How would you know that someone was really afraid to die?
At a superficial level we are tempted to think of it in terms of a fear of the moment of death itself. Perhaps the last few weeks of a terminal disease or the moments on board a plane as it plummets to the ground after a major malfunction. It’s this kind of fear of death that made Woody Allen quip ‘I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.’
So when we think of the fear of death we tend to reduce it to the fear of dying. But I’m not sure that does it justice. I want to argue that the fear of death is a much bigger idea that pervades more of life. It’s better expressed in another quote this time of Leo Tolstoy who said
My question – that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide – was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man … a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: ‘What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?’ It can also be expressed thus: Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy.
To the secularist the vague notion that maybe we actually live on in the afterlife has been rejected. So what hope now? Well we find the fear of death at work in surprising ways. In the vain hope that we can continue to be present, if not in reality, then through a computer programme that interacts on Facebook, etc., on our behalf. That, if you like, pretends that we have not gone forever.
So here we find the fear of death expressed in surprising ways as exemplified in this TED talk by Adam Ostrow entitled After your final status update
The fear of death is seen in increasingly desperate attempts to hold onto life. In our unwillingness to leave this life.
How do we respond as Christians?
It’s easy to want to laugh, maybe it all makes us want to cry but surely it reminds us that our message of the one who has defeated death and promised life to all who are in him is a message every human soul is primed to need to hear.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says in chapter 3:10-11
I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart
It is that burden we see expressed in the world and it is that burden that only the gospel answers. Peter in his first letter writes;
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you
Let us then be bold to continue to speak of him who alone has beaten death and conquered the grave. The one who alone has the answer to the fear of death however it might reveal itself.
Bloggers love to make lists and blog-readers love to read them. It would be easy (and probably helpful) to create a list of the biggest battles Christians face in being the Christians they want to be. Battles with pride, lust, materialism. etc. but there is something that such an approach would actually mask and it’s this; there is only one problem Christians face and that is the struggle to believe the gospel. At the heart of all issues of sanctification is the battle to believe.
Tim Keller highlights what Martin Luther describes below when Keller says the problem with Christians is that we believe and yet don’t believe the gospel at the same time. The goal of Christian thinking and living is to work out the gospel in all of its dimensions. That is Paul’s message in Romans 12v1-2. Here is Luther from his Preface to Galatians commentary;
There is a righteousness that Paul calls “the righteousness of faith”. God imputes it to us apart from our works–in other words, it is passive righteousness…So then, have we nothing to do to obtain this righteousness? No, nothing at all! For this righteousness comes by doing nothing, hearing nothing, knowing nothing, but rather in knowing and believing this only–that Christ has gone to the right hand of the Father, not to become our judge, but to become for us our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, our salvation! Now God sees no sin in us, for in this heavenly righteousness sin has no place. So now we may certainly think, “Although I still sin, I don’t despair, because Christ lives, who is both my righteousness and my eternal life.” In that righteousness I have no sin, no fear, no guilty conscience, no fear of death. I am indeed a sinner in this life of mine and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above this life, which is in Christ, the Son of God.
Christians never completely understand [this] themselves, and thus do not take advantage of it when they are troubled and tempted. So we have to constantly teach it, repeat it, and work it out in practice. Anyone who does not understand this righteousness or cherish it in the heart and conscience will continually be buffeted by fears and depression. Nothing gives peace like this passive righteousness. The troubled conscience has no cure for its desperation and feeling of unworthiness unless it takes hold of the forgiveness of sins by grace, offered free of charge in Jesus Christ, which is this passive or Christian righteousness….Once you are in Christ, the Law is the greatest guide for your life, but until you have Christian righteousness, all the law can do is to show you how sinful and condemned you are. But if we first receive Christian righteousness, then we can use the law, not for our salvation, but for his honor and glory, and to lovingly show our gratitude.
Tim Keller has written
There are only two kinds of churches;
One kind says to its community: ‘You can come to us, learn our language, learn our interests, become like us and meet our needs.
