• Book Reviews for November 2014

    Here are the books I finished in the last month. Some I read in the last month but others I have been reading for a while and I have only just got around to finishing lately.
    The Resolved weekend away in 2015 is on work so I am reading everything I can get my hands on about work. When he wrote this book, Van Duzer was the Dean of the Seattle Pacific Universities Business School (he is now the Provost of the University). Van Duzer writes from a reformed perspective where he takes the 4 movements in scripture (creation, fall, redemption and consummation) and applies them to business. From this perspective he says that the two first order purposes of business are: Firstly, “to provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish” and secondly, “to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity” (42). With care and skill he then traces out the implications of the theology he has established and purposes of business he has suggested in real life examples. This book helped me appreciate the complex world of business a little bit more and it also helped me think through how I am going to apply the gospel to those in my church who are in the business world.
    As with all Keller’s stuff this book is extremely stimulating. I do disagree with him about whether Christians are called to reform the culture which he talks about a bit in this book and seems to be lurking in the background of of many parts of this book. The strength of this book is helping us explore the assumptions and the worldviews we bring to work and how that shapes the way we work and also how we view work. Which is vital for helping us look at work properly.
    De Botton is an atheist philosopher whose work is very engaging. In this book he explores a number of different industries and while exploring them gives commentary on the way we think about work and why. This is a very provocative and insightful book which, due to de Botton’s engaging writing and humour is a a joy to read.
    The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards
    This is a book which took me a fair while to read. It’s prose and argument are dense and yet it is book which I hope that all pastors and bible college students read. Edwards seeks to explore the marks of a true Christian. He first of all spends a bunch of time showing that some of the evidences that we use to distinguish a true christian (i.e. knowing a lot of scripture) don’t tell us anything about a persons spiritual state. In the end, the true Christian loves the beauty of God’s holiness. There are affections that come out of this great affection but if there is no love for the true character of God then, as Edwards argues, that person is not a christian.
    The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
    In this short and very accessible book Keller takes us slowly through the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Keller says that we all fall into one of two categories, we are either rebels like the younger brother or we are religious like the older brother. Either way we have decided to seek righteousness and life on our terms not on the terms of God our heavenly father. Keller explores how grace breaks through these identities and helps us come to God who loves us more than we can imagine.

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  • What is The Role of Christians in Business?

    The role of Christians in business, then, is to reinforce the truth of Easter. The Resurrection stands as a vital reminder that God has absolute authority , not the structures, institutions and worldviews of our day. These structures and institutions remain important. They were designed originally for the good of humanity. To achieve this good, however, they must return to their more modest, subservient roles for which they were originally intended.

    Thus, a Christian can embrace free markets, capitalism and the institution of business as structure that give order to God’s world and provide a framework in which it can flourish. At the same time, anyone who lives this side of Easter must consistently affirm in word and deed that only God has the right to claim our ultimate allegiance, and that these structures and institutions deserve our respect and obedience only in their subordinate role. Put differently, the purpose of Christians in business is to serve their God and to do so by enabling their communities to flourish. Free markets and capitalism are to be affirmed insofar as they support and nurture this service. They are to be resisted when they seek to assert authority over and against the God who created them.

     

    Why Business Matters to God: (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) by Jeff Van Duzer, 149

     

    What do you think? I would especially love to hear from Christians in business sectors on this one.

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  • How To Find Your True Self

    The modern person is usually on a quest to find ourselves. This is true of people whether they are religious or not. But how do you find yourself? How do you find your true self? Here is what the great C.S Lewis says about finding your true self:

    “Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

    C.S Lewis Mere Christianity

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  • If There is no God is Work Meaningful?

    Very rarely do you read a book that is penetrating in it’s insights, hilarious and yet sobering. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton is one of those books. In the book he explores ten different industries and uses them as a mirror to help us see the way our culture views work.

