Monthly Archives: August 2007

Keeping up with internet news and blogs!!

Do you want to be able to read only the most currently published material on your favorite news sites and blogs – all organized in one place – and be notified when new material is posted?  An RSS reader will do that for you. 

Many of the web sites, whose most current information you would like to read, actually publish their current information (posts, news etc.) through an RSS feed. What you need to gather that information is the reader – an RSS reader.

There are a number of products that will do this – here are three options. 

  1. If you use Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer 7 there is an RSS reader built right into the Favorites Center.
  2. If you use FireFox there are free add-on RSS readers you can install.  One such add-on reader can be found at https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/424.
  3. If you have a Google account, Google has a free RSS reader. Read about it at http://www.google.com/help/reader/help.html.

The Northwest website provides an RRS feed so that you can keep up with the latest postings by our people. Just open your RSS reader now and sign up.

MinistryTalk: “Leading From the Second Chair”

In their book Leading from the Second Chair Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson have provided an excellent discussion of the challenges and opportunities people in associate ministry leadership roles face on a daily basis. Their goal is to help such individuals thrive and discern good, creative ways to cope with tensions that inevitably define this role. They express their thesis in these terms:

"Being in the second chair is the ultimate leadership paradox. It is the paradox of being a leader and a subordinate, having a deep role and a wide one, and being content with the present while continuing to dream about the future." (page xiii)

Each of the three major sections in the book considers the implications of one of these paradoxes. As well, at the end of each section they also include a word to the lead pastor, intending to help such individuals understand more clearly how to help the second chair flourish in his or her role.

They forcefully address the issue of learning to work productively within the limitations of the role. For example, they stress the importance of keeping the lead pastor informed, lest a hint of insubordination emerge and disrupt the ministry of the church. The priority of the church’s ministry over and above individual wants and desires gets due attention. They also urge second chair leaders to take full advantage of the learning opportunities they have in such roles. And then, they deal frankly with the question of future ministry leadership roles. A second chair leader must learn to give 100% in the current role, even while he or she may be waiting on God’s timing for an opportunity to be a lead pastor.

Two questions were raised as I considered their ideas. First, I am not convinced that the paradoxes they proposed and described are unique to second chair leaders. It seems to me that lead pastors or ‘first chair leaders’ have to struggle equally with these three paradoxes. In some senses the role of lead pastor is more restricted than that of the second chair. Greater responsibility requires greater commitment to serving others. Perhaps that is why second chair leaders need to learn how to thrive in the midst of these paradoxes, if they are going to fill the role of lead pastor.

Second, the authors use the example of Joseph to provide biblical foundation for their advice to second chair leaders. But does Joseph really function in this capacity? He undoubtedly served as a subordinate leader in some periods of his life, particularly when he was the slave in Potiphar’s house. However, when he was the first minister of Egypt under Pharoah, he had all the authority of Pharoah and was not a second chair leader. Perhaps a more pertinent example might be someone such as Timothy or Mark in relation to Paul or Joshua in his relationship to Moses.

However, these are relatively minor issues perhaps. If you are looking for a resource that might strengthen the understanding of the dynamics involved in team ministry and provide opportunity for candid discussion about relationships and roles in such contexts, Bonem and Patterson’s book would be a provocative tool to use.

Theology and photography

It was while Karen and I were visiting the Bridal Veil waterfall outside of Hope that we discovered that we had neglected to bring our camera. For some people I know, this would have been reason to travel the 5 hours back home to get it. However, we have always been apathetic (or just pathetic) photographers and so we shrugged and continued on with the important issue of experiencing the beauty of the falls. We tend to have a skeptical attitude towards cameras. They never seem to capture the beauty and fullness of the experience. The result is only a narrow window, a moment, that was so much more at the time, but now is reduced to a flash of color. It remains a true picture, but a picture that is so much less than the reality of the experience.

