The aesthetics effect

mercbenzworldI know I bang on about this a bit but I’m increasingly persuaded that aesthetics have a more powerful effect on us than we realise. On Saturday the family and I visited Mercedes Benz world in Surrey. If you’re near that part of the world it’s a great free couple of hours out. You can wander round and look in and sit in their beautiful cars. You can have a go in their simulators. You can see some of their artwork and exhibitions. You can get a quality cup of coffee in branded cups on branded saucers with branded napkins. You can enjoy the most immaculate facilities that even have little bottles of hand cream for gentleman. The staff are smart, smiling, and friendly. The space is open and full of natural light. The floors are clean, and the lifts aren’t full of graffiti and chewing gum. All of this makes you feel very good indeed. So much so that I found myself thinking “If I did happen to have fifty grand to blow on a new car I’d probably come back and see you guys.” Now clearly I don’t. But that’s not the point. The point is the beautiful aesthetics had a more powerful and intoxicating effect than I’d realised. They’d almost hypnotised me. So I thought “what about church?” Is there something to learn here? Clearly we’re not selling a product and trying to brainwash people. But nevertheless is there something about our aesthetics which will determine whether or not people might return. Or worse, is there anything about our aesthetics which ensures they probably won’t. We want the stumbling block to be the gospel not our aesthetics. And if a good aesthetic might grant us another hearing hasn’t that got to be worth considering more seriously than perhaps we do? Thoughts?

Calvin on original sin

originalI’m trying to read through Calvin’s Institutes in a year (and am failing dismally!). From yesterday’s reading, here are a few striking quotes from the start of book 2 of Calvin’s Institutes:

“that primal worthiness cannot come to mind without the sorry spectacle of our foulness and dishonour presenting itself by way of contrast, since in the person of the first man we have fallen from our original condition. From this source arise abhorrence and displeasure with ourselves, as well as true humility; and thence is kindled a new zeal to seek God, in whom each of us may recover those good things which we have utterly and completely lost.”

“Ambition and pride, together with ungratefulness, arose, because Adam by seeking more than was granted him shamefully spurned God’s great bounty, which had been lavished upon him. To have been made in the likeness of God seemed a small matter to a son of earth unless he also attained equality with god – a monstrous wickedness!”

“Bernard rightly teaches that the door of salvation is opened to us when we receive the gospel today with our ears, even as death was then admitted by those same windows when they were opened to Satan.”

Reading this material again challenged me as to the way in which I’m tempted to ‘soften’ sin to something which feels more unfortunate, rather than something monstrous as Calvin describes. Some of that may be cultural, but I suspect that if I’m honest I just need to have greater faith in God’s power through his word, drink a can of man-up, and discharge my duty faithfully. Any thoughts on the difference between Calvin’s forthright description and our own, often weak, efforts?

Leaders – your appraisal matters

appraisalSo I had my appraisal last night, which, to my surprise was actually a rather enjoyable experience. I’m not a masochist or anything – I don’t get off by being beaten with sticks; but there’s something about the wounds of a friend which are tremendously helpful in development and improvement. Here are a few reasons why I think they matter:

1. You ain’t peaked yet – at least I hope not. I hope we’ve all got more to learn, and new ways to develop. To do that we need some constructive criticism, feedback, and input.
2. You’ll have blindspots – things which you weren’t aware were weaknesses. If you’re going to improve as a leader you need to be aware of them and seek help addressing them.
3. It gives you space to discuss your own frustrations or hopes and dreams. Sometimes in the busyness of it all you struggle to find space to step back and evaluate what’s going on. And sometimes we’re too proud to acknowledge we’re struggling and ask for help.
4. It’s good for others to encourage you in what you’re good at. Of course we don’t do it for that, but nevertheless it’s nice when others recognise hard work and God’s gifts.
5. It strengthens relational bonds between you and your team. A strong relationship is strengthened by honesty not weakened by it. It’s good to be straight with each other – if they don’t tell you who will?

So phone your employee or employer and get it in the diary. Do it now!

