Thursday, 31 December 2009

TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2009

In no particular order (selecting 10 was hard enough):

Julian Barnes, Nothing to be Frightened Of
Paul E Miller, A Praying Life
Lauren F Winner, Real Sex: the naked truth about chastity
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses:The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
Dorothy L Sayers, Creed or Chaos? And other essays in popular theology
Tobias Woolf, Old School
Humphrey Carpenter (Ed.), The Letters of JRR Tolkien
Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community
Tom Hovestol, Extreme Righteousness: Seeing ourselves in the pharisees
Timothy Knatchbull, From a Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb

Wednesday, 30 December 2009


'An understanding of people as sinners enables a pastoral ministry to function without anger. Accumulated resentment (a constant threat to pastors) is dissolved when unreal - that is untheological - presuppositions are abandoned. If people are sinners then pastors can concentrate on talking about God's action in Jesus Christ instead of sitting around lamenting how bad the people are...
But a pastor is not likely to find this view of people supported by the people themselves. They ordinarily assume that everyone has a divine inner core that needs awakening. They're Emersonian in their presuppositions, not Pauline. They expect personal help from the pastor in the shape of moralistic, mystic, or intellectual endeavours. People don't reckon with sin as that total fact that charcaterizes them; nor do they long for forgiveness as the effective remedy. They yearn for the nurture of their psychic life, for a way in which they may bypass grace and walk on their own...
The happy result of a theological understanding of people as sinners is that the pastor is saved from continual surprise that they are in fact sinners. It enables us to heed Bonhoeffer's admonition: "A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men." So sinner becomes not a weapon in an arsenal of condemnation, but the expectation of grace. Simply to be against sin is a poor basis for pastoral ministry. But to see people are sinners - as rebels against God, missers of the mark, wanderers from the way - that establishes a basis for pastoral ministry that can proceed with great joy because it is announcing God's great action in Jesus Christ - "for sinners."'
Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.119-120.


'The word sinner is a theological designation. It is essential to insist on this. It is not a moralistic judgment. It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively "good" or "bad." It designates humans in relation to God and sees them as seperated from God. Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment. The theological fact is that humans are not close to God and are not serving God.'
Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.118.


'I know there are times when waiting is painful. I know there are times when it seems as if it is impossible to wait. But you and I must remind ourselves that we wait not because irrational and impersonal forces function as obstructions and interferences in our lives. No, we wait because the world is carefully administered by the one Person who is ultimate in power, ultimate in authority, and ultimate in wisdom, while at the very same time being ultimate in love. You are being asked to wait by One you can trust.'
Paul David Tripp, A shelter in the time of storm, p.135.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


'"For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known."'
JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, p.894.


'If we avoid small talk, we abandon the very field in which we have been assigned to work. Most of people's lives is not spent in crisis, not lived at the cutting edge of crucial issues. Most of us, most of the time, are engaged in simple, routine tasks, and small talk is the natural language. If pastors belittle it, we belittle what most peopel are doing most of the time, and the gospel is misrepresented.'
Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.115.


'Pastoral work, I learned later, is that aspect of Christian ministry that specializes in the ordinary. It is the nature of the pastoral life to be attentive to, immersed in, and appreciative of the everyday texture of people's lives - the buying and selling, the visiting and meeting, the going and coming.'
Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.112.

Thursday, 24 December 2009


'The honest advice I would give a friend or family member pursued by a journalist is to say nothing at all at first, and then to weigh every word against the chance of it being twisted before making a statement.'
Andrew Marr, My Trade, p.379.


'The opening needs to work immediately: it should affront readers, or make them laugh, or puzzle them in some engaging way. I rarely re-write, but often go back to the first few sentences time and again. The ending may well pick up on the opening image or thought. You should "bite the tail": it gives a satisfying sense of completeness.'
Andrew Marr, My Trade, p.374.


