A fascinating interview on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning led to this exchange:
James Naughty in conversation with Joan Bakewell, recently appointed a Government Champion of the elderly.
Naughty: What did you conclude about how are we beginning to look at people who perhaps need at lot of help, a lot of care, who perhaps can be difficult and require a different kind of approach from people who maybe 50 years younger than they are?
Bakewell: …On the whole our society is quite cruel. We care about money, we care about fame, success.
Naughty: Has it got more cruel?
Bakewell: I think the decline of religious commitment to charity, and kindness has declined.
Nobody learns that. They don’t learn it in their home, they don’t learn it in their school, it’s seen as soft, it’s not what you’re about. You’re meant to stand up for your own individual personality, make your way in the world and good luck to you.
Kindness, empathy, generousity are all in short supply and people used to learn it from the churches. I learnt it in Sunday school.
Where do you learn it now? I don’t know.
Thanks to Dan Steel for spotting this!
Listen in to part 1 at around the 15 minute mark for a fascinating perspective on preaching.
A thought provoking article by Mike Breen that highlights the fact that we focus on reaching the world NOT by neglecting the church. In fact, unless we we make discipleship the heart of church life our mission will fail. Like building a car without an engine, being ‘missional’ is not enough.
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]….
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.
The title for this post comes from Tim Keller and is taken from a paper pointing out the terrible consequences both for ministers and for churches of working from a wrong foundation and wrong motivators. I’ve suggested on this blog before that ALL ministry is either a search for a secure identity or flows out of a secure identity. In this paper Keller highlights what becomes of a Pastor who is working for his own justification;
Ministers must be willing to admit that their ministry-success is often the real or main basis for their joy and sense of significance, much more so than the love and regard they have from the Father in Christ. It is what they look to in order to feel they can stand with confidence before God and others and even their own reflection in the mirror. In other words, we look to ministry success to be for us what only Christ can be. All ministers who know themselves will be fighting that all their lives. It is the reason for turf-consciousness, for jealously, for comparing yourself to other ministers, for the need to control the church, for the feeling that when your ministry is criticized you are criticized.
The danger for many in gospel work is simply that somewhere down the line the functioning motivators change. As a young minister maybe it really was all about God and not about us. Maybe it really did flow out of a joy from being a child of God. But then maybe just as a result of forgetfulness or maybe as a result of jealousy or maybe the results of either success or failure the gospel was subtely replaced by a different and destructive motivator, self-justification. And when it did it started to change everything and to undo minster and congregation. No wonder Keller says we will fight it all our lives but fight it we must.
Last night we saw the collapse of law and order on the streets of many parts of London and Birmingham. As Christians how do we respond?
1. We pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:2) that they may know how to deal with the unpredictable and escalating violence and lawlessness. For all in government at the local and national level as they prepare for the coming nights ahead.
2. We are not surprised by the events of the last few nights (although we are saddened and shocked) because as Christians we recognise the doctrine of total depravity when we see it. The actions of last night are not an indicator of social deprivation but of total depravity the doctrine which Wayne Grudem in his systematic theology defines as follows;
‘because of the fall and our own wilful sinfulness all mankind are thoroughly corrupt and completely evil. We are restrained from living out our corruptness to its fulness by God’s common grace.’
When the restraining power of the conscience within and law and order without are removed people are capable of committing great evils.
3. We thank God for his restraining hand that has kept our nation from a break down of law and order on countless occasions in the past. When we live at peace we are getting better than our sins deserve. When our streets are safe we remember how good God is to us and we do not take his common grace for granted. We pray that God in his mercy will restore law and order.
4. We pray for churches in the communities affected that they may speak out against such acts of evil and be salt and light. We pray in particular for those who run youth groups and clubs that interact with youth caught up in the events of last night that they may lead them to true repentance and faith in Christ.
5. We thank God for the bravery of many Police officers who have risked their lives to protect our streets. We see the image of God in their selfless acts and in their restraint. We pray for many who are working extra hours and have had annual leave cancelled to defend us.
6. We pray for those who committed these acts. That the Spirit of Christ may convict them of their sin and lead them to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.
7. We pray that justice will be done and seen to be done in the arrest of those responsible
Paul writes in Romans 13:2-3;
He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.
