Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Faithful Preaching

As a how-to guide this is a very accessible book for the new preacher and the old stager alike. There's some good, helpful and useful ideas.

Th book is separated into three parts. The first part sets out some convictions about expository preaching, the third part set out some principles about personal spirituality. It's the middle section that deals with the practicalities of how to prepare and deliver a sermon. Now you can read the second part first if you want to dive straight into the model if you're in a hurry to get started. But if you're new to the whole realm of preaching, you ought not to ignore parts one and three. Do so at your peril, because every established preacher knows that ignoring your own walk with God leaves you on dangerous ground for the ministry of preaching.

Anyway, it's a helpful book, and at the very least will help you understand the fundamentals of good preaching even your pattern is somewhat different. Read it alongside books like Communicating for Change to get a broader perspective on styles and approaches.

A Thousand Posts

I thought it would be nice to make my 1000th post from my iPhone. I've just downloaded Blogpress and wanted to give it a try.

The interface is simple and the set up very easy.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To give or not to give, that is the question!

I struggle with when to give and when not to give to. I know that sometimes, when someone stops you on the street and asks for money, they are probably not going to use it how they say they are going to use it. Then there are the times they pitch up at church with the sob story about not being able to pay for the bed at the centre or the fare to get to the job that will put them back on track. Sometimes there's a prison element to the story, always there is an element of heartache.

The reality is that these are well rehearsed stories designed to gain your trust and elicit a response involving your wallet. Excuse the cynicism, but it's what we've learned or been taught. But I have a bigger problem. What if the need is genuine? What if the story is true and it's not just a con? If I say no to helping them, what am I condemning them face?

So often I give them what they ask for.

Am I crazy? Probably, but I give because one day it will matter. One day it will make a difference. One day I'll be entertaining angels unaware. And have I actually been conned if I think that's what is happening anyway?

I'm writing this because I had a visitor the other day who needed help. I thought as they spoke that this was the usual stuff. I was even ticking off the items on my mental check-list of what happens when you're been taken for a ride. But still I gave them what they needed and as we shook hands and they left I thought to myself, "I won't be seeing that money again."

I may still be right, but here's the thing. They called me to say thank you and to let me know how they were getting on. That has never happened before. I was shocked and surprised. Maybe this time it was genuine and this time it will make a difference. Maybe this is the one time that it was right to give and I'd have missed it had I stuck to a hard line of no money available.

Honestly I don't know what to make of it all. But I'll just wait and see what God does with it. I may never know, not until heaven at least, whether I've been part of a bigger work of God in this person's life or not. but I had the chance, and today I'm glad I took it.

I have a hundred reasons and excuses not to give money away like this. All of them make sense. But I have one reason to give. God loves people, broken people, and his great desire is to bless them. He's chosen me as a part of the plan to bring this blessing about.

Jesus clears the Temple

I remember when I was at college and we were studying Mark's gospel, in Greek no less! One of the things that becomes apparent in Mark's gospel is the way that the narrative is often illustrated by another event. We called them sandwiches! Take for example the clearing of the Temple in Mark 11. The story progresses something like this:

Jesus makes his royal entrance into the city. He visits the Temple and looks around, but it's late so he leaves and stays overnight nearby. In the morning he decided to gather a few figs, but the tree is bare. He curses it (how odd is that?) and then moves on to Jerusalem where he proceeds to drive out the traders who had taken over the outer courts, declaring it to be prayer-house not a warehouse.

The following morning they pass the fig tree which has now withered and died, Jesus talks to them about faith.

Most of us might have expected Jesus to talk about empty religion, about how the fig tree, full of leaves but no fruit, parallels the Temple where there were all the forms of religion but no fruit of faith. But he makes no mention of the Temple or the events that had occurred the previous day. But maybe that's the point.

Maybe the whole problem is faith. You can have all the structure you like, but if there's no faith, there's no power. In fact the very structures you think are helping might just be hindering. The forms and structures, the rites and rituals, might just be working against discovering real faith.

