Sunday, June 30, 2013

First priority

"Power in preaching comes from a strong faith that is qualified by wisdom. Preaching is faith speaking; that is what it means to preach in the power of the Spirit. And faith and confident praying are two sides of the same coin. Basically I am convinced that men who do not make praying their first priority in life and ministry should not preach or pastor. As preachers they will be confused models of a Christian man, and as shepherds of the sheep they will not show a willingness to die for the sheep. Their spirit will inevitably drift in the wrong direction'

Heart of a servant leader, [Page 100]

Friday, June 28, 2013


“Most pastors will not regularly preach to thousands, let alone tens of thousands. They will not write influential books, they will not supervise large staffs, and they will never see more than modest growth. They will plug away at their care for the aged, at their visitation, at their counseling, at their Bible studies, and preaching…Most of us—let us be frank—are ordinary pastors.” 
D.A. Carson 
'Memoirs of an ordinary pastor'

Most churches and most church leaders are not very spectacular. That's why 'ordinary' is a good word for Carson to have chosen for this book which I read on holiday in Mauritius some years ago. So many of us are seduced by the big and the shiny in a variety of areas of our lives despite the fact that time and again we end up feeling used, disappointed and let down by them. We are sold the lie of shiny friends, shiny possessions, shiny associations and even shiny churches. Does it take a mountain moving revelation to reveal the state of our hearts in the face of such idolatry or simply a coincidence and accumulation of things that God has been trying to teach us for ages that we've just been ignoring? I think in my case it's the latter and some recent disappointments have really shown me this.

I was chatting with my friend who years ago sent me an email that read 'If you want to come and help me pastor the smallest and most struggling church in....then let me know'. Despite having offers for the seemingly more glittering gigs for my summer placement at Vicar Factory I opted for 'small and struggling'. Through that single decision I learnt more and was prepared better for a life of ministry than ever I could have imagined. 

Clerical ambition is a very unpleasant thing and it's most unpleasant when I see it in myself. I see a need to be thought well off, I see a need to have a favourable comments about my sermons, blog posts or ideas, I see myself name drop or feel more assured because person x or person y knows or likes me. I see myself grasping for management techniques or programs or speakers who might propel the life of our church into something less ordinary or more glitzy, efficient or influential like the one down the road or across the water.  

The truth is I am a fool to chase after such things. 

The reason people come to our church and the reason I enjoy being its pastor is possibly because it is 'ordinary'. It is so very easy for any one of us to use God and other people as a stepping stone to something 'over there' that we mistakenly think will be better or more satisfying or more admired. The trouble is we are not called to use God or other people for such things but are instead are to love God and people and then see what happens. 

Perhaps there's even a vision statement for the 'ordinary' in this thought. 

'We're loving Jesus and each other then seeing what happens.'

This sort of statement won't put you on the map but it might just make a disciple or two.

As I reflect on the ordinary I am yet again so grateful to have Jack Miller as my honest dead mentor and to learn that he suffered with the same calloused ambitious heart I seem to possess at times. I pray it may be a little softer once I've worked through all of his letters. I desperately need it to be so.


This post and this one cover similar ground.

Also, on my way back from retreat I listened to a talk with my pal in the car. It's called 'In whom I am well pleased' (you may need to scroll through) and to use a phrase in it '....this is the whole ballgame'... to everything I have just written. It's well worth a listen. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ten things for a Monday

1. 'Fractured families: Why stability matters' is a must-read for anyone concerned and prayerful about this great land. The 'Exec Summary' [Essential reading] contains such depressing stats.

2. I preached on marriage and divorce yesterday for which I read and prayed more than any sermon I have done since planting HT Barnes. For more reading: 3 Views on Divorce and Remarriage, God, Marriage and Family by Kostenberger, Ethics after Easter and A Moral Vision of the New Testament are probably good places to start. Andrew Goddard's (he taught me ethics) reading list offers more and his site is a limitless font of resources. This sermon put extreme porn addiction on the list of possible reasons for divorce based on a reading of 'porneia' in Matthew 5 which is interesting. Of all the people I read and listened to Piper takes the strongest line on the sanctity and covenant nature of marriage.

3. We had a great day doing City Lights on Saturday.

4. A friend recommended Tenth Avenue North 'The Light meets the Dark' and I can't stop listening to Healing begins.

5, Still reading 1-2 letters a day of Jack Miller.

....''Basically at the beginning of a ministry, the leader should humble himself and not try to do too much. Really, even later a good pastor is pretty much a good listener, a patient, deliberate questioner,; and at the beginning of a church planting enterprise you will be astonished how well things will go if you are a gentle kind learner. ' [Page 86]

6. My ceaselessly encouraging pal Graham posted this about yoga on our church planters forum. As ever, interesting to mull on.

