Category Archives: Theological Thoughts

Thankful to be able to walk, thankful for life!

On Monday I will fulfill a mini-goal… I will have walked over 9km per day for everyday of the last month. It’s not a big distance, but a year ago on the evening of the same day, September 7th, my lovely wife’s birthday, I had a stroke and for a few days I was unable to walk without support and things to hold onto.

I’m posting this a couple of days before that anniversary, because Monday will be a family celebration… but I wanted to tell a story; to say “Thank you” to Jesus and to all those that helped us make it through the year; and to reflect on the beauty we find in the rubble of our broken world.

It is interesting that when I set myself my mini-goal I had not thought about when it would end, but during the month, Judith challenged me to be actively thankful for the good things we have, and as I have the pleasure of being able to walk (with my dogs) each day, the blessing of ambulation has really come to the fore in my mind.

But walking is simply one of a host of pleasures I have in life, all of which are a direct testimony to the grace and place of Jesus in it.

I nearly died at birth. Then, as a four year old I was hit by a truck in Serbia, (Yugoslavia back then). I still have a “dent” in my head and big scar, covered by what little hair I have left to show for the event. I know from my parents the shock of watching my limp body being carried to the side of the road… and I can’t help thinking about the image of the young Syrian lads who’s drowned bodies have in the last few days said so much about the tragedy of human history. So I want to touch on gratitude that finds the love of God in a world that seems to deny the truth of that love, but first I’ll finish my personal reflections. I am grateful for my mental health and the childhood I was able to enjoy.

Then at 15 I was given just months to live, my body full of Non-Hodgekins lymphoma. In obedience to the instructions on praying for sick church members in the Bible, I was prayed for. And my doctors had to convene a special meeting to discuss what had happened to me after the cancer spontaneously disappeared from all areas of my body including the spinal fluid. I’m grateful for that too. Sometimes people say to me “God must have great plans for me because he healed me” but I think differently, Jesus came to “give us life in all it’s fullness”, life is the wonderful plan he has for us all.

At 34 a mistake in a minor procedure left me, (a father of three young children) in a coma in intensive care, Judith was put on alert to rush into hospital in case I slipped off this mortal coil. But I’m still here! Thank you Jesus.

Then this last year  I‘ve had two strokes and while the year has been a real struggle for us as a family I’m walking, driving, teaching and still convinced of the goodness and kindness of God.

Not in a fluffy, cloyingly sentimental way that is based on my personal favour and blessing. Jesus was never called a little lamb, He is a slain and sacrificial lamb, the desire of God, ravaged and bloodied by the need for mankind to be free if they are to truly reflect God’s likeness. God’s goodness and kindness are found in his faithful but co-operative involvement in the life he has truly gifted us with, he respects our choices to do it our way even when he knows we will screw up and that we would be better off saying “not my will but yours”.

So most of what happens in the world has not been specifically planned by God, but every broken heart and stolen destiny has been lovingly planned for by Him. I realised it while under my own death sentence as a fifteen year old, I met Jesus in my fear and anger, and while I didn’t want to die back then, I knew the encounter had made me ready for it. I didn’t die, but I’m now grateful for the life I get to live not the death I avoided.

Whether we get 15 minutes, 15 year or a full three score and ten, human life is a fleeting vapor even by the standards of the universe we live in, let alone compared to the full stretch of eternity. And yet life is so eminently precious that the creator Himself just had to experience it for himself, and not in it’s perfection but in all it’s messed up layers and contradictions and he goes on experiencing it in and through us making every shaky moment matter and mark eternity in Him.

I don’t know the eternal destiny of the boys who drowned this week, nor of the 300,000 children that die from hunger each year, but I do know that their “Angel’s behold the face of the Father” and that their lives mattered. Because “not one sparrow falls from the sky that your Father doesn’t notice, and you are worth more than may sparrows“.

So I am so grateful for the life I have, the life I’ve had and will have, I don’t have life in Spades to use a phrase, but I do have it, and I have it in Christ! and so to quote Paul (sort of):

For me to live- is Christ, and to die – is even more so!

 

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Salt in Secular World.

