Thursday, March 31, 2016

Goodbye Ronnie, thanks for all the laughs and explaining the class system

Ronnie Corbett passed away today aged 85.
UPDATED [I couldn't just leave it at that, too short a post considering the warm nostalgic feeling I get when I see Ronnie Corbett comedy. His jokes were a key part of my childhood, they provided humour in the 6th storey council flat me and my Mum lived in. I'm thankful for all those laughs - goodbye Ronnie].

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How Acts uses the Homogenous Unit Principle a bit differently

The Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP) teaches us that in general, people don't like to cross too many cultural gaps to become Christians. This means people will often feel more comfortable joining a church if the people there are from the same culture. Some people have subsequently tried to plant churches that only reach one type of person. For example, I knew someone who set out to plant a church for young professionals. He was from that culture, and was trying to attract people from the same culture. Some people don't like this approach because it creates churches based on one culture, instead of representing the diversity of the New Testament where Jews and Gentiles worshipped together.

I think that in the book of Acts, we do see implications of the Homogenous Unit Principle, but I also think its played out a little bit differently:
  1. Like HUP, we don't see the Gospel jump across huge cultural gaps as much as we see it jump over smaller gaps. 
  2. Unlike common HUP practice, God used bridging people to help the gospel jump these gaps, creating a diverse Church. Philip (a Greek-Jew) is a good example of a bridging person. Compared to a Hebraic Jew, Philip had more in common with Samaritans and the God-fearing Eunuch. God chose to use someone who was closer culturally to the target group to spread the gospel. This might not sound too convincing here, so please watch my video where I explain this much more clearly!
My conclusion is that God uses us to reach people who are 'like us, but different'. If we follow this principle, we get the best use out of HUP, we use it to actually create diverse churches, not mono-cultural ones.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What I've learned about Mourning and Grieving Loss in the last 18 months

For the last 18 months, my wife and I have had much to mourn. Here's some of the things we've learned about mourning:
  1. Mourning is often about the death of a loved one. It can also be about a sudden loss of health, a betrayal, past hurts such as abuse, and even failed projects (common in church planting).
  2. If the relationship with the deceased was complicated, the mourning will be more tough than expected. You're not just mourning the lost relationship, but also the dreams of that relationship getting made right. You're mourning everything that the relationship wasn't, that you wanted it to be.
  3. Mourning is necessary for healing. We want the mourning to be over, but we need to go through it because its part of the process of healing.
  4. Tears are healing. It can be really hard for us men to let tears out, but suppressing them isn't healthy.
  5. It's helpful to use your voice in mourning. Telling God out loud how you feel. The Psalms are great for this. This is very therapeutic.
  6. I've found it helpful to say goodbye to some losses. Either by speaking out loud or by writing a letter, reflecting on what was good, and why the loss hurt.
  7. Not everyone mourns the same way.
  8. Mourning can sometimes feel linear, and sometimes feel cyclical. You can feel like you've worked through so much mourning, and that you've come to the light at the end of the tunnel. Then a few weeks later, you can feel like you're right back in it again.
  9. In a way we can't choose when to mourn, but in a way we can. Sometimes it just creeps up on you and takes you by surprise. Other times, you can choose to reflect on the loss, knowing that you will mourn. If the next couple of hours are a time designated for playing with my children, I will choose to not dwell on loss so that I'm not in a state of mourning when my children need a Dad who can smile and laugh with them. That's not to say that we should hide all our mourning from our children, they need to learn about mourning too. However, there's a time for everything.
  10. Mourning is like an exclusive club. You don't really know what it's like till you join that club. Once you join, you may find that a lot of your friends haven't joined it yet. They will have difficulty understanding what you're going through.
  11. Some of your friends can be like Job's comforters. You're already going through so much pain, and then your friends just add to the pain with their unhelpful advice. Your friends who haven't joined the club yet, will think its time for you to stop mourning. They might be happy to be there for you for the first week/month, but after that, they might abandon you.
  12. God can also bring new friendships into our lives, others who are in the club can reach out to us and be channels of God's healing. These are the people we can send quick messages to, saying that we're going through a tough patch. They won't tell us to get over it, they'll let us know they're praying for us.
  13. Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother as we go through mourning. He bore our griefs on the cross (Is 53). He is present with us in our suffering.
  14. Father God understands grief. He watched his own son die on the cross. In our mourning, we can cry out to God, and know that he hears and that he understands.
  15. The Holy Spirit can do a special work in our mourning. As we draw close to him, he draws close to us. We tend to spend more time praying, because we're crying out to God, and we find ourselves strengthened by the Spirit. There are plenty of times of not feeling renewed by the Spirit whilst we mourn, but there are also stopping points, where we look back and see how much closer we are to the Lord now. God really does do something beautiful within us whilst we grieve, its so painful but it results in our being more like Christ (who suffered so much) in a way that seems almost impossible to do without suffering.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The James White Race Row: A plea for prayerful understanding & discussion

Here's some of my thoughts on the recent James White controversy.