The 10 ‘p’s of good children’s talks

downloadHere’s a little something I shared last weekend with our team of folks who do kids talks:

The 10 P’s

  1. Preparation – don’t leave it til Saturday night – let it brew
  2. Prayer – we pray for everything else; why not our kids talks
  3. Practice – stand up in front of a mirror and practice delivering your talk 3 times – it makes all the difference
  4. Props – is there an object you can use an a visual aid or illustration
  5. Participation – are there ways in which audience participation could help
  6. Powerpoint – have you got some good images or perhaps even a video clip you could use
  7. Point (singular!) – what’s the one big idea you want to get across – zero in on that
  8. Passion – look interested. If you look bored they will feel bored. Give it some energy
  9. Presence – difficult to define this, but I think you can increase it through varying things like pitch and pace
  10. Problems/pitfalls – avoid trying to say too much; avoid moralising; don’t be too long – we aim at 5 mins for 5 year olds (actually that means most people do 7 mins for 7 year olds which is fine; what’s usually not fine unless you’re very good indeed is 10 mins for 10 year olds).

We’ve tended to find that the best kids talk have the ability to draw in people of all ages. They also serve to fill in all sorts of Bible material that many new Christians don’t know but are too embarrassed to ask. So why not get your team of folks who do kids talks together and run through the ten p’s. We also then often like to share ideas for an upcoming series – get’s the creative juices flowing and generates some great ideas.

The stone that turneth all to gold








We had a great time on Sunday evening with one of our leaders at Grace opening up George Herbert’s lovely poem “The Elixir.” Here it is:

Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.

A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.

All may of thee partake;
nothing can be so mean,
which with this tincture, “for thy sake,”
will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine:
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.

This is the famous stone
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.

Back in the day the science bods hoped to find a magic potion which could turn base metals into precious metals, and they really thought they could do it. Herbert takes the idea and talks about the gospel being the ‘elixir’ – that thing which enables the base to become precious. It is the ‘tincture’ of the gospel which makes our actions not base but bright and clean – that which God doth touch and own cannot for less be told. Me thinks Herbie is the man (apart from his do). What sayest thou?

Packer on Joy

packerHere’s a little something for your Evernote workbooks. I’m prepping a sermon this week on joy and I came across a lovely quote from Jim Packer. It’s in a little volume entitled Laid Back Religion. In the chapter on joy he writes:

“Grief, desolation, and pain are feelings triggered by present situations, but faith produces joy, hope, and peace at all times. This does not mean that grief, desolation, and pain cease to be felt (that idea is inhuman); it means that something else is experienced alongside the hurt. It becomes possible for Christians today, like Paul long ago, to be ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’ (2 Cor. 6:10).”

The Rhetorical Power of Deut 1-3

As part of my research into missional-ethics I’m doing some exegetical work in Deuteronomy 1-11. I came across a quote yesterday that I thought was so good I simply had to share. It’s from an essay by Susan Slater on the rhetorical force of the historical prologue in Deut 1-3 (full citation available on request!).In Deut 1-3 the history of Israel’s journey through the wilderness and to the edge of the promised land is recounted. One of the interesting features is the tendency to use ‘we’ and ‘you’ to refer to the generation addressed. Most of them were of course not even a twinkle in their Daddy’s eye, but Moses deliberately connects them with what’s gone before. Why? Here’s Slater on the rhetorical power of the section:

“The rhetoric of these chapters [Deut -1-3] is not so much propositional as experiential. Deut 30:19-20 says “I set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse, therefore choose life that you may prosper in the land.” Deuteronomy 1-3 does not say this. Rather, it brings readers through the experience of disobedience and death, fidelity and prosperous life, and sets them before the moment of decision to enter the land in obedience to the LORD’s command. It offers the identity required to hear the law and understand the urgency of its imperative, while at the same time reminding readers that this imperative is addressed to them in their own present circumstances, and not in some far off long ago. Identification with the people positions readers to hear the law addressed to Israel in Deuteronomy, while awareness of their own context positions readers to respond faithfully in their own time and place.”

Good, no! Perhaps it’s just me!