Thursday, September 2, 2010

Heed These Words

Listening to a stunning sermon by C.J. Mahaney in preparation for our Grace Series at X1 Watford and this is a quote he finishes with that is so very powerful. Hear this:

There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. . . This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ doesn’t cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His ‘blood and righteousness’ alone that we can rest.”

- B. B. Warfield

Nothing I add, grace, grace, grace!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mohler - Spirituality in contrast to Christian Faith

Our wonderful, and o so faithful Administrative Assistant here at X1 has the wonderful knack of purchasing books for me as gifts that often really speak to me significantly. She has done it again with a book I'm reading now, 'Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth' by R. Albert Mohler.
It is a short, extremely incisive Biblical, unadulteratedly Christian insight into current cultural issues.

I was struck this morning by these words written as part of a reflection of living in a post 9/11 Terrorist Attack world:

"We learn[ed] that spirituality is no substitute for Christian faith. Churches were filled to capacity in the weeks following September 11. Some observers predicted a period of national revival and openess to the gospel. That did not happen. Within just a few months, church attendance had fallen to pre 9/11 levels. The national trauma produces flutterings of spirituality but little evidence of renewed Christian conviction.
Spirituality is what is left when authentic Christianity is evacuated from the public square. It is the refuge of the faithless seeking the trappings of faith without the demands of revealed truth. Spirituality affirms us in our self-centeredness and soothingly tells us all is well. Authentic faith in Christ calls us out of ourselves, points us to the Cross, and summons us to follow Christ."

My o my, clear incisive insight to the way things actually are. It is demanding for me as a church leader because i can never rest content that the 'spiritual' are amongst us - they must be called to 'Authentic faith in Christ.'


Monday, August 2, 2010

Be Overflowing with Praise

Umm mmm mmm, did we have a wonderful time as the gathered people of God at X1 yesterday morning or what? Certainly feeling God is shifting things in our very culture with respect to our sung out worship of the King together. As the Lead Elder I can only pray for more and more of the same.

As part of that desire for a shift to be pronounced and affecting in our minds, hearts, and actions I shared a message that had been on my heart as a pastor for over a year. I entitled it, "Be Overflowing with Praise." The simple thesis of the whole message being: Christians are empowered and filled with the Spirit of God in such a way as to overflow with expressive, exuberant praise for their God at all times - even in the dark, dark hours of the soul. (Not with fake outward adherence, or as a religious must, but from deep within a soul aware of all who God is and all HE's done.) Anyway enough of my thoughts, I wanted to re-share the thoughts of Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 103, the text I used for yesterday's sermon.

Here it is:
"As in the lofty Alps some peaks rise above all others so among even the inspired Psalms there are heights of song which overtop the rest. This one hundred and third Psalm has ever seemed to us to be the Monte Rosa of the divine chain of mountains of praise, glowing with a ruddier light than any of the rest. It is as the apple tree among the trees of the wood, and its golden fruit has a flavour such as no fruit ever bears unless it has been ripened in the full sunshine of mercy. It is man's reply to the benedictions of his God, his Song on the Mount answering to his Redeemer's Sermon on the Mount. [here] David awakens all the melodies of heaven and earth in honour of the one only living and true God."

Beautiful isn't it?
Bless you Lord for giving us the words and ministry of such a golden throated orator thoroughly consumed with love for you.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Healthy dose of Piper

I'm sorry this man has so richly blessed me in His absolute fascination with my, and his, God for so many years now, and in this sermon he does it again. I have to place some excerpts here for all of you to read and taste.

"When David says, 'I will magnify God with thanksgiving, he does not mean: 'I will make a small God look bigger than he is. He means: 'I will make a big God begin to look as big as he really is.' We are not called to be microscopes, but telescopes. Christians are not called to be con-men who magnify their product out of all proportion to reality, when they know the competitor's product is far superior. There is nothing and nobody superior to God. And so the calling of those who love God is to make his greatness begin to look as great as it really is. The whole duty of the Christian can be summed up in this: feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is. Be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God...

...We are called to be telescopes: people who make the greatness of God seem as great as it really is. This is what it means for a Christian to magnify God. But you can't magnify what you haven't seen or what you quickly forget. Therefore, our first task is to see and to remember the greatness and goodness of God. So we pray to God, "Open the eyes of my heart," and we preach to our souls, 'Soul, forget not all his benefits!'

...There are only two groups of people in the world whose differences from each other are of any eternal significance: those who love to magnify God and those who love to magnify themselves. At the root of all ingratitude is the love of one's own greatness. For genuine gratitude admits that we are beneficiaries of an unearned bequest; we are cripples leaning on the cross shaped crutch of Jesus Christ; we are paralytics living minute by minute in the iron lung of God's mercy; we are children asleep in heaven's stroller. Natural man hates to think of himself in these images: unworthy beneficiary, cripple, paralytic, child. They rob him of all his glory by giving it all to God. Therefore, while a man loves his own glory, and prizes his self-sufficiency, and hates to think of himself as sin-sick and helpless, he will never feel any genuine gratitude to the true God and so will never magnify God, but only himself.
On Psalm 69: 30 - 32. (See sermon here)

Let's be overflowing with praise - it gives glory to He who deserves it and it's truly missional!


Peter's denial

I wonder if there has been a 'darker night' in the soul of any other man. Think of it, not only have you shot your mouth off about the mighty measure of your boldness, but you've told Jesus Christ that he does not know what he's talking about when he exposes your false bravado. Then you go ahead and deny your friendship with the man who actually defines all that friendship is and should be - in front of a servant girl no less. Could it get any worse, any darker, any more bleak? Answer: Yes!

As you deny your association with the incarnate God, the one who is on a predetermined mission to give His life for you to ensure eternal oneness with your creator and give the gift of abundant life which we all long for - he looks over at you and 'looks straight' at you!
What do you do? Where do you run? Do you ache with every ounce of your entirety that maybe just maybe this is all a dream? Do you fake a 'so what, I never really was in on all this discipleship following Christ stuff any way?'
No you do exactly what Peter did (yeah it's Peter I'm talking about, you're free to read all about it in the 22nd Chapter of Luke) - you "weep bitterly.' Looking up the understanding of these words in the original Greek you come to see that this was no passive, gentle, quit sob. No this was loud wailing: heart-broken, emotion-releasing, tragedy-realizing wailing.

Not sure about you, but may I tell you that this pastor has stood in those shoes, maybe not to anywhere near the same degree, and of course without the incarnate Christ there to look into my eyes and display to me His deep, loving sorrow. But, I've lived in such a way, thought in such a way, been silent in such a way that I've denied my Lord. So what now... what about Peter? Is this the end of the story.

No it isn't. You see God is incomprehensibly forgiving to those who turn to Him in Godly sorrow - maybe too forgiving for many as they are unable to forgive themselves. The story goes on. Peter's does. Look at the restoration in John 21; see his participation in the receiving of the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 (he's not left out cause he 'failed'); see just a little later as he displays the inner transformation that takes place with repentance, reconciliation, and Holy Spirit endowment.

O the grace of God, "He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (I Jn. 1: 9)
How can you not love this one?


Monday, July 26, 2010

Inter-church unity

One brief glimpse at Christ's prayer for the 'future believers' in John 17 gives glorious credence to His great desire for unity among His people. Interspersed in almost all the epistles in the NT we see similar hopes, even pleas for unity.
Christ's promise over unity in His prayer of John 17 is majestic and one that I, as a local church leader, am jealous to receive. It's not easy though. Those on the fringes of church leadership, or with a naive view of all things pertaining to the complexity of leadership often can lay offense at 'church'for the disunity that appears to mark us. I will be the first to agree that it is in no way what it should be. Both within the family of a local church and again within the broader fellowship within a village, town or city.

At X1 we are going to make efforts to achieve some form of unity that would hopefully bring honor to our Lord, bring glory to Him, and also receive the rewards of that John 17 promise. I feel that it must be relational, and thus it is with great joy that I can reflect on a wonderful meal with the family called to lead another brilliant local church within Watford. There is so much that binds us and there is the growing foundation of a meaningful relationship that makes me hope and believe for some fruitful partnership in the future.

Bless this church Lord and draw us together to display something of what you prayed for those two millenia ago, and for which you still pray today.

Solo gloria


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Michael Horton on our identity and calling

As I said, I'm reading tons of books on grace and just started. "Putting Amazing back into Grace" by Michael Horton. Great start I assure you.
While introducing the book and after stating clearly, "Grace is the gospel." He wrote these words on our identity and calling as followers of Jesus Christ. I liked it a lot so I thought I'd share it.

