Friday, September 29, 2017

Calvary Road

Calvary Road, Colin Buchanan

Everyone here has appreciated the depth of Colin Buchanan’s new offering for adults, Calvary Road. There are songs about faith and family, many with his usual Australian and outback perspective. He has used a new producer, Matt Fell, on this album, and while my musical talents don’t extend to spotting these types of things in detail, even I can tell it’s very well produced with Colin’s usual musical skills evident, along with arresting lyrics and very importantly, it’s easy to hear each word.

Miss 12 loves The Hardest Thing, the life story of his father and the insight it gives into the life of one man who was loved and cherished. I really like Will I Be Missed, which questions how many of us will be remembered in the future – and whether what we do now matters. Mr 14 likes You’d like Jesus, pointing out that if you struggle with hypocrites and want people to be real and true, you’ll like Jesus.

A highlight of the album for me is It Was His Idea, attributed the glory of the world to God and his creative work:
It was his idea
He’s the reason that we’re here
Jesus got his fingerprints
On everything that’s good.
Upon continual listening, all of us have reflected that it seems there is a deeper side to this album that reflects grief and the loss that comes through in the telling in the music about his father. I know none of the story and it’s not my business to, but the same happened in listening to Nathan Tasker’s album Home and his hymn albums. Those also echo stories of personal grief and they show in the depth of the music.

Songwriters have a gift and a privilege to turn music and words into stories that connect, and enable people to give a voice to their own experience, especially when they don’t have the skills to do it themselves. We have always enjoyed Colin’s music – from his kids and family Christian albums, to his adult offerings, and more recently his TGIF songs from ABC Drive Radio. I’m thankful to God for Colin’s ability, he has encouraged a generation of Christian children, families and adults, and this album is an excellent addition to his canon.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Prayer, Timothy Keller

Sometimes you read something and think “Yes! This now THE book I will recommend to people on this topic”.

Timothy Keller states that as a pastor he “didn’t have a first book to give someone who wanted to understand and practice Christian prayer”. I think he has certainly met his own goal, outlining the theological, experiential and methodological in one volume. Long term readers will know I am a big fan of prayer having been challenged and encouraged by numerous books on the topic, such a A Praying Life, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Praying the Scriptures for your Children, Pray for the World and books of prayers such as the Valley of Vision. I have done a series on praying with your family and once had a blog of prayers.

So, I am deeply committed to prayer, but by no means consider myself to be an expert. There is always more to learn, and I have been encouraged by Keller’s insights.

He arranges his work into five logical parts:

1. Desiring Prayer. As he explores both the necessity and the greatness of prayer, our vision is immediately lifted to seeing the extraordinary privilege of being able to pray and the need to prioritise it.
“Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change – the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us may of the things we desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. We must learn to pray. We have to.” (p18) 
“Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle – yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer.” (p32)
2. Understanding Prayer – expanding that prayer is both conversing with God, through immersion in his word, and encountering God personally.
“Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.” (p48)
It must however, be tethered to our knowledge of God through Scripture:
“Without immersion in God’s words, our prayer may not be merely limited and shallow but also untethered from reality. We may be responding not the real God but to what we wish God and life to be like.” (p62)
3. Learning Prayer

This was where I found the true gold. Taking us through the thoughts of Augustine, Calvin and Luther on the topic, Keller helps outline a way to closely link our bible reading and our prayer.

I particularly appreciated Luther’s two patterns. The first is to look at every part of scripture four ways: determine the point, praise God for the truths found in it, confess our failings regarding it, and pray for change for ourselves and others in response. I have started this practice myself and have been so encouraged by the breadth and depth to which I can understand and respond to God’s word. His second suggestion is to ‘riff’ the Lord’s prayer, taking each phrase in turn, and expounding on it in depth in prayer. I have heard this suggestion before, but am now encouraged to return to it in my own practice.

4. Deepening Prayer

By thinking about both what meditating on God’s word can look like, and encouraging us not to fear experiencing God in prayer; Keller expands both the evangelical practice of careful bible reading and more mystical, experiential expressions of prayer, and argues there is a way forward which embraces the biblical aspects of both, in a way that enables us to truly experience the presence of God.

“an encounter with God that involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together.” (p17)

5. Doing Prayer

Breaking this down in four categories, he starts with awe – the importance of praising God. Then to intimacy, or finding God’s grace, that is rejoicing in forgiveness through confession and repentance. Thirdly he moves to struggle, or asking for help. Very insightfully, he applied Packer’s ideas as to what we should do when we ask God for things:
       1. Think about why we ask for it (this may revise our list to start with)
       2. Acknowledge God may will otherwise with the assurance that he wants what is best for his children.
       3. Consider what we might need to do for the prayer to be answered (what does it tell us about our own motivation, sin, etc). This can place limits on what we pray for.
He finishes with the strong encouragement to daily prayer, with his suggestion actually being 2-3 times per day.

He concludes with a great bibliography, explaining why he recommend each of the books. As a result I have four more books on order, so that I can push my thinking further and also encourage me in my practice.

Did I have any hesitations? Only a few. His method of prayer rightly asserts that if you pray like this, you will not have time for long prayer lists, because you will praying in much more depth about each person or thing. I agree, but I don’t want to reduce the range of people that I pray for. I think a wide variety of people and situations broadens our minds and hearts to include those not in our immediate circle. Related to this, I didn’t find a lot of encouragement to really pray about mission, world situations, the persecuted church, etc. I think it was implied, for really praying God’s word should lead us to those far-reaching, outward-looking prayers, but I didn’t overtly see it.

What have I concluded as a result? I can now understand how some of the great people of faith of the past (and surely some of the saints of today) spent hours in prayer. With the tools I am grasping, plus the desire to apply them, I now want more time to pray.

This book is theological rich, pastorally astute and practically applicable. Keller has met his own goal and produce a definitive book on prayer for a generation. I have read and appreciated other excellent books, but for now, this is my favourite.

Monday, September 4, 2017


Dunstan, Conn Iggulden

Having loved Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses books and with his other series already on my ‘must read’ list, I was pleased to spot this new offering Dunstan. Charting Dunstan’s life in 10thC England, you follow his progression from Benedictine monk apprentice, to abbott of Glastonbury, to archbishop as well as instigator of the building of Canterbury cathedral. Along the way, his fortunes rise and fall with the English kings of the age; and his life span covers seven of them, from Æthelstan to Ethelred over a period of 80 years.
“Of all the estates of man in the world, the best is the born the fine, shrieking son of a king. I have seen mighty lords fall to their knees at the sight of a babe, all for a crown pained on its crib… If you can’t be born a king, be made a king, though that has thorns. When violent men secure your crown, they keep a knife at your throat ever after. Last, and not the least of these, is this: if you can’t be born a king, or made a king, you might still anoint one… I chose the Church.”
I really appreciate Iggulden’s writing. Even this though this was a period of history completely foreign to me, he’s very skilled at making it readable and accessible. He creates characters with real depth. I wasn’t sure at any point that I actually liked Dunstan, but I loved the first-person portrayal of him. He was arrogant, convinced of his own rightness, yet at times he did question his motives and some of the choices he made. You can hear the writer’s interpretation of the man coming through, and that’s a skill to do well. It’s a book that requires a bit more concentration, but it was worth it.