    But what in the end is work all about? Is it trying to make something of ourselves? Is it something that gives life meaning? De Botton’s final words in the book are telling:

    To see ourselves as the centre of the the universe and the present time as the summit of history, to view our upcoming meetings as being overwhelming significance, to neglect the lessons of cemeteries, to read only sparingly, to feel the pressure of deadlines, to snap at colleagues, to make our way through conference agendas marked ’11:00 a.m. to 11:15.: coffee break’, to behave heedlessly and greedily and then to combust in battle,  – maybe all of this, in the end, is working wisdom. It is paying death too much respect to prepare for it with sage prescriptions. Let it surprise us while we are shipping wood pulp across the Baltic Sea, removing the heads of tuna, developing a nauseating variety of biscuit, advising a client on a change of career, firing a satellite with which to beguile a generation of Japanese schoolgirls, painting an oak tree in a field, laying an electricity line, doing the accounts, inventing a deodorant dispenser or making an extended-strength coil tube for an airline. Let death find us we are building up our matchstick protests against its waves.

    If we could witness the eventful fate of every one of our projects, we would have no choice but to succumb to the immediate paralysis. Would anyone who watched the departure of Xerxes’ army on its way to conquer the Greeks, or Tai Chan Ahk giving orders for the construction of the golden temples of Cancuén, or the British colonial administrators inaugurating the Indian postal system, had it in their hearts to fill their passionate actors in on the eventual fate of their efforts?

    Our work will at least distracted us, it will have provided a perfect bubble in which to invest our hopes for perfection, it will have focused our immeasurable anxieties on a few relatively small-scale and achievable goals, it will have given us a sense of mastery, it will have made us

    respectably tired, it will have put food on the table. It will have kept us out of greater trouble.

    As an atheist, DeBotton sees that death is going to render every part of our work as null and void. But what about if God exists? Does God make work meaningful? Here is what Pastor Tim Keller says about meaningful work in the face of death:

    “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught.

    Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”

    Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work

     

    Keller says that work in this life, when viewed at through the lens of eternity, will be meaningful and will matter because work done in the service of God has eternal ramifications.

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  • Where Can I Get The Motivation to Change?

    When you become a Christian a massive shift happens. You go from seeing yourself and your pursuits as ultimate to seeing God and his pursuits as ultimate. In Revelation 4:9-11 we see in a beautiful picture of what that shift looks like:

    Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

    11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
        to receive glory and honor and power,
    for you created all things,
        and by your will they were created
        and have their being.”

    The elders come before him and place their crowns before God and worship him. In effect they are saying “you are king and central to everything and I am your servant.” If they were in a movie they would be acknowledging that God is the main actor and they are merely extras on the screen  for a split second in the distant background.

    God calls you and I as a Christians to place our crowns at his feet and hand over all of our life to him. There is not meant to be any part of our lives where he doesn’t reign. Our sexuality and our spirituality, our money and our possessions,our work and and our leisure are all meant to come under the loving lordship of God.

    As Christians we know this to be true but we find it so hard to do don’t we? Look at your own life, is every part of your life under the Lordship of Jesus? I know every part of my life isn’t.

    How do you get to the stage where you can totally lay down your crown before God joyfully and submit every part of your life to him?

    You will only give up your crown and worship God as king when you realise that Jesus gave up his crown for you. Jesus gave up his place as rightful king of the universe to become a servant and was born to a lower class, illiterate, teenage girl in a stable. He lived a life where he was rejected by the very people he loved. He was nailed to a cross of wood he created, by men he created, to purchase the people that were his enemies but that he loved. We lay down our crowns for God because Jesus first laid down his crown for us. If you are struggling laying down your crown at the feet of Jesus know that laying down his crown cost him far more to him than laying down your crown will cost you.

    Through the gospel we get the power and the inspiration to lay down our crowns so that Jesus can rule every area of our life! When I find my more joy in the gospel than anything else I will be able to let Jesus rule every area of my life.

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  • Resolved Church Weekend Away 2015

    I am excited too announce the Resolved Church weekend away is on the topic of Work:Inspired by The Gospel! We want to see Christians living passionately for Jesus  all through the week especially at work. Check out the video below and please share it. If you would like to register for the weekend away please click here.

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  • Is There Something Wrong With Me If My Job Doesn’t Fulfill Me?

    I have been reading a brilliant book about work called The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by the genius popular philosopher Alain de Botton. In the book he observes a number of different fields of work and helps us see our underlying assumptions about work, where we get these assumptions from and why they could help or hinder us.