"Our sense of purpose, as individuals and as a church, depends largely on how clearly we grasp certain truths about who God is, who we are, and what God's plan for history involves. Christians form a new humanity, a spiritual race. Just as a rib was taken from Adam's side to create Eve, God has taken people 'from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God (Rev. 5: 9 1- 10). This new race exists for a purpose, a definite reason. It exists to make God's glory felt in a dark and drab world; the new race is to be found in every imaginable ethnic, cultural, social, economic, and national grouping. It is seen dispersed throughout every stratum: In hospitals and schools, in homes and offices, from the coastal beaches to the city skyscrapers."



Monday, July 19, 2010

Grace - what a ring in that word.

As I tweeted earlier in the week I've got the great privilege as a teaching pastor here at X1 Watford to spend time studying the thoughts, arguments, and stunning expositions on God's word as I prepare to share with our people here. I mentioned that we are to enter into a series on 'Grace' as of Sept 19th and so I'm doing a lot of reading on that subject.
I hope to deposit several jewels from that reading over the next few weeks to enable others to enter into reading they may not have the time or motivation to do themselves. I'll start with something from Charles Spurgeon (not a bad place to start many would say) which is clear and concise on the beauty of God's grace:

"What a ring there is in that word grace. Why it does one good to speak it and to hear it; it is, indeed, a charming sound, harmonious to the ear. When one feels the power of it, it is enough to make the soul leap out of the body for joy.
Grace how good, how cheap, how free,
Grace, how easy to be found!
Only let your misery
In the Saviour's blood be drowned!

Grace, how it suits a sinner! How it cheers a poor forlorn wanderer from God!

Sweet, and simple.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wise words to preachers & bible teachers from Spurgeon

We do appear to live in an age of Christendom in the West that is at the very least shy of doctrine but can often actually be averse to it. Again and again I am confronted by this in my ministry. Here, in a sermon almost 144 years old, the wonderful Charles Spurgeon highlights his thoughts on preaching doctrine, and it's great importance:

"If we would influence thoughtful persons it must be by solid arguments. Shallow minds may be wrought upon by mere warmth of emotion and force of excitement, but the more valuable part of the community must be dealt with in quite another manner. When the apostle Paul was desirous to influence his son in the faith, Timothy, who was a diligent and earnest student and a man of gifts as well as of grace, he did not attempt to affect him by mere appeals to his feelings, but felt that the most effectual way to act upon him was to remind him of solid doctrinal truth which he knew him to have believed.

This is a lesson for the ministry at large. Certain earnest preachers are incessantly exciting the people, and but seldom if ever instructing them; they carry much fire and very little light. God forbid that we should say a word against appealing to the feelings; this is most needful in its place, but then there is a due proportion to be observed in it. A religion which is based upon, sustained, and maintained simply by excitement, will necessarily be very flimsy and unsubstantial, and will yield very speedily to the crush of opposition or to the crumbling hand of time.

The preacher may touch the feelings by rousing appeals, as the harper touches the harpstrings; he will be very foolish if he should neglect so ready and admirable an instrument; but still as he is dealing with reasonable creatures, he must not forget to enlighten the intellect and instruct the understanding...
...I do not doubt but that a far greater power for usefulness lies concealed within the doctrines of grace than some men have ever dreamed of. It has been usual to look upon doctrinal truth as being nothing more than unpractical theory, and many have spoken of the precepts of God's Word as being more practical and more useful; the day may yet come when in clearer light we shall perceive that sound doctrine is the very root and vital energy of practical holiness, and that to teach the people the truth which God has revealed is the readiest and surest way of leading them to obedience and persevering holiness.
- Salvation Altogether by Grace, July 29th 1866.


Monday, July 12, 2010

The 'if' of Covenant

Yesterday I preached my penultimate sermon in our Joshua series: Living Life Without the Fear. (See videos here) My focus was on Joshua's final words to the Israelite leadership in Joshua 23.

After stressing the importance of an individuals final words using the illustration of the scene of the frog king in Shrek 3 where he draws Shrek close to him to tell him essential words. I called the people of X1 to heed the emphasis of verse 11 in this chapter:
"So be very careful to love the LORD your God."

The words here talk of a 'cleaving' to God. The verse speaks of a steadfast, diligent and applied watching of our relationship with God in order not to fail in our fulfillment of our part in our covenant relationship with the Lord. I spoke of the many warnings and exhortations in the NT not to turn away, or fall away from God, or to entertain temptation by not resisting the devil written not to unbelievers but to believers.

Joshua speaks here of God being astonishingly faithful to His part of His covenant with the Israelites but also of the dire consequences that come from not ' being very careful to love God.' Tragically, and I feel the words I'll quote now are some of the saddest in all of scripture, the Israelites do not listen and intermingle with the destructive spirituality/immorality of the nations surrounding them with this result
"The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel...After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel." - Judges 2: 7, 10

This is so possible for us as the people of God in a generation virtually devoid of a God-consciousness saturated in consumerism and materialism and pluralism (all faiths are the same). He can have, and does have, such stunning promises and grace towards us to live life truly abundantly in the power of the Spirit, but we can forget to 'be very careful to love the Lord our God' and not enjoy any benefits of relationship with Him.
We will not lose the justification that comes from our being renewed by Him in new birth but we certainly can live out a life of mundane, legalistic, apathetic, guilt-ridden obedience earthed in human striving instead of Spirit-empowered joy filled loving obedience and we must be careful to heed the words of Joshua and the other biblical authors to ensure that does not happen.

Seek strength in His Spirit, as Jesus said, "If you love me you will obey what I command."


Personal Reflection on TOAM 2010

Just back from a brilliant 4 days in Brighton at the Newfrontiers TOAM Conference. This is a yearly gathering of the leaders of Newfrontiers churches from all over the globe (38 nations represented this year). It is always a great time and so strengthening while often restoring a vision for God's heart for the nations - this year was no different. It was extra special this year to know that 19 people from X1 (only 5 of us last year) would be part of the week and taste the heart and ethos of Newfrontiers as a movement of churches.

In the very first session on Tuesday we were launched immediately into God's global mandate, His passion for the nations, and His calling upon us to plant healthy word & spirit churches for the sake of the redemption of mankind. Scott Marques now based in Nampula, Mozambique (literally in a mud/metal hut in the bushes) who is living this mandate out encouraged us to be radical, adventurous and wild in capturing God's heart for people. Other individuals echoed this throughout the 4 days, with Dave Stroud (Christ Church, Central London) fixating our attention particularly on God's 'demand' upon us to remember the poor in all we do. (Strongly echoing the themes in a book by Tim Keller, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road)

For me personally, the afternoon sessions with Terry Virgo were so enriching and uplifting in their effect that I am so pleased to have been able to hear them.

Terry expounded Ephesians 6: 10 - 20 with biblical accuracy, clarity, and much pastoral wisdom. On day 1 he highlighted that we are to be 'strong', that we are to see that we are soldiers in conflict as we follow Christ. In fact the whole book of Ephesians must be read with this mindset. But this strength is not stoic, or self-induced, it is 'being strengthened in the mighty strength of the Lord.' This means drawing on the promises and power of God regularly.
On the second day, Terry detailed the elements of the armour of God with real brilliance and then brought the exposition to a crescendo in highlighting the 'salvation' that is intimated by Paul as he writes 'helmet of salvation.' This is so much more than a one off personal-historical event but the transformation, restoration, reconciliation and renewal of all of creation. The day when 'darkness disappears and all of creation is brought into the light.'
The final day was truly apostolic in its application as he centred on Paul's exhortation to pray 1) with various prayers on different occasions, 2) empowered by the Spirit, & 3) with focus on the apostolic gospel mission to the nations.
Here Terry's heart for prayer was truly evident and the charge to be likewise in our leadership - to lead with prayer and in prayer - was certainly taken on board by this elder.

The Thursday night offering was as stunning and mind-blowing in it's fervor and passion as ever and affected each of the X1ers who were part of it.
Yip, we had a wonderful time and my hope is that we will bring back much that we learnt and absorbed and affect our church with it. O and of course I hope that next year we will have even more than 19!

Check out the videos as they get uploaded here.


Monday, July 5, 2010

'Christian' - noun or adjective

I have been asked to have a close look at Rob Bell's book Velvet Elvis as part of a discussion I'll be involved in over this week. It is a book I read several years ago and which I found brilliant, challenging, and refreshing, yet also unhelpful, dangerous, and volatile. (Read it with grace and maturity)

This blog post is not to divulge my reasons for such responses to the book but to just highlight a tiny section that is relevant to several discussions taking place within the life of X1 at this time. Again and again I interact with conversations exposing a secular/holy divide in people's thinking (even my own). This divide is one (created by us not God I feel) that marks so many believers today and can almost cause them to have a view of created reality that is unbiblical and certainly cramping of all the truth and goodness that is God's that does not wear the 'Christian' label.

