Apr 17, 2013
neil

What Margaret Thatcher can teach your church

On the day of the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister of the last  150 years, tributes continue to be been paid from all-sides of the political debate. Love her or loathe her no one denies that, through her leadership, she changed the face of a nation and her influence continues to be felt across the world to this day.

Looking back over  her time in office, what made her the leader she was? Here’s a personal take on seven qualities identified by Thatcher and those who knew her that shaped her leadership.  Seven qualities that all leaders can learn from starting in this post with 1) conviction and 2) clear vision.

1. Conviction

Margaret Thatcher famously said above all I am not a consensus politician but a conviction politician. Her leadership was borne out of a strong moral conviction that what she believed in was what could make Britain great again. And Thatcher was to attribute her success to this unswerving conviction in the rightness of her cause. After nearly ten years in office she still maintained if you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing.

Leadership not borne of strong conviction is leadership that will fail. Even when at her lowest political ebb, in 1981, she argued pragmatism is not enough, nor is the fashionable word consensus. To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.’

Lord Saatchi, in an interview on the BBC the morning after Margaret Thatcher’s death, paid tribute to this quality. He summarised her outlook in the following way:

The aim in that period when she was leader of the opposition was to present an ism, called conservatism, which in her mind was a philosophy and the object of the exercise was to explain that philosophy and see if people would support it and now we have a situation all these years later where you can tap anyone on the shoulder any where in the world and ask them ‘what did Mrs Thatcher believe in?’ and you will get a straight answer in a second.

Applying this principle of leadership to churches we might well ask whether it is obvious what we, as a church, stand for? We also have to ask are our principles matters of conviction,derived from God’s word and God’s purpose for the church in the world, rather than our own ideas? Do we lead from conviction or consensus?

2. Clarity of vision

Thatcher had not only strong convictions which guided her actions but a clear vision of where she wanted to take the nation. Henry Kissinger comments on why he thought Thatcher was a breathe of fresh air as a leader in her generation: The appearance of a leader that confidently asserted a vision of the future and, was wiling to tackle the economic problems of the day based on an alternative theory, had both a practical impact and also a psychological and moral impact on the period in which she lived.

He concludes her view was that leaders should define themselves by clearly articulating for their public their vision of their future.

What can we learn? It couldn’t harm if we as Christian leaders were to ask ourselves just how clearly are we articulating a vision for our particular churches? Are we able to assert not just guiding values that under-pin our ministries but a compelling vision as to where such principles might take us? For example, it is surely a good thing for a church to affirm the spread of the gospel as a necessary core value, it is another thing to set out a vision for how the church will seek to see the gospel go out  over the next, say, 5 to 10 years.

In our next post we consider what it meant for Thatcher to be a leader defined by courage, clear communication and commitment to her cause.

 

Apr 11, 2013
neil

How Thatcher’s Christian faith shaped her leadership

Two quite superb articles in American Spectator.

The first is on Margaret Thatcher’s Christian faith and its impact on her leadership.

The second is entitled ‘what the new atheists ignore‘ and  is a reflection by a non-believer on the massiveimpact for good Christianity has had in our communities, contra the absence of any evidence that atheism has had any social impact to the good.

 

 

Apr 10, 2013
neil

Every church is a messy church

The following is an extract from a talk I gave at Week 1 of New Word Alive last week on 1 Peter 1:22-2:10:

Two for  one deal

We know it’s not always easy to love your family. Yet, the God who brings us to new life in Christ also brings us to a new love for his people. Peter says (1 Pet 1:22) ‘you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth’ by which  he means we have believed the gospel. But in the very same verse he tells us of something else we have along with our new life in Jesus: v.22, you also ‘have sincere love for your brothers.’

With new life comes a new love. It’s a two for the price of one deal. And we ought to expect love to flow out of life because the God who gave us this new life is the God is love. God is life and God is love and if his word has entered our hearts then the word that brings us to life in Jesus will also brings us to love our brothers.

Bible logic says ‘you do love, so love!’