This is a metaphor for theology. Theology is a human attempt to describe, systematize and analyze the vast reality of God as he has revealed himself and relates to the world. However true and accurate the description, it will always fall short of the reality, even as a photo fails to capture the fullness that exists in the drama of our lives. Theological descriptions are good, even as photos are good. But they are no substitute to living the moment and experiencing the overwhelming beauty that gives us life.

Stickies!

I might as well admit it. I hate sticky notes. Those little slips of paper with just enough glue on them to stick to your fingers really annoy me. And yet, I might as well admit it, I am addicted to lists! I live by the list and, more often than not, die by the list. I create a list for the work that I must do annually which becomes the source for the list of things that I must do quarterly … which quickly becomes the list of things I must do each week … which grows into the list of the things I must do in a day. I know that there is counseling available for people like me, but since that’s not on my list of things to do, it ain’t going to happen.

So, for what it’s worth, I’d like to share a great little resource that has helped me overcome my annoyance with the paper slips. It’s a free, and I mean free, software item created by an Englishman, Tom Revell, called Stickies. In essence, it creates electronic post-it notes on your computer. Simple and easy, with one click of the mouse, I can create a note as a reminder, or as a memo, or – according to my addiction – a list. Quick and easy, I can even synchronize the list with my pda or email it to others. As a quick way to capture thoughts before I forget them, with one click of the mouse, I can jot things down and keep going.

I know that this blog area is meant to delve into the depths of theological understanding and Biblical wisdom, but for today, I’ll make this an offering as a practical theologian. It’s coming up to Labor Day and the practical beginning of the church year. As a pastor, it’s “game on!” If I were to offer anything that might provide aid and comfort in the rush of urgent events, I would gently suggest a simple little thing like this: Stickies! Use them, before you lose your mind… www.zhornsoftware.co.uk/stickies/.

God’s Economy

Have you ever been bemused by God’s way of doing things?  I have, and in the end have stood in awe of His timing, patience, grace and goodness.

A number of years ago (in another world) I taught at a Bible college deep in the jungles of Kalimantan (formerly known as Borneo).  For several years I had a student who was a source of great consternation to me.  It seemed that no matter what subject I had him for he just could not "get it"!  His academic situation came up repeatedly in our faculty meetings but no one had the heart to say, "Sorry, he just isn’t making it – let him go!"  So from year to year we granted him a provisional pass to the next level of study and every year we wondered.  But he kept pressing on.  Everyone loved him.  His gentleness, humility and transparency captivated all who knew him.

I was responsible for student accounts at the time and one day he came to my office to ask for some money from his account.  I had just reviewed the books and his account was more than empty, so I asked him, "On what basis are you asking me this?" (literal translation).  He pulled himself up straight and declared, "On the basis of the grace of God!"  I could hardly contain myself and found some extra funds that we had for just such an occasion – grace funds!  Total dependence on the grace of God seemed to be the theme of his life.

In his fourth and final year I was assigned to be his practicum supervisor and evaluator.  He was pastoring a church in a nearby village and I went with him several Sundays to evaluate.  I had taught him homiletics but his sermons bore no resemblance to anything we had studied.  I was seriously considering recommending to the school that he was not cut out for the ministry.  However, after the services I went with him as he walked from home to home in that village, praying for people, encouraging them to be strong in their faith, counselling, advising and loving – and the people loved him in return.  The church in that village had never been so healthy and vigorous.  We graduated him that year (with no little sense of misgiving) and that was the last I saw of him for 14 years as my wife and I were denied extensions to our visas and returned to Canada that summer.  In the intervening years we have often wondered.

I had the privilege this summer of returning to Kalimantan and visiting in this same young man’s home and witnessing the amazing grace of God.  He is married with three children.  He and his wife are involved together in a marvelous cross-cultural ministry.  As we spoke I learned that he has already planted a church amongst a very difficult people group. He has turned that church over to another man to continue the pastoral work and is now in the process of building a second work which involves not just a church plant but also a Christian school as well – again, in the midst of a most difficult ethnic group. It defies human explanation.

Oh, the wonderful grace of Jesus!  God’s economy is one of utter grace.

