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.