Sunday, December 23, 2012


Best reads of 2012

1. Centre Church: Will Mancini said of this book "I am halfway through this book and I believe it is the most important book on church leadership written in my lifetime'. All the books that Keller has written have been a blessing to me but this one is his 'magnum opus' and offers the clearest analysis of how to be, create and lead a gospel and grace-saturated church. It collects together all the strands of Keller's teaching (three-ways to live, contextualisation, cities, engaging with culture etc) and wraps it all up in one go-to reference text that I (and you) will be dipping into for years to come.

2. The Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: This got lots of airplay on the blog this year and offers pastiches of places and people that have influenced Emery White. There is tons of wisdom, story, place and people here that is all woven into a book that will live with you long after you are finished. It will also make you want to go on pilgrimage to some of the places that he writes of so beautifully and affectionately. 

3. Rod: Dare I put this on my list. Here's the thing. I was rushing through Gatwick airport and needed a book to read so I grabbed the first one that appealed from the bestseller display. Now dear old Rod has had a life and in its stream is more relational carnage than you can drive a bus through. But he is also a supremely talented man and tells you the history of rock and roll from 1960 to the present day. If you are going to have a life with no Jesus that indulges your every whim Rod may well have lived that life. But he has not seemingly for a moment (save one sentence in the book) contemplated his maker or any eternal purpose to his work and so it all leaves you feeling rather empty and lost.  Read with caution.

4. To be delivered in the event of my death: This is the book I recommended and gave away most during 2012. Chris writes letters that capture a key truth and he does this in a very engaging and accessible way. One friend who I recommended it to gave it to her friend who then went and bought three more for her friends to read. The chapter entitled 'Why?' kept someone up late into the night reading. If you want a giveaway book for the spiritual seeker in 2013 this might be the one to slot into the armoury. 

5. Dangerous Calling: This is a book that requires any pastor to come to terms with all their xxxx (although clearly he doesn't put it quite like that). Pastors (of which I am one) have issues and this book forces them out into the open and says to you 'What are you going to do about that then?' This book will be one that will continue to challenge and confront me as I walk through the year ahead. Tripp is, I fear, not yet quite done with me. I would also commend you reading this on behalf of your pastor. It will give you insights into how to care for, encourage and bless them in their calling and work of leading and teaching you. 

6. The Agony and the Ecstasy:  Michelangelo was a man who was obsessed and this book will totally and utterly immerse you in his world. I have an A level in History of Art  (C grade) and have meant for years to get around to reading this book. I took it on a two week break and really enjoyed connecting with this incredible man's story. You will come away from reading it planning a week's break in Florence with no other intention but to see his sculpture. Read this and be transformed. 

7. The Holy Spirit in Mission: I read this book in one sitting and it reminded me that God really does still do stuff. Now of course I know this and as someone who has just planted a church I surely know this better than most. This is a book about the Holy Spirit doing 'the stuff', as Wimber called it, through ordinary Joe's like you and me. Loved this- but it may just have caught me at the right time. 

8. Loving mercy: Much like our hearts needing a HS spin so too they also need a 'Loving mercy' overhaul. My heart does anyway- constantly. Si's book is a little dynamo of stories, passion, truth and challenge about what it means to be people who grow into those who truly do 'love others'. 

9. God of the Mundane: Matt Redmond is not the famous worship leader but a man who has a proper job in a bank (I used to have one of those). It's a book about how you do life when your not waving your hands in the air or doing the coffee rota at church. You know, the rest of your life- kids, smelly socks, commuting and the job you do that pays the bills. This really blessed me. 

10. Deep and Wide: I am only halfway through this but think if you are looking for a book about how to do church for those who aren't coming this will have a thought or two to propel you into some new ideas and thinking for 2013.  

Runner up reads

Failure of nerve
Any Human Heart
Jesus never planted churches
Hitch 22
Management in 10 words




Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rowan on Guns

"If all you have is a gun, everything looks like a target. If all you have is the child's openness and willingness to be loved, everything looks like a promise. Control of the weapons trade is a start. But what will really make the difference is dealing with fear and the pressure to release our anxiety and tension at the expense of others. A new heart, a new spirit, as the Bible says; so that peace on earth won't be an empty hope."

Rowan Williams on his last 'Thought for the day' as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The c (h) ord

Every drop

'Blessed is the man who gets the opportunity to devote his life to something bigger than himself and finds himself surrounded by friends who share his passion.....

