Murdering morsels of sin

In Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices Thomas Brooks has a wonderfully descriptive  challenge to consider sin as a bitter-sweet. Here is a snippet:

“Many long to be meddling with the murdering morsels of sin, which nourish not, but rend and consume the belly, the soul that receives them. Many eat that on earth that they digest in hell. Sin’s murdering morsels will deceive those that devour them. Adam’s apple was bitter sweet . . . Jonathan’s honey was bitter sweet . . . After the meal is ended, then comes the reckoning. Men must not think to dance and dine with the devil, and then to sup with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

A lesson from Steve Jobs

I’ve finally finished wading through Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. There were many intriguing stories, sad moments, shocking confrontations, and inspirational insights contained therein. Jobs was obviously a genius, and obviously very difficult to work with. I liked his focus on simplicity and beauty; I disliked the ugly way he (at times) spoke to his staff.

However, the lesson that I want to hold onto is described by one of Jobs’ closest team mates, Andy Hertzfeld: “The goal was never to beat the competition, or to make a lot of money. It was to do the greatest thing possible, or even a little greater” (p123).

As someone in church leadership, that strikes me as a good way to look at what we’re all about. We are not about beating the competition – in our case because we believe we’re actually on the same side where other Christian churches are concerned. We spend so much time looking at other churches and ministries, comparing numbers, seeing how we’re doing, and feeling either envious, judgemental, or proud. Rather, we should be about doing the absolute best we can, not copying or imitating; not mindlessly rolling out the same programmes plagiarised from others; but thinking imaginatively about how we can be the best ambassadors for Christ possible. As Peter puts it we should be “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet 4:10). In that sense we should be focused, creative, imaginative, and concerned for excellence. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to the ‘competition’ and lets do the greatest thing possible, or even (with God’s help) a little greater.

What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary

I was at a great conference on leadership yesterday with Dr. James Emery White. Here are some of the highlights:

Session 1 – Leading the church

Key question – what hills are you prepared to die on?

The answer to the that question determines your core values.

Eg. Bible is true; lost people matter; Christians grow; every member ministry; unity, love, and teachable spirit; excellence honours God and inspires people; whole-hearted devotion is normal.

Leader protects and models these core values. They exist and work because the leader works at them. They don’t just exist.

Session 2 – Growing the church

Tom Watson, CEO of IBM, asked how IBM became the company it is. He replied he had a clear picture of what the company would look like when done. When he had that picture he thought about how that company would have to act to be and become that company. Third, he realised that they needed to act that way from the beginning. For IBM to become a great company, it would have to act like a great company before it ever became one.

In other words, to be a church of 1000, you have to behave like a church of 1000 would now.

Eg. If you knew that you’d have 250 more attenders this Sunday what would you do different?

Four key factors to a great Sunday:

– friendliness – leaders set the temperature on this

– children’s ministry

– music

– physical location – building, aesthetics, etc.

Session 3 – Being the church

Positively – creating the culture

– hire well – people with character, competence, catalytic (create things, make things happen around them), chemistry, called, (+?culture).

– hire from within – you’ll know whether your people meet the 5c’s.

Negatively – dealing with problems

– for people who are damaging, do what the Bible says – zero tolerance! Titus 3 – quarrelsome or divisive people are to be warned, then shunned. Eg. Tooth-ache – can have months of chronic pain, or 30 mins acute pain in the dentists chair. Sort it quick.

Session 4 – surviving the church

– spiritual survival

Ministry is spiritually hazardous to your soul.  Easy to confuse doing spiritual things with having a rich spirituality. Study, reading, prayer, and worship can all be done professionally. Doing things for God can be confused with spending time with God. People often put us on a spiritual pedestal.

Need to read, pray, worship, retreat, not only for others benefit, but for the good of our own souls.

– emotional survival

Manage expectations. Numbers alone cannot be the measure of success.

Deal with setbacks. Need the hide of a rhino!

Plan for a marathon – a lifetime of hard work.

