Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Prepare Him Room - An Album Review

Sovereign Grace Music have served the church for over 30 years by writing theologically rich and doctrinally sound songs with contemporary music.

In 2014 they released an album called “Prepare Him Room”. The title makes it pretty obvious that the album is centered around the birth of Jesus.

The really short review would be that that album is excellent. I only bought the album just before last Christmas (2015), but we listened to it on repeat in the car for about a month, and this year we are enjoying it again.

There’s a great balance of traditional Christmas carols (such as O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Joy To The World), some with new arrangements and others with with additional lyrics, as well as some wonderful new songs written specifically for this project.

One of the new songs, which is the favourite of our girls, is called “Who would have dreamed”. It speaks of the how there was a promise of a coming King, God’s Anointed One, but when He arrived, He was not what was expected. The chorus goes like this:

“And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world”

Another of the new songs called “He who is Mighty” has some wonderful lines in it, but I really like the way that is uses the start of Mary’s song in Luke 1 to form the bridge section:

“Now my soul magnifies the Lord
I rejoice in the God Who saves
I will trust His unfailing love
I will sing His praises all my days”

Lastly let me quote some of my favourite lines from “Our God Made Low”. It’s another of the new songs and the lyrics are very clever at capturing the mind-blowing truth of the incarnation:

“In cattle stall they find a girl
Who holds the hope of all the world”

“As He sleeps upon the hay
He holds the moon and stars in place
Though born an infant He remains
The sovereign God of endless days”

Most of the songs on the album could be sung congregationally, whether you have a lone piano or a full band, which I believe is a real blessing to the church. It means we can have fresh songs to sing together that will encourage us to marvel at the awesome nature of the incarnation.
And yet, at the same time, the album is great to have on in the car or around the house in the lead up to Christmas.

I warmly recommend it to you. It will bless your heart by pointing you to Jesus.

Monday, 7 November 2016

FIEC Conference - Evangelism

(This first appeared in the November edition of our church magazine called the Grapevine)

At the start of November I was at the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) Leader’s conference. It was a million miles from anything, or at least is felt that way, in Hemsby in Norfolk!
The theme of the conference was evangelism. Yes, the “e” word that often makes Christians shudder.

I can’t recount the whole conference to you, although I’d love to, so I thought I’d share some memorable and helpful quotes with you to give you a flavour of the things I heard.

We heard from Ed Stetzer on Luke 5 where Jesus calls Levi and one of Ed’s points was that we live in a world with less and less personal contact. There is much less face to face interaction. And so he challenged us that:

“We need to be people of the neighbourhood if we are going to be people of mission”

We need to get out and about where people are and build relationships if we are going to do mission well, if we are going to evangelize a world that so desperately needs Jesus.
He went on to say that we need to be “culturally relevant and biblically sound” as churches.

Later in the week Ed took us through Matthew 9:35-38. There Jesus tells the disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest and that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. And yet, in a few verses time, it is the disciples themselves who are the workers sent out by Jesus into the harvest field.
We need to realise that. Hardwick is a harvest field. We pray to the Lord of the harvest for more workers, but do we see that we are those workers?

Another huge challenge to me from the same sermon was with regard to prayer. Ed pointed out that the logical biblical progression is this: the more I pray for people, the more compassion I have for them and that will lead me to action.

We should pray for a burden from the Lord to reach our neighbours and to reach the people who live in Hardwick. Maybe a specific group of people or a specific street, but we should pray for a burden, a deep desire, to see those people saved.

In the final session Ed led, he began by summing up the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and its counterparts in the other gospels like this: “We are sent to all kinds of people with a message empowered by the Spirit.”

One of my favourite sound-bites from that sermon was this:
“Don’t let your church become a cul-de-sac on the Great Commission highway.”

We need to be going out and moving forward with the good news of Jesus and “news needs a herald and herald proclaims.”

Finally he used this quote from C H Spurgeon on a few occasions, and as with is Spurgeon’s style, he pulls no punches. I’ll leave it with you to mull over:
“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”

Friday, 16 September 2016

Walking with someone

(This post originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of our church magazine "The Grapevine")

Going for a walk together is a great way to get to know someone or re-kindle a friendship that has maybe fallen off the radar a little. You get to chat, listen, laugh and enjoy the views together. You have a shared goal of reaching the summit of the mountain or the café at the end of the road!

Recently a man named Glenn started attending our church. Many of you may have met him after the service. Glenn is an alcoholic. His life has been full of disappointment and heartache. He has no contact with his family, relationships have ended and he has no job and no money. Some of that has contributed to him drinking too much, and some of it has been a result of his drinking too much. He was also a young Christian.

Glenn has now gone to a Christian residential rehab center with the aim of being free from his addiction and, maybe, in the long run helping others in a similar position to him.

On the outside he looked very different from most other people in our church, but isn’t a church supposed to be a place for all different types of people? His life is a mess, but God is working. And this leads me to ask the question;

How do you walk alongside someone who’s life is very different to yours?
What do you say when their problems are something you have never faced or the bible is ‘grey’ on?
How do you help them apply the bible to their lives and what will it look like?

