Words then and now on the indescribable mystery of God made man.
Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father he remains,
From his mother he goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at his mother’s breast.
He is both great in the nature of God,
and small in the form of a servant.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD)
We have a 5 year old son who attends our church twice on a Sunday. In the mornings we spend the first 15 minutes together in the service before he heads next door for Kidz Sunday School but he also attends each evening service where he sits through the full 80-90 minutes. He’s not the only child there and as a church we are slowly developing a culture in which our children feel welcome and included in the evening service so that families can worship together.
Here are a couple of quite excellent posts by Jen Wilkin on why worship together as families and then how to make it work.
She writes of the excellent children’s work at her church;
We see it as a rich and relevant worship environment for a child, as a vibrant supplement for “big church”. But not as a substitute for it.
She also recognises that things are far from simple when you bring your kids to big church;
Together hasn’t always been easy. I recall long worship services with four elementary-aged children scribbling with crayons, begging for gum, and contorting themselves like miniature yogis in the pew. Just remembering it makes my eye twitch. But over time, with clear participation expectations, creative activities and the right cocktail of punishments and rewards our kids have grown to see “big church” not as a place they tolerate but as a place they belong.
But she is full of practical wisdom too on how to help your child sit through the service and participate in the service. Her tips on debriefing after the service are terrific too;
After attending Big Church together, remember to talk to your child about how it went and what could go differently next week.
In our service on Sunday evening I preached on Exodus chapter 4-5 and we wrestled with the issue of who was responsible for the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. I asked the congregation mid-way through the service ‘so who was it; Pharaoh or God?’ A five year old shouted out ‘God’ loud enough for the whole church to hear as she continued to colour her picture next to her father. That was quite possibly the highlight of our evening.
Preparing to preach from Exodus 3 this Sunday on the bush that did not burn up I came across this tremendous reminder of how God’s self-existence and his self-sufficiency is our great hope for the Christian life;
God lives forevermore, a flame that does not burn out; therefore his resources are inexhaustible, his power unwearied. He needs no rest for recuperation of wasted energy. His gifts diminish not the store which he has to bestow. He gives and is none the poorer. He works and is never weary. He operates unspent; he loves and he loves forever. And through the ages, the fire burns on, unconsumed and undecayed.
Back in 2008 Tim Keller was interviewed by Martin Bashir at Columbia University after the publication of his book The Reason for God. As part of the evening Keller also takes questions from the audience.
For his interesting answer to a question on homosexuality listen in at around the 50 minute mark.
For a great answer to ‘do atheists have faith?’ go to 48 minutes.
Justin Taylor has helpfully produced a breakdown of all of the questions, produced below.
Q&A with Martin Barshir
0:18 – Why did you write Reason for God now?
2:22 – Are faith and reason contradictory?
5:35 – Is God just a projection of our cultural circumstances?
9:10 – Is belief in God a mental defect?
11:39 – Is it narrow to believe in one God? Is everyone else going to hell?
18:30 – Is the Bible trustworthy?
23:59 – What about the behavior of so-called Christians?
30:33 – Are you resolutely convinced today that Christianity is true?
Q&A moderated by Dr. David Eisenbach
35:25 – How could God allow evil and suffering?
44:04 – Is there any reason to believe in God in a chaotic world?
45:48 – Does giving a reason for faith undermine its value?
48:49 – Does it take faith to be an atheist?
50:48 – What does Christianity have against homosexuals? Are they going to hell?
57:29 – Why is Christianity so exclusive?
1:03:58 – What do you believe about politics?
1:11:25 – How do you get to heaven?
1:13:13 – Why would God make people who sin?
1:16:58 – Why did God put that tree in the Garden of Eden to begin with?
1:199:34 – What happened for you to have so much peace?
Let’s be honest, how many of us have ever even heard of a NOT-to-do list let alone tried to make use of one? In a blog post in the Daily Telegraph Daniel H. Pink (author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us) argues the case that in a world of too many competing priorities, to quote Tom Peters, ‘what you decide not to do is probably more important than what you decide to do.’
The key insight of both Peters and [Jim] Collins is that we spend too much time on addition and not nearly enough on subtraction. Yet it’s only by taking away what doesn’t matter that allows us to reveal what does matter.
That’s why a couple of years ago I began using a hybrid of the Peters’ and Collins’ techniques – a combo of a to-don’t and stop-doing list. I revisit the list more than once a year, but I don’t craft a new one every day. Instead, I post it on the wall next to my desk where it’s always in view and revise it when circumstances demand.
