May 6, 2011
neil

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 4, 2011
neil

14 reasons to pray for your pastor this weekend from Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter may have written  The Reformed Pastor in a very different age and time but it’s hard to find a better description of what is involved in the preaching of God’s word Sunday by Sunday. And in his definition of preaching he gives us 14 different reasons to pray that this Sunday the Pastor, in preaching God’s word, would achieve the very end for which it was written.

We are seeking to uphold the world, to save it from the curse of God, to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind, or a lazy hand? O, see, then that this work be done with all your might!

May 2, 2011
neil

Photo from inside the Situation Room of the White House

This official White House photo was taken during the operation against Osama bin Laden. A reminder of the responsibility of governing.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority.

1 Timothy 2:1-2

May 2, 2011
neil

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

And

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 30, 2011
neil

The 3 great traps of leadership

Rick Warren lead us in a masterly Bible study on 1 John 2 at the exponential conference yesterday. Here are my notes. Hope you find them useful!

Love the world – don’t love the world

The Christian is to love the world because Jesus loved the world.

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The Christian is not to love the world because Jesus did not love the world.

1 John 2:16 – Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.

The problem in the church is that we get these the wrong way round. We don’t love godless people (the world in John 3:16) but we do love godless things (the world’s values in 1 John 2:15-16).

We do the exact opposite of what Jesus calls us to do.

That includes leaders too.

The three great traps of leadership

1. The lust of the flesh – our passions.

2. The lust of the eyes – our possessions.

3. The pride of life – success & status

The antidote to these three are integrity, generousity and humility!

1. The lust of the flesh – our passions.

Anything we go to that makes us feel good. It could be sex, food, sleep, TV, internet porn. anything we go to that makes us feel good.

They are a temptation especially to tired, busy, stressed, leaders.

In our tiredness we say to ourselves ‘you deserve to feel good!’

The lust of the flesh is essentially hedonism. One of the three great value systems of the world.

2. The lust of the eyes – our possessions.

‘I see it I want it’. Materialism.

There is an entire industry designed to feed the eyes and to create desires for more.

Pastors are not immune from the love of things and the desire to

3. The pride of life – success & status

‘I want to be ….loved, worshipped’. Secularism is the pride of life.

All three show up in the life of leaders.

How do we fight them?

1. Integrity to fight the lust of the flesh

It means being ‘a unit of one’. Refusing to compartmentalise life.

Integrity is not about being perfect but it is about being honest.

It is also about remembering that when you sin you never sin by yourself. It may be private but it is never merely personal. It always affects other people in your life.

2. Generousity to fight the lust of the eyes

The only antidote to get, get, get is to give, give give.

You are most like Christ when you give.

Everytime I give my heart grows bigger and I break the grip of materialism.

3. Humility to fight the pride of life.

Humility is not denying strengths but being honest about weaknesses.

How do you know that yuo are humble?

a) You can learn from anybody

b) You refuse to defend yourself when attacked

c) You look to Jesus to provide

Apr 28, 2011
neil

How do you live the life you want to live and what’s stopping you?

At the exponential conference I attended a workshop this afternoon led by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay of Adullam in Denver.

They like to ask this question ‘How do I want to live?’ It’s a great question. It’s an obvious question. It’s a necessary question. It’s necessary because so many leaders find themselves pulled in all sorts of directions and as a result probably not living life in any kind of balance and not living the life that they think they should live as leaders of God’s people.

Too many meetings, too many e-mails, too much management and not enough life-on-life change.

So how can we be more intentional in our discipleship decisions? How do we live the life that we want to live?

Our biggest problem is probably not laziness but lack of focus. For many of us what is stopping us is that we have never really decided what we need to stop doing as well as what we ought to start doing.

In the book Deliberate Simplicity Dave Browning observes that there is a need to make deliberate decisions to stop doing worthwhile things to focus on better things.

Here’s Jim Collins, author of Good to Great;

Most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever-expanding ‘to do’ lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing – and doing more. And it rarely works. Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of the ‘stop doing’ list as ‘to do’ lists. They displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous junk.

Leaders who succeed make deliberate decisions to stop doing things.

It’s as simple as this when it comes to living the life you want to live. Browning points us to the words of Al Ries and his book Focal Point;

There are only four things you can do to improve the quality of your life and work:

1) You can do more of certain things. You can do more of the things that are of greater value to you and bring you greater rewards and satisfaction.

2) You can do less of certain things. You can deliberately decide to reduce activities or behaviors that are not as helpful as other activities.

3) You can start to do things that you are not doing at all today. You can make new choices, learn new skills, begin new projects or activities, or change the entire focus of your work or personal life.

4) You can stop doing certain things altogether. You can stand back and evaluate your life with new eyes. You can then decide to discontinue activities and behaviours that are no longer consistent with what you want and where you want to go.

The answer to Hugh Halter’s question is to stop focusing only on 1) and 3) and to give equal time to 2) and 4).

Browning sums it up like this:

By doing less of certain things, and stopping doing other things altogether, energy and resources can be reinvested in the few things really worth doing. By not being so broad, we can go deeper.

Apr 28, 2011
neil

14 insights on integrity from Darrin Patrick

Darrin Patrick is pastor of The Journey in Saint Lous and Vice President of Acts29 network. He spoke yesterday at Exponential conference on Integrity as a church planter. He preached on Galatians 5 and here are 14 key insights.