I'm not about to suggest that we drop everything and go out and experiment on a few mountains, but it does seem to me that way too often we restrict ourselves by trying to fit God into our box, to tame him or control him, when in truth he can be neither tamed nor controlled.

And more importantly than anything, it challenges us to pray.

Reggie McNeal "Unleashed 2010"

I've posted a video of Reggie McNeal before, and this one contains many of the same themes and ideas as that one. but it's still worthwhile watching and listening to the passion with which he speaks about the need for the church to change, to move from a "what" idea of church to a "who".

Three things he says in this video that stood out, not recorded verbatim, but as close as I can get without listening again!

We plant a church and hope to start a movement.. [but] churches grow out of a movement
We exported stuff that didn't work here and called it foreign mission
God's redemptive mission is to address everything sin broke across the whole bandwith of life

Enjoy the video:

Reggie McNeal Main Session Unleashed Conference 2010 from Unleashed Network on Vimeo.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The big question

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, no surprise to anyone remotely connected to the church calendar. At church we re-enacted the entrance into Jerusalem. We even had a donkey, even if it was on wheels!

The whole point was to raise the big question that Palm Sunday poses. The cross and the resurrection may be the most decisive events in history, but I think Palm Sunday poses the biggest question. Why? Well because your response to cross and the resurrection will depend upon how you answer the question.

The question is in truth rather simple: Who do you believe Jesus to be?

If you believe Jesus to be just another great philosophical teacher who told stories laced with home spun wisdom to make life more bearable, then you will probably look to next weekend as an inconvenience, because the bigger shops will be closed on Sunday, or an opportunity to start the summer jobs that you promised you would do once the weather improved. Eternal destinies and questions of faith will simply pass you by.

However, if you are willing to take seriously what Jesus actually said, and if your are willing to go beyond the sanitised and sterile portrayal of him in many a media offering, and sometimes the church too, then you might just begin to see a different picture and discover a truth that will change everything forever.

You might begin to see a picture of God who loves you so much that he was willing to sacrifice even himself to win your love. Isn't that an amazing idea? That the God who made the universe would actually submit himself to die on your behalf. It might seem incredible, even unbelievable or incomprehensible, but that is exactly what the Bible said happened.

Jesus, through his death and resurrection, does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He makes atonement for our sin, our faults and failings, all those things that serve to separate us from the God who loves us, who misses us. He offers us the opportunity to reconnect with God through his self-sacrifice.

If this is who you believe Jesus to be, then next weekend is a time for great celebration.

If you're still thinking, then maybe you would like to use next weekend to explore the possibilities. It might just help you answer Palm Sunday's big question.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

When you know it's time to take a break

I read today that John Piper is taking an 8 month leave of absence, not a sabbatical. He's taking the break because of "a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit."

I suspect that reaching this kind of conclusion is not exclusive the John Piper, but is shared by many of us who would be described as pastors or leaders whether full-time or not, stipendary or not. But it is a brave pastor who openly confesses it as such and a brave leadership that sees the value of such a time away.

Ministry offers precious few slow days during which one can find sufficient rest and refreshment. The simple truth is that we are often too busy for a reality check. Somehow we need to recognise the need and be brave enough to withdraw from the daily demands in order to put things right with God.

I pray that John Piper will come back strengthened and refreshed, more deeply and intimately connected to God and more whole in all his relationships. I can pray this for him because it's what I pray for myself too.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Phil. 2:14

Do everything without complaining or arguing...

Could this be the hardest Biblical imperative for 21st century people? It might just be! It certainly is a text for many a teenager!

It's hard to imagine how we can be a people who seek to bless others if we spend our time complaining. It's not really much of a blessing if we follow it with a good moan about what we've just done. 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Phil. 2:13

for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose

What's the most quoted part of Jeremiah? Probably that verse from chapter 29, you know the one... I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.

