Friday, September 28, 2012

Five Women Who Blog

The loudest voices in the church tend to be male, for right or wrong. But on the internet the playing field levels and voices can be more readily heard. Most people don't blog. The best woman I know doesn't, though she's microblogging a bit...

These are voices to hear. Voices that are wise and thoughtful and vulnerable, not because they're women but because they're Christian. I highlight them because you might be unaware of them.

1. Vicky Beeching. No kidding that Vicky got a headstart by being a "minor Christian celebrity". But, she's a Blogger worth reading for her social media excellence, provocative thoughts and for using the crowds she's drawn to get people thinking... a readership many many times greater than this blog.
Vicky Beeching

2. Emma Scrivener. A newly published author with a track record for showing what gospel centredness really means, coming to Christ in her struggle with anorexia.
Emma Scrivener: A New Name

3. Cat Caird. Cat is a quiet evangelist who has worked with or for me for most of the last eight years. Cat is a thoughtful theologian, able apologist and highly valued member of my team.
Cat Caird: Gospel Sunshine

4. Tanya Marlow. Tanya is an ex-colleague with whom I taught pastoral care in 2004 to some of our interns. By which I mean, she taught and I was the clueless observer. Tanya is theologically sharp and a passionate campaigner for those in need.
Tanya Marlow: Thorns and

5. Kath Cunningham. Kath is another former colleague, an observant eye on life and her own unique angle on things. We worked together for several years and I enjoy the sound of her voice.
Kath Cunningham: The Long Walk Home

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"He builds triumphal arches to His grace"

This morning I'm travelling several hundred miles on a train to go and drink some of the finest artisan coffee available, meet some young gospel ministers and preach on the tender mercy of God. Feeling distinctly like I'll fail to do justice to the task.

I'm reminded of words from puritan Stephen Charnock, he wrote that mercy's form is tenderness and effect is relief - good news that I need today.
[Christ] puts no difference between persons of the least, and those of the greatest demerit, but affecting the foulest monsters of sin, as well as the fairest of nature's children, he builds triumphal arches to his grace upon this rubbish, and makes men and angels admiringly gaze upon these infinitely free compassions; when he takes souls full of disease and misery into his arms. For it is manifest hereby, that the God and Lord of nature is no more bound to his servant, (as touching the gift of salvation) when she carries it the most smoothly with him, than when she rebels against him with the highest hand. And that Christ is at perfect liberty from any conditions, but that of his own, viz. faith; and that he can and will embrace the dirt and mud, as well as the beauty and varnish of nature, if they believe with the like precious faith.
What's being built today?

We celebrate greatness with Triumphal Arches, he builds his arches on the site of our sin, weakness, and failures.

I saw on twitter today the stories of three former colleagues. Each doing the works prepared in advance for them, each a triumphal arch of grace.
  • One is at home, with depression in the late stages of pregnancy. 
  • A second becomes director of a discipleship training school which launches today. 
  • A third, housebound with an auto-immune condition, is watching Charlie and Lola with their toddler.
Eight years ago we were all on staff with the same ministry, each of us giving students the opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus. They've moved on, I'm still here for now. But each is still engaged in what the gracious heart of God prepared for us.

God is building.

In the architecture of God each part matters, each is significant, each has value though we're prone to disregard and dismiss many, casting them aside to dereliction.

For a while as a teenager I wanted to be an architect (hold your dreams lightly), buildings interest me, design fascinates me. One generations beauty is the nexts ugly. The eternal architect takes us and carefully crafts us as his eye sees, beautiful, trophies and triumphal arches of his grace.

Image: Matt Brown - Creative Commons

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Leaders don't mind showing weakness

Nick Clegg's apology has proved very entertaining but it's also just very welcome.

When did we start to think our leaders had to be spotless? Christian leaders are meant to be blameless but it seems to me blamelessness is more like transparency, honesty about mistakes than it is about never making mistakes. The old leadership adage is true that real leaders are mistake makers. They're people to take a chance, who take responsibility, who put themselves on the line, who step ahead and take the route where there are "no well worn paths."
Clegg's claim was bigger than he could really ever keep - but then he probably didn't actually plan on being part of a coalition government either.

These are days for leaders - people who'll step up. David rallied his troops saying "whoever makes the first kill gets to be commander in chief". These are whoever days. But these are not days for bravado and masks of confidence, but for weak people to say - I'm weak but in Christ let's go. Leaders who project strength inspire for a season but in the end seem distant and intimidating and make us think they're hiding something. After a while Tony Blair's smile got tiresome.

Leaders need to be capable and competent, but also like us. Christian leaders need to be people who need Christ. No one needs a teflon leader, we need those who get their hands dirty serving with us - and yet still show us the way - the way to Christ. And let Christ - the strong one who became weak for us - lead through them.

In the end:
Of Tolstoy's character Rostov it's said that it is "hard for young people to tell the truth" - because people expect glorious stories. So, Rostov tells a heroic story to mask a clumsy and embarrassing true story. In Christianity glory is cross shaped... let us tell of that kind of glory...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Isaiah tells me about the Crucified Christ

I've been dwelling in Isaiah 25:6-9 with some of our team in the last week. I find airing things with others brings me fresh clarity. So, I think what I'm writing here is a lot clearer than what I said...  in any case Isaiah drips with Triune Gospel Goodness.

Isaiah is an evangelist, a cross-preacher.

