Tag Archives: Church

“Prototype” by Jonathan Martin : A Review

ImageI married into Renovatus.

This is something I’m rather glad about.

Renovatus Church in Charlotte NC began its journey in January 2006, and fortunately for me, my (then-future) Sister in Law led worship there. Thus I first encountered the inimitable Jonathan Martin, founder and pastor of Renovatus. From the first sermon I heard him preach, I knew that here was a guy who had insights and wisdom that the church, and indeed the unchurched, needed to hear. I devoured CDs (and later, podcasts) with an insatiable hunger, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, got to call my Brother my friend. Albeit from a distance, mind you. Living in Scotland, I couldn’t exactly attend services, but, as their first official eCommunicant, I followed them from Elizabeth Elementary School, to an abandoned movie theatre in Eastland Mall to their current expanded homes on Little Rock Road and in Fort Mill. Along the way I’ve laughed, cried, been challenged and grown. And Jonathan has been the constant factor.

So when I heard Jonathan was writing a book, I was hugely excited. This could only be good. And when my advance copy arrived in the mail last week, my expectations were met and exceeded.

Prototype sets out to examine what can happen when we truly find our identity in God, just as Christ did as our prototype; when we realise and accept that Jesus was the ‘firstborn from the dead’, and that we are following his lead. It succeeds beautifully. The book is a triumph. Jonathan’s style is unconventional but so deeply rooted in the best of tradition. It can be unsettling at times, heartwarming at others, and all the time, the love of the Father is central.

This is a book one reads in a hurry, itching to get to the next line. I felt as though every sermon I’d heard Jonathan preach for the last 7 years had been distilled into 200 or so pages. Jonathan flings out transformational sentences like a warrior poet with a sack of Holy Spirit Shurikens. For anyone who’s ever heard him, this comes as no surprise. Martin is (depending on how you look at it) either the Blackest White preacher you’ve ever heard, or the Whitest Black one. Imagine if John Wesley did hip-hop? You’re close.

Along the way, we step through the wilderness of obscurity, compare old scars in the playground and poke around among the shards of Jesus’ broken bride, and as we go, these grim encounters are wrapped up with a ribbon of redemption. We meet the Jesus who knew who He was via the love of His Father and we begin to see our own reflection in Him. Our encounter leaves us with the desire not just to get spiritual dirt under our fingernails, but to get out and experience the real thing, and in a messy, sweaty, awkward, blistered way, to get the word out about the Kingdom ‘that is coming and is now here’.

This is a book that shakes you down, tenderly slaps your face and reminds you of who God actually says that you are, then spins you around and nudges you forwards into your true humanity.

“Prototype” is published by Tyndale. It launches on May 1st 2013 and is available from Amazon and other bookstores.

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Revivals, Entertainment and Unsexy Christianity

I’ve just been listening (repeadtedly) to a great sermon by my good buddy Jonathan Martin, pastor of Renovatus in Charlotte NC. In it, he talks about ‘Drinking the Cup’; meaning surrendering to God’s will, even if it’s very bitter, regardless of whether or not it brings any reward. It’s not sexy. It’s not flashy and it’s certainly not easy, but it might just be the most important thing we’ll do with our lives. It’s a sort of antithesis of the Prosperity gospel, if you like.

He talks really honestly about our collective (and personal) addictions to performance, affirmation and entertainment. Of how we chase the dragon of spiritual highs, where really what we badly need is to be obedient in the small things.

The message was apparently borne “out of many questions that have been raised to me in recent weeks about different contemporary incarnations of “revival.” I tried to be honest, delicate, but candid”. I believe he suceeded on all three counts. The message got me thinking quite a bit about the whole nature of Revival.

Revival is something that I have heard talked about all my life. Between 1949 and 1952 my home island, the Isle of Lewis, witnessed an incredible and powerful move of God which swept through whole communities, particularly in the parish of Barvas, and transformed the entire spiritual outlook of a generation of islanders. It was not planned. It was not timetabled. It was not streamed over the internet or TV. It was just a spontaneous move of God which brought people to their knees, sometimes literally in the fields at work. Whole villages who had virtually no christians living in them spontaneously arrived at church buildings for meeting which were not even scheduled to occur. When I think of revival, this is what I think of. A tangible change in the spiritual temperature of a whole community on a big scale and not done to human timetabling. God starts it, God keeps it going, God ends it and the centre of the whole thing is Christ and people’s relationship with him.

That’s why I find it rather strange to hear, particularly from the States, “Such & such a preacher will be having a “Revival” at such and such a place… etc”. The use of the term “Revival” seems to have been hijacked and cheapened a little and has come to mean merely, “A Big Conference”. Maybe I’m wrong, but to my mind Revival is always something bigger than that. I think of the kind of thing that’s happening in China and Korea, where thousands of people are coming to Christ daily, rather than a planned local outreach campaign.

I’m not criticising specifically. It’s always a very dangerous thing to declare that something is or is not of God. I saw things with my own reformed evangelical hebridean calvinist eyes that have put me now in the camp of “Charismatic with a Seatbelt” (to quote Mark Driscoll); stuff that I’d always previously poo-poohed. People did the same with the ’49 Revival in Lewis. In fact it was actively preached against from certain well-meaning pulpits. What I AM saying is that sometimes I will watch Christian TV or hear of amazing things going on in various places around the world and I find my skepticism alarm beeping, particularly if the shadow of consumerism looms over things.

Am I just being cautious? Am I being overly skeptical? Am I doubting the power of God the Holy Spirit? Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve been checking out some footage from the current hot-potato of Christian TV, the Lakeland Revival in Florida, where Todd Bentley is preaching. I have very good friends who’ve actually been over there to see what’s been happening and told me of amazing things. And me? I have no idea what to do with it. I believe God can heal. I’ve seen it. I believe God can give incredible insight into specifics of a person’s life. I’ve seen it. It’s just that when something gets talked about to the degree that the likes of Florida has, and gets fired all over the “Christian Media”, I suppose I’m the kind of person who has to “put my fingers in the holes”, I guess. I’m not condemning or accepting. I just don’t know.

The loud and the flashy and the miraculous can be such a distraction to us. It can very easily entertain us out of maintaining the integrity of our walk with God, and by ‘Entertainment’, I mean “To keep something in between”. In other words, putting stuff between ourselves and reality, or ourselves and God. Even if it’s good stuff. This again is not a criticism of Bentley and others like him. I’ve seen just as much christian entertainment in traditional Scottish Presbyterian churches, although it’s of a very different nature. There are times to be loud and times to be still. There are times of Revival and fallow times. Whatever our denomination or our theological bent, we (and I) must be careful that we don’t fill our lives with so much spiritual “Munro-Bagging” that we lose sight of Jesus in it all. And of course, don’t forget that although it’s great that God is doing something THERE, shouldn’t we pray all the more that he would change lives HERE? Otherwise we’re like a Fireman watching ‘Ladder 49’ while his town burns to the ground.

I suppose what I’m saying is, as long as Jesus is being held up and glorified, as long as the focus is on him, it doesn’t matter whether we are in a spiritual high or a spiritual low. It’s not sexy, but we just need to keep ‘drinking the cup’.

Come and get some…

Amen?