But there’s one other thing that Peter knows and it’s this loving your new family is not easy is it. The comedian George Burns once said ‘happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.’ It’s the day to day business of getting along together as a family that proves so hard. No wonder Bible logic says, v.22, ‘you do love one another’ and then in the very next sentence also say ‘so go on loving one another deeply from the heart.’ We all know that we can say of many people ‘I do love and yet I need a lot of help to love you as a fellow Christian at times.’

And it’s a big ask to love as God loves. Peter doesn’t say tolerate one another, nor does he say love one another when someone obviously needs love, or love the people you like, or the people you want to like you but love one another (that’s every brother or sister) and love them deeply and love them from the heart.

Our society says love people for what they do for you, or give to you – the gospel says love your brother or sister simply for who are they are – your family  in Christ. That’s how families work. Family is about the one place where you love people despite what they do! Family is the one time you choose hang out people you have nothing else in common with except that you are family. Any other group and you’d walk away but because its family you make it work.

And Jesus shows me just what this looks like. He knew how to love deeply and from the heart. When Jesus loved he seemed to make life more difficult for himself rather than less. He picked out they people most difficult people to love. Don’t you think that Zacchaeus was probably a really irritating person?  Don’t you think the disciples were a frustration to Jesus at times and  at other times a disappointment and an embarrassment?

Love is about what you don’t do

And Peter wants you to know that loving someone is as much about what we don’t do as what we do do.  In chapter 2v1 he says ‘rid yourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy and slander of every kind.’ Love isn’t always about how I feel towards someone, love in the Bible is rarely sentimental. Love means deciding not to damage other Christians by my words and my example, not to put myself and my feelings first, not to be so constantly full of my own opinions and ideas that I speak too hastily and harshly to others. Everything that Peter describes in 2v1 – all of these flaws and failings – are sins that damage other Christians, things that destroy our life together.

God has put you into a new family that you might help one another to grow. The goal of life together is that we, v.2, ‘grow up in our salvation’

The church shouldn’t be a place where we just tell each other to grow up but where we help each other to grow up.

Messy church

Maybe you can think of one or two people whom God has used just in the past few weeks or months to do just that for you. And growing up is what your new life is all about. I have a 2 year old son. He is full of new life. He is for the most part adorably cute – or at least I thought so until Monday afternoon when he decided to put a roll of toilet paper in the sink, blocking the plug hole, turned both taps full on and flooded the downstairs bathroom.

Do you know what I thought to myself as I mopped that bathroom floor? I thought a few things actually but one thing was this; I can’t wait for you to grow up but then I also thought and it’s my job to help you. I have a responsibility to make sure you do grow up.

The word of God brings us to new life and its brings us to new love and we know that a church is living out the gospel as we help our Christian brother and sister grow up into their salvation. That’s not easy. Living together in the Powell household is not always easy and it’s not always easy in our church family either

Growing up is a messy business we need a lot of patience with each other we will let each other down, we will hurt one another, we’ll do and say stupid things we’ll accuse one another of being immature – it’s then that we need to remember that we’re growing up together.

Growing up is not only a messy business it’s a slow business we aren’t the people we want to be. Ask any child how frustrating it can be when they know they want to be riding a bike without stabilisers or swimming without armbands. Why do I find it so hard to change? Why do I keep making the same mistakes? Only a deep love from the heart can enable me to overcome my many failings.

Growing up may be a messy business and a slow business but more than anything else it is a necessary business isn’t it. I hope my son is not putting toilet rolls in the sink when he’s 10!

And the key to growing up together? Well ask any new born baby its craving milk. For Peter that is the milk of the word. Like  new born babies lets crave God’s word so that the truth of the gospel changes hearts and minds and grows that new life to maturity.

 

Apr 1, 2013
neil

Are you ready to let marriage change you?

 I took a marriage preparation session for a number of engaged couples at our church last week. There were lots of things I would have been very happy to discuss not least all of the many practical issues that a couple face as they get ready to marry. But rather than start there I wanted to start with the biggest issue facing any human relationship: Am I willing to let this person change me?           

Tim Keller in The Reason for God writes:  One of the principles of love – either love for a friend or romantic love – is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy.  If you want ‘freedom’ of love – the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings – you must limit your freedom in many ways.  You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life.  To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up personal autonomy.’

For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. It can’t be just one way.  Both sides must say to the other, ‘I will adjust to you.  I will change for you. I’ll serve you even though it means a sacrifice for me.’

