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Ministry philosophy and money philosophy

30 May 2013 1 comment

Ministry philosophy and money philosophy1. Money philosophy matters

Your ministry might have a particular philosophy of ministry – its way of doing ministry. But if that ministry philosophy is out of step with the overriding money philosophy, that will lead to problems…

If those who control the money have a different money philosophy. If policies about the use of money enshrine an alien money philosophy. If structures inhibit rather than promote the exercise of your ministry philosophy. Then you will find that you are constantly having to defend the spending that you wish to do. You are constantly going to have to get exceptions granted to you. There will be a constant struggle to have money used the way you need it to be used to effectively prosecute your ministry philosophy.

By contrast, if those who control the money share your money philosophy. If policies enshrine your money philosophy. If structures promote the exercise of your ministry philosophy. Then there is no constant need to argue for spending decisions in a defensive way. Rules will work to encourage spending in your way. Money will naturally support ministry initiatives.

The problem lies in the fact that those of one group will very naturally think that their approach to money is universal, and so enforce their approach across the board. By doing so, they may not comprehend the unhappiness of the other group, nor how it hampers the other group’s ministry. “After all,” it is argued, “these rules works for us – why shouldn’t it work for you?”

2. How money philosophy can differ

Here are some ways in which money philosophy could differ:

“We should make a good impression with the newcomers with our welcome pack. Let’s spend some money to print it well and make it look great.” “We should spend as little as possible. Just print using black and white using this photocopier that we have.”
“We think this training course is so useful that we want all of our volunteers to do it. We will gladly pay 50% of their training costs.” “If people want to do training, that’s great. They can pay for it themselves.”
“We should check that money is being used to advance the mission of God in this area.” “We should check that no church money has gone missing.”
“We should put on staff first, and then worry about money later.” “We should wait until money comes before we put on staff.”
“We should challenge the congregation directly about money and giving. God provides through his people.” “We should not talk so much about money, but instead trust that God will provide.”
“We should not spend money to have flowers each week.” “We should spend money to have flowers each week.”
“Let’s invest in people.” “Let’s invest in our building.”

The point is not that one approach to money is right and another approach is wrong. Instead the point is that within one particular ministry philosophy, it makes sense to make use of money in a certain way. And within another ministry philosophy, it makes sense to spend money in an entirely different way.

3. A vine without a trellis

All this means that for ministry to flourish, ministry philosophy must be matched with money philosophy in every instance. To the extent where there is a mismatch, then to that same extent will the ministry be compromised.

It would be like a lion – with no teeth. A soldier – with his hands tied behind its back. A vine – with no trellis supporting its growth (see more here).

And so consider: to what extent have conflicts in the past been due to a mismatch of ministry philosophy and money philosophy? Does your ministry have freedom to develop it’s own rules about money? to spend money in a way that best suits its ministry?

If not, then like a weakened lion or a helpless soldier, that ministry will always remain restricted to a smaller scale. That ministry will remain at size where it doesn’t have to rely on money.

You see, a vine which lacks a supporting trellis will still grow to some extent. There will still be signs of life! But that vine will really only take off when the trellis supports its growth…

Categories: Church life

Providence – calling and guidance

29 May 2013 2 comments

755127_99573995 r sIn this post we pick up on a series on the doctrine of providence that I began a while ago (see posts 1, 2 and 3). Providence is all about how God is working in the world today.

1. The common way of talking about calling and guidance

One way in which providence shows itself is in how we believe God guides people today – particularly into ministry. And very popular in some segments of Christianity is a way of talking about guidance in which God calls people into ministry through their feelings. And so you might hear these kinds of things:

  • “I feel that God is calling me to be a missionary in Spain.”
  • “Tell us about your calling.”
  • “It was in 1995 that God called me into the ministry.”
  • “To be truly effective in ministry, it is vital to have a clear calling.”

And when pressed further, it turns out that what people generally mean is not something objective, unmistakable or external to them – instead it’s a subjective, internal feeling.

But the thinking is that here is one way in which God is directly involved in our world – he is involved in setting aside particular individuals for the work of the gospel.

2. Common – but not a biblical way of talking about calling and guidance

Matthias Media have recently put out a book by Michael Bennett on this specific topic of calling and guidance, titled Do you feel called by God? Rethinking the call to ministry (here). It basically takes a biblical studies approach to the topic of calling and guidance – and it does much to reveal how the common way of talking about guidance is not actually biblical.

Bennett’s argument goes along these lines: when prophets were called, it was always distinctive and external to themselves (ie. not merely a feeling). And when the Bible talks about calling in the life of the Christian, it always means (a) the call of the gospel to repentance and faith, and (b) the call to godly living. And when the Bible talks about qualifications for elders, it never makes use of the language of calling.

Bennett therefore argues that when we use the language of calling to refer to feelings that we have, this may sound very spiritual – and everyone else around us may be using this kind of language – but Bennett has done a great job in showing very clearly that there is no biblical support to claim  this kind of language.

Bennett’s book deserves to be carefully read and its implications for the way we talk about ministry pondered.