Here is where Rob Bell's thoughts are insightful

“It is a dangerous thing to label things 'Christian.' The word Christian appears in the bible as a noun. The first followers of Jesus were called Christians because they had devoted themselves to living the way of the Messiah, who they believed was Jesus.

Noun. A person. A person who follows Jesus. A person living in tune with ultimate reality, God. A way of life centered around a person who lives.

The problem with turning the noun into an adjective and then tacking it on to words is that it can create categories that limit the truth...

Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective."

We as Christians must make things lovely - not Christian. Do them with passion and devotion that honours the Lord and exposes His glory to a watching world. Teach like that, design like that, dance like that, write songs like that, mother and father like that, account like that, pack boxes in a factory like that, run like that, play football like that and so on. That doesn't make them Christian necessarily but it should make them so beautiful, so reflective of the way those things were ultimately intended and created to be done that they are 'holy' bathed in God and His purpose for those things.

I hope I've somewhat got my point across with Mr. Bell's help.


Humble Gratitude

Jacob (who is renamed Israel by the Lord) does not paint most of his life with glory. In fact several episodes in his life are down-right shameful. Stealing birthrights and blessings, lying and cheating - in fact he's a little too much like us in our failings and fallenness for our own liking.
Well guess what? At times even this man gets things so right it's startling, and today in the course of my bible reading I came across one of those times. Jacob is about to encounter his brother Esau who seems to be a bit of a heavy if biblical testimony is anything to go by (and yes it is the greatest testimony to go by). This is the same brother whom he cheated and stole from, bringing him to tears, so I think Jacob is quaking in his sandals.
In this moment, kind of how it works in our lives all-too-often, Jacob is deeply aware of his need of God and in this awareness says words that I feel should mark the life of every 21st century believer. Here they are

"I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant." - Gen 32: 10

Humble gratitude is a life transforming attitude that is a sweet aroma to all around us. Immersed in our consumer culture and pampered by therapeutically overdosed selfishness we far too often complain, moan, groan, and grumble and it is too unattractive to even articulate.
The attitude and mentality - humble gratitude - that inspired these words of jacob should constantly and consistently mark our lives today. I guarantee you it will be more evangelistically effective than you'd imagine.

Every blessing

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wanting to just 'play.'

The people of X1 gathered last night for our regular Unite prayer meeting and it was a truly precious time for all of us. There is a dynamic when we get together and earnestly and humbly seek God's heart together like this in prayer that is different to every other setting. I encourage so many of you out there who see the prayer meeting as the 'cop out' moment of church life to really seek your hearts and allow God to convict you of any wrong attitude towards this part of a church's true spiritual identity.

Anyway, on to what I wanted to share briefly. Praying with charismatic people who still believe that God is real, alive and longing to personally communicate with His people is so exciting. So often the Spirit of God leads individuals to share what they feel is on God's heart for us as a family and then we are blessed, strengthened and encouraged as we follow that 'theme' in our prayers together.
Last night one of the wonderful themes was that of God expressing His desire for us to just 'play' with Him. To enjoy Him I guess. To be in on His team, not to feel like we'll be the last one chosen, waiting at the very end of the line (like the 'bad old days' at school if you were anything like me) but to be chosen first, and to just truly enjoy freedom, peace, exhilaration, fun, activity and joy with Him.

We felt that so many of us miss out on this vital element of our faith in Christ whether it be through sin, pre-occupation with self, distraction, apathy, just add to the list, but so many of us are not 'playing' with Jesus, our whole journey with Him is laborious and official. I am certain that is not God's heart for us - certainly the gospels portray a very different Jesus to that - and I ask our God and King to set many of us free (at X1 and wherever else) to know this lifestyle as we follow Christ.


Monday, June 28, 2010

The 's' word!

About 25 minutes ago while making a juice for my gorgeous little girl (it is baking hot here in Watford) I heard the words that I hear far too often and which disgust me to put it mildly. Through our lounge windows which open on to the road to a kids' school a mother said to her little girl, "Well you're stupid..."

Parents, any of you, and my word even more so if you're believing parents, may I just make something overtly obvious to you: In the above equation there is only one person exposing their blatant stupidity and that is the parent.
To call a child stupid as part of the 'parenting package' exposes incivility, lack of grace, lack of wisdom, immaturity, impatience, and a form of barbaric nastiness.

It brings to my mind a marvelous little section of a superb book by C.S. Lewis called The Four Loves where I think Lewis expresses a similar incredulity at parenting of such a nature. Let him speak to us...

"We hear a great deal about the rudeness of the rising generation. I am an oldster myself and might be expected to take the oldsters' side, but in fact I have been far more impressed by the bad manners of parents to children than by those of children to parents. Who has not been the embarrassed guest at family meals where the father or mother treated their grown-up offspring with an incivility which, offered to any other young people, would simply have terminated the acquaintance? Dogmatic assertions on matters which the children understand and their elders don't, ruthless interruptions, flat contradictions, ridicule of things the young take seriously sometimes of their religion insulting references to their friends, all provide an easy answer to the question "Why are they always out? Why do they like every house better than their home?" Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?"

Let's love our little ones, and be so aware that 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words... break my heart."


Corporate Praise

As a family we've been away from Christ First for a couple of weeks, missing two Sundays in the process. In that time we've been either traveling or a significant distance away from an evangelical church so have not had the opportunity to worship with the people of God. This Sunday was a return for us to our family within the body of Christ and it was truly sweet to worship within them once again.

We live at a time where there is a significant number of believers who are not at all 'bothered' about gathered worship (admittedly there are, of course, those who think that is all 'church' is). In fact even within X1 a typical attendance pattern for many would be 3 Sundays in every 5, and as the summer is upon us I see that figure shifting more to 2 in 5.

So many of us are so 'infected' with the rampant, prevailing individualism that makes capitalistic, consumerist culture exactly what it is that we can not detect in ourselves how our 'selfish' pursuit of Christ ("it's my faith", "it's about me and Jesus" mentality) is in exact opposition to God's intended pattern for us as members of God's body. Keeping that idea in mind, the idea of the body, to state, "Ah just kinda want it to be about me and Jesus this Sunday, I'll sneak in a little quiet time and then be still with Him," is like the toe saying to the knee, "Ah just going to take a break from the body today, you guys get on without me would you..."

There should be a hunger within us to be with the people of God, to gather to praise and worship the risen King. In that there is this astounding dynamic that as we lift up Yahweh, focus on Him, set our gaze upon Him, our affections are united, our emotions engaged and elevated, and, I hope in almost every case anyway, our faith reinvigorated and stoked for further mission fulfillment!

I think this is what we felt yesterday anyway, and it was good, very good, to be back with our 'family' knitting hearts and being blessed by the presence of the living God in our midst.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Home Comforts

What is it about getting back home after you've been away. The words, "Ah it's great to be home," used to come off my folks' lips every time we returned from a holiday as I grew up and I can remember often thinking, "no it isn't I loved being on holiday in South Africa where you can get real sweets and awesome toys." Now I can fully identify with the root emotion that expressed those words all those years ago.

The LJ family have just returned from a simply lovely holiday in Brittany, France at a place called Moulin Begasse, near Meslan (click here for website). We were truly blessed to get the time away in a peaceful and idyllic setting encountering very little other than God's revelation of Himself both in nature and in personal communion (more on that in future blogs). But we're back and it is simply marvelous to be so. I don't fully get it but I felt it in a pronounced way as I prepared my morning cup of coffee.

As many know, and say, to my face actually, I am a rumoured 'coffee snob' - in other words I don't drink instant coffee and love to prepare filter coffee in a french press. Well I have a special and particular process of doing that which involves a particular mug, a defined amount of time heating that mug in the microwave prior to placing within the mug a certain number of sugar grains (I jest, but almost) and then after a well-worked-out-through-trial-and-error amount of time within my overused french press plunging the press and pouring the coffee. Yes, while doing this today I felt a surge of, "Ah it's great to be home."

I am sure there is something spiritual to it, and I would be the first to shout that I am a citizen of heaven and this is not my true home, but God seems to have instilled within us a longing for 'our place' where we know we are his definite 'under-shepherds' of that minimal, even minute, slice of His glorious creation.

