Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can you help with my training?

Dear Blog Reader,
I'm learning that its all too easy to say "I need nothing" (Rev3:17) and that is rarely true.
I'm writing this because I have need and, in Christ, you might help. Please feel no obligation to be the answer to my prayer.

I'm half way through a two year leadership training course which has been very helpful for my development. The course covers training on leadership and preaching, doctrine and Biblical studies. Thus far I've raised about 66% of the course fees so far but that leaves a shortfall of about £800 (or £640 + giftaid).

If you'd like to help me towards that total please drop an email to and I'll let you know how you could give via my church.
Thank you. Dave.

Normal blogging will resume shortly and sink this post into the archives.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can you make good decisions?

At the recommendation of  @stualred I've just read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a storytelling exploration of decision making, of "thinking without thinking".

 Gladwell considers that we can make good decisions based on very thin slices of information - if we know what we're looking for (finding out might take enormous amounts of research - something Stu's Rugby coaching Dad has done for his PhD).

But we don't always get those moments right...
  • Sometimes we have too much information - drowning out what we actually need to see.  This is compellingly illustrated from the case of a hospital discovering that three questions could help them work out who needed immediate care for risk of a heart attack, for example.
  • Sometimes we develop an "in the moment autism" that stops us from reading the situation. So, in the moment we might get it wrong because of the heat of the moment. We choke. Whether sportsmen or policemen caught in a tense situation.
  • Sometimes our subconscious biases blind us. As when Orchestra's used to consistently overlook female musicians until a screen hid this at audition - then numbers rose. Are job interviews fair? Is justice really blind? For right or wrong first impressions are very significant.

For me it raised lots of questions for the work I'm doing among University students, to introduce them to Jesus. I'm faced with leadership decisions in my work.
  • Do I have the information to make them rightly?
  • Am I able to read the thin slice of information I need to do that well? 
  • What moments throw my instincts in the air and stop me making the right calls? 
  • Where do I have information overload that drowns out what matters? Myers-Briggs tells me I'm extreme on the Intuition side of the scale - as opposed to Sensing (INTP though almost an ENTP fwiw).
  • How can I grow in being me - but also avoid blindspots? 
  • What about the context we set as a team, church or CU at the front door, at the first point of contact - are people able to make a good decision or are there things we do that distrupt that unhelpfully?
  • What about the way I supervise my staff - what are the key questions I need to be asking them to serve them well when I'm with them? They don't tell me everything about everything - and they don't need to - but what information do I need to get an accurate picture of the work, and more importantly how they are? What are the different questions for the different people?
  • To what extent does the six page monthly review my staff omplete really get to the information that matters? Does it serve them and me, or does it fail to get to the heart?
  • How can I equip young evangelists to not choke in the situations they face - whether conversationally or in public debate?
  • How can I equip young leaders to analyse situations well - to capture the right information and not to choke the opportunity they're called to whether as a member of my team or as a student missions leader? 
  • How as friends, colleagues and partners in the gospel should we respond when 'in the moment' we make the wrong decisions? How can we lavish grace upon one another, forgive, comfort and advance together?
And what are the theological implications / theological perspectives on this issue?
  • I know that I'm prone to fallibility and bias and discrimination because I'm curved in on myself - how can the grace of God overcome that? How does being in Christ shape my relationships?
  • How can I love people better? 
  • Am I just my decisions? 
Blink is a helpful "look at self" resource, one not to live by but one which can be a helpful tool alongside ten looks to Christ.

Have you read it? Your thoughts? Questions? Answers?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is your ministry manipulative?

"I'M A COW... COME PLAY WITH ME... HUG ME." Kids toys have this strange way of sounding both patronising and terribly needy and (after a while) annoying. Though kids love them the rest of us can only live with them in short bursts....

No gospel minister would want to be so soul-destroying? When Paul is reminding the Galatians (Galatians 4:8-5:1) of the contrast between his ministry and that of the incoming Slave Teachers he follows a long theological argument with one drawn from their experience.

The slave teachers come in to "make much of you" - which is ok (genuine encouragement and affirmation are vital), but they only do it so that "you'll make much of them". I'll love you if you'll love me back. That's to say - they're manipulative ministers. At first everyone likes to be made much of but after a while this power play gets tiresome. Paul observes it has drained away the Galatians joy, it has cast aside "the blessing they felt" when they first received the gospel. It's ugly.

It's filled with false teaching but it's form is problematic too. Indeed it's form is shaped by it's theology. The Slave Teachers enslave people to rules and religion and systems and behaviour. They are their own god. And people don't make very good gods. We're too power hungry and insecure.
And so I-am-god (aka I'm-a-cow) ministry loves to micro-manage people and situations...
...trying to pull all the strings, every decision needing to be supervised and run past such a minister.
...seeking the last word in everything, whether to affirm or caveat or just to HAVE MY SAY.
...trying to keep everything looking "perfect" with all the right labels and big names and associated nonsense so that the right people will think the right things about me and my miinistry.
Looked at that way, I think you can make a case for micro-management being heretical - or at least that it's one of the fruits of effectively believing a false gospel. 