In our sound-bite society wisdom seems to have been reduced to pithy retort, so it is no surprise that every week I read tweets and comments that assume you are backward or down right duplicitous if you believe “religion ” is good for society or humanity as a whole. Pop wisdom “knows” that “no religion” means “nothing to kill or die for, a brotherhood of man”; and they know that real love is laisez-fair while religion is always wanting to get involved where it’s not wanted.

But the truth is very different if you take the time to look for it. Academic analysis of wars shows time and again the underlying causes of wars,  even ones labelled as “Religious” or “Sectarian” are normally initiated for baser reasons (i.e see “The reason for wars, Stanford University) . And what is celebrated as  “live and let live” is more often than not an excuse for “live and let die”. Love gets involved, whether given by an atheist a Christian or Hindu, it is by definition interfering.

religious-wars-bar-chart
Drawn from Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles and sites cause for 1,763 wars.

This post doesn’t have the room nor the reason to explore the well documented truth that in fact the nations prosper when the Gospel grows in them (see “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy”).

But truth is often more complex and multi-layered than can be conveyed quickly and so of course I risk contributing to the fog of of unreasonable debate with this post… So let’s be clear … I’m not enshrining absolutes here, there are hurtful and hypocritical Christian’s and there are caring humanist, I’m just proffering a perspective that  deserves to be considered. And that perspective is that when  Jesus’ life and death  is enshrined and honored in our people, institutions and systems the prosperity and the well-being of those affected by the same is improved.

Strangely when we endorse an idea we find in Christ but divorce it from Him things often get worse. So Tolerance becomes totalitarian in its control of dissenting voices. Equality empties the differences in diversity of any intrinsic  meaning or value.

muggeridgeThis happens at the macro level as one times atheist, journalist Malcolm Muggeridge observed quoting a previous thinker…

“[Pascal] was the first and perhaps is still the most effective voice to be raised in warning of the consequences of the enthronement of the human ego in contradistinction to the cross, symbolizing the ego’s immolation. How beautiful it all seemed at the time of the Enlightenment, that man triumphant would bring to pass that earthly paradise whose groves of academe would ensure the realization forever of peace, plenty, and beatitude in practice. But what a nightmare of wars, famines, and folly was to result therefrom.” ―  The End of Christendom

But it also happens in day to day life too. Which is where it becomes relevant to us.

As I try to live out my faith, it is not sufficient to simply employ “Christian principles” in the workplace. Honesty, integrity,  fairness are all good and noble ideals found in the teaching of Jesus. But divorced from Him they become a sense of my own moral superiority over my co-workers, even humility can make you proud!

“Ideas” are profoundly powerful in shaping our actions. But personal experience, and I believe history itself, shows us that the ideas themselves are not enough. It is Christ in us that is our “hope of glory”, the salt that cleanses and brings out the flavours of a good life, the leaven that raises the mix and makes it edible.

It is in bring the person of Jesus into our work with us that we will have our biggest and best impact.

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Abraham PLC (Promised Land Community)

Abraham and familyAbraham is acknowledged by over half the world’s population as the Father of Faith; Christians, Jews, and Muslims of course, but several of the world smaller religions too, such as Yazidism, Bahai-ism and Rastafarianism. Abraham is one of the most important people in history and yet most of us hold to a very flat and unrealistic images of him. I find myself imagining a lonely nomad wondering the desserts in richly coloured nightwear with a community of extended family and servants, a few camels and a flock of sheep.

But then you read about how Abraham rallies 318 of him fittest men to pursue, and defeat the armies of four kings. Four kings with an army that had just trashed five city states and where trafficking their inhabitants North and into slavery. Abraham’s nephew Lot was a captive. So clearly my image of Abraham is too cosy.

If Abraham had 318 fighting men then he was head of a community, a household of well over 1000 people with many thousands of of sheep and goats.

In modern terms we could think about Abraham as the CEO of an SME (Small to Medium Enterprise), Abraham’s household was not a nuclear affair, it was a complex wealth creating venture that could both threaten and bless the settled communities it dealt with. Abraham had to negotiate cross border deals and the rights to natural resources with a range of different officials and cultures, Genesis 23:3-20.

Interestingly the English word “economics” comes from the Greek word “oikonomia” which means a “household”, because large households where the Limited Companies of the ancient world. They where the building blocks that created the commercial success of a region.

So how does thinking about Abraham as the owner/director of a significant company change what we understand about him?

