Leaving a Legacy

‘The righteous man walks in integrity; his children are blessed after him’ (Proverbs 20:7 NKJV)

If he was still alive, we’d have celebrated my father’s 80th birthday last week. I thought about him on his birthday and gave thanks to God for his life. I called my Mum to see if she was ok and I read a few pages from his autobiography about his childhood memories of the Second World War to my two youngest children at breakfast. David, our youngest was just a baby when he died and so doesn’t remember him.

But I remember him. He died nearly ten years ago now, but there’s much that I still recollect about his life. I recall his gentle but clear leadership. He had that rare blend of humility and authority that I find so effective and attractive. I remember his funny ways, like forgetting the punch-line of jokes. And his daily rituals of cleaning his shoes and eating a spoonful of bran every morning which looked to me like horse-food! But most of all I simply remember him as my dad – as someone who played cricket with me and my brothers in the garden, who asked about my day at mealtimes, who encouraged me to reach for my best and who prayed for us every day.

No person is perfect. Not my dad, nor me.
No father is perfect. Not my dad, nor me.
No leader is perfect. Not my dad, nor me.
But I think that my father, Richard William Porter was pretty good. That’s why I’m not embarrassed to be grateful for his life. For all he invested in me. And for the legacy of Christian faith and the kind fathering which he passed on to me. I am challenged to do the same.



‘Holy Spirit, fill me’ is a prayer I often pray. I pray it for myself and I pray it for others. It’s a prayer deeply rooted in Scripture (Ephesians 5:18) and in the tradition of the church. It’s a good prayer.

But what about asking God to empty me? I’ve been thinking about that recently. About asking God to remove all that is unhelpful. To pull the plug and drain me. Whilst I regularly pray prayers of confession and dedication, I rarely am so explicit and pray ‘Lord, empty me’. But I’ve found myself doing that over the last few weeks, partly inspired by the example of Heidi Baker. She explicitly encourages people to empty themselves before asking God to fill them.

Of course she gets this from Jesus. Philippians 2:7 could not be clearer that Christ ‘made himself nothing’ – or literally ‘emptied himself‘ of his own desires and will, humbling himself to the greater will of his Father. This idea of kenosis – of self-emptying your will to be entirely receptive to God’s will – was prophesied by Isaiah, that a Messiah would come who ‘poured out his life’ (Isaiah 53:12). Followers of this Messiah are to do the same.

To live lives that are empty of ourselves doesn’t mean we are passive or boring or dull. Neither does it mean we get pushed around or become doormats. It means we live lives of surrender.

‘What kind of people does God fill?’ asks Heidi Baker. Her answer is simple and true. ‘Empty ones’.


Access Denied

‘Access Denied’ is not the error message I want to get when trying to open a computer file. Not only is it frustrating but it feels like I’m being told I’m excluded. I will try of course to find a way around the computer’s ‘no’ – but it will take time and may not work. Maybe it won’t open. Maybe others have access rights, but I don’t. Maybe I’m not included.

I’m so pleased that God is never like a computer! I’m never denied access. Not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus is. Jesus always has access and if I come to the Father in Jesus’ name, I am always granted access. Every time. St Paul makes this patently clear in his Trinitarian understanding of prayer in Ephesians 2:8: ‘Through him [Christ] we have access to the Father by one Spirit.’

Tim Keller, commenting on this in his book Prayer, says:

The word ‘access’ was commonly used when an ancient king granted someone an audience. No one could simply walk into the presence of a powerful monarch. The consequences could be imprisonment or even death (cf. Esther 4:9-16). That, however, describes the powerful differential between an ancient oriental king and a commoner. The gulf between a holy God and sinful human beings is infinitely greater (1 Sam 6:10; Ps 130:3; Na 1:6). No human being can look upon God and live (Ex 33:20). Paul’s claim that we now have access to God’s very presence ‘through him’ is therefore quite astounding. We always have an audience because of what Jesus has done. His death on the cross reconciled us to God (Eph 2:16) and made him our Father.

