I received this in a letter from a friend. I’m posting it anonymously with his permission.
This evening some of us got together and talked about answering questions we get asked here. As you can imagine there are wide opinions about how to respond. Some of the questions considered were, ‘Do you have a Bible you can give to me?’ ‘What does the Bible say?’ ‘Which place do you think is the best, America or *?’ Some questions are easy enough to answer. With the more ‘sensitive’ questions, however, many people, however, seem to err on the side of caution. They are concerned about physical safety for themselves, for their expat colleagues, for local brothers. ‘Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ gets quoted a lot.
Reading the Gospels or Paul, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter, I don’t see the concern for extending life on this earth that we seem to often give it. Read the first few chapters of Acts. Stephen and Peter are not prioritising life on earth. True, they are not throwing it away (although it sometimes seems like it!), but their priority is proclamation of truth – testifying to the one they know and have seen and experienced.
One guy who spoke up today was like a breath of fresh air to me. I talked to him afterwards and he told me about a couple of people that he learned from. When he first came here he asked the question, ‘Who is seeing fruit?’ One or two people’s names were mentioned. They are BOLD people. One has been forced to leave the country, the other hasn’t had the easiest of times. They have been criticised here by their expat brothers and sisters for bringing trouble. But they have cast the seed wide and have proclaimed to any who would listen and now people know freedom and forgiveness and God as a result.
I read a booked called ‘Living in the Light of Eternity’. It seems to me that Jesus and the apostles lived in the light of eternity. Dying here was not a failure because life is more than what we see here today. They were living for something other than what most people live for. As the result of different priorities, as the result of living as an ambassador for Someone, status, wealth, friendships, and life itself were viewed through a different lens. Success and failure are measured differently. Not that we are driven by a need to ‘succeed’. But we can certainly say that it is not necessarily a failure if boldness results in persecution. And it’s not a failure even if our friends are persecuted as a result (if it is, Jesus failed).
This guy I was talking to has seen people come into freedom. One thing he mentioned was that local brothers would benefit from seeing us be bold. What are we modelling for them? Do they learn fear and back-peddling, and not-wanting-to-offend from us? Or do we emanate confidence, security, contentment and a reliance upon the King rather than a fear of man. How many times are we taught not to fear? I forget what prompted Jesus to say it, but he said we should not fear those who can only kill the body, rather we should fear him who can cast our bodies into hell. How many references to fear are there in the gospels? Many. When faced with ‘hard’ questions, or instructions by the authorities to be quiet, how often do we hear from our colleagues here that we should ‘obey God, not man!’. On the other hand how often do we hear that we need to think about the greater ‘good’ of the community, and just be quiet, or couch truth in more acceptable terms. I fear that these mainly unspoken expectations of silence rather than breeding security, cultivate fear. Instructions to be ‘careful, wise, discerning, not offending where you don’t need to offend, etc’ are all good instructions but I think they often mask a fear of the consequences for speaking up. Sure, be wise. Sure, make the gospel the only offense. But know that the gospel DOES offend. When Jesus was opposed almost from the outset (and not in the form of gentle, polite questions) he was not surprised and he did not draw back.
Ok, that’s my rant over.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to be speaking on street corners. Although maybe a little of that is what’s needed. Joke. (I think.) I talk the bold talk in this letter, but I’m not convinced I walk that walk. Fear is contagious, and I know I have caught some. Pray that I would walk in step with the Spirit, learning to love Jesus more, grasping all opportunities I can because they are a joy to be grasped. Pray that I’d learn to ask, ‘What liberating truth does God want to reveal to this person?’ rather than, ‘What consequence will speaking to him have for me?’
This is a talk I gave at the Total Church Conference 2010, in Sheffield, UK.
The following is an adapted response to someone who asked whether I thought they could change. I’ve edited my response to remove any personal references including any allusions to the nature of the issue.
I do think you can change. I can’t guarantee that. But change is always possible through the cross, the word and the Holy Spirit.
I would encourage you to explore with someone the underlying reasons for your behaviour. Think of your behaviour as a symptom and then explore the cause. Your behaviour will have met some desire, some ‘need’. Then you can explore how the gospel more fully and more truly meets that desire. That in itself will not bring change, but it will highlight where the battle is truly to be fought. You will then need someone who holds you accountable and encourages in that fight, who speaks the truth of the gospel to you.