Such words slip of the tongue so easily until the day you come up against something that robs you of hope, turns the future bleak or takes away your sense of being prospered. Of course what neither Paul nor Jeremiah are trying to do is to give us some false sense of security or spin current current circumstances to make things easier. Neither are they suggesting that we will not suffer in any way and that we will all be wealthy.

Our future rests in our hope, and our hope is in Christ. Both Paul and Jeremiah would point us towards our eternal futures and not the immediate future of the next year or the next ten years or even the next twenty years. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A day at Presence

Yesterday, March 24th, I spent most of the day in Watford seeing what God is doing through an amazing organisation and business called Presence. It would take too long to describe everything we saw, the gift shops, the spa, the urban retreat, the worship room, the coffee shop, the business centre... well you get the picture.

What was interesting was the sense that here were a group of people seeking to work out what it means to live missionally in the context of business and an urban setting. It was fascinating. I'm not sure everyone on the visit got the concept of a missional business (mainly because missional is so hard to define at the best of times), but what encouraged me was the way things were structured in order to help Christians live out their faith where they worked.

My favourite place I have to say was the what they called the Watford room. On the floor was a large map, printed onto floor tiles, of the local area. It was far more than just a visual aid, it was an invitation to something that is hard to put into words. It certainly made me thing once more about having a dedicated prayer room somewhere.


Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

It has always struck me as an odd turn of phrase that Paul uses, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." I've never really quite got to grips with it. Surely Jesus set me free from fear, surely as a follower of Christ there is little to work out and nothing over which I need to tremble. So what could Paul possibly be getting at?

The obvious analysis of the structure of the sentence (you had noticed that verses 12 ad 13 are one sentence I'm sure) is that continue to work out is synonymous with obeyed, and sits in the context of God's continuing work in our lives. When it comes to fear and trembling it seems most likely that Paul is talking about an attitude of faith. It's an appropriate attitude. When the people came to the mountain where they were to meet God in the exodus story, they approached with fear and trembling. They came with reverence towards the God who had demonstrated his power.

When we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, it is not based on the worst case scenario of what might go wrong or how easily we might lose our connection with God and ultimately our eternal security. That's the wrong kind of fear. We come knowing that God is at work in us and desperate to walk in light of this truth. We want so much to live a life worthy of the gospel (1:27).

The only thing we have to offer God is our full devotion, our total obedience. Nothing more is needed, nothing less will do.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Phil. 2:5

your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus

The problem with attitude is that attitude is usually the problem! When we think about being like Jesus I guess we'd prefer to think about the nicer side of things. We're not very comfortable with the self-sacrificing, non-defending, quiet in the face of hostility and misrepresentation side of what Jesus was like.

I wonder if Paul has Genesis 3 in mind when he says of Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Wasn't this the fundamental issue with Adam and Eve? They wanted to be like God. Human beings have always striven to be masters and mistresses of their own destinies. And therein lies our root problem.

In our me-culture it's hard to imagine why, let alone how, we can carry off an attitude of sacrifice and submission without becoming door mats for Christ. But somehow we must find a way. Maybe the next time you are tempted to stand up for your rights, you might stop for a moment and ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that could happen if I let this go?" It might not be as bad as you think, and if it is, does it really matter as much as you thought it did?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Testimony tells the truth

I was just thinking about Sunday's theme in the light of Andy Stanley's book that I've just finished reading. I guess if I were doing it all again and looking for the one crucial idea that might be memorable it might be this:

Testimony tells the truth about who you really are

As Paul urges his readers to live a life worthy of the gospel (1:27) and tells them about all the benefits of being in Christ (2:1-4), he challenges them to adopt the same attitude as Jesus so that they might continue to shine like stars. Our testimony, the story we live and tell is what makes us shine and ultimately this testimony tells the truth about us.

It's just a thought.

Communicating For A Change

A bit late to the party, this book was published in 2004, I'd always planned to read it but never quite got around to getting hold of it. Well, over the weekend I was loaned a copy and I decided to dip into it yesterday.

The book outlines seven concepts for effective communication. They are explored through the story of an imaginary preacher searching for a new way to engage his congregation. In fact the book falls into two parts, the story and the explanation. It's almost like a parable and a commentary (now where have I seen that pattern before...).

