Monday, June 24, 2013

Thankful to God for Bill and Shirley Lees.

I heard last week, from Andrew Page, that two of my heroes Bill and Shirley Lees have both recently gone home to be with their Saviour. I told their story to new CU leaders in March, just a two weeks before Bill died, as examples of endurance and legacy in the gospel. Shirley followed him home in May.

Bill and Shirley were in the 1950s and 1960s missionaries in Borneo before returning to the UK where they became significant figures in the history of the UCCF, their local church in Reading, and in sending many more overseas with the gospel. Bill was converted as a teenager, and if I remember rightly Shirley was converted while studying at Cambridge, a contemporary of John Stott.

I met them in the autumn of 2000 and was - by the grace of God or some administrative fluke - a member of their home group for a couple of years. Week after week sitting as a very arrogant young man under the shadow of the spear that hung on their living room wall and in the warmth of their generous hospitality. 

They were good friends to us then, and for the past decade they had supported us prayerfully and financially as I've worked for UCCF. I'm just one of many Reading CU Staff Workers they'd coached over the decades, among many thousands of students they influenced for Christ. I know I never mined fully the depths of their wisdom, which would've taken a lifetime. I never truly appreciated the handiwork of God at whose feet I sat on many evenings.

I remember they gave us our first car in 2004. It was an old Vauxhall Nova, and Bill (who I now realise was 78 at the time!) took me out for a test drive around the estate in which we (and they) lived. Their generosity with us in so many ways was an evidence of the grace they enjoyed in the gospel.

I remember fondly the evening in 2003 we hosted a student gathering at Wycliffe Baptist Church to introduce that generation of students at Reading University to Bill and Shirley. We sat in the presence of beautiful trophies of grace that Sunday evening. I remember the stories others would tell me about them. I remember the way they would ensure that those going after them would have a home to live in on their return.

I remember his stories of training preachers in Borneo, he'd preached to them, and send them to say what he'd told them, repeating it for them if necessary. Always empowering others, always leading people to know Jesus.

I remember the friend who had been rebuked by Bill and Shirley for only telling the positive stories in his prayer letter and not revealing his vulnerabilities. My last prayer letter, written in deep weakness, was a letter I couldn't have written without the ripples of Bill's influence. It would've arrived on the mat at 1 The Crescent just after Bill went home to Jesus. We moved out of Reading in 2007 and I only saw Bill and Shirley a couple of times in the last six years since then. I'll sorely miss their prayers and wise counsel, but I'm thankful that they now cheer us on from the cloud of witnesses with the Lord for whom they lived.

Their hospitality and generosity and commitment to relationships have been a formative influence and I give thanks to God for the privilege of knowing them, even briefly, in their latter years. 

I commend these tributes and reflections from their Thanksgiving services...

Bill's Obituary by Ray Porter of OMF 

Val Cookney on Bill and his family:
Andrew Page, former UCCF worker for Reading University, on Bill and students:
Heather Henderson, on her father Bill
Phil Holder of Wycliffe Baptist Church on Bill:

Tribute to Bill:

Tribute to Shirley:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

On dealing with differences in the church

I love the way stand-up comedians observe the details of life with fascination and wonder. For example:
(Language warning.)

In any community, any society, there are things that are things for me that wont be things for you. And that can cause all manner of problems for us as we run into one another. The second half of the 14th chapter of Paul's letter to the church in Rome speaks to this issue of dealing with differences.

I'm refreshed by its honesty. I like when my friends feel they can argue in front of me... no hiding and faking. People sometimes say they can't believe in Jesus because Christians disagree and break into denominations etc. But, the Bible is upfront and honest, we disagree. What interests me is, what next? 

How to deal with the differences...

Most of the issues are questions of ethics. Of ordinary life. About eating and drinking and working and shopping and music.

The Bible could say: here's the long list of how to live, submit now. That would solve the problems of unity by imposing uniformity. Thankfully it doesn't say that...

