Sunday, 26 October 2008

Fellowship - a better word?

This weekend saw our first ‘Together’ event for all the Newfrontiers’ churches in the east of England. Around 1400 attended the weekend at Pontins, Lowestoft,

Now I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of Hi di Hi holidays – that TV series just brings back too may painful images – but this was different! Getting together with friends & families to enjoy fellowship (that strangely Christian word!) and identify with one another in our mission together, was great. David Stroud who heads up the Newfrontiers UK Team, and leads Christchurch London (check out their impressive website: ) was the main speaker, along with Mike Betts. But let me go back to that strangely Christian word, ‘fellowship’.

Sometimes I wish there was a better substitute word that is more familiar. If you know of one, please contact me via the website! It just sounds so old fashioned, and smacks of naff Sunday afternoon tea at the vicarage with quiche and cucumber sandwiches! I’m sorry, maybe that’s just my damaged background speaking!
Some have tried to find a deeper meaning by going for the Greek word behind it – ‘koinonia’, but that, to me, is equally unknown and is a bit super-spiritual. Not many of my neighbours speak New Testament Greek.

So please help me on this one and help me find a better English word. Now our starting point is the New Testament word (koinonia) which means a sharer, partaker, partner. Then, the best meaning I can find to our old English word ‘fellowship’, is ‘going together as partners’. So the two ideas involved are 1) relationship, friendship, and 2) a common purpose, objective. Friends-on-a-Mission sort of thing, the kind of thing that is beautifully expressed in the daily life of the church in the book of Acts where believers prayed, worshipped, opened their homes and their lives with great generosity to one another because they were caught up in a common passion to make the Good News of the Living Jesus known. That’s what it means to fellowship together, and it’s not cliquey (or quiche), it’s life-changing to anyone who gets near to it – as evidenced by the thousands that were added to that church daily.

I’m reminded of a great quote in the book ‘Courageous Leadership’ by Bill Hybels. It’s too long to quote in full, but here’s a bit: There was once a community of believers who were so totally devoted to God that their life together was charged with the Spirit’s power. In that band of Christ-followers, believers loved each other with a radical kind of love. They took off their masks and shared their lives with one another. They laughed and cried and prayed and sang and served together in authentic Christian fellowship… Acts 2 tells us that this community of believers, this church, offered unbelievers a vision of life that was so beautiful it took their breath away. It was so bold, so creative, so dynamic that they couldn’t resist it.’ go read the whole quote, on page 18! That’s ‘fellowship’ and that’s how I want to King’s to be known, and that’s something of what we enjoyed this weekend!


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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Who are you when no one's looking?

Well, needless to say, I survived man flu last week, and went on to have what has been a great weekend. What kind of a patient am I? Well I think I’m the longsuffering sort who doesn’t make a fuss…., wait a minute, I’ll just go ask Angie!! Reminds me of something I heard a while ago: “Our self-assessment is about as accurate as a carnival mirror.”!! You know the sort – you stand in front of one and it elongates you into a stick insect, and the next compresses you into two foot sumo wrestler!

So where am I going with this week’s Blog? Well, I ended the week teaching a group of leaders on our Leadership Training programme, on the subject ‘The Character of a Leader’, and I felt uncomfortable. Nothing to do with the group; they’re great. It’s just that when you look into the mirror of Scripture on a subject like this, you get a bit of a wake up call. And D.A. Carson didn’t help. Take a look at this quote from his book ‘The Cross & Christian Ministry’ (highly recommended, just so long as you’re ready for a little ego deflation). I quote: ‘God made us to gravitate towards him, to acknowledge with joy and obedience that he is the centre of all, that he alone is God. Here comes the bite! The heart of our wretched rebellion is that each of us wants to be number one. We make ourselves the centre of all our thoughts and hopes and imaginings’. Now, just in case you managed to slide out of that one, read what he says next: ‘We ruefully acknowledge how self-centred we are after we have had an argument with someone. Typically, we mentally conjure up a rerun of the argument, thinking up all the things we could have said, all the things we should have said. In such reruns, we always win. After an argument, have you ever conjured up a rerun in which you lost?’ !! Ouch! Come on, put your hand up – me too!

There is, of course a wonderful solution to this condition. It involves seeing and savouring Jesus Christ, and making Him your centre.

So what kind of patient am I? OK, so I winged a bit…. well all right, too much! But God is good, and so is Angie, and grace is all about being treated in a way you don’t deserve. Speaking of which, I slipped off for a great end of season sail Saturday afternoon. Perfect!

