Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sermon: Idols And Vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11)

We start a new sermon series at Knaphill this Sunday on the book of Ecclesiastes. The morning service will be all age, but this is the sermon I plan to preach in the evening, going into more depth than we can in the morning.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

This weekend, Debbie has been indulging her love of musicals, going to see ‘Wicked’ with one of her best friends. Although she also loves moving and emotional shows such as ‘Les Miserables’, I think she mainly enjoys the bouncy, singalong nature of a musical. It goes with other parts of her musical taste, such as her love of Abba – something she has imparted to Rebekah, who even did a school project about them last year.

It will not surprise you to know that I am rather different. I like more ‘serious’ rock music, even some of the miserable stuff. I like grumpy, curmudgeonly artists such as Van Morrison. I like the wonderful singer and guitarist Richard Thompson, who sometimes deals in very bleak themes – some of them even too dark for me:

So perhaps you won’t be surprised when I was pleased that someone asked us to have a sermon series on Ecclesiastes!

But actually there were more serious reasons. Ecclesiastes may be unconventional in its tone, compared to many other books in Holy Scripture. It does so to preserve an important voice for us to hear. Sometimes we are so quick as believers to jump in with our perspective on life based on the existence of God and of eternal life. Ecclesiastes helps us to hear what life is like when God is not placed at the centre (even if someone believes in God) and if everything ends with death.

And that’s why you get the cries of ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ or ‘Vanity! Vanity!’ that you may be familiar with in the older translations. One scholar has argued that the Hebrew refers to a fleeting breath, and so he translates this expression as ‘Breath of breaths! Everything is temporary.’[1] Nothing is going to last. It’s all transient. Enjoy it while you can. But soon it will be gone and the world will continue without you, as if you never happened.

Some people try to live like that. The rock guitarist Wilko Johnson has recently been in the news, talking about the fact that he has terminal pancreatic cancer and how he has turned down chemotherapy but is going out on what will genuinely be a farewell tour. In an interview with the BBC he said that cancer has made him feel more alive, because he is appreciating the detail of things before he dies. But that’s it. Then it’s all gone.

You will say as a Christian that while it’s a brave outlook on life, it’s missing something fundamental. Ecclesiastes helps us appreciate how such people think and live.

In a world that doesn’t put God at the centre, people look to other things to find fulfilment and purpose. And such things can become so pervasive in society that Christians get sucked into the lies, too. In our passage today there are two such examples, where created things take centre stage instead of the Creator, and if we’re not careful, we Christians can absorb these values as much as everyone else. So I’m going to reflect on these two things in this sermon from a Christian perspective. There will be quite a few more as we progress through the book in the next few months.

The first is our work:

What do people gain from all their labours
at which they toil under the sun? (Verse 3)

What’s the point of loading all your sense of self-worth, achievement and meaning on what you accomplish in the world of work? As someone has once observed, “No-one ever wants inscribed on their tombstone, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”

But some people do. Their career and promotion is all they care about. Families and friends are sacrificed on this altar. Perhaps they have been brought up since childhood to get a good job. As an uncle of my Mum’s told his children, “Make sure you work hard so that you are the one giving the orders, not taking them.” Their sense of identity and purpose is wrapped up in what they do at work.

And of course we collude with this in our society. Meet a person for the first time and after asking their name, the follow-up question is often, “What do you do?” We reinforce the idea that a person’s worth to society and to themselves is based on their employment status.

Yet we also know it can’t be all like that. I once had a manager at work who clearly lived to work, and made life unpleasant for those to instead worked to live. There is the catchphrase of some, “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go.” These people have more of a sense of the futility – the meaninglessness – of work. And that sense of frustration at work has quite early roots in the Bible. After Adam and Eve sin, God tells Adam that he will find his daily toil frustrating. Ultimately, all ambitions to make work the centre of our being are crippled by human sin and finish their days in dust and ashes.

However, when we make God the focus of our lives, our attitude to work changes. It doesn’t come out in Ecclesiastes 1, which simply knocks the idol of work off its pedestal and smashes it. But the wider Christian revelation gives a dignity to work, without letting it become a false god. When God sets the first humans to work, it makes employment a key part of human flourishing. It also means that good and worthwhile work is not limited to ‘religious’ jobs, as if what I do is superior to the work others do. Many jobs can fulfil the creation of mandate of exercising moral management for the Lord over elements of his creation.

