessly criticised on theological grounds but it remains a good rule of life. Actions speak more potently than words. How you live may be more effective than what you say.

5) Surround yourself with good and loyal friends. You need to have people around you who love you and who care for you. Their responsibility is to defend you against your enemies and – sometimes – against yourself. Let their voices be those that console you, challenge you and occasionally rebuke you. Let the men and women you choose be wise (which, I remind you, is different to being learned), godly and utterly trustworthy. Ignore them at your peril.

6) Keep the media in perspective. One of the few bloodsports still allowed in Britain involves the pursuit of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The media will no doubt offer you friendship, particularly at the start, but you may be assured that at some point they will turn against you. Not only can the press not be pleased, they do not want to be pleased: condemnation sells more papers than praise and they prefer sinners to saints.

7) Keep your feet on the ground. Although the verdict of the media on how you are doing should be ignored there is a lot to be said for reading the papers – even the tabloids – for they will tell what the average man and woman is thinking and the language they now think in. And if you do find yourself engrossed in highbrow theology and tempted to use its weighty language then bring yourself down to earth by reading such publications as the Sun and the Daily Mail. Like it or not, that’s where many people are at.

8) Stand at a distance from both criticism and praise. If you haven’t already acquired a thick skin, then grow one. When you face criticism (as you will), don’t worry; you are answerable to a far higher power. Be wary of praise, whether from the media or the public. Indeed, we have it on good authority (Luke 6:26) that if everybody praises you, then you are probably doing something wrong. Accept that your labours are most unlikely to be rewarded in this life. You are probably not going to thank me for reminding you that Thomas Cranmer, the man considered now to be the greatest Archbishop of Canterbury, was burnt at the stake!

9) Look upwards. It is easy to be dragged down by the endless challenges of church business, internal disputes and the unlimited problems of society. Don’t let your eyes get dragged down to reading minutes and reports too much. Look up to the God of heaven. Let your spirituality be practical and your practicality spiritual. Keeping your eyes on the eternal truths of God and his Word will also protect you from that great temptation, the desire to be trendy. Remember you can have so many irons in the fire that you put the fire out. Keep the fire burning in personal prayer.

10) Be God’s man. You will be tempted to yield to either fear or favour and must resist both. With one, you may be scared away from doing what is right; with the other you may be swayed into doing wrong. The answer to both is to put God first. ‘To your own self be true’ is a common rule of life but you must hold to the wiser version, ‘To God be true.’ Trust wholeheartedly in God and in the power of his Spirit. ‘Do your best and God will do the rest’ as I frequently told my three sons!

With my prayers,

Revd. Canon J.John'

I know it's not Christmas yet but it will be soon and J John has collected together a collection of sermons called Proclaiming Christmas that are well worth having on the shelf to help and inspire your sermon prep.

Monday, October 01, 2012


Mark Meynell works at All Souls and is a 'Yoda' of the Christian blog-o-sphere. He is thoughtful, creative and wonderfully well read. Try not to miss his Treasure Map posts as well as his other blogging.

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