Whether or not you agree with the idea of the one point sermon, I think you will find a lot of helpful insights into the communication process of preaching. For a long time now I've been working with the idea in the back of my mind that preaching is less and less about transmitting information and more and more about inspiring change. I'm not sure I'm very good at that, but maybe some of the lessons I've learned form reading this book will help me to do better.

If you're new to preaching, I think you will find this book exceptionally helpful, but that will depend upon your goal. If you've been preaching for years, then it might just be time for a fresh look at what you've been doing all that time.

Possibly the most challenging aspect of the book is the challenge to preach from memory. Not something may colleges and older preachers would probably advocate but not quite as drastic as it sounds, the authors impress upon the would-be communicator that the message must be internalised by the speaker. My notes have got longer over the years to help me make sure I say what I intend to say. I was always prone to tangents and more precise notes help me avoid that trap.

But I agree that the core of the message must be in me if I want it to get in the congregation. To paraphrase the book, how can you expect anyone else to remember what you say if you can't remember it?


Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

But who comes first? How exactly do we balance self against others? Is there a fixed ratio, 50-50, 40-60, 75-25? I'm not sure there is an easy way to work this out. When I'm stopped in the street and asked to give just £2 a month to a children's charity or an animal welfare organisation or some other worthy cause, I confess that I usually say no and argue that I already give to various charitable things. I sponsor a child, I support a widow in Africa, I give to the church.

In other words I tell them I'm doing enough. And yet I wonder if that's true.

Perhaps the answer to this conundrum lies in being honest about what we are doing. I'm not sure you'll find many places in the Bible where it encourages you to take a little me-time. It might be culturally expedient, but me-time in the Bible doesn't exist as far as I can tell.

What does exist is taking time to to listen to the prompting of God's Spirit, to reflect on the investment of our lives and to ask honest questions about what we could be doing differently. How could we better invest our time and money for the glory of God? How can we learn to look to the needs of others a little more and to our own needs a little less.

To quote Rick Warren: It's not about thinking less of yourself, it's about thinking about yourself less.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Phil. 2:3

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit

Ambition is not necessarily a bad thing. We all have, or at least had, some ambitions in life. It's good to aim high and to seek to achieve things, but at what cost and for whose glory?

When our ambitions are self-centred, when they use others for our own ends, then those ambitions are surely destructive and counter-kingdom. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God", in other words make God's purposes your highest priority. Remember too that your heart will follow what you most value.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Joy in imitation

Today at church we took the whole section from 2:1-18, looking at how Paul describes the attitude of Jesus and how we should hare that same attitude. As it was read I couldn't help but be moved again by the challenge of what Paul says. The words and phrases cut deeply into our own selfishness and complacency.

In the first four verses alone there are ten things worthy of reflection.

Our conclusion in a single sentence was simply this: Honour Christ that Christ might be honoured. In other words, live a life that honours Jesus in every way in order that others might honour him on account of the transformation they see in your life.

If only we would stop and ask ourselves, "Does this action I'm about to take, or this path I'm about to follow honour Christ?" Maybe then we'd make better choices.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Poor Mobile signal at home?

The one downside of the iPhone is its inability to work with a poor mobile signal. My Nokia 6085 worked fine at home, even though the signal isn't great. Not so the iPhone. Why it should have such a poor antenna I don't know, but it's not just an issue with the iPhone, Ally's Nokia often suffers too.

So I started to look into the whole Femtocell thing. For those who don't know, a femtocell uses your broadband connection to provide a better signal for GSM mobile 'phone use. At the moment Vodafone is the only network providing femtocell technology. All the others are lagging well and truly behind. Of course the best solution would be to have a choice of suppliers who could provide a non-network specific device. Enter HSL, a company based in Scotland that is seeking to do just that.

In order to achieve their goal, they need as many people as possible to express an interest so that they have some leverage with the cellular companies to get the necessary access to make the system work. You're not committing yourself to buy the product, but you can register an interest that will help the cause.