In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement.  In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means sacrifice for me.’  If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others.

In summary:  As God has changed for you, so you can now change for him.

That’s exactly what we find in a passage like Philippians 2:1-18.

2:5-11 tells of Christ’s willingness to leave the glories of heaven and become a man, taking the form of a servant, being willing to die, and to die on a cross (a cursed death – the worst death). From the highest place it is possible to be, at the right-hand of God, Christ now occupied the lowest place it is possible to be, cursed on a cross.

Either side of these verses are a call for our relationships with one another to be utterly transformed by this gospel pattern.

So, 2:2-4 we read: make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (NIV).

And 2:14-15: Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (NIV).

The power to live well in a marriage comes from our willingness to change and to let our marriage partner be God’s change-agent. Christ’s willingness to change for us gives us every reason to change for him and to let him use others to do exactly that.  As we learn to welcome change and to say to our marriage partners,for Christ’s sake, I need you to change me to be more like him so our marriages grow stronger.

 

Mar 19, 2013
neil

No need to be embarrassed by the Trinity

A small group of Muslim men turned up at church from the local mosque to ask a few questions on Sunday evening. Unsurprisingly conversation soon turned to the Trinity. As it turned out we had just returned from a church weekend away reflecting on how essential the doctrine of the trinity is if we are how to live well in the world. Here’s a sketch of my notes from a talk I gave on the weekend.

A. How does God define our relationships?

I wonder when you last spent some time thinking about the Trinity? I guess many Christians find understanding what it means that we believe in One God in three persons a little confusing if not a little awkward to explain. Maybe we find the trinity intellectually embarrassing if and when we are challenged by a non-Christian and I suspect we do find the doctrine a little irrelevant when it comes to living everyday life.

Well this morning its not my place to give a defence of what Christians believe or the history. But my job in just 30 minutes is to show you how life-changing it is to know that you love and serve a God of relationships.

The Bible affirms that there is One God in three persons. That means because God is eternal relationships (between Father, Son and Spirit) have always been at the heart of ultimate reality. And my big point this morning is that ONLY the Christian can say that!

And that means that only the Christian has a foundation for relations.

Whoever we are, our doctrine of God IS the foundation for our relationships.

B. What we think of God defines and shapes the nature of our relationships

Maybe the best way to look at this truth is by way of comparison with the other ways of looking at relationships.

1. Atheism

The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation. – Francis Schaeffer in He is There and He is not silent.

We don’t know how to live in the world and we cannot agree how we should live in this world;

  • If there is no God then there is no basis or standard for relationships (there is nothing informing our relationships!)
  • We can recognise the problems in our relationships but cannot find a binding answer (the world would be a better place if we all got along…but we can’t agree on what that means)
  • We define relationships for ourselves (every man, and woman, does as he sees fit)
  • Relationships are an aspect of ‘survival of the fittest’

Richard Dawkins summed up how the absence of God impacts his ethics in the following sobering words: If someone used my views to justify a completely self-centred lifestyle, which involved trampling all over other people in any way they chose I think I would be fairly hard put to argue against it on purely intellectual grounds.

Fellow Oxford intellectual Peter Atkins puts it this way when quoted by Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the rainbowWe are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.

 

Theism

Is it enough to believe in ‘god’ to understand the nature of relationships and living well in the world? As we will see the answer is ‘no’. All depends on the nature of that god.

No word is as meaningless as is the word god. Of itself it means nothing unless content is put into it. – Francis Schaeffer.

2. Islam

  • God is not a personal god. He exists in ‘splendid isolation.’ Even in paradise God will not be with us.
  • God and relationships are separate thing – God is not a God of relationships for before he ever created he was alone.
  • God cannot inform our relationships (we cannot look to him to teach us) and our relationships are not an aspect of image-bearing.
  • When God is teaching us about relationships he is not teaching us about himself
  • God may be loving (toward his creation) but he is NOT love because in eternity he has no-one to love. He had to create in order to love and experience love.