You say that you are not an awful person. I am sure it is true that you are no more awful than other people, myself included. But this may be an opportunity for you to face up to how pervasive and extensive sin is in your life (as it is in the life of anyone). Remember that even our righteous acts are often motivated by sinful and selfish reasons (the desire to prove ourselves, the fear of others, the need to be in control and so on). Don’t just look at the bad things you have done; look at the good things you have done for bad reasons. That won’t be fun. But it will lead to a greater appreciation of grace and appreciating grace is the engine of change. It may also help you identify some of the underlying reasons for your behaviour (you may find that what led to your behaviour was also what motivated your good works). You may find yourself in a place where you have nothing to offer and depend entirely on God’s grace – and that is a good place to be and the only honest place to be!
I would suggest your primary responsibility is twofold. First, to guard your own heart (Proverbs 4:23) – both to explore the underlying issues, but also to guard against bitterness and resentment. Work hard at finding your joy in Christ. Read the Scriptures every day, remind yourself of the gospel, pray for the Holy Spirit’s work – all until you feel your heart moved each day with love, fear, joy, hope, faith, conviction, confession, wonder and so on. Do this day by day – one day’s neglect will be a step towards a hardening of your heart (Hebrews 3:12-13).
Second, serve other people. Put their needs before your own; put their emotional needs before your own. This will be a tough call for you. But it is the right thing to do and I suspect will also be good for you. Serving others takes us out of ourselves and puts us in the path of christlike living.
This review is by Dan, a church planter with The Crowded House.
In Surprised by Hope NT Wright gives a clear and engaging explanation of why the church can be hopeful and what we can be hopeful for. This DVD and workbook is based on his excellent book with the same title (available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk).
The bulk of teaching comes in the form of six 20-minute sessions on (1) hope for the world, (2) the church, (3) heaven, (4) the second coming, (5) salvation, and ( 6) resurrection. Each session is well introduced and is followed up by good optional bonus material. A study guide helpfully leads you through the sometimes quite dense material.
Wright’s central idea is that our hope is for the renewal of this world rather than some other ethereal world and hope in a renewed world should cause us to be agents of renewal now. We are ambassadors of hope. Through our hopeful lives people experience God’s kingdom and receive an insight into the world to come. I particularly enjoyed Wright’s exegesis of, for example , the first century concept of heaven and the ‘rapture’ imagery in 1 Thessalonians 4.
I am happy to recommend Surprised by Hope. I felt, however, that the application of this good exegesis needed to be taken a step further. I was disappointed that Wright barely touches on how we share our hope by proclaiming the gospel. We hear a lot about how hope results in good deeds and creativity (writing books and songs, planting gardens, writing poetry) but little about sharing the gospel message. Maybe that could be a point for group discussion.
Ed’s note. If you want to follow up the issue of the relationship between future hope and present action then you might try Tim Chester, The Ordinary Hero: Living the Cross and Resurrection (available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk) or at an academic level Tim Chester, Mission and the Coming of God (available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk) .
In recent years we have been offered all sorts of options for church: organic church, messy church, simply church, total church.
Let me add another: slow church.
There is a slow food movement that extols the merits of hand-cooked food made from local ingredients cooked for as long as takes – an antidote to fast food. The slow food movement has extended so that people are advocating slow cities.
I’ve reading through Proverbs over the past few weeks and have been struck by how many call for us to slow down. The books of Proverbs extols the virtues of:
See 10:19; 12:18, 23; 13:3; 17:27; 18:6-7; 21:23; 25:15; 29:20. It’s an idea picked up and encapsulated in James 1:19-20: ‘My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.’
See 11:18; 20:11; 22:8, 16; 28:20, 22. ‘Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.’ (Proverbs 13:11) This is an important reminder after the credit crisis. Get-rich-quick schemes either destroy you or someone else (and Proverbs has plenty to say about exploitation). Wealth earned slowly through diligence and hard work – and given away quickly – this is creditable in God’s sight.
Of course Proverbs also warns against those who are too slow – the sluggard who is lazy. See 10:26; 12:24, 27; 20:4, 13; 21:25: 22:13; 24:30-34. (for more on the imbalance between work and rest see my book, The Busy Christians Guide to Busyness .)
See 14:16-17; 15:18; 16:32; 19:11. ‘A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.’ (Proverbs 14:29) Also character takes time to form so grey hair is honoured (16:31).
