the baby and the bathwater

Wisdom 2: Walk Securely
February 26, 2009, 4:47 pm
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Whoever walks in integrity walks securely. (Proverbs 10:9)

There is probably something in all of us that wants to get rich quick. Every now and then we go into our little dream world and start to work out what we would do if we suddenly inherited a vast fortune, quickly rose to a position of national or international stardom, or (as is the theme of a not a small number of films) suddenly found ourselves as President of the USA. Maybe we all now and then look for the short-cut that will bring us instant wealth, fame, business success or profile.

But so often the biblical way is the steady way. The fruitful way is the long-hall way. The winning way is the way of dogged persistence.

We have been blighted by stories of banks recently who have lost their way because they tried to become rich quick. RBS, once a bastion of prudence was turned into a total failure in a very short space of time through it’s attempt at rapid expansion. Integrity has been lost, and it will take an awful lot of time to recover. The promise of quick money fulled by the fictitious Stanford millions caused the game of cricket to fall into disrepute. A famous English institution that for 2 centuries had built up a solid reputation for honest endeavour and fair play had lost it’s good name within a few short months.

The way of integrity, more often that not, is the way of a secure walk. Of steady progress.

And the church needs to know this. All too often we judge success by the number we gather rather than the number we disciple. Of course, we need to be good at both. But the long walk of discipling people is hard. One of the greatest Christian authors of recent times – Richard Foster (who wrote celebration of discipline) said that, in all his travels around the world he had never once come across a church that did discipleship well.

It’s hard, because it involves a steady pace. A secure walk. A long-term view.

Our world is geared around the quick win. The average time someone remains as a CEO of a large corporation is only 5 years. The average time someone remains as a premiership manager is now around 1 year. Even vicars are often only given 7 years before they are moved on.

One of my heroes, like many people, is Billy Graham. In his lifetime he did one thing, very well, for a very long time, with the same bunch of people. He preached live to some 215 million people in 185 countries over a period of 60 years. Early on in his ministry, in 1957 he was offered $5m (more than $35m in today’s money) to work on a TV show for the next five years. He turned the quick win down for the sake of the long hall – the long hall that lasted nearly another 50 years and brought 2.5m lost souls home.

It seems that he learned the true mark of success: to walk.

What does the Lord require of you: to act justly and to love mercy and to walk……(Micah 6:8).


Wisdom 1: Choosing Words Carefully
February 25, 2009, 8:54 am
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The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin (Proverbs 10:8)

Words are powerful. Chosen carefully, and delivered in the right way, they have the ability to change the course of history. Whether it’s the speeches of Martin Luther King, of Winston Churchill, or Ghandi, great words endure from generation to generation and somehow manage to keep their life and influence well beyond the circumstances they were originally intended to address.

We need to choose our words carefully.

Badly chosen words have the ability to destroy. The wrong words said at the wrong moment, without enough thought, can cut to the heart of people and leave them broken. Ill-informed and poorly delivered words can endure just as much as great words well delivered can.

We need to choose our words carefully.

Our words need to come under the authority of Jesus, just as much as our actions. The wise heart accepts His kingship over their utterances as well as their activities. And, in the words of many a parent spoken over their children, this can be as straightforward as ‘thinking before we speak’. We need to consider who will read our facebook pages before we write on them. We need to think who will be clicking on to our blogs before we post opinions. We need to think who could be in earshot when we discuss things with our friends or colleagues. We need to be incredibly thoughtful in anything we speak over our children, or let them read, or let them hear.

We need to choose our words carefully.

Chattering fools exist everywhere. They exist on the TV, they exist in the newspaper columns, they exist in the political arena, they exist in the boardroom, they even exist in the pulpit. And they all too often cause destruction with badly chosen words.

Let’s become distinctive amongst them by choosing our words carefully.

February 24, 2009, 4:35 pm
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Underneath my very opinionated quotes on design and my often outspoken views on worship, I find that there is one thing that I know I really need more of. And that is wisdom. You see, I’m not afraid of speaking out, but I know I don’t always get it right. And more than ever, I realise that in this whole world of church and worship and creativity that there is so much that we can do and get involved with, that may tick lots of boxes, but that can be unhelpful, unnecessary, unwise, that can lead us away from God and our obedience of Him. Or put another way,  just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate (1 Cor 6,12).

So alongside my continuing outspokenness on the things that matter to me, I am going to do a sequence of little articles on the proverbs of Solomon. I am not sure how long I will do this for, or how many I will cover, or whether I will jump from verse to verse as I see fit.

I just feel compelled to do it and see where it goes.

And maybe, just maybe, I will be a little wiser at the end of it.

Rubbish Design: the explanations No3
February 23, 2009, 6:12 pm
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Trying to design on a PC rather than a mac.

This is not considered worthy of further discussion.

Rubbish Design: The explanations No2
February 19, 2009, 2:21 pm
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It costs too much

Our culture around us recognises that you need to attract people’s attention to earn the right to share your product. It also knows that the way you attract people’s attention is also key – because in doing so you share as much about your values as you do about the product you are sharing.