You can go to this website and register and read the FAQ's.

How do you explain Jesus?

As we approach Easter I'm thinking about preparing some sort of Easter week reflective guide. I've often found Max Lucado to be helpful in the process, and so I turned to my bookshelves and sought out my copy of And the Angels were Silent. here's a quote from the beginning of the very last chapter:

What do you do with such a man? He called himself God, but wore the clothes of a man. He called himself Messiah, but never marshalled an army. He was regarded as king, but his only crown was of thorns. People revered him as regal, yet his only robe was stitched with mockery... How do you explain such a man?


If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ...

How do you view your relationship with Jesus? Is it one of convenience, a secure pass into heaven, an eternal insurance policy? Or do you seek to live every day in an open, growing relationship with him?

The problem with the former approach is that it is all about religion and religion doesn’t work. What works is relationship. Religion tends not to help the spiritual struggler. It applies rules and tests. Relationship draws the struggler forward. It offers the encouragement needed to grow, the comfort needed to accept failure and the fellowship needed to live purposefully.

Jesus invites us the come just the way we are, but never to stay that way. He invites us to change, to be transformed. not through keeping rules but by living life.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thomas a Kempis

In preparing for Sunday's topic "Joy in Imitation" I had a quick squint at The Imitation of Christ. I came across this rather telling observation.

If men used as much care in uprooting vices and implanting virtues as they do in discussing problems, there would not be so much evil and scandal in the world, or such laxity in religious organizations. On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived.

Who would have thought that there was ever a time in our history when we talked too much and acted too little, when we were more concerned with reading about the scandals of the lives of others and passing judgement on them, that we were about implanting virtues.


Phil. 1:29

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.

It's not one of our favourite themes, suffering. We like to moan about what is or isn't happening for us, but we don't like to think of suffering in any form being a part of our faith journey. So how do you avoid wallowing in self-pity or appearing to search out suffering for the sake of some strange religious desire?

The key to a proper perspective on suffering lies in Paul's close connection that he draws between the believer and Christ himself. We suffer on behalf of Christ, we believe on him, we are in him, we live for him. For those who look on from the outside, suffering is a sign of failure or destruction. But for those who believe, suffering is a symbol of identification with Jesus. It is an expression of what it means to live as citizens, to shine as stars, to live a life worthy.

For Paul and for the Philippians, believing in Jesus brought suffering into their lives. It drove them deeper into the arms of the one who suffered for them. Don't let your suffering pull you away from Jesus, let it drive you to him.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Phil. 1:27b

standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.

We’re all familiar with Paul’s calls for unity throughout his letters. Why does he stress this so much? Is it just because people were falling out or is it because of the impact a lack of unity has on the work of the kingdom?

There will always be differences, how sad it would be if we were all the same, but allowing those differences to cause divisions is not the way of the gospel. We must stand firm and stand together as we contend for the gospel as Paul puts it. Pray that our differences would not hinder the proclamation of God’s good news.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Phil. 1:27

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ

I’ve been at meetings where the speaker, in an unguarded moment, has said something inappropriate. The embarrassment is palpable. Others start to fall over themselves to apologise on the speaker’s behalf. In their opinion they have conducted themselves in an unworthy manner.

Do we embarrass Jesus by our lifestyle or do we honour him? What needs to change in your lifestyle so that you might honour Christ more?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Finally I succumbed

Yes it's true, finally I gave in to temptation. After a whole year or more of thinking about it and wondering and moaning about the tariffs, I finally gave in and upgraded to an iphone.

I'm not really a Mac junkie (who said that's not true?!), but it seems to make sense to me that if I'm going to integrate my contacts and diary with my phone, then this is probably just about the best way to do it. That is of course until the ipad comes on sale in April! But then again, you can't really have too many Apple products, can you?

I'm not about to fill up my new gadget with all sorts of games. I'm not really much of a game player, and they are too much of a distraction anyway. So I'm going to be business-like about my apps, honest!

