Downsizing Word Output

“Our instinct is too often to speak of everything we know, as if doing so is the only way to authenticate ourselves”.

“Talking too quickly, too much, and too cleverly is [oftentimes] destructive…the spiritual men and women I’ve come to admire were generally quiet-spirited and more silent than verbose”

It is probably ironic that on a blog, where it is my job to write, monologues of thoughts, I am recommending speaking less. Nevertheless, words are powerful and good, God-created and utilised by Him. Words are not the problem. Too many of them, used at the wrong time, in the wrong way – that is the problem.

How can we downsize our word output:

  • Ask more questions
  • Listen (to the person in front of us, as well as the Spirit of God who loves both of us)
  • Renounce fixing as a way of life – so often we are tempted to be the problem solvers in people’s lives. Rather than to be the people who sit with them in the midst of suffering.

Our opinion, our endorsement, our rebuke is often much less needed than our Presence.

The Bible agrees that we ought to downsize our word output: with God (Psalm 46:10, Ecclesiastes 5:1-3) and with Man (Job 2:13, James 1:19).

In fact when we look at one of the first interactions with God and man, we see that God is a man who asks questions before He speaks, judges, vindicates and promises (Genesis 3-4).

How to build Trust

“People will follow you for a while because they picked you. But they’ll follow you over the long term because they trust you.”

“Charm and charisma are like a glider; they fly, but not indefinitely. And they do not do well in turbulent times”

Trust is essential for leadership. But it is also essential for everyday living. My parents used to tell me that in order to drive on the motorway, you needed to attribute a certain level of trust to the drivers on the road – that they would continue to move forward.

But the level of trust required for effective leadership is a little higher. So how can we build more trust?

  1. Consistency (in good and bad, in the secret place as well as the public place)
  2. Dependability (do we make good on what we say)
  3. Openness and honesty (even, and especially, in areas of failure and weakness)
  4. Hard work (oftentimes a reputation of being a hard worker will trump success)
  5. Impartiality
  6. Longevity (it can be harder for a new leader to acquire the same level of trust as one who has ‘stuck around’)
  7. Intimacy and Pursuit of Jesus (As Christian leaders, and Church leaders, people will cotton on to your motives. We can do “all the right things” without a passionate pursuit of Jesus – and people will notice. In contrast, we can make all the mistakes, yet have an evident intimacy with God – and people will notice. Consider the words of the great king: We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You. Consider the words of the great church founder: I made to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ. Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss. I did not come with wise and eloquent words, but rather with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

May we, as Church leaders, as Christian leaders, be people who have large accounts of trustworthiness. In a world where trust is savagely dismembered towards our leaders, may the Church step up with leaders who are trustworthy.

Why I will listen to Bethel Music

In-house, Christian-matters. I don’t usually agree to post Christian debate issues on my blog, because I don’t think it’s actually helpful or encouraging. In this case I will because 1) my blog’s not popular enough, 2) the debate is happening anyway, 3) I think I’m writing towards a peaceful resolution between the two sides. And 4) I have been asked about this several times by other Christians and find myself having to rethink it all again – it is much easier to have it written in one place.

There is a bit of a hot debate going around some Christian circles and websites at the moment. And it’s one I’ve had to give some thought to because of a particular preacher I listened to several times each week during my teenage years.

It’s a strain of the prosperity gospel (as defined that God wants to bless you, with health, wealth and happiness), which is based on faith. Most prosperity gospel have their roots in blatant legalism – “Do good, get good”.

This faith-based prosperity gospel, says – “believe and get good”. Implying, when bad happens, it’s because you don’t believe enough, or you’re not “claiming” it in faith. Also implying, it’s always God’s will to answer your prayers – provided you believe.

(Aside from the common obvious points that several of Jesus’ prayers were not answered with ‘yes’…”Father let this cup pass from me”, “Father I pray that the Church would be united in love, that they would be one as We are one”…. [For more read: God on Mute – Pete Greig]. )

Popular churches that seem to espouse this teaching include: Bethel, Hillsong and a lot of the GodTV cast. Since Bethel and Hillsong also write a large fraction of the worship music out there, a common response is to stop playing their music at churches etc.