As leaders we are never responsible to fill anyone else's cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours. So for the next three hundred plus pages I am going to pour out every drop on the subject of creating churches that unchurched people love to attend.'

Andy Stanley in the Introduction to 'Deep and Wide'

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Film: He's here!

If you don't own a copy of the Jesus Story Book Bible then do get hold of one. It's great. I just shared this film with our wonderful local primary school for their end of term Carols.

Well done all who were there. You were brilliant!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas film: O Little town of Bethlehem

This is the follow up to The Christmas Story that St Paul's Auckland made last year.

Monday musing

1. I included the lyrics from 'Call me maybe' and a chapter from a book written for children (Helpless) in my Carol service sermon.

1. Russell MoorePiper, Mohler  and Tim Keller on the Connecticut school massacre.

3. An atheist picks an apologetics book as his book of the year.

4. Sam Storms' books of 2012

5. I am re-reading 'The Wisdom of Each Other' which might make a good complement to 'The God of the Mundane.'

6. Who do you think you are? (apart from it presumably being a Christmas joke that it's over $19 on Kindle)

7. If you want a couple of good festive albums Oh for joy by The Dave Crowder Band and We have a Saviour by Hillsong are splendid.

8. An interesting review of Matt Chandler's Explicit Gospel

9. Sharing the gospel with people who may not think like you

10. How to watch the Hobbit

11. Six ways to handle stress this Christmas

12. A great George B-S quote

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

Opting for the Mundane

Yesterday I wrote this on the blog:

'Nothing happens without leaders' a phrase Al Mohler coined.

It was like a squeaky door on my soul all day.

Let me add my ten-penny worth.

How about:

'Nothing happens without servants', a phrase I just coined which may evoke a very different emotion in you.

One is a phrase about Kings, the other is about Shepherds. And this week I am all about Shepherds.

I've been so enjoying reading 'The God of the Mundane' by Matt Redmond (a snip @ £1.56 on Kindle). Before you rush out and buy it thinking it's written by a globally famous worship leader you need to know it's actually by a Christian bank clerk. That, among many other things, is the brilliance of it.

Most people, you may be surprised to learn, aren't globally famous and rich.

Most people are bank clerks (and Shepherds).

This week I am all about Shepherds. I am even thinking about staying in my job and becoming one.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thoughts to make your heart sing

'Why has so little attention ever been given to the devotional lives of children? Of course we should be doing all the standard things: teaching them the catechism, including them in family devotions, helping them participate in worship. But encouraging a child to develop his or her devotional life has long been a missing piece that has direct effect on whether a child grows up with a balanced spiritual life.

By that I mean it is all to easy to concentrate on data-transmission to our children. Of course, laying down a foundation of biblical truths, Bible memorisation, and doctrinal basics is very important. Somehow, however, the experiential side of a relationship with God is often neglected, so that by the time children reach their teens, they are woefully lopsided- long on information, but short on experience of God's presence.

While one book is not enough by itself to correct the imbalance, 'Thoughts to Make the Heart Sing' may be the best, first introduction for children to have their own time with Jesus

.....Although designed for children, these are thoughts to make all our hearts sing.'

Tim Keller from the Forward to 'Thoughts the Make the Heart Sing' by Sally Lloyd Jones

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Seven things for a Tuesday

1. I am preaching about shepherds and reading a book called The God of the Mundane as I prepare.

2. The new United Pursuit Band album is blessing a pal. It's called Endless years

3. Did you know a mince pie has 250 calories?

4. A friend has been reading Vertical Church and took the questionnaire at the end of Chapter 2. His church score was so low he's decided his is a horizontal one.

5. If you aspire to running a mega church you should read Deep and Wide (reviewed here) and probably even if you don't it'll have some wisdom to offer. Quite a few I know have been reading this.

6. Paula Gooders book on waiting is a good Advent read.

7. I chatted with someone about getting older and recommended they read 'Don't waste your life' which is now free on PDF.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Three men, two books and lots of bicycles

'Find something you're good at and then do lots of it'

Dolly Parton

A while back I sat drinking a coffee in a bicycle shop in Oxford with my pal Simon as we often do. However, on this occasion we were joined by a very old friend of his called Robin. I had heard Simon speak often of Robin so it was fun to finally meet. We chatted about all manner of things, laughed a lot and chewed the cud on subjects of mutual interest.