In the end it turns to being mocking ministry, which is what it was all along. Paul knew persecution inside-out, he used to be a persecutor. And slaves manipulate and mock the free... and that carries on until Christ is revealed and then everything changes.

Paul's Christian ministry by contrast is motherly. He is anguished and perplexed. He doesn't seek their fan-mail. He doesn't want them to turn to him for everything, but rather to see "Christ formed in you". Not Paul's plan, not Paul's ideas - good as they might have been - but Christ in you. A Christian knows God, and is known by God. Blessed because the cursed is turned onto Christ. Joined into Christ's death and resurrection, and with the Spirit of the Son living within. Motherly ministry hurts the heart and hurts the head but it's fruit is incredibly sweet when Christ is formed in people. 

Paul is free to do one thing only: free to preach Christ to them. His ministry is about Jesus and people. And it will refresh people, it will enlarge their freedom, it will renew their joy, it'll restore their sense of God's blessing upon them in the gospel . Such gospel ministry isn't about driving people or giving them every last detail and plan, it's about casting a vision, capturing their imagination and their heart, trusting the Spirit to change people. Such gospel people are refreshing company, and theirs is the kind of ministry you can never have enough of.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Preaching to Yourself (Not really a review of Note to Self)

This is a cool book. It's RELIT. It's 48 tiny chapters in a pocket size book. I had this planned to be my bathroom book for 48 days. It's aim is to address the question of what it means to preach to yourself. This isn't a review of the book, it's more a thought that sparked from reading it. 

PREACHING TO YOURSELF has become popular of late. Mostly I think lifted from Biblical example, mediated by Martyn Lloyd-Jones' exhortation in Spiritual Depression to spend more time talking to yourself than listening to yourself. Which is a great thing. There is a need to address our souls, to speak to our hearts. Joe Thorns book seeks to show HOW to speak to yourself.

The introduction immediately threw me off with it's call to not just preach gospel to ourselves but to preach law and gospel too. There are several evangelical approaches to law, and my disappointment is probably that mine isn't the same as Thorns. My view (Modified Lutheran) shoots for law being Scripture that shows us Christ (though it originally had other purposes for Israel).

Note to Self follows a Reformed (possibly even Lutheran) approach that says we need the law to show us we're sinful before we come to Christ. I say: I need Christ to turn me to Christ. And the books of law can do that as well as the rest of Scripture. I think that's the root of my problem with Note to Self. Thorn is a cool Classic Reformed guy which is fair enough. And from that view of law/gospel this probably an excellent book. More than that he's a brother who can teach me a lot. A lot. I'm not really picking a fight with this book.
It just got me thinking about how to preach to myself. The book is framed as law then gospel, but it felt more like law. Much like many of my encounters with more classic reformed approaches in preaching.
Thorn repeatedly assures me I'm sinful and that change is needed, and even that the hope I need is in an aspect of the gospel. What's happening? I'm being told to believe the gospel, rather than having Christ publicly portrayed to me that I might believe in him. It's one thing to tell me I'm loved, it's another to be apprehended by his be stopped in my tracks as my heart is confronted with the beauty of the Christ. I think the difference is significant.

I hoped Note to Self might be a little sweet 21st Century puritan number... 48 chapters that would preach Christ to my heart, not necessarily hitting my sin head-on, but causing me to embrace Christ again instead of sin because I see Christ so wonderfully. I wanted to taste that honey was sweet rather than be told that it was. I need the Christ, I need to see how he's loved by his Father, and loves and catches me up in his love in the Spirit... Christ is my life not me.

I'm wretched in my dead old self, I know that all too well. When preaching to myself I need Christ. The key is not in learning and remembering, nor the failure in my failing to do that. One look to self with ten looks to Christ. I do not... but Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ. The fault may well be in me, but for me this was a book that - to borrow from Antoine de Saint-Expury - taught me about boat building rather than making me dream of the sea.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

We're praying for our vicar to be saved!

On Friday at Together at Westpoint Terry Virgo told an anecdote of his experience of meeting someone who had been awakened to the grace of God and the work of the Spirit at a major Christian conference. As they thanked Terry for his teaching on this they said, "now we're going home, praying that our vicar will be saved".

Terry's reply was of some bewilderment. Reminding us that "just because it's called St. Something's" doesn't mean it's a church.... and if the leader isn't a Christian then the thing is probably failing some sort of test of being a church, right?

Obviously praying for the vicar to become a Christian is good, but the observation suggests that these newly revived believers need to go and find a church they can thrive in - and from there look to win the world for Christ, even the bits that call themselves churches.