 

 3. Pantheism (Hindism, New Age, etc..)

  • God is an impersonal force
  • Impersonal forces cannot define or inform personal relationships. In fact, more than that, they undermine relationships. The holy men of Hinduism retreat from relationships and community.
  • Our final goal as human beings is to join the impersonal ie become one with the impersonal force.
  • Relationships and personality are temporary

The truth is that if you exchange the truth about God for a lie it will not only damage you but destroy community and confuse society.

Look with me at Romans 1:18-30. What is the result of humanity suppressing the truth about God. It is two things i) a turning to worshipping other gods and ii) a break down of relationships. The SIN of rejecting God leads to all sorts of SINS damaging to community. Looking at the list at the end of the chapter  (vv.28-30)

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

 4. Christianity

Only Christianity has at its heart a God who IS a God of relationships and God’s own relationship makes your relationships meaningful.

C. What can we learn from the God of relationships?

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect relationship.  They express and define perfect love.

Therefore (for example) we can learn how to love one another within a marriage by learning from the relationship between Father and Son.

Bible verses Nature of relationship
John 14:31, 3:35  Perfect love seen in a desire to bless the other.
John 17:1,4  Other-person centredness. A seeking after the glory of another ahead of own. Love involves service, sacrifice.
John 10:30  Unity. One in Being. One in purpose. One in ministry.
John 5:30  Difference. Unity does not mean uniformity. There is an order to the relationships. The Son does the will of the Father and obeys him even though they are both fully God.

As God’s image bearers in the world God shapes and defines our relationships. Whether that be relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, authorities and those subject to authority. All our relationships reflect in some way the God of relationships. Our relationships are defined by love, other-person centredness, unity yet difference.

Reasons to rejoice in the Trinity!

There is no other sufficient philosophical answer than the one I have outlined. You can search through university philosophy, underground philosophy, filling station philosophy – it does not matter—there is no other sufficient philosophical answer to existence, to Being, than the one I have outlined. There is only one thought, whether the East, the West, the ancient, the modern, the new, the old. Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of Being, and it is the Judeo-Christian God –not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there. He exists. There is no other answer, and orthodox Christians ought to be ashamed of being been defensive for so long. It is not a time to be defensive. There is no other answer. – Francis Schaeffer, He is There and he is not silent

Part 2 of this series will consider just how our relationships are to be based on the God of relationships.

 

Mar 12, 2013
neil

All men watch porn

A sad and sobering report in the Telegraph of a University of Montreal study in which they could not find a male student who had not consumed pornography. 

The study found that the average age at which boys were introduced to porn was 10 years old.It also found that single men viewed pornography 3 times a week for an average of 40 minutes each time and men in relationships 1.7 times a week for 20 minutes each time.

What does all this mean for Christians? Who’s keeping watch in your church? Here are 12 questions that spring to mind that need the attention of any leadership team.

1. Should we work from the assumption that our young men (and probably our older men too) are viewing pornography?

2. How and when should be raising the issue with our children? At what age? In what way?

3.  How and in what context should we be talking about these issues with the men of our church? When did we last talk to the men about this?

4. What do we need to say to wives and girlfriends? Do they understand the nature of the struggle?

5. How do we protect marriages from ‘virtual-adultery’? Are we helping husbands and wives to talk wisely and appropriately about this issue?

6. What are the statistics for women? Is this a  growing issue for both sexes?

7. What accountability structures do church leaders have in place for their own behaviour? Who is asking them whether they are viewing pornography? How can they model godliness in this area of life?

8. What support and accountability do we offer for those willing to acknowledge that this is an issue for them? What church discipline is appropriate too?

9.  What are the lies that capture our hearts and make pornography a battle for every man? Do we understand its power?

10. Do we know how to fight this battle through the gospel rather than by mere will-power of self-control?

11. What do we want to say to non-Christians who might be part of the wider church community?

12. How do we help apply the gospel to those who have a ‘past’ in this area even if it is no longer a dangerous issue? 

Mar 7, 2013
neil

Thank God for your mistakes in ministry – and use them well

If you’re anything like me your natural temptation is to want to forget the mistakes you’ve made in ministry. Some are embarrassing because they highlight our immaturity or weaknesses, others are difficult to recall because we remember the impact they had on others. Bad news is for burying, isn’t that right? But maybe God wants to teach us through our mistakes (and our failures for that matter).  

