2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

What Hurts The Most?

120px-Pencil_front_endIn the New Year we’re planning on running a series of talks at church addressing the question ‘What Hurts The Most?’ We’ve been asking that question of our friends and family and we plan to do four talks tackling the top four responses. I’d be really grateful if you could take 20 seconds to do the survey. The link is below. It’s just one question and doesn’t ask you for any personal information. I’d be more grateful still if you could share the link through your own social media channels. We’d like to get as many responses as possible. Thanks for your time and help. Have a very Merry Christmas.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/7MNPJS7

The Ringing Effect Could Be Killing Your Productivity

permanAs a follow up to the post I did on Wednesday about Hybels’ book Simplify, I also wanted to draw your attention to Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next. Likely you’re already aware of the book, but if not it really is worth your investment.

The core of his book is that to be more productive we need to do four things:

  • D – define what it is you’re meant to do
  • A – architect a plan to make it happen
  • R – reduce all the stuff you shouldn’t be doing
  • E – execute the plan

It’s a handy little acronym to help you remember, and the principles are good and worth thinking through for your own situation. One of the ‘eureka’ moments in the book for me was when Perman talked about something called the ‘Ringing Effect.’ Understanding this simple idea is, I believe, really really important. Here’s the gist in Perman’s own words:

“Researchers have found that whenever most systems – such as airports, freeways, and other such things – exceed about 90 percent capacity, efficiency drops massively. Not just slightly, but massively.”

“That is why traffic slows down at rush hour . . . once capacity is past about 90 percent, small disturbances have a huge effect.” [one person’s sharp braking ripples out exponentially bringing everything a mile down the road to a halt]

“[This] applies to your projects and your organization as well . . . for example, when you are trying to schedule a meeting for ten people, and they all have to be there. It’s almost impossible to find a time that works for everyone, resulting in an untold number of emails going back and forth. And then, once everything is figured out, something unexpected comes up for someone and you need to reschedule the meeting again (and then reschedule the other stuff on your plate that is now interfering with the new time). That ‘rearranging’ is the ringing effect . . . And the effects continue cascading, for as you keep rescheduling, other people involved need to reschedule as well. And on it goes.”

“you need to reduce the number of projects that you are working on at once. . . To get more done, do less, not more.”    (pp. 223-225)

Did you hear that? If you want to be more productive, do less, not more. Perman is quick to clarify that ‘do less’ does not mean be lazy or work less hours, but rather that you need to have fewer projects on the go at the same time – fewer plates spinning. You can be far more productive focusing your attention on a few key things than trying to manage or oversee a dozen. Perman suggests working at around 75% capacity so that when the unexpected arises you can tackle it without it sending everything else into chaos. I suspect, if you’re anything like me, you’ll nod in agreement with all this, but do nothing about it. The challenge is in implementing a plan that really improves productivity. So perhaps on your own, or with your staff team spend some time with each person to define, architect, reduce, and execute.

PS. Perman’s book is a model of what he preaches and a joy to read thanks to his one page chapter summaries at the end of every chapter – what a man! What a book! Get it read.

Top Reads of 2014

booksAs seems to be customary in the blogosphere here’s my list of the best books I’ve read in the last year (in no particular order):

  • N.T.Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God – enormous, controversial, but full of useful stuff.
  • Dan Strange, For Their Rock is Not As Our Rock – the single best book I’ve read this year covering far more than just other religions.
  • Gary MacIntosh, Taking Your Church To The Next Level – practical insights on the challenges of various church sizes
  • Wellum & Gentry, Kingdom Through Covenant – lots of helpful stuff here on how to put the whole Bible together
  • John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament – An excellent book introducing the relevance of Ancient Near Eastern studies to OT studies
  • Eugene Peterson, The Pastor – The book that did my soul most good this year. I didn’t like everything in it, but the stuff I like was gold – a book I’ll return to often I suspect.

Do comment with your favourites and recommends – I’m always looking for good stuff to read.

Happy New Year.

Simplify: Practices To Unclutter Your Soul

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At the recent GLS I attended I picked up a copy of Bill Hybels’ latest book, Simplify. The subtitle is ‘ten practices to unclutter your soul.’ His stuff on finance and seasons of life was good. Some of the other stuff was ok, but perhaps a bit obvious. The value of the book for me was the opening two chapters on ‘replenishing your energy’ and ‘harnessing your calendar’s power.’ This is stuff I need to be regularly reminded of.

In the opening chapter Hybels’ 5 keys to replenishment are:

  1. Connect with God
  2. Invest in family
  3. Find satisfying work
  4. Enjoy recreation
  5. Get regular exercise (he also includes the importance of diet and sleep under this heading)

I guess many of us in ministry jobs are ok at number 3 but probably have work to do on the other four. Chapter 2 gives the profoundly simple (yet unbelievably difficult) solution. Here it is. Are you ready?

Take charge of your schedule.

That’s it. If you think it’s important, schedule it! I don’t know about you but my calendar is pretty much full of just ‘work’ stuff. But if I think exercise, or date night, or family time, or prayer time is important I should schedule it – and schedule it every bit as seriously as other meetings and appointments. I’ve got to be honest and say I haven’t put this into practise yet but it’s one of my new year aims – to take greater charge of my schedule, that I can serve God better in the various spheres he has called me into.