If your "church" doesn't love the gospel then it's not a church right? And a Christian has got to be rooted in a church. We, understandably, develop such strong allegiance to our communities...  but there is a world to win for Christ who need to hear the gospel and see real church happening. Sometimes you have to hear the Spirit's stirring and get out of Babylon to go and build the house of God (Ezra 1) - you have to get where God is present.

A Christian leader coming into a religious institution to win it for Christ is probably also not leading a church at first - though it might yet plant a church among the religious. If you're not the leader can you really get very far - and even if you can, don't you need to be part of a church in the meantime? And wouldn't that make the mission more effective? Wouldn't that mean you could stand with others pulling in the same direction - it's fair enough to expect someone who isn't a Christian not to believe in your mission, but when we kid ourselves that the religious are the church don't we betray the gospel, don't we defame Christ?

Do good believers in dead churches just prop up bad institutions? Or might they win them for Christ?
Or, should they get out - plant a new church - and seek to win the religious and the irreligious in their community? 
Got me thinking - what do you think?

If you've ever wondered what the church could be, I cannot think of a better book than Terry Virgo's The Spirit-Filled Church (£4.38 at Book Depository)

What makes a leader?

At the recommendation of David Capener I got hold of a copy of HBR's 10 Must Reads: On Leadership. A collection of papers from the Harvard Business Review. The first chapter is by Daniel Goleman, you can read it online here What makes a leader?.
"Every businessperson knows a story about a highly intelligent, highly skilled executive who was promoted into a leadership position only to fail at the job. And they also know a story about someone with solid-but not extraordinary-intellectual abilities and technical skills who was promoted into a similar position and then soared. Such anecdotes support the widespread belief that identifying individuals with the "right stuff" to be leaders is more art than science. After all, the personal styles of superb leaders vary: some leaders are subdued and analytical; others shout their manifestos from the mountaintops. And just as important, different situations call for different types of leadership. Most mergers need a sensitive negotiator at the helm, whereas many turnarounds require a more forceful authority. I have found, however, that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence."
What is this Emotional Intelligence?
1. Self-awareness - knowing yourself.
2. Self-regulation - self-control, restraint when things don't go well etc.
3. Motivation - drive to achieve
4. Empathy - ability to understand other people and their feelings
5. Social skill - the ability to win others over and move them.

Which is both interesting and probably quite obvious. I'm wondering how this impacts the work I do. My team's work is two-fold, firstly front-line evangelism with students, and secondly leading leaders into leadership. Encouragingly he says we can grow in these areas. I know I need to, and I want to help my team to do the same themselves, and to serve young leaders in that.My approach to leadership development is seeking to be gospel-shaped, so where does Emotional Intelligence fit into that?

Seems to me that Strong Gospel-Shapedness isn't far off strong Emotional Intelligence? Gospel-shapedness is bigger and broader bit there is certainly major overlap. Those shaped by the gospel are aware of themselves and others, they're people who, being caught up in the love of God, become other-centred. Leading for the good of others and the purposes of the gospel to see the love of God further spread.

Goleman calls it EI but it looks like the fruit of the Spirit... does that mean every Christian could lead? Perhaps! Though perhaps not in every context - motivation to succeed is costly and we all make choices - to favour family or money or power or geography etc. But those becoming like Christ surely become influencers. And that influence isn't ruthless and unpersonal, as with EI it is relational as well as robust. How does a leader with strong EI lead - for the good of others and the work they're involved in...  through partnerships and trust and respect, even with love.

It may be that every leader needs emotional intelligence, but of course not everyone with strong emotional intelligence will be a leader. Or that leadership will not be in every context. Sometimes another is leading, but bringing our strengths to that situation will serve that leadership well. Much of what I'm reading in this HBR book is simply helpful wisdom for everyone - worked out and applied to leadership but useful and easily applicable to all kinds of contexts.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fairy Tales: Eternal hope in a melancholy world

We don't read fairy tales to escape reality - think CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein or JK Rowling (initals required) - but because they are able to draw us out of self love and cynicism into bigger stories, even while we remain in our small situations. By carrying us into their semi-reality they take us into underlying reality.

Erik Davies observes that Tolkein's stories offer "eternal hope in a melancholy world". Tolkein argues that "people sense that such stories point to some underlying Reality. As we read or watch them, we are being told that the world is certainly filled with danger . . . nonetheless there is a meaning to things, there is a difference between good and evil, and above all there will be a final defeat of evil . . .the gospel story of Jesus is the underlying Reality to which all the stories point. . . it is the true story; it happened".

Don't we long for such stories?
Wherever we find ourselves looking we long for better, for more... what if someone could come and console those hopes with a true story?
Wouldn't you want that?