Instead, we get a relational word from a relational God to relational people, speaking to our hearts, to our conscience, calling us to live as we see fit in view of the mercy of God. The result appears inconsistent and contradictory at times.
  • In Romans 14 Paul tells people to abstain from eating foods for the sake of those who think they shouldn't. Good.
  • In Galatians 2 he confronts Peter for doing the same thing, for different reasons. Bad.
  • In Galatians 5 he says that if you get circumcised you're being cut off from Christ. Bad.
  • In Acts 16 he gets Timothy circumcised. Good.
In Romans 14 Paul says I'm convinced, persuaded, that no food is unclean. And he's right, because Jesus said so, and because nothing in this good world is unclean.... unless you think it is. Paul elevates conscience. Some puritans said that the conscience is god in the heart. Conscience is shaped by all sorts of things, and violating it could cause someone great harm.

And so:
  • Accommodate other people. There's a danger when someone becomes a Christian that we expect them to immediately submit to some kind of Christian lifestyle. The Biblical reality is more like tuning a piano. You have to do it slowly or you break the strings. Sometimes there is radical-in-the-moment-change, but not usually. Sometimes, like the piano I grew up playing, you never get it in tune. Ours ways always a semi-tone flat. I'm not sure if that's why I can't sing in tune today...
  • Act for outsiders. Don't trip up those in the church community, but don't do the same to those who might come in. How dare we build walls around the Christ whose arms are open wide? We should consider how we meet, when we meet, what we do, where we are... so that people might more easily come to Jesus. No softening on who Jesus is, but very much flexing on everything else.
We invite people to come to Jesus as they are, not as we are.

The Christian life isn't really a matter of being good people, its more about being generous people. Being a Christian isn't about what you do or don't do, it's about a changed character, a life lived in the Holy Spirit, a new inclination to do others good, toward mutual upbuilding and peace. So that, like Israel, we can say: come with us we'll do you good.

  • v14 Live in view of God’s mercy. Be persuaded. We bow to Christ, accountable to him – v11. It matters how we live. So get persuaded by the Bible about how to live.
  • v15 Run with the grain of Jesus’ work: v15 Consider Christ died for you and them. v20 Consider God’s work – don’t destroy it.
  • v21 Run with the grain of those around us. Nothing is more painful than fingernails on the blackboard… pushing against people’s consciences is like fingernails on the blackboard in people’s hearts.
9:33 Some stumble over Christ – he should be the only stumbling stone. The conscience needs, as Christopher Ash says in Pure Joy, to be re-calibrated to Christ:
“The story is told of a well-known painter who used to keep a number of highly coloured stones on a shelf in his studio: an emerald, a ruby and so on. When asked why, he said, ‘All day long I am working at my canvas with mixed, impure colours, and my eye is apt to lose its keenness. So every now and then I stop working and feast my eyes upon these stones. And my sense of colour is restored.’ (p159, Pure Joy, Christopher Ash, IVP)
So it is for us. Our conversation with Paul in Romans 14 is like talking with the painter. He lifts the lid on what he does and invites us to come to Christ again.
  • Picture yourself, weaker. Not feeling that you can eat all food. Paul says, no one will force you to do it. And Jesus will call your brothers and sisters in the church family to accommodate you. Doesn't that soften your conscience to ask whether your big issue should be such a big issue for you? Come again to Christ.
  • Picture yourself, strong. Rightly convinced about a matter of freedom, realising that something that’s not an issue to you is so painful for someone else. Isn't your conscience softened to love them? You too were once not free, and Christ came and set you free. Come again to Christ.
The message here isn’t just don’t worry about differences, no: treat them seriously. But don’t get caught up in them. Rather, in view of God’s mercy: let us go to Jesus and see how we can live in light of him, how we can honour him, love one another as we live in view of Jesus in all the ordinary things of our lives.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day without the DIY

Father's day is often celebrated insensitively. I know I've done that. I remember my overwhelming joy the first time it was celebrated 'for' me four years ago...

Christianity centres of the love of God the Father for his Son, this relationship is the fountain from which everything flows, the Father's song concerning his Son the music that shapes the universe.