This means we have access. To the all-mighty God of the universe. Because of Jesus. This has profound implications for life and faith! And what an incentive to pray, knowing that we will be welcomed and heard!!

When we approach God in Jesus’ name he will never say ‘Access Denied’.


2015: Prayer & The Wrong Kind of Greatness

Prayer must be at the centre.

If prayer is not at the centre of our lives then our best-laid plans for the coming year may be expertly managed but improperly discerned. Without prayer we might reach for (and even attain?) the wrong kind of greatness. That’s why disciples must pray. We do so on our own before God. And with others before God. We pray.

Prayer keeps us grounded. Humble. Wise.

Prayer is what we do. The bible – the disciple’s manual for life – could not be clearer about this. If you want convincing, I’ve not found a better summary of the centrality of prayer in the bible than in chapter 2 of Tim Keller’s Prayer. You can listen to it by clicking here, or you can read it for yourself by reading on in this blog. Either way, allow yourself to be stirred and challenged by the Holy Spirit to pray this year, as you see afresh how prayer has always been the way of God’s people. It is no different today.


The Bible is all about prayer, and that is why the practice of prayer is so pervasive throughout its pages. The greatness of prayer is nothing but an extension of the greatness and glory of God in our lives. The Scripture is one long testimony to this truth.

In Genesis we see every one of the patriachs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – praying with familiarity and directness. Abraham’s doggedly insistent prayer for God’s mercy on the pagan cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is remarkable (Gen 18:23ff). In Exodus, prayer was the way Moses secured the liberation of Israel from Egypt. The gift of prayer makes Israel great: “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” ( Deut 4:7).

To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule – it is a failure to treat God as God. It is a sin against God’s glory. “Far be it from me” said the prophet Samuel to his people, “that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” ( 1 Samuel 12:23 [italics mine]). King David composed most of the Psalter, God’s inspired prayer book, filled with appeals to “you who answer prayer” (Ps 65:2). His son Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem and then dedicated it with a magnificent prayer. Solomon’s main petition for the temple was that from it God would hear the people’s prayers – indeed, Solomon’s highest prayer was for the gift of prayer itself. Beyond that, he hoped those from other nations would “hear of your great name … and pray toward this temple” (1 Kings 8:42). Again we see prayer is simply a recognition of the greatness of God.

The Old Testament book of Job is largely the record of Job’s suffering and pain – worked through with prayer. In the end God is angry with Job’s callous friends and tells them he will refrain from their punishment only if Job prays for them (Job 42:8). Prayer permeated the ministry of all the Old Testament prophets. It may have been the ordinary means by which the Word of God itself came to them. The Jews’ preservation and return from exile in Babylon was essentially carried out through prayer. Their exile began with a call to pray for the pagan city and their neighbours (Jer 29:7). Daniel, nearly executed by the Babylonian authorities over his insistence in prayer three times a day, prays a prayer of repentance for his people, asks for their return, and is heard. Later, Nehemiah rebuilds the wall around Jerusalem with a series of great prayers interspersed with wise leadership.

Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a “house of prayer”), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21-22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29). When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1-26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he died praying.

Immediately after their Lord’s death, the disciples prepare for the future by being “constantly in prayer” together ( Acts 1:14). All church gatherings are “devoted … to prayer” (Acts 2:42; 11:5; 12:5,12). The power of the Spirit descends on the early Christians in response to powerful prayer, and leaders are selected and appointed only with prayer. All Christians are expected to have a regular, faithful, devoted, fervent prayer life. In the book of Acts, prayer is one of the main signs that the Spirit has come into the heart through faith in Christ. The Spirit gives us confidence and desire to pray to God and enables us to pray even when we don’t know what to say. Christians are taught that prayer should pervade their whole day and whole life – they should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

Prayer is so great that wherever you look in the Bible, it is there. Why? Everywhere God is, prayer is. Since God is everywhere and infinitely great, prayer must be all-pervasive in our lives.

Tim Keller, Prayer (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014), pp.26-28.