Tuned to Hear the Master’s Voice

Have you seen March of the Penguins? It’s an amazing movie! One of the most remarkable scenes is when the Emperor penguins are all clustered together for warmth in stormy, sub-zero Antarctic weather. Many are trying to hatch their young, keeping them delicately balanced and nestled on the tops of their feet.

Without food, the nesting parents will perish, so one parent must go away a great distance to get food for itself and its partner.  When it returns to the colony, the challenge is to find its mate amongst the thousands of other penguins. 

How do they do it? It’s cold. The darkness and driving snow kills all visibility. And there is a constant shifting of penguins from the outside where it’s coldest into the center of the colony. Worst of all, the penguins all look the same!

But they still find their mates! How do they manage?

The answer, scientists say, is voice recognition. The penguin partners have tuned their hearing to recognize the distinctive and unique sound of their mate’s call. in short, they tune and they listen!

This reminds me of the challenge Samuel faced in recognizing the Lord’s voice in the sanctuary at Shilo (1 Samuel 3). Much was conspiring against Samuel recognizing the voice: the Lord’s voice was rare in those days and Samuel was deeply habituated to answer to Eli so that he at first mistook the voice.  Yet, the Lord insistently called him. Eli picked up on what was happening and instructed the young boy that when next he heard the voice, he should reply, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." (v. 9) He did and this began a remarkable prophetic ministry.

This leaves me with a number of questions: Whose voice am I listening for? Is it the preacher’s; is it the radio teacher’s; is it the Sunday School teacher’s; or is it ultimately the Lord’s voice? What is the level of my voice recognition?

 

Fundamentalist Atheists

I read a particularly intelligent response  to Richard Dawkins’ fundamentalist atheism in my morning newspaper. Margaret Somerville is becoming as a critic of Dawkins, partly because she doesn’t seem to be coming from a Christian perspective. As founding director of the Center for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University (Montreal) she brings a credible academic pedigree and a reasoned voice to the debate. While I think that an avowed Christian voice could say a little more, I think that her approach is telling.

Somerville makes a number of points, including the charge that Dawkins "confuses religion and the use of religion." Just as science can be used for good or for evil, so can religion. "Dawkins," she writes, "looks only at the evil uses of religion – never the good it effects – and only the good uses of science – never the harm it does."

"Dawkins basic presumption," she says, "is that there is no God and, therefore, that those who believe there is must prove it. The equally valid basic presumption is that there is a God and those who don’t believe that must prove it. Because neither basic presumption can be proved or disproved, both are tenable and, therefore, both must be accommodated in a secular society."

"We should stop automatically associating having liberal secular values with being open minded and having conservative religious values with being closed minded – liberal people can be very closed minded and conservative people open minded." On this point, Somerville has personal experience. She has been roundly criticized for her position on same sex marriage, suggesting that such marriage ought to be curtailed on the grounds that "compromises the right for all children to be raised by both genders and to know their biological parents".

These points have been obvious to many of us, but it is nice to read them being put by someone in her position.

Appreciating the beauty of God

At the beginning of August Karen and I visited the Bridal Veil waterfall outside of Hope. At the foot of the falls there is a fenced off area for observers with a large “CAUTION” sign warning people to keep back and enjoy the falls from a distance. The falls are beautiful – almost mesmerizing – as they continually change while remaining the same and cover the observers with a fine, fresh smelling mist. We noted and complied with the sign and the fence, but we just as quickly dismissed them from our minds as our attention was held captive by the rush of water.

This experience became a metaphor in an ongoing discussion Karen and I have concerning the Bible, the place of the local church and our experience of God’s presence through our daily lives. The Bible and the local church are like the sign and fence. The waterfall is the reality of God’s presence in our lives. We read God’s word and we connect with other believers in our spiritual journey towards conformity to Christ. But the significant issue is our connection to God is our daily lives. Knowledge and instruction, however important, are but “dealers in second hand goods” if we are not enveloped with the wonder of living in God’s presence. The signs and the fence are there in order to ensure a positive experience of the waterfall. We mustn’t get so caught up in studying the wording of the sign or considering the structure of the fence that we neglect the beauty for which they were constructed.