I've been a big fan of James over the years. I really appreciated his KJV only Controversy book years ago. I used to tune in to his Dividing Line show a lot, and learned a lot from him. I've attended some of his debates, and met him personally at one (where he asked me and my friend to be his body guards lol). I hadn't however listened to James for a while, until I read his Facebook post last week about a youngster he saw crossing the road and rudely signalling a cop car. The post is now notorious, and its sparked a lot of debate. Here are my thoughts, but please bear in mind I'm from the UK, and so might not be understanding fully the complexities of race issues in the US:

Firstly, when I try to look at things from James' perspective:

1. I regard James as a brother in Christ, and I respect that he is an elder in his church.

2. I do not believe James intended to offend anyone with his post, especially not any black brothers and sisters.

3. I doubt James foresaw the shock that his post would cause (I myself was shocked when I read it, but I doubt James would have thought any of his supporters like myself would be).

4. I think James is concerned that some people think he's not allowed to speak on race issues because he's not experienced being black. James has since his post used the term 'ethnic gnosticism' to describe his critics. I  remember hearing Voddie Baucham explain this term to James years ago. If I remember correctly, Voddie was referring to when you assume special knowledge that cannot be known without experiencing your cultural experience (at least that's how I understood it at the time). I was convicted when Voddie said this because I realised how I can sometimes assume that cross cultural gospel workers can't understand my experience of growing up on a council estate. So I do think the term 'cultural gnosticism' as Voddie explained it can be a useful category [if used carefully]. However, I haven't seen ethnic gnosticism in the critiques I've read and heard in the last week. Obviously, it could be that James has been referring to criticisms that I haven't seen. [I've since found the convo with Voddie, the term Ethnic Gnosticsm is used 38mins in ]

 5. I think James is concerned that when people speak of narrative and cultural lenses, that they are being influenced by liberalism. I do not think this is the case, but can understand where a misunderstanding could come from here. I actually think that a lot of James' critics are also concerned about liberalism.

 6. I think James thinks a lot of his critics are condoning the boys behaviour, and he's reading in between the lines that his critics think disrespect to authority is not a sin if you're black. I haven't myself seen anyone condone his behaviour. I think where there has been some silence on his behaviour, its because people are seeing weightier matters to discuss. 

  Secondly, when I try to look at it from my black brothers' and sisters' perspective:

7. I think some felt that it was unfair to sum up a black teenager's life based on a few seconds observation coupled with statistics. Many people have experienced being pre-judged like this, and it hurts.

 8. I think some readers wanted James to show more empathy to the boy, the kind of empathy they would expect from a church elder.

 9. I think some readers felt James' statements were too simplistic. Whilst most would agree that the boy's actions were wrong, they also wanted James to acknowledge that there has been a long going relationship problem between law enforcement and African-Americans.

 10. I think some readers felt betrayed. They've listened to James over the years. They've learned about the Bible, debate, and logic from James. Some have left their theological camp, and joined James' tribe. James' post shocked them, and when some tried to engage with James they felt he wouldn't listen. Some felt they were hearing straw man arguments etc. from the very man who taught them to not argue this way.

 11. I think some also felt some of the things, that I felt from my white, underclass/council estate minority culture perspective below....

  Thirdly, from my perspective:

12. My ears pricked up when James described the youth as 'black'. It's an adjective that is often used before something negative is said. It signalled to me that the post was about race. Later I was confused when James said that other people had made the post about race.

 13. I was shocked that James would assume that this youth probably didn't know his father, and that he himself would probably father aborted children. I must admit, its been a long time since I studied statistics at A-level and at University, but I had a gut feeling that this wasn't a good way of handling statistics. I've also grown up being viewed as a statistic, and had hurtful words spoken over me. I really hope that boy didn't read that post. Side note: When I was 15, the police raided my house and as they wrecked it, I put NWA's F-the-Police on loud on my stereo, I had a lot of issues, but by the grace of God, I've been married 15 years, with four children, and I'm a pastor in a deprived area.

 14. I felt like the tone of the post sounded judgmental. I wouldn't want to say it was, because firstly, I can't judge James' heart, and secondly, it can be difficult to read the tone of written text. I want to give James a charitable and generous reading, I want to hope the best for him (1 Cor 13). However, to me, it didn't sound like James was being that way with the boy. I know I've said much worse things than James wrote, so I'm not claiming moral superiority here. I do think however, James could have written his post differently, by outlining the sin, and at the same time showing love for the sinner, and even holding out the hope of the gospel.

