Showing posts from 2013

We three Iranians: Satellites stars and smart phones

As we prepare for another nativity, I've been considering the link between the Three Wise men from the East, probably Iran, and the thousands of Iranian believers today.

These three Iranians represent a massive prophetic promise. The first to come from far off to worship Jesus. Following a star, beginning a journey based on limited revelation, ending in submission to Christ and a total rejection of their old lives and world views. They point prophetically to the millions who have and will come to Christ from across Asia, from the Middle East, through Iraq, Iran, India and Pakistan. They are a foretaste of the many who will follow in their footsteps.

Today we don't hear stories of stars in the sky. However, there are many stories of Muslim background believers in the oppressive Iranian regime who have dreams and visions of Jesus. Many too who are stopped in their tracks by a satellite broadcast beamed into their homes, or a youtube clip about Jesus onto their smart phones.


Kings, carols and caricatures!

Maybe it's over familiarity, or the fast approach of another badly costumed kids nativity play -but the wise men in the story, found in Matthew 2, need to be commended.
First though, a few of our favourite myths need well and truly busting! These three Kings didn't just appear out of the mist, dropping into the perfect nativity scene with Shepherds, animals, Mary, Joseph and the lobster!

Most scholars agree today that their starting point in the 'East' was Iraq, Babylon, maybe even Iran. Either way, these guys came a came a long way, and they had been following the star a long time.
The fact that Herod orders boys under the age of two to be killed gives us an idea that Jesus was probably an infant by now. The shepherds were long gone, the manger back to it's animal use. Mary and Joseph would have long since presented Jesus at the temple and met Simeon and Anna. Indeed, verse 11 of Matthew 2 hints that the young family may now be living in a house rather than the or…

The Fabulous Fifty Nine : Climate control for an uncertain time.

'One anothering' is one of those church phrases that the rest of the world rarely registers. However, the fifty nine one another references in the New testament are all so active and powerful that it's time we gave them a bit of airtime and started living them out.

Eat, sleep, read, repeat as the song goes (almost!) Through a time of unprecedented change at a local church level, my prescription is that we do just that. Copy and print. Stick them around the house, meditate on them in the mornings. We will mature as we align with this truth, as we let them become the default setting, the climate control for this season of life together in the local church. When there is so much change going on, we can quickly become consumed by the 'what' and the 'how'. All important, but these one another's show us that 'who' we are together through the process is far more important.

We could summarise them negatively : Refuse factions, refuse gossip, be wise on …

Great Expectations : Hope for hype hunters

Expectation: A strong belief that something will happen or be the case.
At its most potent this firm, unshakeable belief in a certain outcome produces anticipation, expectancy, eagerness and hope.

These are the feelings that flood through us when we are convinced something is going to change. They are powerful motivators, and when this kind of expectant hope is kindled corporately in a local church community, undiluted anticipation can rush through the whole and bring real forward momentum.

Our problem comes when reality fails to meet our great expectations. The irresistible force of our assumed progress crunches up against the immovable object of reality. And it's reality that bites. Time and again we fail to hit the mark, sometimes coming in close, sometimes nowhere near. Either way, we become conditioned to failure and disappointment.

Nothing saps hope in the local church more than this. We dared to believe, but look what happened. From the people who came out of Egypt to the di…

The fighting talk of David Brainerd

After preaching on prayer as 'Fighting Talk' yesterday, I've been impacted again by the stories of David Brainerd, who died whilst a missionary to the Sasquehanna Native Americans in October 1747.

E.M Bounds comments that Brainerd 'did his greatest work by prayer', often alone in the depths of the forests, unable to speak the language of the Native Americans and so spending literally days in fighting prayer.
Brainerd knew that if he wanted to reach the Sasquehanna, he must find someone who could at least vaguely interpret his thoughts. Understanding this, he spent whole days praying, asking the Holy Spirit to come upon him so powerfully that these people would be moved by his message.

Dr A J Gordon in his biography of Brainerd wrote the following:
'Once he preached through a drunken interpreter, a man so intoxicated that he could hardly stand up. Yet scores were converted through that sermon. We can account for it only that it was the tremendous power of God beh…

Last night I joined the local church......

Last night I joined the local church.