Tim Keller (afterword to his book King's Cross) "Steven Spielberg was refused any Oscars until he stopped making movies with only happy endings, yet his fairy tale-ending movies are his most popular. . . critics observe this and scowl that, of course, "escapist" stories will always be popular".

Personally, I want my boys to grow up with fairy tales, the fictious ones and the one that came true. I'll read Lewis and Tolkein and Potter and The Jesus Storybook Bible with them. I want them to dream and imagine - you can't suppress those things so it'd be better to enflame and encourage them.

In The Return of the King Tolkein has some of his most famous writing (The Fields of Cormallen, Book V, Chapter IV)
Sam lay back, and started with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last has gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” “A great shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed. “How do I feel?” he cried. “Well I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” – he waved his arms in the air – “I feel like spring after winter....
A bit like Michael Ward's observation that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe tells the story of "winter past and guilt forgiven". For some reason, we long for the Spring and Summer... for new life, for longer days and sunnier skies... ours is an inconsolable longing. That frustrating sense of eternity in our hearts that makes us perceive more without being able to get our hands on it ourselves. Which makes us long to climb the ladder without ever reaching the top. We need someone who can satisfy us, one who can fulfill the great stories, a true hero who wins through weakness, a suffering and sacrificial servant... a true and better Frodo, a true and better Aslan, a true and better Harry Potter...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You need the rejoicing King

Part 3 of 3 of my script from my sermon on Psalm 63: Finding Satisfaction. MP3: Finding Satisfaction - Psalm 63 


V11: The beloved king rejoices! This David had appointed priests to “raise sounds of joy”. The King Rejoices in God. And isn’t his joy infectious, you look at his smile and you can’t help but begin to smile… And the point?

Andrew Bonar observed: “when we read this Psalm as spoken of and by Christ, how much is every verse enhanced?" 

This is David’s prayer of his desire, but truly it is the prayer of the True David, the True Beloved. Of G reat David’s greater Son: King Jesus. Here him sing this song. Here the voice of the one who has always been satisfied in God – even in the wilderness of his great suffering at the cross. King Jesus rejoices. Hear Jesus’ thirst for God, My God! Jesus’ vision of God! Hear his estimate of God’s loving kindness, for the Son always enjoyed his Father’s steadfast love, from eternity past. Hear his soul satisfied with his Father’s food! His mouth is full of praise! He follows hard after God! The King Rejoices!

In Exodus 28:29 God says the names of the people should be written on the breastplate of The Priest so that he can carry them into the Sanctuary on his heart. Remember, a mere king could not do this. David couldn’t.
But, the Lord Jesus Christ is both KING and PRIEST. And he will carry us to his Father - at whose right hand he sits - carrying us on his heart, on the basis of his blood shed for us.

Horatius Bonar’s hymn says it well:
  “Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die, 
 Another’s life, another’s death – I stake my eternity” 

This is good news if you are in the wilderness. Longing for change, this song says: Don’t look within, look to the rejoicing king. See his joy in the Father. See Jesus dancing in the presence of the angels as another person is given him by the Father. See his joy as he draws you to himself. See his delight as he reveals his Father to you. See Jesus happiness as your name is written on his heart. Share in Jesus happiness as he carries you into his relationship with his Father. We don’t have to whip up joy in ourselves, nor just watch his joy from outside the window – he invites us in. Psalm 63 is a call to be carried into the society of the Triune God. To look upon him, away from ourselves, and find our joy and our life in the King’s Life! Taste and see the love of God in Jesus. And now picture the effect of this on the church.

 How does this shape us as we pursue the vision God has given us to LOVE, EXPLAIN and INVITE? Consider Marcus Brigstocke. Love. When I read his book I wept – and that’s what I’d want to do if I was sat with him, or the many like him our city – who have suffered loss – in his case his best friend died, who fear being alone, who wish there could be a god but can’t bear the gods they’ve heard of. The same could be said of many in our society, rioters and their victims. People longing for more – not to escape their situation, but to truly live in it. After much listening and weeping I’d want to explain that the god people are searching for, the one all our desires and searching point to is called Jesus.

And then I’d want to invite him into what? To formal miserable religion? No. My God quenches the thirsty as they receive the Son he loves. My God fills the hungry as they feed on him. My God meets your inconsolable longing, not saying save yourself, not saying search inside yourself. But simply: Behold Rejoicing King Jesus! Here is good news: When you don’t desire the LORD, the King does. His joy is open to all – when your heart searches for satisfaction, look to the God of love – look to Jesus who rejoices in God his Father. The story of Jesus is the fairy tale that came true in space and time. The story of Jesus says: you’re not alone. The story of Jesus says that the one we’ve been looking and longing for is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The better story of the gospel

Part 2 of 3 of my script from my sermon on Psalm 63: Finding Satisfaction. MP3: Finding Satisfaction - Psalm 63 

David claims to have seen God in the Sanctuary... BUT… for all that, David hasn’t been in the sanctuary.