And it’s more than our doctrine of creation that makes work worthwhile. As I’ve already said, sin turns work into toil, labour and frustration. Yet it can be redeemed, too, and we see that in the Resurrection. As some of you know, my favourite Bible verse over the last five or six years has been the final verse of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s great chapter on the Resurrection of Jesus. In that verse, verse 58, Paul urges his hearers to make every effort in all their work, because – he tells them – ‘your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ All our work as Christians, whatever kind of work it is, will be taken up into the fullness of God’s kingdom, through the Resurrection, says Paul. It will not be futile, it will have value.

So – as Ecclesiastes says in dethroning the idol of work – death brings an end to everything. Indeed, ‘everything is temporary.’ But our faith does not end in death, it goes on to resurrection, and that is where we find meaning. Hence in the face of secular attitudes to work – either idolising it or seeing it as pointless – the Christian witness is one of hopefulness about work having a lasting value, when committed to Jesus Christ. Can we dedicate our work to him tomorrow morning?

The second idol is our senses:

All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing. (Verse 8)

How often we see today the attempt to gratify the senses as the way of finding pleasure and even fulfilment in life. It is no accident that more effort is put into making products visually appealing. Adverts are made to be persuasive, not with rational arguments about the superiority of something but by making a visual and emotional appeal. We live in front of screens – televisions, desktop and laptop computers, tablets, games consoles, smartphones and doubtless others yet to be invented.

The aural is another arena of appeal. What started when Gordon Selfridge became the first shop owner to turn shopping into an experience rather than a utilitarian necessity later became the advent of muzak in lifts and piped songs in shops and shopping centres. Certain chains even have their own dedicated programming that is like a radio station you can only hear in that shop.

If we continue with the senses, it wouldn’t be difficult to make a case for the elevation of taste in our culture. We have the rise of coffee shops that make most tea and coffee after church services look out of place, such that you can now go to the Christian Resources Exhibition each year and meet companies that will sell you the equipment to reach Starbuck’s or Costa levels of coffee in your church. (And let’s be honest, what would people outside the church expect these days?) We also have the powerful place of the celebrity chefs, where not only can a Nigella Lawson present her recipes in an overtly sensual way, Jamie Oliver can become a political influence, if only on a single issue of children’s school dinners.

And perhaps straddling all the sensory overload today is pornography, appealing to a multitude of human senses, making false claims about intimacy and satisfaction, then like a drug dealer leaving its customers addicted and desperate for stronger ‘highs’.

It’s not hard to see how the devotion to the satiation of the senses today is an idol, but one which comes crashing down in the face of decay and death. Beauty fades, senses weaken and all who have put their stock in living for those senses find life becoming futile.

Is there a Christian answer to this way of living? Surely there is. Some have responded by expecting Christians to live by denying their senses, and in limited ways that may be a calling for some. So some Christians may be called to be teetotal, as a witness to the fact that you do not need alcohol in order to be happy. Some Christians too may be called to celibacy, as a sign against our culture’s devotion to sex. Other disciples may take vows of poverty, in contrast to the way much of our world seeks sensory pleasure through material possessions.

But those acts of self-denial are not God’s calling for all people, especially because the very sensory experiences that people have made into idols are not fundamentally bad. They simply should not be the objects of our devotion. Only God has that right. If we put our hope in God first and foremost, then we can gratefully enjoy what our senses bring to our attention. As Paul told Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17)

Of course, even then putting God first is not then a ticket to get drunk on sensory overload. The same chapter reminds us that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’ (verse 6) and calls on the wealthy ‘to be rich in good deeds’ (verse 18) and so ‘lay up treasure … for the coming age’ (verse 19). Yet when we do put God first and foremost, central in our lives, we may gratefully enjoy the gifts of his creation, returning further praise to him and sharing those riches with those around us, especially those who do not enjoy the many blessings we have.

And how pertinent to reach that point in our thinking tonight, in a week when a hundred aid charities have launched the biggest joint campaign since Make Poverty History, the Enough Food If initiative that is calling for sustained action so that everyone in the world can have enough food to eat. Christians putting God first and sensory enjoyment second can and should have a significant part to play in this movement. Is it not now more important than ever to ensure that we as Christians ensure that we treat our Lord as Sovereign over our lives, making everything else relative, for the sake of the world?

