Can I once again thank my loyal supporters for continuing to come to this site and read my articles. However, I have moved over to the 20 schemes site for future reference.
My latest article can be referenced here.
Can I once again thank my loyal supporters for continuing to come to this site and read my articles. However, I have moved over to the 20 schemes site for future reference.
My latest article can be referenced here.
I will be leaving this link open for archiving purposes but can i ask you all to follow us now on the following link:
We have moved over to the 20schemes website but it will still be the same person writing the blog (me) with a few guest bloggers and still on largely the same subject matter. Could i ask you to please swap your subscription form this blog to the other one. I would be extremely grateful for that. It is so easy. One click of a button and it will be done.
Thank you to the many 1000′s who have supported this site over the last 18 months and I pray that you will continue to enjoy, be encouraged and be resourced by our new site.
Blessings to all!
Well, the Conservative bit of it anyway!
Happy New Year to one and all! Can I start off my thanking those of you who take the time to log in and read some of my thoughts from time to time. I am constantly amazed at the numbers who read this blog from around the globe. It is with this in mind, alongside the launch of 20schemes, that this will be my last week blogging as Niddrie Pastor. I will leave this site active as a place to log on and find archives but, as of the 7th January, I will be blogging from my 20schemes site. I will keep you posted over the next week as I make the change. Can I encourage those of you who subscribe to the site to consider following me over to this new site. Thanks so much!
Now, the blogosphere is awash with reading plans for 2013 and, perhaps, the most comprehensive can be found on The Gospel Coalition website. Please click on the link here to find reading plans galore! There is also a great blog post form Matt Smethurst on the dangers of being sucked into Bible reading Plans with the wrong motivations. Worth a read here.
The Ligonier blog always comes up with the goods! Happy hunting for various plans here.
The 19th Century Scottish minister, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, (sometimes spelled McCheyne) who lived from 1813-1843, prepared a plan for Bible reading to take readers through the New Testament and Psalms twice a year, and through the rest of the Bible once each year. His plans can be accessed easily here.
Tim Chester has some great words of advice on his blog and his reading plan(s) can be accessed here. What I like about Tim’s is that it has a communal element to it (although to be honest every plan could be communal if you wanted it to). Worth a quick look though.
For a helpful perspective on the whole reading plan thing, Garrett Kell offers some honest and wise words on his provocatively entitled blog post, “Why I Plan To Read Less Of The Bible This year”. Check it out here.
My own personal plan is snappily called: Professor Grant Horner’s Bible reading System. Google it or you will find it on most of the blog sites above. I have been using the system throughout 2012. Basically, I read 10 chapters a day from various parts of the Bible. I have worked out that I have read the entire Bible at least 3 and a half times this past year. That’s probably more than I did in the whole of the previous 5 years! I admit that the early weeks were a struggle but, with perseverance, I managed to stick to the plan with amazing ease. I have found it particularly helpful to be able to download the plan onto my iPhone. You can download that here. As usual, the great Tim Challies has produced a list of resources to go along with the plan. These can be found here. Finally, for mutual encouragement and accountability you can access the Facebook page here.
No, it hasn’t made me Godlier or holier and no I don’t think Jesus likes me better than people who’ve struggled through their devotions this year. At times it has been a chore but after the first few weeks I really got into the groove. Now, I didn’t use it devotionally but instead just read the chapters through at normal reading speed. Like a spiritual shower if you will! Besides this reading I followed my own personal, spiritual routine which enabled me to soak a little longer in the bath! I just found the habit of constantly reading scripture daily nice – that’s all. What I found helpful, particularly when I went through a spiritual ‘dry patch’ in terms of my own devotions, was that I was at least reading huge chunks of scripture as a matter of coarse even when I didn’t really feel like it. Make of that what you will but the point is my head was in the Bible rather than in the TV when I was having some tough times. Remember our faith rests in Christ and not on how we do in these things. Let’s all guard our hearts and watch our motivations.