Top Christmas Vids

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Due to a serious dose of man-flu I’m a bit late to the party this year. For some the big carol services have already passed. For others they’re coming up this weekend and you might be looking around for that perfect video to use as part of the service. Well, here’s a few of my favourites (in no particular order, but the ones in bold I really like!):

A couple of extra things to say. First, live performed music is more powerful than a music video, but a video is always better than not so good live music. Second, don’t underestimate the power of good art. Some videos I’ve seen this year (none of the above) have had a strong message but a less than great production quality. I’d rather have a softer message and higher aesthetic quality (presuming I’m not letting the video do all my communicating for me!). Visitors will appreciate good art even if they don’t agree with the message yet. They will almost certainly be put off by poor quality media.
Any thoughts? What am I missing? Who have I forgotten?

What Sort of King?

800px-CrownOfThornsBedfordMuseumI’ve been doing a little work in Deut 17 for my PhD and have been thinking about the law regarding the king.

The king, unlike some from surrounding nations, is not divinized, but is subject to YHWH (Deut 17:15). He is forbidden great wealth and many wives (17:16-17). He is to read the Torah daily so that ‘he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees, and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left’ (17:18-20). The chief responsibility of the king is the same as that of his fellow Israelites – to obey the law. He is to ‘exemplify and demonstrate true obedience to the Lord for the sake of the well-being of both the dynasty and the kingdom.’ He is to be, primarily, a model Israelite. The king does not create the law but is rather subject to it, in the same way he is subject to YHWH.

And then I came across this rather lovely quote from Patrick Miller:

“Much has been written about the way the messianic passages of the royal psalms and Isaiah point us to and find their actuality in Jesus of Nazareth. It is possible we have overlooked the text that may resonate most with the kingship he manifested; he was one who sought and received none of the perquisites of kingship, who gave his full and undivided allegiance to God, and who lived his whole life by the instruction, the torah, of the Lord.” (Millar, Deeuteronomy, 149).

So if you’re looking for some advent inspiration perhaps Deuteronomy 17 would be a good place to dwell.

The Myth of the Secular Society

Big_Ben_and_Houses_of_Parliament_-_geograph.org.uk_-_479320In The Gospel In A Pluralist Society Lesslie Newbigin has a wonderfully insightful and, we might dare say, prophetic chapter entitled ‘The Myth of the Secular Society.’ Writing in the late 80s he cites the work of Oxford economist Denis Munby who was himself writing in the 60s. Munby desired people to embrace the secular society which, according to him, had six essential marks:

  1. It is uncommitted to any particular view of the universe and man’s place in it.
  2. It is a pluralist society in principle, not just fact.
  3. It is a tolerant society, its tolerance limited only by the need to resist activities which are directed against the accepted policies of society.
  4. It will have common aims. Judges and magistrates will represent these agreed aims. Therefore relics of the sacred which hang around the role of the judge will be eliminated.
  5. It will solve its problems by eliminating emotion and irrational impulses; it will ascertain facts and enable citizens to achieve their aims.
  6. Finally, it will be without official images, ideal types, or models held up for imitation. It will provide a framework within which people of different allegiances can work together.

Newbigin then examines these six elements in turn to demonstrate the ‘illusions and self-contradictions.’ [I’ve paraphrased and expanded on Newbigin for the sake of clarity (hopefully)]:

  1. Munby’s view is committed to a very particular view of society – one which excludes the belief (shared by Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) that all human society is under the sovereign rule of God.
  2. Pluralism is itself an exclusive position – excluding those who don’t believe in pluralism. The invalidation of any claim to exclusive truth, though it appears humble, claims for itself a superior and equally exclusive knowledge.
  3. The secular society does not have an accepted view of man’s place in the universe (#1), but it does have accepted policies of behaviour, presumably decided by the majority. What are those policies and how are they decided? Munby’s goal is tolerance for a wide variety of private life styles. But there are some accepted policies, which means there are some behaviours (maybe also words/thoughts/beliefs) which will not be tolerated. These accepted policies presumably come from the will of the majority. If your behaviour/attitude/belief falls within that majority then fine, well and good. Just so long as you remain within the majority.
  4. Courts exist to carry out the will of the people. At this point any talk of ‘justice’ becomes arbitrary. ‘Justice’ is defined by the majority in any given society. It is no good complaining a decision is ‘unjust’ as this would be an implicit appeal to an authority higher than the state (at which point you’re not a secularist). Justice is a wax nose shaped by the populace of a particular time and place.
  5. Apart from the problem of establishing raw ‘facts’ we have a state which does not pass judgement on aims. You are free to pursue whatever course of action you desire, judgement free, so long as you don’t transgress any of the accepted policies of the masses. And (here’s the kicker) if the state doesn’t pass judgement on you, you are to extend the same courtesy to the state. They are just enacting the will of the majority. And hey presto! Given what we know about human nature in history, we pretty quickly have a tyranny of the state where she is no longer a moral subject which can be held responsible.
  6. The absence of images and models is an impossibility. Hour after hour we are presented with images of the good life as conceived by society, and the presentation is fuelled by the most powerful commercial interests of society.

At the end of his critique Newbigin revisits his previously given definition of myth – ‘an unproved collective belief that is accepted uncritically to justify a social institution.’ Newbigin’s point is that we all operate under some fundamental belief commitments; secularism is illusory. Society is built on questions of truth and morality and providing an answer to those requires a half-decent epistemology. If governments were more aware of the contradictions and unintended consequences of a secularist agenda we might be able to lay some foundations for real justice, tolerance, and progress.