May 2015 be a Happy New Year as you grow in the greatness of prayer.


10 Books to Inspire for 2015

I like watching videos but there’s nothing like reading a good book. Reading is harder than watching. I have to engage my imagination more and intentionally enter into the world of the text. But the reward is great. That’s why I aim to read at least one book per month. And about this time of year I normally recommend for the coming year a few books that have helped me. So here is my offering for the year ahead. I hope you find something here to inspire.

1) Eric Metaxas’ ‘Seven Men’
Having read Metaxas’ excellent and accessible biography of Bonhoeffer in 2010 I was pleased to discover this easy-read mini-biography of seven men who changed the world by their selfless serving. Hear the stories of Washington, Wilberforce, Liddell, Bonhoeffer, Robinson, John Paul II and Colson. Your life will be made richer.

2) Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team’
This book has helped many team-leaders from worlds as diverse as business, politics, education and church discover how and why teams thrive or struggle. It’s cleverly written in the form of a story and so is interesting and revealing. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and gain new insights into the teams in which you’re involved.

3) Rolland & Heidi Baker’s ‘Reckless Devotion’
This is a selection of Baker’s writings put into 365 daily readings. The Baker’s live extraordinary lives, based on a deep intimacy and dependency on Jesus Christ. This has been a very helpful book for me over the last year.

4) Edoardo Albert’s ‘Edwin – High King of Britain’
Albert has pieced together as many historical fragments that he can find about Edwin and presented them in a lovely historical novel about this great man who helped form Britain some 1,400 years ago. Read of the often violent and brutal culture of the day, of Edwin’s slow conversion to Christ, of the important role of Bishop Paulinus and how York became significant in the spiritual future of the region and nation. This is the first of a trilogy of books by Albert called The Northumbrian Thrones.

5) Mason Curry’s ‘Daily Rituals’
I can’t think of another book like this! It’s all about the daily habits of famous people from every sphere of life – architects, scientists, writers, composers and more. Unearth how they spend an average day. Fascinating!

6) Danny Silk’s ‘The Culture of Honor’
Silk is one of the leaders of Bethel Church in Redding, California. He gives the biblical foundations for the faith-filled culture that is so present at Bethel. This book will challenge, encourage and help you analyse the culture of the organisations in which you reside – including your family, church and workplace.

7) A N Wilson’s ‘The Potters Hand’
This is a fairly long but nevertheless interesting historical novel of Josiah Wedgwood, the founder of Wedgwood China. With family connections in the pottery industry I read it with interest. It’s not a biography, as Wilson has taken some artistic liberties by filling in various gaps in the story, but it would make a good film!

8) Bill & Beni Johnson’s ‘Spiritual Java’
If you want a selection of encouraging writing from the Bethel stable, this is a good place to start. With short chapters taken from writings of various leaders (Vallotton, Silk, Johnson, Leibscher) this book will motivate you to think differently, pray expectantly and live more faithfully.

9) Bill Hybels ‘Simple.’
This is brilliant. Clear. Wise. And very practical. Anyone who reads and puts into practice the advice distilled in this book will live a better, more healthy life. I thoroughly recommend it.

10) ‘The Bible’
I will end again with this book. The Book of books. I continue to read a little every day and I am not disappointed. There is no book like it. So if you read just one book in 2015, chose this one.


Christmas. It all starts with Thanksgiving.

Scrooge is un-liked because he’s so grumpy. The fictitious character from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is negative, miserly and rude. To be like that just seems wrong during a season of peace on earth and goodwill to all! Instead there’s something inside of most people that instinctively feels we should be positive, generous and kind at Christmas. I know that’s hard if you feel like life has dealt you a tough hand, but ultimately the choice of how we approach Christmas is yours and mine. And that’s true of life in general. We can be optimistic or pessimistic. Encouraging or discouraging. Happy or sad. The choice is ours.

Most people, given the choice, want to positive and optimistic. That’s a state of mind that comes from a contented heart. So how do we get that? It all starts with thanksgiving.