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We Christians Don’t Believe The Gospel

From The Independent: People of the same religious faith will help each other more, but religious people are no more unselfish than non-believers

In other words, we don’t get it, do we? The call to love God and love neighbour is talked and preached about, but not substantially practised. The call to mission is not heeded, because we spend our time with our own folk.

It’s frightening, isn’t it?

Guest Post: Chris Lowe On House Groups

My treasurer at Knaphill is passionate about the importance of house groups. He’s just written a document in support of them in the church, and with his permission I share it with you:

What is a house group?

Probably the easiest way to define it is to regard it as a church that meets in someone’s home. That’s an interesting thought really!  “A house group is a church that meets in a home!!”

By ‘church’ we mean, of course, a bunch of people who are committed to following Jesus, committed to each other, and committed to the wider church.  The house group should have the same priorities that one expects in a church. These would include mission, evangelism, pastoral care and teaching so that its members can grow in their faith together.

Following Jesus involves

  • commitment to building the Kingdom of God; and
  • making disciples, bringing people to a more mature faith.

These can only be achieved if the members of house groups are prepared to share their unique God-given personalities and gifts for the benefit of the group in which they find themselves, as their mutual trust grows.

Although the main purpose of the house group is often regarded to be pastoral care, there is also a second purpose, which is discipleship.

All the members of the group need to be growing. They all need to be using their gifts, serving one another, discovering practical ways to express God’s love. Everyone has a real contribution to make.  People grow as they make these contributions and as they see God answering prayer.

Everyone also needs to be growing in their understanding, and the house group provides a unique and safe environment in which people can ask questions and explore issues which affect their everyday lives.

Why join a House Group?

Stripped image of John Wesley

Stripped image of John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People often ask “Why join a House Group?”   Is going to church not enough?  This is what John Wesley said:

“Look east or west, north or south … is Christian fellowship there? Rather, are not the bulk of parishioners a mere rope of sand? What Christian connection is there between them? What intercourse in spiritual things? What watching over each other’s souls? What bearing of one another’s burdens?”.

 If we are honest, we believe many people today echo Wesley’s comment.  Interesting expression, isn’t it? Are we not a “rope of sand”?  Many different little grains but none joined together?

So what is the answer? What did John Wesley do to rectify the situation? He sought to “introduce fellowship where none existed”   by the formation of class meetings. These class meetings, cell groups, house groups – call them what you like – were not to be seen as an alternate for church attendance but rather they were to

“complement the church and its ministry by offering a more intense and personal encounter of faith and grace within a context of mutual support, love and care”.

It is for this reason that we too need to go back to the roots of the early church and establish house groups, where we can re-discover wise principles laid down for true biblical fellowship.

What’s the real purpose?

There are various references in the Bible to how the early church started with small groups and we read how –

  • The early church were “one in heart and mind,”
  • They shared everything they had,
  • They honoured one another above themselves,
  • They practised hospitality,
  • They always kept on praying for all the saints.
  • They held that each member “belongs to all the others.”
  • Through every member ministry they encouraged one another and “built each other up.”
  • They spurred one another on “toward love and good deeds. They were committed to “go and make disciples”.

These things can’t all happen easily just by attending church services.

In Ephesians 4:12-13, we read “Christ gave those gifts [to be apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers] to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving and to make the body of Christ stronger. This is what we should do in our house groups – desire and endeavour to

“prepare God’s holy people for works of service  …… until we are all joined together in the same faith and in the same knowledge of the Son of God and become mature persons , attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.

In the small group environment it is much easier to work towards these lofty goals than it is in the larger body of the local church. People grow to trust each other and become more willing to share and it is through this process of trust and sharing that we all grow in our faith.

What happens at the House Group?

Fear of the unknown can be a hindrance, so it is as well to mention what the house group meetings should be like.  It’s rather simple really.  There should be –

  • A time of welcome, friendship, laughter and a cup of tea or coffee together
  • a time of worship, listening to music, for example
  • a time of Bible study
  • a time of prayer, including intercessory prayer.

The format is often referred to as “the 4 W’s”

  • welcome
  • worship
  • word
  • witness

There need not be a particular set agenda but this is generally what would happen. There may be times when the group will watch a Christian video or listen to a teaching tape. Nobody should be expected to say anything, unless they wish to. Nobody will be expected to pray aloud – it’s a matter of personal choice.  Nobody will be “put on the spot” during the Bible Studies. What is said, and the extent of participation, is entirely up to the individual. The evening should be times of true fellowship in a relaxed atmosphere of mutual trust and care.