8. We pray for those who have lost their livelihood or their homes and possessions. That believers would be comforted and supported in their loss and that the church may act decisively to bring relief to those in their distress.
9. We pray for all Christians that they may have opportunity to speak of Christ, sensitively and wisely, in their places of work and communities today. That we may
10. For the longer term we pray for our cities and in particular the inner cities where disaffection and dissatisfaction with life leads to lawlessness, criminality, to violence and to gang culture. We pray that gospel men and women will plant churches and develop ministries to see these young men and women won for Christ.
11. We pray for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and the establishment of his kingdom; for the time when he will remove all wickedness and evil from our world and for his perfect and good rule to be established in our world.
‘How to fit hard thinking into a busy schedule’ or ’10 ways to make mental space for sermon writing’
Pastors and planters fit the profile for what Cal Newport calls ‘To-do list creatives’ perfectly which is what makes this article so helpful.
To-do list creatives are those who’s work require them at times to be managers, organisers, administrators but also have to find time for ‘high quality creative work’.
All pastors know the weekly battle between getting down to the sermon which requires a longer period(s) of concentrated time and the constant reminders of all the admin. yet to be done. Often that means that even when we sit down to get creative we find ourselves distracted.
Internal distraction comes from unprompted thoughts that pop into our heads that compete for our attention when we are trying to focus. We can’t quite mentally switch off from busy thinking and make the necessary change of gear.
External distractions come from unwelcome interruptions that we (depending on our degree of discipline) comply with. So that could be phone-calls, twitter, e-mail, personal visits,etc.
- Shifting Mental Modes: When the mind knows it has no interruptions looming, it can shift into the flow state required to produce high-quality output.
- Providing Freedom to Explore: Real creative work is non-linear, often requiring long, unexpected detours to uncover the contours of the problem at hand. Long stretches of time provide the freedom needed to feel comfortable indulging in these detours.
So for me the biggest challenge and the greatest threat to the sermon is not just finding time to be creative but protecting time. Even just one interruption to the flow can be a massive set-back and getting back into the ‘zone’ may take another 15 minutes.
So how do we manage the competing priorities? Here are 10 suggests for
1. Block out sermon prep slots in your week as non-negotiable, priority A tasks. Treat these windows as as if they were a 1-2-1 meeting with someone not least because they are!
Josh Kaufman in the Persoanl MBA writes:
I typically focus on writing for a few uninterrupted hours in the morning, then batch my calls and meetings in the afternoon. As a result, I can focus on both responsibilities with my full attention.
3. By far my most creative time is very early in the day. Early to bed means an early rise and some productive, undisturbed time.
4. In combating internal distractions I set aside particular days or sections of a day where I routinely and regularly prep. sermons. My mind begins to accept that, for example, tuesday and friday mornings are sermon prep. times and with structure as well as discipline in place I find it much easier to focus on these mornings. It also helps if others know that these are prep. times too!
5. Forewarding a draft of a sermon to one or two others in the church earlier in the week for comment and suggestions also functions as a great incentive to be disciplined and start early in the week.
6. A change of environment acts as a mental switch. Some people have two desks to work at, one for admin. the other for study. Some, like Mark Driscoll, prefer to have an office at church and a study at home.
7. Switching off the computer and preparing on paper combats both internal and external distractions,
8. A change of mood. Some people find that a change of lighting, music, etc. can be conducive to study.
9. Study days, well planned out in advance may give you 2 or 3 days of solid work on say a sermon series weeks or months in advance. Getting away from it all either mentally or even better mentally and physically get those creative juices flowing and give a good head-start.
10. And I hope it goes without saying that by far the best way of ensuring uninterrupted, undistracted work is to value the work of preaching the word of God above all things and to pray and work accordingly.
Imagine (horrible as it sounds) a fire breaking out in a church kids club that your children are in. You rush into the building. Who are you desperate to get out of the building? Who is it that you’re looking for? Your kids, right?
Through this illustration Kevin DeYoung raises the issue of moral proximity when it comes to our obligations as Christians to helping others.
In conversation with Matt Chandler, Trevin Wax and Jonathan Leeman during TFTG’11 DeYoung uses it to inform a discuss the issues that surround social justice and church mission.
