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

When in trouble…

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.

These are the simple words of James 5:13.

As Christians, it’s good to be aware of the various self-help strategies. But I think, oftentimes, God will let us be in a place where no amount of self-help will help. Where no amount of strategic thinking, leadership expertise, experience or teamwork will do. He brings us to this place, where we are exhausted of all our effort and intelligence and power…

…SO THAT, we can learn to rely on Him. So that our relationship with Him can go deeper, as we learn what it means to depend on Him.

I pleaded with Him to take it from me…THREE TIMES….but He said to me: My grace is sufficient for you, and my power is made perfect and complete in weakness. – 2 Corinthians 12

Prayer is NOT the posture of power, but it is the posture of dependence. It is NOT the promise of safety, rescue or even changed circumstances, but it is the promise of being heard, known, loved. It is NOT the invitation of self-reliance, but it is the invitation for God’s will to be done.

Jesus, moments before the cross, prayed “God, please let this cup pass from me”….”but not My will, but Yours be done”

Shadrach, Meesach and Abednego, moments before being thrown into a furnace declared: “Our God is able to save….but even if He doesn’t we will not bow”

Moses, upon hearing that God would leave him, pleaded: “unless You are with us, we will not leave this place”.

When in trouble, pray.

See also: 2 Chronicles 20. Ezekiel 37. Isaiah 37.

Prayer Projects

I’ve been taking a free course at Biola Learn , on Spiritual Formation and the temptations of moralism. It’s part of God’s recent dealings with me to dismantle unhealthy patterns of relating to Him, and to replace them with a more grace filled, spirit empowered, cross-entered faith.

Anyway, as part of the course there are these assignments called “Prayer Projects”. You are instructed to find a quiet place and pray through particular issues over a set period of time. It’s a practice that is surprisingly new to me….

But I love it!!!

You’re given a bunch of topics to pray through systematically, and encouraged to spend extended time in God’s presence processing the material.

Because the lecturers expected ‘Prayer Projects’ to be new to most of the participants, they gave us some fantastic Q&A guidelines. Here is one of the Questions with an Answer that I found particularly insightful. I’m sharing because I think it helps address the many feelings of guilt and obstacles to spending long times with God in prayer.

Enjoy!

What might I experience during my Prayer Project?

At the outset, it is important that the Spirit governs the encounter in prayer, and as such each experience will vary. That said, here are some common occurrences that happen during Prayer Projects and how you might respond to them:

Consolation/Joy – This is when you experience a deep sense of joy, of being loved, of being at peace in the presence of God. This is a real gift from the Lord – cherish it! No guidance is necessary for this – the Lord will direct your heart.

Distraction – So very common for all of us in prayer. We start to pray about one topic but find our hearts and minds wandering elsewhere. This is an opportunity to ask the Lord what He wants to do with that thought. You don’t have to try to resist it. Rather, mention it to the Lord in your prayer. (Example: “Lord, I find my mind wandering to ____. What would You want me to do with this?”) Then see how He responds. In general, it is worth staying with the original prayer topic unless you experience a strong sense that you should pursue this new thought.

Fatigue – You might feel tired in prayer, even to the point of falling asleep. If this happens, and you realize that you have been asleep, pay attention to the feelings that arise in your heart as you awake. Talk with God about those feelings, whether they be gratitude at the gift of rest or anxiety about having fallen asleep on Him. This is your honest experience in prayer, and even this can become a topic for conversation with God.

Guilt, Shame, Anxiety – You may experience guilt, shame, or anxiety over what you’re praying about. This is particularly so if you’re praying about something that has been hidden in your heart, something you may not have talked about before. What is most important to remember during these times is that you are completely loved by God just as you are, regardless of whether you feel that or not. The temptation is to hide our guilt and shame and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or we might panic before God and try desperately to get Him to reassure us that we’re okay. You are encouraged instead to name your feelings to God. If you’re feeling guilty, ashamed, or anxious, tell God exactly that. Trust that if He has brought those feelings up, then He wants to meet you in them. He is using them not to condemn you, but to draw closer to you.

Despair/Darkness – You may have times when you feel like God is distant, like your prayer life is dark. Or you may be tempted to despair, to think that God is not listening to you or is not even present. You may feel so overwhelmed by your spiritual failure that you think that your situation is hopeless. These can be very hard and painful times in prayer. If you are able, continue to pray. Name what you’re feeling to God. Tell Him about the darkness and distance and despair.

Note: You might reach a point where the darkness feels too overwhelming for you and that it feels too difficult to go on in prayer. If you reach this point, then pull back. You may stop your prayer at this point. Find a passage of Scripture instead, especially one reminding you of the love of God (e.g., Psalm 139:1-18, Romans 5 or 8) and read it for the remainder of the prayer time. Please also contact a trusted spiritual advisor, such as your pastor, small group leader, or mentor and tell him or her what you are experiencing. Allow this person to offer you more specific encouragement and guidance for your situation.

For more information please visit: Biola Learn: https://www.biola.edu/learn/catalog

Christ bids a man – come and die

Christ asks me to take up my cross daily, to die to self, die to my own efforts (even those to “work for Him”. To die to it all.

But where does this leave me? Where does this leave me in terms of my commitments and ambitions – shall I not simply become flimsical and waversome in all my resolves?

1) this leaves me on Christ’s cross. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. I surrendered this right to being when I was baptised into His life.

2) my commitments and ambitions are naught and meaningless. So is my character, honour, reputation and even my relationships. It is all nothing compared to Christ. Only Christ – this is the call.

3) flimsical? Waversome? Not in the slightest. For His power and love and joy and peace are at work in me (this clay jar) – emptied like Christ – and will be proved mighty and steadfast.