The wider church has for many years been putting great emphasis on the use of small groups for discipleship, outreach and other purposes.   How can we love one another as Jesus loved his disciples unless we create the environments in which close relationships can develop?  This is what small groups can achieve.

Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples, because he loved them.  He trained and prepared them in a small group context.  The kind of relationships Jesus wanted for his followers can’t be built simply on the basis of casual contact, like about once a week over a cup of tea or coffee after church.   The early church certainly followed this example, and so produced mature and committed disciples who became effective both in evangelism as well as the other tasks they got from the Lord.

 This is what we need to aim for today – to create the right kind of environment in which trust can develop and grow, in which we can love one another, encourage one another, respect one another, watch over and care for one another – just as the Bible instructs us. This can’t happen if we limit our contact to Sunday church services and a brief chat afterwards – even if we do occasionally go out for a meal with others from the church and talk about things. House groups are vital if we sincerely wish to strengthen our church.  Just as the early church often met in homes, so too should we. It is interesting that the vast majority of growing churches today have some kind of home cell network in place, through which new people are added,   encouraged, strengthened and nurtured.  This is what God wants.

Healthy house groups should have as part of their vision the desire to increase in number. This requires two things. The first is the addition of new people to the group. The second is the training and equipping of existing members to lead house groups themselves.

New Music: Eric Coomer

eric-coomerBack in November I heard a solo EP by Eric Coomer, a vocalist and keyboard player with Knapsackheroes, a Killers-like Christian band originating from Nashville. I’ve wanted to mention it here, but some technical difficulties both with our computer and with the Bandcamp site delayed it until now. Thankfully that’s all resolved now. I’ve managed to download the EP and give it a good listen.

It’s both like and unlike Coomer’s parent band. It’s like Knapsackheroes in that it is Christian but without being part of the CCM world. Coomer is the son of a pastor and leads worship at church, but this is not worship music, nor is it evangelistic. ‘New Vocabulary’ is – appropriately – lyrically deft. It’s unlike Knapsackeroes in that it’s more guitar-driven and – with the exception of ‘Let’s Drive’ – more reflective and less high-energy. There are some interesting chord changes that make this into sophisticated adult rock-pop.

I wanted to post a YouTube video of Coomer doing one of the songs, but his YouTube account mainly has either cover versions of videos of him launching his Kickstarter funding project. But I can do better than that: here is an embed of the EP:

If you like what you hear, go here and exchange a mere five Dead American Presidents for a download.

Sermon: Maintaining The Unity Of The Spirit

It’s the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity again, and I’m preaching at a united evening service today.

Ephesians 4:1-16

In my young Christian days, I used to go occasionally to charismatic renewal meetings held at a Catholic priory in North London – Christ the King, Cockfosters, where a wonderful priest called Dom Benedict Heron used to invite speakers from across the ecumenical traditions to inspire those who gathered.

One evening, however, someone gave a simple, short prophecy that has stayed with me ever since:

‘Weep, for my Body is broken.’

And I think that’s the default position we often adopt when it comes to Christian unity. The Body of Christ is broken. I wouldn’t deny it one bit. Schisms and arguments among and within churches are awful. It is an embarrassment to explain it to non-Christians. We have a hard job explaining it to ourselves, as well.

However, Ephesians 4 brings a different perspective. However much we may struggle with the disunity of the Church, Paul here assumes the unity of the Church. As I once heard an Anglican friend of mine, April Keech, put it: ‘Unity is a given’ in Ephesians 4.

Now I know, of course, that whoever Ephesians was written for, it wasn’t addressed to a group of different denominations like us. But even if part of the Christian unity struggle is about the unity we don’t yet have, another part we need to remember is the maintaining and growing of the fundamental unity we already do have. And it’s that which I want to address tonight: I’m not going to discuss how we deal with our differences over church government, the sacraments (or ordinances), and so on. We must have those discussions, but not this evening. I want to take the unity we all have, and look at what Paul says here are ways of building on it.

