Friday, 21 June 2013

Though troubles assail (The Lord will provide)

Though troubles assail and dangers affright,
Though friends should all fail and foes all unite;
Yet one thing secures us, whatever betide,
The scripture assures us, the Lord will provide.

The birds without barn or storehouse are fed,
From them let us learn to trust for our bread:
His saints, what is fitting, shall ne'er be denied,
So long as it's written, the Lord will provide.

We may, like the ships, by the tempest be tossed
On perilous deeps, but cannot be lost.
Though Satan enrages the wind and the tide,
The promise engages, the Lord will provide.

His call we obey, like Abram of old,
Not knowing our way, but faith makes us bold;
For though we are strangers we have a good Guide,
And trust in all dangers, the Lord will provide.

When Satan appears to stop up our path,
And fill us with fears, we triumph by faith;
He cannot take from us, though oft he has tried,
This heart-cheering promise, the Lord will provide.

He tells us we're weak, our hope is in vain,
The good that we seek we ne'er shall obtain,
But when such suggestions our spirits have plied,
This answers all questions, the Lord will provide.

No strength of our own, or goodness we claim,
Yet since we have known the Saviour's great name;
In this our strong tower for safety we hide,
The Lord is our power, the Lord will provide.

When life sinks apace and death is in view,
This word of his grace shall comfort us through:
No fearing or doubting with Christ on our side,
We hope to die shouting, the Lord will provide.

(John Newton, 1779)

Thanks to our great friend Ranti Williams for introducing this old hymn to us.

Monday, 19 November 2012

EGGcellent! The Oxford Breakfast Experiment. Part deux!

In case you missed it, part one of this series can be found here.

My friend Jonny and I continue to meet for breakfast on Tuesday mornings. Our chat is mostly about life and our personal walks with Jesus Christ, but we also get round to rating our food and coffee. We like to think of ourselves as a bit like this guy:

 Breakfast 4… Tuesday 16th October, Café Coco (17 Park End Street, Oxford)

The décor at Café Coco, attached to the Royal Oxford Hotel, is surprising. From the hustle and bustle of a busy city-centre street, we’d apparently walked into a spacious and comfortable Venetian bar – though with ever so slightly gaudy features.

The menu had a range of continental options, most of which appealed. Chorizo and egg on toast, for example, was especially tempting. But, looking at the menu, we were only ever going to order one thing…

The Order
Jake: Waffles with maple syrup, and a Latte
Jonny: Waffles with maple syrup, extra bacon, and an Americano

The waiters were especially friendly, and the chef asked if we were American because Jonny asked for extra bacon to go with the waffles. Is that rude? I don’t know. The waffles were satisfying, and the maple syrup generous. But I wasn’t quite convinced they were the real deal (they tasted suspiciously sweet and similar to the kind only found in cellophane wrappers). Certainly enjoyable though!

Price: Our most expensive breakfast yet. £5.75 for the waffles, £2.25-2.40 for the coffee, and a whopping £1.70 for extra bacon.

Rating: 3* (just) - Happy staff, fun place, moderately pleasing breakfast, poor on price.

Breakfast 5… Tuesday 23rd October, Zappi’s Bike Café (St. Michaels Street, Oxford)

Zappi’s Café is one of Oxford’s best kept little secrets. You can find it in the upstairs of a bicycle shop, and you wouldn’t look at all out of place in there wearing lycra at 8am. Whilst the café would easily be described as ‘trendy’, it wasn’t at all try-hard, and I enjoyed the Bon Iver-like background sounds and the cycling memorabilia hanging from the walls as I sipped my coffee waiting for Jonny.

The casual, chatty staff pride themselves on specializing in hand-crafted, artisan coffee. And it did not disappoint. The coffee was exceptional, and by far the best I’d had in Oxford.

The Order
Jake: The Breakfast Bap, and a large vanilla latte
Jonny: A bacon bap, a pain au chocolat, and a flat white

Despite the very limited choice for breakfast, and the relatively small portions, the breakfast baps were tasty and well cooked.
Price: Very reasonable. You’re looking at £5-£6 each including coffee. 

Most importantly, breakfast at Zappi’s Café was an event I wanted to repeat – and soon. I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially for the coffee. But, ssshhh… don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.

Rating: 4.5* - We gave it a 4* at first, but it’s the one place I’ve been desperate to go back to.