I've come to town to lead the local church, yet I need to be a part, not apart from it. I need to be amongst the ranks of the new, the not yet known, the being made ready. I need to, not out of some cheap political stunt to identify with the troops before brushing the dust off and returning to my ivory tower of leadership. I need to because I too need the local church in order to be formed more readily and purposefully into the life that Jesus has for me.

I've not come to town to dispense life transforming grace. I've come in deep need of it myself, and the place I find it is in the local church. Unless I want to remain on a pedestal of professional perfection, I must recognise my need to encounter life change, discipleship through friendship. I'm not immune to it, not beyond it. Indeed, if I don't get shaped in this way I can't go on.

Whoever started the rumour that pastors, leaders, were above one anothering, called instead …

Tommy Robinson, EDL and the Apostle Paul!

The radio interviews with Tommy Robinson, former leader of the English Defence League, over the last 24 hours have been extraordinary news! Emerging from 18 weeks of self evaluation in solitary confinement following a passport conviction, Robinson speaks with an entirely different kind of conviction -that of the ideological convert.

This crowd pleasing street fighter has reflected on his views, on his family and on ideas of race and violence, re-entering the world an apparently changed man. Resigning his leadership of the EDL, Robinson expressed concern about the increasing influence of extreme elements within his movement. He even apologised that the things he has said have not resonated with Muslims. Most surprising of all was this quote, 'I don't hate Muslims. Luton (his home) is a multicultural town, and from day one I've wanted to embrace everyone, all colours and creeds.' There has been an understandably cautious welcome from British based Islamic groups, wondering…

The Seven Marks of a Healthy Church

Continuing the exploration of healthy church - Robert Warren's excellent 'Healthy Churches Handbook' contains a number of helpful steps.I've used these headings to provoke discussion amongst leaders in various contexts over the years, also finding them personally useful in my own setting. Whilst Warren writes to provoke life in established Anglican churches that have lost their purpose, his challenge remains relevant and provocative for those of us who consider ourselves to be in more progressive movements.

Understanding Warren's primary target church audience means we are not going to import everything he suggests, but the thinking process involved in his seven 'marks' is well worthwhile. I will simply paraphrase his marks below without comment. As you reflect on your own context, you will find they speak for themselves and leave you making mental notes and adjustments. They may even send you running for the whiteboard with your leadership team! Perhaps I w…

Healthy church - Tolkien v Friends

In our early church planting days, we were hugely impacted by an influential book called 'Natural Church Development' by Christian Schwarz. It was such a fresh voice at the time amongst a raft of church growth books, in that Schwarz majored on qualitative development in church communities, rather than just strategies for numerical growth.
Over the years since, these principles remain valid, although I now prefer to talk about 'Healthy church' and to shy away from any strategies that seek to overquantify growth in percentage terms.
Essentially, church communities who have prayerfully assessed their strengths and weaknesses, aware of their unique culture and context, will begin to engage more fruitfully with the mission that God has for them. This focus on the quality of our life and call together, rather than just a count of numbers attending, is a much more truthful measure of life.
God has given us a model in nature - A healthy plant will simply grow. Give it the right c…

Lost Generation

I've been listening to the Rizzle Kicks on the radio on the drive into town today, with their sound commentary on the vacuum of real life for the average 21st century Brit. Those Rizzle boys may be fresh faced, but they do behavioural studies like old pros, grasping the emptiness that leaves a gnawing hunger in the unsatisfied hearts of our lost generation.
The underlying question is one of what or who we are worshipping-  Really? We all give ourselves to something, someone. A person, a lover, a child, work, money, sport. We define worship with this question - What or who are you giving yourself to? 
As men and women made in God's image, we are designed to give ourselves, dedicate ourselves to Him. That's how life is supposed to work: We're designed to live out our adventures within the deep safety of a secure relationship with God. In a hostile chaotic world, God still calls us to dedicate ourselves into his care and purpose.
It's always been that way. The big story …