Expect the sheep to be messy and stupid. Don’t be surprised.

Pastors get caught in the crossfire, and are often scapegoated in the moment.

There are no quick fixes. Ministry is tough.

1. Cultivate activities that replenish you – regular days off, holidays, study breaks. Serve in your areas of primary giftedness – this will energise you. Serving against the grain of your giftedness will sap you. Go for a run, to the driving range, eat with friends, etc etc. Have retreats, quiet days, elder retreats, conferences. Keep yourself charged. Read. Work with the grain of your personality.

2. Intentionally pursue things that are emotionally replenishing. Get to the mountains once a month. If you don’t you’ll end up in a moral ditch. Beware of looking for the quick emotional fix. Need the tanks to be full for the sake of wife and kids.

Many of these lessons (and many more) can be found in his book What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary which is stimulating, edifying, and enjoyable.

Wisdom & Wonder

Here are some nice quotes from the recently translated and published Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art by Abraham Kuyper.

  • On Science . . . “If, therefore, God’s thinking is primary, and if all of creation is to be understood simply as the outflow of that thinking of God . . . then it must be the case that the divine thinking must be embedded in all created things. Thus there can be nothing in the universe that fails to express, to incarnate, the revelation of the thought of God . . . The whole creation is nothing but the visible curtain behind which radiates the exalted working of this divine thinking.”
  • “How much study occurs for the sake of examinations or for a career, lacking the motivation of sacred enthusiasm for the subject!”
  • On Art . . . “Art not only possesses a sacred origin in the impulse that has been embedded within our heart, but art also enjoys a direct connection with our expectations for eternity.”
  • On Music . . . “the singer or player translates what you yourself can barely stammer, and does so in rich and fulsome chords, and your soul feels liberated.”
  • “the art of music and song must be the means for bringing a worshiper’s soul out of the ordinary and mechanical into passion and activity.”

Acton Institute and Kuyper College are also working on translating the three volume, 1700 pages of Kuypers De gemeene gratie (Common Grace). They’re hoping the first volume will be ready later this year. If Wisdom & Wonder is a taster, then bring on the main course.

The Drama of Doctrine

I’ve just finished wading through the somewhat dense, but thoroughly excellent and enjoyable Drama of Doctrine by the genius that is Kevin Vanhoozer. Here are some of my favourite bits:

  • “The drama of redemption is thus a great twofold odyssey, in which humanity, along with the rest of creation, loses its way and finds its way home only because God leaves home in order to bring everyone back”
  • “To become a Christian is to be taken up into the drama of God’s plan for creation”
  • “Narratives make story-shaped points that cannot always be paraphrased in propositional statements without losing something in translation.”
  • “Biblical interpretation is incomplete unless and until it issues in performance.”
  • “The drama of doctrine consists in the Spirit’s directing the church rightly to participate in the evangelical action by performing its authoritative script.”
  • “Actors/disciples demonstrate the measure of their faithfulness and fitness – the extent of their correspondence to the truth – by every judgement they make.”
  • “The biblical script asks not to admired but performed
  • “Good theological judgement is largely, though not exclusively, a matter of being apprenticed to the canon”
  • “Theology is less a matter of indoctrination than it is of exdoctrination: the living out of Christian teaching.”
  • “The cry of Christian celebration is not “Eureka, I have found it” but “Eucharisto, He has found us!”
  • “The local church is that interactive theatre where a distinct view of the world – as created for fellowship with the triune God – is remembered, studied, cultivated, and celebrated in corporate performance.”

See. Told you it was good. Get it read.

See Everyone As A “10”

I’m currently working slowly through John Maxwell’s 360 Leader, and am greatly enjoying the practical wisdom contained therein. Today I read his chapter entitledSee Everyone As A “10”. He began by asking the question “Who is your favourite teacher?” He follows that up by asking “What made that teacher different?” He then suggests that the decisive factor was probably that the teacher say you as a 10 – instead of brow-beating you and telling you how stupid or naughty you were, they encouraged you and believed in you.