We live in times of fashionable Christianity don't we? In my stream, it seems to be all about the skinny jeans, vimeo and sticky up hair and if only we had a budget for some more flashing lights we might be able to see a few more disciples made and souls saved. Simon and Robin, and I include myself in this genre, will never be accused of being 'cutting edge' and we are frankly rather square, perhaps past our physical best (if we ever had such a thing?) and have a 'been there got the T-shirt' look about us. This at best makes us wise, at worst it makes us tut and say 'not that old chestnut again'. Anyway, I thought I might give the books these two dear middle-aged clerics have written an unapologetic plug.

Simon's found out he's a pretty good theologian and not half bad at writing books. 'Loving mercy' is his latest and is a book about grace and the gospel and specifically how this grace softens our hearts to act with greater kindness towards our fellow man. Followers of Jesus should be, to use Simon's phrase and the title of one of his chapters, people 'filled with tenderness'. As he points out with many an example, so often Christian's have not been (and are not) those who 'love mercy' and he happily cites his own struggle to live out a life marked by compassion and justice. To step into such a life what we all need is a 'second conversion' and early on you will read the amazing story about Judson Cornwell which is worth the price of the book.

It's interesting to me that one of Simon's earlier books And the Lamb wins explores all the issues surrounding the second coming and Christian confusion over so many matters of eschatology. This led, in the 20th Century, to the western church and in particular American evangelicalism, neglecting the Bible's clear call to love the poor in favour of its single-minded focus on evangelism. Sadly, this became an 'either/or' issue for many when each of us who have but glanced at Scripture probably know that it must surely be 'both/and'. Why bother though if we are all going to be raptured and everything is going to be burnt to a cinder? The task of the church must just be simply to rescue souls from an eternal Hell. That's important so don't get me wrong but Robin will tackle that one.

The answer is word and deed should fuse together and 'Loving mercy' is a timely corrective and joins Keller's Generous justice as a book calling the church back to it's central gospel responsibilities. This book contains some wonderful quotes, stories and personal insights that anyone wanting to look at issues surrounding justice will be unquestionably blessed by. As an example, 'Billy Graham once visited Mother Teresa ministering in the slums of Calcutta. He asked her what fired her compassion. Saying nothing, saying everything, she merely pointed to the crucifix on the wall.' [p.97] Whilst it's only 182 pages, and so is a comparatively quick read, I think you will find yourself returning to this book again and again. And 'Loving mercy' is frustratingly still niggling my soul long after I read its final page.

Robin's found what he's good at and it's evangelism. To my knowledge, he doesn't own a white shiny suit, doesn't own a mansion and is unlikely to be seen on Christian cable TV near you. He drinks best bitter, is a Priest in the C of E and he lives in Bradford which is not often quoted as a place good things come out of (with the exception of curry). Robin is a very normal and, I don't think he'd mind me saying, unglamorous Vicar. He is one thing though above all else. An evangelist.

His book Jesus the Evangelist is a treasure trove for anyone who would like to be, is or indeed thinks they are not an evangelist. It's a book all about Jesus, as the title suggests and it's rooted in good theology, scripture, decades of experience and has some challenging reflections from a battle-weary warrior who has seen, done and been around most things things that happen in the Kingdom. The book is in some sense a testimony to the place Robin's landed which is wanting to be a man who shapes who he is and the things he does around what he sees Jesus saying and doing. Shouldn't we all be landing there?

This is a practical book and as the evangelist J John often says 'Yes, but how!' there is no lack of that here. It's a very English book too with lots of examples from the C of E down the years from a man who has travelled widely, not to stadiums and Big tops, but to rather damp church halls in northern towns on countless rainy winter evenings. All very Jesus like it seems to me. It also critiques many of the tribes and theologies that those who have been around the church scene and a bit of theology awhile like me will resonate with. The book quotes lots of novels in every chapter which is as it should be as the evangelist's primary task is to be the teller of the story. Clearly, reading a few novels will make you a better one if Robin's ministry is anything to go by.

So many things he wrote had an 'I've thought that too' about them which is why I probably enjoyed reading it so much. I'll quote one just to show you what I mean as it's about a subject I have been pondering a lot recently. There are lots more like this which is why you should read this book.