Well first we need to lose the idea of Abraham leading a simple life sitting by dessert streams watching his sheep. Every day would be busy, and Abraham had responsibilities for every layer of the lives of those who worked for him, from wages to worker disputes to even to marital arrangements.

So when Abraham took time to seek The Lord or to offer sacrifices, it wasn’t from a place of indulged interest in spiritual things. It was a necessity to make good decisions on behalf of large community of dependents.

Now that community would have been pluralistic, reflecting worship practices and deities from the various cultures Abraham had collected people from. Abraham had to create a spiritual environment that protected and was healthy for everybody, while at the same time following the very precise and sometimes counter-intuitive requirements of the God who had called him.

As we look at Abraham through the lens of business executive we find all sorts of examples and models that can be applied by and for those called to lead and direct commercial enterprises in the modern world.

We see Abraham interceding for a parallel and to a degree symbiotic industry, Genesis 18:23-33. You see archaeology has shown us that Sodom grew rich by harvesting and exporting the bitumen that bubbled up to the surface of the Dead Sea in bronze age.

Abraham had to trade in an immoral environment, which meant that to increase his work force he sometimes had to buy slaves from the nations around him. But when he did, Abraham was to include them in the mission, promise and family God was building through him, see. Genesis 17:13.

Fundamentally Abraham was tasked with blessing others as God blessed him, Genesis 12:3. Commerce done the right way always blesses the communities is both serves and relies on.

It is my conviction that if the modern/western world is going to rediscover business as blessing rather than as just control and power, it will need a multitude of SMEs led by CEOs who walk in and with the Faith of Abraham. A new generation of Rowntrees, Cadbury’s Samuel Lloyds and the like.

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Managment and God’s Therapy

“So who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will put in charge of his household to give them their rations at the right time? That servant is blessed, whose master finds him doing so when he comes. Really I’m telling you, that he will be put in charge of all his possessions” – Luke 12:42-43

I love these verses in Luke for one very simple reason, the word translated above as “household” is the Greek word “therapeias” from which we get the English word “therapy”. (Some versions of the Bible translate the word as “service”, but that makes the sentence grammatically odd in English as it doesn’t make clear who the “them” are that get treated therapeutically by the faithful and wise manager).

Now management is always about people, sure there is a task to be achieved, but a manager coordinates a team towards an end, they would not be a manager if they just did it themselves. And so the way we manage is always therapy for someone, good or bad our leadership has an emotional impact.

Jesus’ assumption is that good management is good therapy for the team! It is not just short term target hitting..

parableNow if you look at the outside shape of this story in Luke 12 for its Kingdom principles, it doesn’t fit easily as a parable about the church and it’s leaders, (despite being given to the Disciples regarding their own leadership calling). In the parable the the managers are willfully abusing people and the master is pretty harsh too, violence reaps violence. True it might describe some churches at their worst, but what is Kingdom about that! .

But if we look at it from the inside we see the leven of the Kingdom at work, the principle that changes the world from the inside out. Even those with middle-management responsibility have the ability  to create a therapeutic environment, a place of that aids well-being.

Now we see something incredibly relevant to every believer, not just to church leaders. In fact Peter starts by asking if what Jesus is teaching them is for just them or for everybody? Luke 12:41, and Jesus’ answer is clearly that it is for everyone.

After all every follower of Jesus should find themselves in a position where that are responsible for managing people, it is part of being the head not the tail. And in those positions, team leader, department manager, business owner etc, there is something about the way in which we manage that can be incredible therapy for our bruised and broken colleagues. It is more than just being kind and fair, we have the ability by the way we hold those around us in our hearts and attitudes to release a supernatural grace and love, a grace that heals.

In fact I would go further and say that the opportunities offered by our work life give us a responsibility to minister to those we manage regardless of whether they want “it” or even whether we want “to”! The therapy of the Kingdom can be healing for those we manage long before they come to church. And if your wounds don’t hurt so much you don’t need to be as defensive with those that might challenge or change you.

So even in a harsh and competitive industry we can create micro-climates that are good for those we cover, in fact our kindness contrasted by the wider and harsher reality may even make our testimony stand out more clearly.

So what might this therapy look like day to day…

Well our jobs can be very different and so our solutions will be too, but I suspect they all start with prayer, prayer for the well-being of those we have responsibility for. Then I suspect there will be times when we take criticism as the manager that is really due to a team member, our own mini modelling of the cross.

