Browsing articles from "August, 2011"
Aug 31, 2011

What’s stopping you? Ideas on overcoming inertia from Matt Perman

Matt Perman’s blog What’s Best Next is a must read for Christians in leadership.

He describes his blog as existing ‘to help equip Christians in good works, because that’s what productivity is really about.’ and through it Perman addresses a whole host of leadership issues from a gospel centred perspective.

Here is a recent post addressing the issue of procrastination;

A lot of productivity advice seems to focus on giving you tips to stay focused on and get motivated to do things you don’t want to do. I’m actually not into that sort of thing.

I think that if you are doing a lot of work where you have to “goad” yourself to get it done, you are probably in the wrong job. Plus, a lot of the detailed tactics for self-motivation don’t work long-term. It is far better to make procrastination a non-issue, which is what my first point gets at.

1. Love what you do

The best motivation is to love what you do. It’s far better to tackle the “problem” of motivation at the higher level so that you don’t even need to deal with the more detailed and specific motivational tactics.

The three components of motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you find yourself needing to be motivated, rather than identifying tactics like “reward yourself after you get done with a hard task,” take a look at whether you believe in the purpose of your tasks (and, before that, actually know the purpose!), whether the tasks are too hard (or too easy), and whether you have the freedom to do them in your own way.

The best type of motivation is to want to do the things you have to do — to be pulled toward them by a desire to do them and make a difference and serve others — rather than to be pushed towards them through carrots and sticks (rewards and punishments). Intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation every time. When you like your work, procrastination typically becomes a non-issue.

Now, at the same time, there will always be tasks now and then that we just find ourselves entirely dis-inclined to do. Maybe it’s even a task we ordinary love, but we are extremely tired that day and yet are on a deadline and need to get it done. Or maybe there are other factors interfering. In these cases, tactics can sometimes be useful. Here’s one I’ve found useful.

2. Take Breaks After Starting the Next Part of a Task, Rather Than In Between

When you take a break, don’t take your break at a natural stopping point. Instead, get to a natural stopping point, and then start into the next segment of the task. This gets you into it a bit and gets your wheels turning. Then take your break. While you are on your break, your mind will be inclined to get going again, since you’ve already started in to it. So it will be easier to come back from the break and avoid letting the break turn into an extended period of procrastination.


Aug 30, 2011

If you like Jazz you might just like heaven

Jim Packer writes for all those who fear that heaven might just be a bit dull:

I have written with enthusiasm, for this everlasting life is something to which I look forward. Why? Not because I am out of love with life here—just the reverse! My life is full of joy, from four sources—knowing God, and people, and the good and pleasant things that God and men under God have created, and doing things which are worth while for God or others or for myself as God’s man. But my reach exceeds my grasp. My relationships with God and men are never as rich and full as I want them to be and I am always finding more than I thought was there in great music, great verse, great books, great lives and the great kaleidoscope of the natural order.

Jelly-Roll Morton sang of Jazz, “The more I have, the more I want, it seems”—and there are 1,001 things (including Morton’s own jazz) about which I find myself saying just that.

As I get older, I find that I appreciate God and people and good and lovely and noble things, more and more intensely; so it is pure delight to think that this enjoyment will continue and increase in some form (what form, God know, and I am content to wait and see), literally forever.

We cannot visualise heaven’s life and the wise man will not try. Instead, he will dwell on the doctrine of heaven, which is that there the redeemed find all their heart’s desire: joy with their Lord, joy with his people and joy in the ending of all frustration and distress and the supply of wants.

Often now we say in moments of great enjoyment, “I don’t want this ever to stop”—but it does. Heaven, however, is different. May heaven’s joys be yours and mine.


Aug 29, 2011

Every 60 seconds THIS happens on the internet

Aug 29, 2011

We died before we came

James Calvert (1813–1892) was a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands. As they arrived at the Islands the ship’s captain tried to turn him back, saying, “You will lose your life and the life of those with you if you go among such savages.” To which Calvert replied ‘We died before we came here.”




Aug 28, 2011

at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space

I believe myself that his whole life was a search for God, or, for those who prefer less personal terms, for absolute certainty. Indeed, he had first taken up philosophy in the hope of finding proof of the existence of God… Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space that had once been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put it in.