    In Chapter 4, de Botton follows a career counselor, Robert Symons and he explores the ideas that we have attached to our work. What is most telling is the assumption that we have come to expect our work to make us happy. De Botton writes:

    “However powerful our technology and complex our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world may in the end be internal, consisting in an aspect of our mentalities: in the widely held belief that our work should make us happy. All societies have had work at their centre; ours is the first to suggest that it could be something more than a punishment or a penance. Ours is the first to imply that we should seek to work even in the absence of a financial imperative.”
    ― Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 106

    Here is the lesson that de Botton learned after observing Symons for a few weeks:

    I left Symons’s company newly aware of the unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled within the magnanimous bourgeois assurance that everyone can discover happiness through work and love. It isn’t that these two entities are invariably incapable of delivering fulfilment, only that they almost never do so. And when an exception is represented as a rule, our individual misfortunes, instead of seeming to us quasi-inevitable aspects of life, will weigh down on us like particular curses. In denying the natural place reserved for longing and error in the human lot, the bourgeois ideology denies us the possibility of collective consolation for our fractious marriages and our unexploited ambitions, and condemns us instead to solitary feelings of shame and persecution for having stubbornly failed to become who we are. – Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, 127-128

    De Botton has nailed it. The idea that work will be this amazing fulfilling thing for everyone is a contemporary myth that I have seen crush people or go from course to course and job to job trying to find the job that will make them happy.

    We need a biblical perspective on our work. When sin came into the world and God said a startling thing to Adam about his work:

     To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

     To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

    “Cursed is the ground because of you;
        through painful toil you will eat food from it
        all the days of your life.
     It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
        and you will eat the plants of the field.
     By the sweat of your brow
        you will eat your food
    until you return to the ground,
        since from it you were taken;
    for dust you are
        and to dust you will return.”

    Genesis 3:17-19

    God talks about work not int terms of great fulfillment but that it will be hard. Is it normal to be in a job that you don’t really like? Yes it is. Is it normal to be in a job which doesn’t make you want change the world? Yes it is. Let’s disabuse ourselves of the notion that work is meant to fulfill us and if it doesn’t then there is something wrong with us.

    But what about if you love your job? What if you, like me, are always thinking about your work and you find it inspiring and amazing. What about if you get out of bed every Monday with a sense of purpose because you get a sense of purpose in your work. There are two things that I think people like us should remember. Firstly, our job is a gift from God. If de Botton is right (and I think he is) very few people will find a job that will excite and satisfy them. So we should thank God that he has given us the unique set of skills and desires that so beautifully dovetail with the job we have. To have a job that we think is amazing is not normal but an amazing evidence of the grace of God in our life. Secondly, we should expect to go through seasons where our jobs aren’t that exciting or motivating. This not because there is necessarily something wrong with us or our jobs or that we need a career change it just means that we are toiling in a broken world where work will tough toil at some points.

    To work well for the glory of Jesus we need to see work for what it is and what it isn’t. If we let our culture dictate to us how we are meant to view our work, then all of us at some point will be at least frustrated that our work doesn’t fulfill us like it should. If we let the gospel inform the way we view work we will be more ready to take the toil and mundane aspects of work in our stride.

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  • Book Reviews for October 2014

    Here are some quick book reviews of some of the books I have read recently.

    Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul Tripp

    This is by far the best book on pastoral care I have read. Tripp seeks to put forward a model for how to Biblically counsel someone. The examples he gives are relevant, the material biblical and practical and in the end it will help you help people by helping them see their saviour in greater relief. Buy it and read it especially if you are in ministry.

    Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo

    This is a book that almost every Christian has heard of. There were some amazing things that happened in this boys life but my fear is that people are reading this book and adopting it almost as scripture without being discerning. The book and it’s theology can be seriously critiqued and so read with some discernment.

    Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

    There are a few authors that I will buy anything they write and read it. Seth Godin is one of those guys. He is a business and leadership guru whose unorthodox ways of looking at things always sparks thought. Tribes is a book about leadership that is not “another book on leadership” but is truly inspirational. If you are a leader and need some inspiration to truly lead buy it and read it!

    What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman

    Perman has written a brilliant book. He shows you how the gospel is vital to getting things done. With this groundwork established, he then takes you through how to set up systems and structures to get things done. My only critique, and it is a large one, is that Perman’s emphasis on doing good in this age, while being a good one, totally overshadows the preaching of the gospel. If hell is real and Jesus is the only saviour (two things Perman and I agree on) then our eschatology changes our ambitions. Because of the gospel we want to see a flood of people become Christians as well as do good to all. Perman seems to put these around in the other order so that doing good is the main thing whereas sharing the gospel is not given a priority. I would love to hear what Matt would say to this critique. Despite this critique the books practicality and gospel centerdness is so useful so that no matter who you are you will find this book useful.