What was most helpful for me was DeYoung’s recognition that whilst the whole world might be my neighbour I am not under exactly the same obligation to the 6 billion and more people on the planet.
In fact unless and until we recognise that Scripture does differentiate on the matter we will find ourselves under an ‘impossible burden that will beat us up’ and a sense of obligation that no-one lives up to.
According to DeYoung Moral proximity describes ‘the different moral obligation we have on us in different situations’.
Why does this matter? Well quite simply if Jesus tells us that the whole world is my neighbour and I am under an obligation to love my neighbour, indiscriminately, then what does it mean to fulfil this command? How is it possible, to love every man, woman and child equally?
What would it mean for my personal priorities and our corporate church programmes?
DeYoung argues that the notion of moral proximity is not an excuse to avoid responsibility but is clearly demonstrated in the New Testament and life of the early church. Whilst the whole world may be my neighbour I have particular responsibilities to some by virtue of their relationship to me ie their proximity to me and me to them.
Where in the Bible do we find moral proximity?
He touches on a number of examples in the Scripture (and I’ve added a few others!)
We have a particular obligation to our biological family – so much so that to fail to provide for family is to behave worse than an unbeliever and also to place an inappropriate burden on the church. c.f 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 16.
We have an obligation to our local church family – so 1 John 3:11 the call to love one another is best understood in the context of the local church.
We have an obligation to our wider church family – so Jesus in Matthew 25: 34-40. Paul, in Galatians 6v.10 differentiates a particular obligation to the people of God when he says ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’
The collection of money for the church in Jerusalem, 2 Cor. 8&9 would be a further example.
Does that mean that these statements negate the teachings of Jesus that the whole world is my neighbour and that I therefore cannot put limits on my love? Not at all.
But even Jesus’ parable suggests something more. Snodgrass in Stories with Intent writes
One cannot define one’s neighbour; one can only be a neighbour. We cannot say in advance who the neighbor is; rather nearness and need define ‘neighbor’.
I guess what that means is that as individuals and churches we are willing to respond to all in need but geographical nearness and urgency of need suggest a greater obligation.
Geographical nearness may mean choosing some social justice project in our community to join with or establish.
Urgency of need may mean collecting money to meet for example a famine in east Africa.
Snodgrass also cites Kierkegaard
‘To love one’s neighbour means, while remaining within the earthly distinctions allotted to one, essentially to will to exist equally for every human being without exception.’
To my mind every human being without exception but not every human being without distinction serves as a helpful summary.
A few take home points for me;
1. No-one lives as if they owe the same obligation to every member of the human race. DeYoung’s argument helps liberate us from a sense of guilt or hypocrisy.
2. The Bible gives us a framework for assessing who we owe what to. It would seem to me that we are to be proactive in seeking to provide for our biological family and the local church and that we are to reactively respond to need as we discover it in the wider world on the basis of nearness and need paying particular attention to the needs of believers.
3. We need to identify some social justice projects that we think it wisest to support. Not because we dismiss all others but because of our limitations and that moral proximity will help us decide.
4. We need to watch our hearts that are quick to avoid the awesome obligations that Jesus puts us under. Am I really ready to be a neighbour to even my enemy?
Why not follow the whole conversation or listen in to Kevin’s answer at the 40 minute mark.
DeYoung’s book What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission addressing these issues will be available (in the US) from September.
Mike McKinley, author of Am I really a Christian? gives 4 great reasons why we would want to meet with God’s people week by week and all in just over 2 minutes.
Did you spot them all?
1) As Christians we have a new status. We have a new Heavenly Father and so we are also members of a new family. Our new status implies new relationships with other Christians. 1 John 3:16-18
2) It’s a natural impulse for Spirit-filled Christains to want to meet with God’s people. To learn from God, to praise God, to pray with others and to express love for one another as an expression of our love for God. See Acts 2: 44-47, Heb.10:23-25
3) God has designed the Christian life to be lived in community. He has given me gifts for the benefit of others. They are given that I might love and serve other Christians. 1 Cor.12:7ff.
4) Church is the place where I can experience the gifts given to other people for me. 1 Cor. 12:7ff
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