Alpha is a great organisation – and they have understood this. Unless I have missed something, they are the leaders in this for the worldwide church. They have sensed the wind of the Spirit, and have put all their energy and expertise and creative knowledge around it. I imagine that at various times there were people who looked at the cost of their design and marketing and said ‘It costs too much’, especially when the TV ads started. But if there were such voices around at the time, they are pretty quite at the moment! Richard Dawkins also produced some great design and branding recently. It may have looked like a bit of text on a side of a bus to some people – but actually it was very clever – at least from a design point of view.

However, there have been some failures – in my mind most recently in the 2012 London Olympics branding. A lot of money. But a bad design because it doesn’t really present the Olympics in a great way: it seems to present the games as something that is clumsy and slightly comical, rather than something that is unifying and inspiring.

You see in my mind, good design isn’t primarily about cost – it is primarily about a value – of wanting to present the message we have, and also in my case the person we worship, in the best possible way to a world that needs to share it, accept it, believe it. (my friend Nae Lippett has posted about this recently). Yes, at some point the embracing of that value will have a cost implication. It’s like sung worship. Once you understand it’s importance you are then able to understand how to spend money making it happen. But essentially, if we don’t share the value, any cost associated with it will seem like it’s too much.

This phrase ‘it costs too much’ was used against Mary when she poured the perfume over Jesus feet. Jesus said in that moment that her act would be retold in memory of her throughout generations.

And it has.

But why did she pour so much expensive perfume over the feet of Jesus? I mean if the aim was to wash Jesus’ feet, then surely some water and a bit of 1st century soap would have done the trick. If it was to make Jesus’ feet smell nice, then a surely few drops of a much cheaper fragrance would have worked better and cost less.

Of course the point of this event was not that Mary wanted to perform a function. She wanted to express a value. She was expressing an intention of her heart to do something worthy of the King. I doubt that any amount of cost-benefit analysis would have changed her mind.

I don’t think I will ever be able to justify the cost of any piece of good design I do. But it won’t stop me doing it.

In fact, more often than not when people say ‘can we afford to do this?’ my first reaction is ‘can we afford not to?’

Here we go again…
February 18, 2009, 10:09 pm
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more greed.

more wrecked lives.

Rubbish Design: The explanations no.1
February 17, 2009, 11:48 am
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Reasons for rubbish design 1: An inherent suspicion in the parent-generation of anything that attracts the attention of our children.

As a father, I make it my business to know as much as I can about what is influencing my children. I check what they watch on TV, I check what sites on the internet they access, I check what games they buy for their nintendos, I invite their school friends around to the house so I get to know who they are spending time with, I encourage them to pursue certain activities and clubs because I think it will help them to grow into the person God intends for them. I hope in all of this I am exercising wisdom.

But like every other generation before them, my children will eventually want to change the world for themselves. They will want to change the political landscape, they will want to revive and build new church, they will want to build new expressions of community where they live. They will even want to change the language that we speak (yo dude, wicked, char, lush). And when they aspire to these things, they will only be doing what God made them to do: allowing His life-breathing Holy Spirit to invade their lives and impact everything and everyone around them.

But the parent-generations, through an honest but often misguided sense of responsibility, have tended to crush this creativity in their children. I can remember it wasn’t too long ago that young people were being told that drums were the music of the devil and shouldn’t have a place in their lives, let alone their spiritual formation. (And who can remember the film ‘footloose’). Of course now we all know different. But how much ground was lost in the Kingdom in the meantime?

The thing is, most of us parents are suspicious of anything that attracts the attention of our children. And that’s because we love them, are concerned for them, and want to be wise in what influences touch their lives. But too often those suspicions can lead us to throw out the baby with the bath water. What we need to be doing as a parent-generation is not controlling the creativity of our children, but nurturing it; not stifling it, but guiding it’s formation; not being critical of it, but embracing it.

And that may mean that in our church we have to sing some songs that aren’t written by Graham Kendrick; we may have to have a style of music that isn’t ‘Radio 2’; and we may have to stop illustrating the peace of God through a cheesy white dove. And we certainly have to stop using clip-art. Because in terms of our children, these things just don’t cut the mustard anymore.

Some of you may know that I design our church magazine. I do love that part of my job, and I love the fact that many people have connected with our church because of it. It sits in doctor’s surgeries and the waiting rooms of many businesses in our Town. It has even found it’s way into holiday apartments in Spain.

But the greatest pleasure I have got recently is when I found my 11 year old daughter reading it in bed one evening. She was reading a great article written by one of the youth in our church about identity in Jesus. I could never have written such a great article myself. But at least I am pleased that I found a way of presenting it that attracted the attention of my daughter, and she ended up reading something that she very probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. Now I know I’m biased, because I designed it. And actually, it may not have been the most incredible bit of design in the world. But it did grab the attention of my daughter.

You see, most Christian design is in a time-warp. And too many people hope that the next generation will one day come round to loving it.

They won’t.

So get over it.

Our children’s attention will be grabbed by something. Let’s get out of our cacoons and come up with the things that we want them to be grabbed by.