    Visioneering: God’s Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision by Andy Stanley

    Andy Stanley is the pastor of one of the largest churches in the world and his writing and speaking on leadership is gold. In Visioneering, Stanley seeks to walk us through how to get a vision for our lives, churches or organizations and then takes you through how to take it public and helps you deal with some of the hardships of pioneering vision. If you have not thought much about vision casting this would be a good place to start.

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  • What CS Lewis Would Say to Driscoll….. And All of Us

    It is a sad day when any pastor resigns or is stepped down. Far from being another person to throw rocks at Driscoll I want to use this time to ask some serious questions about ourselves and myself in particular.

    Over the weekend I read this brilliant piece by John Ortberg called When a Pastor Resigns Abruptly. In it he makes a brilliant point about pride:

    I was struck, too, by the language quoted in news reports yesterday to describe this situation. The pastor, the board said, had been guilty of arrogance—along with other attitudes and behaviors associated with arrogance. But had not been charged with “immorality.”

    When did arrogance cease to be immoral?

    I suspect that most folks in our evangelical subculture will understand that “immorality” is really being used as a substitute term for sexual misbehavior. But why would we reduce such an important word to code language for one area of misconduct?

    He then quotes C.S Lewis:

    “If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins…. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”  C.S Lewis Mere Christianity

    If Lewis was around and he had a meeting with Driscoll (or any of us for that matter) he would say something like  “Don’t be blind to the fact that pride is the most destructive sin you can commit!” Pride is subtle and therein lies its power and danger. So much of the time when people have lovingly confronted me my pride has reared up to defend me only when I look back in hindsight do I see how, in the moment, pride has blinded me to my sin and made me think higher of myself than I ought. We all struggle with pride, especially me.

    The whole Driscoll saga will be wasted if we don’t look at ourselves and ask where pride has made us it’s slave.

    Where does the person who is, like me, full of pride go? We go to the cross because it is impossible to be arrogant at the foot of the cross. Because as John Stott has beautifully stated:

    “Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’  Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.” -John Stott, The Message of Galatians

    In light of our own self destructive pride let us run to the cross and there find the grace that we need to war against our pride.
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  • God Loves You Even if You Are Sprinting Away from Him

    She was a girl I met on a camp I spoke at. She was talented, godly and she had a passion for Jesus that was both contagious and beautiful. When she started uni her faith unraveled. She did things that she knew were wrong and she had not been to church in ages. In her words she had “gone off the rails since she had been at uni.”

    He was a guy who was so into Jesus. In his own words “At uni I got a degree in Christian group with a minor in business.” He landed his dream job and flushed with cash and new people to impress he started following the crowd and forgetting about Jesus. He too had done things he was ashamed of and wondered whether he was still a Christian.

    Maybe you are in a situation like these ones above. Maybe you are walking away from God or maybe even sprinting away from him. You look back on the faith you once had and it is now a distant memory.

    If that is you what should you do? You should remember the gospel.  The gospel says that Jesus showed his great love for you in dying on the cross in your place. On the cross he took away all your sin, guilt and shame. No matter what you have done there is no sin that is too big or ugly or shameful for Jesus, he forgives them all!

    Remind yourself of these beautiful words from Psalm 100:11-12:

    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his love for those who fear him;
     as far as the east is from the west,
        so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

    Go outside for a second and look down at the ground and then look up to the sky. Imagine the stars that are billions of light years away. As great a distance that is that is how great God’s love for you is!

    Now look out east, imagine you can see the horizon those many hundreds of kilometers away. Now look west and do the same. That is how far Jesus has taken your sin away from you! God has thrown all your sin into the ocean of his forgiveness and has put a sign there saying “No Fishing!”

    If you are walking away or sprinting away from God and want to come back to him the way back to him is not by scrubbing yourself up it is by realising that in Jesus he has cleaned you up, he has taken away your guilt and shame and he loves you with an all consuming, all forgiving love that never gives up. He is standing there with open arms beckoning you back.

    What are you going to do?

    Are you going to run to him or away from him?

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