I hope that we will all grow in truth and grace in 2013 as we wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As voted for by you, the viewing public.
Right, let me get something straight right off the bat. I am not a conference junkie! It just so happened that I squeezed in these 3 during a manic 2 week period. In fact, this is the most conferences I have been to in 10 years! I do not usually like these things. I hate the crowds and the whole “famous speaker” thing but this can usually be offset by a decent book stall!
This conference was in Louisville, Kentucky and I was the guest of my friends at 9Marks. Some observations:
1. It was huge, almost 8000 people I think. That made it both good and bad. Bad in that it did feel a little impersonal and good that it was so powerful when we were all standing together singing some great hymns. It was such a powerful experience praising God with so many other people in one place.
2. Of the 9 main session: 3 were outstanding, 2 were good, 2 were OK and 2 were a disappointment (ironically, from the 2 speakers I was most looking forward to). As models for exegetical preaching, most of the talkers were poor but, as inspirational speakers, they were generally very good. I found the seminars and talking head things to be generally OK (ish), although they talked about issues which I feel are old hat for us in the UK (or maybe that’s just me). The one on famous pastors, particularly, (ironically chaired by famous pastors and even the guy against is famous for being anti famous) was bemusing to say the least. I think this part was weakened by the fact that every speaker (particularly CJ Mahaney) spent at least 10 minutes introducing each main session speaker by telling us why so and so was “the single greatest influence in my life as a believer and/or is perhaps the greatest treasure to the church today” or words to that effect. I don’t know if it is my European nature but I found this toe curlingly horrible.
3. It was brilliantly organised and there was a seamlessness to the event despite the huge numbers. Amazingly, it did not feel overcrowded at any point. All of the stewards were helpful and cheerful. The free book store was a brilliant idea and there was a massive selection of books to choose from. I only bought 1 because they gave so many quality ones away! I did find some of the stalls confusing. For instance there was a Gospel Coalition stall there which didn’t seem to do anything other than be a meeting place for painfully cool twenty somethings. I saw the odd person being interviewed but was otherwise mystified to its purpose. Other stalls were much clearer in handing out literature and promoting some of their work. Free sweets always works for me incidentally!
4. There was a great 2 day meeting afterwards at Southern Seminary. It was a retreat for pastors who had been invited by 9marks. I found that intense and immensely encouraging and enlightening. These are some Godly, friendly men and I have a real affinity and love for them. The way they invited feedback on the whole conference was a real example of humble leadership and wanting to learn. I bought myself a nodding Al Mohler doll for my shelf of tat at home (he sits alongside Obama) from the amazing on site book shop. The seminary just cracked me up. I noticed they had sold out to satan by allowing a Starbucks to sell their products in the place! It was a sort of theological Disneyworld with Al living in the princesses palace. His gaff seemed a little bit OTT for me!
Mark Dever and the 9marks team are just so open and generous with their time and resources. Truly amazing.
I have gotten involved with this group largely through a friendship with a guy called Al Barth. I also spent 5 weeks at Redeemer last year doing an intensive training programme for church planters. This particular set of meetings was for ‘network leaders’ from around the globe (sounds so grandiose when you say it like that)! Some observations:
1. I am still uncertain of the point of the event. It not really made clear (to me).
2. There were people from around the world and that was a good thing (in terms of shared ideas).
3. I felt some of the sessions were nothing more than psycho babble, business speak, seminar type things. One guy talked about having a crap-ometer and mine was in overdrive at certain points during the two days (and, ironically, particularly during his session).
4. Tim Keller, Al Barth and a couple of other people (one on prayer stood out) were on the money and spoke with a real authority and a distinct clarity. It was worth coming for that. The rest felt somewhat fragmented and lacking in cohesion. I observed that Tim pretty much disappeared straight away and I find him and some of his team strangely less accessible than Mark Dever and the 9marks staff.