Good ManagerThen we should always try to see the person not just their activity. To see past the projected persona and encourage the truth of who they where made to be.

We might use our role to be developmental even in ways that can be painful in the moment for the recipient… because it is indifference that doesn’t bother, love of course cares. Jesus was often tough in his love with his disciples, but he never sought to control or exclude them for the things he had to challenge them on.

Promotion is great blessing when we get it, but we shouldn’t forget how Jesus ends this teaching.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required and to him who has been entrusted with much, of him all the more will be asked” – Luke 12:48

It’s an honour to be given a role over people, we should enjoy the privileges but not shirk the responsibility intrinsic to the favour. To be the faithful and wise manager of Jesus’ therapy. And if that is not enough, there is a blessing associated with good therapy too:

Really I’m telling you, that he will be put in charge of all his possessions” .

turkey-4
This image has nothing to do with the post, but it is what came up on the google
image search when I looked for “faithful and wise servant” !!

 

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Entrepreneurship and the Kingly Anointing

“It’s the glory of God to Conceal a Matter and the glory of Kings is to discover it” – Solomon in Proverbs 25:2

I often hear this verse used… sometimes in relation to prophets revealing God’s purposes and plans and sometimes in relations to teachers unpacking hidden truth hidden between the lines of scripture. I’m sure these uses are both legitimate, but they are both using the proverb in a metaphorical way after all the verse is about Kings, not Prophets or Priests. If we only read these words as a metaphore we miss the profound truth hidden in its plain meaning.

It is Kings that see and release the value in stuff and in people. That is how they become leaders in the first place. Where everyday folks saw a pile of rocks, a King noted that if you smashed them up and threw them in a fire you could get useful metals out of them. Kings grew wealth and pursued conquest by the “matter”, the stuff hidden by God in the raw materials of the Earth and understanding what it could be used for.

Iron Age CartoonThe Old Testament covers the ages we now refer to as the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, (hover here for more?). Kings led their people through these ages into increased prosperity by developing the qualities hidden in the minerals lying around them. Each new idea gave the King’s people a competitive advantage.

The best King’s like David saw qualities in people too, so David received a rag-rag of the discontents, the stressed and the bankrupt, 1 Samuel 22:1-2, (as did Jesus, Luke 15:2), and within a few years the Bible is calling them “mighty men” and recounting their exploits.

Solomon, gave the quote I started this post with, we are told that he understood nature and people, 1 Kings 4:30-34, he used this understanding to build a prosperous and peaceful empire and to establish God’s covenant on the Earth through the Temple.

Of course most kings are a mixed blessing bringing security for some people while exploiting and conquering others.

But now I want to come to the point of this post… Kings are one of three anointed offices we read about in Scripture, which makes the qualities of Kingship a part of the Messiah and a quality that is released by the truth of Christ in us.

Prophets are custodians and managers of God’s words, plans and direction.

Priests are custodians of God’s presence and administers of God’s love, forgiveness and fellowship.

And Kings are custodian’s of God’s resources, organisers and releasers of wealth and people.

And so in the modern world Christ’s Kingship in us produces business and social entrepreneurs.

We the Kingly anointing as much as we need the Prophetic and Priestly anointings.  And I have a sense that in the season we coming into we are going to see Christians stepping out with their own ideas and insights, building new business or leading old businesses in new ways.  They’ll lead with anointing and by their ability to see qualities in things and people where others just see a pile of rubble.

Now there is a caveat, because a meet a lot of Christian’s who say they feel called to business and who I suspect are fooling themselves because they just want to be rich… Solomon, who was very wealthy warns us though not to become obsessive about gaining wealth or working out how to get it, because when we are motivated this way wealth becomes illusive, Proverbs 22:4-5.

Solomon’s wealth had come because he desired the wisdom that saw wealth in what was already around more that the fruit that insight would bring.

History is full of people who have benefited their societies because they have done something extraordinary with their passions multiplying their clever insights through process that lots of people can get their heads around and get involved with. And that in essence is what makes a good business.

I want to encourage you to explore what you love to do and the things you love learning about and start a dialogue with Jesus about whether these motivations could be turned into an income stream and into a product or procedure that others would benefit from.