3. Inductive and deductive thinking

However I’m aware that Bennett’s book won’t help everyone. And that’s because this is an essentially inductive approach. It basically says: nowhere in Scripture is ‘calling’ used like this, and so we should not use ‘calling’ in this way.

When presented with how ‘calling’ is actually used in the New Testament, someone who still wants to cling to the language of calling might say, “Maybe calling is used differently in the New Testament – but I know that I have been called, and it’s important to me.” This is the weakness of the inductive approach: it can show that calling is not used in these cases – but it can’t show that it is illegitimate to use it in every case.

Here is an example of inductive thinking: “is not snowing in Sydney because there is no snow in Parramatta, there is no snow in Chatswood, and there is now snow in Mascot” (different suburbs of Sydney).

However a stubborn person might still say, “But what about Hurstville? what you say about Parramatta, Chatswood and Mascot might be true – but there is still the small possibility of it snowing in Hurstville. And so it might still be snowing.” The inductive approach is a bottom-up approach to thinking, and this is the general weakness of the inductive method.

The deductive method takes a different approach: it says that “snow only falls in certain conditions – yet none of these conditions have been present across the Sydney region. Therefore it cannot have snowed.” The deductive approach is a top-down approach to thinking.

I once knew someone who would defend things by saying, “yes I know it’s not biblical – but that doesn’t mean it’s unbiblical.” And unfortunately, that is the problem of the inductive approach. You may be able to say that calling isn’t used in these places – but you can’t say that calling isn’t to be used everywhere. There is always the possibility – however slender – that it could be acceptable. Which therefore gives people an ‘out’ to keep on using the language of calling.

4. Deductive thinking

This is where the doctrine of providence becomes useful. It provides the deductive framework to think about all situations, not just the ones specifically mentioned in the Bible.

In Peter’s Acts 2 speech at Pentecost, Peter declares the following:

22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 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.”

Acts 2:22-23 (NIV)

What this shows us is two things: (a) God is sovereign over all events – even the handing over of Jesus to the Jewish religious authorities, yet (b) that did not constitute divine moral permission to put Jesus to death. God is sovereign in the situation – yet they still sinned in their actions. What was the morally right thing to do in this case? It was to not bear false witness, and instead preserve the life of an innocent man!

Clearly God had other purposes in mind at the cross (also see Genesis 50). But for the purposes of this discussion, focus again on those two facts: (a) God sovereignly created the opportunity for the Jewish leaders, yet (b) the Jewish leaders should not have acted on their opportunity. This is helpful as we consider the case of guidance because it shows that we can never read off the circumstances of history to say what is the good we ought to do.

Here is how Paul Helm sums up the situation:

The fact that the providence of God presents Christians with opportunities does not mean that they ought to seize them, that they represent God’s will (in the sense of his command) for them. [...] We may have the opportunity to steal, to murder or to commit adultery, but this does not mean that we may, much less that we ought, to do any of these things.

Paul Helm, 136.

In his providence, God is in control of all things in this world. This means that the current circumstances of my life, the feelings I have, the opportunities that suddenly open to me – these are all God’s doing in my life. Yet we cannot take these as guidance from God towards or away from a certain course of action.

It may be a fact that a door is opened to a new business opportunity. It may be a fact that a door has shut to a gospel opportunity. It may be a fact that I have a strong feeling that it is right to pursue a relationship. And more to the point, it may be a fact that I have a certain feeling inside of myself that I should pursue full time ministry. However I cannot say that this constitutes a divine call.

The right course of action may instead be to resist the temptation to start a new business opportunity – and grow in contentment. It might be to push through that shut door, bearing suffering and hardship with perseverance. It might mean resisting the temptation to go out with that non Christian girl. Or perhaps to channel one’s passion for gospel ministry into greater giving.

You can see that it would be foolish to simply act on circumstances that present themselves to us – an open door doesn’t mean that we should walk through it. And feelings – even strong ones – do not mean we should act on them.

If we aren’t to read off God’s purposes from current events in history, how else are we to know what to do? Paul Helm writes:

A person ought to do what God commands, as is repeatedly taught by Jesus (eg. Mat 20:34-40) and by the apostles (eg. Gal 5:14). Nowhere in Scripture are we taught to look for guidance elsewhere.

Paul Helm, 134.

The answer is simple – perhaps too simple for some, who feel that we should have a more spiritual and experiential answer. But our circumstances – and that includes our feelings – are a dangerous source for guidance. God only promises to guide his people through his word. And our task today is to live out the implications of Scripture with wisdom.

5. Conclusion

The point of this is not to say that Michael Bennet’s book has taken the wrong approach. It is a great book and helps those who already have misgivings about ‘calling’ theology put their finger on what’s wrong about this language. However it’s unlikely to change the language of those who are used to ‘calling’ theology. And that’s because the inductive approach it takes still leaves the loophole of “yes, but it might still be snowing in Hurstville.”

However the case against ‘calling’ theology becomes much stronger when we also take a deductive approach.