10. How to read a book (via Dash House).


Sunday, June 23, 2013

I didn't know I was lost

Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can't tell where the journey will end
But I know where it starts
They tell me I'm too young to understand
They say I'm caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don't open up my eyes
Well that's fine by me

So wake me up when it's all over
When I'm wiser and I'm older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn't know I was lost

I tried carrying the weight of the world
But I only have two hands
I hope I get the chance to travel the world
And I don't have any plans
I wish that I could stay forever this young
Not afraid to close my eyes
Life's a game made for everyone
And love is a prize

So wake me up when it's all over
When I'm wiser and I'm older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn't know I was lost

I didn't know I was lost
I didn't know I was lost
I didn't know I was lost

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Saturday Blog-sweep

The Good life

To live is not wealth. To live is not worldly success. To live is not sex. To live is not family. To live is Christ. We were created by Jesus and for Jesus, the merciful Savior who stood in our place and offers us new life. Jesus is our mediator before the Father, the motivation for all our decisions, and the driving force behind our every move. It’s all about Jesus. There is no good life apart from Jesus, because without Jesus life has no meaning.

My Secret to Reading lots of Books via Tim Challies

If your goal is to read a lot–like mine is–there are a few obstacles to overcome:

  • Keeping track of the books you want to read
  • Refining the list down to ones you’re going to read in the near feature
  • Actually reading them
  • Retaining the important parts

Being the 'Dung Gate' guy

I’ve heard it three times now—it was so good, I asked my whole family to watch it together last night, and it had a positive impact on my kids. Then we watched it together as a pastoral staff this morning.
If you are inclined to see it and have forty minutes to spare, I think you will be very encouraged personally that you don’t have to be an extraordinary man to have a meaningful role in the Kingdom; and also, it’ll help refresh your vision for the dignity of each member of the Body of Christ.
There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is 'I wish I hadn't worked so hard'.
The Vimeo staff pick is a great source of interesting viewing and worth keeping an eye on.

MLJ's Advice on What to Read

My advice to you is: Read Jonathan Edwards. Stop going to so many meetings; stop craving for the various forms of entertainment which are so popular in evangelical circles at the present time. Learn to stay at home. Learn to read again, and do not merely read the exciting stories of certain modern people. Go back to something solid and deep and real.
Are we losing the art of reading? Revivals have often started as the result of people reading volumes such as these two volumes of Edwards’ works. So read this man. Decide to do so. Read his sermons; read his practical treatises, and then go on to the great discourses on theological subjects

For a bit more on Edwards see my post here and also read The Chievley Profundity.

Baroness Stowell, who speaks for the Conservatives in the Lords on equalities issues, confirmed that faithfulness in marriage is not to be a requirement under the proposed legislation for same-sex relationships. Rather, issues of fidelity would be up to each couple to decide for themselves. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mountain resources 2013

'You can't teach what you don't know' 

Alan Hirsch

I have returned from my annual retreat with sore legs and a full and grateful heart. We (4 Vicars, 2 Doctors and the CEO of a Charity) climbed Snowdon (and one other peak) and what was it that impacted us all equally from our visit to Wales? The midges! We are now set on returning to the bug free Lakes next year.

This article I read today called 'We need to talk about priests'  [Essential reading] impacted me. I am so grateful for friendship and to have a few folk who are concerned about my heart and soul and their well-being. It's so easy to get over-burdened, over-worked and lose perspective as a priest (I am one) and, to be honest, this is true for anyone committed to following Jesus faithfully and leading others to do the same.

As ever, I am the one who collects together the bits and bobs that have encouraged "The Seven" over the last year and I also add in the wisdom I gleaned from our mutual interrogation of each others souls.

Questions: The friendship and accountability journey we go on each year is oriented around listening to each others stories and struggles (1-2 hours in 'the hot seat') and then exposing ourselves to any and every question. We have no 'no-go' areas.

One of our number often asks us "How do you feel?". Walter Wright (Head of Regent Vancouver and author of Relational Leadership) has two questions: How are you doing with your vision? Is God pleased?

Another question we explored together is "How do you know if counselling has worked?"

These three questions are quite penetrating:

Do you still love God?
Do you still love your wife?
Do you still love your church?

Other questions "Do you see prayer as spending time with Jesus?" and "Does your prayer connect with your emotional needs?" (some of us didn't have a clue what that meant which perhaps says something about us or our prayer lives)

Another question on our hearts which someone asked is "How do people change?" which leads on to the more specific "How do I change?"

The most helpful leadership question was "Who is going to lead on this?" as a means of encouraging corporate responsibility rather than the just taking more on.