Breakfast 6… Tuesday 6th November, Art Café (14 Bonn Square, Oxford)

Art Café sits conveniently in the centre of Oxford, just across from the Westgate Shopping Centre. From our seats upstairs, we were able to enjoy exquisite views of both Primark and The Carphone Warehouse. Currently, the café is exhibiting portraits by Giles Oldershaw, a local Oxford artist. A cool feature. (Note: the invitation written on the mirror to leave comments doesn’t mean to leave comments also on the mirror, but in the comment book…)

My reservation about the café is that it doesn’t know what it is. For instance, the background music sounded like someone had accidently left their iPod on “shuffle all songs”, which made it distracting and tedious. It went from some French sounding jazz to Norah Jones to Green Day (which, unless you’re a 14 year old teenage girl growing up in the 90s, should just never be allowed).

The Order
Jake: Pancake Breakfast, and a latte
Jonny: Pancake Breakfast, and a flat white

The best feature of this café was the plate of pancakes, which was really quite good. The pancakes are freshly made, and come with a generous splurge of maple syrup and berries. But take note… it was our slowest breakfast yet: over 20 minutes after placing our order when we received the food.

Price: £4.85 for Pancakes (£3.80 on the website), and £2.80 for coffee. Not the cheapest.

Rating: 3* - Despite the quality of pancakes, it’s hard to bestow a higher grade. The potential is there, but I won’t be rushing to go back to Art Café.

Breakfast 7… Tuesday 13th November, The Missing Bean (14 Turl Street, Oxford)

It’s slightly unfair on The Missing Bean to include it on the hit list of Oxford’s breakfast haunts. It describes itself as an “espresso bar, set up to bring the artisan Antipodean style coffee and laid back atmosphere to the heart of vibrant Oxford.” It clearly doesn’t specialise in doing breakfast. That much was obvious when Jonny asked for toast (on the menu) only to receive the reply:

“Everyone asks for stuff I don’t know how to do.”

So, upon much consideration, I’ve decided not to grade The Missing Bean on this list. It does provide excellent coffee, and a mean lemon and poppy-seed muffin, but it’s probably a better late-morning hangout.

However, it must be said that I was marginally disappointed by the whole thing. The café was slow and busily crowded for 8:30am. The staff appeared frantic and stressed by the numbers piling in (forgetting half of Jonny’s order) until they were bolstered by an additional waitress. It was commended to me as ‘the’ place to go for coffee, but I think I’d still rather go to Zappi’s…

Rating: Ungraded – I’d go in again if I walked by. 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

EGGcellent! The Oxford breakfast experiment.

My friend Jonny and I have agreed to meet for breakfast every Tuesday morning in Oxford. Just for the fun of it, we’re doing a tour of all the best places to have breakfast in the city, rating each one.

There is no exact science to the rankings, except to say that pancakes are important to me. If you don’t offer pancakes on the menu, your review may suffer.

Disclaimer: Obviously, the reviews are merely the opinions of two twenty-something blokes with little to no culinary skills of our own. We love breakfast – I’ve even got ‘egg’ in my name – but you’d be silly to take our reviews too seriously.

Here’s a breakdown of the ratings:

1* - Do you remember Mr T’s cereal? Nor do I. Forgettable.

2* - A low-fat pop-tart. I’ll eat it, but what’s the point?

3* - A solid bacon butty. Fresh bread. Crispy bacon. But, what? You’ve run out of ketchup?!

4* - If breakfast is the most important meal in the day, I’m feeling galvanised. Some freshly squeezed orange juice wouldn’t go amiss.

5* - Like Mom’s pancake breakfast feast. Nothing better.

Breakfast 1… Tuesday 25th September, Combibos (93 Gloucester Green)

A clean and smart café with friendly staff, though with just a hint of ‘High Street’. Waiting for Jonny, I sat and enjoyed the complimentary paper.  A nice touch.

For 8:30am, a good number of others sat sipping lattés and cappuccinos, which must be a sign of a good place.

The Order
Jake: Blueberry Pancakes (came with a complimentary Americano)
Jonny: Bacon Pancakes (also came with a complimentary Americano)

The pancakes were dense and sweet, and came with a generous amount of maple syrup. The stacked presentation of the pancakes enhanced the experience, but they were on the small size.

Price: Around £6 including coffee – pretty reasonable.

Rating: 4* - A great start to the breakfast tour and a winner serving pancakes, but we went away a little hungry.

Breakfast 2… Tuesday 2nd October, Jericho Café (112 Walton Street)

Jericho Café is situated in a lovely spot, just 10 minutes outside the city centre. Walking from the station, it had a sort of small-town continental feel to it. The café itself is characterful with a quiet sophistication about it.

