— Tim Chester, “Galatians: Rediscovering Joy”
This post by Alex Drew was originally published at Seventy Two
Thanksgiving and Prayer
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Effective love is rarely efficient. People take time. If we love others, how can we not be busy and burdened at least some of the time?
— Kevin DeYoung, “Crazy Busy”
Go back to the school in which you will make progress in being a Christian. Study your lessons, settle the issue of ambition, make Christ your preoccupation-and you will learn to enjoy the privileges of being truly content.
— Sinclair Ferguson, “In Christ Alone”
Sue W writes to encourage you to get an important date in your diary – and it’s an opportunity that may not come again! The morning of June 30 sees two significant linked events.
The National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast has become a fixture in Parliament’s timetable, but until now numbers have always been limited. However, because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year the event will be held online – and everyone’s welcome to attend. The Breakfast will be livestreamed on Tuesday, 30 June, from 8.30–9 am. It will be hosted by Marsha de Cordova MP and the main speaker will be the Bishop of Kensington, Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, whose theme will be ‘Hope and peace in a time of fear and suffering’.
It’s free to register, and you’ll have the chance to hear not only from Bishop Tomlin but from leading parliamentarians as well. You’ll also be taking part in prayer for our nation’s leaders at the most critical time in our history since the Second World War. So please visit EventBrite to register for the event, and share this news around as widely as possible.
It would be particularly good if you could encourage your local Member of Parliament to attend. For Priory Street congregations, that’s Michelle Donelon and for Church on the Green that’s James Gray. Even if they aren’t churchgoers, it’s good for them to know that Christians are supporting them.
After the Prayer Breakfast, Bible Society – the principal sponsor of the event – will be hosting a seminar for church leaders and Bible communicators. Entitled, ‘Mission during lockdown and beyond’, it will last from 10 am to 11.15. It’s designed for church leaders and Bible communicators who want to know more about the implications of the coronavirus crisis for the Church and the world.
Contributors from within and outside Bible Society will talk about how churches have responded to lockdown, how the virus will change the church, and what resources we can offer to support you. You’ll be able to register for the seminar when you book your (free) ticket for the Prayer Breakfast (click on ‘Church leader’ or ‘Member of the public’ when you’re asked for your role, and there’s a drop-down menu).
Bible Society’s Deputy Chief Executive Paul Woolley said: ‘This is a great opportunity for Christians to pray with and for our nation and political leaders at a tremendously challenging time. We’re all deeply conscious of the burdens carried by parliamentarians at this time, and the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast provides a great chance to come together and stand in solidarity with them. The event is a good opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities facing the UK today, listen to parliamentarians and church leaders, and worship together.
‘Bible Society’s webinar after the Breakfast will offer some great insights into the way the church has responded to lockdown and how the experience will change our approach to mission. We’ll hear from leaders of organisations and church networks, consider resources that can help us, and pray, and I’d really encourage church leaders and Bible communicators to attend.’
At the crucial time in the life of the world, we want to pray for our political leaders, and to resource and inform our church leaders. We hope you can join us on 30 June.
This post by Rick Lewis was originally published at Seventy Two
Effective leadership is always shaped by context. One of the features of our present Covid-19 context is the presence of a raised degree of anxiety in society in general and in Christian communities. By considering the impacts of anxiety on human behaviour, we can identify particular leadership initiatives called for by the current situation. In the first two blogs in this series I listed three of these initiatives:
- Remain calm: prayerfully lean into God to receive his peace
- Communicate: frequently, accessibly, consistently and interactively
- Engage emotionally: acknowledge feelings before moving to facts and decisions
Now I want to turn to aspects of leadership that relate to vision and strategy. Anxiety causes our field of vision to contract. Pressure and stress cause us to close up in various ways, becoming absorbed by short-term, inward-looking technical activity. We tend to pay greater attention to:
- Immediate circumstances rather than the long-term outlook
- Inward concerns closer to home rather than an outward, other-centred focus
- Presenting issues rather than quiet, underlying realities
In anxious times, an effective leader will push back against these tendencies with three strategic emphases.
- Positive Future Outlook
In many parts of the world the spread of Covid-19 has become overwhelming. Every news item is somehow related to the virus. It threatens to completely fill our field of vision so that everything else is blocked out. Future thinking drops off the radar; all there is, is now and it’s crushing. If there is any thought of the future it is tinged with a fearful expectation of doom and gloom. Anxious people either go inside their shell or start to engage in frantic, short-term activity to secure a quick fix.
It’s instructive to consider how Jesus responded to the intense pressure and stress of his imminent crucifixion. While the disciples show signs of anxiety, Jesus remains calm, communicates extensively over the Passover meal, engages emotionally and takes a long-term view. He tells the disciples that he is laying his life down and will take it up again. He flags that he expects to eat the Passover with them once again when it finds its fulfilment in the kingdom of God. For the joy set before him he endured the cross. Jesus pushes out the time horizon to see beyond the present crisis and thereby stays strong in hope. With good leadership, uncertainty can be fertile ground for hope.
This is not an exercise in wishful thinking or jollying people along without any foundation in the truth. When we say, ‘It’s Friday; but Sunday’s coming!’ we are appealing to the promises of God, rooted in the scripture, which are true. We can lead with a positive future outlook because God can be trusted. We don’t know what the future holds but we know who holds the future. With that reassurance we can turn back to the current circumstances, not overwhelmed by them but curious to discover the possibilities they might offer for a new imagination. So, we have not been able to gather. But what are we discovering about fresh ways of being a community of faith? Many people have lost their lives and livelihoods. But see the huge upswing of interest in spiritual and eternal matters?
Lead in such a way that pushes out the time horizon to include an expectation of the coming of the kingdom of God, just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.