All things fall under God’s providence. This includes doors that open, doors that shut – and strong feelings that we have. Yet it is illigitimate for us to take open doors, shut doors, and strong feelings as God’s direction for our lives. For that, there is only one place that we should go – the word of God.

Categories: Church life

Evangelism in the workplace – think in terms of interactions!

12 March 2013 1 comment

504653_businessman_looking_at_his_pdaThis month at our church we are starting up a brand-new worker’s ministry. It’s off to very exciting start – and I thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you a way to think about evangelism in the workplace.

The way we tend to think about workers ministry is to classify jobs the way the world does – in terms of industry. And so you might have people in the finance industry, the healthcare industry, the media industry etc. – and we tend to group people into those industries, with hopes that they can strengthen and encourage each other in their witness at work.

However instead of industry, I think there is a better way to think about jobs, and that is in terms of the kind of people interactions involved in their work. Consider the following table. Jobs from quite different industries – but organised (in the right hand column) in terms of the kind of people interaction involved in their work.

Kind of job Examples Characterised by Category
Office Programmer
Accountant
Graphic design
Lab Technician
Regular interaction with office co-workers
Same workplace
Regular interaction jobs
Process worker Manufacturing Regular interaction with office workers
Same work place
Shift work
Home Homemaker
Mother
Lots of interaction with own kids
Some interaction with other mothers
Low interaction jobs
Solitary work Meter reading
Home office
Low interaction
Teaching High school teacher
Primary school teacher
Regular interaction with other teachers
Regular interaction with students
Power/age inequality relationship with students
Power inequality jobs
Healthcare Nurse
Physio
Doctor
Shift work
Lots of interaction with patients
Power inequality relationship with patients
Offsite office Auditor
Consultant
Pilot
Small regular team
Short intense interaction with clients
Different locations every few weeks
Dangers of travel and being away from support structures
Offiste jobs
Trade Plumber
Electrician
Tiler
Very small team with opportunities for good interaction
Different locations every day
Short contact with customers
Temptations of a cash economy
Retail Retail pharmacist
Librarian
Take away shop
Lots of brief customer interaction, some repeat customers
Small staff team
Shift work
Brief interaction jobs
Hospitality Waiter
Barista
Cook
Hotel manager
Lots of brief customer interaction
Small staff team
Shift work
Unusual work hours

Notice that it is more fruitful to ignore the actual industry that someone is working in – and instead think about the sort of interaction that person has.

  • Do these jobs have lots of regular interaction – or lots of one-off interactions?
  • Do these workers primarily work with peers of equal standing – or is there a high power inequality?
  • Do they have a lot of time with people – or only a small window of opportunity?

These are the kinds of questions we need to ask when thinking about evangelism in the workplace!

And this reveals that people of quite different industries could actually have a lot of useful things to share with each other. Someone who workers in the manufacturing industry could have heaps in common with an office worker when it comes to evangelism. And yet a bank office worker may have very little to share with a management consultant – even though they may work in the very same company. It would be more fruitful for the office worker to share their examples and approaches with the process worker, than the management consultant.

This can also give an individual an idea of the kind of job they would be best suited for, and the kinds of jobs they should avoid. Very outgoing, very open kind of person? Well perhaps that person would be most strategic in the kind of job where they have many short interactions, and can leave a good positive impression. Less outgoing kind of person? Well perhaps they are more cut out for the kind of job where they will have time to slowly develop relationships. This might also help someone know if they shouldn’t take a promotion, if it will mean taking them out of a job where they have been very fruitful!

It also highlights that the your interaction with peers – and the way you share the gospel with them – is quite distinct from the way you would relate to people in a high power inequality job. The strategies that you would use, the expectations of what you can do in the same amount of time, how directly you can address the other person – all of these are different. There is no one correct way of doing evangelism in the workplace.

There are of course other kinds of jobs out there apart from the ones on the list – for example: policeman, hospital pharmacist, mining engineer. This table is not meant to be exhaustive. It is just meant to give you an idea of how to think in terms of the kinds of people-interactions instead of industry. And just as we have done so for the jobs in the table, we can also think about these other jobs in terms of people interactions.

I think this way of thinking about jobs and preparing Christian workers for their workplace is much more fruitful than an industry based approach!

Categories: Church life

Six ways to get beyond basic conversations at church

21 November 2012 2 comments

What are conversations like at church? are they encouraging – or superficial? do conversations at morning tea lead you to see the glory of God – or are they bland and predictable?

Fellowship is meant to do great things for us. It’s meant to encourage us, strengthen us, and fire up our love for God – but often the reality of our conversations falls far short, and that can leave us feeling alone and uncared for.

Lately I’ve been thinking about simple things that people can realistically do in conversation that contribute positively to the body life of the church. Here are the six things that I have come up with:

Ask about a situation you know about

“Hey, how have things been going with that guy from work you told me about? What’s happened?”

Maybe you know from a previous conversation how they have been struggling at home with their relationship with their parents – well, ask them about how that’s been going. They will have to go back into that situation themselves, but it is a great support for them if they can see that others know and care about that difficult family relationship.