Here are a few more Spiritual MOT questions from James Emery White.

Drivers: A few of our number have done Arrow Leadership. Early on we discussed what are known as 'drivers' which are the voices from our childhood that our parents spoke over us. We are probably speaking them over our children. We all apparently have a dominant voice from one of the following and it's worth pondering which one is yours. This was all new to me but is very interesting.

1. Be strong
2. Try harder
3. Hurry up
4. Be perfect
5. Please others

We added in one more

6. Stop complaining

Books: I couldn't stop banging on about 'The Heart of a Servant Leader'. I am not convinced my pals  caught my enthusiasm for it.

Other books read in the year were Metaxa's Bonnhoeffer, Richard Rohr's 'Falling upwards: a spirituality for the two halves of life' and 'Breathing under water' (a Christian interpretation of the 12 Steps). Sam Wells 'Praying for England' and 'God's companions: Re-imagining Christian Ethics'  Madame Guyon's 'Experiencing the depths of Jesus Christ'. 'The Choice: Serving heaven or serving hell' by Andy Robinson (one thought this brillaint and another not so you take's your chance). The Institutes (which one of our number has be discussing with his Curate). The Advantage by Lencioni and Leading from the Second Chair which is, by all accounts, packed with wisdom and good stuff. Tim Chester Unreached. Kenneth Bailey's two books on Jesus and Paul and 'invaluable'. Finally, Galatians for you by Keller.

A magazine some have been reading is Mission Catalyst which is, so I learn, for ..'thinking Christians' which is scary :). You might want to subscribe.

We spent some time discussing the Psalms and one of our number wanted recommendations on books on them. Off the top of my head:

-Answering God: Using the Psalms as tools for prayer
-Kidner 1 and 2
-Tremper Longman How to read the Psalms

Films, Apps and TV:  It has been a poor year for MoM viewing as most of us have had less time. The Fall, Parks and Recreation , Broadchurch  (apparently I should be horrified that I had not even heard of this. "Where have I been?" said some of our number). The best film of the year was considered as Zero Dark Thirty.

The only app was Flipboard.

Statistic of the Year:

"In Afganistan, 84% of children under the age of 14 have been subjected to some form of sexual or physical abuse".

That's one to pray over and act upon.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Do not lost heart

Yesterday my pal Andy, who runs the Viva Network, preached to us. His story about Bolivian child glue addicts is still with me and will be for some time to come.

Every year, I go away with the seven 'Men on mountains' (Andy is one of them) for a week of renewal and retreat and this years starts today on Snowdon.

We hold each others lives to account, we confess our sins, we ask each other challenging questions, we tell the story of our year, we pray, we laugh, we cry, we encourage each other and we climb mountains. We will do this every year until the day we die even if in years to come we may have metamorphosed into 'Old gits on a promenade'.

This film reminded me anew to keep on running the race and how much I value these seven dear brothers who run it with me and hold my life to account.

I wrote this post called '30 things to do for a soul MOT' and do try one or two of them in order that you too keep on running.

The blog will be quiet so I will leave you with a bit of Keller and here are the notes of what he says which are well worth taking some time with.

via Steve McCoy

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The scandal of grace

via this post that blessed me  and 
here's a post to reflect on for Dad's (it's Fathers Day) that's written by one.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Two books

We're back from a break in Egypt to stay with friends and see others who also live there and obviously saw a pyramid. Also visited a Coptic cave church on a rubbish dump that seats over 5000. Amazing place and people.

This post made a deep impression on me and so I've taken to re-reading 'The Heart of a Servant Leader' daily and intend to go through the whole book bit by bit. It's blessing me mightily. These are Jack Miller's letters penned to friends, pastors, missionaries and people who came across his path. I read a letter or two each morning and then mark key sentences and journal their wisdom. Jack Miller is mentoring me from the grave through this invaluable and amazing collection of his correspondence sent to people over many decades in ministry. Anyone involved in any sort of leadership, church work, prayer or pastoring would do well to linger long and prayerfully in these letters- particularly if you need guidance or encouragement.

