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!


Helpful Book - Master Leaders

Over the Christmas season one of our friends visiting from the States mentioned a leadership book he was reading that he found really helpful. It is a book by George Barna who is not an author I read typically; but it was the idea of the book that initially caught my intention.
This book MASTER LEADERS is basically the gleanings of Barna in conversation with 30 excellent, Godly leaders all located in one fairly small book.
I am currently reading it, actually have just finished a fantastic chapter on Confrontation and Challenge, and would recommend it to people on a journey of leadership wanting some helpful insights. Unfortunately you will need to look quite a few Americanisms and the fact that American Christian authors seem to write in a style that us British folk would accuse of being far too corny - but the content is so helpful, and as stated earlier it is the insights and interactions of many gifted leaders on important topics in leadership in one location.

Give it a read if you'd like.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Reading Acts chapter 5 this morning. A passage which begins of course with that astonishing display of the continuity of the Holiness and splendor of God between Old & New Testament with the slaying of Ananais & Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. But it was another verse (s) that grabbed my attention today.

What we see in the 16th verse referring to the Apostles are these words, "Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem..." Suddenly in the next verse we read (and this is the verse that got me), "Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy."

There it is that word that is not often referred to in the list of sins that are spoken against from the pulpit, but a powerful destructive sin all the same - JEALOUSY! And this jealousy was in the context of ministry, the place where it is most insidious and undermining. What has obviously happened here is the ministry of the apostles is the GLORY ministry of the time, it is the one drawing the crowds, the one receiving the air-time in the local papers, you know what I mean. This sends the high priest and the Sadducees into a spin as they feel outdone, old hat, forgotten, I'm sure you get the point. Their resulting actions are evil and conniving.

Confession time. I've felt this slip into my heart, into my attitude and it is sickening and destroys you inwardly. In this media age where great ministries from all over the world are brought right to your inbox or macbook screen there is endless opportunity to be drawn into the terrible grip of this sin.
In or out of ministry, where is your heart with regards to jealousy? What do you want that another has that causes you to speak bitterly of them, think wrong thoughts towards them?

We need to chop this weed at the root or it will cramp out the joy the Lord promises to us!


Monday, January 11, 2010

Guest Preacher

Had a superb morning yesterday at X1. So conscious of the presence and the power of God. That is a prayer of mine again and again, "Lord please encounter us with your power and your presence."
Part of the reason for that was cause we had a guest preacher who came in and shared God's marvelous truth with us. I don't know if I'm saying that we need to have more guest speakers cause I'm no good, maybe... but what I am saying is that his being with us was a symbolism of the unity of the body of Christ. He is of another - very traditional - group of churches but our hearts are knitted much on the essential components of reformed, biblical faith.

His name is Greg and he is the principal of a new leadership college here in Watford, UK called the Watford School of Leadership. He is all over transformational leadership, the person and gospel of Christ, seriously embraces the missional concept and is a gifted evangelist - like I said we had a great morning. The whole thrust of his charge to us was that Discipleship is Apprenticeship: That means OBEY, BE HOLY, & BE LIKE the one you are following - Jesus Christ. His passage was the first 11 verses of Luke 5.

One thing he asked us as a church to do was stand and pray in unity the 'Covenant Prayer' of John Wesley. This we did, and then re-entered a time of worship - it was wonderful.
Here's that prayer
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Willing to pray it?


Tuesday, January 5, 2010


First week of a New Year so, like many, I am thinking about the year ahead and what that would hold for me as an individual. I don't think that we as Christians should be individuals that start each year with half-hearted resolutions that only last the first days of the year. But the dawning of a new year is certainly a time where we can take stock and decide upon the areas of our lives that need adaption in some way in order to be more Christ-like - that is the overarching goal of our Faith! To be so much more like Christ in every way in our closing days then in the beginning. If there is a change in the opposite direction we can be sure that there is an area of our life that is not under submission to His Lordship and not being led by the inner working of His Spirit.

In the early years of my faith I would focus on one of the key fruit of the Spirit or a spiritual habit as an underlying theme for my focus on the year. Prayer, Humility or others, sure you know what I mean. This year I have really just lingered on the concept of balanced living. My thoughts on this have always been governed by several things:

1) The impetus of the Wisdom literature towards this concept
2) An Edwardian awareness of the inherent link between our Spiritual health & our mental, physical, or 'soul' health.
3) Personal maturity as a man heading towards mid thirties.

I see that a balanced life submitted to the Lordship of life avoids so many unhelpful extremes - inferior, impure sub-standard Spirituality or the other superior, self-righteous, legalistic super spirituality. Extremism is a mark of spiritual immaturity (don't sit there saying, "Well what about extreme devotion, extreme love?" You know what I mean).
We must balance every area of life - I laugh as I recall a recent comment by a leader I truly respect. He said, "Sometimes an hour of body-refreshing nap is better for me than an hour of prayer, if you know what I mean." I know exactly what he means and have seen the detrimental overflow of many who would never admit this or even dare embody this.

balance, I'm going to give it a go...