Ask for prayer

“Hey look I’m wondering if you could pray for me right now – I have a difficult conversation I need to have later on and I’m feeling really nervous about it.”

Don’t ask them how you can pray for them – that can be too confronting and awkward. Instead ask them if they would pray for you. This way you can help build a culture where people are spontaneously praying for one another, drawing our earthly struggles before the throne of the sovereign Lord.

Give an encouraging word

“Thanks heaps for playing for us up there today. It sounded great!”
“Hey, I saw you doing the welcoming today – good job.”

This is obvious – but one of the things I’ve noticed is that instead of thanking people for what we do, we tend to just expect that people will do stuff. So take the opportunity to show genuine appreciation for the things that people do for the body.

Ask for advice about something

“You know I’ve been hitting a brick wall with evangelism at work with this one guy. Tell me: how would you go about doing it?”

One of the good things about church is that we can benefit from the wisdom of others. Others may have insights into evangelism in the workplace, or fighting sin – so one of the ways you can make the most of church is to learn from others. You can’t make someone else ask for advice – but you can help create a culture where people are okay with asking for help. And you might learn a thing or two in the process.

Share something of your delight in God

“Mmm, I really love those words in that last song: ‘My name is written on his hands / my name is graven on his heart.’”

There’s no need to go into a rapturous speech – say something that fits with your personality and the situation. But the idea here is to direct your friend in a natural way to the loveliness of God. Because church is all about people who love Jesus coming together, and exciting each others’ love for Jesus – and so that’s what you want to do: direct them to the glory of God in a way that fits with who you are.

Offer a loving rebuke

“Hey listen I want to talk with you about last Thursday when you came really late to Bible study…”

This one probably takes a bit more thought, relationship and skill than all the others in this list so far – but if human sin is a reality, then every one of us will always have things that we can repent of. Raise it in whatever way is culturally appropriate – the round about way, or the direct way. As much as you can, do it in a smart way – but the reality is that until we can build a culture where this is okay, it will always be somewhat awkward. However at church, we aren’t just about having happy friendships. Ultimately we are concerned about godliness – and the relationships we have are a means to that end.

I use the mnemonic SPREAD to help me remember these six strategies: Situation – Prayer – Rebuke – Encourage – Advice – Delight.

Notice that apart from the last one, these six things are relatively simple to do. It’s not like writing a full-on Bible study or giving a talk – anyone can do these things.

Notice also that half of these things aren’t about them, they are actually about yourself. You are asking for advice, you are needing prayer, you are showing your delight in God. Because at church it’s not as though you have everything together and you are there to fix everyone else! No, you also need the help of your brothers and sisters.

Yet every one of these things actually makes good use of conversations at church. Instead of conversations merely about the nuts and bolts of ministry or about what silly thing someone did this week, conversations can be used to genuinely strengthen and prepare one another for the mission of God.

If you could do just one of these things each week – it would exert a positive influence on the culture of your church. And if everyone else got in on the act, what a difference that would make!

Categories: Church life

When thankfulness dishonours God

17 May 2012 2 comments

Often I hear Christians talk about how they are greatly thankful to God for certain things. And while at the surface that may seem to be signs of a life that glorifies God, I am not always entirely sure that is the case. And if we look under the surface we may find something very troubling…

In an earlier post I wrote about how hatred of sin could in fact dishonour God. Today in a similar way I want to point out how our thankfulness to God is not necessarily the same as love for God. And in fact our thankfulness could mask the ugly face of idolatry.

Consider the following situations:

At the front of our house spiders sometimes build their webs across the path. And it’s a real pain to walk into one. And so if I can find a stick to swoosh the spider webs aside, that is excellent. It saves me a lot of trouble. It means that I don’t have bits of spider web in my hair and on my clothes when I’m rushing to someplace important. And so yes, I am thankful for the stick. It performs a useful function for me. I couldn’t have done it without the stick. But of course I don’t love the stick. No way!

I have many good things in my house: large televisions. shiny gadgets. expensive artwork. And of course, I’m exceedingly thankful for the roof that protects all those things from the rain. It is such a strong and dependable roof. I would be lost without that roof, really! All those things inside my house would have been completely damaged long ago! I don’t give my roof much thought – but yes, there’s no doubt about it, I’m hugely thankful for my roof.

Of course I am thankful for my husband. He is so good to me: he fills the bank account every month, he drives me to the shops, he waits for me while I try on clothes. And yes I do have to make sacrifices – we all do, don’t we? He wants me to be with him, he calls on me to give away some of my clothes. But despite those sacrifices I have to make, he is still so good to me.

Yes, thankfulness is a mark of true Christianity (eg. Rom 1:8, Col 2:7, Heb 12:28). And it may seem that, by at the virtue of giving thanks to God for things, this is in itself a pleasing thing. Because look at all those people who don’t give thanks to God (eg. Rom 1:21)! At least I acknowledge God as the one who saves and protects and provides!

But be careful: we may be thankful of something or someone, grateful for something, because it is helpful for us in achieving what we really desire. Because it is helpful to us in preserving what is our greatest treasure. But that treasure may not be God at all! Yes God is thanked, but merely because he is a helpful ally in getting and preserving this other thing which I really have on my heart.