The other kind says to its community: ‘We will come to you, learn your language, learn your interests, join in your life and try to meet your needs.’
It is pretty obvious which approach will do most to gain the gospel a hearing as we take Christ to the world.
Josh Reeves is planting a church in Round Rock, Texas. There’s nothing like planting a church to stretch your thinking as to how you and the church family can make the most of opportunities to develop community relationships.
Recently I made a list of 100 ways to engage your neighborhood. I have found that it is often helpful to have practical ideas to start engaging the people around me in order to be a better neighbor. Most of the things on this list are normal, everyday things that many people are already doing. The hope is that we would do these things with Gospel intentionality. This means we do them:
- In the normal rhythms of life pursuing to meet and engage new people
- Prayerfully watching and listening to the Holy Spirit to discern where God is working.
- Looking to boldly, humbly, and contextually proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.
For a look at Josh’s top 100 ideas visit here
Whether you’re thinking about future ministry or helping others as they consider what role God would have them play in the local church this 2 minute video is a brief summary by Dave Harvey of the different factors that help us assess whether leadership in the local church might be where God is calling us. Dave Harvey is the author of the soon to be released Am I Called? The summons to pastoral ministry.
Surely the most influential British evangelical of the past 100 years John Stott went to be with the Lord yesterday at the age of 90. There will be a memorial service at St. Paul’s cathedral in due course. Here is a short video produced by the Langham Partnership (John Stott Ministries in the US) in celebration of his life.
One of the marks of the man was the recognition and respect he earned from those who may not have agreed with his theology but could not fail to admire his humanity. Here is a short piece from the New York Times in 2004 entitled Who Is John Stott?
John Hayward of the Jubilee centre said:
‘All the evidence suggests that families headed by married, biological parents who have not previously lived together provide the best environment for both the individuals involved and their children.
‘This has huge personal, social, economic and political consequences for us all.’
See Hayward’s response to the recent study on the value of marriage by the Institute for Fiscal Studies here
The murder of so many young poeple in Norway on Friday was a national tragedy and evil beyond words. What could ever lead a man to kill in such a way? There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the motives of Anders Behring Breivik. Even the BBC suggested earlier on in its reporting that he was influenced by extremist Christian views.
Now that Brevik’s 1500 page manifesto has been poured over the idea that he was in any meaningful sense a Christian is clearly false. Here are a few articles worth reading or passing on to any who may have concerns that Christianity lay at the heart of such a tragedy.
Anders Breivik is not Christian but anti-Islam by Andrew Brown of the Guardian
Breivik’s Manifesto Denies True Faith in Jesus by Nicola Menzie in the Christian Post
The Norway Massacre: Born of Ideology or Belief? by Arnie Fjeldstad
Terrorist proclaimed himself ‘Darwinian,’ not ‘Christian’ on World Net Daily
I always think anyone can have an idea. Anyone can have a great idea. There are a million ideas out there. A zillion ideas. And some of them are amazing. But if you can’t execute it properly, it’s worth zilch.
So says Christopher Bailey, Chief Designer for Burberry in this month’s Vogue magazine (quote courtesy of my wife’s holiday reading!)
Neither my formal theological training nor my in-ministry training has done a great deal to help me 1) spot a great idea 2) communicate a great idea to a church family and then 3) implement a great idea.
From buying a building to developing a new outreach ministry to re-structuring mid-week groups to launching a website to raising the finances to send more mission partners into the mission field just how do you anticipate and deliver through good and godly leadership? There are some things in life for which all of the Greek and Hebrew in the world cannot prepare you!
Bill Hybels’ Global Leadership Summit is an attempt to strengthen leadership in the church so that we are better equipped to implement great ideas. What’s particularly noticeable is that the conference provides a platform not just for Christian leaders to train, inspire and inform others but leaders from the secular world.
As Mark Driscoll often says the church leader must be prophet, priest and King. As prophet he must preach God’s word, as priest he must care for God’s people and as King he is called to rule/manage God’s household. That means that whether it comes naturally to us or not we must learn to lead.
Here’s Hybels on the need to lead
‘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.
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