Katherine Tait. My Father Bertrand Russell cited in John Dickson’s If I were God, I’d make myself clearer

Aug 26, 2011

‘Money can’t buy me love’ – Miroslav Volf & fixing broken Britain

Listening to this Tim Keller talk he quoted an extract from an essay by Miroslav Volf  entitled Shopkeeper’s Gold. Volf speaks with prophetic power into our country’s situation after the events on our streets in recent weeks.

Could the hope for the inner cities lie in part in the retrieval of the doctrine of justification by grace? How could dead streets receive life from a dead doctrine? Imagine that you have no job, no money, you live cut off from the rest of society in a world ruled by poverty and violence, your skin is the “wrong” color – and you have no hope that any of this will change.

Around you is a society governed by the iron law of achievement. Its gilded goods are flaunted before your eyes on TV screens, and in a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievements. You are a failure, and you know that you will continue to be a failure because there is no way for you to achieve tomorrow what you have not managed to achieve today. Your dignity is shattered and your soul is enveloped in the darkness of despair.

But the gospel tells you that you are not defined by outside forces. It tells you that you count – even more, that you are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve, even that you are loved a tad bit more than those whose efforts have been crowned with success.

Imagine now this gospel not simply proclaimed but embodied in a community that has emerged not as a “result of works” (Eph. 2.10). Justified by sheer grace, it seeks to “justify” by grace those who are made “unjust” by society’s implacable law of achievement. Imagine furthermore this community determined to infuse the wider culture, along with its political and economic institutions, with the message that it seeks to embody and proclaim. This is justification by grace, proclaimed and practiced. A dead doctrine? Hardly.

As I was reflecting on the social significance of justication by grace, I remembered a passage from Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra … “O my brothers, I direct and consecrate you to a new nobility: you shall become begetters and cultivators and sowers of the future – truly, not a nobility that you could buy like shopkeepers with shopkeepers gold: for all that has a price is of little value.”

Justification by grace, I thought, musing on Nietzsche’s profound observation, is so deeply at odds with our “shopkeeper’s culture”. It takes the price tags off human beings not so as to devalue them but so as to give them their proper dignity, a dignity not based on what they have achieved but rooted in the sheer fact that they are loved unconditionally by God. Divine love is that indispensable nourishment for the human soul of which the prophet speaks when he calls, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters: and you that have no money come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isa. 55:1)

The hope for our communities, for our cities, for the next generation is the life-transforming gospel of grace.

Aug 25, 2011

This post is dedicated to all who insist that religion poisons everything

For all those who insist that religion poisons everything The Sunday Times Magazine (21st August 2011) carried the following article;

The first Mercy ship was launched in 1982 by Texan Christians Don and Deyon Stephens, who transformed Victoria, a retired ocean-going liner, into a state-of-the-art clinic. The charity has since sent four ships – all but one retired – into some of the worst trouble zones, including Haiti, Liberia and the Ivory Coast.

The idea behind the project is simple: to create ‘islands’ of care off the coast of some of the world’s most desperately poor countries – beyond the reach of corrupt officials looking to plunder equipment.

The ship depends entirely on volunteers, with a rotating core of 1,000 crew and 2,000 volunteers from more than 40 nations, including surgeons, dentists, nurses, mechanics and school teachers, all of whom pay up to £300 a month for the privilege of living and working on board. The charity has a strong Christian ethos – at the ship’s entrance you encounter a framed prayer, Isaiah 60:18: ‘No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.’

Dr Gary Parker, the chief medical officer works 70- to 80-hour week and has no house, no car, no life savings and no pension.

I don’t do this for the praise and gratitude of others. I care for these patients because they have value.

‘In this job, I have to prefer others above myself and I do.’

Parker has seen local children mutilated by rebels, and other outcast because of such disfiguring but treatable conditions as cleft palates. He is a world expert on head and facial injuries caused by war.

Of the people on this boat, 90% are committed followers of Christ. Perhaps 10% aren’t, but most of the surgery we carry out here in Sierra Leone is on Muslim patients. Our core values are Christian but we are not here to proselytise. We are here to save lives.’

On his office wall is a small oil painting of a surgeon at work with Jesus standing over his shoulder, his hand guiding the doctor’s.

We are rescuing them from the curse of the night. Allowing them to walk in the light, giving them their face and their humanity back.’

This video link from Mercy Ships own website contains an account of the visit of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone to the ship along with a speech of thanks from the President for the work of Mercy Ships.