Our culture is always in a hurry. We want to achieve everything today. It is striking that Jesus waited for 30 years before beginning his public ministry. I wonder if most of us had had our way we would have urged him into ministry earlier.
A former boss once used to say, ‘We over-estimate what we can do in a year and under-estimate what we can do in five years.’
Cole begins by suggesting that many leaders who sincerely desires gospel fruit in fact impede growth because what they do – and what they have been trained to do – is lead an institution. “What is consistent in both Organic Church and Organic Leadership is my belief that the kingdom of God is relational, spiritual, and natural – without all the artificial stuff we tend to use to prop up our ministries today.” (15) What Cole criticizes in his opening deconstructing section is “institutionalization, corruption of leader character, legalistic leadership, the monopolization of truth, the hierarchical chain of command, false views of reality, and parasitic ‘ministries’.” (30) “What we think of as being needed can in reality be our neediness … A drive to feel significant compels them and being needed affirms their sense of importance.” (39)
Cole then asks why, when many churches complain of a lack of leaders, other churches seem to have lots of leaders. The difference, he suggests, lies in whether your approach to finding leaders is recruitment or reproduction. “Recruitment is a practice in subtraction – taking people from one ministry to work in another. Reproducing leaders from the harvest and for the harvest is a practice of multiplication.” (134) The only biblical example of recruitment is Barnabas recruiting Paul in Acts 11:22-26. When in Luke 10 Jesus tells his disciples to ask the Lord of the Harvest for works the only place from those workers are going to come is the harvest itself. “If your ministry is struggling without leaders, do not re-evaluate your leadership development program. It is time to re-evaluate your disciple-making system. If you are doing next to nothing to reach lost and broken people, your leadership development system will yield very few results.” (139) Continue reading
A review of
Edward T. Welch, Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest, New Growth Press, 2008
Edward T. Welch, When I Am Afraid: A Step-By-Step Guide Away from Fear And Anxiety, Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2010 .
When I finished reading Ed Welch’s previous book, When People Are Big and God Is Small , I immediately started reading it a second time. So I approached Welch’s new book, Running Scared, with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. The focus of When People Are Big was the fear of man. Running Scared looks at fear and worry in general. Welch is a faculty member and counsellor with the Christian Counselling and Education Foundation (CCEF). Running Scared combines a model of how to apply theology to life with a light and engaging writing style.
We all have fears, from general anxieties to life-dominating phobias. Some fear is healthy (making one drive safely or treat strange dogs with caution), but we do not want to be overcome by fear. Free societies may resolve the fear of oppression, but increase the fear of personal failure.
Running Scared does not tightly define when fear becomes sin, though Welch does warn us to ‘worry about worry’ because worry is inward-focused, self-reliant and can be life-dominating. Instead Running Scared is a pastoral response, an invitation to turn from fear to trust in God.
Welch begins by encouraging us to listen to our fear. Fear says, “I am vulnerable.” In other words, fear wants to be in control. But the reality is we are dependent so fear is an opportunity to trust God. Fear says, “I need (and I might not get).” If we want comfort, we will fear pain. If we want approval, we will fear criticism. If we want money, we will fear need. “Worry reveals our allegiances. Fear and worry are not mere emotions; they are expressions of what we hold dear.” (161)
The Bible’s most frequent command is, “Do not be afraid.” Welch takes the provision of manna as a paradigm of God’s deliverance. But God provides on a day-by-day basis so we learn to trust him. Sometimes God delivers at the eleventh hour, encouraging us to trust him. Sometimes he allows the things we fear to happen, but then works a bigger deliverance through it. He uses adversity to replace the affections that underlie our fears with truer and better affections for God. The bridge could collapse. The spouse could be unfaithful. But God will give grace so we can accomplish his kingdom purposes
After providing a framework for understanding our fears, Welch explores three common specific worries: worries about money, the fear of man and the fear of death.
The section on the fear of man reprises some of the concepts in When People Are Big. “Whatever you think you need will control you. If you need something from other people – love, acceptance, approval – they hold the key to something very valuable to you. You will live in fear that they might not deliver.” (173-174) The problem is we move from desire to demand and then re-label “demand” as “need”. “Beneath our use of the word need are the things we treasure, even worship.” (184) When I am called concerned for God’s reputation other people’s attitudes will matter to me, but not control me. “Jesus shows us that to be truly human means that our desire to love others out-distances our desire to be loved ourselves.” (179)
Running Scared is more than a theory or approach. It not only tells you what you ought to do; the very act of reading will help counter your worry as the truth is presented in a variety of engaging ways. It is somewhat repetitive if read straight through (especially the final nine chapters), but then it is designed as thirty meditations to be read over a month. Each chapter ends with “a personal response” which points to application, but does so through Welch’s own struggles and questions.