The Order

Jake: Two Croissants (one chocolate, one almond) + Water
Jonny: A Bacon Baguette + Americano (he knows what he likes)

In truth, I wasn’t feeling particularly well that morning. The thought of a full English breakfast made my stomach…  well, the less said about it the better. I therefore went for two small and plain looking croissants, which were pleasant enough, and some water, which was also pleasant enough.

Jonny’s breakfast was rather strange. Whilst the bacon was freshly cooked, the baguette was cold and came with a salad garnish on the side. Lettuce, tomato, onion… a salad! For breakfast! Perhaps the folks at Jericho Café are keen to promote ‘5-a-day’ living, but it was simply weird, and we couldn’t help wondering if their clock was set to the wrong time zone.

Disappointingly, the coffee was also poor.

Price: £4.25 for a bacon baguette (salad included).

Rating: 2* - Given its high reputation amongst students and locals of Oxford, our breakfast at Jericho Café was underwhelming.

Breakfast 3… Tuesday 9th October, Brown’s Café (Covered Market)

 Browns Café is the original café in the legendary market. It describes itself as a ‘no-nonsense’ café – we agree. The décor was tired and plain, but the service was very friendly and quick (almost suspiciously so…).

The Order

Jake: Sausage and egg bap + Latte
Jonny: Full English breakfast + Americano

I have to say, we appreciated the Brown’s experience. Our breakfasts were pleasing, tasty, and ‘did the job.’ Other regulars to the café seemed to think the same. The coffee was nothing to rave about though. (Where is  Oxford’s good coffee?)

Price: £6.50 for the Full English (with coffee), £5.00 for a sausage bap and a latte.

Rating: 3* - We’d certainly go back: either for the breakfast, or certainly for the cakes we noticed on the way out!

 Stay tuned for more rankings in future weeks. The hunt for the perfect Oxford breakfast goes on. It must be out there…

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

He also made the stars

"He also made the stars." 
Genesis 1:16b

                                                                                             From TSO Photography

Monday, 17 September 2012

A young preacher's library

A few months ago, I emailed a bunch of older guys I know involved in Christian ministry. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a book hoarder - I own a bunch of books I haven’t read yet. But I really wanted some focused book recommendations for young preachers and church leaders.

I asked 3 questions.

1/ Apart from God's Word, what books would you recommend first to a young preacher?
2/ What are your all-time favourite books?
3/ What books are 'essential' to your library?

Thankfully, some good guys got back to me. Here are the (selected) results...

Andrew Latimer – Curate, St Peter’s Barge (Canary Wharf)

For Systematic Theology, I love the four Frame books in the Lordship series. I've got Bavinck and Grudem as well.

For Biblical Theology, my two go-to books are Leithart, A House for my Name, and Jordan, Through New Eyes. Not necessarily for the church bookstall and you won't agree with everything but hugely stimulating.

My favourite book on the Old Testament is Dumbrell, the faith of Israel, which has a useful intro to every Old Testament book.

Robin Weekes – Proclamation Trust

1/ The Priority of Preaching, Christopher Ash - this gets you clear on why preaching is God's timeless means of addressing God's people.
Preaching Christ in All the Scriptures, EP Clowney - we proclaim Him and this book is a great example of how to that from the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.
The Preacher's Portrait, John Stott - a classic
Preaching & Preachers, D Martyn Lloyd-Jones - another classic recently republished

2/ Knowing God, JI Packer - especially the chapter on adoption
Keeping the Heart, John Flavel
Christian Leaders of the 18th C, JC Ryle
Holiness, JC Ryle
The Great Game, Peter Hopkirk

3/ Good commentaries
Some good systematic theology books
Puritan works - especially anything by John Flavel

Rev Dr. Alan Mundan – Assistant Minister, Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle Upon Tyne, and Author

New Bible Dictionary
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion
All of Calvin's commentaries (OT and NT)
J C Ryle - Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (seven volumes) - plus all of his published works
J Eaton, Psalms, T and T Clark, 2003  [brilliant!]

For Anglicans
W H G Thomas, The Principles of Theology, 1930 (plus later reprints) [On the 39 Articles of Religion]
G J Cuming, A History of Anglican Liturgy, 1969
T Dudley-Smith, John Stott, 2 vols, IVP, 1999, 2001
J Stott, I believe in preaching, 1982

Matt Graham – former UCCF Staff Worker and Oak Hill student

I’m just getting into Bavinck, and really enjoying volume 2 on the doctrine of God. Frame on the Doctrine of God is very helpful (although he takes a different line on some things). Grudem is always a good starting place too.