'The single most helpful experience of the healing ministry for me came when I got involved with the 'Wimber movement' of the mid-80's. More than anything else, this put healing evangelism on my agenda.....Wimber and his team taught me, equipped me and inspired me. Unfortunately, they loaded me with a burden of unrealistic expectation for they seemed to suggest that I and many others could reproduce the signs and wonders of Jesus in our own ministries. This is a common theme or aspiration in the Charismatic healing movement: it is attempting to encourage, but actually goes too far. There is a huge difference between modelling ourselves on Jesus' healings and exorcisms and imagining we can recreate their full scale and impact' [p.154]

That quote, among many others like it, will no doubt be a subject for our next 'Three men in a bicycle shop' musings over coffee. We may even treat ourselves to a mince pie as it's Christmas.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Saturday, December 08, 2012

For the pod: A huge dollop of Grace

The most famous and nourishing passage about grace in all the Bible is I think Ephesians 2:8-9 and if I could recommend one sermon that might unlock grace for you this one might be it. I've been going through Ephesians on and off all year with M L J (one word at a time so we're only in Chapter two!). The sermon 'By grace through faith' will simply blow your doors off (on iTunes Dec 12 podcast or from the MLJ archive). You'll especially love it if you like your preaching Welsh and a tad humourless. 'Bear with' and again I say 'bear with'. Sit in the chair, listen and much like the words on a shampoo bottle 'rinse and repeat as necessary' until Jesus explodes in your heart.

I also listened this week in the car to Humble Confidence preached by Jonathan Martin (one of my favourite preachers) which is wonderful and really really blessed me. It's number 23.

Saturday blog-sweep

Sexual freedom always curtails other freedom

Bringing marriage back down to earth

The Duke and Duchess have made a foetus (Essential reading)

Fear Fear Fear

Justin Buzzard's best books of 2012

Going to hell with Ted Haggard

"You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will"

Two types of leader

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Religion of the Greeks

I caught a recommendation reading a sentence in this 'Ancient and Modern' column (Democracy and the C of E) in the Spectator:

The summa theologica for them to consult on all this is Robert Parker’s superb On Greek Religion (Cornell, £17), my book of the year.

Might be one for the Christmas list.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

For the pod: Wonderful things

You must have bought your chair by now.

If you are sitting in it and wondering how to read the Bible or finding it hard then you could do worse than listen to Open my eyes that I may see and Wonderful things in thy word. Piper's preaching can, I admit, be a bit like eating a cheese and pickle sandwich but with no pickle but both these talks contain some wonderful heart-stirring revelations if you manage to catch them.

Make Coffee (or Tea or indeed any hot drink or if you want it can be a cold drink or by grace no drink at all)

Open your Bible to Psalm 119 vs 18

Read the verse and meditate on it for a while.

Open your journal

Listen to the talk

Jot the points that strike you.

Reflect on the talks message and turn it into prayer

Repeat this with the second talk.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Why bother blogging?

Gary, a fellow blogging Vicar, has a new blog to go with his new post. It's called Bermondsey Vicar. Do pray for him and his family as he takes up this fresh challenge in this great city and list it on your RSS feeder and twitter. He has reminded me of this post by Abraham Piper called 'Six Reasons Pastors Should Blog' which was his inspiration to become a blogging pastor- as it was mine.

Here it is in full:

Pastors should blog…

1. …to write.

If you’re a pastor, you probably already know the value writing has for thinking. Through writing, you delve into new ideas and new insights. If you strive to write well, you will at the same time be striving to think well.
Then when you share new ideas and new insights, readers can come along with you wherever your good writing and good thinking bring you.
There is no better way to simply and quickly share your writing than by maintaining a blog. And if you’re serious about your blog, it will help you not only in your thinking, but in your discipline as well, as people begin to regularly expect quality insight from you.

2. …to teach.

Most pastors I’ve run into love to talk. Many of them laugh at themselves about how long-winded they’re sometimes tempted to be.
Enter Blog.
Here is where a pastor has an outlet for whatever he didn’t get to say on Sunday. Your blog is where you can pass on that perfect analogy you only just thought of; that hilarious yet meaningful story you couldn’t connect to your text no matter how hard you tried; that last point you skipped over even though you needed it to complete your 8-point acrostic sermon that almost spelled HUMILITY.
And more than just a catch-all for sermon spill-over, a blog is a perfect place for those 30-second nuggets of truth that come in your devotions or while you’re reading the newspaper. You may never write a full-fledged article about these brief insights or preach a whole sermon, but via your blog, your people can still learn from them just like you did.

3. …to recommend.