And so one might be thankful to God because he has given us a good life in Australia, because we got into a good course, because we avoided a serious health scare. But that does not necessarily mean that we love God – it may simply mean that we love prosperity, we love academic success, we love to cling on to life. And God? well he is only a useful stick. a convenient  means for securing what I have really longed for all this while.

Sure, in this account I might acknowledge God to be a uniquely powerful stick. I might testify that there is nothing that I could have used that could have equalled his power in giving me a good life – but ultimately, he is still a stick. a tool. To help me achieve what I desire most of all.

We see this dynamic at work in John 6 when Jesus feeds five thousand people – with extra to spare! But later in the chapter Jesus has strong words for those who track him down and follow him to where he has gone. He tells them off for not recognising who he is through the miracle – and for only wanting him for the loaves that fill their bellies (John 6:26). You can see that this kind of ‘worship’ is rejected by Jesus. This ‘worship’ which sees him as only a useful means to something else does him no honour – and in fact dishonours him!

And so thankfulness, gratefulness does not necessarily honour God. It may actually dishonour God, as we treat him as our useful servant. Thankfulness is not necessarily the same as love!

Pastorally, it can be very useful to observe the things that people are thankful for – and the things they never give thanks for. Because these can reveal what is truly on our hearts. Does their praise centre on the cross? or on material blessings alone? Does their praise even encompass the loss of material blessings, if that loss has led to a greater love for God? or does thankfulness only come when material blessings mount up? You can see that the circumstances and object of gratitude can give telling clues about what it is that a person loves.

Christians should be a thankful people. We should be overflowing with thankfulness (Col 2:7), and we should be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thes 5:18).

But thankfulness to God is only pleasing when he is the object of our love. When it is an act which floods out from a love for God.

Categories: Church life

The five point manifesto

10 February 2012 1 comment

What exactly do second generation Chinese leaders want from their fellow leaders in first gen Chinese ministries?

A while ago I posted on the dynamics of majority culture and minority culture (here) – which highlights how the majority culture are not necessarily conscious of how the minority culture perceives them, and how easily the work of the minority culture can be misunderstood and undermined.

Here is the five manifesto that we drafted several years ago. These five points summarise what first generation leaders must do in order to allow second generation ministries to flourish. In many ways this is the companion piece to that earlier post, highlighting what can be done by the leadership of the majority culture.

While it is written with Chinese culture in mind, we believe it is equally applicable for other second gen cultures. It addresses the nature of the partnership, the nature of unity, and the important leadership role first gen leadership have.

1. Give second generation ministries the freedom to direct their own mission.

Second generation Chinese culture is different from first generation Chinese culture. The things that work well for reaching the first generation may in fact work terribly for reaching and growing the second generation.

Allow second generation ministries to develop their own ministry philosophy, and do not impose a different ministry philosophy.

2. Pursue gospel unity and not organisational unity.

Do not pursue the organisational unity of big church camps and combined church events, since these actually undermine the effectiveness of second generation ministries.

What we want is true gospel unity- which involves different congregations supporting each other generously (in prayer, resources, finances, forgiveness) in their individual pursuit of their own mission.

3. Support their ministry in your own preaching and teaching.

Often families are spread across different congregations – and we do not have the ability to challenge aspects of their family’s culture. However as leaders of first generation ministries you have the most access and influence over the parents and other leaders. Use that capital to address issues that affect our ministry.

And so speak to your second generation colleagues about what issues they are noticing. And in your preaching and ministry challenge the idolatry of study and success. Challenge parents to be involved in the spiritual upbringing of their children. And encourage parents to see full time ministry and missions work as desirable paths for their children.

4. Foster a ministry environment that second generation congregation leaders can understand and genuinely participate in.

Second generation congregation leaders care about their church and want to participate. However this is often difficult in practice. On paper the constitution says one thing, but in practice things operate in a completely different way. This makes it difficult for second generation members to understand and navigate, and they become frustrated when their attempts to bring issues into the open are seen with hostility and denials. When ministry suggestions are denied or ministries damaged because some leader needed to gain face.

And so second generation ministries need champions who are able to make space for them in the unwritten church polity, and preferably to call others to follow the written church polity, so they can be fully involved members of their church.

5. Teach your congregation to think like missionaries.

We have been telling second generation congregation leaders that they must think and act like missionaries when relating with the first generation Chinese, realising they are in a bi-cultural situation.

However we also need people in first generation Chinese congregations to not be culture blind, to realise they are relating to people who are genuinely of another culture, and to themselves think and act like missionaries towards the second generation congregation. This is a culture shift that requires them to be trained, coached and reminded.

Categories: Church life

When hatred of sin dishonours God

3 February 2012 1 comment

1. Something much less than hatred

I’ve noticed a few things about sins.

Instead of hating sin, we tend to do a number of strange things towards sin. I’ve noticed that sometimes:

  • We defend it, encourage others in it, justify it.
  • We enjoy it and are entertained by it.
  • We harbour it quietly, knowing that it is sin.
  • We long to get involved in it, and secretly wish we weren’t Christians so that we could.

