the baby and the bathwater


Wisdom 9: Established
March 26, 2009, 12:55 pm
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A man cannot be established through wickedness; but the righteous cannot be uprooted (Proverbs 12: 3)

It’s one of those unfashionable words isn’t it: wickedness; like something your grandmother used to say as she huffed and puffed over the younger generation; a word the famous five would use in their latest adventure tracking down the gardener-come-kidnapper who you could never believe would be caught up in such a horrid affair.

But wickedness –  that purposeful rebellion of man against the ways of God – is all around us. Sometimes in the obvious events that happen around the world such as murder and genocide and oppression and child abuse. But it is also evident in more subtle ways. For example I wonder how many of us would perceive the latest decision by the government to allow pro-abortion businesses to advertise on TV as wicked? You see, in my mind it is not only unfair – anti-abortionist pressure groups can’t afford such air time; it is misguided – encouraging abortion can only weaken the case for sexual purity; but it is also wicked because it encourages purposeful rebellion against God.

There seems to be this misapprehension that somehow, if we remove the possible consequences of sexual promiscuity through such things, we will somehow become a better society – a more established, healthy and stable society. But this misses the point. Because it is the activity itself – the purposeful rebellion against God’s ways – that causes our society to flounder, lose it’s way, become unstable, not the consequences.

We may want to question the way in which it was communicated, but when the Pope made his famous comments about condoms recently, I think this is what he was referring to: you maybe able to remove some of the consequences of promiscuous activity, but unless you deal with the heart of the problem, you will always be flapping in the wind.

If society continues in wickedness – whether or not that brings uncomfortable consequences – it will never truly find it’s feet. It is only through righteousness – the purposeful pursuing of God’s ways – that will allow us to become rooted, strong, stable, healthy.

Established.

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Wisdom 8: Refreshment
March 24, 2009, 10:34 am
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A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed (Proverbs 11: 25)

One of the biggest theological struggles I have in the 21stC church is the challenge that the prosperity gospel brings to me, my faith, and my experience as a follower of Jesus. And the reason that I struggle with it, is because much of what I hear and read and see about it is very, very close to what I believe.

Very close.

You see, I do believe that you can’t out-give God. I do believe that he rewards us for faithful service. And I do believe that his reward, fulfilled in eternity, breaks through to us in to our now-and-everyday lives. And I do believe that this reward is often financial. Not always. But certainly it is my understanding from scripture and from experience that this is often the case.

And I also believe that in this current day and age, the church needs money to grow, succeed, extend the Kingdom. We need money for our buildings, for our staff, for our technical infrastructure, for food. And I do think that the church generally in this country is pretty poor when it comes to a theological understanding of giving. So I totally understand so much of what I see in prosperity teaching: the desire to inform and teach on giving, the desire to talk about a God who prospers us and blesses us and rewards us.

It’s very close.

But there does seem to be a line that is crossed – maybe a very fine line, only just visible in the sand – when suddenly the picture changes. Suddenly, we are not dependent on God revealing His grace, we are insistent on it. Suddenly we are not moved to rejoice when we receive a financial reward, we are compelled to question our behaviour if we don’t receive it. Suddenly we are not perceived as a church who joyfully gives of what they have, we are seen as a church who is perceived as hungry for money.
It is a fine line. But when it is crossed, then the world changes for me.

And the line is this: motivation. What is our motivation.

When we are generous, what is our motivation. Are we using our generosity to gain influence and power (‘If you don’t do what I want, vicar, I won’t pay my tithe’)? Are we using our generosity to be manipulative towards others (‘If I give a bit more, I may well be asked to join the preaching rota’)? Are we using our generosity to manipulate God (‘If you give me this new job I will give start giving more than 10%’)?

Or is our motivation the refreshment of others.

Refreshment.

I love that word. It’s so ‘otherly’ – not expectant of a return, not expectant of something back, not manipulative or controlling.

Just something to provide relief and joy to someone else.

God even.

What’s your motivation when you give?



Wisdom 7: Secrets
March 17, 2009, 1:56 pm
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A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret (Proverbs 11:13)

Someone once said that knowledge is power. The more you know, the more you can influence people. The more you know, the more you can throw your weight around and get your way. The more you know, the more you can manipulate circumstances towards your own end.