Good to be back.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A commentator's insights on II Cor. 8 & 9

On the Logos 4 bible program (as I've mentioned before) there is 2 really helpful commentaries on the books of Corinthians. Here is some thoughts from one of them relating to Sunday's message on giving and the ideas espoused in these two chapters of scripture:
In these chapters are
1. Paul’s overall argument concerning Christian giving
1. example of others (Macedonians) vv. 1–5
2. giving is an aspect of spiritual growth, vv. 7–8
3. example of Christ, v. 9; 9:15
4. their own start, vv. 6, 10
5. encouragement to put desire into action, v. 10
6. motive, not amount, is the key, v. 12
7. giving equals out, v. 14

2. New Testament guidelines for Christian giving based on the model of the churches of Macedonia
1. joyous and genuine, even amidst poverty, v. 2; 9:7
2. gave to utmost of ability, v. 3
3. gave sacrificially beyond ability, vv. 3, 12
4. gave freely, v. 3; 9:7
5. gave sincerely, v. 4
6. gave more than money, v. 5

Utley, R. J. D. (2002). Vol. Volume 6: Paul's Letters to a Troubled Church: I and II Corinthians. Study Guide Commentary Series (260). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

Hope they are somewhat helpful.


On NOT speaking on 'Tithing.'

This week at X1 I had the joy/challenge of speaking, or NOT, speaking on tithing to our people. The reason it is a challenge is twofold really, I feel.
Firstly, you are entering into a great emotionally charged/ 'do not invade' space of the western believer's psyche. This is one of those 'do not go there' areas of our walk. The personal area where it is hard to determine how a church leadership displays any God-given authority.
Secondly, as I mentioned to the people of X1 on Sunday, it is a definite Spiritual Warfare battleground because we are confronting a very significant idol in the Western world. As a preacher and leader entering into this territory it is a case of 'get locked and loaded,' put on that 'heavenly armor' and get ready for some attack. As I suggested to the congregation it is akin to confronting biblically people from my home country of Zimbabwe about Ancestral Worship (African Traditional Religion) and declaring that these idols are to be knocked off their perches by the only true, living God. Some of you may know how that goes - speaking about money here is engaging in similar combat but the enemy here appears to wear far more inconspicuous clothing and one wonders where he is actively gunning people down.

My preaching was out of Joshua 21 continuing on in our series in Joshua - 'Living Life without the Fear.' Here we see the Levites given their cities out of the inheritance of their fellow Israelites and the obvious point is that without the God-honoring, other-centered obedience of the Israelites there would be no Levite cities to speak of.
Without them giving 48 of their cities and giving of their grain, livestock and income there would be no places of Spiritual input and direction within the nation of Israel. These Levite cities were the Spiritual Communities offering TRUTH, JUSTICE & MERCY within the Israelite community - which like any other human society (as seen by the tragic and dreadful Cumbria shootings of last week) was/is fragile and fractured and prone to soul-atrophying, rebel-making distance from God.

We too as God's people have the great joy and privilege (According to Paul in II Cor. 8 & 9) to give generously as tasters of God's grace in Christ to the building of Levite cities within our own fractured and fragile communities. And nowhere is it meant to be 10% - the NT makes absolutely no obligation along the lines of a percentile of your income it is purely as an overflow of being transformed by the grace of God and wanting true 'equality' for all people and 'investing' in such through their local 'home of spiritual sustenance' and hub for God's mission - the local Church.

I can only hope the people of X1 will arise to give much to see X1 truly be a Spiritual Community offering refuge, hope and direction to the community in Watford. It should not be my compulsion but a resposiveness to their tasting of the abundant, lavish grace of God.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Keller on Alienation from God

It's been... ages I know... sorry no excuses.
Well I'll jump straight back in then with the fantastic input of Tim Keller (Redeemer Presby New York) on our 'alienation from God' as humanity. Here goes:

"One way to understand our alienation from God is to consider the solar system. There is harmony between the planets because they all agree on the center - the sun. But if each planet were to have a different center for its orbit, there would be cataclysmic collisions. God's 'center' is His own glory; he does everything because it is consistent with his own righteous, holy perfect nature. We, however, 'center' on our own comfort and happiness; we live for our own glory. Therefore, there is an inevitable collision between God and man. Man is traumatized by and and is hostile to the holy presence of God. Yet we are built for fellowship with God. We cannot live with God and we cannot live without God. This is the essence of man's condition [without Christ; see Gen 3]."

Good stuff hey? Helpful way to explain it and think it all through.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Struck by a plague of insects - well one.

Thought we were an accursed people this Sunday - thought the Lord had declared His final say upon us. I guess you probably need me to explain. IT APPEARS WE WERE STRUCK BY A PLAGUE OF INSECTS! Well not really - just one, and a little one at that, but he/she did enough to bring the morning service at X1 to a halt.

Humorously, the exact timing of us as a people needing to gather our things and rush to the nearest fire exit was dead in the middle of me leading us in a corporate prayer of confession using David's prayer in Psalm 51. There I was down at the front of Vue Screen 7 reading out this stunning prayer and one of our key coordinators for Sunday mornings comes running up to me (I have to say I just did not know what was going on) and says, "The fire alarm is going off they are evacuating the building. Well there you go - one of the down sides of meeting in 'public space' was that we had to respond, gosh we couldn't even pass it off as some form of desperate final attack by the enemy to stop us meeting and stand against with raised voices and vociferous faith, we just had to up and leave.

Back to the 'plague.' After a few moments standing outside with everyone from the other screens the fire crew checked the building, declared it safe for re-entry and we were back in. Turns out that our creche lights were the problem - to be more exact a bee roasting away in one of our creche lights (and as we know there's no burning bug without smoke - or is that smoke without fire, mmm...) which set the alarm off and brought all proceedings to a stand still.

Bit of a laugh really, and I am actually so proud of the people of X1 for there patience and togetherness. All part of 'worship' I guess.

Oh yes here's a pic of the unfortunate perpetrator of the pestilence


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Joshua's Gilgal and Calvary

A true joy of being called to 'feed' the flock God has enabled us to lead as an Eldership here at X1 is that of searching deeply multiple resources to provide the most beneficial sustenance possible. I love this, even when it is a chore (as it can be demanding spending 10 - 15 hours a week preparing a sermon) as the input it gives to me personally is great - I only pray it will have the same effect on those who hear the sermon weekly.
With that said I want to highlight a brilliant quote from one of the commentaries I am using for the "Living Life without the Fear" series here at X1 in relation to the camp of Gilgal as a 'Spiritual Home Base' for the Israelites. The quote is from the British Expositor Alan Redpath and it gives a 'fascinating parallel between Gilgal and Calvary:

"May I remind you of the great words of NT truth and salvation which have their roots deeply imbedded in Gilgal. Here they are; refresh your memory. It was a place of rememberance, where all of God's people together went down unto death; it was a place of resurrection, where together they came up with their leader into life. It was a place of renunciation, where they cast off the carnal existence of the wilderness; it was a place of restoration, where they came again into fellowship with the lord. It was a place of realization, where they began to taste of the strong food of the land; it was the place of revelation, where they met their captain with a drawn sword.
The Christian life has its own roots firmly imbedded in Calvary, the place where we died with Jesus and rose with Him, where we have deliberately renounced carnality and have entered into a living fellowship with our Lord, where we have begun to take the strong food of His Word and to realize every moment of our lives that the Captain of the Lord's hosts is with us.

Yes o Yes - the great victory of Calvary!


Monday, April 19, 2010

Moses deals a reality 'double-whammy.'

Tucked away in 'my happy place,' yes half of you guessed it, Starbucks and taking time to look into God's word - good times! I try and dip into the Psalms as regularly as possible as part of daily devotional time and got into Psalm 90 a few moments ago. It is written by Moses and is laced with healthy 'anti-humanistic' reality.
We need that every so often you know? Do you know? We are locked into a man worshiping, self-exalting society that can lead to a desperately skewed view of reality which is basically upside down. God is a man-made creation to serve us and our agendas, whereas the biblical view (seen here in Psalm 90) is the antithesis of such a 'reality.' What am I saying? Well let me expose you to just two thoughts from Moses the great man of God (note men that does not mean perfect, he failed, but he still was great in God's eyes for he sought to lead his people faithfully - our calling) in this Psalm - a reality 'double whammy' so to speak:

"For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning - though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered." (vs. 4 - 6)

"The length of our days is seventy years -- or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away." (vs. 10)

* The maths - A 'day' to God is 12 1/2 times the lifetime of the 'man of strength.'
* The dawning - every day of our life takes effort and strain to 'fully live' and yet in His serene, glorious, self-existence God expends NO energy to survive!

As Calvin wonderfully states at the outset of his Institutes - seeing who we are really allows us to see who He is. In the immortal words of Wayne and Garth (Wayne's World 2) "You big, we small."

O and get this, He does love His children more than we could ever estimate! Wow.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

'Saved' as a Whole - there's no other salvation

I am currently taking a journey through the scriptures that I have wanted to for some time now. For upwards of two years I have wanted to do an in depth theological/devotional study through Paul's epistles to the Corinthian church. Thanks to the love and generosity of a dear member of X1 I am now the very delighted user of Logos 4 (WOW!) and this bible program is the wonderful vehicle through which I am partaking of this journey.