And so often when it comes to sin there is a theoretical, intellectual commitment that yes, sin is bad – but there is no strength of hatred of sin from our affections. That is because for us our opposition to sin is only at the intellectual level – but not at the level of the heart. And instead our easy acquaintance with sin reveals hearts that do not love God – and which instead loves what those sins do for us…

2. When hatred of sin dishonours God

There are some cases where we do find certain sins outrageous and distressing – and not others. And sometimes these cases can reveal the true idols of our heart. Because we are outraged when someone sins against those things that we truly cherish.

Take the example of when someone’s personal freedoms are infringed upon – and they get irate. It is because their idol is themselves, and someone has dared to undermine their selfhood. Or take the example of someone who loves money – and who therefore finds theft, fraud, embezzelment particularly affronting.

This means that when people are outraged by certain sinful acts, God may not be necessarily pleased with their outrage. This is because it stems, not from a love for him, but a love for something else. And so it is actually an extension of idolatry.

This makes no sense for those who only hold a simple view of sin, thinking that sin is merely certain acts. Because who cares what the motivation for someone’s hatred for stealing comes from! However truly God-honouring hatred for sin stems from a love for God.

In his Confessions, Augustine wrote that: “he loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee which He loves not for Thy sake.” By this he meant that our love for something (even something good) is idolatrous if it does not flow from a love for God.

However the opposite is also true: our hatred for something (even something bad) is idolatrous if does not flow from a jealousy for God!

3. How to properly hate sin

This then is how we grow hot in our hated for sin. It is by growing correspondingly hotter in our love for God. And as a result, things which we see offend against the honour and name of the God we love, become outrageous to us.

It is like a husband who loves his wife. Those who dishonour her, he hates – because he loves his wife. His hatred is a direct consequence of his love. The stronger his love, the stronger the hatred.

However if we find a man who claims to love his wife, yet does not show any hate those who dishonour her – well, you would want to question his love for her.

But now take the example of  a husband whose wife is dishonured – and yes, this time the husband is outraged! But it is not on account of her honour that he is outraged – instead, he is outraged because her sobbing inconveniences him. or because he doesn’t like having to hear such nasty words in his presence. or because it is against a higher principle of justice to which he holds. Such outrage may be directed at the same act - but it does not stem from the right source, and therefore does not honour his wife.

As you grow in your love for God, and as you grow to see how certain sins offend against the majesty and honour of God, then you will find yourself developing a properly God-honouring – and strong – hated for that sin. And this will be true whether you find those sins in yourself – or in others.

Categories: Church life

What uni do you go to?

29 November 2011 Leave a comment

In our part of Sydney quite a lot of Chinese Christians study at university.

And in our part of Sydney there is quite a good university with a good range of courses. It’s very close by, and has good transport links. And not only that, there are many mainland Chinese students at this university, making it an excellent choice for the purposes of befriending and sharing Jesus with fellow students.

However over the years as I have gotten to know Christians in this region, I’ve noticed that the university that Chinese Christians tend to go to is actually quite far away from where they live. Instead of studying close by, there is a strange trend that involves studying at a much further university. One that involves spending hours on public transport travelling across Sydney. Every day, for several years.

And yes, they do get a good education there, but it is strange, given that there is a pretty good university just near by, with great opportunities for connecting friends with their church’s ministry. Why is that?

I wonder if, for many, the thinking is that a university degree from that university will mean a better job, and therefore a higher paying job. And in hope of that extra edge, many will spend long hours travelling across Sydney. In the mean time forgoing the opportunity to make connections with students living quite close by to them.

When I was choosing my university, I know that inside of me there was this strong, burning desire to reach the very furthest I could with the marks I got from school. To get into the very best uni I could, no matter what it took. No matter what it meant in terms of travel. I felt compelled to stretch and secure the best opportunities, and work out the details later.

But of course if I was asked why I chose that university, I would have said that it was a good university. That I want to get a good education. That I want to be challenged. I suppose it convinced others – it was a good cloak. A useful subterfuge.

Of course, there is nothing wrong as such with going to one university or another. But what I want to highlight is how the inclinations of one’s heart may cause people to go to quite extreme lengths in the pursuit of their treasure. It is said, “What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” And you can see how that dynamic comes into play, even in this simple choice of university.

Is the difference in education really so massive that we travel across Sydney for several years? Is the imagined difference in starting salary really so significant to us that we give up opportunities to befriend and minister to students living close by? Because it does have an impact on the kind of ministry we can do. On the time we have to invest in relationships. Even on our sleep!

The truth about universities is that it doesn’t really matter all that much what university you go to. We believe that it matters, and so choose accordingly – but in reality, employers aren’t all that fussed. They are really much more interested in the quality of the person than the crest on the testamur. So we needn’t worry so much.

Of course there may be great reasons for choosing a far-away university. Just as they may be bad reasons for choosing a close-by university. But what we are concerned about here in either case is what it is that our heart desires above all.