When I Am Afraid is an accompanying workbook on fear with questions for personal application. It tracks the material in Running Scared, but there is enough prose summarizing what is said in Running Scared for When I Am Afraid to stand alone. If you are pastor wanting to help a non-reader struggling with fear then I suggest you use When I Am Afraid with them while you read Running Scared. The questions in When I Am Afraid helpfully reveal our fears and how the gospel speaks specifically to those fears. They are, however, quite personal so I suspect they would only work in a group setting in which the group is already intimate with one another.
In summary: two great resources that would benefit anyone as well as offering hope to those struggling with life-dominating fears.
I received an advance copy of the US version of my book You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions today. It looks great – thank you Crossway! It’s published on 31 March. You can pre-order copies here from Amazon.com. I know of a number of churches in the States who are already using the UK version as part of their pastoral or discipleship program.
Here are some commendations …
A book about Christian growth that is neither quietistic nor moralistic is rare. A book that is truly practical is even rarer. Tim Chester’s new volume falls into both categories and therefore fills a gap.
Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City
There are few books that are shockingly honest, carefully theological, and gloriously hopeful all at the same time. Tim Chester’s book, You Can Change, is all of these and more. He skilfully uses the deepest insights of the theology of the Word as a lens to help you understand yourself and the way of change, and, in so doing, helps you to experience practically what you thought you already knew. The carefully crafted personal ‘reflection’ and ‘change project’ sections are worth the price of the book by themselves. It is wonderful to be reminded that you and I are not stuck, and it’s comforting to be guided by someone who knows well the road from where we are to where we need to be.
Paul Tripp, President of Paul Tripp Ministries
A wonderful book for those who are serious about personal change. For so many Christians the gulf between our aspirations and the reality of our daily Christian walk is very large. Here is very helpful material to help us bridge this gap and become the whole people God intended us to be.
Stephen Gaukroger, Senior Minister at Gold Hill Baptist Church
We are called to be salt and light. Yet often the church fails to live differently. In our busy culture, we rarely spend time dealing with sinful areas of our lives; instead we try to sweep them under the carpet. Tim’s book is a biblical and practical challenge to the very root causes of ungodly patterns of behaviour. Read it and allow God to change you!
Andy Frost, Director, Share Jesus International
The book is structured around a series of question to help people work on issues in their lives:
1. What would you like to change?
2. Why would you like to change?
3. How are you going to change?
4. When do you struggle?
5. What truths do you need to turn to?
6. What desires do you need to turn from?
7. What stops you changing?
8. What strategies will reinforce your faith and repentance?
9. How can we support one another in change?
10. Are you ready for a lifetime of daily change?
Here’s a sample chapter (from the UK edition): You Can Change – Chapter Five: What Truths Do You Need To Turn To?