The reason being 1) they don’t want to financially support ministries with false teaching, 2) they don’t want to encourage new believers to seek out false teachers 3) they want to protect their flock.

All pretty legit reasons.

Here are some of my counter thoughts though:

1) Jesus, when confronted by his disciples complaining about people casting out demons in His name, responded: “whoever is not against us is for us”. I do not honestly believe that the majority of people in these churches, are opposed to Christ. (Furthermore, I don’t think it is my job to determine that.) Matthew 12:30-42

2) Paul writes, that no one can claim (and mean that) Jesus is Lord without the help of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 . I know this is a loose application, and that there are false teachers who can claim this. But I think we may be underestimating the truth of this passage to dismiss such worship leaders so quickly.

3) God consistently uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. Some of the people God has used throughout scripture and history, have had enormous doctrinal flaws. Consider the precious puritans and their slave ships. Consider Paul, the worst of sinners. Consider me!

4) Not all worship music, and not all prayer, needs to be doctrinally sound. A quick perusal through the Psalms reveal prayers and songs that were not “theologically correct”. Is it Psalm 137 that talks about the happy man being the one who dashes infants against rocks.

Prayer and worship is about coming honestly before God with our true selves, bringing it before Him knowing we are loved and accepted. If we start censoring songs and prayers, don’t we encourage people to only present their “best self” to God. Isn’t this one of those things that Jesus came to set us free from?

5) Paul writes in Philippians, “it is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love…the former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble…But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, CHRIST IS PREACHED. And because of this I rejoice.” (2:15-18)

I’m not fussed if Hillsong and Bethel are making a lot of money, or even if this is their primary motive, IF their songs lead people to Christ. I rejoice. Personally, I have encountered God’s presence whilst listening to their music, and I know many have been encouraged to the Father’s arms via “Mighty to Save”, “Oceans”, “No longer a slave to fear”…

6) Linked to this is, my lack of concern about money going to these mega churches, that have dodgy teaching. All money belongs to God, He can reduce empires and build them up. As a matter of interest, do the Christian who refuse to listen to bethel, also refuse to buy clothes made in sweatshops, coffee that isn’t fair trade, computers from large tech companies. Micah 6. It seems a little showy and divisive to make a stand only in regards to music.

Furthermore, since God owns all the money, and gives all the authority and platforms…(see Jesus when He tells Pilate that the authority he has is only from God). Do we trust Him.

7) There is a measurement of conscience, love and faith in this. See 1 Cor 8 and Romans 14. In short, (I’ve explored in another blog post), Paul talks about how knowledge can be used to puff up, or can be used in love. He talks about eating meat offered to idols, and how it may be right for some to eat, and it may be right for some to abstain…depending on their conscience, faith and love.

There is a cutting line here: “Whatever is not from faith is sin”. If we can’t eat meat offered to idols, listen to music produced by Bethel with a clear conscience then we shouldn’t. If we can’t listen to Hillsong’s songs, without causing our fellow believers to stumble than we should abstain. Will we let love and conscience impact how we carry out our faith.

8) Jesus said “my sheep know my voice”. Do we trust that this is true? Yes, there is a place for warning against the wolf-like false teachers. But there is also a place for trust that those who are God’s children can recognise His voice.

9) Jesus said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it”. Do we trust that this is true? When it comes to false teaching and heresy and people’s faith, we often work ourselves into a state where fool ourselves into believing we care more about this all than God does. No, God cares, and He hates lies. I don’t mean to belittle the impact of false teaching and lies. I love scripture and God’s truth, it is my life!

Just as the prophet declared about the early Church… “Therefore in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” Acts 5:38-39

Pain does not equal effort

There’s a bunch of sayings out there that propagate the myth that pain means effort, or effort means pain. And that without pain, we aren’t making an effort.

We measure the amount the work someone puts in by how much they’ve had to suffer. And when someone doesn’t feel any pain and yet succeeds we automatically assume they had it easy and success “fell into their lap”.

This line of thinking infects our spiritual walk and we begin to measure someone’s commitment to God by how much they “suffer for the gospel”.

Yes, often great efforts produce great pains. Yes, many achievements – historic and contemporary – have been born at deep personal and communal costs.