If you are already plugged in at a far-away university and feel convicted, it may be wiser to stay there and grow the relationships that you have already built. But learn now, how the desires of our heart so easily influence our choices. Observe how the desire for wealth or prestige leads to a multitude of seemingly innocent choices. And remember that sin is not primarily bad actions – but hearts that love and serve and worship a lesser god.

Categories: Church life

The appearance of growth

19 July 2011 5 comments

Have you been growing lately as a Christian, I wonder?

Or has your growth stalled for the last few years?

Many Christians that I meet find that, after many years of being a Christian, often serving quite faithfully in many of those years, they find that they have somehow stopped growing. There is no sense of direction or movement or excitement any more in their Christian life. There is no firey zeal as there once was. And instead there is only the average, unexciting existence as a Christian. And so they look back with wistful longing, perhaps with doubt, on their earlier years as a firey Christian.

Or was their past Christian experience really all that great..?

Today I want to suggest that in many cases, they may only have had the appearance of growth all along.

Because when one first becomes a Christian – there is a lot to learn. And so yes, the early years of their Christian life are filled with the joy and the excitement and exhilaration of discovering all the wonderful things in the Bible. And arguing through huge issues such as the sovereignty of God with their friends. Discovering the depth of thought that has gone into the doctrine of the Trinity. Perhaps wrestling with origins of evil. And certainly, seeing the breathtaking clarity of the gospel over against the worldview around them.

And so yes there is a lot of growth – in information – in those early years.

But then some people also get involved in Christian ministry. And begin serving in the Sunday School, or as Bible study leaders. Or perhaps by doing evangelism among their friends. And once they start that, they discover again that there is so much to learn: how to write Bible studies. How to handle the Old Testament properly. How to tell the gospel to someone. How to answer tricky questions. How to use the photocopier and organise a team and run a camp and give a talk and choose leaders. And that whole adventure of ministry – and learning the skills of ministry – is very exciting. Suddenly they see how they can play a part in encouraging others, leading another person to Christ, even being part of the leadership team.

And so yes, again there is a lot of growth – in skills – that comes after those early years.

And I suppose that after a while, people could find themselves advancing even further in learning, opening up greater heights of theological study. No longer are they learning words like: Trinity, eschatology, perspicuity. Now they are learning to use words like: Tridentine, proleptic, perichoresis!

And in terms of skills, one could similarly push oneself to recapture that sense of growth, that sense of movement as a Christian, by learning the arcane skills of preaching, or the politics of being on a church committee.

However far they go, inevitably, most of these Christians will get the sense that things are not quite right. They will get the sense that things have plataeued off. And they no longer have the sense of growth and progress in the Christian life that they once had.

I want to say that for many of these Christians the problem is that for many years they have only had the false appearance of growth. They thought they were growing all those years – but really, that was only the excitement of learning about theology. And for some, the learning of ministry skills.

Growth in information – yes. Growth in skills – sure.

But not true growth as a Christian.

Because true growth as a Christian is growing to love God more. And growing to fear him more. Longing for his return more. Growing to hate sin more. Growing more zealous to do good works… this is true growth as a Christian!

Realistically, there is only so much you can learn in terms of information, or in terms of skill. And after that…what? But in terms of our love for God, our fear of him – this what we are created to grow in, for the rest of our lives, and on into eternity as, with new eyes, we behold his unveiled glory.

And so for many Christians, they may have thought they were growing as a Christian – when in fact for many years they had substituted true growth, for growth merely in information. Or in skills.

In fact I have met people who have progressed so far and so high in Christian leadership and ministry that they are now one of the key leaders at their church. They are respected leaders. But when you ask them careful questions – you may discover that they know nothing about the love of God. They do not fear him. And, despite all they have attained – their position, their respect, their qualifications even – you wonder if they really are Christians in the first place.

And so, if you wonder why you’ve stopped growing. Perhaps you might want to consider whether you have really grown at all in the things that really matter.

Or whether, for all these years, your growth has only ever been in information. And skills.

Categories: Church life

Glorifying God in your vocation – observations

17 May 2011 3 comments

Last week I shared with you a parable of sorts. A story of five office workers who are going about their normal working day in a mid-sized firm (see previous post). And today I want to make eight observations about that snapshot…

1. Not an exhaustive list

We saw that each one of those workers magnified something in their work. But the first thing to note is that this was not meant to be an exhaustive list. Yes, among those five workers we had examples of men and women magnifying leisure, career, money, a job well done, and helping people. But these are only five examples, and there are many more things that people can magnify in their work. Such as: overseas holidays. personal usefulness. pleasing parents. having a nice lifestyle. The list could go on and on…

2. Not just for the office worker

Not only that, you need to know that this also holds true for those who don’t work in an office building. You might be a student, or a stay-at-home mum. Yet the same thing will still hold true: you will also be magnifying something in what you do.