 15. James' comparison with his own youth seemed an unhelpful example. I often find myself comparing myself with others, but it's something I'm battling against. I'm not the standard, Jesus is, I fall short all the time (even when I think I'm not).

 16. James' comparison with the good old days (for want of a better phrase) is problematic. Firstly, Total Depravity means that we should expect to see sin manifest in a multitude of different ways in different eras and cultures. It may well be that in James' day people weren't disrespecting Police as much, but there were still people sinning in a whole manner of ways [including segregated schools - depending on James' age]. In fact just a few years before James' youth, black people were being unjustly lynched. Secondly, whilst the apostle Paul critiqued both his own culture and others' cultures, we must do this very carefully, because we have blind-spots.

 17. I usually avoid internet debates, but in this case I felt moved to speak. I believe the Scriptures encourage us to speak up for the oppressed, and to speak for truth. It grieves me to see how much pain some of my brothers and sisters have experienced over this post. I appreciate that to some this might seem strange, but there is a whole history of negative words being spoken that have dehumanised people made in the image of God. At the same time, I am also saddened that James must be feeling pain right now. Similar to what Jamar said on his podcast, I don't believe James intended to cause harm. The impact was felt, but the intention was most probably not to harm.

  The way forward:

 18. For those who are hurting, meditate on the Biblical truths that you're made in God's image (Gen 1), that God delights in you, rejoices over you with singing, and quieten's you with his love (Zeph 3). There's a time for being prophetic, but also a time for healing and thinking on whatsoever things are lovely (Phil 4). Tell God how you feel, cry out to him and know that he hears you.

 19. Let's not see one another as the enemy. Our enemy is not flesh and flood but the devil. I think that most of us affected by this are 'in-Christ', so let's do everything possible to maintain the spirit of unity.

 20. Let's examine our hearts. Most of us affected believe in justification by faith alone. This truth frees us up to not have to pretend we are more righteous than we are. Let's pray that God will search our hearts, and allow us to be honest with one another. Perhaps all of us have had some self-righteousness going on at some point in this debacle.

 21. I think its helpful if we see that this is a teachable moment, a discussion rather than a debate. We will all make mistakes when it comes to talking about different cultures, and all have blindspots. Rather than scoring points against one another, let's view this as a discussion from which we can understand one another better. That means, not talking past one another, not using loaded terms like 'racist' and 'ethnic gnostic'. Instead wouldn't it be great if James White and Jamar Tisby could talk and listen to one another's concerns. They are both (to my knowledge) sound men, and I'm sure they would leave with a lot of common ground, and they could in turn inform us better.

 22. For those of us who have been long time fans of James White, let's not sum him up based on one hot moment. Just like, its possible that youth was having the worst day of his life - and we shouldn't sum up his life based on that, let's also not sum up James based on that one blog post. Let's discuss it, but lets also remember James is a brother in Christ, who has fought valiantly for the faith for years, and taught many of us.

 23. Let's pray for understanding. Let's spend more time praying about this than writing about it on social media. But let's still talk about it, this issue needs to be talked about, but let's back up our talking with prayer so that the devil won't outwit us, and so that God will be glorified in this situation.

24. Let's pray for this young boy. Let's pray that he would come to know God as his heavenly father (if he doesn't already).

 25. Let's pray for racial unity in America, and for a more multi ethnic church in the USA. And please remember us in the UK, we badly need more race and class equality in the church.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What does being Gospel Centered mean?

'Gospel Centered' has in some ways become the new 'biblical'. Back in the day, people would ask you what type of church you went to, and in London we'd often say, 'a Bible believing church.' or a 'bible teaching church' or a 'biblical church.' These days, the new phrase/power-word is 'Gospel-Centered'.

It's being used so much these days, that it almost seems like its just a magic cloak we can throw on to let people know we are the good guys. But what does it really mean to be a gospel centred person?

Here's my attempt at teaching what it means to be a gospel centred person. This was part of a series I did on deacons, but don't let the title put you off, the bible's teachings on being deacons can very easily be applied to all of us believers whether we're a deacon or not.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

New Updated 'Greek for the Street' Videos

Hi, years ago we put our 'Greek for the Street' series on youtube. It was very popular, but the video quality wasn't very high, and some of the videos dropped off youtube (no idea why?!).

So, we've now reuploaded higher quality versions of them for anyone who wants an introduction to Biblical Greek.

Sadly we don't have the ones on the future and perfect aspect (if anyone still has any of the original DVD's of these, please let me know so I can copy them!).


A video playlist of our contextualized urban worship songs

Hi, I recently started putting music videos online of our church's worship music. I'm uploading them chronologically, so its presently just our rather dated songs!, but I will try to update this playlist every two weeks, meaning some of our more modern ones will be up soon. If you want to listen to our larger collection of songs, check us out on