Considering the image of that in our lives is to consider something badly marred. It's easy for young dads to be so immersed in their children that we forget to observe the lives of those around us, those who long to be parents but can't, those bereaved of children, those for whom family is badly broken and deeply painful.

Sometimes Father's Day is celebrated with a chiding and belittling call for father's to do better... try-harder dads against a backdrop of the ridiculous Daddy Pig and the buffoon Homer Simpson. Fatherhood should be honoured... but an Gospel of DIY for Dads isn't going to help anyone. Many Dad's pour themselves out for their kids, spending sleepless hours concerned about how we're going to provide for them. And even the best of us fail terribly, and we know it.

I'm struck this morning reading through the Bible book of Deuteronomy about the different direction of the heart of God. A voice from 3000 years ago...
The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God...
Jesus fights for his people with fatherly love (his love is also likened to motherly affection elsewhere) that carries them through the hardest seasons. And it was his Father who adopted the church as his son and demanded her liberation. He didn't do this because they loved him but because he loved them.
And, it's the heart of God revealed in the Torah to be for the fatherless and the widow, the foreigner and the oppressed... God is, thankfully, inevitably, beautifully gospelicious...
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (10:18)
And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. (16:11)
The fatherless and the widow sounds like the single mum and the million children growing up without a father in Britain, for whatever reason. The Old Testament church was to rejoice with such people, to welcome them with joy. The church is a society and a community who know the God who is Father and his Son who is Husband, the God who turns up and gives himself to us. Every other father and husband merely refracts a tiny glimmer of that outshining love. I'm thankful for the way my Dad still does that, and wrecked and returned helplessly to Jesus by the thought as I consider my own life...

Who should feel most welcome in the church? Among others, the fatherless and the single mum. Yet how much of church - rightly valuing family - is programmatically against those the Triune God welcomes and calls us to rejoice with. In pursuit of the good thing of family do we legislate against those whose families have been broken? Surely we need not and should not.

Jesus likens human fathers to his Father in heaven, noting that, though sinful, at the their best, human fathers reflect something of the heart of his ever generous father. Father's who are present don't need bullying into being better but need encouraging to receive their heavenly father's welcome, and so reflect that in their family and in society.

The earliest books of the Bible reflect the heart of the God who is for those who can't do it for themselves, for fathers and children, the fatherless and everyone else in this world. He hold his arms out all day long for us to welcome us into his care in his family.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Video: Andrew Wilson - when life hits the wall and everything changes

I really appreciate this rare message from Andrew Wilson for several reasons. It's on a rarely preached passage in Nehemiah 3 - y'know one of those very long lists of names!! And it's marked by a rare and striking honesty about the death of destiny, potential and history maker mindset. It's an uncomfortable message that resonates with my life and my sin.

I've valued Andrew's ministry for several years - for his strength in engaging hard questions over a meal in Exeter several years ago and for his clarity and skill as a teacher and author on many occasions, but his honesty here is so fresh and liberating as he shares the way that arrogance "was knitted into [his] soul and then he got mugged by life".

Mobilise 2013 - Main Meeting 5 - Andrew Wilson from Mobilise on Vimeo.
See also Andrew's repentant review of The Good God earlier in the year.

Watch me! Don Carson on leadership by example

There are people I follow. Those running ahead of me - people I'd be ruined without. People whose example, vulnerability, steadfastness I've watched for many years.

There are people I walk with. Good company among my peers. Often occasional companions along the way for a season.

There are people who follow me. My wife, my boys, my team, in my church, readers of my blog. Gosh!

Don Carson:

 A careful man I want to be; A little fellow follows me. I do not dare to go astray For fear he'll go the self same way.

I cannot once escape his eyes, Whate'er he sees me do, he tries. Like me he says he's going to be; The little chap who follows me.

He thinks that I'm so very fine, Believes in every word of mine. The base in me he must not see; The little chap who follows me.

I must remember as I go Through summer's sun and winter's snow, I'm building for the years to be; The little chap who follows me.