5. It seemed very “American” in its “how to approaches”. In other words, much of what was presented would be a struggle to contextualise into Europe. Certainly, their heavy reliance on corporate models of church and leadership structures does not carry into our British types of churches (the majority at least).
7. The Bible was not really opened and expounded upon enough for my liking. It seemed to lack real theological foundation and punch. Maybe this was because this was not the purpose of the meeting? However, I would expect a room full of church planters from around the globe to get at it with the Word more. Very rarely was Christ and the gospel mentioned and certainly not really from the front.
8. I found it a more helpful trip in terms of establishing my relationship with a fellow gospel worker from Edinburgh, Neil Macmillan. We got to spend time together, (he got offered hookers and coke outside our hotel – always amusing), and we had many opportunities to talk about a vision for supporting church planters of all stripes in our city. That was perhaps the single biggest benefit of the time away for me. I also got to meet a couple of impressive men in the UK, not least of whom is a man called Neil Powell involved in Birmingham 2020.
9. The time away helped crystalise some thoughts about what’s next for me in my ministry and life.
To be frank, this was the one I could have done without. I was exhausted from my US trip (I was back a day and a half before heading to London) and only went along to do a seminar out of respect for Steve Timmis (and because I had made a prior commitment). If I’m really honest, I am not a big Acts29 fan in terms of all the machismo that sometimes come out of the US with this movement (cage fighting and beer drinking etc). I don’t find any of that stuff to be helpful in my context at all. I see the point that men need to be men (and not the feminised girly boys that mark so much of middle class Christianity in the UK) but at the same time I am trying to get guys to stop drinking (as much) and to see “being a man” as taking responsibility for their kids, not beating their girlfriends and/or spending their rent money on beer/drugs. Anyway, I digress. Some observations:
1. Straight off the bat it was gospel centred and it was gospel all the way.
2. The main preaching (I say this instead of ‘speaking’) sessions taken by JD Greear were on the money. By that I mean they were biblical, faithful to the texts and contextually applied to a European audience. This was a man who had done some homework and sought to engage cross culturally. He showed a great deal of humility in wanting to engage with us and not just turning up for the gig before being ushered out the door by his “personal aid” (other “speakers” take note).
3. The leading of the music by a couple of guys from Sojourn was profoundly biblical and extremely reverently done. I am not sure why it couldn’t have been done by someone from Europe but, regardless, outstanding and an example to any and all worship leaders (scrap that, everybody) in attendance.
4. The first day seemed to contain one too many sessions and I found the last speaker on the first day unnecessary in terms of what he had to say and how it fitted in with the overall message of the conference. Maybe I was tired but it didn’t resonate with me and those I was with. I think perhaps the problem was that Steve and JD can preach and, unfortunately, the gentleman concerned isn’t particularly gifted (in my opinion) to the same level (if at all).
5. As an outsider to Acts29WE I didn’t feel that I was given a full explanation of what they are about early on. I think there was a lot of assumption there and their 4 major principles could have been explained more clearly. I know there was a session on this somewhere but I got waylaid by people wanting to talk to me and missed it. Not the fault of the conference, but I would have appreciated this being explained in a session right at the opening of the couple of days so as to set the scene. As it was, Dai Hankey gave me a very good summary at lunch.
6. I am still unsure as to whom Steve Timmis is accountable in this movement. Who decides direction and strategy? Who keeps him from wandering off track? I am assuming his elders at TCH but how this will develop practically on the ground as this movement explodes (and it will) will be interesting. At the moment this looks like a movement largely bringing in those who are already planting churches, so it will be interesting to see how it develops as this first generation begins to birth them. I could smell the potential in the room and he is going to need a lot of support and prayer.