On July 5th I’m hosting a day to explore the dynamics of how we relate healthily to money and how we prosper and create the financial freedom to be what we are called to be! Use the button below for more information and to register (for free).

Eventbrite - Money & the wealth in me: Exploring how I relate, make & bless with money.

I don’t claim to be an expert but at the moment I find myself helping create mini-businesses with various people in different fields, in construction, third world trade and manufacturing, in soap making, art selling, financial services, publishing, energy saving and more. There are common themes and themes and and excited by the prospect of an explosion of kingdom businesses and employers.

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Business and the Calling of God.

“Many are called but few exhibit the quality of called-ness” – Jesus

This may not be exactly how you remember the quote, but it conveys the meaning more accurately than most word-for-word translations.

Jesus is saying that calling is not a special quality available to just a few people, it is the norm. God has a purpose which becomes a calling for every one of us, because as a Father God wants us to be the best we can be. The problem is that too many of us don’t realize we’ve have been called.

I believe that part of the reason for this is that we separate our thinking into sacred and secular … If you’re a missionary or charity worker you are probably called by God, but if you run a Costa franchise or work for the finance team of a pharmaceutical company, well that’s just where you earn the money to support those with a real calling. In this way of thinking doctors and teachers are a grey area, worthy professions so the people who do them might be called.

The trouble is this style of thinking has put the cart before the horse, before mankind needed saving, and therefore missionaries and charity workers, God had commissioned us to be fruitful and to steward the resources He had given us. The world of work was a sacred vocation,  the only thing that is purely secular is Sin!

If we change our perspective, we can see that any job or work situation has the possibility of expressing the quality of called-ness. That doesn’t mean you can be anything that you want to be, calling leads us down one path rather than another. But if we follow His leading we will find ourselves in a place where we can advance Jesus’ Kingdom. In fact the mission of God has always advanced through peoples everyday work and business.

sepphoris
The Galilean Capital of Sepphoris, 3 miles north of Nazareth, the city on a hill built by Jesus in the first three decades AD.

Jesus’ day job was as a builder, not as a carpenter as tradition has led us to believe, (note: the Greek work “Tekton” is a builder as in “Archi-tekton” which is a master-builder or “architect” in English).

Being a builder infused so much of who Jesus was and still is today, building His church. You hear it in the first accusation made against Jesus, that He would pull down and rebuild the temple in three days. You catch it in his wisdom, “don’t start building a tower before you’ve calculated the cost”. And you hear it in his prophetic teaching, “my Fathers estate has many buildings and I’m going to prepare a place for you there!”

But it is interesting to also note how other people jobs and businesses opened doors for the kingdom and provided a platform or foundation for ministry too.

Jesus ate the last supper in the upper room of an estate that also owned a working olive oil business. Gethsamane means oil-press. The early Church tell us the last supper was eaten at the home of John Mark the Gospel writer, and it tells us that he was the lad who ran away naked from the soldiers when Jesus was arrested. John Mark was no doubt sleeping out in the outbuildings of the families Olive Oil business as so many adults where in town for the passover!

John the disciple also had property in Jerusalem which tradition ties to his business activity selling the fish that had been brought down from Galilee. This base and the related commercial activity meant that John new the staff at the nearby Priest’s palatial complex and this got him access to Jesus trial in the High Priests mansion. John’s house also acted as a gathering place for Jesus’ family in the days immediately after Jesus trial and execution.

Paul the apostle used his trade as a leather worker  to fund his missionary work, (“tent maker” is a term used for more general leather working just as “saddler” is is English). But it was about more than just money, the tools he used for his work actually became a part of his missionary outreach. So people would take the aprons and sweat clothes Paul was using during the day to people who needed healing. There was no conflict of interest between Paul’s natural gifts and vocation and his missionary task.

In planting the church at Ephesus Paul used the school of Tyrannus as their public building. The school would have been a private lecture hall used for a variety of purposes, most Greek cities had these halls, often attached to Gymnasium’s. So Tyrannus’ business assets became the means by which the Ephesian church was established..

Right the way through the New Testament the kingdom grows and spread through the resources of business owners and trades people. Lydia traded in purple fabrics, Luke probably traveled as a ships doctor etc.

And so it is through history… God want’s to bless the work of our hands. We can display the quality of called-ness whatever the details of daytime employment. In fact we might not be able to show that quality in any other way.

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