(Author unknown)

Who do you watch? Who is watching you?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Video: Mike Reeves at Mobilise on how Christ feels about his church (Isaiah 61-62)

Please don't miss this beautiful exposition of how Christ loves the church (from Isaiah 61-62) by Mike Reeves at the 2013 newfrontiers mobilise event.

Mobilise 2013 - Main Meeting 7 - Mike Reeves from Mobilise on Vimeo.

A couple of quotes from Twitter about this:
""Best preach I've heard in my life" High praise!"
"Arguably the best session from @mobilise 2013"

The Chief of Ten Thousand

Something I've been enjoying.

I sing "you're altogether lovely..." not realising I'm quoting from The Song of Songs. From a poem, like Revelation 1, that gives a detailed description of the Christ. Sibbes advises that we note the attention to detail. Are we as attentive? He is the chief of ten thousand. A poetic way of saying, he's the best of us.

I sing "beautiful one..." not realising I'm invoking Psalm 45:2, The Song in miniature. Spurgeon: "the Psalmist adores the matchless beauty of Messiah." In the Psalm, the description is: you are the most handsome of the sons of men.
yaf yafita ben adam

The beautiful beautiful of Adam's sons. Of Adam's helpless race and yet is most unlike Adam. Very much one of us, very much unlike us. The second Adam who can bring life to many. A new head of a new family. Both songs speak of royal husbands, and can be rightly understood to tell of Christ.

He is son of Adam and yet son of God (Lk3), a claim tested by genealogy and the wilderness. And when he stands in the synagogue and says he is the anointed one (Psalm 45:7-8) they dismiss him merely as Adam's son... yet this is the truly inheriting son killed in the vineyard (Lk20), who can teach us to pray to his Father as our Father (Lk11), abandoned by his father (Lk23) so that all the nations of the world might enter into his anointing, through death to resurrection and be covered in the very same anointing (Acts).

Jesus stands as the firstborn. Not born first but born to inherit. The very best of the flock. He is the one who can be (and was!) offered as our representative and substitute, paying the price for us. And, in resurrection, can become our new living head, our beloved who loves us.
"David manifested his love to Absalom, in wishing, "O that I had died for you!" Christ manifested his love to us, not in wishes that he had died, but in death itself, in our stead, and for our sakes." Flavel
Life has questions to be answered. What about the pain? What about hope? And many many more as we try to live in the middle of all that we're surrounded by. History demands that I face the question: what about Jesus? The man at the centre of all history, of arts and sciences, of politics and personal life.

He is widely considered as the best of us. The best man to have lived.
"As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is the meeting-place of all the waters in the world, so Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet." Flavel.
 Looking at him gets me out of my own head and out of my own heart. I find self-forgetfulness when I see Jesus...
The bride eyes not her garment,  But her dear Bridegroom’s face;" (Anne Cousin)
And I find him to be the best not chiefly as our example as many seem to think, but as our substitute and our representative and our champion. He took my place, did what I can't do, won where I won't win. And not just for me but for all kinds of people.

His is no victory of force and power, he wins by the marring of his beauty, by his death and rising. Supreme in his weakness and brokenness. Because true glory is vulnerable, it goes out of itself and gives itself up.
"We think Jesus "altogether lovely" even in poverty, or when hanging naked on the cross, deserted and condemned. We see unspeakable beauty in Jesus in the grave, all fair with the pallor of death. Jesus bruised as to his heel by the old serpent is yet comely... We adore him anywhere and everywhere, and in any place, for we know that this same Christ whose heel is bruised breaks also the serpent's head, and he who was naked for our sakes, is now arrayed in glory." Spurgeon
See Jesus. See the beautiful one in the horror of the cross, see he who is altogether lovely as he pours himself out for you. My hope is to have been able to praise him to you.

Photo by Anna Hopkins used by permission, with effects in Pixlr-o-matic.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Wise vs. The Fool: can you tell the difference?

Can you spot a fool? Who do you think of as wise? Is it about thinking? Lifestyle? Recklessness vs. conservativism? As Jesus famously put it: both the wise person and the foolish person build houses.

As Paul writes his last words to his spiritual son Timothy wisdom and folly are his subject. There is much in 2 Timothy 3 to chew on.