Aug 24, 2011

The most important doctrine you never think about

The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung is a perfect introduction to one of the greatest statements of Protestant/Evangelical belief;  the Heidelberg Catechism.

DeYoung tells us why he’s written it in his introduction;

No doubt, the church in the West has many new things to learn. But for the most part, everthing we need to learn is what we’ve already forgotten. The chief theological task now facing the Western Church is not to reinvent or to be relevnat but to remember.

The Catechism is made up of 129 questions and is based on the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer and in his book DeYoung provides a commentary on the questions in 52 chapters.

By way of taster here is DeYoung on question 25 and his chapter ‘The Most Important Doctrine you Never Think About’

Q. Since there is but one God, why do you speak of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

A. Because that is how God has revealed Himself in the Word: these three distinct persons are one, true, eternal God.

First, what does the doctrine mean? The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarised in seven statements

1. There is one God

2. The Father is God

3. The Son is God

4. The Holy Spirit is God

5. The Father is not the Son

6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit

7. The Holy Spirit is not the Father

All three persons of the Tinity share the same ‘Godness.’ One is not more God than another. None is more essentially divine than the rest [but also] the persons are not three Gods; rather, they dwell in communion with each other as they subsist in the divine nature without being compounded or confused.

Why does any of this matter?

DeYoung mentions three to get us thinking;

1. The Trinity matters for creation. God unlike the gods in other creation stories, did not need to go outside Himslef to creat the universe. Instead, the Word and the Spirit were like HIs own two hands (to use Irenaeus’s’ famous phrase) in fashioning the cosmos.

God created by speaking (the WOrd) as teh Spirit hovered over the chaos. Creation, like regeneration, is a Trinitarian act.

2. The Trinity matters for evangelism and cultural engagement.

Islam emphasizes unity – unity of language, culture and expression – wihtout allowing much variance for diversity. Postmodernism, on the other hand, emphasizes diversity – diversity of opinion, beliefs, and background – without attemtplting to see thigns in any kind of meta-unity.

Christianity, with it’s understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity…It is possible to hope that GOd’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness.

3. The trinity matters for relationships.

Without a plurality of persons in the Godhead, we would be forced to think that God created humans so that He might show love and know love, thereby making love a created think (and God a needy deity). But with a biblical understanding of the Trinity, we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight.

Aug 23, 2011

The gospel of unbelief – Why the very things New Atheists fight for belong to Christian thought

Without doubt David Bentley Hart’s book Atheist Delusions The Christian Revolution and its fashionable enemies is the best thing I have read in response to the New Atheism. Less a critique of their views it is a scholarly rebuttal of their scandalous historical revisionism which attempts to present Christianity as a force for evil in the world by a scholarly demonstration of how Christianity transformed every aspect of society.

Hart’s thesis as set out in his introduction is as follows;

Among all the many great transitions that have maked the evoltion of Western civilization..there has only been one – the triumph of Christianity – that can be called in the fullest sense a “revolution”: a truly massive and epochal revision of humaniti’s prevailing vision of reality, so pervasicve in its influence and so vast in its consequences as actually to have a createad a new conception of the world, of history, of human nature, of time, and of the moral good.

Although a ‘historical essay’ more than a philosophical response to the New Atheists he does, along the way, highlight the flawed logic of their thinking. It is a short section on morality in the opening chapter that I would like to quote at some length.

What I find most mystifying in the arguments of the authors I have mentioned [Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins], and of others like them, is the strange presupposition that truly secular society would of its nature be more tolerant and less prone to violence than any society shaped by any form of faith. Given that the modern age of secular governance has been the most savagely and sublimely violent period in human history, by a factor (or body count) of incalculable magnitude, it is hard to identify the grounds for their confidence.

It is not even especially clear why these authors imagine that a world entirely purged of faith would choose to be guided by moral principles remotely similar to their own; and the obscurity becomes especially impenetrable to me in the case of those who seem to believe that a thoroughgoing materialism informed by Darwinian biology might actually aid us in forsaking our “tribalism” or “irrationality” and in choosing instead to live in tolerant concord with one another. After all, the only ideological or political faction that have made any attempt at an ethics consistent with Darwinian science, to this point at least, have been the socialist eugenics movement of the early twentieth century and the Nazi movement that sprang from it. Obviously, stupid or evil social and political movements should not dictate our opinions of scientific discoveries. But it scarcely impugns the epochal genius of Charles Darwin or Alfred Russel Wallace to note that – understood purely as a bare, brute, material event – nature admits of no moral principles at all, and so can provide non; all it can provide is its own “moral” example, which is anything but gentle.