I read something today in relation to Paul's writing on Sexual Immorality within the church (cf. I Cor. 6) and found that this quote really stood out. Why? Well I fear too often we do not realize that we are 'saved'/made new/'born again' as a complete whole and this false understanding can lead to destructive practice and seriously jilted theology (some of which I encounter repeatedly as a pastor). Often, even today, we are affected/infected by a form of gnosticism that seems to elevate the activities of our 'spirit' as followers of Christ over and above the activities of our 'body.' This is not NT theology... okay enough of me, I hope this helps you:

Humans do not have a soul; they are a soul (cf. Gen. 2:7). Related to this is Paul’s understanding that believers do not have a body; they are a body. This is possibly a theological development from Genesis and against Greek thought that depreciated the physical body as evil. The OT and the NT affirm a physical resurrection which is a way of affirming the goodness and eternality of human corporal existence. Later gnostic libertine or antinomian teachers would separate the physical aspects from the mental aspects, thereby affirming salvation as knowledge instead of godliness or righteousness. Paul affirms that the gospel is
1. a person to welcome
2. a truth about that person to believe
3. a life of that person to emulate

These cannot be separated! Humans are a unity! Salvation is comprehensive. The kingdom has arrived. There is an unbreakable bond between faith and obedience. Initial sanctification must lead to progressive sanctification. Righteousness is both a gift (INDICATIVE) and a command (IMPERATIVE).

(Utley, R. J. D. (2002). Vol. Volume 6: Paul's Letters to a Troubled Church: I and II Corinthians. Study Guide Commentary Series (76). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.)


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Musings on Politics

Let me assure you I am no expert on politics and tend to shy away from any significant comments regarding the political milieu of the UK or any other nation for that matter. But it is that season again here in England - it is Election year.

There is no form of media to which you can turn at this time without being confronted with political leaders and/or 'experts' giving their analysis on the ideas of various political parties. TV, Internet, Newspapers and more are displaying the presentations of the political promises of each party vying for the votes of the public. This year is marked by an undercurrent of dissatisfaction within the nation due to the effects of the 'recession' so the promises and the duels for our 'x in the appropriate box' are more vociferous then normal it appears.

I have caught myself wondering if I, as a preacher presenting promises etc, am tarred with the same brush as these men and women by some. I guess some individuals would feel free to do that - assuming that in the end it is only about the art of rhetoric and letting people hear my voice louder than others.

The truth though could not be any further from such an assessment. Typically their promises are rooted in secular-minded initiative whereas my promises are rooted in the revelation of the redeeming, restoring supernaturally-empowered person of the Trinitarian YAHWEH (even in how that sounds and looks there is a marked difference). Typically their approach is aimed at appealing to voters to give them more of the temporary pleasure that they think they crave; whereas my approach is to appeal to the eternal imprint of God upon the very soul of the human-being to give them a life more abundant than they could have imagined by looking past temporary craving and seeing eternal joy in the presence of creator God.
The list I'm sure is far greater than that, but I guess this goes someway to appease my own curiosity in regards to why I'm different to a politician and that my goal, my heart, my ambition is far, far more than polished rhetoric for more votes.
I've received the vote of the only One that counts, and as Paul the apostle states to the church in Galatia, 'if I were in this to please man I'd need to give in immediately!'
(Please allow me some generalization in this post - there are some wonderful Christ-centered politicians I know.)


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Behaviour in Leadership

Far too many people, sadly many of these are believers with an aspiration for leadership, seem to think that behaviour has no part to play in their leadership 'calling.' They seem to refer primarily to the role of motives (now in one sense this is true, but in another it is so far from the truth - as I said recently to our men, "DON'T BE GODLY DO GODLY!") in Christian leadership. Today I found these excellent, convicting, inspiring words from Andy Stanley in his brilliant book Visioneering.

"Every great leader, every successful father and mother, anybody who has ever received and followed through successfully with a God-given vision has possessed a form of authority that rests not on position or accomplishment, but on an inner conviction and the willingness to bring his or her life into alignment with that conviction. It is the alignment between a person's convictions and his behaviour that makes his life persuasive. Herein is the key to sustained influence.

The phrase that best captures this dynamic is moral authority... Moral authority is the critical, nonnegotiable, can't-be-without ingredient of sustained influence...
Moral authority is the credibility you earn by walking your talk. It is the relationship other people see between what you say and what you do, between what you claim to be and that you are. A person with moral authority is beyond reproach. That is when you look for a discrepancy between what he says he believes and what he does, you come up empty. There is alignment between conviction and action, belief and behaviour.

Nothing compensates for a lack of moral authority

What does your life say about what you believe. How do your actions, your behaviour, portray your leadership 'calling.'


Monday, April 5, 2010

Eugene Peterson on 'Training a Pastor for the modern Christian Consumer'

As mentioned in my last post, I am sharing a quote read by Matt Chandler in a sermon I have listened to this morning (the context of the quote was to rebuke modern pastors who tend to just pursue technique to try and grow church rather than pursuing substance and being like the heroes of Hebrews 11).
The challenge of this quote is laid squarely at us as Pastors - how easily we can mislead and 'grow' church in the wrong way - but also quite definitely at the feet of the modern Christian with their expectations of a leader - how low they can be with regards to the things that TRULY count rather than the often-overemphasis on minor things that really don't.

Here's the quote from a book entitled Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity

For a long time, I have been convinced that I could take a person with a high school education, give him or her a six-month trade school training, and provide a pastor who would be satisfactory to any discriminating American congregation. The curriculum would consist of four courses.

I: Creative Plagiarism.
I would put you in touch with a wide range of excellent and inspirational talks, show you how to alter them just enough to obscure their origins, and get you a reputation for wit and wisdom.

II: Voice Control for Prayer and Counseling.
We would develop your own distinct style of Holy Joe intonation, acquiring the skill in resonance and modulation that conveys and unmistakable aura of sanctity.

III: Efficient Office Management.
There is nothing that parishioners admire more in their pastors than the capacity to run a tight ship administratively. If we return all phone calls within twenty-four hours, answer all the letters within a week, distributing enough carbons to key people so that they know we are on top of things, and have just the right amount of clutter on our desk—not too much, or we appear
inefficient, not too little or we appear underemployed—we quickly get the reputation for efficiency that is far more important than anything that we actually do.

IV: Image Projection.
Here we would master the half-dozen well-known and easily implemented devices that that create the impression that we are terrifically busy and widely sought after for counsel by influential people in the community. A one-week refresher course each year would introduce new phrases that would convince our parishioners that we are bold innovators on the cutting edge of the megatrends and at the same time solidly rooted in all the traditional values of our sainted ancestors.

(I have been laughing for several years over this trade school training with which I plan to make my fortune. Recently, though, the joke has backfired on me. I keep seeing advertisements for institutes and workshops all over the country that invite pastors to sign up for this exact curriculum. The advertised course offerings are not quite as honestly labeled as mine, but the content appears to be identical—a curriculum that trains pastors to satisfy the current consumer
tastes in religion. I’m not laughing anymore.)

Let us pursue, and expect, ministry that pleases the Lord and is built off of character and devotion to the Lord and not that which pleases man built off of modern style-based initiatives.

In Him

A Wife's Blessing, a Pastor's Rebuke/Exhortation

My beautiful wife has absolutely blessed my socks off this Sabbath morning by taking the kids out and leaving me to invest time devotionally with my Lord. What I chose to do was listen to a sermon by Matt Chandler, who hopefully, prayerfully, will be coming to share at our Newfrontiers Prayer and Fasting on May 11th. Matt Chandler is a special guy and a guy I met almost 8 years ago now on a youth summer camp in Galveston Texas - but whom God has used powerfully to lead a speedily growing church in Dallas Texas called The Village Church.

I looked in my 'theResurgence' rss feed in my Mac mail program and found a list of sermons based on the Acts29 media page. I chose to listen to this one: 'Ministry for the Long Haul & Ambition' (click here to listen yourself). I was not disappointed and was significantly rebuked and exhorted to search my own heart as a Leader of God's people.
What a joy to have a morning spent receiving a Wife's blessing and a Pastor's rebuke!

On my next entry I want to read a quote Matt read out from Eugene Peterson that may be a bit more challenging to the flock rather than the Shepherd.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Revival Thoughts from Finney - Breaking the 'fallow ground' or confession of sin

Ok now Finney is starting to get just a little inappropriate, highly un-PC should I say for our contemporary-Christian liking. O I'll just write what he states regarding confession of sin:

"You must honestly look at yourself, using your bible as your checkpoint. Do not expect God to miraculously break up your fallow ground [remove sin from your heart] for you. You must actively participate, and you must submit your will. If you look at yourself accurately, taking note of your sins, you will definitely feel something. You cannot see your sins for what they are without feeling something...