The bible urges us to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Not because we have to but because it’s good to. It’s good for us because it realigns our often skewed perspective. And it’s good for those around us as thanksgiving is infectious!

So how are you doing in your giving thanks?

For me, I’m thankful this Christmas for family, church, friends and faith. I’m thankful for being alive at this very moment in time. I’m thankful for the basic stuff of life – like food, shelter, clothes and a bed. I’m thankful for warm-hearted people who take time to say kind words and give thoughtful gifts. I’m thankful for the privilege of living in York and the North of England. I’m thankful for being a British citizen. I’m thankful for people who’ve given their lives to Christ this year. I’m thankful for those who are serving others across the world without reward or recognition – like aid workers. And for those who often go unnoticed but who’ve make a difference to my life. Many of them I might never see to thank – like road sweepers and toilet attendants – but they help make life better! Those are just some of the things and people for which my heart is thankful.

But most of all I’m thankful for what’s at the core of Christmas, which is God himself. He has not left us alone but has come to us in the babe in the manger, and still draws close by his Spirit. Followers of Jesus know that ultimately a contented heart comes as we turn our thanks to God! The God we know in Jesus Christ. Because He satisfies like no other. He gives purpose, meaning and joy, even if times are uncertain and life is difficult.

In a world of so much bad news people need good news! So get to church this Christmas, hear afresh the good news and give thanks to God for all his goodness. And why not go round the dinner table on Christmas Day and ask what people are thankful for? Watch what a difference it makes.

Christmas. It all starts with thanksgiving.



‘That is beautiful!’ I said out loud in the car. ‘Just beautiful. Thank you. Thank you.’

I’d just dropped off one of my lads at a party at the weekend and was driving home. And my eye had been caught by the lights sparkling so elegantly in a passing front garden. That’s what I was referring to. Lights. Beautiful Christmas lights.

Outside Christmas lights seem to be everywhere at this time of year. And whilst a few are a bit strange or over-the-top, most are lovely. But with such a lot now, and many having been up for a while, it’s easy to overlook them. But they are definitely there. And on Saturday, whilst driving along in the car, one home’s lights caught my attention and stirred fresh appreciation for something as simple yet beautiful as outside twinkly lights.

To speak ‘thank you’ out loud when there was only me in the car could have looked a bit weird to other drivers! But it just came out, like it was the most natural thing to do. Something inside of me desired to give thanks to Christ, who is not only the reason for the lights in the first place but also brings beauty into our lives. Even small beautiful things which easily get overlooked. Like sparkling Christmas lights.


Not all Time is Equal

I’ve recently had three time-pieces repaired. One is a late 19th century regulator clock which used to hang in the hall of the family home when I was a boy. It hasn’t worked for years. Another is a long-case grandfather clock whose rope was wearing thin too quickly. That’s been resolved with a chain. And finally a vintage 1969 watch given me for my 40th birthday has been serviced and is now working well. The funny thing is that they’ve all been waiting to be fixed and at various repairers for a while and yet they’ve all come back at the same time – within just a few days! That got my attention. Is the Lord saying something to me about ‘time’?

At the first Advent, God sent Jesus at just the right time. In fact the gospel-writer Luke takes great pains to show this in Luke 2:1 as he places Jesus very specifically in history. He wants to show that God really did send Jesus and that he was born at a particular time.

When Jesus grew up and began his public ministry he began it by declaring ‘the time has come’ (Mark 1:14), again showing that this was his time! Later, St Paul commented on his death and resurrection as happening at ‘just the right time’ (Romans 5:6).

Most people know the sense of feeling that now is the time to do something. Maybe it’s time to pick something up or lay something down. Perhaps it’s time to invest in a relationship or project or idea. Or maybe it’s time to put something right with someone, or with God or even with yourself. Timing is really important, because (as Jim Collins says): ‘Not all time is equal. Life serves up some moments that count much more than other moments.’