At the moment I have Omnifocus, The Guardian, Daily tasks (a free to-do list app that's quite nice and compliments the more complex Omnifocus for quick lists) iThoughts (mindmapping), Echofon for Twitter and the free version of 1Password for the iphone.

I wouldn't say this is my essential collection, in fact I don't have an essential collection. I guess not I'm permanently connected to the internet I might find a few other things that are useful!

Phil. 1:21

For to me, to live is Christ to die is gain
This is one of those phrases from Paul that every time I think I really understand what he means I realise that maybe I'm not that sure. In it's context it seems pretty straightforward.

Paul is trying to help his readers understand that being in prison is not the end of the game. There is still much to be done and life must be lived in the context of the kingdom and the power of God to do amazing things, even to the point of Paul being released and back on the missionary trail.

But Paul also knows that this is probably not going to be the outcome, although he refuses to give in to defeat and wind down his efforts and his hopes.

In Acts 20:24 he made this statement: I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me. So his desire to depart and be with with the Lord, is not out of weariness over his life, but somehow linked to his desire to finish well. It's as if he's saying, "If it's time, if I've done all that Jesus wanted me to do , then I'm ready. But if it's not, if there is more that he wants me to do, then living is what I'll do because it makes no difference. Dying means I'll be with Jesus, living means I am with Jesus."

The point is this: Paul doesn't speak this way because he simply wants to escape, he speaks about dying and living in the context of serving the purposes of God. He sees both sides. Yes he's suffered, yes he is probably in pain from all the beatings, yes he's probably wearied by the pressure and the injustice of it all. But Paul wants more than anything to serve God. His greatest desire, as we've seen, is that Christ is exalted. Do we share that desire?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Making sense of our suffering–Phil. 1:12-30

Yesterday we looked at Paul's approach to his situation in prison. We found three criteria by which he measured his suffering and was able to find joy in it.

The kingdom was advanced
The gospel was preached
Christ was exalted

He says so much more, but these three things seem to stand out.

Perhaps you are facing some level of suffering. Maybe you could take a different perspective too. Here's a simple question to ask yourself, "Is Christ and the cause of Christ being well presented even through the way I'm currently suffering?

Phil. 1:20 that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body

You've probably all seen the wristbands: WWJD, FROG, PUSH, well I have one question that I regularly ask myself and other when facing a lifestyle choice: Will this action honour God?

It may not make a snappy wristband, but it is an important question. When someone tells me they are thinking of leaving their spouse or of setting up home with their new "significant other", I ask them, "How will this honour God?"

When I'm asked to help someone through a decision-making process I'll ask them, "Which choice will most honour God?"

It just seems to me that if we are truly serious about living our lives for the honour and glory of God and not for what we get out of it ourselves, then this is exactly what we ought to be asking ourselves. We can complicate it in all sorts of ways, but the bottom line will always surely be that our desire has to be that Christ is exalted in us at all times and in all possible ways.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

March 13: Phil 1:18

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

To Paul the gospel is so important that he is able to rejoice simply in the truth that it is preached. Whether those preaching are doing so in an attempt to make his situation worse or because they share his desire to bring as many people as possible into a relationship with God.

I can't think of a contemporary equivalent where some might preach from false motives, but I wouldn't be surprised to find one. But perhaps the challenge for us comes through our attitude towards those who do not do things the way we do them.

How often do you give thanks for the other churches around you, churches that may preach the gospel in a different way but who still preach the gospel. Maybe you could take the time to ask God to bless those who meet in different traditions this weekend.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Phil.1: 12

Now I want you know that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.

It’s amazing to think that Paul is able to look at his circumstances and see them as serving God’s purposes rather than ruining his life. I’m not sure I’ve always been able to do that and maybe even Paul had his dark days when he questioned God’s purposes.