And finally here’s a video introduction …
For Matthew, Jesus has changed the world, requiring that our lives be changed if we are to live as people of the new creation. Accordingly, the gospel is not information that invites us to decide what we will take or leave. Our task is not to understand the story that Matthew tells in light of our understanding of the world. Rather, Matthew would have our understanding of the world be fully transformed as the result of our reading of his gospel. Matthew writes so that we might become followers, be disciples of Jesus. To be a Christian does not mean that we are to change the world, but rather that we must live as witnesses to the world that God has changed. We should not be surprised, therefore, if the way we live makes the change visible. (25)
The Sermon [on the Mount] is not a list of requirements, but rather a description of the life of a people gathered by and around Jesus. To be saved is to be so gathered. That is why the Beatitudes are the interpretive key to the whole sermon – precisely because they are not recommendations. No one is asked to go out and try to be poor in spirit or to mourn or to be meek. Rather, Jesus is indicating that given the reality of the kingdom we should not be surprised to find among those who follow him those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek. Moreover, Jesus does not suggest that everyone who follows him will possess all the Beatitudes, but we can be sure that some will be poor, some will mourn, and some will be meek.’ (61)
When he called his society together Jesus gave its members a new way of life to live. He gave them a new way to deal with offenders – by forgiving them. He gave them a new way to deal with violence – by suffering. He gave them a new way to deal with money – by sharing it. He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership – by drawing upon the gift of every member, even the most humble. He gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society – by building a new order, not smashing the old. (67)
Jesus’ use of wisdom to help us understand the character of the kingdom made present in his ministry is sometimes mistakenly used as a general policy recommendation. Jesus is not suggesting that we should not plant crops or weave cloth, but rather if we plant crops of weave cloth to “store up treasures on earth” we can be sure that our lives will be insecure. We can perhaps know that the desire to be secure is a self-defeating project without being a disciple of Jesus. But that wisdom is transformed through the recognition of him who has come to call a people into existence capable of praying for their daily bread. They are able to do so because their lives have been transformed through the call to be a disciple, making it possible for them to live in recognition that God has given them all they need … Abundance, not scarcity, is the mark of God’s kingdom. But that abundance must be made manifest through the lives of a people who have discovered that they can trust God and one another. Such trust is not an irrational gesture against the chaos of life, but rather a witness to the very character of God’s care of creation. So it is no wonder that Jesus directs our attention to birds and lilies to help us see how it is possible to live in joyful recognition that God has given us more than we need. (82-83)
The parable of the sower is not often considered by those concerned with the loss of the church’s status and membership in Europe and America, but it is hard to imagine any text more relevant to the situation of churches in the West. Why we are dying seems very simple. It is hard to be a disciple and be rich. Surely, we may think, it cannot be that simple, but Jesus certainly seems to think that it is that simple. The lure of wealth and the cares of the world produced by wealth quite simply darken and choke our imaginations. As a result, the church falls prey to the deepest enemy of the gospel – sentimentality. The gospel becomes a formula for “giving our lives meaning” without judgment … This is a particular problem in America, where Christians cannot imagine how being a Christian might put them in tension with the American we of life … It may seem odd that wealth makes it impossible to grow the word. Wealth, we assume, should create the power necessary to do much good. But wealth stills the imagination because we are not forced, as the disciples of Jesus were forced, to be an alternative to the world that only necessity can create. Possessed by possessions, we desire to act in the world, often on behalf of the poor, without having to lose our possessions. (129-130)
In truth, it is not easy to know how to read “the signs of the times,” but such a reading is required of those who would follow Jesus. Too often, however, Christians believe that we know how to read the signs of the times by reading the New York Times. But to so read the signs of the times is to be captured by the assumption that the way things are is the way things have to be. Pharisees and Sadducees read the daily newspapers and adjust. Followers of Jesus must read the same papers to show why Jesus offers an alternative reading of the times than that offered by the New York Times. Faced with such a daunting task, followers of Jesus can begin to sympathize with the Pharisees and Sadducees … Rightly reading the signs of the times requires a church capable of standing against the legitimising stories of the day. (147)
If we do not fear God our lives will be possessed by fears produced by our possessions. Jesus will command the disciples not to be afraid, but not to be afraid requires that we see, as they saw, no one but Jesus. To see Jesus, to follow Jesus, means that they too will be clothes in the bright white of martyrdom. (155)
It is not for us to try to create risk in Jesus’s name in the hope that we may recover some sense of what it might be to be a disciple of Jesus. To do that would only further our temptation to “play” at being Christian. To try to create risk would be an attempt to be heroic rather than to be disciple. (221)
Jesus’s command that the sword be put away is not a conclusive text, committing his followers to some version of pacifism. Arguments for Christian non-violence, just as arguments for the Christian justification of violence, depend on how the story is told and the kind of community that exists to tell the story. Jesus’s command that the sword be put away is but one expression that testifies to his willingness to be given over to sinners and crucified so that we might be made part of the new age inaugurated by his birth, death, and resurrection. Therefore, Christian non-violence cannot be a position separable from what it means to be a disciple. Rather, Christian non-violence is, in the words of John Howard Yoder, the pacifism of the messianic community. Such pacifism would “lose its substance if Jesus were not Christ and would lose its foundation if Jesus Christ were not Lord”. (224)
Jesus must be killed because Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus must be killed because Jesus has called into existence a new people who constitute a challenge to the world order based on lies and deceit. Jesus must be killed because he is a threat to all who rule in the name of safety and comfort. Jesus must be killed because we do not desire to have our deepest desires exposed. Jesus must be killed because we do not believe in a God who creates us and who would come among us after our likeness. So we have learned from Matthew. (235)