Firstly, unity is based in God. Listen for how God – whom we would later refer to as the Holy Trinity – crops up in Paul’s thinking as fundamental:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Verses 4-6)

One Spirit, one Lord and one Father are all central to unity. They are foundational. The unity of the Godhead is the basis for Christian unity. We, the people of God, are meant to reflect in our unity the unity of God.

Let me put it this way. Whenever I preach about the Trinity, I am fond of reminding congregations that the most basic statement about God made in the Scriptures is that  which is said in 1 John: ‘God is love.’ Love is the very nature of God. This is who and what God always is, always will be and always has been. Now how can it be true that God is love before creation? Surely we find an answer to that in the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father has always loved the Son and the Spirit; the Son has always loved the Father and the Spirit; and the Spirit has always loved the Father and the Son. So there is an internal unity of love within the Godhead.

But furthermore, love has to reach out beyond itself. Otherwise it is a kind of mutual narcissism. Hence God in love chose to create. Most commonly, for example, a married couple will express that love in the desire to have children. However, that doesn’t always happen and it doesn’t always happen at first. When I prepare couples for marriage, I ask them how their mutual love is going to reach out to others.

And so I see these aspects of God’s loving unity as needing to be reflected in the Church. There needs to be an internal unity of love that characterises our relationships. But that love within and among ourselves needs to reach out.

So let us ask first of all this evening whether our unity is reflected in our love for one another and our love for the world – ‘that they may be one, that the world may believe,’ as Jesus prayed.

Secondly, such united love is a challenge to our character. The unity of which Paul speaks in verses 4 to 6 is the reason why prior to that he calls the Church in verses 1 to 3 to ‘live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received]’, to be humble, gentle and patient.

I of all people should know this. I went to a Church of England secondary school, my first theological college was an Anglican one, and I married a Baptist. My best friend since the age of seven (and who was best man at our wedding) is a Catholic. Before coming here, I spent thirteen years working in ecumenical churches with Anglicans.

But … the Anglican chaplain at my secondary school described me as ‘a rabid Methodist’. (The Methodists might be surprised by that!) I was never more Methodist than when among Anglicans, but I am never less Methodist than when among Methodists. When I conducted my first infant baptism service in the ministry, it was on a Sunday when the Bible readings focussed on the baptism of Jesus. I made an idle joke in my sermon about ‘John the Baptist and Jesus the Methodist’, only to be introduced over lunch afterwards to some relatives of the twin baby girls, who were active members of … Millmead Baptist Church in Guildford.

It takes something to show humility and patience in building Christian unity. Sometimes we are so keen to trumpet the things we bring to the wider church that we forget the humility we need not to boast of our traditions but to receive with gratitude what our brothers and sisters offer us.

So I want to ask you if you can name what you appreciate about the other Christian traditions in our village. For me, I value the contemplative strands of Catholicism, the sense of history that my Anglican friends bring (we Methodists seem to think that church history only began in the eighteenth century) and the commitment to every member ministry that is at the heart of much of what the Baptist tradition values.

And that final example leads to the third and final point I want to share from Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4 about unity. It is that unity requires diversity. I don’t simply mean the differences of opinion, referenced by the conversation at Christ Church Woking this afternoon between Steve Chalke and Peter Ould about Christianity and homosexual practice. Rather, I mean the diversity of gifts that we need in order to be more fully the Body of Christ.

So here, Paul talks about God’s gifts of ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers’ (verse 11) to equip God’s people (verse 12). Now I’m not specifically going to look at those five callings, which themselves need to be more fully present in every congregation, in my opinion – and which all our institutional structures militate against, sadly.

But I do want to say that there is a wider issue for broader Christian unity, the unity we have been given and which we are to live out. It is this. When I was going to train for the ministry, a friend who in my younger days mentored me said to me, “Remember that no one church is the whole Body of Christ.” Many are the churches that fail because they think they should do everything. However, it is together that we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit that all need in our work for the building of God’s kingdom.

That’s why a moment ago I listed some of the things I appreciate about the other Christian traditions represented in our village. To take just one of the examples I gave, let me say a little more about my appreciation for the more contemplative approach to the spiritual life that my Catholic friends bring. It is a much-needed corrective to the kind of spirituality often found in my tradition, that tends to value those who are busy and active. I am valued more for what I do and achieve than for a life of prayer. My tradition has an untold story of burnout. How fitting it is that our friends from St Hugh’s have invited the rest of us to participate in a Week of Accompanied Prayer in May – and how significant that the week in question ends with Pentecost. After all, if you know your Bible you will know that the Spirit fell on the disciples at Pentecost after a prolonged period of prayer.