'"It seems, then," said Tirian, smiling himself, "that the Stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places."
"Yes," said the Lord Digory. "Its inside is bigger than its outside."
"Yes," said Queen Lucy. "In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world."'
CS Lewis, The Last Battle, p.508 of The Complete Chronicles of Narnia


' become free does not mean becoming free in the world, not becoming free from your brother, not even free from God, but to become free from oneself, one's lies. It means to become free from thinking only of myself, from being the center of my world, from hate, by which I despise God's creation. It means to be free to be for the other: the person for others...
The man who loves because he has been made free by God is the most revolutionary man on earth. He challenges all values. He is the explosive material of human society. He is a dangerous man. For he recognizes that the human race is in the depths of falsehood. And he is always ready to let the light of truth fall upon his darkness; and he will do this because of his love. But this disturbance, which such people bring, calls forth hatred from the world. And therefore this knight of truth and love is not the hero that men long for or honor, not one who is without enemies; but one whom they would do away with, outlaw, and indeed kill. The way of God's truth leads to the cross.'
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Edwin Robertson (Ed.), Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons, p.71.


'...the truth comes. It encounters us in an unexpected form, not with trailing clouds of glory and dazzling clarity, but as the crucified truth, as the crucified Christ. And the truth speaks to us. It says to us, "Who has crucified me, the truth?" And in the same moment it answers itself, "See what you have done. You have hated the truth of God. You have crucified it. And you have set up your own truth. You believed you knew the truth, you possessed it, you thought to make men happy with your truth and thereby you made yourself into God. You have robbed God of his truth and proclaimed your own truth instead - but you have thereby ruined yourself by playing God and with that comes destruction. You have crucified truth."
And if we find this mystery too difficult for us to understand, listen to what the truth says more clearly: You are living as though you were alone in the world. You have thought to find within yourself the source of truth, which can only be found in God. For that reason you hate the other person who does the same. You found in yourself the center of the world and this is the source of the lie. You saw your brothers as part of your personal kingdom, lording it over them and not seeing that you and they live by the truth of God. Your tear yourself out of communion with God and your brother and you think you can live alone. You hate God and your brother and think you can live alone. You hate God and your brother becasue they deny the truth. That was the lie and you are therefore liars through and through. Your wish to be alone, self-sufficient, and your hatred of others - that is the lie. For that reason you crucified God's truth. You thought you would become free if you tore away and hated the truth. But you have become a slave, a slave of your hatred and your lies.'
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Edwin Robertson (Ed.), Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons, p.69.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


'...the working environment of pastors erodes patience and rewards impatience. People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves). They avoid both mystery and mess by devising programs and hiring pastors to manage them. A program provides a defined structure with an achievable goal. Mystery and mess are eliminated at a stroke. This is appealing. In the midst of the mysteries of grace and the complexities of human sin, it is nice to have something that you can evaluate every month or so and find out where you stand. We don't have to deal with ourselves or with God, but can use the vocabulary of religion and work in an environment that acknowledges God, and so be assured that we are doing something significant.'
Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.48.


'The appointment calendar is the tool with which to get unbusy. It's a gift of the Holy Ghost (unlisted by St.Paul, but a gift nonetheless) that provides the pastor with the means to get time and acquire leisure for praying, preaching and listening. It is more effective that a protective secretary, it is less expensive than a retreat house. It is the one thing everyone in our society accepts without cavil as authoritative. The authority once given to Scripture is now ascribed to the appointment calendar. The dogma of verbal innerrancy has not been discareded, only re-assigned.
When I appeal to my appointment calendar, I am beyond criticism. If someone approaches me and asks to pronounce the invocation at an event and I say, "I don't think I should do that; I was planning to use that time to pray," the response will be, "Well, I'm sure you can find another time to do that." But if I say, "My appointment calendar will not permit it," no further questions are asked...'
Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.22.


'What does it mean to be a pastor? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do?
Three things.
I can be a pastor who prays. I want to cultivate my relationship with God. I want all of life to be intimate - sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously - with the God who made, directs, and loves me. And I want to waken others to the nature and centrality of prayer. I want to be the person in this community to whom others can come without hesitation, without wondering if it is appropriate, to get direction in prayer and praying...
I can be a pastor who preaches. I want to speak the Word of God that is Scripture in the language and rhythms of the people I live with. I am given an honored and protected time each week to do that. The pulpit is a great gift, and I want to use it well...
I can be a pastor who listens. A lot of people approach me through the week to tell me what's going on in their lives. I want to have the energy and time to really listen to them so that when they're through, they know at least one other person has some inkling of what they're feeling and thinking...'
Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.19-21.