Human beings are lovers. The question isn't do you love, but what or who do you love? Some love self, money, pleasure and don't love good and God. They LOVE - LOVE - LOVE LOVE - LOVE but it's empty in the end. The folly of such fools (v9) will be evident before long. Time will tell.

In the short term, such fools look godly. A glance. A brief meeting. The public face of a fool looks wise. You might call them a wise person.

Wisdom and folly, in the moment, can look the same.

Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly, in Solomon's book of Proverbs, sing the same song but one allures to life and the other entices to death.

Folly doesn't just talk the talk, but it walks the walk. Fools like discipling others as much as the rest of us. They do life-on-life, they spend time in your home. And sin-burdened people are easily led astray by the hope-filled teaching they hear. But their tutors are learners who know nothing. All the right words and none of the meaning, they're puffed up people. Their lives are a storm of sin covered by a sin of respectability. Papering over the cracks is all they offer. No power and no real change... no foundations under the building.

Fools are passionate but wrong-hearted.

Example: Jannes and Jambres, the magicians of Pharaoh who copied the miracles of Moses. Paul teaches the books of Exodus and Proverbs to his apprentice. Moses was fearful of speaking to his serpentine enemy but God gave him signs to demonstrate the gospel. Pharaoh wheeled out his foolish wise men to copy him. Utterly dispiriting - though oddly self-defeating. Moses brings judgement (that will lead to salvation), the fools only bring judgement. A little more water turned to blood? More frogs raining down? Fools can imitate godliness and bring judgement. Moses would bring salvation through judgement.

The copycats bring harm for a while but "they will not get far" - again its the Proverbial sense (answer a fool / don't answer a fool....) they'll often get somewhere but not ultimately...

And then, gulp moment: am I a fool?  

My heart seems stormy, my heart is fickle. No says Paul to Timothy, you've followed my example in life and love and so like the church in the book of Hebrews "we expect better in your case." Perhaps though, if I'm concerned at my sin, and so go to Christ that is the pathway to wisdom...


Everyone loves. Paul loves. Timothy has Spirit-breathed love (ch1) - and really has wisdom. And Timothy has watched Paul's example. He's seen Paul be persecuted and the godly should expect that. Not with a persecution complex. They don't go looking for it. And Paul wasn't always persecuted - though he writes from prison. However, in any case - The Lord Rescued Me! I know my heart. I know my sin. The Lord Rescued Me!

The point isn't to seek or avoid opposition - it'll come in all kinds of shapes and sizes as you follow God's call and quite likely from within the community of the church. I might ask if I'm not opposed why no-one thinks I'm worth opposing but life is lived in season and out of season, in endurance and in reigning. A New Testament letter written as wisdom, the dying words of a spiritual father. We are where we are... In any case: the Lord rescues... salvation, not so much from trouble but in the middle of it.

Timothy has the power (from the Spirit) for godliness not just the appearance of it. He's been called to guard the gospel - the healthy teaching he's heard - by the Spirit who lives in him.

Timothy has been made wise since he was a child, taught the Scriptures by his grandmother and mother who believed before him. They've made him wise for salvation! The God-breathed words on the page are Spirit-words, power for godliness along with the Spirit who indwells him. Words that crash into my love of self and money and pleasure and not goods and not gods, and call us to a true love, to self-control etc. Words that correct and reprove and rebuke and get us ready for everything good ahead of us.
Life is bumpy when you read the Bible.
The fool looks godly but the wise man knows his heart better. The fool is confident and the wise know they have nothing in themselves. They might even despair at times because of their sin, intimidated by brash fools... Yet, the truly wise know their faults and turn to Christ in the middle of it all.

Fools can do vulnerability too. The secular world today is increasingly talking about it and so are Christians. Fools mimic the wise. Honesty about our hearts is good,... and our life and words betray and reveal our hearts even if we don't think they do. But, for The Fool it's just an AA meeting an no hope of change.

The wise can speak of sin as sin and repent to Christ with their wrong-heartedness and know the change that can only come through the Spirit-breathed Scripture and the Spirit's indwelling.

