Published: Ecclesiastes For The Student Minister

I’ve had a piece published at Rooted Ministry today.

“Oh how comforting the Teacher of Ecclesiastes is when he reminds us that in a few years, no one will remember us! All that work and toil we’ve undertaken in our ministries will be long forgotten. The weeks and months and years of investing in people, seeking to help them know Jesus and grow in Jesus, becomes a distant memory.

It’s like the Teacher is trolling each of us.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Other published writing can be found here.

The post-Christian Society

The post-Christian society, which denies its own Christian underpinnings, falls into the trap of religiosity. Because it is religious and yet denies its own sinfulness, it must blame the other. The right blames the “illegal immigrant”, the left the “uneducated working class” or “unsophisticated rural folk”.

– Mark Sayers in Disappearing Church (p29)

Bonhoeffer On Sin And Grace

I’ve recently been reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I came across this paragraph from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who Manning quotes while describing how many churchgoers aren’t honest with themselves but believe they’re more righteous than they really are.

He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous.  So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

(The Ragamuffin Gospel, p136)

While searching for more details about the above quote I found the paragraph that actually follows this. It’s taken from chapter 5 in Bonhoeffer’s work “Life Together”. It provides the answer to the above problem and brings it back to the hope through the Gospel.

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23.26). God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him.

A Radically Ordinary Faith

There is much written about the radical nature of following Jesus.

The call to come and follow Him.

The call to take up your cross.

The call to be a radical disciple.

Whatever way you put it Christianity can be portrayed as some type of hyper-enthusiastic, always active, and amazingly awesome life.

And then you have to clean the dishes currently lying in the sink, change the babies nappy, make your bed, or put the rubbish out.

That’s not amazing.

That’s mundane.

That’s ordinary.

A Radically Ordinary Faith

And what do you do with a verse like 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you…”?

Sounds pretty ordinary to me.

There can be a tendency to believe we’re not ‘radical’ enough in our faith,  that we’re not doing enough radical stuff with our lives. The implication of this is that we’re not being obedient. We’re not living up to the kind of discipleship required of us as followers of Jesus.

But when we think this way we begin to diminish the life God has given us.

If God has created us, made us who we are, and has us in the place we currently find ourselves in, then perhaps we can trust that our faith is ‘radical’ enough.

This isn’t to be used as an excuse for laziness, a reason to neglect serving others, and avoiding any form of growth in our faith. But, our faith must be something that relates to and be relevant to our daily lives.

I always find it inspiring to hear of the adventures and opportunities missionaries have as they serve God overseas. It’s inspiring to see people get involved in missions, church planting, and other evangelism initiatives. Every now and then I get an email from a university worker working with international students. The stories that are shared are quite incredible, hearing of the way people are attracted to hearing more about faith and understanding the Bible for themselves. Some of these stories are very encouraging.

And so it’s inspiring to see the work people are doing, and even more exciting to see people become interested in knowing more about Jesus. But I’m not sure they’d tell you they’re being radical in their faith because of the work they’re doing, and neither will a missionary or a pastor. The work is often very ordinary.

And so what does a radical faith look like for freshly minted teaching graduate who is in the middle of a long first year, struggling to find time to read their Bible because the nightly preparation takes so long. Or the plumber who has been dealing with crap all day, trying to spend time with the family among the household chores. Or the mum who looks after the children, who is waiting for her partner to arrive home from work in order to help her out.

What does ‘radical’ faith mean for them?

It may be me in my most cynical moments, where I totally turn deaf to this call to be radical, but I’m not sure whether telling people to be more radical is helpful. To me, it adds another burden, another layer of guilt, where I end up feeling my faith isn’t good enough and I need to do more. I see the need to make the call for people to be more radical in their faith, many of us aren’t. But at the same time, what does it mean for my faith to be relevant in the mundane?

What do you think?