Dennett, who often shows a propensity for moral pronouncements of almost pontifical peremptoriness, and for social prescriptions of the most authoritarian variety, does not delude himself that evolutionary theory is a source of positive moral prescriptions. But there is something delusional nonetheless in his optimistic certainty that human beings will wish to choose altruistic values without invoking transcendent principles. They may do so; but they may also wish to build death camps, and may very well choose to do that instead.

For every ethical theory developed apart from some account of transcendent truth – of, that is, the spiritual or metaphysical foundation of reality  – is a fragile fiction, credible only to those sufficiently obstinate in their willing suspension of disbelief. It one does not wish to be convinced, however, a simple “I disagree” or “I refuse” is enough to exhaust the persuasive resources of any purely worldly ethics.

Hart continues

Compassion, pity and charity, as we understand and cherish them, are not objects found in nature, like trees or butterflies or academic philosophers, but are historically contingent conventions of belief and practice, formed by cultural convictions that need never have arisen at all.

They [the New Atheists] are inheritors of a social conscience whose ethical grammar would have been very different had it not been shaped by Christianity’s moral premises…and good sense should prompt them to acknowledge that absolutely nothing ensures that, once Christian beliefs have been finally and fully renounced, those values will not slowly dissolve, to be replaced by others that are coarser, colder, more pragmatic, and more “inhuman.”


Aug 22, 2011

Five sermons every Christian should read – No. 1

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most brilliant men Scotland has ever produced. Amongst his many achievements he was chair of moral philosophy at St. Andrews University and later chair of theology in Edinburgh. His influence and impact were truly massive and this short biography is well worth a read by way of introduction.

It is his sermon ‘The expulsive power of a new affection‘ by which he is probably best known.  It is based on 1 John 2:15 ‘” Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” and in the sermon Chalmers shows us how the gospel is God’s means not only of forgiving our sin but bringing about the heart transformation that God promises us in the New Covenant.

Chalmers demonstrates how the gospel alone has the power to truly set us free from sin. Where will-power and external religion are powerless to bring about the necessary change of heart it is the gospel that has life-changing power.

How does it work? Quite simply ‘the ONLY way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one ‘ because ‘what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed‘.

As we strive for godliness and if we’re in ministry as we strive to lead others to godliness let us seek the beauty of Christ and let us nurture a new greater love, the love for Christ that delivers us from sin.

Below is an extract from the sermon:

The object of the gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience and to purify the heart, and it is of importance to observe that what mars the one of these objects mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one….Thus it is that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying the Gospel. The more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more it will be felt as a doctrine [leading to godliness]….

Thomas Chalmer's statue in Edinburgh

On the tenure of “do this and you will live”, a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence of intimacy between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness instead of God’s glory. With all the conformities that he labors to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy can it ever be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance. Only then can he repose in Him as one friend reposes in another…the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good…in the impulse of a gratitude, by which is he is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.

Salvation by grace, salvation by free grace, salvation not by works but according to the mercy of God is indispensable…to…godliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel…and you take away the power of the Gospel to melt and conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of Antinomianism [lawlessness], is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it.

Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which in proportion as you impair the freeness, you are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness.

[Why is this grateful love so important?] It is seldom that any of our [bad habits or flaws] disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning…or by the force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed–and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection in the mind.

It is thus that the boy ceases at length to be a slave of his appetite, but it is because a [more ‘mature’] taste has brought it into subordination. The youth ceases to idolize [sensual] pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has…gotten the ascendancy. Even the love of money can cease to have mastery over the heart because it is drawn into the whirl of [ideology and politics] and he is now lorded over by a love of power [and moral superiority]. But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object is conquered—but its desire to have some object…is unconquerable….

The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one…It is only…when admitted into the number of God’s children, through faith in Jesus Christ, that the spirit of adoption is poured out on us–it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, and the only way that deliverance is possible.

Thus…it is not enough…to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration of the evanescent character of your enjoyments…to speak to the conscience…of its follies….Rather, try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world.


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