The Spirit breathes through the Scriptures and the Spirit-indwells. The wise find power and love and self-control against the dying breathes of their sinful flesh, as the Spirit draws them into the life of God. The Spirit-indwelt bind themselves to the Scriptures. They go to the Bible to find Christ and he shines, and he walks off the pages into their lives. Not for knowledge or expertise or quarreling disputes but for a deep application of the gospel in their lives. You can never get enough of that. Never enough of Christ.

The Spirit speaks to make us wise, through the gospel of Christ, our Spirit-filled hearts awakened to love good and love God, to know his rescue. This isn't gospel for the ABC but for the A to Z. The wise have a new heart in which the Spirit lives, they respond to the Spirit-breathed word. They're fundamentally different to fools, though superficially similar. 

Time, and exposure to the gospel-filled Scriptures, will tell.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Banner of the Deliverer appears through the gloom, for the sake of the tender love he bears to them.

Andrew Bonar looks away from himself to the banner of the deliverer.

Daily we die. We're being killed. Slaughtered. There are days that swear words were invented for. Days to cry with Solomon: 'hebel', smoke, vanity and meaninglessness.

Aching limbs and tired eyes whimper and whisper: what just happened... again and again.

Not every moment. There are rays of light.

We went on a road train and saw Llamas, and ate cookies by the river.

But, for me recent months have been hard. My friendship with the Psalmists is stronger for it. My trust in my Saviour too. More days in which I have no words to pray, yet a deeper sense of my security in his love. My longing for the renewal of all things never more tangible.

Again, let me not overplay it: there is food in my fridge, I have a fridge, and a roof over my head, my family around me but the chronic frustration of this world and particularly it's effect on my second son have made life sadder, gloomier.

Psalm 44, on which Bonar reflects, is a Maskil - a teaching song. One of the many by the Sons of rebel Korah. Men sentenced to death yet remarkably found alive (Num 16/26:11). They sing to their Saviour for the good of the people. Teach me, dead men who walk!

They follow v4 - God as their King, trusting him (v1-8).
He puts the world (and them) to death but gives life to his people.
Not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.
Their King is their saviour. His arm. His face. His delight.

Yet, v9-22, they suffer. Not as those who have abandoned their King but as those who trust him. They are "killed all day long", "regarded as sheep to be slaughtered".

Verses that Paul applies to Christians who are kept in the love of Christ in Romans 8. Calvin: "As we are adopted in Christ ,we are appointed to the slaughter."

My God is King, his name is Jesus. With them, in troubled times, I turn to their Lord for rescue. Seek the Slaughtered Lamb who is the Shepherd King, and sing:
Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
Nothing can separate those who trust Christ from his love. Though he was slaughtered he rose. And "we are more than conquerors through him."  Safe in his love though it all. And there are always Llamas to put a smile on your face along the way.

Monday, June 03, 2013

MP3s: Psalm 45

This summer we're sending 19 teams of students and our staff to nations across the world to be involved in short term mission projects. Last weekend I had the privilege of preaching at their Summer Team Orientation conference. It was a bit short notice so I reworked some material on Psalm 45.... it's a wonderful mainline station in the Bible, cited in the New Testament and applied to Jesus. A song of Korah's resurrected sons about the king, a song of the Father about his Son. A song that shows us the beautiful truth and truthful beauty of King Jesus.

Love Sings Psalm 45:1-5 34mins

A delegate sent this in a really encouraging email:

"Listening to your talks was like being dipped in a vat of God's love and soaked through with his beauty and goodness. I LOVED how unashamedly all-about-Jesus it was, and how you reflected the rich imagery of the Psalm in your own presentation of what the Psalm was talking about... The form and content were beautifully aligned - glorious preaching! ...the talks had a massive impact on me being able to face my sin and weakness and fear, so thanks for letting the Lord use you so that the Spirit would set my eyes so much on Jesus I stopped stressing about what my heart looks like!"

I hope that can be true, and share these mp3s in hope that they point you to King Jesus.
The Bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of grace;
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand.
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel’s land.
(Anne Cousin)