'...the congregation is a place where I'm gradually learning that prayer is not conditioned or authenticated by my feelings. Nothing is more devastating to prayer than when I begin to evaluate prayer by my feelings, and think that in order to pray I have to have a certain sense, a certain spiritual attentiveness or peace, or, on the other side, anguish.
That's virtually impossible to learn by yourself. But if I'm in a congregation, I learn over and over again that prayer will go on whether I feel like it or not, or even if I sleep through the whole thing.'
Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.9.


' job is not to solve people's problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives. It's hard to do, because our whole culture is going the other direction, saying that if you're smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems. The truth is, there aren't many happy people in the Bible. But there are people who are experiencing joy, peace, and the meaning of Christ's suffering in their lives.'
Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Reurning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, p.5.


'Perfectionism is about control, overresponsibility, self-sufficiency, and achieving glory now.'
Michael R Emlet, CrossTalk, p.162.

Friday, 18 December 2009


'When we are disturbed by the chaos in our own personal life, when we are not ready to face it, when again and again every security fails us and there is no firm ground under our feet, when our life hangs between good intentions and shame, when it becomes inevitably clear that we are weak, when some unmanageable fate comes over us, a great sorrow or a great passion and we are horrified at the inevitable working out of this fate, when we can see only how faithless and hopeless we are caught in our own errors or when friendships are finally broken, when with the best will in the world we cannot find reconciliation with the other, in short, when we take seriously the whole human chaos in which we are stuck - then it all comes over us and we say to God: Lord, I can bear no more. I can't take any more. No, I don't want any more. I'm too deep in the mire. God don't speak any more to me, for I will not hear you. God, we have nothing more to do with each other.
And then it happens that we want to hear something new and at that moment, we hear afresh: "Peace, courage." Courage which God gives is like a mother taking hold of her child who is out of control with so many faults and failures, who is now very unhappy and begins to cry. She takes his hand and gives him a new chance: "Now, let's try that once more." Courage, courage - so God speaks to us when we are disgusted with ourselves.'
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Edwin Robertson (Ed.), Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons, p.58.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


'Child of the stable's secret birth
the Lord by right of the lords of earth;
let angels sing of a king new-born -
the world is weaving a crown of thorn:
a crown of thorn for that infant head
cradled soft in the manger bed.

Eyes that shine in the lantern's ray;
a face so small in its nest of hay -
face of a child who is born to scan
the world he made, through the eyes of a man:
and from that face in the final day
earth and heaven shall flee away.

Voice that rang through the courts on high
contracted now to wordless cry,
a voice to master the wind and wave,
the human heart and the hungry grave:
the voice of God through the cedar trees
rolling forth as the sound of seas.

Infant hand in a mother's hand,
for none but Mary may understand
whose are the hands and fingers curled
but his who fashioned and made our world;
and through these hands in the hour of death
nails strike to wood beneath.

Child of the stable's secret birth,
the Father's gift to a wayward earth,
to drain the cup in a few short years
of all our sorrows, our sin and tears -
ours the prize for the road he trod:
risen with Christ; at peace with God.'
Timothy Dudley-Smith

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


'Tell someone to do something, and you change their life - for a day; tell someone a story and you change their life.'
Tom Wright in Michael R Emlet, CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet, in p.62.

Friday, 11 December 2009


'Could it be that there are
two kinds of beauty?
In this world there is
Source beauty
Reflected beauty.
Source beauty is
true beauty
pure beauty
timeless beauty
independent beauty
definitional beauty
divine beauty.
Reflected beauty is
shadow beauty
tainted beauty
dependent beauty
ill-defined beauty
creation beauty.'
Paul David Tripp, A shelter in the time of storm, p.99.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


'Dame Matthews used to live at the Home Farm at Langley Burrell. She was a member of the family, but she must have lived a long time ago, as Mrs Banks remarked, because she called cows "Kine". The Dame used to sit in the chimney corner and near her chair was a little window through which she could see all down the dairy. One evening she saw one of the farm men steal a pound of butter out of the dairy and put it into his hat, at the same moment clapping his hat upon his head.
"John," called the Dame. "John, come here. I want to speak to you." John came, carefully keeping his hat on his head. The Dame ordered some ale to be heated for him and bade him sit down in front of the roaring fire. John thanked his mistress and said he would have the ale another time, as he wanted to go home at once.
"No, John. Sit down by the fire and drink some hot ale. 'Tis a cold night and I want to speak to you about the kine."
The miserable John, daring neither to take his hat off nor go without his mistress's leave, sat before the scorching fire drinking his hot ale till the butter in his hat began to drip all over his face. "Now, John," she said "you may go. I won't charge you anything for the butter."'
Francis Kilvert in Alan Taylor (Ed.), The Country Diaries: A Year in the British Countryside, p.307.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


'The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.'
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Edwin Robertson (Ed.), Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons, p.21.