Take the example of the stay at home mum. She is trying to read her book, but the kids make so much noise all the time, and so she is angry because she can never have a moment to even finish a page. She is angry because there are so many things to do which take up her time, and she cannot read her book. The only part of her day that she enjoys is at night when the kids are asleep and she can turn her attention to her book at last. For this stay at home mum what she magnifies is the reading of her book. That for her, is her greatest love.

Whatever people love in their heart, or what they fear in their heart, that is what they magnify in greater or lesser degree.

3. Degrees of intensity

And I say greater or lesser degree because the more intensely someone loves leisure, or career, or wealth. The more intensely someone craves the approval of their parents, then to that extent will more and more of their actions align themselves in the direction of the thing they love or fear.

That’s because people are generally polite and so they won’t do extreme things. Winnie might love money, but she is unlikely to go to the extent of stealing money from her company. Raymond might treasure a job well done, but he is unlikely to shoot dead a user who is overloading his network. They won’t do that.

But you will still notice things that give you an indication about the intensity of their love. What things they sacrifice without a moment’s hesitation. Observe carefully, listen carefully – and you can see what it is that people love (or fear), and what they therefore magnify.

4. No one overthinks

The important thing to notice about those five office workers is how they have probably given very little thought to how their love for “a job well done”, translates to how they function at work. They often don’t give it any thought at all – it just happens. Mitchell doesn’t consciously stop and consider consider: “Oh wait a minute. I’m about to go into a meeting, and what I love most of all is my career. Now how should I talk in this meeting..?” Nor does Tim think to himself: “Hang on. Now I am meant to love leisure. What should this mean for when I should go back from my lunch break?” No: for Tim and Mitchell, and Winnie and Raymond, and Tony, it just comes naturally.

And it’s the same thing with us. It’s a little artificial for us to work out: “oh wait, I want to magnify God, that is what I love most of all. Now what does that mean for how I write this document?”

Because that would come across weird and fake looking. It’s as if we asked Tim, who really loves his leisure most of all, to behave as though he loved his career most of all.

“What would I have to do?” Tim would ask you, because he doesn’t really know what you mean. And so you tell him that he needs to stay at work long into the night, do more work than he is paid for, learn the names of all the partners, and wear a tie.

And so, for a week, Tim tries. It is unnatural for him, but he really gives it a go. But what you will find is that he just won’t have it in him. As he sits in his mail room long into the night, wearing a tie, he sighs to himself. And dreams of what he will do on the weekend. Because his heart really is elsewhere.

5. How to change your affections

How does Tim in the mailroom become like Mitchell up in the corner office? Just by doing the things that Mitchell does? No. A transformation needs to happen, a change on the inside, a change at the level of his heart. That is what needs to happen for him to truly stop magnifying leisure, and begin magnifying career. A change at the level of the heart, not merely at the level of behaviours. But once Tim’s heart is captivated by career, then will his behaviours change.

6. Why there is not much detail

And so for you to glorify God in your work, the very first step is not actually to consider what things you need to fix up at work. Instead it is to grow in your love for God. To intensify that. To feed that fire inside of you so that it is strong and fierce and hot. And that will lead to lives that naturally glorify God.

Have you wondered why it is that the Bible doesn’t feel the need to outline in great detail the things you must do? It’s because that is not the way to do it. Yes it mentions a few things here and there: we are told to work diligently even when our boss is not watching us all the time, it tells us to pay wages fairly, to not be harsh with people, not to steal from those we work for – but there’s not a complete itemised breakdown of what you should do in every instance.

And that’s because the way we glorify God in our vocation is not in the first instance by applying ourselves to those externals – but to grow strong and hot and fierce in our love for God. And from there, everything flows.

7. Even doing a good job is wrong

As you worked your way through the building you might have thought to yourself: “I can see how leisure is a bad thing to glorify. I can see what you’re getting at with money and also with career. But isn’t it good to pursue a job well done, like Raymond in IT? And surely it must be good to help people. Surely at least Tony from Sales is what we should be aiming at. Are you saying to me that Tony is wrong?”

Yes. Even Tony here is wrong. I know that he is doing good deeds. I know he is good and helpful and not selfish. But even Tony from Sales is wrong.

You may find this shocking. And confused how this could be the case.

But God is not pleased merely with the doing of good things. Because God’s ultimate design for you is not for you to do good things to people. Instead, it is for you to glorify him.

Many non Christians do good things. Genuinely good things. Many non Christians are generous and thoughtful and kind. But lived with no thought of honouring and loving the God who gives them life. And God is not pleased by what he sees (Romans 8:5-8).

8. Christians behaving badly

All of this means that you might be a regular church goer. Perhaps even a leader at your church.

But at work. In your vocation. It is very clear what it is that you really glorify. It is very clear what it is that you hold to be most precious, to be most valuable – and it is not the Lord Jesus.

Oh yes, you attend this church on a Sunday. But in your workplace, you are the one whose life magnifies a job well done. You are the one whose life magnifies career advancement. People notice how your eyes only ever light up when you talk about overseas holidays. People are afraid that you will bite their heads off if they overload the server.

What is it that you magnify? What are you showing people to be your greatest treasure? Is it the Lord Jesus Christ?

Categories: Church life
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