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Sep 16, 2011

God’s self-existence and his self-sufficiency is our great hope for the Christian life

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.

Alexander Maclaren in Philip Ryken’s Exodus: Saved for God’s glory

Sep 5, 2011

Is Homosexuality a sin that sends people to hell? Tim Keller’s answer

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?

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Sep 2, 2011

What you decide NOT to do is probably more important than what you decide to do

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!

Aug 16, 2011

Awesome slow motion video – 8 Hours in Brooklyn

Aug 6, 2011

What would you say at the funeral of someone who has committed suicide?

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.

Jul 23, 2011

‘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.

Cal writes;

I identified two justifications for the importance of long stretches of uninterrupted work:
  • 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!

2. Don’t try to fit creative tasks in between administrative tasks.

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.

May 6, 2011

The City Limits

Beautiful. Profound. Inspiring. Time-lapse video of 5 great cities of the world.

With thanks to Andy Shudall for pointing me to this.

May 2, 2011

Should we be glad Osama bin Laden is dead?

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

Day comments:

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

Apr 27, 2011

’7 things I ask myself before I speak for God’ – Francis Chan

Francis Chan at Exponential conference in Orlando gives us seven things to ask before we speak or preach for God.

1. Am I worried about what people think of me?

2. Do I love these people?

3. Am I accurately presenting this passage?

4. Am I depending on the Holy Spirit’s power or my own ability?

5. Have I applied this message to my own life?

6. Will this message draw attention to me or God?

7. Do the people really need this message (is there a sense of urgency)?

Feb 22, 2011

The relationship wrecker or what porn does to a marriage

The on-line edition of Time Magazine has a feature this week on the damage being done to relationships between men and women because of pornography.  It seems at last that the secular press is waking up to the realities of the consequences of life in a sex-mad culture and how the very thing God has given to bring us together (sexual intimacy) is pushing us further apart (sex without intimacy).

Countless men have described to me how while using porn, they have lost the ability to relate or be close to women. They have trouble being turned on by “real” women, and their sex lives with their girlfriends or wives collapse.

So writes the author of one recent book on pornography.

Tim Chester’s book Captured by a better vision exposes just how damaging pornography can be to our relationships and marriage in particular.

Not only have you committed adultery against your wife, but, as we’ve seen, there is every chance that porn has corrupted your relationship with her and your sex life. The secret that you hide from your wife will create a barrier in your relationship.

You will start to view sex with your wife not as the celebration of your love, but as re-enacted porn. What matters is no longer the relationship, but the performance. This means you may be committing adultery against your wife even as you have sex with her. That’s because you’re not really having sex with her, a person. You’ve reduced her to an object for your sexual gratification, or an actress in your sexual performance.

William Struthers in Wired for Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain warns that even if you could stop consuming pornography your actions still have consequences.

Sexually acting out in response to pornography creates sexual associations that are stored as hormonal or neurological habits. These associations are seared into the brain.  These memories and fantasies keep [the man] in bondage and worsen the consequences of the earlier behaviour. It can prevent him from being truly present in a marriage, being more preoccupied with the images than focused on his wife.

And because of what pornography does to our brains it’s no excuse to reason but I’m not married. Chester comments,

It you’re not yet married, porn is a sin against your future wife. You’re also creating a set of expectations that bears no relation to real sex or real marriage. You’re storing up a database of images that will compete with your future wife. You’re gifting the devil, a reservoir of temptations to use against you.

And we’re kidding ourselves to think we’ll stop once we get married because the truth is that porn is NOT just a substitute for sex.  It’s an escape from reality, an addictive search for a legal high. The reality is that not only do men access porn after marriage but it’s mostly married men who access porn.

Chester again:

Using porn is a bad way of preparing not to use it when you’re married! Every time you use porn, you’re giving it more control over your heart. You’re sowing a bitter harvest for your married life.

Delayed baggage

I once heard someone describe the biggest threat to our marriages as coming from the unexpected baggage we bring into marriage. Maybe it’s the uncommunicated assumptions as to how the marriage should work, or how chores will be divided up.  Or perhaps it’s a bad-temper that is controllable in the context of going-out but cannot be disguised in the day to day of a marriage, or even an expectation of great spiritual character that begins to unravel under trial.  There again it could be porn.

What makes it more difficult still is that much baggage in the most important of all relationships is  not only unexpected but delayed on arrival.  Like flying BA the baggage tends to turn up sometime later. The baggage of porn addiction (whether through the temptation to continue or the way it has warped your expectations of sex or the images that stubbornly remain imprinted in your mind) may well not affect a marriage in the early days, weeks or months but over time as the initial euphoria of a giddy romance fades it can do untold damage to an otherwise healthy relationship.

But you were washed…

The great news for the Christian is that, whatever our past, the gospel is big enough to deal with our sin.

William Struthers writes:

Can someone retrain their brain to respond in an appropriate manner to sexual arousal? Most certainly, but this must be informed by the mandates of Scripture and the wisdom found in the body of Christ. This must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The process of sanctification is an addiction to holiness, a compulsive fixation on Christ and an impulsive pattern of compassion, virtue and love. This is what we are wired for. This is what we are meant for.

The reality is that we will rarely find the resources to heal the past and deal with the addictions on our own. Reading a book (and I would recommend both Chester’s and Struthers’ to you) or a blog post is almost always not enough. God has given us his spirit and his people to help us do battle against sin – we need each other to bring lasting change.

If you’re struggling with pornography (in the present or from the past)

What do you need to do now? Do you accept the need to cut it out of your life? Who do you need to speak to?

If you’re a pastor or church leader

Do you ever address the issue of pornography, directly? What could you do to foster an environment in which the men of your church can speak openly about this struggle?  What could you put into place to provide the accountability  and support for men to deal with their sin?

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