... Start your work now. Resolve that you will not stop until you find you can pray. You will never have access to the full power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you unless you completely confess your sins. Let there be this deep work of repentance and full confession, this breaking down before God.

My my my, Lord Jesus what has been my experience of 'the spirit of prayer' up till now as I feel I am barely tasting such?

Are we hungry for revival?


Revival Thoughts from Finney - The Role of the Church & it's 'Minister'

Yesterday, one of the zealous young men that God has blessed X1 with recently came to my home for breakfast, giving a book to me that he noted was just 'burning him up.' I promised to read the copy he was giving me and set to it this morning. The book is 'Experiencing Revival' by Charles Finney (an updated, abridged version thus easier for us all to read). Finney was an alarmingly gifted evangelist but also a theologian and a man of the word, so a good read indeed.

On the early pages he states the demands upon the people of the church and the 'minister' of the church in expecting/allowing revival within the church. A taster:

"A revival is when Christians begin to confess their sins to one another. Usually they confess in a general, halfhearted manner. They may do it in eloquent language, but it means nothing. But when there is an honest breaking down and a pouring out of the heart in confession of sin, the floodgates will soon burst open, and salvation will flow everywhere [O please precious Lord!].

A revival can be expected when Christians are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to carry it on. They must be willing to sacrifice their feelings, business and time to help the work. Ministers must be willing to expend their energy. They must be willing to offend the impenitent [proud, self-righteous, 'sinless' members of your congregation] by plain and faithful speech and perhaps offend many members of the church who will not repent. They must take a stand regarding the revival, whatever the consequences. They must be prepared to go on with the work even though they risk losing the affection of the impenitent cold members of the church.

I know Terry Virgo has urged the leaders and people of Newfrontiers to start praying deliberately and passionately for revival. I guess I better get down to it, more importantly better prepare myself/us for what it may require!


Friday, March 26, 2010

Isaiah 53: 10

In Isaiah 53: 10 we are confronted with these somewhat alarming words

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief..."

The reference is obviously to Jesus Christ and His atoning death on the cross (although all the 'clever' people seek to disagree in our age of superior intelligence). Today in my reading I saw a wonderful 5 point summary of why God the Father was 'pleased' in this work of 'agreement/consensus/willful participation' in the crucifixion of Christ:

1) That He might execute His pleasant decrees
2) That He might fulfill His pleasant promises
3) That He might redeem the chosen objects of His love
4) That He might promote His Son to the highest honours
5) That He might exalt His own glory to the uttermost.

Hmmm, breathe that in.


It's about global redemption

Last night I got caught up in a prayer for our weekend sponsored run event - the X1:1000. Let me explain. We are intending to run 1000 laps of our local running track in order to raise funds for a charity called Friends of Tariro (the pioneer of the charity attends X1) which seeks to bring hope and resource to the widows and orphans of rural villages in Zimbabwe. It's going to be a fun, but crazy afternoon cause not too many of us are, let's just say, able runners. But we're in and we want to be a part of this!

What struck me last night while praying was this: We are a part of something global in this silly afternoon of running. We are a part of investing in that one thing out of all other things we are a part of now that will last after time ends - The Kingdom of God. That's what this run is about, it's about bringing the Kingdom of God into those villages. The rule, the reign, the hope and purpose of God into those villages that are now only victims of drought, oppression, and hopelessness.
It's strikes you when you think that your small fellowship on the outskirts of London England is part of the Global Redemption, reconciliation, rescue plan of the mighty God of all. Then you can get excited about putting running shoes on that you've not worn for ages, then you can get up early Sunday by Sunday to serve the mission of the local church!

I'm running Saturday, why, cause I'm silly and will regret it for the next week, but also, and this is ultimately why, because I want the Kingdom of God to come to those widows, orphans, and churches in Kazingizi Zimbabwe - that's why!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Role as the Preacher

In a stunning sermon on Romans 5: 1 - 11 John Piper expounds the role of the Preacher when preaching if it is the role of the Holy Spirit (vs. 5) to reveal the essence of the love of God to us. (See here) What is the preacher useful for? What is it that I am called to do morning by morning before the people of X1? Here is Piper's thoughts

"The point is this; my message this morning cannot take the place of the Holy Spirit in your life. And the Holy Spirit will not do the work assigned to the Word of God. My calling is to describe the love of God to you. His calling is to pour it out in your hearts. My calling is to point you to what Christ did; his calling is to open your eyes to see it as glorious and personal. My calling is to make it plain; his is to make it precious. Mine is to make it clear; his is to make it dear. Mine is to take you on a tour around the deep and scenic lake of the love of God; his is to plunge you in and saturate your life with the love of God—to baptize you in it."

Lord help any person entrusted with the difficult yet glorious task of "making it plain," "making it clear" seek your strength in this. Lord cause your people to reevaluate what preaching is and not to put up with mere great talking! It is so much more than that!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Romans 8: 28

Just started reading, today in fact, the puritan Thomas Watson's dissertation on the wonder of God's promise to us in Romans 8: 28 and the opening words alone accelerate the heart beat. A taster

"If the whole of scripture be the feast of the soul, as Ambrose said (Bishop of Milan in the 4th Century), then Romans 8 may be a dish at that feast, and with its sweet variety may very much refresh and animate the hearts of God's people. In the preceding verses the apostle had been wading through the great doctrines of justification and adoption, mysteries so arduous and profound, that without the help and the conduct of the Spirit, he might soon have waded beyond his depth. In this verse the apostle touches upon that pleasant string of consolation, 'We know that all things work together for Good to them that love God.' There is not one word that is not weighty; therefore I shall gather up every filing of this gold, that nothing be lost."

O the honour for scripture, the devotion to God's truth, the certainty of God's great affection for us.

We must trust that God is in all things lavishing grace upon us - it is who He is!


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Isaiah 53

Read this in my preparations for this week's sermon on Isaiah 53: 4 - 6, it is simply quite wonderful:

"As an artisan laying a mosaic of complicated pattern and diverse colours, has before him a working drawing, and carefully fits the minute pieces of precious stone and enamel according to it, till the perfection of the design is revealed to all, so do the evangelists and apostles, with the working-drawing of OT prophecy, and Old Testament types and shadows in the tabernacle services and ceremonies, in their hands fit together the details of Christ's life on earth, His atoning death and His resurrection and say, 'Behold, this can be none other than the long looked-for Messiah.' The central knop, or flower pattern, of the mosaic, from which all the other details of the design radiated, was the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah."

It is a truly beautiful prophetic message that draws us to the very cross of Calvary.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Sovereignty of God

2 Weeks ago I had the pleasure of teaching at the Watford School of Leadership on the topic of Evangelism. I chose to speak on Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God for two reasons primarily:
1) My deep rooted belief in the stunning elements of reformed theology with regards to God's sovereign grace in the salvation of men,
2) The lasting impact of a book by J. I Packer I read in University with the same title (see here).

Packer's thesis is marvelous and rooted in the mysterious antinomy of God's sovereign grace in salvation coupled with the moral responsibility of man to propagate and respond to the gospel. Give it a read if you do get an opportunity. As an opener to the discussion though I shared an inspirational quote to alert us to this 'large' doctrine of the sovereignty of God, and I share it with you now:

The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is "The Governor among the nations" (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the "Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.– A.W. Pink

Feast on that, and may it lead you from Orthodoxy (right belief) to Orthopraxy (right living from right belief).


Pastoring is Labouring

Again & again on this journey of growing in my understanding of the
calling of pastoring a body of God's people one thing I certainly am
aware of is it's demands! Today in some reading I am doing 2 authors confirmed such with these words

"The goal of presenting men and women perfect in Christ requires hard
work. To this end Paul worked hard, struggling with all Christ's energy, which so powerfully worked in Him (Colossians 1:29). The word used for struggling means literally to engage in a contest, and usually in the context of fighting with weapons. The only weapons adequate for this struggle with Satan and his influences are prayer and the word of God.

I commit to the war of seeing God's people reflect our Lord with ever increasing glory and commit to labour with His mighty energy and His sufficient weaponry.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Inspiration for Easter Series

Hey if you've got about an hour do your very self a huge favour and watch this sermon from C.J Mahaney. It is the inspiration behind our Easter Series 'The Great Exchange' out of Isaiah 53.

The Cross: A Meditation on Jesus' Atoning Death from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo.

Hope you're blessed as I was.


'Day-to-Day' Prompts

Taken an unnecessary break from this Bloggage recently. Laziness probably, and maybe even an underestimation of it's role in anyone's life (hey I don't say that for an encouraging 'don't stop' (if you wanted to) that's what this particular blog's about). Just as I'd been carrying that, most of yesterday at least, as Mondays are days I like to update things, God brings a significant individual in your life to 'prompt.'