I cry with John, or rather His spirit compels me to cry, “He must increase, I must decrease”

Faith mixed with Revelation

Genesis 6:22 says that Noah did everything just as the Lord commanded him.

It’s easy to do some of what God tells us. It’s easy to do everything God tells us, but in a slightly different way. (For example he could have made a slightly bigger boat etc). But the challenge is to do everything, just as commanded.

Noah mixes the revelation of the coming flood with the faithful obedience of a righteous man. It’s easy to keep these things separate: what God tells us and what we think is true and important.

The men and women of scripture challenge us to mix faithful obedience with the revelation of Gods will/word.

When God says go, do we go? When God says speak, do we speak? When God says turn the other cheek, love your enemies, bless those who insult you – do we?

Obedience isn’t easy, especially when we disagree. This is why faith is required into the mixture.

Today, may we be like Noah who did everything, just as the Lord commanded Him.

Peter: “But because You say so, I will” Luke 5:5

“Whatever God wants, whenever He wants it, whatever the cost”

Mary: “do whatever He tells you” John 2:5

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]

Systematic Theology 9: The Existence of God

How do we know that God exists?

This week see’s us start part 2 of Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology. So far we’ve covered The Doctrines of the Word of God. And now, we are looking at the Doctrines of God.

My mentor once told me, systematic theology studies are usually divided over what to look at first. God or the Bible. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. Theology is, by definition, the study of God. So intuitively we may assume the Doctrine of God should be studied first. However, since Systematic Theology is our knowledge about God as defined by the whole of scripture, it is important that we establish what Scripture claims for itself first.

In short, it doesn’t really matter, and there is a lot of overlap.

Reading chapter 9, felt a little like re-visiting my RE classes back in secondary school.

Wayne Grudem outlines four main approaches to believing God’s existence.

1) Our inner sense of God (which is intensified by the Holy Spirit for Christians, and alluded to in Scripture – see Romans 1:19,21,25)

2) The Evidence of God in Scripture and Nature (we are told the heavens declare God’s glory, that the seasons of fruitfulness demonstrate His mercy – see Acts 14:17 & Psalm 19:1)

3) The Traditional proofs – these were covered for most students in Religious Studies classes at school. A quick google search will find good elaborations on them. (Sorry I don’t have time now to re-hash them!) They included the Comological Argument (First Cause), Teleological Argument (Intelligent Design), Ontological Argument (The “Greatest” thing must be real in order to be the “greatest”) and the Moral Argument (see point 1).

Interestingly, Grudem concedes that these traditional arguments are true whether we are convinced by them or not. But that, they themselves, cannot bring to saving faith the lost. This is because of the Doctrine of the Sufficiency and Necessity of Scripture.

4) Finally, we are told that only God can overcome our sin (which blinds us) and enable us to be persuaded by His existence. 1 Corinthians 1:21 reminds us that human wisdom is inadequate, we are dependent on Him to bring us life.

Please see my notes below:

Genesis 4:1-26 Part 2: Faith is Demonstrated

Genesis 4 includes the story of Cain and Abel, the man who killed his brother. But there is a lot more going on in this passage than meets the eye. For starters, it is where we first start to really see the beginnings of faith in the human race.

Yes, Adam and Eve were supposed to have faith in God’s commands and goodness back in the garden. But they didn’t. We also saw a little of Adam’s faith in the previous chapter when he named his wife Eve, in response to the Promise of God [See: Where do we go from here?].

But in chapter 4, faith is beginning to spring up all over the place:

Eve’s Faith

It is so encouraging to see that Adam and Eve were not “lost causes”. They had learnt, over time, to turn back to God. In fact, they raised their children to follow God, even though they themselves had disobeyed Him.

As Chapter 4 opens, and closes, the faith of Eve is very much on display in the birth of her sons.

“With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man…God has granted me another child in the place of Abel” (vv 1 & 25)

I believe that one of the reasons she thanks God for both Cain and Seth, is because she believes that through one of these children God will provide the Promised One (3:15).

Abel’s Faith

There are many explanations for why Abel’s offering was accepted whilst Cain’s wasn’t. One of the most convincing ones is rooted in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel brought a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.”

His offering was accepted because of his faith. A faith that still speaks today! (Heb 11:4b)

Cain’s Lack of Faith

Another reason to explain why Cain’s offering was not accepted was because of his lack of faith. We assume this because of the despair that emerges when his offering isn’t accepted.

When we fall short of God’s standards, It is faith that moves us to turn back to God. If however, we don’t live by faith, falling short will result in despair. We will groan that we are not good enough and not valuable to God. (In fact we are not good enough). But faith allows us to put our trust in God and receive His righteousness.

Cain’s lack of faith is seen his response to having his sacrifice rejected. But it is also seen in what happens next. When God punishes him for murdering his brother, Cain again falls into despair. “My punishment is more than I can bear”.

Even despite this, God continues to lavish grace and protection on Cain.

Then later on, we see Cain trying to make a name for himself by building a city (v17). One commentator noted the continuous verb, “Cain was then building a city”. And said that this mirrors the life of someone trying to earn salvation, rather than receiving it by faith.

Faith passed on: Adam and Eve to Abel, to Seth, to society

And yet Adam and Eve continue to have faith in God. And once they give birth to Seth they teach him too to lean on God. And so chapter 4 ends with the hope-filled phrase: “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD” (v26)

One of the mysterious things about faith is that we can pass it on. This is how commands like the Great Commission are possible. We can go and make disciples of all nations because of our example and teaching of faith.

This is why Paul urges Timothy, ‘do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example to all the believers in speech, conduct, faith, love and purity’.

Yes, God does distribute a measure of faith to each of us (Rom 12:3), but we can go and model and encourage others to walk in faith. This is what we see Adam and Eve doing, and later Seth.

May we too seek to model faith well.