Something You Have GOT To See

It’s one thing to study how to put together a great powerpoint slide presentation. It’s something else to see a great presentation. I’ve discovered that I learn best by seeing the best. And now, there is a site – and community – where I can study. It’s called Slideshare: www.slideshare.net. They have great examples of all sorts of presentations from National Geographic pictures to SWOT analyses. Most are worth watching just for the images. While the presentations come from all over the world, there are quite a few from the Christian side of things, examples of work done for ministry. Some of my favorite include: Death by Powerpoint, Meet Henry, Best Wife Ever, Skills for Presenters, Dieu, and my very favorite: Best Photo Cnn 2004. It’s worth a look just for the lesson.

http://www.slideshare.net/contests/contest-details

Global Warming and the Ability to Know

I’m a global warming skeptic. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t care about the environment. As a child of God I understand my responsibility as a steward of creation and I take it seriously. It’s just that I’m not sure I can believe all of the hype surrounding climate change.

This morning, for instance, I read that the so-called NASA “hockey stick” graph that showed stable temperatures for 1,000 years followed by dramatic increases in temperature in the last half of the twentieth century was based on a faulty calculation. This graph has been used prominently by the UN and nearly every major environmental lobby group to prove that there has been dramatic climate change in recent years. (Read the report in the The National Post.)

As it turns out, it’s not true. Last week, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies corrected an error in its data based on analysis done by Canadian researcher Steve McIntyre. This correction has resulted in significant changes to the data that has supported much of the rhetoric around global warming.

The data now indicates that the hottest year since 1880 was 1934 and not 1998 (which is just second hottest) as previously reported. 1921 is the third hottest year. Four of the 10 hottest years were in the 1930s and only three in the last decade. The 15 hottest years since 1880 are spread over seven decades. Eight occurred before atmospheric carbon dioxide began its recent rise; seven occurred afterwards. This is hardly the stuff of impending disaster.

Of course none of this eliminates our need to handle God’s creation with care. Clearly, we humans can do a lot of damage to our world, and in many ways do. Further, it may be that other studies or changes in the future will modify our perspective. What it does do, however, is raise the level of skepticism about the science that is so often reported in our media.

This is a matter of postmodern epistemology. What do we know in this world and how do we know it? For secular moderns, science is the only sure footing for knowledge about life in the world. But what we are discovering is that science is incredibly complex and difficult both to understand and to communicate. The reporting of science is inevitably biased by the personal, political, and sometimes even theological perspectives of the ones reporting the ‘facts’. The truth is, the universe (and the God who created it) is much bigger than our ability to understand so that even our best scientific discoveries must be couched in the language of theory and hypothesis. We just don’t know anywhere near as much as we would like to think that we do. Sub-atomic research yields the “uncertainty principles” of quantum mechanics. Deep space research only multiplies the number of questions. Hey, we can’t even measure temperatures on our own planet correctly.

Which is why I am so deeply dependent upon God’s self-revelation. What I know about God and about his will and plan for the world he created I know because he revealed it to me through his Word. Granted, I take this by faith, but then most science is taken by faith as well – faith in the rules of logic and the laws of physics. Such things don’t always allow for certainty, given the limits and the bias’ we bring as humans.

I don’t trust everything I hear or read unless I hear it from God or read it in the Bible. Beyond that, I listen to the scientists and the secular prophets with patience, with humility, and with a healthy skepticism.

Someone asked Martin Luther what he would do if he knew for certain that Christ would return that day. “I would plant a tree,” he said, offering wisdom of both theological and environmentally proportions. I myself planted two trees on my property last week. I love to watch God make things grow, and if things do eventually get warmer, then I will appreciate the shade.

Patriarchy and Understanding the Bible

 “That’s just NOT right!” exclaimed a woman in a Bible study I was conducting. The object of her disapproval was Naomi’s instructions for Ruth to approach Boaz while he was sleeping (see Ruth 3). She was correct in that she recognized the inappropriateness of such an action within our society. She was incorrect because she failed to recognize the cultural values of the Hebrew context (particularly patriarchy) during the time of the “judges”, which validated Ruth’s approach to Boaz.