Ten most common mistakes made by new church starts is a book that aims to take our errors and put them to use. In their introduction Griffith and Easum write ‘Those of you who are already church planting will recognise yourself as we go along. If the pain gets too bad, take an aspirin or two.’

I think I probably made at least 6 of the mistakes they list. One of the mistakes I recognise was called ‘Failure of the Church to Act Its Age and Its Size.’ The key principle being that in a planting context decisions need to me made about what ministries should be started when. In other words there is the world of difference between knowing something is the right thing to do and knowing when is the right time to do it. When we started talking about buying a building as a one year old plant we certainly didn’t help ourselves or our congregation to ‘Act our age!’ Great idea, wrong timing. The same can be said of wanting to start a full-blown kids work from age 0-14 to draw in families to the plant at a time when our eldest child in the congregation was just 1.

Stepping out in faith is not the same as running ahead, unaware of the risks and at a pace that cannot be sustained by even the most servant-hearted, faith-filled congregation. Nor do plants begin ministries only to please guests. ‘It’s better to just let them walk away than to overextend and burn out. It’s also better than making promises you can’t keep.’

At our next 2020birmingham Planters meeting we will be sharing our mistakes and in turn I’ll try and share some on the blog.

God not only lets us make mistakes, he wants us to learn from them. He also wants us to teach others through our mistakes. The Bible is full of stories of those who failed from Abraham to Moses to David to Paul. Their examples are for our instruction. God has included their mistakes to teach us humility, patience, God-dependence and above all else that He is the one building His church sometimes because of us and sometimes despite us.

We live in a world where no-one will ever say they were wrong. As Christians we are free from the need to prove ourselves, our ministry successes and failures do not define us. But they do shape us and others. Let us put them to good use.

Feb 28, 2013
neil

The question our hearts face each day

The Happy, Humble Work of a Mother is a super blog post on the unique challenges of parenting pre-school kids. The heart-issue behind all of our work and especially work that is draining, repetitive and that often goes unthanked is ‘are we content to serve the needs of those who most need our help, regardless of their response?’ Well, in the gospel we remember that our work is an imitation of the work of God in Christ who came to serve us. As Melissa McDonald writes When ‘we humbly sacrifice our time and energy again (and again!). Joyfully we reflect our Savior.

 

Why not share it with those in need of encouragement in their work of raising kids today.

 

(HT: Mim Pike)

 

 

Feb 21, 2013
neil

How Patricia Machin came to forgive the man who killed her husband

Today’s Telegraph contains the moving story of how Patricia Machin forgave the man whose crime of careless driving killed her husband. Ruth Dudley Edwards reports

Mrs Machin wrote Williamson a letter to use in his defence in which she said that on the day of the accident, “however bad it was for me, I realise it was 1,000 times worse for you…” This astonished the defence counsel, who said he struggled “to find words to express what is conveyed through the contents and the intentions”. Mrs Machin was in court on Tuesday as Williamson was given a suspended sentence.

But then Edwards, herself an atheist, goes on to say But why were people so astonished? Mrs Machin and her late husband were Christians who really lived up to their beliefs.No truer word has been spoken. Christians are under an obligation to forgive in a way no-one else. There is no other creed on earth that compels forgiveness because the obligation to forgive flows from our direct experience of forgiveness. CS Lewis writes To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. Only the Christian must forgive. 

But whilst it is an easy thing to say that the Christian must forgive it is still an extraordinary thing if the Christian can find the resources and resolve necessary to forgive. Again as Lewis says Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive … And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.

The command to forgive comes from the gospel and the ability to forgive comes from the gospel too. When tempted to hate those who have hurt us and caused us undue pain the Christian seeks from God the ability to do the God-like thing and that is to choose to take the pain and hurt on ourselves rather than our ‘enemy’. God absorbed his own wrath when he suffered on the cross. In Christ, we too learn to bear the pain, commit it to God, seek his healing and hold out forgiveness to those who have wronged us. That is no easy thing. Praise God today for the example and courage of Mrs Machin

Feb 20, 2013
neil

And I thought my sermon notes were a bit untidy…

The White House have released a photo of an early draft of Barack Obama’s second inaugural address.

 

Pages:«1...6789101112...62»
Facebook Twitter RSS Feed