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I visited Beacon House of Prayer in Stoke. I went into the basement, a beautifully laid out space with various themed spaces. I stood in one zone and before me was an old clock and I read the words next to it: ‘time is short’. Immediately the Spirit of God came on me and I had a deep experience of God as the words sank deep into my soul and stirred something profound inside of me. I was being reminded that this is not a season to be distracted but to be strategic and focussed and use time well.

Advent was the time for Jesus. What about you this Advent? What is it time for?


A Simplified Advent?

My Advent read this year is Bill Hybels’ Simplify. It might seem a strange choice to some as it’s not about candles or wise men or shepherds. But given that most of us need to clear space to get the most of this season (see my recent blog Making Space) I think it’s a timely book for the season.

In the complexity of life we sometimes need someone to help us see what’s really important. A friend shared some wise advice with me this week about my use of time, bravely challenging me to use it better. That very much ties in with what I’m reading from Hybels, and reminds me that in the complexity of life God often wants to speak to us about what’s most important.

When Jesus walked this earth and left the most amazing deposit of teaching to help us, he said that one day he’d return and be looking for basically one thing (Luke 18:8). Faith. And that’s what Christ is still looking for! He’s longing to discover a people who will choose to believe him. Who’ll not get so caught up in the complexities of life that they miss what’s most important. Faith.

Advent is a great opportunity to put this right by simplifying and choosing faith. Because we all have a choice at this time of year: either to celebrate with Christ or without him. To put him in the centre or at the periphery. To worship him or something else. To spend time with him or neglect him. And the way we live our lives and focus our energies will reflect this choice. In the end, it’s about faith.

Choosing faith, however, is not just a short-term thing for Advent. It’s a choice for life. It’s a choice we make at baptism that’s both good and difficult. But all life-choices are like that. Think of the life-choice of marriage, which is a great act of faith! Choices are made as life-changing vows are said. We celebrate and there’s much joy! But then the vows need living – which at times can be very difficult. What helps of course, is love. Love holds a marriage together. And it’s no different with our relationship with God. Yes it’s an act of faith and takes faith. But at the heart of it all is love. Not just our love for God, but most importantly his life for us – his big, strong, committed love that makes faith in him not only possible but good. Really good!!

What Jesus wants from us is faith (see yesterday’s blog). Faith in Advent. Faith in him. Faith for life. It begins with a simple choice.

‘When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:8)


Looking for Faith in Advent

I met Derek and Jane at the weekend at the Belfrey’s Advent cafe. We talked about Christmas. They told me that although they weren’t churchgoing people they were hoping for more from Christmas this year. Not more tinsel and turkey. And not more presents – although a few thoughtful ones would be nice! What they were really hoping for was something deeper: greater peace on earth (across the world) and good will to all (particularly in their family). I sensed a spiritual search in them – a desire for deeper faith – and after chatting more I offered to pray with them, which they were pleased to receive. I suspect Derek and Jane’s desire is mirrored by many in the North and in our nation. They are looking for faith in Advent.

Advent is a great season for new or renewed faith because the Advent stories tell about the coming of Jesus and of people who stepped out in faith and put their faith in him. Those stories help us, rooting our faith in the lives of real people and pointing us to the One in whom we’re invited to place our faith – Jesus Christ.

People are still putting their faith in Christ today. We’re seeing a good number most weeks in the life of The Belfrey in York. They’re reaching out to a God they don’t see, but whom they discover is good, real and present.

Faith is like that. It’s not totally blind faith, walking naively into the unknown. It’s normally considered, based on discussion, thought and prayer. But in the end, there is a stepping out into the unseen and unknown. That’s why Steve Backlund is right when he describes faith as ‘believing something you don’t see’. Bill Johnson takes this further when he says that ‘faith provides eyes for our hearts and minds’. Those definitions remind us that if we’re to get the most from this Advent season we must see beyond the immediate. You need to pray for ‘the eyes of your heart to be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which you are called’ (Ephesians 1:18) – and help others discover the same.

Advent is a time for faith – for seeing the unseen even more clearly.