The Bible is God’s revelation of his will to humanity given within a cultural context that is very different from our situation today. Although the Bible remains God’s revelation of his will for us, it was originally written to people whose language, culture and worldview greatly contrasts with ours. Thus, the more the values, beliefs and situation of the original audience are understood by today’s reader, the better the meaning of the divine message can be comprehended. Similarly, the more we comprehend our own culture and society, the better equipped we are to understand how the biblical revelation can be expressed and applied in our context.

The implications of this reality are profound for the Bible translator and the cross-cultural worker as well as for all those who want to understand the relevance of God’s word for them. We cannot understand and appreciate the way the Bible relates to us without first recognizing that God spoke his message to people both through and because of their situation. To the degree our modern context is similar to the context of original audience, the original message will have direct relevance for us. However, differences between the ancient and modern cultures require us to adopt a two step process of interpretation.

Click here to read the rest of the article

The Marks of an Unspiritual Leader

In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.
Judges 21:44

Eli the priest of God at Shiloh was the default leader of Israel at the opening of the book of 1 Samuel.  He was elderly and his two sons, Hophni and Phinnehas, performed the regular priestly duties at the Tent of Meeting.  The second chapter of 1 Samuel records that those two sons were evil, ruthless, dissolute, immoral and godless men. How is it that they were allowed to continue to "minister before the Lord"?  The answer is found in the fact that their father was a leader with a profound lack of spiritual understanding.  He was not a spiritual man.  It seems to me that the culture of the day that we find mentioned at the end of the book of Judges has seriously affected this leader of his people and clouded his spiritual understanding.  As I read the account I find the following indicators.

1. Spiritual insensitivity

With Hannah – Eli assumed she was drunk (1:14).  Maybe it is a statement on Eli’s spiritual expectations that his natural reaction to Hannah’s weeping before the Lord in the tabernacle was to accuse her of drunkenness. Why would he jump to that conclusion unless his ability at spiritual discernment  was severely dulled.

With Samuel – it took three attempts to wake Eli to the fact that God was calling the young boy (3:1-9)

2. Spiritual inattention

With his sons – Eli disregarded their wickedness (2:22).  Despite one feeble rebuke recorded in 2:22-25 the condemnation was leveled at him by an unknown messenger from God that he was honoring his sons above God.  He had lost sight of spiritual priorities.

With God – God’s visitations to his people were rare and His word was rarely heard in those days (3:1).  It would seem that the reason for the scarcity of God’s revelation was because Eli, the priest, was not listening to God.  He was not spiritually inclined to seek for the voice of God and so it became silent.

3. Spiritual ignorance

The ‘man of God’ who came to Eli and warned him of God’s impending judgment had to remind Eli of God’s calling and anointing on the priestly lineage (2:27,28).  It is quite an indictment that the man of God levels at Eli.  The rhetorical questions, "Did I not…" imply that Eli has either forgotten or is totally ignorant of God’s dealing with Israel and particularly God’s appointment of the priestly line.

4. Spiritual imprudence

In the account of Eli’s death it is recorded that he was old and very fat (4:18).  When the man of God rebuked Eli he condemned him because he had made himself fat off the illicit spoils provided by his sons (2:29).  Gluttony blurred Eli’s capacity to think and act as a spiritual leader should.

5. Spiritual indifference

When told of God’s judgment he shrugged it off almost fatalistically (3:18).  His response, "He is the Lord, let him do what seems good to him" stands in stark contrast to David’s casting himself on God’s mercy after being rebuked by the prophet Nathan.  Once again this points to a lack of a true understanding of God’s nature and God’s dealings with people.

It seems to me that the story of Eli should make every Christian (and particularly those in leadership) take a long hard look at their own spirituality.  Are there areas of our lives where the culture of the day has dimmed our spiritual vision or dulled our sensitivity?  What do our lives demonstrate as to the quality of our spirituality.  Do we need to wake up and take stock?