And yet, not all effort results in pain. In fact, when someone continues to feel pain we can oftentimes know that they are doing it wrong.

For example if you keep pulling your shoulder muscle when you do overhead press, you probably have bad form. Likewise, if you keep crashing your car and getting whiplash, you may benefit from driving lessons.

Sometimes we need encouragement when pain comes, sometimes we need course correction. But sometimes we encourage those going in the wrong direction and attempt to correct the course of someone who should persevere.

Just because your legs ache from 26 miles of running, doesn’t mean you crossed the finish line, stayed the course or even started the Marathon Event.

If your experiencing pain, check why.

A few awesome quotes on evangelism

Me and a group of guys have slowly (but surely) been working through a book on Discipleship over the last few months. Each week sharing our top three things from the particular chapter we were reading.

Coming to the end of the book, second to last chapter, we’ve hit on the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20)

For a very familiar passage, I wasn’t giving it my 100% receptive heart! But the under the sub-heading : Making Disciples by Baptizing, my highlighter got very busy.

Here are three thought provoking, challenging quotes:

1) Baptism is an act of initiation and conversion. It speaks powerfully of the time a person comes under the rule of Christ.

As someone who reads a lot I keep coming across the fashionable idea that people simply “drift” towards Christ. I can’t disagree, but we must be wary that this mentality drives us to complacency in our evangelism and discipleship. At some point people must choose to come under the lordship of Christ. This is baptism.

2) We need a surer understanding of the gospel, a deeper love for people, a strong commitment to intercession, a greater wisdom so we can share winsomely – at the right time and in the right way.. finally we need more courage.

I love a concrete list. These are definitely areas I want to pray into, and trust God to increase in me. Particularly commitment to intercession, courage and a deeper love.

3) we may need to repent of our lack of evangelistic passion, but we must not despair.

These words are much needed for the Church and for me. I tend towards despair when I consider the lack of evangelism in my own life and in the Church I see. But such despair is symptomatic of doubt in Gods power and conviction for His global mission. Great words!

To finish this post I want to leave you with a picture of some of my notes on a talk given by a friend. In it he shared 8 types of evangelism.

Five Traits I’ve Been Trying To Cultivate

I recently came across a quote and a follow up question that have been on my mind. The quote is by a Desert Father called Anthony Bloom who was invited to preach at a mass where a visiting bishop would be in attendance. Bloom refused to preach and said:

If my silence doesn’t speak to him, my words will be useless”

The question is: how would I communicate with people if I were reduced to silence. What virtues would I want displayed in my life?

I’ve been doing some work with God along this theme, talking to Him about why I take notes, why I keep notebooks and why I am so quick to teach everything I learn. It’s an ongoing journey, but in the midst of it I’ve come across this chapter in a book by Gordon MacDonald: Building Below the Waterline. (Would highly recommend any book by this author and I have read two of his books twice!)

1) Humility

““A humble man, is never hurried, hasty, or perturbed, but at all times remains calm. Nothing can ever surprise, disturb, or dismay him, for he suffers neither fear nor change in tribulations, neither surprise nor elation in enjoyment. All his joy and gladness are in what is pleasing to the Lord.” – Isaac of Syria

“The way of the Christian leader, is not the way of upward mobility in which the world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross. . . . It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.” – Henri Nouwen

2) Compassion

A question I heard recently about this trait, which I have begun asking myself: “Is my heart expanding or contracting towards others?” (-Especially those who think/believe/act differently to me)

“Compassion [is] the ability to identify at heart level with the vulnerabilities, fears, and sorrows of others. And to identify in such a way that one is not paralyzed but energized with great love” – Gordon MacDonald

3) Steadfastness (not stubbornness)

“Steadfastness means reliability of character, fulfillment of promises, faithfulness to key relationships, and (most important) living in obedience to Jesus.” – Gordon Macdonald

Am I steadfast in my friendships, in my commitment to Church, work and my ethic there, in my walk with God etc?

4) Faith

“Faith [is] an ability to trust in and draw upon the power of God beyond my rationality, my instinctive pessimism, my willingness to settle for less than best.” – G. Macdonald

I don’t just want Faith in God for my job, life purpose, vision or Church. But also for the individuals in my life, my friends and family. Do I have faith that God has good plans for them, that they are God’s handiwork created in advance for good works? Do I have faith that every member of my Church is an essential member and without which I cannot grow or come into maturity (1 Cor 12)?