Dangerous Calling

The magnificent, 'Dangerous Calling', by Paul David Tripp has made a timely intrusion to my summer reading plan. It is an uncomfortable mirror of a book, which frequently needs to be out down and considered with hones appraisal. For this reason it is a book to be read over a week or so rather than in a sitting.
At a time of personal transition, about to begin a new work in a new town, this paragraph on unhealthy expectations pulls no punches.
'It should be obvious that unhelpful assumptions made as the Pastor is coming to lead the church would be fruit in a whole set of unrealistic expectations. The biggest is that many churches simply don't expect their Pastor to struggle with sin. But he is not sin free! Since he is still being sanctified, sin still remains and is being progressively eradicated. They don't expect him to get discouraged in the middle of the war for the gospel. They don't expect him to be tempted towards bitterness or envy. They expect him to be…

What Muslims Believe

Today is Eid Mubarak, the end of the month of Ramadan. It is always a time when Muslim friends and neighbours are very open in discussing their faith.However, most Christians don't really know what Muslims believe. Obviously, within Islam there are huge differences much as you will find within the range of beliefs across the Christian church. Having said this, the basic tenants below will be generally accepted by mainstream Mulsims the world over.
They believe in the one true God (Allah), and his total rule over humanity, a day of judgement to come, and life after death. There is no sense of assurance about receiving mercy from Allah on the final day, and so a life lived in merit, in accordance with the five pillars Islam is necessary. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, although God's ultimate revelation of himself was to Mohammad, through the Angel Gabriel, recorded word for word in Arabic in the Quran.
Here are the five pillars of Islam that Muslims must uphold:
1/ The …

'We must be prepared for the fact that we may be arrested' - A tribute to Samuel Lamb

When Mao Zedong came to power in China in 1949 he quickly expelled the foreign missionaries and began a long programme of persecution against Chinese believers with the purpose of wiping out Christianity in the atheistic Mao cult state.  After his death in 1976, it became apparent that the very opposite had happened, and a vibrant underground, authentically Chinese New Testament church was flourishing.
One of the best known hero Christian leaders, Pastor Samuel Lamb, who pioneered through this era died lat Saturday  in Guangzhou, aged 88.
Lamb was arrested during one of the first big waves of persecution in Mao’s 'Great Leap Forward', imprisoned from 1955 to 1957. At the time, the estimated number of believers in China was in the low millions.
The only way to stay out of prison for church planters at was to compromise and bring their churches under the control of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-regulated Protestant Church. Refusing to take this step, and as the leade…

Bible highlights Amazon appetite!

Amazon's Kindle list of most highlighted books of all time reveals 6 bibles in the top 25, along with books from Bonhoeffer and Francis Chan.

None of this should be a surprise, accumulated bible sales remain higher than any other book, higher even than last summer's blockbuster Hunger Games trilogy which also feature highly on the rundown.

The ESV bible sits at number one. No surprises here either, as this version has been free to download for Kindle users since launch. For people who just want one bible, the ESV will always be the default purchase. The heavy duty study bible also comes high up the chart. Good pricing here makes it the online study bible of choice, the kindle version at only £9.49 when the doorstop hardback is a whopping £25.

To see bibles in the most highlighted of all time list is obviously encouraging in our secular age. More noteworthy though is the question of what people are actually highlighting. Its fair to assume that to make the effort to highlight a p…

Famous last words.

Last words are powerful. They are spoken for maximum impact, when nothing else matters any more. There are pages full of them on the Internet. Some funny, some poignant, some sad, some totally fabricated!

One of my favourites was uttered by the over confident General Sedgwick before his last moment in the American Civil War. Looking over the parapet, he turned to encourage his troops with these words:"They couldn't hit an elephant from this dist...!"

Or how about one of the heroes of Scott's fatal race to the Antarctic? Knowing he was dying of exhaustion, hunger and exposure, Captain Oates left his colleagues in the tent, not wanting to slow down their retreat to safety, out into temperatures of-70. His brave, stiff upper lip British understatement at this moment of supreme self sacrifice? "I'm going out, I may be some time."

In my last words as a preacher in the church family that we've served in for the past eight years, we are looking at the mo…

Larry Botter and the Parchment of Special Educational Need

Larry lived in a normal house with normal parents, but as he approached secondary school he became increasingly aware of his special powers.
In the womb eleven years ago, Larry's number one X chromosome had developed differently from the others, leaving him with magical powers of memory and a raised X scar on his forehead which he hid under his thick mop of unruly hair.