David was a King not a Priest. And only Priests could enter. His descendent King Uzziah would try to do both and be struck down. David was thrilled to watch from a distance.
He was thrilled to read the Scriptures - as a king he wrote out his own copy.
 He was thrilled to have the Teaching Priests preach the gospel to him – telling of the meaning of the blood, of the God who is with his people. Holding up the God of love before his eyes. Publicly portraying the cross of Christ for his heart to feed up.
He saw the tent from a distance. He saw the priests go in.
And, perhaps, even like Isaiah in the year King Uzziah died, he saw a vision of Jesus at the heart of the sanctuary?

What does David conclude? v3:
“because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you”. 
The parched and suffering king has heard the gospel, the love of God has won his heart, and he knows that this is better than life itself. In fact Jesus said that this was the definition of eternal life is to know Jesus and his Father. To be drawn into the love of God. David knew this life.
Summarise the gospel? The love of God, the God of love.

At the cross God’s LOVE sings loudest, of the ardently cherished promise that men should eventually be delivered by an Incarnate God crushing the head of the evil serpent. Of our hero’s victory! David lifts his hands! Praise overflows from his heart. And he grasps for language to express himself. Having spoken of a parched throat, he turns to the music of love – to food.

 V5: “fat and rich food”. Food speaks of gospel reality like almost nothing else. The tangible satisfaction of eating food captures what it means to know the LORD. I remember visiting Cadbury’s world in Birmingham – tasting chocolate that had been freshly made. It didn’t matter what else I ate, or how many times I brushed my teeth – for several days the taste was still in my mouth. David chews over his day, v6, meditating in the night, this David has the taste of the love of God on his tongue, salivating and savouring…

The Beloved King finds life, v7, in “the shadow of your wings” – like Ruth finding a home among God’s people under the shadow of Boaz’ wings, the wilderness wanderer knows that the Sanctuary isn’t just shelter from the midday sun, it’s where you find shelter in the ‘better-than-life’ love of God, in the God of love. The love of God is so wonderful you’d think everyone would stand with King David. But, the God of love has enemies.

Enemies of God's love?
V9, there are those who will “go down to the depths of the earth” and be v10, “given over to the sword” and v11 “the mouths of liars will be stopped”.  Today they rejoice but their heads will be crushed. David, the man after God’s heart, rejoiced and danced undignified before God. Saul’s daughter watched him and hated him in her heart. She stood against the One God loved. Would you watch people rejoice in God and murmur in your heart? Surely not.

Instead aren’t you drawn into the story of This David – can you imagine what it would be like to share his relationship with the God of love? What if you could see like he sees? What if you could taste what he tastes?

Now, I wonder if you’ve ever thought about the success of Harry Potter. How has Exeter graduate J.K. Rowling attained a fortune of 1 Billion dollars by writing books? Seems to me that people love Harry Potter because Rowling has told a fairy tale. Her stories have captured the imagination. In her stories Harry spends his summers in the smallness of the Dursley’s house waiting for the next story to begin… And so it is for us – we often live small lives but we long for more. With Marcus Brigstocke and Nina Sayers and Harry Potter we long for more. The beauty of fairy tales is not that they’re escapist fantasies – it’s that they draw us out of ourselves, out of self-love, out of cynicism, out of despair and into the hero’s story. Psalm 63 is telling “The Story of The Beloved in the Wilderness”. A fairy tale that came true. A story that invites us not to settle for less but to hunger for God, for the triumph of God, to see the God of love.

Monday, August 15, 2011

You need to see the God of love

Part 1 of 3 of my script from my sermon on Psalm 63: Finding Satisfaction. MP3: Finding Satisfaction - Psalm 63 

“There’s probably no god. I know that because I read it on the side of a bus, and that’s one of the ways you can know things.” So writes Marcus Brigstocke in his new book, God Collar. The book is his entertaining and honest search for god. He repeatedly expresses his inconsolable longing for god to exist, but he cannot bring himself to believe in the god he finds in the bible. His search is strikingly different to the raging voices of the new atheists like Richard Dawkins who fume as they tell us that god is unattractive, unknowable and undesirable. Brigstocke wants to believe, but he hasn’t found what he’s looking for and admits he’s scared of the aloneness of life without God.

What if the beauty, the satisfaction and the passion he seeks could be found? What about you? Do you – like so many, like Marcus Brigstocke yearn for more – for peace, for hope, for a better world?

Whats your your response to the riots? As we talked about it we reflected on how we feel it shouldn’t be this way – we expect better – we want a better world – a world where such things don’t happen. Without the actions and causes and consequences. And it’s curious that this is a desire we have – why should we hope for that? And might that desire lead us to cry to God? I remember first doing that as a teenager, longing for more, for God even. And yet at the time my cries found nothing but the ceiling. That searching and desiring is good, and we can bring it with us to God’s word.