Let me share with you what’s been on the list:
• Don’t answer email during peak morning writing hours;
• Don’t accept meetings or conference calls initiated by others that you wouldn’t have initiated yourself;
• Don’t drink coffee in the afternoon;
• Don’t go to sleep after 11pm.
Pink’s examples in his NOT-to-do list are a good starter but they are limited to general principles of working practice. I wonder how we could extend them to strategic priorities in our work? A NOT-to-list could be extended to help us choose between good, yet competing, options and opportunities at work and become an ally in that battle to say ‘no’ to people (see this blog post on the issue).
How might that work?
Maybe our list of what we do NOT do could include;
Decisions as to where we will NOT put our energies to ensure that we can focus them elsewhere.
A decision NOT to let my sermon preparation time suffer in my role as a church pastor might mean agreeing NOT to accept any more than ‘x’ speaking invitations in a quarter or year. Learning to say no to some things is certainly helped if we have already committed NOT to do so too!
A decision NOT to give time to developing one ministry area (by ideally delegating it to another) so that I can invest more energy in a different area.
And so on.
Then of course there is the option to publish our NOT-to-do list. That would be an interesting thought that colleagues and for me my congregation knew what I wanted them NOT to ask me to do!
Ask any pastor and there are certain tragic situations and circumstances that they dread ever being expected to preach on. Dane Ortland points us to a book to be published in the US next week that, judging by the contributing authors, every pastor and would-be pastor will want to have.
‘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.
Beautiful. Profound. Inspiring. Time-lapse video of 5 great cities of the world.
With thanks to Andy Shudall for pointing me to this.
So Osama Bin Laden is dead. And what should be our response?
Three responses that I’ve observed in the hours since the news broke.
1) Gloating. There are a lot of people taking what I would describe as a perverse pleasure in the death of a man. That should not be so with the Christian. For at least two reasons
a) Our doctrine of creation reminds us that Osama was a man made in the image of God, made for a relationship with him. That is the reason the Lord says in Ezekiel 33:11 ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. ‘
b) Our doctrine of salvation reminds us that we too are sinners. Our sins alone would have taken Jesus to the cross. Any gloating would suggest a self-rightousness that is a denial of the gospel.
2) Sadness. Many Christians have rightly commented that we shouldn’t wish a man dead and have recognised that in lots of ways we are no better. They have suggested that we should grieve over the death of a sinner.
3) Rejoicing. Other Christians have argued that we should rejoice that justice has been seen to be done. That God in his sovereign will has brought an end to a life dedicated to wickedness and to a life that was behind much of the persecution of Christians in the Muslim-majority world.
So what is the Biblical response?
The question as Christians we have to ask is this; is it ever appropriate for Christians to rejoice in the death of the wicked? I would want to argue that the Bible says ‘yes’ it is. In an excellent book, entitled ‘Crying for justice, what the Psalms teach us about mercy and vengeance in an age of terrorism’ John N. Day looks at what are called the imprecatory psalms in which God’s people cry out for God to bring justice and through which God’s people call for vengeance. Such psalms contain verses such as
‘Break the teeth in their mouth, O God; tear out, O Lord, the fangs of the lion!’ Psalm 58:6
‘Happy is he who repays you for what you have done’ Psalm 137:8
Christians are continually called to seek reconciliation and practice long-suffering, forgiveness, and kindness after the pattern of God. Yet there comes a point at which justice must be enacted – whether form God directly or through his representatives, such as the state and its judicial system. This response is likewise patterned after the example of God. The inhabitants of Canaan, for instance, experienced God’s long-suffering grace for four hundred years. But then their iniquity became ‘complete,’ and judgment fell.
When God’s people find themselves suffering from gross or sustained injustice, they are in principle justified in calling for divine justice and appealing to divine vengeance.
The Christian must embrace the tension inherent in reflecting both ‘the kindness and severity of God’ (Rom. 11:22)
What can we learn on this day as we reflect on the death of Osama bin laden?
1. I should certainly have prayed more for Osama’s conversion than his death. I should pray for God’s enemies and seek their salvation remembering that I too was an enemy of God.
2. My rejoicing should be a ‘sorrowful rejoicing’ remembering that the Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked. There is no room for gloating.
3. I should remember that in God’s will sometimes justice is seen to be done and that the enemies of God’s people and agents of extreme wickedness are destroyed. God uses human agents to enact his justice.
4. I should remember that where justice is not seen to be done it is right
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