Unfortunately for Larry, the other children began to notice that he was different, and hiding his special powers was becoming more and more difficult.

Professor Mumblemore had invited Larry to join Vogwarts from September, (a special school hidden away from the authorities beneath the South Downs that could only be reached by a flying taxi). However, He who must not be named at the Ministry for Education thought that Larry and his parents were absolute Muggles. Conspiring with Larry's current school they hatched a secret plan to shut Larry in the PE cupboard until he was 16 so that Professor Mumblemore and his …

My Manchester Top 5

I'm really looking forward to being back in Greater Manchester this weekend. Almost 10 years in the great county of Lancashire has been interrupted by the last 8 in equally stunning Sussex. However,telling friends that I'm returning north this weekend has produced expressions of pity and a looks of concern on our behalf!

We all know about the poor weather, the funny accents and this stuff they have up north called 'industry' - but for the benefit of my champagne drinking, sun kissed southern soft friends (also a caricature in case you were wondering!) let me give you my top 5 from the most excellent city of Manchester!

1/ The Museum of Science and Industry.
In my view this eclipses anything that London has to offer. It tells the story of our social history magnificently, focussing of course on the dual horrors and splendours of the industrial revolution. From the biggest machines to the best interactive displays for kids - MOSI is a must visit place. That the government …

The magic of cut flowers - things women already know about romance that men don't yet understand!

We are continuing our Marriage Central seminars this weekend. One of the books that we have been recommending to our couples is the excellent, 'Mars and Venus in the bedroom', by John Gray. He takes the well known Mars/Venus analogy of Male/Female differences and applies them pretty frankly to the most intimate parts of our most loving relationship as husband and wife.

Essentially, the old generalisation that 'he wants sex and she wants romance' means that it does seem as though we have arrived on earth together from different planets. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than behind the bedroom door. Most of the book is definitely for 'couples' reading only, and not subject matter that I would quote liberally from on my blog! However, this simple passage about the magic art of buying flowers ends up explaining some of our differences in ways that even us Male Martians can begin to understand - ladies, really, we do need it explaining to us at this kind of level -…

We've all got a bit of Wesley in us on Aldersgate day!

On this day in 1738 John Wesley was famously converted at a Society meeting in a room on Aldersgate Street, London. I say 'famously', although it wasn't particularly noteworthy at the time, other than for Wesley and his close circle, but the repercussions from this evening in London were to spin out down through the generations to such an extent that we continue to remember today.

Having tried and failed in his attempts at religion, and even church leadership, Wesley was hugely impacted by the example of genuine faith that he observed in Moravian believers. Observing their attitude and prayer life during terrifying storms on board a boat bound for America, the lack of peace with God in his own soul was highlighted. Wesley was so deeply disturbed that he lamented on his return, 'I went to America to convert the Indians but oh,who will convert me!'

Frustration growing, Wesley's story finds him arriving heavy hearted at Aldersgate Street, 'very unwillingly'…

Dense crowds at Moriah Chapel. A reminder.

In November 1904 something new was happening in Moriah Chapel, Loughor, Wales, as over 800 people raced to get there night after night from their daily business to squeeze into the small building.

The Western Daily Mail reported it in this way on Nov 11th of that year:
A remarkable religious revival is now taking place at Loughor. For some days now, a young man named Evan Roberts, a native of Loughor, has been causing great surprise at Moriah Chapel. The place has been besieged by dense crowds of people unable to obtain admission.

Such excitement has prevailed that the road on which the chapel is situated has been lined with people from end to end.........The preacher soon launches out into a fervent and at times, impassioned oration. His statements have had stirring effects upon his listeners. Many who have disbelieved Christianity for years are again returning to the fold of their younger days.

One night, so great was the enthusiasm invoked by the young revivalist that, after his ser…

Marriage: Mars, Venus, dogs and balloon flights!

Charles Darwin was considering marriage to his cousin Emma Wedgewood, and wrote some brilliant thoughts on the subject. Writing out of his scientific personality, Darwin drafted this rather cold sounding logic as an argument for marriage. Ladies, don't expect to swoon over the next few lines with romance heaving in your bosom!

Against the idea of marriage Darwin noted, "the expense and anxiety of children" and the fact that a married man could never "go up in a balloon". An odd one perhaps, but maybe just his way of expressing that marriage will tie him down and limit his risk taking (in his view!)