I don’t want anyone to feel embarrassed about the good things their traditions enshrine, but I do want us to embrace the diversity of gifts among us. If we don’t, then the only Body of Christ we’ll have is an amputated one.

Indeed, that’s the danger if we don’t take Christian unity seriously. If we don’t see that our unity is based in the nature of God and that the God who is love calls us to love one another and his world, then we have lost something essential. If we don’t let the call to unity make us humble, we are going against the grain of Christ. And if we don’t embrace all the gifts God gives to his body, then we shall have a sick Body of Christ.

Of course maintaining unity is hard work – ask almost any married couple! But how can we who follow the Christ who went to the Cross bail out of the hard work? The prize is too great.

Let us make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Verse 3)

Living With Broken Dreams

Taking my iPod for a walk the other morning after dropping the kids off at school, this great old song came on:

For one so young at the time, it was such a mature song, and I began to think about the disappointments that crush our dreams:

  • You dreamed of a long and happy retirement, but your spouse was struck down by a terminal cancer
  • You thought your work was going to change the world, but instead you clung on for retirement
  • Your children’s choices in adulthood broke your heart
  • You longed for children, but none came along
  • You expected to marry, but either the right person never came along, or they did and they were a disappointment, or they left you for someone else
  • You wanted to be a church leader, but the church didn’t share your conviction
  • Your heart ached for reconciliation with your family after those dark early years, but it never came and the parent who so let you down died before it could be resolved

Parents, teachers and church leaders all encourage children, teenagers and young converts to dream big dreams. “You can change the world!” Years later, many of those former young people are sat among the shards of shattered hopes. We could live differently.

We could sing the cynical words of ‘Always look on the  bright side of life’, – you know, ‘Life’s a pice of sh*t when you look at it’ – as the best an atheist, nihilist world can offer.

But I can’t accept that. Wouldn’t it be better to live with that Christian balance of Cross and Resurrection? The disciples thought their dreams had been destroyed at Calvary. ‘We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel,’ said one on the Emmaus Road. The discovery of an empty tomb and witnessing the One who blessed and broke bread changed everything.

A sermon I preached about three years ago and which you can find here on this blog was built on some personal experience of walking through such dashed dreams and darkened hopes. It was based on the last verse of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s great chapter about the Resurrection. His conclusion is not to sit tight and look forward to heaven, but to keep on striving, because ‘in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’ The God who will make all things new – even new heavens and a new earth – will make something good out of broken dreams.

Perhaps we can therefore encourage young people to dream differently. Dream on; dream about God’s kingdom purposes, which cannot be thwarted, even if he takes us on a detour to get there.

Nancy Duarte: Christian Values In Business Leadership

A while ago, I saw a great TED Talk video on ‘The secret structure of great talks’ by Nancy Duarte:

I didn’t need much persuading to buy her book Resonate, about improving your presentations. (It’s not a book of PowerPoint techniques, it explores the principles of good presentations instead.) I recommend it highly to all public speakers.

Now, I have seen an amazing interview with her on The Good Life Project. I wouldn’t normally sit through thirty-eight minutes of video on a computer, but this had me hooked. I had no idea Duarte was a Christian (that confession comes about twenty  minutes in). What is so wonderful about this interview is the way her Christian convictions have so permeated the way she leads and runs her business:

* She sees her job as to shepherd her staff. It is her duty to make sure the work is there so her one hundred employees can put food on their tables.

* She has a place both for the outgoing, quirky people who are good to put before clients and also the introverts who will hunker down and get a job done.

* Having been told by a coach that the two verbs applicable to her are ‘conquer’ and ‘liberate’, she uses these, not in what she calls an ‘Attila the Hun’ mode, but in terms of what she wants to do for others – again, specifically including her employees.

* When asked near the end what ‘the good life’ is, she emphatically rejects the notion of ‘bling’ in favour of generosity.

So put the kettle on, make a drink, and watch this inspiring video:

Steve Chalke’s Support For Faithful, Committed Gay Relationships

Steve Chalke

Steve Chalke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Media attention is hovering around Steve Chalke’s article (due to be published in an abridged form in the next issue of Christianity magazine) in which he declares his support for faithful, permanent, exclusive gay relationships. The ‘extended’ article is here. For reasons of pastoral care – to protect deeply vulnerable, at-risk people – Steve takes the argument beyond exegesis to hermeneutics.