Eric Metaxa is a super author. His latest book called '7 Men' is a look at seven men's lives and gives a potted account of their impact and achievements. So many people these days don't have time to read a big thick biography (if you only manage one read this). If you're short on time then you might be blessed by either reading or listening on audiobook to the stories of Bonnhoeffer, Eric Liddel, Wilberforce, Chuck Colson and others. You not only glean a good overview of each man but Metaxa also seeks to tease out the secret of what made these lives great ones. Here is a tiny insight into a secret from the life of William Wilberforce:

"He also memorised lots of Scripture......he memorised the entirety of Psalm 119. That's hard to believe when you see how long it is, but it's true. Wilberforce would also sometimes walk the two and a half miles from Parliament to his home, and the second half of the walk took him through the portion of Hyde Park. Wilberforce had it timed so that if he began reciting Psalm 119 when he entered the park, he would be finished by the time he got home. It took about twenty minutes to recite the whole thing' [Pages 48-49]

Imagine if a few of us memorised Psalm 119 or another (perhaps shorter) one or Romans 8 or Ephesians 3 or The song of David in 2 Samuel 22. Imagine too if when we walked through the park or along a river or on our commute we prayed daily a chuck of our chosen Scripture for our churches, marriages, children, friends, workplaces, cities and nations. Just think what might happen. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A book, holiday recommendations and a few thoughts to chew on

1. Rick Warren is always worth listening to (even if you've heard it before). Enacting the wisdom which he explained in Part 2 may be the thing that's gets you and I to the end.

It is:
-Divert daily
-Withdraw weekly
-Abandon annually

2. I am going to hear Alan Hirsch in a few weeks time. What do you make of this?

3. I'm taking this book on holiday.

4. I got one of these for my birthday. Left my old one on top of my car and drove off :(

5. Justin Welby's speech in the Lord's Marriage debate and also Debbie Hirsch (wife of Alan) on homosexuality which I plan to listen to before hearing them both live.

6. The excellent blog and highly resourcing Preacher Smith is back from a blog-o-liday and Tall skinny kiwi has a new blog

7. Alistair Sawday is my great secret if you are looking for a good pub or nice place to stay for a break or holiday. 

8. Kester on pirates is brilliant @ Ted Exeter

Monday, June 03, 2013

For the pod: Jack Miller's Sermon saved my life

This morning I read a post about Jack Miller who has become one of my people and you should read the post too. Miller's book 'Heart of a servant leader' is one I have written about a lot in the past.

I, probably like you, will now hunt for and listen to the sermon spoken about below in the hope that it has a similar impact.
At the Redeemer Presbyterian Church website, I came across a message that he preached there about five years before he died (1996) called, “Covered by Jesus’ Blood.” That sermon became the anthem of my sabbatical. I listened to it over and over and over again and wept every time.
And the reason is that God used it to convince me not only that he loves his people, but that he loves me!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

For the pod: Faith and Works

Yesterday we had our first Alpha Day at HT Barnes and let me tell you if I ever get tired of seeing people saved by Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit then I am in the wrong game.


Jesus said when one person repents and believes there is rejoicing in heaven. Think on that. It's absolutely incredible.

More and more I am seeing that a church is built one disciple and one salvation at a time. And one's just fine with me and seems more than fine to Jesus.

Today, I want to tell you about justification by faith. I can't remember where I was when Tim Keller first explained the difference between religion and the gospel but I do know I was in my car. I remember rewinding the tape (yes, that long ago) and I played what he had just said over again and then a third time. I then found my journal and wrote out everything word for word. The next day, I listened to the talk again just to make sure I had understood it right.

I will share with you the little model Keller offered me on that day. It changed the way I see the world:

"Believe in Jesus- you're saved- so live different= The Gospel"

"Believe in Jesus - live different - then you might be saved= Religion"

Comprehending the difference between these two sentences is the difference between being a Christian and not being one (I do know that this last sentence will prompt some readers to go 'But wait a minute what about blah blah blah etc.....' and that's fine. Muslims, as an example, do believe in Jesus but not in his deity, in the atonement or in the resurrection. They also have no theology of nor possibility for grace. It is crucial when speaking about Jesus, as many 'Christians' do, that we define who we mean (his nature as fully God and fully man) rather than a definition of our own making or one that fits with our particular religious take on his identity. However, if my sentence makes you pick up a concordance, read a theology book, read Romans and a commentary on it- (what about a chapter a week of the excellent God is for us by Simon Ponsonby for the next year), read an apologetics book on your next two week holiday or buy these talks and listen to them all and work out why you disagree with Paul's argument in Galatians then frankly all well and good.

Two other outcomes:

1. You may get saved and find yourself called to preach, teach and lead a local church (41% of the clergy in my diocese are retiring in the next 10 years so they'll be space but we are losing getting on for a million pounds a year and can't pay our salary bill so you may have to plant a church and resource your own stipend but trust me it's fun and very faith inducing.

2. You may also experience the reality of grace.

If you want to have the issue of religion vs the gospel condensed down to an hour then this talk called Faith and Works is an absolute belter. You should listen to it with a journal in hand, rewind the bits that make you go "But wait a minute...." and once you've done that you should listen to it again.

If grace doesn't shock, offend and amaze you then you haven't understood it.

My in-laws to be and my mother are coming to listen to me preach this morning so I'd better get on with the day :)

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