If you are facing difficult or challenging times, take some time to acknowledge that God can turn even these times into something that will honour his name and further his mission.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 11: Phil 1:9-11

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Interesting phrase isn't it–that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. It is quite a contrast to the usual available options for love. Paul's purpose of love is different too. Instead of self-appreciation or deeper attraction, it's about knowing and understanding. Perhaps those are characteristics of love towards which we all ought to strive.

And this deeper love, this more discerning love, leads us into maturity as followers of Jesus Christ.

As you pray for others, ho does this prayer change what you pray for them?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Where does the future lie?

This is a great line from Roxburgh and Boren's book Introducing the Missional Church as it is adapted on the website:

God's future is among God's people

Here's a fuller explanation from the book itself:

The Spirit of God is among the people of God, not in the experts and the ordained, but right in the midst of all the ordinary men, women, and children who comprise this faith community. Therefore God's imagination and God's future is among these ordinary local men and women who gather to worship, who confess their confusion, who know their church is messed up and needs to change, and who confess that they don't have a clue what might be involved in this change or how to go about it. This is where the Spirit is at work. How dare anyone write off the church! This means that the answer to the question, "What is God calling us to be in the communities where we live and work?" is among the people, not in the experts or outside consultants or even in some program that worked somewhere else. And therefore, the job of the leadership is not to come up with grand plans for the congregation but to cultivate an environment in which the missional imagination of the people of God is called forth in lived action and lives.

Chew on that for a while!

March 10th: Phil. 1:4

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

It's not rocket science to see what gives Paul great joy: Partnership in the gospel, a shared experience of grace and confidence in God's ongoing redemptive work in the lives of others. But wait a second, let's rewind for a minute.

When I pray for others, particularly other Christians do I look for such shared experience or such signs of God's work that it give rise to joy? Perhaps, if we learnt to celebrate a bit more, we would more naturally see these things. But I do think it's also a choice we make.

So maybe the lesson from Paul is a simple one, the next time you pray for fellow Christians, begin by giving thanks that we are on the same team, that we share a common purpose and that God is at work in all of us.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

March 9th: Phil. 1:7

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart

Although an evangelist a church planter and an apostle, Paul was a pastor at heart. He carries all the people in his heart all the time. It is no exaggeration when Paul says that he prays for all of them all of the time. It was his passion for the local church that would consistently drive him to his knees.

We too can share that passion as we commit ourselves to pray regularly for the local church. Paul's reason for carrying them in his heart is their shared experience of God's grace. This shared experience causes Paul to long all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Ask God to give you a passion for the local church that you too might share the affection of Jesus for the people whom he loves. Find a way to carry them in your heart through a journal or index cards or a bookmark or whatever works for you.

Monday, March 08, 2010

March 8th: Phil. 1:3

I thank my God ever time I remember you

I thought I might try to write a short "thought for the day" based on something from Philippians as we study it at church. Whether it follows logically through the letter or not I don't know. It's just an experiment.

This phrase stands out in the early verses of chapter one. We could so easily look at the content of Paul's prayer or focus on the nature of the gospel in which they, and we, partner. But it's good to stop and ask ourselves a simple question: Do we give thanks often enough for the people with whom God has surrounded us? Be honest now, are you able to say that you give thanks every time you remember everyone?

Giving thanks is an act of the will, sometimes more difficult than others. Some people are just difficult and giving thanks for them and the challenges they bring is hard and we don't want to do it. But do it we ought, do it we must.

It is far easier to moan than to give thanks, the words come far more easily. We're all pretty good at pointing out what's wrong and who's to blame. So try giving thanks, even for the critics and the problem causers, the difficult and the demanding. Give thanks that it matters enough to them to raise the questions. Give thanks that they too can know freedom and release. Whatever you do when you remember them, pray God's blessing upon them.

Finding inspiration

I wonder if someone was praying for me this morning? I just felt a burst of energy and desire to pray for the local church. I think in truth it all began yesterday as we prayed before the morning celebration. I found myself asking God to bless all the local churches as they met to worship and honour him. This followed through into our worship and my part in the day.