More positively, in favour of marriage, he spoke of acquiring a "constant companion and friend in old age". The clincher that settled the argument was that a wife would be "better than a dog, anyhow."

Remarkably, (and leaving aside the thought of marrying your cousin!) Mr and Mrs Darwin continued on to have a strong and happy marriage. On his dea…

Running into blanket prayers!

I was talking with friends this week about how hard it is to actually go out for a run. I know I need to do it, I can feel in my body I need to do it, even have a perverse yearning to do it -But until In lace up my trainers and force myself out of the door, 101 pathetic reasons, excuses and distractions will prevent me from doing the one thing that I know to be important!

At the start of our latest week of prayer in our home church, this runners problem is suddenly understood by all of us who have faced down the battle to shut yourself away and intercede before God!

Richard Newton, writing 160 years ago,summed up the dilemma of our circling approach to prayer and its impact well:
"The principal cause of my leanness and unfruitfulness is due to an unaccountable backwardness to pray. I can write, read, converse or hear with a ready heart. But prayer is more spiritual and inward than any of these, and the more spiritual any day is, the more my carnal heart is apt to stray from it. P…

In tribute to Brennan Manning

With real sadness I heard that Brennan Manning died yesterday. One of the greatest contemplative writers of our generation, and a wonderful mixed up enigma of a man.
After fighting with the US Marines in Korea, he became a Franciscan Priest, spent time in France and Spain, even living as a hermit in a cave near Zaragoza for 6 months! Returning to the States, his honest admission of alcoholism emerged through writing which betrayed a breathtaking understanding of the grace of Father God and His 'Abba' heart for us.

All of Manning's books are worth reading, some over again and again. His ability to cut us to the heart, strip away our pretences and leave us alone with a God who still accepts us is stunning. My favourite, 'The Ragamuffin Gospel - Good news for the bedraggled, beat-up and burned out',is as good as it gets. In tribute to a great writer and exceptional man, I can do no better than give you a flavour of his heart, which will always lead you to Abba's he…

Conflict is......

Marriage is under pressure like never before in our culture. There are enough external pressures against this lifelong, exclusive commitment between a man and women. However, I have yet to hear of political or religious conflict breaking up a marriage.Mostly the sad stories of self destruction that we hear are rooted much closer to home - basic problems of self centredness, inability to communicate, or the struggle to handle the inevitable conflicts that arise when two independent people come together and try to do life together!

In preparing for the second session of our 'Marriage Central' series which Caz and I are teaching through at home base, I found this excellent paragraph on handling conflict. Taken from Neil Anderson's 'Experiencing Christ Together', the contrasts between destructive and constructive conflict will be helpful for all of us to embrace, whether in marriage, friendship or the work place. Remember, conflict is inevitable, conflict is not the pr…

Don't miss Maundy mysteries!

If you are somewhere in the world which follows the Western church calendar, then today is Maundy Thursday! Maundy : The day before the much more celebrated Good Friday, the last day of the working week, the day we can't wait to get through in order to finally reach the holiday weekend!

Traditionally, Maundy celebrated the last Supper that Jesus enjoyed with his disciples. In some circles it carries other names, my favourite, 'Thursday of Mysteries.'It sounds like a day spent watching back to back Scooby Doo cartoons!
The word Maundy, an evolved Anglicisation of the old French Mande - Command. 'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you' John 13.34

Saying these words, Jesus, the leader and champion, took a towel and began to wash the feet of his friends and his betrayer. What a shocking and uncomfortable way to demonstrate your love as service. Bending, humbling, assuming the position and role of a servant. A lowly servant at that,…

Looking for theology behind the chair!

St Augustine's chair, destroyed in the Reformation, now pieced lovingly back together for each enthronement of a new Archbishop of Canterbury. Today, placed up near the altar table, behind the screen which separates the congregation from the main players and the action.

The Reformation should have seen the screens destroyed with the chair. What is this idea that there are parts of a building that are holy, parts of religion that are just for a select few, special places where God dwells and where the many cannot enter? Don't we remember as Holy Week 2013 begins that Jesus tore the screen down, ripped apart the giant curtain in the original temple which separated man and God? Didn't he open the way for all of us who believe to follow him boldly into the Father's holy house, and back out into the fallen world, still shining with his holiness? The great hope of the gospel is that there is no sacred/secular space, no where where God's people can't be or that God hi…

Waiting for the white smoke of intimacy.