Hear him now in Psalm 63: In this Psalm, this song, we see King David, driven into the wilderness by his enemies – crying to his God – seeing something that changes everything – and then rejoicing in his God, whilst his enemies are crushed. It’s the song of an oppressed hero rising to victory. But how?

If we cast ourselves quickly as the hero of this song we may find ourselves in despair – who has such deep desire and joy? Let us eavesdrop on his prayer. Don’t miss the introduction: V1: “A song of David, the King, in the wilderness.” 

 “Of David” –Who is David? Israel’s great king – whose name “David” means BELOVED. He is a vivid picture of the Long Expected Christ – the One who always enjoyed a Heart-to-Heart relationship with the Father, always knowing the Father’s love.

 “In the wilderness.” Biblically the wilderness is land outside the vitality of Eden, the place of 40 years of trials for Israel between Slavery and the land flowing with milk and honey. The wilderness is where John the Baptist came calling people to turn back to God. And in Hosea 2:14 the LORD allured his people in the wilderness. A harsh and afflicting place, a place to seek and find redemption. In Psalm 63. David suffers. The One God Loves is in the wilderness. That helps us see that outward suffering doesn’t mean God is against us. If your life feels like the wilderness that doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. Similarly don’t mistake outward prosperity with God’s approval of you. For David and for Jesus – those God loves do suffer. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so – and because he is with me in my suffering”. 

Let’s listen in to the Beloved in his suffering: v1, he turns to God. What does he pray? He calls to “God, MY God”. This is his personal, sincere, earnest cry – his cry may become ours, but firstly it is his. V1: “my soul thirsts”. The soul is throaty. It’s about desires. This beloved in the wilderness is desperately thirsty, parched not for water but for God. This David is so different from our society. We love to say “I need nothing” but he is desirous and needy. He has an inconsolable longing for “My God”. We put on a brave face but we are needy: hungry, curious and desirous and dependent. Men and women in the past have searched for continents and begun to explore space, and today we have the internet. We search here and there. We’re Google-hearted people! We don’t always know what we’re looking for but we still search, often settling for less than really satisfies.

As CS Lewis reflected we’re like we’re children who settle for mudpies in the backgarden instead of sandcastles at the beach. Our oldest loves the beach – I pray his desire is retained, enflamed and fulfilled in a thirsting after God. What of you? Do you share this David’s longings? Are you always searching and not finding? Or are you too easily pleased? Or just one extreme to the other…

In the film Black Swan, Natalie Portman gives an Oscar winning performance as Nina Sayers – her life is a picture of innocence, she’s a ballet dancer, living with her mother surrounded by cuddly toys. But she’s pushed to achieve more – to find passion. She searches for the hero inside herself, becoming insanely introspective, destructively. This song leads us to consider our hearts but for every look at self its good to take ten elsewhere.. See where David looks. David doesn’t look inside.

He, v2 “looked upon God in the Sanctuary” At the Tabernacle – the tent where God dwelled with his people. David’s son replaced the Tent with The Temple. But no tent or temple can contain the Triune God – but God made it his meeting place with his people – at the centre of the camp: He was there. Access was limited but they were thrilled to even be near by. Israel said to people they met: “Come with us, we’ll do you good because to our amazement and astonishment Jesus is with us.” Us too! David says V2: he has looked upon the LORD in the sanctuary.

What did he see? V2 He beheld the LORD’s Power and glory. What did he see? Don’t think abstract light and absolute power. A nuclear bomb going off? No. This is the LORD who is relentlessly relational. We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and we hear of the gospel of the glory of God. The power and glory of God are seen in the death and resurrection of the Christ. It’s why the sanctuary was blood splattered. To see it was to have stirred in your heart the long cherished hope of the world.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Psalm 63: Finding Satisfaction

This morning I preached Psalm 63 at our church. I decided to preach without notes so the mp3 isn't quite the same as the script I wrote out.
I missed some bits, rambled a bit, gained some bits, lost some of my crafted language, plus our 10 week old screamed over a few bits, but I think going without notes gave me much more connection with people and freedom in preaching.
It was also great to see the Spirit preach the message in our worship time, through readings, prayers and a prophetic song. Very encouraging.