Goldsworthy on biblical theology is good. He has one called Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics.
The Symphony of Scripture, Mark Strom.
Brothers We Are Not Professionals, John Piper, is challenging (in a good way!).
Calvin's Institutes are always heart warming.
In terms of other old stuff, I have also loved reading some Richard Sibbes.

The various IVP dictionaries are pretty useful in prep for sermons.

Any commentaries by Carson, Moo, Fee, O'Brien are all very helpful.
Luther on Romans, Mounce on the Pastorals, Motyer on Isaiah, Doug Stuart on Exodus.
I have a really useful book on an Introduction to OT prophetic books by Bullock.
Haddon Robinson on expository preaching is very useful.

Tim Lewis – Curate, St John’s Yeovil

One book I've recently found extremely useful is David Cook's 'Teaching Acts' which has a load of stuff near the beginning which is about handling the bible and preaching in general.

Others which I've found useful for preaching (aside from your standard commentaries [BST, Tyndale, PNTC, Focus on the Bible etc.]) have been Warren Wiersbe's series (he's done the whole bible, though I've used Philippians, Nehemiah and Genesis in particular).

At a recent PT conference I went on John Dickson was telling us all we ought to have a decent resource for the history of the first-second century on hand for our preaching.

My all time favourites would include (in no particular order): A Meal with Jesus (Chester); Knowing God (Packer); The Radical Reformission (Driscoll); Surprised by Hope (Wright); Generous Justice (Keller); J. Hudson Taylor (Steer); Embracing the Trinity (Sanders); Romans (Stott).

I find myself going to various books by Driscoll (and some of his buddies) when it comes to the cross/repentance/forgiveness because I think he grasps it very clearly and then is really helpful at applying it to life now.

Carson, Morris and Moo 'An Introduction to the NT' is extremely useful if you're wanting an introduction to the academic issues and background issues - I often read that first.

James Dudley-Smith – Rector, St John’s Yeovil

It’s good to be intentional rather than haphazard, because books are expensive, and take up space, so you don’t want to just buy the things that come to hand.

Top commentaries:

Carson on Matthew and on John
Kidner on Psalms and Genesis, Ecclesiastes, Ezra and Nehemiah, Proverbs
Davis on OT histories
All BSTs by Stott
Fee on 1 Corinthians

For preparation for preaching, I also find myself using quite regularly:

The NIV exhaustive concordance
Grudem’s Systematic Theology
The NRSV – NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (an interlinear)
A good study bible for cross-references
New Bible Dictionary
The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (two big volumes)
I have (and occasionally use) the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament in 10 vols, edited by Kittel. This tells you about each Greek word in some detail. The set was given to me by Ian Barclay when he was downsizing!

Nick Howard – Evangelist, New York City

The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson [on how the Bible fits together / biblical theology / God's salvation plan. I'm more grateful to God for this book than any other Christian book]
ESV Study Bible [the Study Bible is a tremendously helpful resource]
A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D. A. Carson [best book I've read on prayer]
The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther [on the practical outworking of God's sovereignty. The Westminster Press edition (Rupp and Watson eds), which also includes the work by Erasmus that Luther is responding to, is the one to get.]
Calvin's Institutes [get the 2 vol Westminster Press edition (John McNeill ed.)]
Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century by J. C. Ryle [they're not to be imitated in every respect e.g. treatment of wives but are hugely inspiring all the same. Should be read with Selina, Countess of Huntingdon by Faith Cook - absolutely superb. Ryle mentions the Countess in almost every chapter.]
The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash
Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller [helped me understand myself and the human race a whole lot better]
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan [the images keep coming back to mind]
Knowing God by J. I. Packer [the chapter on guidance changed my life!]
Evangelicalism Divided by Iain Murray [it is so important to think critically about the (possible) misshapenness of the church of our day (without becoming cynical or bitter). This book - like the Bible - shows how great men can have serious flaws, but it does so with a thoughtful tone and avoids being a point-scoring exercise.]
- Joshua - 2 Kings by Dale Ralph Davis [these commentaries model how to engage with liberal biblical criticism, rather than pretending it's not there]
The Prophecy of Isaiah by Alec Motyer
- The King of God's Kingdom by David Seccombe