He applies the lesson to leadership with the following questions:

  • Who gets my best effort? The leader who believes I’m a 10 or the leader who believes I’m a 2?
  • Who do I enjoy working with? The leader who believes I’m a 10 or the leader who believes I’m a 2?
  • Who is the easiest for me to approach? The leader who believes I’m a 10 or the leader who believes I’m a 2?
  • Who wants the best for me? The leader who believes I’m a 10 or the leader who believes I’m a 2?
  • Who will I learn the most from? The leader who believes I’m a 10 or the leader who believes I’m a 2?

Whilst ‘Gordon Ramsay leaders’ or ‘Lord Sugar leaders’ may make good television, they don’t make good leaders – especially when working with volunteers. If you want to get the best out of your staff or volunteers see them as a “10”. Encourage, inspire, equip, praise, develop, and delight in them. We mustn’t be disingenuous, but we ought to be generous.

Charismatic preachers, please chill out!

Having just returned from our local Good Friday act of witness I thought I’d write down my initial reflections.

1. It’s a great opportunity – right in the centre of town, with over 1000 people present, and plenty milling around.

2. An awareness of the mixed nature of those assembled must inform content and style. Unfortunately the preacher seemed to be working on the assumption that every person present was a believer. As a consequence he began by making the crowd shout “Hallelujah” twice. He then proceeded to tell us that he’d had a ‘word’ and that he wouldn’t be talking about Good Friday, and would instead talk about why Britain isn’t ‘Great’ (see what he did there). This was even more unwise as he himself was of another nationality – the potential of being misheard was significant. Stylistically it was typically charismatic/pentecostal – high on shouting, low on content. Saddest of all he didn’t speak about sin or the cross. In terms of content and style he missed the mark.

3. If you’re told to do the announcements and closing prayer, do the announcements and closing prayer. The final participant, evidently frustrated he’d not been asked to preach, decided he’d have a go anyway, and began with the old “Give me a J; give me an E” – you see where this is going. He informed us “I don’t do announcements; I do vision-casting.” He then invited all the church leaders to the front, asked everyone to raise their hands, and pray for an ‘anointing’ on the leaders. Like the preacher’s, his tone was very shouty, and could be heard as aggressive.

I for one, was glad we didn’t have friends or neighbours there – it would have been highly embarrassing, and would have required a lot of explaining.

As I reflect, I’m forced to ask myself, is it just a cultural thing? Is the problem mine? Do I need to chill out? See, now I’m asking rhetorical questions, and the answer to all of them is to some degree, yes.

However, I’m reminded of a comment John Frame made regarding 1 Cor 14:23 – if an unbeliever comes in, and you’re all speaking in tongues, will they not say that you are out of your mind. Interesting passage this one. Paul doesn’t forbid prophecy as that can convict the unbeliever (incidentally, I think prophecy here in context refers to rational comprehensible speech used to edify (see wider context of 1 Cor 14)), but the more ecstatic and self-edifying forms are to be suppressed for the sake of the visitor. Frame argues that the contemporary application of the principle could include things like style and forms in our worship. If the style or form will lead people to conclude you are out of your mind, don’t use it – it’s unhelpful and unedifying. My own view is that if we were to apply that principle at today’s act of witness we could still have passion and enthusiasm, but we would deliberately down-play that for the sake of the visitor, and speak words with edifying and convicting content.

Tim Keller has spoken of this as the ‘as if’ principle. You do everything ‘as if’ the unbeliever/muslim/jehovah’s witness/gay person were present among you. If you act ‘as if’ they are that will inevitably change the way you speak, the jokes you make, the jargon you use. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is Paul in the Areopagus (Acts 17). Can you imagine if Paul had got up and said “Can I get an hallelujah? Give me a J? I’m going to tell you today why Athens isn’t great” – mmm. I guess they’d have said “I don’t think we’ll hear you again on this.”