Friday, 4 December 2009


'Paul challenged the gods of the city of Ephesus (Acts 19:26), which led to such an alteration in the spending patterns of new converts that it changed the local economy. That in turn touched off a riot led by local merchants. Contemporary observers have often noted that modern Christians are just as materialistic as everyone else in our culture. Could this be because our preaching does not, like Saint Paul's, include the exposure of our culture's counterfeit gods?'
Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p.167.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


'Here are a few suggestions...
Know what you're buying. Reporting is now so contaminated by bias and campaigning, and general mischief, that no reader can hope to get a picture of what is happening without first knowing who owns a paper and who it is being published for...
Follow the names. If you find a reporter who seems to know the score, particularly in an area you know about, cherish him or her...
Register bias. Even when you read the same paper every day, be aware that reporters are now less embarrassed to let the bias show...
Read the second paragraph, and look for quote marks. Surprisingly often, the key fact is not in the first paragraph, which is general and designed to grab attention...
If the headline asks a question, try answering 'no'. Is this the true face of Britain's Young? (Sensible reader: No.) Have We Found the Cure for AIDS? (No, or you wouldn't have put a question mark in.)...
And watch out for quotation marks in the headlines, too. If you read 'Marr "Stole" Book Idea' then the story says nothing of the kind...
Read small stories and attend to page two. Just because something is reported in a single paragraph does not mean it is insignificant...
Suspect 'research'. Hundreds of dodgy academic departments put out bogus or trivial pieces of research purely designed to impress busy newspaper people and win themselves some cheap publicity...
Check the calendar... Not simply for April Fool's, but for the predictable round of hardy annuals that bulk up thin news lists...
Suspect financial superlatives... Even if the underlying rate of inflation is modest, then in the ordinary way of things, prices for many limited goods - Pre-Raphaelite painitings, or seaside huts, or football shirts, are going to be "the highest ever"...
Remember the news is cruel. Reading the awful things that people apparentely say about each other, or newspapers say about them, can be depressing...
Finally, believe nothing you read about newspaper sales - nothing. Newspaper sales have been falling in Britain for a long time...'
Andrew Marr, My Trade, p.252-255.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


'I woke up in the middle of the night recently with this rather odd question in my mind: How could you love someone without prayer? I mean, what would it look like if you loved someone but couldn't pray for that person? It was a puzzle to me. I couldn't figure out what it would look like. Love without being able to pray feels depressing and frustrating, like trying to tie a knot with gloves on. I would be powerless to do the other person any real good. People are far too complicated; the world is far too evil; and my heart is far too off center to be able to love adequately without praying. I need Jesus.'
Paul E Miller, A Praying Life, p.260.


'Prayer is where I do my best work as a husband, dad, worker, and friend. I'm aware of the weeds of unbelief in me and the struggles in other's lives. The Holy Spirit puts his finger on issues that only he can solve.
I'm actually managing my life through my daily prayer time. I'm shaping my heart, my work, my family - in fact everything that is dear to me - through prayer in fellowship with my heavenly Father. I'm doing that because I don't have control over my heart and life or the hearts and lives of those around me. But God does.'
Paul E Miller, A Praying Life, p.257.


'If we focus entirely on God's written Word when looking for God's activity in our lives but don't watch and pray, we'll miss the unfolding story of his work. We'll miss the patterns of the divine artist etching the character of his Son on our hearts. Our lives will lack the sparkle and immediacy of God's presence.'
Paul E Miller, A Praying Life, p.242.


'When I begin praying Christ into someone's life, God often permits suffering in that person's life. If Satan's basic game plan is pride, seeking to draw us into his like of arrogance, then God's basic game plan is humility, drawing us into the life of his Son. The Father can't think of anything better to give us than his Son. Suffering invites us to join his Son's life, death and resurrection. Once you see that, suffering is no longer strange.'
Paul E Miller, A Praying Life, p.236.