- Outward Missional Focus
When people become anxious under stressful pressure they tend to close up by attending primarily to the things that concern themselves and those closest to them. We saw this demonstrated clearly in the panic buying that broke out in the early phase of the Covid-19 crisis. Although that particular behaviour has passed the tendency persists to prioritise personal interests over the interests of others. One person thinks everyone else should observe travel restrictions but he and his own family are exceptions. Another person is determined that her special family gathering will still go ahead – no-one needs to know. Churches become absorbed in questions of survival rather than energised by opportunities to express the love of God to those least equipped to handle this crisis.
Once again, Jesus gives us a great example here. Under the pressure of the looming cross, he notices the needs of others. He sees the disciples’ feet need washing, and does it. He speaks compassionately to the thief dying next to him. He sees his mother at the foot of his cross and cares for her, entrusting her to his best friend, John. He commits his own welfare into the hands of his Father in heaven and pours himself out for the sake of others.
The kind of Christian leadership needed in anxious times is that which draws the attention of God’s people away from their own concerns towards God’s concerns; His mission, his priorities. Too often the church has acted like a club that looks after its own interests. We must remind people that if the church is a club, it is a club that exists expressly for the benefit of those who are not yet members. Especially in a time of crisis, when people are liable to become anxious, we must expand the range of vision to see that, indeed, ‘the fields are ripe for harvest’.
- Integrated Faith Perspective
Leaders of Christian communities have been adapting to the Covid-19 restrictions in a multitude of ways – learning how to ‘do church’ online, getting up to speed with hosting Zoom meetings, dealing with financial challenges, becoming adept at interpreting health advice and so on. There are so many instances in which the usual ways of doing things don’t work in the current environment and we’ve had to swiftly manage all that and try to keep everyone on board at the same time. Each of these adaptations has been necessary but, in a sense, they have just been scratching the surface. Dealing with urgent presenting issues could simply be an exercise in management. However, we are called to be more than managers; we are called to be leaders. The difference is dealing with things at depth, beyond how things appear on the surface.
The apostle Paul reminds us of this in his exercise of true spiritual leadership in Ephesians 6. He calls attention to the fact that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. There is more going on than appears to the eye; things that are apparent on the surface are deeply connected to the unseen spiritual realities. Our task as spiritual leaders is to bring a faith perspective to every aspect of what we do in Christian community. It’s vital that we do this not just as a superficial overlay, applying religious language to everyday practices, but in a fully integrated way that addresses how God is involved in the new ways we are finding to operate.
As my friend Nigel Coles says, “To adopt new practices, in order to adapt to a new normal, without the perspective of faith or being rooted in our life with Jesus, will simply accentuate a false sacred/secular divide. We must adapt so our practices, responses and attitudes are aligned with the character and person of Jesus Christ, so as to align ourselves with God’s purposes and the life of His spirit, expressed through our corporate life.”
I hope these six, simple leadership initiatives will prove helpful as you navigate the unsettled waters of these anxious times.
The powers of the Eternal are not bound between the covers of His Book.
— Amy Carmichael, “Gold by Moonlight”
Eddie reflects on Philippians 3:8. Why is knowing Christ worth more than anything else?
This post by Peter Morden was originally published at Seventy Two
The image of Donald Trump posing with a Bible outside a church building in Washington DC has seared itself into people’s consciousness. It’s been everywhere on news media and on social media and it’s been much discussed. To make the photo-op possible, crowds protesting peacefully about the murder of George Floyd and the racism which blights our societies were tear-gassed and forcibly removed from the US President’s path. I believe most Christians were outraged; I certainly hope they were. I don’t normally comment on political events in this way, but Donald Trump’s actions made me deeply angry, I believe rightly so. As the Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, has said: ‘[Mr Trump] would be better off sitting down at a round table and engaging with the structural racism that has over the years continued to contribute to a people being so disenfranchised.’ The President was wrong, both in what he did and in what he has failed to do. His behaviour needs to be called out.
A few days after the incident took place I was writing material for some new podcast episodes, working through the book of James. One of the episodes was to be on these words from James 1:22-25:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
It would have been easy reading these verses to focus again on the unacceptable behaviour of the American President. Here is further vindication for how I felt. That would have been legitimate, but this time my thoughts went in a different direction. What about me? I may not pose with a Bible, but there have certainly been times when I’ve opened it and not done ‘what it says’. Actually, many times. I thank God for his grace upon which I depend. Yet I know I should be further forward in the life of holiness, further forward in love, further forward in my commitment to community, further forward in my commitment to be consistently anti-racist, in living for the God who says there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek…for all are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3.28). In other words, I should be further forward in doing what the Bible says.
And what about you? What about all of us who desire to live as faithful disciples of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit? To develop James’ illustration of the mirror, when we look at the photo of Donald Trump holding a Bible aloft, using it to forward his own agenda, what do we see? If we are honest, do we see an image of how we can sometimes be, reflected back at us? Holding the Bible, professing to believe in the authority of the Bible, but not living out its life giving, life sharing message day to day? These are uncomfortable questions, but questions we need to ask.
This is not to make us feel guilty, but it is to call us to repentance and radical change. Each day Jesus forgives his failing and fallen followers, picks us up, dusts us down and sets us on the road of discipleship once again. Such is his grace. What’s more he is present with us by the power of the Spirit so that real change is possible. So, as we look into the mirror of God’s word what do we see? This is a vital question. But for James it’s not the most important one. The question he would want to leave us with is not ‘What do we see?’ but rather ‘What will we do?’
Once we begin doing good in order to be noticed, we’re letting other people’s opinions define us.
— John Hindley, “Serving without Sinking”