7. I found the seminar I attended to be pretty naff. The guy involved was from the states (a mistake I think) who used lots of illustrations that practically nobody in the room could relate to (he took a survey before ploughing on regardless). Many around me were playing on mobile phones or doing something else on computers. When I leaned in to the guy next to me and asked if he knew what was happening he just gave a resigned shrug. One guy at lunch said it “wasn’t the most helpful” thing he’d heard on the subject (posh speak for crap). It was a bit of a wayward presentation which didn’t seem to have any real connection in terms of application to the UK and/or European scene. I understood where he was trying to go philosophically but I didn’t really care how “Tinkerbell” fitted in to an overarching redemptive metanarrative! This space could have been used far more effectively for a seminar on Porterbrook, for example (see point 9).
8. The American contingent were extremely Godly, helpful, humble and insightful throughout the 2 days. They were a great example to some of their fellow countrymen who can sometimes present themselves in the opposite light when dealing with other cultures. I think Steve Timmis chose very wisely in this and, again, only strengthens my view that he is the right man for this type of movement from a European perspective.
9. The Porterbrook teaching material was there at a table but I felt it could/should have been given more prominence (there was a short talk given but it could have been clearer). There were some good interviews with planters and maybe an interview with someone using the material and how it has benefitted them would have been really helpful. This is a great tool for those of us trying to plant and train planters and I thought it deserved to be pushed more.
10. The interview(s) procedure(s) got various feedback. One of my friends found the chat intimate, friendly and helpful and another found it adversarial, aggressive and a bit hostile. Yet another, somewhere in the middle. It seemed to depend on “who you got” (and, to be fair, what stage you were at – all 3 were at different stages). As a person looking to perhaps join the network as a partner, I am not sure about this method (is there some universal questions to follow or is it more ‘organic’? – I suspect it is the latter given the feedback. I may be wrong!) and it’s purpose. It made me a little uneasy and hesitant to continue the process (more so for my shy wife than myself!).
11. Without doubt I would give the Acts29WE conference 11/10. I would have liked it to have gone on for more days and I left greatly energised and encouraged by God’s Word and the presence of so many planters out there with big dreams, battling in hard places. Steve and his team are to be congratulated for this.
In summary, T4G was a great experience. The pastors retreat afterwards was truly excellent. I love spending time with Mark Dever and his people. He is just such a great and supportive man. City2City was OK but often baffling. However, it gave me time to review what I was doing and the direction of my own ministry. Acts29WE was immensely encouraging and without doubt Steve Timmis will do the business. He is definitely the right man for the job. There were some great men there battling away in difficult places and it was a real pleasure and a privilege to get an invite. This is a movement that is going to grow and it will only be good for our continent and for the glory and fame of the Lord Jesus Christ. I would say that I left it with a confidence that Acts29 may have hit the jackpot in recent months with changes in personnel and the addition of Steve Timmis and those around him. Oh, and not a beer tasting competition or a cage fight in sight. Just good old-fashioned pubs and footie. Bliss!
I will be posting on the various talks in the coming weeks and trying to contextualise them for our housing scheme ministry. Watch this space!
This is at number 2.
I sometimes meet with and speak to young men who say that they are interested in planting churches in housing schemes. One issue in particular seems to hinder them, especially if they’re from an educated, middle class background. It’s the problem of children. They are either worried about their current child/children or they are worried about what a future might look like raising a child in a housing scheme environment. I have been asked to do posts on this topic a number of times, so here is part 1 of a developing series.
Let me begin by affirming that following Jesus into housing schemes as a church planter truly can, at times, be a brutal business. Following Jesus at the best of times comes with all sorts of pressures and temptations. Surely that’s why Jesus told his disciples to ‘count the cost’ before following Him. If you want to plant in a housing scheme then you better take Him at His word. Consider the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 9:56b-62:
And they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
I’m not going to exegete this text but suffice to say that one clear point of application is this: Jesus is more important than your family. He is certainly more important than your children. Deal with it. Or walk away. There will always be issues and worries and problems and questions concerning the Christian life. When considering moving into a scheme, these are manifold. But the bottom line will always be whether you are prepared to put your allegiance to Christ before all and above all, including those wonderful, fluffy, cute, sweet-smelling bundles of idolatrous joy that we call our offspring. These verses read well until they have to be put into practice. If you truly want to serve Jesus in a housing scheme then it will be hard – that’s not a ‘manly’ catchphrase, it is a heartbreaking reality.