The Cross as Invite to the Wedding Supper for the Whore - v6.
Isaiah pictures a mountain feast to which all peoples are invited by The LORD of Hosts. Isaiah elsewhere says The LORD of Hosts is our Maker and our Husband. This is invitation to the Wedding Supper of Heaven's Son. Christ as the Feast-Maker who invites us to feast with him and upon him - pictured in every meal we eat. Is this a  invite to a friend to come to a wedding? No it's the invitation of The Faithful City who has become a Whore (Isaiah 1:21a). And that's only possible by The Feast-Maker dying for her whoredom, the faithful one bearing the cost of all her unfaithfulness. The Feast-Maker is crushed and afflicted, his invitation to feast is written in his own blood.

The Cross as Death's Swallowing up by its Swallowing of Christ followed by Resurrection - v7-8.
Isaiah tells us of a future in which death is finished. The great enemy that we try to escape, try to redefine, try to ignore... but which swallows up everyone.... it got its dirty mits on the perfect son of heaven. Death swallowed Jesus. But Jesus was not caught off guard, he came and set his face to the cross. Death exists because he would have to die. Our sinful Adamic flesh isn't reformable, it can't just be won over to something better. This dead man walking needs to be put to death - and Jesus offers life not by avoiding death, but life on the other side of judgement. Death swallowed up Jesus and then he swallowed up death in resurrection - he takes us into death with him, and will bring us through to resurrection as sure as a thread follows its needle.

The Cross as The Exchange that gives us The Crucified Christ - v9.
Finally, Isaiah's vision of the future tells of a lifted veil and a glorious moment of seeing. The story ends face to face. We spend our dies hiding from one another and from god, living with masks not with reality and yet longing for real intimacy. We were made to know and be known. The Wedding Jesus invites us to is one in which he makes his vows - all that I have I share with you. He takes all that is ours on hiimself, and gives all that he has to us. Chiefly, he gives us himself. This covenant costs blood - his blood. I am his and he is mine - bought with the precious blood of Christ. I have Christ. The veil is lifted and I now do see Christ, in a mirror dimly. And I live waiting. Waiting to see him face to face - he who was crucified for me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We need Christian Unions with a Whoever mindset

I recently heard PJ Smyth preach on 1 Chronicles 11-12. There David says, whoever steps up to the fight gets to be the chief. Whoever.

The main plot is a gospel picture of whoever comes gets to come to life in Jesus... could 10,000 CU members introduce five friends each to Jesus through the pages of Luke's gospel this year? The invite is universal... whoever will come can come...

And David gives us a "subplot" picture of whoever steps up to the fight gets to lead the line in mission. People will carry roles and responsibilities in a Christian Union (as with church) but those who step up to the plate and disciple Christians and share Jesus with their friends - those who engage in gospel ministry - will be the leaders... and any leader worthy of their name will rejoice and support that.

The global movement of Christian Unions started when God gave a vision to Norman Grubb, a student involved in the Cambridge Christian Union in 1919. God has grown this work that is refreshed annually by new freshers

A history of the Christian Unions reports on the late statesman of 20th Century Evangelicalism, John Stott (ht: Greg Pye for the reminder):

 "John Stott was a student from 1940 to 1945 and already showed unusual gifts. The CICCU Exec., however, had the sense to send one of their number to tell him that they would not invite him to join the next committee as they believed he should be free from committee meetings. They wanted him to get on with the evangelist and pastoral work in which he was exercising an outstanding ministry.... .... The whole effectiveness of the CICCU depended on the fact that a high proportion of ordinary members, both then and in almost all periods of history, were active in personal evangelism and in helping one another in every way. The committee were very much looked up to and their example was influential; but they were not the CICCU, and the tone of each College group was the major influence."

Stott's example, and that of his CU leaders - says to CU members: leadership isn't a job it's what you do by your example. Stott's example says to CU leaders: create an entrepreneurial culture where people are released to share Christ with one another, be facilitators and liberators and mobilisers.

A year ago I heard of a student called Hannah who had come back into her 2nd year at Uni, she was a hall group leader and wanted to run Student Alpha with some friends. The CU already ran other courses but they didn't have the capacity to reach everyone... so there's always more room at the table. I dived in to offer her support. A year on she coordinates the central evangelistic plans of the CU... but her task will only thrive if the members of the CU take hold of the vision for themselves and lead the line.

The beauty of Christian Unions is that they're grass-roots, student-led... and this year's Uncover Project is fuel for that fire.

Where do we get that freedom? By living in Christ not in ourselves. By looking to Christ not ourselves. And whoever comes to him lives. Live in him like this and we might in this generation grow and serve the church through effective student mission...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Song: Fountain of Goodness (Mike Reeves & Olly Knight)

Trinity is the Christian doctrine.

Trinity is who God is. And we need books, preaching and songs on this.

A highlight at Forum was the debut of Mike Reeves & Olly Knight's rich Triune song: Fountain of goodness. It rocks with a band and you can probably imagine that from the youtube acoustic version...

The guitar chords and lyrics here.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Video: Trinity is Good News!

We profiled a new gospel presentation tool in our track at Forum.

It has high value for it's focus on the Trinity and on Union with Christ... and takes sin seriously as being in Adam not just bad behaviour, and therefore showing how we need to be joined to Christ in his death and resurrection to rise to a new life with all God's people.

321 tells a relational story and issues our invitation through the cross of Christ into 'life in the three'.

You can watch the video here:

321 from Jeremy Poyner on Vimeo.