Then there was Sunday, with our good friend Clive Cernik here in Norwich fresh from Dubai where he leads the Gateway International Church. His preaching on the Reversal of Babel, how the confusion and scatering of Babel is reversed as Jesus gathers into His church, people from every tribe, tongue & nation, with a unity in the Spirit that, of course, needs to be worked out in the process of accepting and loving one another - and not insisting on our own way...... envisioned, and challenged again! God's ways are very good!
Don't miss them by insisting on your own.

Have a great, Jesus-centred week!



Monday, 13 October 2008

When we need reasons...

Sorry I’m late with my Blog this week – I’ve got Man Flu. Guys, I’m sure you’ll understand, I mean I’m just about incapacitated, out of action, dying! Of course, the female species have no understanding of how we suffer, but there it is.
If you’re anything like me, when you get flu of some infection, you can’t help trying to work out how & where you picked it up – I’ve been thinking back over the last 3 or 4 days looking for someone to blame! Who was it who wheezed & coughed all over me….?? What a sad case I am, I mean, what difference does it make?

Speaking of the reason for pain (sorry, that was a really bad intro to the subject) it would be true to say that this quest for an answer to one of life’s greatest challenges is often a pivotal issue for people exploring the Christian faith: “If there is a God and he is good, why….??” For years, the best response to this has been C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, which is a great book, and the result of his own searching and confrontation with pain. Another very readable book that I’ve recently come across is a book entitled: ‘The Reason for God’ by Tim Keller.
A few months ago I was in New York visiting my friend Byron Brenneman at his home church in the Bronx, and we attended a conference at which Tim Keller was speaking, along with Mark Driscoll, C.J Mahaney and others. What impressed me about Tim Keller was that he is clearly a very intelligent and widely read guy, and yet he communicates in a very easy manner. Maybe that explains why he has been able to grow a church from zero to several thousand attainders in multiple congregations in New York. Their website is well worth a look: It's a great website.

Anyway, back to his book. It’s called: ‘The Reason for God – Belief in an Age of Scepticism’ and as well addressing the issue of suffering, there’s chapters on injustice, hell, science & the Bible and a lot more! If you have an enquiring mind and like a book that’s well written & easy to read, then just buy it. We have it on the Kings Bookstall at a bargain price! I’m taking my sick body off to bed to finish reading it!

Have a good week.


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Sunday, 5 October 2008

Tales, truth and the Trinity

I wrote a blog about The Shack several weeks ago (‘God in Three Persons’ 10th April) but feel provoked by the affirming reviews it’s getting in the Christian press, to write some more! There is something very important at stake here. Throughout the history of the Christian Church, one of the primary test of orthodoxy, that is, the way to distinguish between authentic Christian belief and error has been the Nicene Creed, and in particular, the wording concerning the Trinity. Adopted in 325 AD, it was the outcome of a hotly contended debate; Are God the Father and the Son of the same substance or similar substance? Guys such as Athanasius paid a high price, safeguarding crucial Biblical truth concerning the Godhead. Go wrong here and all the major doctrines of our faith start to unravel.

But hey, The Shack is just a story! Exactly – in fact ‘Ah sketch’ is an anagram for The Shack! But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter. In fact, being a story, it actually means that we need to be even more discerning. Let me explain.
A story-teller has a purpose, a journey in mind for the reader. Instead of giving facts, formulae & beliefs, a novelist uses a story line to engage the imagination & get you thinking. A good story line works on the reader’s emotions, encouraging a favourable, compelling response. In other words, a good story teller is manipulating you!

So back to The shack – anyone who reads it is immediately wrong-footed. Of course it’s a compelling story! Of course your emotions reach out to the plight of the ‘hero’! Of course you are pleased by the positive outcome! That’s what a ‘good story’ is all about! But does that make it good doctrine? Absolutely not! And there’s the danger. The author obviously wants to make you think about the Trinity, but he is taking you on a dangerous, dare I say heretical journey, because if you DO take your understanding of who God is & how the Trinity works from this book, then you are being led into heresy. Is God the Father to be compared to, and I quote: 'a big black woman with a questionable sense of humour.', called Elousia, Jesus, a young carpenter, and the Holy Spirit, a flighty Asian woman called Saraya? That’s what the author intends. No matter how well-intentioned these fictional characters might be, PLEASE don’t confuse them with the God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I’ve taken a slightly different line here, and not itemised the theological issues raised. I could talk about Arianism, Modalism & idolatry. Maybe another time. Meanwhile, if you have 8 minutes, I recommend you have a listen to what Mark Driscoll has to say about this. Check out: ‘Mark Driscoll the shack’ on

And if you haven’t read the book, please let me recommend a couple: For an easy read, there’s ‘Walking with God’ by John Eldridge, or one that’s excellent but a bit more stretching: ‘The Reason for God’ by Tim Keller. Both on the Bookstall – along with the new Brighton Conference CD, Salvation’s Song: price only £11.00!


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