The world's media is camped out in a damp St Peter's square waiting for white smoke that tells us 115 select men have heard God speak on behalf of millions. These are moments of high drama and intrigue, but what if God intended that all of us could hear his voice and know his plans?

Way back when, Moses groaned at the needs around him, wishing that all God's people were prophets- he might finally get some peace! What Moses hoped for is now open to all of us. It used to be the chosen just few, on behalf of the many. Even after Jesus ascended, his anxious disciples drew lots to find a replacement for Judas - shifting the burden of hearing God away from nervous men and onto the luck of the draw, knowing a gracious God would work this way on behalf of weak people who couldn't fathom his heart.

Everything changed at Pentecost. Never again would true believers need to draw lots or hedge their bets. Suddenly, full of the Spirit of God,they were able to make decisions as though…

In praise of cunning women and a roguish God!

Like it or not, there seem to be some aspects of God's character that are seen more clearly in women than in men. If Genesis 1 is right and the male and female of the species are both made in the image of God Himself, then I guess this statement shouldn't surprise us.It's just possible that the Creator God buried his rich character deep into the psyche and personality of men and women. Whilst both sexes point to who He is, men and women individually are capable of showing a unique insight to aspects of God's ways and worth.

This is never more apparent than in the little studied subject of cunning!
Shrewdness, guile or subtle thinking, prudence and wisdom. These are not uniquely female traits, but the girls are definitely in charge in the cunning department!

Think about the mother of baby Moses, commanded to throw her baby in the river. She obeyed to a degree, but only after placing him carefully with prayer and hope into a pitch lined basket, and sending her older daugh…

Marriage Central

In a little under 8 weeks time we will have been married for 20 years! Years in which we've grown up together, remained best friends and learned how to flourish in a monogamous, exclusive relationship within a culture that is sex soaked and promiscuous.

In preparing to teach on marriage this weekend, I'm stunned by how counter culture real marriage actually is. What a statement it makes. We just thought it was normal, we're not expecting a medal for getting half way - but increasingly such a secure and happy relationship stands out like a beacon against a dark sky.

It's profoundly counter cultural for me to say: 'I give myself to her, to serve her, to cause her to shine, to think about her first over myself and my needs, to create more little people like us with her,to learn to handle trouble and hardship with her, to have my character shaped over years with her and by her. To unlearn everything the world has taught me about sex, lust and self gratification and with…

The Good Father- Noah Hawley. Book Review

It's the old cliche about a good book, but with Noah Hawley's 'The Good Father', I really couldn't put it down!

It's easy to say what the book is about, the story of estrangement between a father and his grown up son, a relationship broken since divorce years before, now brought into the spotlight through the unexpected murder of an up and coming Senator by the lost boy. The information about the plot is not enough though, it's a book you have to feel.

The sudden reordering of the Father's emotional world is shattering, his intense introspection and the impact on his new family heartbreaking. It reads like a thriller, at times with a touch of Grisham's legal procedure, mixed with big widescreen vista roadtrip descriptions of small town America. The truth as it begins to emerge is hard to swallow and you are left googling to see if this novel is really a true story.

What is most striking is the ordinariness of the lives of this family. They look just l…

Missions trends and the 10/40 window

The missionary movement has progressed in thinking and strategy over the last few centuries. Moving from a territorial idea – missionaries connected to trade routes and coastal areas in the previously unreached areas of India, China and Africa – to a later movement that saw daring groups push inland to the undiscovered interiors. China Inland Mission was a case in point.
The emphasis towards the end of the last century was to recognise the need to reach more than just the land, but people groups with the gospel. Simply establishing church bases in a nation was never the goal. Seeing the gospel communicated and rooted in the local populations through discipleship is the greater aim.

The big promise of the bible concerns this kind of discipleship to the ends of the earth. The colourful descriptions of Revelation show a huge number of disciples of Jesus, coming from every tribe, tongue and nation. In other words, from every people group that has developed on planet earth. In the here and n…