On ‘Missional Posture’

A lifetime ago I was a personal trainer and gym manager and part of my role grew into what is known as corporate health. Part of this role was to perform ‘ergonomic assessments’ on people working in factories and offices. Take an office setting for example, I’d come in and have a look at how you’re sitting at your desk and give tips and advice on how to better sit and perform your duties. This was in order to help improve or maintain your posture and ultimately your long-term health.

posture

One particular aspect of the book, Sentness: Six Postures Of Missional Christians, I’ve found helpful is the idea of ‘posture’ and the Christian life.

I’m in the fortunate position of being able to speak at different churches on a regular basis and this month is the busiest one of the year. After reading Sentness by Hammond and Cronshaw I’ve been illustrating the way we are to view the Christian life with this term ‘missional posture’. It’s been helpful in explaining part of the Christian worldview.

The posture we should have as Christians is one centred on mission.

This will affect lifestyles and choices and decisions we make as we live life.

Matthew 28:16-20 is a great example of the posture we should have as Christians. Matthew describes the scene of the disciples coming to Jesus after he’s been resurrected and then tells us Jesus’ final words before he leaves earth.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This passage is fairly clear isn’t it? It’s a pretty simple directive from Jesus about how we’re to view the Christian life, particularly his words about making disciples.

It’s clear, it’s simple.

And this is where the term ‘missional posture’ is helpful.

The Christian life is to be lived with a posture of mission at the core.

The posture one has can show many things about a person. So too the missional posture of a Christian will show the attitude they have to their faith.

The Christian faith isn’t simply a slice in the pie of life. It encompasses all.

The posture we have as Christians can’t really be anything else. Can it?

Evangelical Truth by John Stott

evangelicaltruth stottJohn Stott and his ministry is well known and well respected throughout the world. He has written numerous books and articles, and up until his death in 2011 he was considered a worldwide Christian leader.

In this little book of 149 pages Stott explains the essentials of the Christian faith and makes a strong plea for unity. Here, toward the end of his life, Stott continues to write with great insight, making you think about the primary and secondary issues within the Christian faith. There is constant debate between Christians, now more than ever it seems, over all sorts of theological and social issues. Stott believes these issues should be discussed, but at times there is a need to lessen the vigour and closed-handedness of these debates.

Evangelical Truth has five chapters, including the introduction and conclusion. The three main chapters cover the following areas: the revelation of God, the cross of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In the introduction Stott gives a brief rundown of his definition of evangelicalism. He pitches this definition against that of fundamentalism and liberalism. Within this chapter he also gives information about evangelicalism has evolved and its main historical turning points within the church.

The chapter on revelation, as expected, is based on the revelation of God through the bible. Stott speaks of general and specific revelation, progressive and personal revelation, inspiration, authorship, biblical authority. He touches on the debate between the sufficiency of scripture and also the inerrancy of scripture. Here Stott makes his stand against using the term ‘inerrancy’.

Chapter three is essentially the gospel. It is the message of the cross well explained. He gives a helpful explanation of ‘justification by faith’, and grapples with what disciples and mission are. It is the shortest chapter in the book but also the most concise and straight-forward. It was good to hear the gospel again.

A final chapter on the ministry of the Holy Spirit makes Evangelical Truth truly trinitarian. The topics of assurance, holiness, purity, community, mission, and hope are all covered. Stott is really telling the reading of how the Holy Spirit works; in the New Testament and his continuing work today. This is a good chapter and well explained.

To conclude, Stott summarises his point and pleads with the reader to be united with Christian brothers and sisters around the globe. He calls for Christians to endure hardship and wants to be an encouraging voice within that. You can really see in the writing that Stott has a wealth of experience and knowledge of the gospel, is passionate about the things of God, and wants Christians around the world to be united under the gospel. He encourages all believers to lead with humility and to love one-another with Christian love.

A great primer of the Christian faith. Get on it.

John Stott, Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea For Unity, Integrity and Faithfulness (149 pages; Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press), 2003.