I have to say that on a first reading not every part of his biblical argument convinces me. Even his dear friend Tony Campolo writes sympathetically, but still committed to a conservative position.

Why do I think it’s too much to hope for that the result of this will be a thoughtful, respectful conversation, one which is more about light than heat? Please, Christian world, prove me wrong.

UPDATE: the Christianity magazine material is now online. In addition to Steve Chalke’s piece, there is a ‘taking the temperature‘ article by editor Ruth Dickinson, and a conservative response by theologian Greg Downes: this is the extended version. There is also a brief response from Steve Clifford of the Evangelical Alliance, with the promise of a longer response later and a theological one from Steve Holmes of their Theology and Public Policy Advisory Commission.

The Demise Of HMV

Music and entertainment retailer HMV has called in the administrators. The recession, the failure to adapt sufficiently to the digital revolution and so on, after they spent years raking in cash on over-priced CDs, have made this inevitable. Over four thousand jobs are at risk, thanks to what one analyst in the BBC coverage to which I linked calls a ‘structural failure’. They made little tweaks, giving more prominence to DVDs, computer games and MP3 accessories, but tweaks weren’t enough. A revolution was needed, and it never came. The parallels for the Christian Church are obvious. Many a time have I quoted the Seven Last Words Of A Dying Church: “But we’ve always done it this way.”

Hall_Oates_LuncheonetteBut I watch the collapse of HMV with genuine sadness. A part of my youth and young adulthood is disappearing. As a teenager, I used to take the bus up to central London, to their huge store in Oxford Street. I would go there with my best friend during the school holidays. We would go up to the singles counter and think of all sorts of old records to request. In those long-before-the-Internet days, it was one place where I could buy something relatively obscure. So when I was first stunned by hearing the long version of ‘She’s Gone’ by an unheard-of American duo called Daryl Hall and John Oates, it was to HMV Oxford Street that I went to buy the album which contained it, ‘Abandoned Luncheonette‘ (still a great album, BTW). But as supermarkets have invaded the space and only sold high volume titles at big discounts, the joy of rummaging around the back catalogue disappeared from HMV shops. When they were available – such as when I started buying CDs by new country artists such as Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Lyle Lovett in the early 1990s – the prices were so high as to need a mortgage. It was a good job I was a single man way back then.

Now, at least part of the Internet supports the ‘long tail’ theory and I can get old titles on Amazon or iTunes.  But the rise of digital and the idea that ‘there is no real future for physical retail in the music sector’, as that analyst puts it, leaves me sad. Yes, I do sometimes download, but another part of my youth was as a hi-fi fan, and you can’t tell me that compressed, lossy files match up to what you can hear on a high quality sound system.

I don’t suppose anything more than an Oxford Street rump will survive the attentions of Deloitte, if anything. I will miss you, HMV.

Poetry For The Australian Fires

Australian FiresAussie missiologist Michael Frost recently reproduced this cartoon on his Facebook page from a New Zealand newspaper. It rather sums up the extreme and dangerous weather going on in his homeland lately. Death, destruction and devastated lives are everywhere, along with amazing stories of bravery and heroism.

My faithful Australian commenter Pam has written a poem about her experiences of this, and with her permission I am glad to reproduce it below. It is based on what happened on 8th January. Please use it as a stimulus to pray for the people of her nation.

Catastrophic Warning by Pam Connor
Three phones in our house last night
Mobile VOIP landline.
“Have your emergency bushfire plan in place.  Catastrophic conditions for the Shoalhaven, Illawarra,
 Southern Tablelands tomorrow”
droned the non-human, inhumane voice.
Sydney Temperatures 130108Moments later, my friend in Ulladulla,
Her voice too calm,
“We should go and see The Hobbit tomorrow, three hours in an air-conditioned cinema.
 My treat for the choc-top”.
In the boot of my car, my shiny Honda,
Neatly stacked photo albums
my children grinning, black shoes shining,
First day of school.
My father at 21 years of age.
They tell me who I am.
A marriage certificate, my only one, must take that.
 Passports.
Some clothes, clean underwear, no holes.
Full tank of petrol.
My gardenias better survive,
Or there’ll be hell to pay.