Today I met by chance with a couple that God has brought into our 'arena' as a church for reasons neither they or I know at this time. In the course of our instantaneously meaningful conversation (you got people in your life with whom that happens?) the gentleman mentioned how meaningful these blogs were for getting to taste the heart of his new pastor (sounds crazy that, good but crazy) from a distance. Well there you go, as you can see I am on the blogging trail again as the sole purpose of these words are that maybe just maybe they will be used of our glorious gracious King to be a benefit to your life in someway.

Thanks to that gentleman, yeah you know who you are, and hey thanks Lord for prompting us as you do in the very normal 'day-to-day' of life (it appears that is not enough for some people).


Changing Nappies, God & Us

Just partaken (one of a huge number of times now) in the changing of my beautiful little girl's nappy. How do I expose the need that this had to take place for her good other than to say she was a bit of a 'stink-bug' to say the least.
What often happens when you are blessed to invest in this exercise is that the child in question, Madison in this case, wriggles like a crazy caterpillar in order to be released from your grip. The desired goal is that she will be brought to a place of more comfort, greater joy and 'release' for her but all she knows in the moment is the holding back, the strong 'resisting' grip of DAD and she wants 'freedom' as she knows it.

Makes me think of my Father that does. So, so often I am wriggling free of circumstances, confrontations, challenges that He is using to 'take me somewhere' freshen my 'aroma' as a living sacrifice. Why? Well cause I know best don't I; I want what ever Godliness is, whatever comfort is at my pace and probably, more often than not, in my way. Truth is - He does, and O how much more does He know what freedom and peace is for us that we do even for ourselves.

By the way, my beautiful one is singing, purring and smiling now - she'll wriggle again tho'!


Monday, February 22, 2010


Check out this stunning simple use of visual media to really drive a point home.

Find more videos like this on AdGabber



You looking forward to church?

My co-elder Andy said a beautiful thing during the welcome at X1 yesterday. He highlighted that several years ago when you went on holiday from the UK often you could not purchase many things that you enjoy in the UK and so you could not wait to get back to partake of those 'home-comforts.' That situation has changed he said; but this time while they were away in Austria skiing all he had missed and that which he longed to return to was the worship gathering at Christ First.

He is a man of integrity so I know he was not just people-pleasing. I have thought about it since yesterday and am prayerful and hopeful that many of us at X1 have that mindset about Sundays.

I know I have got to a place at some of the churches I have been serving at where I felt no desire whatsoever to go on Sundays. That is a tragic, probably consumerist, view of things but it was where I had got to. What about you? How much do you look forward to your worship gathering with your church? If you don't why not? Are you serving or just taking cause that can make a massive difference? Is God joining you by His Spirit? If not why not?

Pray for a heart change if so, also see if there is an opportunity for you to talk to your leadership about your waning affections and see what changes can take place.
As for our little gathering of folk, I pray that they will continue for many a year to ache for our gatherings together and to come prayerfully expectant!


Love versus Obedience

Embroiled in one of those pastoral situations at the moment that you almost wish did not need to be a part of church life, but, I am not naive enough any longer to kid myself we will avoid. In my mind it is a 'Love versus Obedience' scenario which is a complete antithesis to the love lauded in the Scriptures. The situation is a simple one to expose, although of course extremely complex in the flesh.
An individual understanding of Christian love has been tragically divorced from the biblical mandate for such love. Christ has a very deliberate governing clause to the love toward Himself that He notes is commendable love. You find that thought in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of John (and of course in John's Epistle) and the governing clause to the statement, "If you love me..." is this: "you will obey my commands." It is a strong but helpful governing clause. Love must be earthed. Love must be biblical.

The pastoral situation I am involved in entails someone who is unable to see (due to a multitude of things I am sure) that their 'love' is in opposition to Christ's demand for their obedience. Simple. But, of course not simple to negotiate and pastor appropriately.
I am alarmed at how easy it is for all of us to redefine Christ's concept of love for Him. We can read a gloriously true biblical statement and then never allow the bible to be the governing framework for the ongoing embrace of that statement as we live it out.


Monday, February 8, 2010

That's My King

We had one of those special mornings as a people at X1 yesterday where God is so very tangibly present - in a heavy, "Here's who I am!" way. One of our young guys, entrusted with preaching responsibility on the morning finished with this remarkably powerful video which has the mind-blowing "That's My King" audio by Dr. S. M. Lockridge. You may have heard it before but I have placed it here if you haven't or if you want to again. It left us 'undone!'

That's My King! from Albert Martin on Vimeo.

Do you know Him?



As an Eldership here at X1 we are trying desperately to discern God's heart on leadership and to reflect that in the whats, the whys, and the hows of our leading. One thing I think we have felt the need to do very early on is to multiply leadership. We see this pattern repeatedly in scripture: Jethro's approaching of Moses and telling him to hand on leadership to good men instead of carrying all the weight himself; Jesus, who would have been more capable than anyone to handle all leadership responsibilities himself, choosing 12 disciples fully aware of the power and future impact of leadership multiplication; and Paul who in his writings to Timothy and Titus displays this multiplying tendency. We're trying to do the same here at X1.

We're aware that the favour of God upon our leadership to allow for growth could easily be hindered were the two of us to demand ownership of every area of church life and to not 'entrust' leadership to those good people He has placed around us. We could easily go from being catalysts of growth to chokers of growth if we do not multiply our leadership. Paul in his second letter to Timothy charges him to 'entrust to faithful men' the things that he has learnt in his own ministry or from Paul as his mentor. We have taken this on and are trusting God to make great things come about.

On Friday morning at 7AM we had our first get together with some fantastic faithful guys hoping that within this context we could excite and equip the leadership and gifting already within these guys. It was a fantastic start and an arena that I pray will become a hotbed for cultivating mighty fruit-bearing oaks for X1 and the Kingdom of God.
God is good, and His eternal models of leadership are essential for the impact of the local church upon culture.


JT's Captaincy of England

Delighted with the news on Friday that Fabio Capello (England's International Football Team Manager) has decided to strip John Terry of his captaincy of the national team. For those of you reading from another nation and not caught up in this headline catching story, our national team captain and a powerful symbol in English life has not been such a good boy in recent times. Over 2 weeks ago it was revealed that he had attempted to have a 'media silence' order placed over the revelations of some infidelity in his life. This was not granted and naturally the backlash of trying to silence these blood-sucking tabloid papers is that they have gone all out revealing his sexual frivolities (yes he is married) with the girlfriend of (believe this if you can) another member of the England national team! Oooh, yes I know what you're thinking.

Story aside (you can do further research if you choose) the revealing thing to me in these past weeks is the modern/postmodern anomaly that a man's immoral, totally unworthy-of-respect-lifestyle decisions can somehow be made to live apart from, or to one side of, his role as a national leader in the arena of sports. Again and again, pundits and others seem to say that what he has chosen to do in crushing his wife, lying to her and to others, taking the girlfriend of another man and having sex outside of marriage and choosing to violate your relationship with a fellow team mate can be totally disconnected from his role as captain of the national Football team.

This is quite absurd and sad testimony to the moral vacuum that we have somehow created in the West.
Our 'heroes' are able to lead without any character whatsoever, and we are to point a new generation (for example my son Malachi) to these men and women as role models for their life. We need to learn the vast distinction between celebrity and hero and we need to come to grips with the reality you cannot divide a person saying he/she is a great leader while placing infidelity, immorality and relational destruction to one side of him/her as if devoid of him/her in 'reality.'

Well done Capello.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Church Life - A life in process

Back to Eugene Peterson with some thoughts now on our participation in church as not fully 'processed' followers of Christ and what that means for the church:

"The Christian Church is a Holy-Spirit-formed community where salvation is proclaimed and sins forgiven; men and women are redefined by baptism in the company of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; a life in Christ is formed; a eucharist-shaped worship of God is enacted; and a holy life is practiced in a world of suffering, injustice, war, despair, addictions, and sin, both blatant and covert - a world at odds with both neighbour and God. It seems like quite a wonderful thing. It is a wonderful thing - all these people getting a taste of new life, Real Life, "ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven," and finding themselves participating in the holy operations of the Trinity.
But it doesn't take long for those of us who are in on this to realize that this new life isn't a finished life but a life in process. Many of us are slow learners. Many of us hang on to selfish immaturities for as long as we can, unwilling to grow up. Others of us slip back into old habits of disobedience as we look for shortcuts to holiness. Still others experiment with ways in which we attempt to stay in control of our lives and manipulate God to do for us what we can't do for ourselves. Not a few of us keep trying to find a way to deal with God without having to pay attention to our neighbours. When we take a good long look at any congregation we see most of the spiritual sins, moral and emotional, and the social disorders rampant in the general population continue to make their way, sometimes even flourish, among the elect

So often the church get's attacked due to an unacceptable level of expectation. Many believers approach it that way themselves choosing to somehow 'do church' without being part of the church. Thus damaging it even further. We must be realist but also the ultimate optimists for the church is Christ's great love - His Bride!