Here’s a newsflash. Wait for it.
Church planting might actually cost us something. That something might even turn out to be everything. It might turn out to be every sacred cow we hold dear in our middle class, educationally driven, child centred, play it safe, let’s cover all the angles before we step out, Christian culture.
Really? You mean those biographies of long since, dead people who buried their children on the missions field after suffering all sorts of wasting diseases, might actually have some relevance for my coddled, sanitised Twenty First Century life? Are you suggesting that I may have to make difficult decisions today that may even be (in human, earthly terms) detrimental for my loved ones? Well, that sounds a bit over the top. That doesn’t even sound biblical, or even closely like my God who wants me and my family to be safe and sound. What would Joyce Meyer or the guy with the nice teeth on the God Channel say about that? God wants me to take decisions that make me and my family happy, doesn’t He?. God wouldn’t really want me to suffer for His namesake, would He? OK, maybe a bit of name calling and some strong debate with my atheist friends. But, to move my family to a tough scheme without thought to my young ones? C’mon. God wouldn’t want me to do anything that is irresponsible, surely? We should, at least, consider some sort of risk assessment? You seriously mean to say that my children might suffer for the gospel? My wife might suffer for the gospel? I thought I might have to suffer but not like this. Actually, when I come to think about it, I’m not actually sure what I mean when I say that. I didn’t really think that ‘take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee‘, was really all that serious. It sounds so much better with a bit of base and a nice drum beat.
When Miriam and I made a decision to move to Brasil in 2003 we had two young children under the age of 2. We knew it was going to be hot but we had no idea just how difficult it was going to be for us emotionally, physically and spiritually. Don’t get me wrong. We were ready for hardship and difficulty. We were ready to suffer for Jesus. We just weren’t ready to watch our children suffer for choices we had made.
Both of my children were ill almost as soon as we arrived. And not just a cold or a runny nose. It was often brutal vomiting and diarrhoea. In fact, on one occasion, my youngest lost half her body weight in the space of two days. I remember turning up to the hospital with her in my arms and they had to stick a drip in her heel because she was so dehydrated. We were shoved in a room with three other children. There was mould on the floor and blood up the walls and the whole place stank of defecation. It was horrific. We hardly spoke the lingo and I had no real clue how to communicate what was wrong. When they began treatment I couldn’t even be sure of what they were giving her. The whole thing was traumatic. I was burning with rage, fear, frustration and anger. Psalm 46:1-3 came to mind:
God is our refugeand strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
He didn’t feel like my help and strength. And I was frightened in that stinking, third-rate hospital watching my little baby suffer unimaginably while a child on the bed next to us was screeching in pain and bleeding all over the floor. Another time, we were at a BBQ with friends and suddenly my eldest daughter began screaming in absolute agony. She had stumbled onto a ‘fire ant’ nest and had begun playing with it because it looked a bit like a sandcastle. They were all over her, biting into almost every part of her body. I had to pick her up and throw her into a neighbours swimming pool. Again, it was horrendous as I watched her writhing in agony, completely helpless to ease her suffering. I remember thinking at the time, “What am I doing to my children? Have I put their lives in jeopardy for some romantic notion of missionary living?” I remember well the many people we knew back in the UK who had gossiped behind our backs about what we were doing to our children bringing them to such a place. What about their health, education? What about taking them away from their family? It was all coming back to haunt me.
I had read the missionary biographies and I felt that I was supposed to be feeling this deep peace about my sense of call. I was supposed to rest in the the fact of His providence. Well, I wasn’t feeling peace and I wasn’t feeling a deep sense of call. I was just feeling a deep sense of pain and an overwhelming desire to return home with my tail between my legs. I felt like I was abusing my children out of a sense of some personal, spiritual duty. I felt exactly as the Psalmist did in Psalm 10:1: “O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?”