5) Self Control

This week on the AskPastorJohn podcast, they replayed a segment of a sermon John Piper preached regarding self control and porn. I leave it here, as the means of self-control described can easily be applied to any battle with sin.

Desiring God: You can say no [to sin]

Priority Matrix and Mission

I’ve read my fair amount of productivity, motivation, self help, self-organisation books. I’ve listened to a fair amount of training. And one of the things that comes up frequently is the Priority Matrix:

I think it’s self explanatory, it’s a tool that helps you prioritise a busy schedule.

Well, yesterday I had a bit of a yahoo moment – as I made a connection in my mind: The Gospel Mission is both “urgent” and “important” .

The great commission, to make disciples of all nations, is urgent. We don’t know when Christ will return. We don’t know when our lives will end. But we do know that the time we have is short and so we need to make the most of every opportunity.

But the great commission, is also important. Souls are at stake. God’s Kingdom is so significant, requests for its eminence are top of list in the Lord’s Prayer. The fact that it comes post-resurrection, when all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Jesus, demonstrates it’s importance!

Why is it then that our whole lives do not orientate around the mission of God? Is it because we don’t think it is urgent, we don’t think it is important?

In my job, when I have a task that is both urgent and important, I tend to drop everything. My mind is filled with problem solving the job, I’m talking about it with others, brainstorming solutions. I’m even praying about it.

I understand there is a caveat. We don’t want to “burn out” by “over working”, and not stopping. His burden is light and His yoke is easy. We also shouldn’t worry about anything…etc. But on the other hand, why is it we are so okay to “burn out” and “over work” on other tasks, but not this one?

I wonder what it would look like if a group of five Christians took the Great Commission as the most urgent and most important task in their lives, for even a week? I have a feeling, with five Christians praying, brainstorming, dropping everything, and “doing it now” much ground would be advanced for the Kingdom of God.

A few questions to reflect:

  • What do I need to drop right now, to focus on the Mission of God
  • Who can I partner with in this Mission
  • What specific areas can I be praying for
  • What are my next steps

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out you own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good please.

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fail in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. Holding fast to the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Chirst that I have not run in vain or laboured in vain.

Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

Finally, for those who would like more understanding about what the Mission of God entails, I would highly recommend the textbook: The Mission of God’s People by Wright. To summarise in one sentence: the mission is: to be a blessing to the nations.

Systematic Theology 6: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (2) Clarity

One of the reasons we are studying Systematic Theology is because it helps to equip us to carry out the Great Commission; it helps us to make disciples. When Jesus says ‘make disciples’ there are three aspects to this: going, baptising and teaching. This is relevant because in order to teach a subject, it is important to have a good overview of the topic. But not just an overview, but an understanding of how all the parts fit together. Studying Systematic Theology is great at helping us with this!

In this week’s post we’re continuing our appreciation of the four characteristics of Scripture by looking at The Bible’s – Clarity.

‘The Clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it’.

Notice how carefully crafted this sentence is. We are able to understand the teaching of the Bible IF we read it seeking God’s help and with a willingness to follow.

This is something the Bible claims for itself. When it says that even children (Deut 6:6-7) and the ‘simple’ (Ps 19:7) will be able to understand it. Furthermore when Jesus is criticising the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, He never blames the Old Testament for being unclear, instead He simply says: “have you not read”?

It is true however, that the Bible can have complicated and confusing parts. Even Peter says as much about the letters written by Paul (2 Peter 1:20). But this verse also reminds us that we should attempt to carry out interpretation in the context of the Church.

The Doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture is significant for believers because it encourages us that: we are not too foolish or stupid to read scripture and understand it sufficiently. I think this is so important. As I know many Christians who would not feel entirely confident opening the Bible, reading it, and expecting to understand it. The Clarity of Scripture tells us, that if we are genuine in our desire to obey Scripture, and we truly seek God’s help, it is very possible!

Notice that the qualities for understanding scripture are not, educational/intellectual but rather moral and spiritual (1 Cor 2:14).