MP3 from my iPod: Finding Satisfaction - Psalm 63 (42mins)
UPDATE: Better recording: Finding Satisfaction - Psalm 63

I'll blog the script over the next three days.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Everyone is Welcome

Have a watch of Bill Hybels wonderfully generous response to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultze' withdrawal from speaking at his Leadership Summit.
Book: In dealing with his friend, Hybels is gracious - letting him out of a commitment, encouraging people to back his company and suggesting that they send some encouraging emails to drown out the vitriol. To his 'opponents' Hybels appeals for understanding, dialogue, reconciliation - or at least respect, and states that where a closed door has been perceived really it is open. His appeal for people to build relationship rather than make assumptions about others is very helpful too. And he recommends Onward by Howard Schultz. One for my wishlist.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Changing the expression of Christianity: A Charismatic History of the Church

Phil Moore observes that the gospel progresses with signs and wonders in his survey of church history beginning in Acts. Phil Moore on the Demonstration of the Spirit's Power - Training Track at Together on a Mission 2011Moore:
"church history was always meant to be like something out of Acts"
Is preaching the gospel enough? Or, should we expect the preaching of the gospel to be accompanied with power? Moore argues that the successful advance of the gospel comes through confrontation between the Triune God and demons and idols, rather than a softly softly approach. Evil definitively overthrown by the gospel. Where are these confrontations today?

He says, the church flounders when the power of God is abandoned, to political power and human activity - whether in the days of Constantine or the Reformation etc. He documents Augustine's late-in-life conversion to belief in healing (documented in City of God ch22.8). Moore asks, could it be that the reformation lacked traction because it was not accompanied with signs and wonders? even though some like Martin Luther believed in healing, it was not the norm or emphasis of the reformation...
"If the physicians are at a loss to find a remedy, you may be sure that it is not a case of ordinary melancholy. It must, rather, be an affliction that comes from the devil, and must be counteracted by the power of Christ and with the prayer of faith. This is what we do, and what we have been accustomed to do, for a cabinetmaker here was similarly afflicted with madness and we cured him by prayer in Christ’s name."
Moore: "to not believe in the baptism in the Holy Spirit today is to be in the minority today" (64mins). Moore calls for us to face our Christoph Blumhart moment - a healing evangelist - who took the gospel forward with the Spirit's power but then retracted as he was asked to stop. Where might we go? Where might God want to move? What kind of prophetic vision might he have for us? Who might he heal? How might he show that idols are powerless and Christ is true.

Phil is a pastor, gifted evangelist and prolifically producing Bible commentaries. You can catch more of him here: Phil Moore: Gospel-Centred Preaching at Together on a Mission 2011. A seminar in which he shows we must always be preaching the gospel, for all people. Full of practical wisdom for how to keep the gospel at the heart of church life.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Slaying dragons: Did Christianity copy Egyptian mythology?

Earlier this year I spoke at an evangelistic event at Bath Spa University. A student stood up in the Q&A and read from a piece of paper a description of something that sounded very like Christianity before asking me, what do I make of that. I bounced the question back to him before he revealed that it was a description of an Egyptian religion, lifted it transpires from the writings of retired Professor Richard Dawkins.

The other day I came across a 150 year old book: William Haslam - The Cross and the Serpent via on Acts 15:21 - Moses preached in ancient times. Haslam studies the idea of the serpent (to be crushed according to Genesis 3) and the cross in the mythologies of the ancient world. He considers the presence of these kind of stories and indeed prophecy of the cross to be entirely expected in ancient cultures - the LORD revealed and his people spread through the world carrying the story.

Of the Cross, Haslam writes: "He was consigned to the ignominous Cross; and there with the outstretched arms of ancient prophecy, He was lifted up to draw all men to Him! to complete the work of man's redemption! He was bruised in the heel, but He bruised the serpent's head; he triumphed over death, and ascended to his throne in heaven." p262

He examines the mythologies of Egypt and Scandinavia and Greece, India and China and so on. Noticing - "the mysteries of the Gospel revelation, hidden in their own mythology, and in their own gods! how enticing and convincing would be the proof of this to their heart" p177 such that "many who waited patiently for the fulfilment rejoiced greatly when it was announced to them, with conviction, that the long-cherished hope of heathendom was fulfilled, and that the cross was triumphant in fulfillment, as it had long been in prophecy" p180-1

Reflecting on Paul's preaching in Athens: "What can we imagine would be more successful in teaching the heathen the nature of God, than to lead them from their own tenets in all the warm ardour of their heart beyond them to a purer belief? What text more engaging for inculcating the doctrine of the Trinity, than the heathen's triad, consisting of a ruling father, and incarnate though ascended and triumphant son, and a pervading spirit? What process of reasoning will be more conclusive as to the fallen state, and the necessity of expiation, than the heathen's ceremonies of sacrifice? Their assertion of the necessity of human sacrifice, and their sacrifice of their deity, can easily be explained to them: the conquest of the dragon by the incarnate deity, the efficacy of water and the sign of the Cross are so many admitted truths. All these may be selected, or they are not so much overlaid with subsequent superstitions as not to be easily selected, and set before the votaries of the serpent in their proper order. Their eyes have long been holden so that they have been unable to see; but they may be opened by the power of Him who has vanquished the serpent. Will not their heart burn within them at such tidings? Will not the Holy Spirit, who ever loves to guide the humble-minded to the truth, while that truth is so near them, while the appointed messengers of truth are praying and striving for success in their ministry, will not that Holy Spirit guide to all truth those who can devote their bodies and their lives for the love of God whom they worship; who can conquer their infirm rebellious heart within them, and subdue their nature so as to make it subservient to the dictates and precepts of religion?" p270-1

We're quick to speak of the uniqueness of Christianity, unlike any other mythology/story. Yet Haslam would suggest another tack. Christianity is the story we've been waiting for. It is, in Tolkein/Lewis/Keller terms, the fairy tale that became true. So Tolkein (On Fairy Stories): "It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous.But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified."