It’s intoxicating. To be on this inside. To hear the secrets first. To get the low-down first hand from the movers and shakers in this world. And to be able to position yourself to benefit from it all.

How often have you shared a story, a piece of information with someone, and their response is ‘I knew that ages ago’. It seems to rob you of power, doesn’t it? Suddenly you are not so important. There has been a power shift. Someone else got there first. Someone else is closer on the inside. Then it’s so tempting to hunt around harder for the next big story. To get there first next time. To reclaim the place of power, of influence, of knowledge. And the dangerous spiral of gossip begins.

So maybe it’s not too strange that, in this world of power games, we seem to be encouraged to be people who can keep secrets. But something about it doesn’t seem to be quite Christian does it? Surely we’re meant to be transparent, open, honest. Real with each other. We don’t have secrets in this family after all.

But let me throw this out there: the ability to keep things secret is the foundation for trust; the ability to hold on to information and not use it as part of a power game is the foundation for friendship; the ability to keep things close to your heart is purposeful, intentional loyalty.

My wife and I have kept a secret from my youngest daughter Sarah for the last month. She found out today – her birthday – what it was (a trip to a holiday park for 4 days including swimming pools, water slides, and to have lessons in one of her ambitions: fencing). You should have seen the joy on her face when she found out. My eldest daughter and I have a little secret at the moment. No one knows except her and I. We have kept it between ourselves and it is helping us develop a stronger father-and-daughter trust. And of course once my wife reads this blog, she will know we have a secret. And she will ask me what it is. And I won’t tell her.

In leadership, the ability to keep secrets is totally, totally crucial to what we do. The ability to retain information without feeling the need to pass it on is at the heart of loyalty. And loyalty in leadership is fundamental. You can’t operate without it. You just can’t tell anyone your secrets. Not even ‘just for prayer’.

Because the ability to keep a secret is the mark of a trustworthy man.

What’s your secret?



Wisdom 6: City
March 12, 2009, 6:03 pm
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When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices (Proverbs 11: 10)

I wandered through Cheltenham Town centre this lunchtime with a friend. We had just been to the gym and worked out, and had popped into a little coffee shop and picked up a sandwich and a latte and headed off back to the office. As we wandered through the town we passed one of our friends who regularly busks, playing his guitar and singing. He sings many songs, some of them are songs that we may sing in church from time to time. I am struck by the influence he has on the atmosphere in the town when he is there.

Every couple of weeks a team of people go out onto the same street and pray for people who need healing. We have heard some great stories about how God has touched people, met with people for the first time, started the process of transformation. People are coming into church because of it, I’m sure. But aside from that, the air is changing in the town.

On many late evenings and into the nights, others from the church go into the clubs and streets and hand out water and chocolate to the club scene. Another of my friends has felt the call to be very much part of the club culture, dancing and chatting to people and drinking water and praying for people. The other day she told how that she would be called up by the bar staff to pray for people who are in a mess, in the clubs, in the town.

The kingdom of God is coming.

Can you see it?

Can you feel it?

When I need to hide away and read and pray and write, I often do it in a coffee shop in town. I have my own table in the corner by the window (well I like to think of it that way). I get to regularly chat to the staff. Hamed, Paul, Nicky and the others. We chat about life and their challenges and their stresses. The coffee shop is becoming a meeting place. The air is changing.

The kingdom of God is coming.

Can you see it?

Can you feel it?

Because it is coming.

The town is changing. Slowly. Sometimes one step back before two steps forward. The changes are small, but the town is changing.

And it is a good thing. Because I want to live in a great town.

I heard a talk by Tim Keller the other week, and he said this: “Too often we want to use a city to make a great church, when actually we should be using the church to make a great city”.

Let the righteous prosper.

Let the city rejoice.

God let Your kingdom come.



Wisdom 5: Humility
March 6, 2009, 2:31 pm
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With humility comes wisdom: Proverbs 11: 2

Humility. It’s one of those words that is often used in Christian circles. It’s part of the language of the church. But like many such words, this one is very often spoken, but possibly only very occasionally worked out in practice: we like the notion, but don’t like it’s implication.

But maybe we don’t like the implication because all to often we seen humility as weakness. Because when we are humble we have to admit that we don’t have all the answers, and we see that a challenge to our intellect. When we are humble we have to admit that someone else may have a better idea than us, which we see as a challenge our creativity. When we are humble we have to accept that someone else may do some job more efficiently than us, which we see as a challenge to our skill. When we are humble we have to accept that some people may hear the voice of the Lord more clearly than us, and we see that as a challenge to our faith.

