Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best Reads of 2015

1. The Plausibility Problem by Ed Shaw: Oddly, the latter part of the year was consumed with reading and study about sexuality. I confess that this is a subject that,  in my view, consumes far too much of the church's (and media's) time. However, as an evangelical clergyman in the C of E you can run but you can't hide when it comes to working out and articulating where you stand on such matters. I also unexpectedly found myself participating in the C of E's  'Shared Conversations about Human Sexuality' which gave me fresh insight and empathy for those for whom this is a life-long struggle and campaigning issue. As Covey suggests with his first habit 'Seek first to understand'. I remain convinced that celibacy/singleness or marriage are the two options the Bible gives for those who are Christians. If you're not, you can clearly take your chance and do whatever you want. Ed Shaw's book was the best of the pile I read and makes this case well while challenging the church to work harder at being a place of love and importantly, family, for same-sex attracted people, Rosaria Butterfield ran Ed a very close second with her wonderful book Openness unhindered. which I also recommend for those who want to explore this complex subject further.

2 Scary close by Donald Miller: I am not quite sure why Don Miller seems like a close friend despite my never having met him. His latest book continues his life story as it unfolds before us- and indeed him. I guess this section of his life story could be called 'mid-life and commitment' (finally). I enjoy his writing, his observations and was fascinated by all his fears surrounding commitment and marriage. Being a man who waited until 45 to find my bride and enter wedlock, Don and I had much to trade on the state of our souls with regard to relationships. Every time I finish one of Don's books I look forward to settling down on the sofa with the next one. Let's hope he keeps living such an interesting life.

3. Us by David Nicholls: This made me laugh out loud from the first page and is a black comedy about a marriage in trouble. This is a man in a mid-life (something of a theme) crisis, which is much of his own making and the reflections on dad's and teenage son's were fascinating. Nicholls manages to capture so much that characterizes middle class, middle England in a way that is worryingly familiar to me. The turns of phrase and wonderful insights about modern family dynamics in secular culture are truely priceless. Underlying the laughter though, is a sad tale of a man and women who have failed to build a marriage and they only discover so when its too late to do anything about it.

4. Live Love Lead by Brian Houston: I found this to be a good and informative read telling the story of Hillsong. Houston is clearly a very gifted leader and witnessing him show amazing grace and counsel to Driscoll and his taking a bullet or two for him when he didn't need to prompted me to buy his book. He has much to offer those who seek to become better leaders, much to share about failure and controversy and his love of the church is catching. Hillsong has had an incredible impact in just one generation and the C of E would do well (as HTB do) to look at some of the best ways they are managing to connect with folk in post-Christian culture. We have much to learn from them I think and very little time left to learn it.

5. Against the flow by John Lennox: John taught me a bible class at Vicar Factory and also taught us preaching. He's a simply splendid man. This is the book of the lectures he gave us on Daniel. Lennox is one of the great apologists of the faith but is also a humble and clear bible teacher. If you want a book to make Daniel help our cultural challenges come alive then this is the one for you.

6. Praying the Bible by Don Witney: This very thin book is a one about the Psalms and since reading it I have been trying to pray the Psalms with more intention and it's working. I confess I am not praying through all of them every month as Witney does but I am using the Psalms as a spring board to prayer rather than endlessly praying my list. Believe me, this little book has the power to transform your prayer life.

7. The Road to Character by David Brooks: My 'pick up and put down' slow read of the year and it's well worth investigation. Basically, he takes a number of famous lives and tries to unpick what influenced and shaped their character. There are plenty of good and interesting observations and quotes in this one to keep you going for ages.

8. Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron: My friend and worship leading colleague Will put me on to this one and I enjoyed it. This is a fictional tale of a mega-church pastor whose world hits the buffers of doubt only to be saved by a bunch of monks in Rome. This is the vehicle Cron uses to tell the story of St Francis and bits of it hung around with me long after I had finished it. However, it probably won't be everyone's cup of tea and for (reformed) theology wonks it might have you huffing  and puffing in quite a few places but I think that's just as Cron intended it!

9. The Imperfect Pastor Zack Eswine: I become more and more convinced that few pastors finish the race well and the opening chapter of Finishing Strong becomes ever truer as I witness the lives of those who lead as the years pass. I am simply hoping, by sheer grace, that I make it in some semblance of good order over the line. This is such a rich book that I thank my blogging pal Darryl Dash for putting me on to. I intend to soak in its words for at least another year and probably longer.

10. The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson: I love Churchill and this was on my Christmas list and I have been falling to sleep reading it since unwrapping it. Not a lot of new material here but if you like a bit of bombastic biographical interpretation of a great life then Johnson is your man. Terrific stuff.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


'Abiding in Jesus means understanding that his acceptance of us is the same regardless of the amount of spiritual fruit we have produced. Ironically, it is only when we understand that his love is not conditioned on our spiritual fruitfulness that we have the power to become truly fruitful.  Only those who abide in Him produce much fruit. In other words, those people who get better are those who understand that God's approval of them is not dependent on their getting better'

Gospel, J D Greear, P 14 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bits and bobs

1. Preacher Gray

2. Here's my advice and I tell you this in the strongest terms I can. 'Don't watch porn and do everything you can to protect your kids from it'. It's deadly.

3. This is a Good best books list 2015.

4. Using this film tomorrow.

5. This film for the Life Course made me laugh out loud. You could use it for Alpha.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


'For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.'

Dorothy Sayers quoted in 'Come thou long expected Jesus', P. 39

Monday, December 07, 2015

Friday, December 04, 2015

Tricky but clear

I enjoy preparing sermons and when you preach through books of the Bible or sections of it (eg The Sermon on the Mount) it means you just can't avoid the challenging and difficult bits.

Advent is a time when we think about judgement and in Matthew 7 Jesus speaks to us about that with bells on.

My passage of the week is v 21-27

''What does it mean to build on a solid foundation? It means more than hearing God's word taught and becoming familiar with it, or even agreeing with it. We can do all that and still be a spiritual fool (v 26) Obedience to Christ's word distinguishes the wise man from his foolish neighbour......and the true Christian puts into practice what he has heard from the Master in this sermon. The point of having choices set before us is that we might choose'

Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, p.170

Thursday, December 03, 2015


I was struck yesterday but many things but most by Hilary Benn's oratory.

We preachers like a good bit of passionate talk and he certainly gave us that.

Now , you may or may not think the vote went the right way and, as an aside this caught my eye today, but this seemed to me like a defining moment -as Bill Hybels would name it

Was a new leader born before our eyes?

We'll wait and see.

All arm though to Hilary's elbow for picking up the ball and seeing where it might take him.

We'll discover where it leads soon enough.

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