With every counseling session or after-service conversation, a pastor is recommending something. Sometimes it’s a book or a charity. Maybe it’s a bed-and-breakfast for that couple he can tell really needs to get away. And sometimes it’s simply Jesus.
With a blog, you can recommend something to hundreds of people instead of just a few. Some recommendations may be specific to certain people, but that seems like it would be rare. It’s more likely to be the case that if one man asks you whether you know of any good help for a pornography addiction, then dozens of other men out there also need to know, but aren’t asking.
Blog it.
Recommendation, however, is more than pointing people to helpful things. It’s a tone of voice, an overall aura that good blogs cultivate.
Blogs are not generally good places to be didactic. Rather, they’re ideal for suggesting and commending. I’ve learned, after I write, to go back and cut those lines that sound like commands or even overbearing suggestions, no matter how right they may be. Because if it’s true for my audience, it’s true for me, so why not word it in such a way that I’m the weak one, rather than them?
People want to know that their pastor knows he is an ordinary, imperfect human being. They want to know that you’re recommending things that have helped you in your own weakness. If you say, “When I struggled with weight-loss, I did such-and-such,” it will come across very differently than if you say, “Do such-and-such if you’re over-weight…”
If you use your blog to encourage people through suggesting and commending everything from local restaurants to Jesus Christ, it will complement the biblical authority that you rightly assume when you stand behind the pulpit.

4. …to interact.

There are a lot of ways for a pastor to keep his finger on the pulse of his people. A blog is by no means necessary in this regard. However, it does add a helpful new way to stay abreast of people’s opinions and questions.
Who knows what sermon series might arise after a pastor hears some surprising feedback about one of his 30-second-nuggets-of-truth?

5. …to develop an eye for what is meaningful.

For good or ill, most committed bloggers live with the constant question in their mind: Is this bloggable? This could become a neurosis, but I’ll put a positive spin on it: It nurtures a habit of looking for insight and wisdom and value in every situation, no matter how mundane.
If you live life looking for what is worthwhile in every little thing, you will see more of what God has to teach you. And the more he teaches you, the more you can teach others. As you begin to be inspired and to collect ideas, you will find that the new things you’ve seen and learned enrich far more of your life than just your blog.

6. …to be known.

This is where I see the greatest advantage for blogging pastors.
Your people hear you teach a lot; it’s probably the main way that most of them know you. You preach on Sundays, teach on Wednesdays, give messages at weddings, funerals, youth events, retreats, etc.
This is good—it’s your job. But it’s not all you are. Not that you need to be told this, but you are far more than your ideas. Ideas are a crucial part of your identity, but still just a part.
You’re a husband and a father. You’re some people’s friend and other people’s enemy. Maybe you love the Nittany Lions. Maybe you hate fruity salad. Maybe you struggle to pray. Maybe listening to the kids’ choir last weekend was—to your surprise—the most moving worship experience you’ve ever had.
These are the things that make you the man that leads your church. They’re the windows into your personality that perhaps stay shuttered when you’re teaching the Bible. Sometimes your people need to look in—not all the way in, and not into every room—but your people need some access to you as a person. A blog is one way to help them.
You can’t be everybody’s friend, and keeping a blog is not a way of pretending that you can. It’s simply a way for your people to know you as a human being, even if you can’t know them back. This is valuable, not because you’re so extraordinary, but because leadership is more than the words you say. If you practice the kind of holiness that your people expect of you, then your life itself opened before them is good leadership—even when you fail.


For most of you, anything you post online will only be a small piece in the grand scheme of your pastoral leadership. But if you can maintain a blog that is both compelling and personal, it can be an important small piece.
It will give you access to your people’s minds and hearts in a unique way by giving them a chance to know you as a well-rounded person. You will no longer be only a preacher and a teacher, but also a guy who had a hard time putting together a swing-set for his kids last weekend. People will open up for you as you open up like this for them. Letting people catch an honest glimpse of your life will add authenticity to your teaching and depth to your ministry,

Monday, December 03, 2012

Dangerous calling

"Biblical maturity is never just about what you know; it's always about how grace has employed what you have come to know to transform the way you live"

"You are most loving, patient, kind and gracious when you are aware that there is no truth that you could give to another that you don't desperately need yourself. You are most humble and gentle when you think that the person you are ministering to is more like you than unlike you"

"Tender, heartfelt worship is hard for a person who thinks of himself as having arrived. No one celebrates the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ more than the person who has embraced his desperate and daily need of it."

Sunday, December 02, 2012

"It's God's work not mine"

Spike Lee's amazing documentary BAD25 fantastically captures a piece of musical history and the work of a flawed man but a genius. The quote "It's God's work not mine" are the words of Michael Jackson.

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