I am sure that Glenn will be the first of many people we will meet as a church who have very complicated and messy lives, and I am by no means an expert on dealing with the issues he faced but hopefully the following 3 things will be helpful for all of us as we, God willing, walk alongside more people like Glenn;

1.    The best things the church can provide for anyone, and especially people like Glenn, is the gospel. Hospitals provide the best medical care. Rehab centers give the best environment to help break an addiction. The council is the best person to sort out housing. The church is the best place to provide the gospel. We shouldn’t feel bad about referring people to someone more qualified or specifically trained. If hospitals started trying to re-house people and we started handing out medicine, the people coming to us would be in more of a mess than they started! The best thing we can give is Jesus, other practical things come after.

2.    It’s a family walk, not a solo hike. The amount of time, energy and spiritual input people in Glenn’s situation need is more than 1 or 2 people can give. Thankfully, God has given each of us the knowledge of the gospel of Christ and so we can all have a role to play. Listening to hurts, providing lifts to and from appointments, giving meals and reading the bible – all things that just one person needs but that we all, as a church can provide. All of us can walk alongside the ‘Glenns’ that come through out door, not just 1 or 2 chosen people.

3.    It’s a long walk (so get some comfy shoes!) Change takes time. I wonder if most of us would even think an alcoholic could be a Christian? Perhaps we’re more used to discipling people whose lives look like ours, but when a person’s life looks a mess on the outside, and they then come to faith, we can’t expect everything to change in an instant (barring a miraculous intervention from God). It might be that, in this life, they never fully overcome their struggles. What we have to understand is that we’re with them for the whole walk, and that it’s God that changes people not us! If they are changing – however slowly – to be more like Christ (and not just more like us!) then we can know that God is at work.

We need to be praying for those like Glenn who haven’t walked through our door yet.
We need to be praying that as we meet more people like Glenn we are prepared to carry the burden as a church family.
We need to be prepared to have our ideas about what a Christian looks like challenged and changed.
We need to be prepared for the long haul and for disappointments as people become Christians but struggle to break free from their way of life.
…And we need to keep praying for Glenn.

“and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” Ephesians 6:15

Monday, 11 July 2016


(This originally appeared in the July edition of the Grapevine. The Grapevine is the monthly magazine of Hardwick Baptist Church, Stockton-on-Tees)

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a good amount of time with my family recently.

At the end of May, Nancy and I and the kids went away to Scotland with our extended family and a few friends. Over 30 of us, including 10 under 7s, took over a manor house and converted stables just south of Perth.

I have always loved being part of a big family. My cousins have been like brothers and sisters to me as I’ve grown up and now it’s lovely that the next generation get time to play together as well.

The advantages of being part of such a big family, who get on with one another, massively outweigh the disadvantages, even for those who are less extroverted than me.

The hardest downside is that there are more people to lose.

Recently my Auntie Kath went to be with her Lord and Saviour Jesus. She was 58 and she died of cancer. She is in a better place and that brings me, and the rest of our family, great comfort.

But, the realization that this is only the beginning of the goodbyes we will have to say, is hard fact to face. As one family member said to me at the funeral, “I’m not ready to lose anyone else.”

Our family holiday was bittersweet because that my Auntie would have loved it but she wasn’t there. At the same time as missing her, having so many of us there meant we were able to encourage, care for and support one another well.

It was also a privilege to be able to speak at the Calvary Christian Fellowship weekend away in the middle of June (that’s the church I grew up in).
We spent the weekend thinking about the topic of suffering which was hard but very relevant to many there.

Again, I saw many of my family members there and it was good to be able to do that.

All of this got me thinking; you may not come from a big family or whatever size you family is, you may not get on well with them, maybe there are personality clashes that flare up if you spend too much time together, but, for the Christian, church is a our family.

The Bible is quite clear that church is family (Matt 12:49-50, Eph 2:19, 1 Tim 5:1-2). We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus. We are each united to Him and, as such, connected to one another in the most wonderful way.

So, our spiritual family is massive. It means that there are more people to say goodbye to, but each of those goodbyes is shot through with the cure and certain hope that we will meet again.

Not only that, but this massive family is blessing from God. In the New Testament we are constantly being told to _____ one another. (John 13:34, Rom 12:10,16, Col 3:13, Heb 3:13, 1 Pet 1:22.) Whether it’s “forgive”, “love”, “encourage”, the point is that there is an other, we are together. Life is not a lonely slog up a mountain, it’s a corporate race that we run side-by-side with others.

Do you see church as your family? If not, why not? If you do, how can you make sure that you live that out in practice?

We share the most amazing things as brothers and sisters in Christ. Because Jesus died for us, His Father is our Father, His Spirit lives in us (Rom 8:9-11), His righteousness is credited to us (2 Cor 5:21) and so on.

You might not feel like committing to church. Maybe you don’t want to get too close to people. Maybe you don’t want to risk relationships for fear of being let down. Maybe you are scared of sacrifice.

But, believe me, it’s worth it.