So then, if Scripture is so easy to understand why does it get misunderstood so much. Why are there still disagreements? Wayne Grudem gives three reasons:

  1. We are still waiting for further events in Salvation History, this is why many Bible-believing Christians today have different views on the end times as an example.) Whilst we have all that we need to know in order to be saved and have eternal life in the Bible, there are events that will need to happen before we ‘know in full’ (1 Cor 13:12).
  2. We have a lack of faith or hardness of heart, the problem may be with us, we are refusing to believe difficult or uncomfortable truths, or to submit to God’s law in our heart.
  3. Church Disagreements produce greater unity in the end, I’d not thought about this before. But Grudem’s optimistic view is actually faith filled in the Clarity of Scripture. When Christians disagree, and can manage the disagreement in a community of love, it produces thought and reasoning and understanding that would not be possible without the disagreement in the first place. As we wrestle with ideas, teachings and commands, and humbly ask each other questions, and present alternative ways of understanding we can discover the truth. In this sense it is so important we read the Scriptures within the context of the Church.

Finally, as a preacher there were two keywords that I learnt from studying this doctrine, a little trivia for myself. #nerdlife 1) Hermeneutics – the study of correct methods of interpretation. 2) Exegesis – the process of interpreting a text of scripture.

‘if you cross Her, then you cross Me’

I was walking to work the other day, listening to my music and on came a familiar song by Ed Sheeran – Cross Me. There were a few lines that jumped out to me and just made me think of God’s love for His people – the Church. So I put the song on repeat and started listening out for all the parallels I could find.

In an odd way – I think I heard God’s voice of comfort, encouragement and belief through Ed Sheeran’s music.

God’s Confidence in Us

There’s a few lines where Ed talks about his wife’s faithfulness and how much he can trust her. ‘She ain’t messing with no other man’. Did you know, that God has confidence in us – His Bride?

If He didn’t there would be no way He’d leave the great commission up to us (Mt 28:16-20). To make disciples of all nations?

I listened to a talk the other day and the speaker shared that in Jesus’ culture a Rabbi would only take a Disciple if he truly believed that the disciple had the potential to ‘be like him’. When Jesus approaches fishermen and unschooled people, He is effectively saying – “look, I know the world doesn’t believe in you, or think that you have much potential, but I see that you have the potential to be like me”.

God has confidence in us!

God’s Provision for Us

Ed Sheeran boasted that ‘anything she needs, she can call me’. He then goes on to tell other people they don’t need to meet her needs ‘don’t worry about her…thats all me’. God is so able and powerful, He can boast that all our needs are met in Him.

This is why Jesus says, ‘don’t worry, saying “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “what shall we wear?”. For the pagans run after such things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:31-33).

In His presence is fullness of joy, at His right hand pleasures forevermore! (Psalm 16).

God Will Fight for Us

Probably most obvious in this song, is Ed Sheeran’s willingness to step into the ring with anyone who attempts to hurt, insult or intimidate his wife. It’s in the title… ‘if you cross her, you cross me’.

Isn’t this true of our God too? Not only does He identify with us in our strength and ability, but also in our weaknesses. Jesus declares, ‘truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me’ (Matthew 25:40).

This is how the prophet Zephaniah described God: ‘The Mighty Warrior who saves’ (Zeph 3:17). Our God is mighty to save. This is what Jehosphat learnt: ‘do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s’ (2 Chron 20:15).

Our God will and has fought for us!

God is Close to Us

One of the reason’s I’ve shared the video at the top of this post is because I love the imagery twist at the end. Maybe it was obvious to everyone who watched it. But the first time I saw the video, I honestly thought it was another guy in the green-screen costume. At the end of the video, it’s revealed to be a woman. It added a wow factor, that they were “together” through the whole video.

In the same way, our God promises to be close to us. His presence is with us. The New Testament writers knew this when they claimed, it is not longer I who live – but Christ who lives in me. Let me finish with three encouraging verses in the Bible which emphasise this truth:

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4)

“Remain in Me, as I also remain in you.” (John 15:4)

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:16-20).

Thanks Ed for making great music! Thanks God for having confidence in us, for providing for us, for fighting on our behalf and for being close.