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Over 'Pietized' Praying

You can always trust Eugene Peterson (author of The Message version of the bible) to bring through a thought with clarity and insight that leaves you pondering. Currently reading his book 'The Word Made Flesh' focused primarily on the spirituality of 'everyday' language and he broaches with typical brilliance the fact that we as believers can do to prayer what Christ never did Himself - my own word here 'over-pietize' it.
I do not understand why when people begin to pray they have a whole new language that disconnects them with any normal real, gritty way of speaking to the Father. I will never for a moment exhort us to pray causally without respect, but I deeply respect my father and yet speak very personally to him. Anyway here is Mr. Peterson, enjoy

"Prayer may well be the single aspect of our language most in danger of losing touch with the sheer grittiness of our humanity. We lost touch with our humanity when we deprive God of his humanity. Children pray in spontaneous honesty. Catastrophe and crisis very often take us to the bedrock of our humanity, where our language is purged of pretense and piety and we pray from the gut. But apart from childhood and crisis, while we are on the road through the secular Samaritan ordinary, [Peterson is reflecting on Christ's words in Luke 11: 1 - 13] our prayers have a way of being abstracted from the homely and distinctive details that are part and parcel of our ordinary and everyday life. Prayer more often than not is practiced in religiously defined and protected settings. More often than not it is formulated in pious cliches picked up hanging around churches or borrowed from prayer books."

Seek Him with all the adoration of a perfect Father, but remember He is your Father, and the Son He sent to us was more 'human than any of us will ever be!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Crying out to Christ

Reading a book called The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul by Philip Doddridge. At the end of the 10th chapter where he has entreated people to turn to Christ he finishes with this prayer to be made by that one who would respond to his call to salvation. Found it real powerful and vastly different the prayer of repentance we use today to convince ourselves we are turning to Christ.' Here it is.

"Blessed Lord, it is enough! It is too much! Surely there needs not this variety of arguments this importunity of persuasion, to court me to be happy, to prevail on me to accept of pardon, of life, of eternal glory. Compassionate Savior, my soul is subdued; so that I trust the language of thy grief is become that of my penitence, and I may say, `my heart is melted like wax in the midst of my bowels.' (Psa. 22:14)
"O gracious Redeemer! I have already neglected thee too long. I have too often injured thee: have crucified thee afresh by my guilt and impenitence, as if I had taken pleasure in `putting thee to an open shame.' (Heb. 6:6) But my heart now bows itself before thee in humble, unfeigned submission. I desire to make no terms with thee but these--that I may be entirely thine. I cheerfully present thee with a blank, entreating thee that thou will do me the honor to signify upon it what is thy pleasure. Teach me, O Lord, what thou wouldst have me to do; for I desire to learn the lesson, and to learn it that I may practice it. If it be more than my feeble powers can answer, thou wilt, I hope, give me more strength; and in that strength I will serve thee. O receive a soul which thou hast made willing to be thine!
"No more, O blessed Jesus, no more is it necessary to beseech and entreat me. Permit me rather to address myself to thee with all the importunity of a perishing sinner, that at length sees and knows `there is salvation in no other' (Acts 4:12) Permit me now, Lord, to come and throw myself at thy feet like a helpless outcast that has no shelter but in thy gracious compassion! like one `pursued by the avenger of blood,' and seeking earnestly an admittance `into the city of refuge!' (Josh. 20:2,3)
"'I wait for the Lord; my soul doth wait; and in thy word do I hope,' (Psa. 130:5) that thou wilt `receive me graciously.' (Hos. 14:2) My soul confides in thy goodness, and adores it. I adore the patience which has borne with me so long; and the grace that now makes me heartily willing to be thine: to be thine on thine own terms, thine on any terms. O secure this treacherous heart to thyself! O unite me to thee in such inseparable bonds, that none of the allurements of flesh and blood, none of the vanities of an ensnaring world, none of the solicitations of sinful companions, may draw me back from thee, and plunge me into new guilt and ruin! `Be surety, O Lord, for thy servant for good,' (Psa. 119:122) that I may stilt keep my hold on thee, and so on eternal life; till at length I know more fully, by joyful and everlasting experience, how complete a Savior thou art. Amen.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Seeing Angels

Had a lovely young lady in our home yesterday while celebrating an 18th birthday party and she nonchalantly commented to another individual in our dining room, "I can see two angels behind you."
I regret to state that even as a pastor of a church that is not a phrase that I have ever heard in my home. Maybe it is that I surround myself with those of 'little faith' or that many people have actually seen angels in my home but have been a little shy to acknowledge the fact. Is seeing angels a regular facet of your life? Is it a faith thing, is it a purity of life = spectacular insight into heavenly realms and alas I am not one that has such a life?

As you can tell I found the comment intriguing and pursued it further during our enjoyment of a slice of lovely cake. She mentioned, along with a friend of hers that this was a simply normal and common experience for them and in fact they even knew the names of several of these celestial beings and one was almost always present, a 'guardian angel' of sorts.

I fear excessive conversation about angels, or such like, taking the exhortation of Colossians 2: 18 seriously, but it was a pretty dynamic Sunday afternoon conversation. One that has awoken me to a stereotypical weakness in our knowledge and understanding of Angelology. Mark Driscoll commenting on this in his recent Luke series alludes to an 'extremism' in our Angelology/Demonology: They are either everywhere affecting everything or simply do not existence (the latter he highlights is brilliant work by the demonic to convince you of their non-existence). For a helpful facebook entry of his thoughts on 'Spiritual Warfare' click here.

He quotes the brilliant C.S. Lewis as an intro:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” — C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

While I continue my journey of discovery and insight into a biblical theology and response to ongoing conversations about Angels, be sure to heed Lewis' words.


Monday, January 18, 2010

"Living life without the Fear" Week 12

Finally made our way back into the book of Joshua after a break for Advent and early January. We have got to chapter 4 after 12 weeks in the book, strangely although that may seem like slow progress there is much more content in those first 3 chapter we could have lingered over.
I took this week speak to our church quite personally as I saw this moment in the life of the Israelites and their Godly leader Joshua mirroring our situation currently.
Here is a break down of the sermon:

I reminded us again that we live in a 'culture of fear', check this quote out as a reference to exactly that
“The culture of fear is not a spontaneous reaction by the public to a truly dangerous world. The worldwide anthrax panic sparked by a handful of anthrax-related deaths in America shortly after 9/11 was not caused by a genuine and widespread mortal danger facing US and European citizens. Our propensity to panic about everything from child abductions to mobile phones does not come from the fact that modern life contains more risks than ever before - on the level of everyday reality, the opposite is the case. . . . The culture of fear comes from the top down. It comes from society's leaders, and their inability to lead. . . .” – Jennie Bristow

If we allow fear to enter our faith relationship with Christ, if we are drawn into our fear culture and defined by such rather than being transformed into the likeness of Christ - we will not know the Spiritual blessings in Christ

Fear is a grave enemy of faith!

At this time I recognized that there is immense theological significance in this passage but that at this time I wanted to highlight how this moment mirrors our life as a church.
We as a church have set aside this year to seek Greater Health through Greater Impact and one of the core values we have as a church that needs to be embraced, owned, is this
If we become a serving people, caught up in the mission of X1 to fulfill the mandate of Christ in Matt. 28 then we will know joy, but as in this passage some things need to be in place -

4: 1 – 3 The Lord said to Joshua...” Here we see that Joshua is not the real, ultimate leader of the Israelites. And that is so true of X1 as a people. We, your elders are not the leaders of this church. We are a leadership that, like Joshua, are led by Jesus Christ who is actually the leader of ChristFirst.

4: 4 – 8 “So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them...”
Here the scripture expose a stunning truth about leadership – Any great Christian leader is surrounded by obedient, unified, co-warriors working together to fulfil the mission for the glory of God and the joy of the people. (Ps. 84: 10; I Cor. 12;Eph. 2: 14 – 22)
These 12 men were anonymous – they are never named – but get this they were absorbed into the building of a sign that would testify to the faithfulness, mercy and awesome power of God to future generations.

4: 10 – 13 “The men of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, armed, in front of the Israelites...”(1: 12 – 13; Deut. 3: 18)
These men who had already claimed their inheritance served the mission and joy of the other Israelites.
This has been true of the initial core group of people who came with us to VUe cinema but...
It is time now for us all to rise up and claim our inheritance: To live a life of joyous, obedient mission, realizing the stunning life there is to be had in giving our all to see a church that actually affects the culture of a whole town.

The call to serve the mission of X1 - GET IN!