Then we began to look at Philippians, taking the first 11 verses as our text for the day. I found myself asking the question over and over again in my head, "How can we have God's people in our hearts?" I think I even asked it out loud at least twice!

Then, this morning, I wanted to make a note of a couple of verses from Romans, one of which was shred the previous Sunday at the end of our month of prayer by Harry, one of our older members. It was particularly relevant in the context of having previously been praying about being "son's and daughters of encouragement." This is the verse Harry shared:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (15:5-6)

But the verse I was actually looking for, because of its link to our theme of joy in Philippians, was 14:7, which says:

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit

But in looking for that one on Thursday to share with the worship group I came across this:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (15:13)

These verses just inspire me. Hope, overflowing with the power of the Spirit, full of joy and peace, endurance and encouragement in unity. Powerful stuff when you let it percolate the dry layers of a weary spirit.

What is church?

This phrase from Tim Chester's blog caught my eye. He's talking about church as life lived out as a family rather than a meeting which we attend. He describes it this way:

doing ordinary life with gospel intentionality.

That strikes me as an almost insignificant phrase that we could pass over as being a theological soundbite. But it is far from that. It needs careful reflection, especially around the idea of "gospel intentionality".

He goes on to say this:

The church will never out perform TV shows and music videos. But there is nothing like the community life of the church. There is nowhere else where diverse people come together. There is nowhere else were broken people find a home. There is nowhere else when grace is experienced. There is nowhere else where God is present by his Spirit.

So, what are our chances of transitioning established churches towards this model?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

As my brain continues to process...

There is still a lot of reflecting to do on my few days at seminars, but some things have been running around my head that I just need to get out of my head and written down somewhere. So, in no particular order....

Some of the people who use the term missional leadership, don't seem to understand it quite the way I do! Not a criticism, but just an observation. One speaker kept talking about missional leadership but I wasn't convinced that we shared a common understanding in the room about what that meant. The danger is that it becomes a two word description of something that only needs one word. Leadership!

If a growing, missional (it's okay, I know what I mean!) church is the by-product, what is the original product? Missional is about life not programmes, it's about "being" more than it is about "doing". So how do we sustain the argument that the primary purpose of the church is mission, partnering with God in what he is doing, without turning everything into an evangelistic opportunity. what should we be focussing upon?

I think there is a real need to refocus our attention on the simple idea that we are meant to be in a relationship with God. Perhaps if we helped people to stay connected with God more clearly and more consistently, the other stuff would naturally flow from that.

Maybe my job is more about helping people do that than anything else. Maybe.

If the speed of the team is determined by the speed of the leader, how are we doing as leaders? Are we slowing down any progress? What are we doing to facilitate spiritual growth? What are we doing to model spiritual growth?

How come most of our leadership structures revolve around getting stuff done and not around setting an example of what it means to be a wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ.

And there are more questions than that running relay races through my busy mind. But at least I've got some of it out of my brain and into something else so I can get on with some other things that need my attention. It's a busy life in my head!

Hope you brains are not addled by my ramblings!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Seminars and conferences

I'm a bit conferenced out at the moment. You see I spent Friday at a seminar, Saturday doing Child Protection training and the last two days at Holy Trinity Brompton at a Leadership event. It is the proverbial bus syndrome.

Friday was probably the best overall event, but that had a lot to do with the topic and the focused nature of the day. HTB' s conference was much broader, but no less valuable. The mornings were worth the time to attend by themselves.

Have I learnt anything? Well yes I have. Quite a lot actually, but it all needs processing and I just hope I get the time to do that. Okay, so I intend to make time to do that, honest I do! A good conference or seminar should inspire and I think I've been inspired.

I was wondering this morning if some of the things that we think should be our focus as church are in fact the by-product of where we ought to be focusing. For example, if we think that mission ought to be our focus, and why wouldn't we think that, might it be that mission is actually the result of focusing on say spiritual development? When I read Acts one thing strikes. Almost everything the early church did resulted in mission. And that included a church meeting!

So I wonder what really are the core things to which we should give our fullest attention? I have a few ideas but they need work.