1. You can fight for change but you can’t fight it alone.

2. ‘fruit of the Spirit’ is singular. It grows together. That means you’re not supposed to look for the ones you’ve got but the ones you haven’t.

3. Change produced by the Spirit is inside out change. Behaviour modification is stuck on the outside.

4. How do you know whether your change is behaviour modification or the fruit of the Spirit. Ask ‘who really thinks I’ve changed? Those who are closest to me or those furthest away?’ Those closest to you will know whether it is inside out

5. Do you worry more about your own sin more than others?

6. Ask your spouse, ask your children what your weakest trait is?

7. Fruit grows communally and in community

8. You find your idols in your daydreams and your nightmares

9. A lot of you are planting churches because you’ve never been in a good church. That’s not a great place to be starting from.

10. Read the Bible. Please. Will you at least have it in your lap when you attend a conference.

11. Condemnation is from Satan. It pushes you away from God. Conviction is from the Spirit and says come to me.

12. ‘For every one look you take at your sin take ten looks at him.’ Robert Murray McCheyne

13. Much talk and books on integrity are a bunch of man-made rules

14. Most young ministers seek one mentor/accountability pastor. You need an army of people.

Apr 27, 2011
neil

’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)?

Apr 26, 2011
neil

Rob Bell makes it into Time Top 100

Along with Barak Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi the Time magazine top 100 of world’s most influential people for 2011 includes Rob Bell.

What the feature on Bell reveals (alongside the cover article focusing on Bell’s book in the previous edition) is the fact that if it’s a tricky business for Christians to grapple with Bell’s new look at the reality or not of hell what we can be pretty sure of is that it’s not just challenging for the church but damaging to our witness to the world.

Here is how Time summarises (inaccurately admitedly) the debate in the book.

‘Is Hell real?..He [Bell] thinks we can’t know, because the biblical discussion of salvation (as with so much else) is contradictory. Some passages say only those who explicitly acknowledge Jesus as Lord will find eternal peace. Others claim that, in Jesus’ own words, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail’ and Jesus’ sacrifice means universal salvation.’

Now I don’t think Bell would want to use the word contradictory to describe Bible texts. He would no doubt prefer to describe texts that teach on heaven and hell as ‘in tension’ and should be left to sit alongside each other in such a way that cannot be resolved by us in this life.

But the damage is done when the world looks in and sees what appears to be an evangelical pastor prefering to talk of salvation as a mystery and the Bible as a book which does not speak clearly about heaven and hell. He goes so far as to say in interview with Time ‘I don’t take a position of certainty because of course, I don’t know how it all turns out.’

That Time includes an evangelical pastor in their top 100 most influential people in the world ought to be good news. The tragedy is that they include Bell because he is an evangelical who prefers to ask questions about final realities and to do so in a public way in the publishling of his book and tour.

The consequence of Bell’s position is, as the Time feature reveals, to leave non-Christians confused as to the message of the church and confused as to whether it’s possible to really know anything from the Bible which appears to be a book of contradictions.  After all if a mega-church pastor revels in the ‘contradictions’ of the Bible and finds himself with more questions than answers why should a non-Christian looking in from the outside believe they should arrive at any answers.

Apr 23, 2011
neil

The God who hides himself – how Ecclesiastes answers Easter Saturday

Did they even sleep that night? How can we ever think ourselves into the situation of those first disciples on Easter Saturday.  How can we begin to even imagine what it must have felt like to see every hope evaporate and every confidence in God shattered. Was their decision to leave everything to follow this man of God nothing but a huge mistake. Was their conviction that this man Jesus was God’s Messiah and that the Kingdom lay just around the corner nothing but a demonstration of their own collective god delusion.

Like a spiritual tsunami everything was swept away by the savage crucifixion of the very one they called ‘Lord and Master’.  Easter Saturday was a day of utter bewilderment.  It turns out that it was not only Jesus who felt abandoned by God.

The book of Ecclesiastes is a book written for Easter Saturday experiences. It speaks into those situations and circumstances in life that have the potential to rob us of every confidence that God is good and that he is ruling. The book is a book for those times when God’s providence is dark indeed and life makes no sense at all.

JI Packer in his book Knowing God writes;

What the preacher wants to show him [his younger disciple] is that the real basis of wisdom is a frank acknowledgement that this world’s course is enigmatic, that much of what happens is quite inexplicable to us, and that most occurrences ‘under the sun’ bear no outward sign of a rational, moral God ordering them at all.

Rarely does this world look as if a beneficent Providence were running it. Rarely does it appear that there is a rational power behind it at all. Often and often what is worthless survives, while what is valuable perishes. Be realistic says the preacher; face these facts; see life as it is. You will have no true wisdom till you do.

God is at work in the darkness. The promises of God assure us that he is working out his purposes. Peter would one day stand before the crowds in Jerusalem and with conviction declare;

This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

No more so than on Easter Saturday are we reminded that

the truth is that God in His wisdom, to make and keep us humble, and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which He is working out in the churches and in our own lives.

This is the way of wisdom. Clearly, it is just one facet of the life of faith. For what underlies and sustains it? Why the conviction that the inscrutable God of providence is the wise and gracious God of creation and redemption.

And Easter Sunday would prove how sure that conviction is.

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