The question I was asked was not easy to respond to, but it was a great opportunity - and should it arise again I hope I'll bring more of this kind of thinking into the conversation. I got as far then as Israelites having been in Egypt so of course the Christian hope was known there. But we can say much more.

The embedding of gospel hope in cultures around the world surely means that like Tim Keller we will set out not just to challenge the culture but to console it - to identify with the world and the story it's longing for - showing that in the cross of Christ we find fulfilled, as Haslam observes: "the ardently cherished promise that men should eventually be delivered by an Incarnate God from the cruel bondage of the evil serpent" p130.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The prophetic vision for the UCCF and IFES

Norman Grubb (1895-1993):
"Before I left, near the end of that term, the Spirit distinctly came on me to go and speak in no uncertain terms to all I knew personally who had not accepted Christ, or who at least showed no sign of spiritual life - men whom I never expected to see again in this life. I went and pulled no punches, and a number came out for Christ, about sixteen of them. This caused a stir like a touch of revival and the C.I.C.C.U. men asked me to come and tell them about it. As I did so, it came like a vision to me that every university and college in Britain and the world should have its evangelical and witnessing union, as we had. So I suggested to two of my friends that we take a hall in London and invite some from Oxford and London and other colleges, and hold an intervarsity conference. About sixty of us attended. Little did I then realise that this was the start of what has since grown to become the world-wide InterVarsity Fellowship, now in hundreds and probably thousands of colleges in all nations, developed under the dedicated leadership of Douglas Johnson and Oliver Barclay in Britain, Howard Guinness in Canada and Australia, and Stacey Woods in the U.S.A. and on through the world."
From Norman Grubb's book - YES I AM which is an exploration of the reality of Romans 6-8 and Galatians 2:20, of the baptism of the Spirit and the inner reality of Union with Christ which was the burden of his teaching. Very tasty stuff... and something that has been on my heart for some time - at the heart of why I love to read Galatians with my team and with the students we serve.... at the heart of equipping students with the gospel too that we would know who we are in Christ....
"So don’t try any imaginings on this level, or try to make yourself think you have it. Don’t try anything, for once again that is this old "self-effort stuff" we have died to. No, I keep doing my part, which is constantly affirming that what the Scriptures have said about my union with Christ is fact. I have been and am crucified with Him.... I did not lightly move into my part of the believing. After five night-hours of battling around with it (so little did I understand the ease of faith in those days), I did finally put my finger on Galatians 2:20, or at least on the first phrase of it, and said right out, "I am crucified with Christ." Then I added a little bit of confessing with my mouth, which Paul said confirms the inner believing: I took a post card, drew a tombstone, and wrote, "Here lies N.P.G., crucified with Christ." ...did I feel different or know anything different? No. ...But for me, perhaps because I was more a "thinker-through" of a thing, and a slower believer, it wasn’t until two years later that the inner light was turned on in my consciousness... not until I was home on furlough, and speaking with Mrs. Penn-Lewis, a woman of God whose writings had first helped me into this understanding of Romans 6-8 and Galatians 2:20, was this light inwardly turned on in me... she answered by what she called her "baptism in the Spirit" - not by some outer sign, but by an inner revelation of Him in her, so great that, as she spoke that day to a group of young women, the Holy Spirit brought them all down on their faces to the ground. But the point to me was not her story but that as she spoke, I knew. How? I don’t know. But I knew, and that was a great number of years ago. And I still know. Just as certainly and clearly as I knew by the inner witness on the day I came to Christ that I was born again. That’s how I know; and you know, or will know in God’s time. He confirms what we have affirmed. That’s all. But I do know that as He thus became inwardly real to me..."
Grubb studied at Cambridge University but dropped out to work with WEC with his father-in-law CT Studd in Africa. Wikipedia describes him as having been a missionary statesman - the kind of title also given to the late Nigel Lee of OMF/UCCF.

I'd heard the above Grubb quote before (it's a defining moment for us in UCCF!) but wasn't aware of much else about him. You can find out a lot more at or just consider a little of his legacy: IFES' latest World Assembly just took place in Poland, gathering students and staff from 160 nations.