I feel like I want to quote some Bible verse that came to me in those dark days. But none really did. There was just a sense of putting one foot in front of the other and hoping that things would get better as long as I kept trusting the Lord. In our first year in Brasil, Miriam was ill, both my girls were seriously ill and I had a life threatening illness which resulted in my being unconscious for 3 days. We wanted to leave and never go back. We despised the place and its people. But we loved the Lord and we knew that even in the deepest pit of our emotions, He wanted us to be there. It was just a price we had to pay. It was part of the cost. I just didn’t realise that the cost meant everybody in my family and not just me.
We can read verses like Hebrews 4:15 glibly in our culture. We read it from the safety of our modern homes and comfortable lives.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses . .
In those dark days we remembered, somehow, that we were there because people were suffering just as we were (often worse) without Christ. Imagine that if you can? We were traumatised but we had hope and we had come to live among a people who had none. If our troubles did nothing else they gave us a profound empathy with people. They gave us a faint glimpse behind the curtain of Calvary when Christ cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Even more profoundly, how deeply the Father must have suffered to watch his Son suffer in the pursuit of his heavenly mission. Hebrews 4:15 came alive then, let me tell you.
Then, in 2006 we moved to a housing scheme in Scotland. That brought with it a whole host of other issues related to our children. What about friends for them in a church with few or no children their own age? Wouldn’t it easier and fairer (on them) to pastor in a church with an established children’s and youth group? How about now that they’re older with no friends their own age in the church? What about schooling in an area of failing educational systems? What about role models for them? How about the fact that we can’t really let them play in the street with so many questionable (sex offenders) people about? We can’t let them go into certain houses we now associated with drugs and crime. Big questions I will address in further posts.
I read this prayer this morning in my devotional.
“Good God thank you that this life is not a random throw of the dice. but is watched over by your favour and fatherly care. That’s easy to confess when the wind is at my back and the sun is on my face; give me the same trust in your will when the circumstances of life turn tragic and are tear-stained. Let me understand that even then I am kept by you.”
This is the third most popular blog posting of 2012.
When I came to Niddrie over 4 years ago there was a young woman involved in selling Heroin outside our doors in the car park. Most of the members were oblivious but I spotted it after about 2.1 seconds! Her name was Charlene and she had two young children. Before long she had heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and was interested in changing her life. At that time she was under huge pressure from her friends and family. Nearly everybody she knew was an addict of one form or another. It was her culture. It was her life. Slowly but surely she began to see the seriousness and hopelessness of her situation and began to understand the reality of the gospel, her sin predicament and the deep, abiding hope that could only be found in Jesus.
One day, after a particularly bad assault on her out side the church, I took her into the prayer room and read her the riot act. She was losing her life to this drug, she had no real friends and she had lost her children to the social services. She was a bum and her life was going down the toilet. Then, with the help of Sharon, our Women’s Worker, she began to get more serious. She attended an evangelistic Bible study and our weekly Recovery Course at the church and the Lord removed the scales from her eyes. She got ‘proper saved’ (as we say in these parts). It’s been a long, hard slog over the last 2 years but, last week, I had the privilege of baptising her. Over 100 people came to the service (some of her old drug acquaintances) and heard her give a clear testimony to the greatness of Jesus. Here is her story. We praise God for his grace and mercy!
NOTE: Charlene recently got married to one of our deacons and is one of the first local converts to be currently receiving training under our “Apprenticeship” scheme in the church.
As you can tell I am using lots of video fillers for the Christmas season. Tomorrow I will start the countdown on my top 3 blog posts of 2012 (statistically). Then, early in the New Year I will be leaving this blog and starting over at www.20schemes.com. However, I will give plenty of notice about this and hope that all of my followers and subscribers make the move with me!