Empower or Delegate?

Among the daily eJournals and newsletters that I value, the one from Easum-Bandy associates provides consistently thought-provoking reflections. The most recent included an article by Bill Tenny-Brittian under the title Developing Leaders Under Your Nose.  His led with a daring first point: Build your leadership base by at least 400%. I’m glad that I kept reading before my cynicism kicked in. His point confirmed something I’ve sensed. The language of leadership that I was familiar with 30 years ago was peppered with the term delegate. That language has changed dramatically in the last decade to the term empower. It may be one of those instinctive signals that I pick up, but as I visit churches I’ve noticed that those who are in distress seem to use the word delegate a lot, while those who are growing in their health seem to revolve around the word empower. Tenny-Brittian’s article adds a few helpful explanations that confirm my suspicions. Interested: read more at http://easumbandy.com/index.php?id=2465.

Of Collapsed Bridges and Bad Theology

Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

Yesterday, August 1st at 6:05 pm, an extended section of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota suddenly collapsed, sending dozens of vehicles, together with their drivers and passengers, plunging into the Mississippi River.  The images yesterday were of emergency personnel and citizens on the scene scrambling amid the tons of twisted metal and broken concrete to rescue survivors.

Today, the images and commentary in the news are different.  Various local, state and federal officials are appearing on camera to pledge material support and vowing to find answers to the engineering and administrative questions.  Anguished family members are being interviewed as they wait for word on loved ones who did not return home last night and have not called.  Reporters’ commentary has shifted from rescue to talk of safe recovery of bodies and there is a general dread that the victim count–remarkably low to this point–is poised to rise.

Invariably, amid the words and images of the media, a few sound bites will be given over to theological reflection. Much of the theology will be, at best, unhelpful and some of it will be downright bad.

Some pundits will challenge God’s greatness–where was He when the bridge went down, claiming the innocents? They will accuse God of either sleeping on the job or not really being in charge.  Others will challenge God’s goodness, concluding from the collapse and a superabundance of other tragedies the world over that such a malignant world must be overseen by an equally malignant God. Yet others will risk accusations of callous heartlessness by exploring the dangerous territory of particular human deserving. Far too many, sadly, will simply dismiss the God question as antiquated, naive and irrelevant.

Jesus was pressed by contemporaries in his day for a theological sound bite in a similar situation (Luke 13:1-9). His response was interesting.  He questioned neither the goodness nor the greatness of God. These were givens. While He forcefully resisted the notion of being able to assign greater or lesser guilt to individuals on the basis of what happened to them, he was equally adamant that there are no innocents on the road, notwithstanding human assessments. Everyone is a sinner, he asserted.

What was Jesus’ advice? The structure will eventually collapse for everyone and particular collapses are a warning of the breathtaking shortness of human life. Smooth crossings presently are a divine grace against our deserving.  Therefore, we should take them as our opportunity to humbly draw close to God and honour him through a generous, well-lived life.

 

The Problem with Preaching

Mike Mawhorter sent me a link to this article by David Allis which I found to be one of the more helpful of the current critiques of preaching: CLICK HERE

My response is that much of what he says is truthful. Preaching, for instance, is expensive. Preachers often can’t be trusted. At the same time, I think that what is actually being critiqued is not that we preach, but that we preach monologically in the traditional sense.

I still believe that the monologue works in most settings – especially larger ones. If it didn’t, I can’t imagine so many would keep coming to listen. At the same time, the traditional sermon does not represent all that preaching can or ought to be. What we do in care groups or in classrooms can still be considered preaching if the goal is to understand the word of God and to persuade others of its truth.

I was a little troubled by Allis’ suggestion that biblical preaching was entirely for the evangelization of the non-believer. Clearly, the New Testament encourages the instruction and training of believers as well. To try to distinguish between preaching and teaching for the purpose of dumping on the traditional sermon is not helpful, in my view. The distinction between the two is little more than a differentiation in form.