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.
Fascinating look at the density of world cities and global population. Seems like there’s plenty of room left!
A good article here by Gerald Gilbert writing in the Independent on bias at the BBC and its continual one-sided treatment of Christianity compared to other religions.
At the time when the BBC in preparing to make a drama about the controversy surrounding Monty Python’s Life of Brian he asks whether the BBC would ever make such a programme about other more serious debates surrounding religion and free speech.
Freedom of speech can be a much tougher call in the polarised 21st-century than it was in the fag-end of liberal Seventies Britain, and if BBC4 wanted to take a moment from our recent past to shed light on the present, then there are plenty of controversies of younger vintage available to them.
How about the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie in 1989 over his novel The Satanic Verses, a death sentence that remains in place today, and that led to Rushdie spending almost a decade in hiding, as well as the violent attacks against various translators and publishers (including an arson attack at a cultural festival in Turkey that left 37 people dead)? Perhaps Sanjeev Bhaskar could play Rushdie.
Or how about a drama about the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, and the subsequent worldwide protests, or the play Behtzi, which sparked riots by Birmingham Sikhs in 2004. Or how about, for that matter, the remorseless attacks on journalists and academics in any way critical of Israel? Christians could well be forgiven for rolling their eyes in resignation at this point. The Church of England is a pretty soft target these days – albeit, to be fair, partly because of the very public wrong-headedness of Christians such as Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark over Life of Brian. To that extent, the Pythons can claim to have undermined the authority of the church. Nevertheless, and without saying that they shouldn’t show up Muggeridge and Stockwood for the holy fools that here they were, the question remains: would the BBC lampoon a pair of intolerant Iranian ayatollahs with quite the same insouciance? Would they make a drama out of a fatwa?
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.
Tomorrow John Lennox debates Peter Singer at Melbourne Town Hall.
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