And we too often see such things as weakness.

However, whereas all these things are right, they are not a consequence of weakness, but a consequence of strength.

You see, it actually displays strength to partner with people who are cleverer than us. It displays strength to partner with people who are more creative than us. It displays strength to partner with people who are more skilled than us. It displays strength to partner with people who have a greater spirituality than us.

Humility is a display of strength. It means that we understand what it means to be church, to be part of the body, to be engaged in the Kingdom.

I am currently engaged in a couple of projects which are causing me to be incredibly stretched. Both are creative projects, both are on worship, and in both of them I am working in partnership with great people. But because they are partnerships, I have to purposefully create space in the creative process that would normally be filled by my own views, ideas, my own ego or pride.  And it’s painful. But my hope is that the final projects will be stronger because of it.

You see the easy way forward is to always think that we are right, and allow our pride and ego to come to the fore. But in my mind, this is the way of the weak. The way of the strong is the way of humility, where pride and ego yield.

It’s the way of the wise.

Strange isn’t it? Because normally we associate wisdom with what we have in us, rather than what we are able to find in others.



Wisdom 4: Giving air-time
March 4, 2009, 7:44 pm
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The tongue of the righteous is choice silver but the heart of the wicked is of little value (Proverbs 10:20)

Have you ever noticed that when you are with some people, you just want them to be quiet. They seem to throw many words and opinions at you without coming up for breath, and within a very short period you end up getting a headache. It’s as though the words they are uttering just fill your moments with noise: not just the physical noise of the sounds they make, but the intellectual and emotional noise that comes with them.

Then there are some people who, when they speak, in some way bring calm, bring sense, bring order and clarity. They use choice words and articulate their views well.

In my experience the ranting and the raving of the first type of person, and the energy with which they throw their toys out of the pram more often than not take the limelight, grab people’s attention. They win the day and get their way because we are too lazy to wait for anything better.

So I am learning that, not only do I want to be someone who chooses their words carefully, and expresses views with clarity, and brings order to the situations I find myself part of, but I also want to be more intentional about listening to others who speak this way.

I want my words to be like choice silver. But I also want to listen for the choice silver in the voices of others.

You see, people rant and rave, partly because they don’t know otherwise, but also because people give them air time. And maybe if we stopped listening to them, they would eventually be quiet.

May be we should try.



Wisdom 3: Take it on the chin
March 2, 2009, 12:59 pm
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The road to life is a disciplined life; ignore correction and you’re lost for good. Proverbs 10:17 (message)

It’s unfortunate that that the journey of most worship leaders, including this one, is littered with critisism. But over the years I have learned to deal with it. I have some filters I apply, and most of the unhelpful stuff that comes my way now is more often than not like water off a ducks back.

But whereas I may now deal with critisism reasonably well, there is still something that I find hard in life: correction. That knowledgeable, wise and truthful pointing out from someone I love and respect that actually, I was wrong. I still find that hard. It may come from a close friend, my wife, my boss. I hear what they say to me and I know that they are right, and I have made a mistake. It disappoints me, because I want to be right all the time, and I want to be known as being right all the time.

I’ve been doing some writing on worship recently, and I put some of it front of a theologian friend of mine, and he corrected me on some things I had written. Some of it was the most beautiful, well constructed writing I think I have ever done.

But it was wrong.

And he told me.

And I was disappointed.

And of course, the moment he told me, I knew it was wrong. But I had two courses open to me. I fight my corner, or I just accept it and move on. I chose the later. And now I have re-written the piece, and hopefully it is better now. And hopefully I am the wiser, made more alive in the truth because of it.

One day soon, I may even show my theologian friend the revised piece.

Once the pain is over.

Once I have stopped taking the tablets.

The writer of the proverbs says that if we chose the path of open-ness to correction, we chose the path of life. But if we ignore correction we are lost for good. In my case, my openness to accept correction has meant that, should this piece of writing ever ‘get out there’ I won’t be ridiculed for the rest of my life because people keep quoting it back to me.

You see maybe one of the reasons that us worship leaders have attracted so much critisism in the past may be because we have not learned to take correction from the leaders around us.

And maybe we would all be a little more full of life if we just accepted it, and moved on.