David's Blog

Why are we here?

Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord. (J I Packer)

Passing on Faith to the Next Generation

3 Ways to Pass on Faith to the Next Generation

Tim Keller

(This article appeared on the Gospel Coalition website here 3 ways to pass on faith to the next generation  and was adapted from Tim Keller’s book Judges For You (The Good Book Company, 2013))

It is impossible to lay blame neatly when one generation fails to pass its faith on to the next one. Did the first generation fail to reach out, or did the second generation just harden their hearts? The answer is usually both. Mistakes made by one Christian generation are often magnified in the next, nominal one.

Commitment is replaced by complacency—and then by compromise.

An interesting example is early New England. Nearly all the first settlers in 1620 to 1640 were vital, biblical Christians. But by 1662, the first generation realised that many of their children and grandchildren were only nominal—believers in name only. They ended up instituting a “Halfway Covenant,” allowing people to vote who were baptised as infants but who as adults were not church members.

Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 6:20–25 are instructive here. They show us what must be done in order to pass on our faith.

1. Love God Passionately
We love God wholeheartedly, having these commandments on our hearts (v. 6). This means we are not hypocritical or inconsistent in our behaviour. The commandments are not only kept mechanically or partially; rather, God has an effect on all of us, through and through.

Young people are sensitive to any inconsistency. That is the first reason a younger generation can turn from the faith of an older one.

Young people are sensitive to any inconsistency. That is the first reason a younger generation can turn from the faith of an older one. One example is how Baby Boomer youth turned away from mainstream Christianity after seeing churches tacitly or even actively support racist policies and practices, and many established churches oppose the civil-rights movement.

2. Impress Truths Practically
We are to apply the gospel practically, not only academically or abstractly. Deuteronomy 6:7 is not promoting regular family lectures. The references to “sit . . . walk along . . . lie down and . . . get up” refer to the routines of daily life.

Instruction in God’s truth, then, is not so much a series of lectures and classes; rather, we are to “impress” truths about God by showing how he relates to daily, concrete living. This is a call to be wise and thoughtful about how the values and virtues of the gospel distinctively influence our decisions and priorities.

3. Give Testimony Personally
Verses 20–25 tell us we are to link the doctrines of the faith to God’s saving actions in our lives. We are to give personal testimony to the difference God has made to us, how he’s brought us from bondage into freedom: “We were slaves . . . but the LORD brought us out.” We are not only to speak of beliefs and behaviour, but also of our own experience of God. We must be open about our struggles to grow, and transparent about how repentance works in our lives. We are not to be overly formal and impersonal in the expressions of our faith.

We [wrongly] assume that if we instruct our children in true doctrine, shelter them from immoral behaviour, and involve them in church and religious organisations, then we have done all we can.

In summary, we must be consistent in our behaviour, wise about reality, and warmly personal in our faith. History and experience both show us that these three things are hard to carry out on a broad scale. Most Christians rely on institutions and formal instruction to “pass on the faith.” We assume that if we instruct our children in true doctrine, shelter them from immoral behaviour, and involve them in church and religious organisations, then we have done all we can. But youth are turned off not only by bad examples, but also by parents who are not savvy about the lives and world their children are living in, or who cannot be open about their own interior spiritual lives.

Seeking faith?

We've been thinking about the relationship between faith and prayer in the Home Groups this week following Jesus words to his disciples in Mark 11:22-24 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered.  "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 
I came across this helpful article on the Park Forum and have copied it below. If you wish to find our more about the Park Forum or receive their article you can do so here:The Park Forum
The article is by one of the regular contributors to Park Forum, John Tillman, and is entitled The Miracle of Faith

Mark 9.23-24
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Reflection: The Miracle of Faith
By John Tillman

At the beginning of this passage, the disciples are failing at ministry, surrounded by needs they can’t meet, and distracted by arguments with religious opponents. Then Jesus comes to them.

In many sermons I have heard pastors scold the disciples for their lack of faith, or for not praying and fasting, or for not believing, but Jesus never scolds the disciples.

Christ’s complaint about unbelief is directed to “this generation” not to the twelve. When Jesus tells the disciples that “this kind only comes out by prayer,” he isn’t necessarily impugning the disciple’s prayer life.

Jesus knew what it was like to be unable to succeed in ministry due to a community’s lack of faith. When Jesus was in his own hometown, not only did they attempt to kill him after he preached that they would have to share the benefits of God’s kingdom with outsiders, they had so little faith that Jesus couldn’t do many miracles there. The scriptures tell us that Jesus was “amazed” at their lack of faith.

Many times in his ministry, Jesus addressed spiritual healing before physical healing. Jesus’ greatest miracles were not ones of stopping storms or diseases or demons. His greatest miracles were helping the faithless to believe again. Helping the cynical to trust again. Helping the hardened to love again.

And when we, or our communities, are faithless, cynical, and hardened, Jesus comes to us as well, to change our prayer like he changed the prayer of the father in this passage.

The father’s nakedly honest prayer has long been one of my favourite verses in the Bible. It has also been one of the scriptures that I turn to as a prayer in my own life.

I long to be filled with faith, but I’m often filled with other things.
Sometimes I am filled with doubt, like John the Baptist in prison.
Sometimes I am filled with fear, like the disciples after the storm.
Sometimes I am filled with shame, like the woman caught in adultery.
Sometimes I am filled with pride, like the rich young ruler who claimed to have kept all the commandments.
Sometimes I am filled with feelings of inadequacy, like Peter, begging Jesus to keep his distance.

Despite this, Jesus comes. Bringing faith for those who ask.

Let Jesus change your prayer today. Ask him to drain you of your sin, anxiety, and inadequacy and to fill you with faith.
Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.6

Thinking about Brexit

The Jubilee Centre in Cambridge seeks to think through public issues from a biblical perspective.
They regularly publish helpful articles on a whole range of issues. Recently their Director, Jonathan Tame published his thoughts on the current situation regarding Brexit - you can read the article here: Taking sides on Brexit

A prayer to pray re-Brexit

Here is a prayer that is prayed everyday in our Parliament. It is a good prayer to pray in the light of all that is going on in the discussions, the debates and ultimately the decisions surrounding Brexit:

Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed. Amen.

Can science explain everything?

John Lennox, Professor (Emeritus) of Mathematics at Oxford recently spoke in Oxford before a large audience for about 45 minutes on the subject of Can Science explain everything.  He has recently published a book with the same title. His talk (or at least responses to questions posed by Rob Gifford, an editor with The Economist)  was followed by a further Question and Answer session with the audience and you can watch a recording of the evening here:  Can science explain everything - John Lennox

Discerning God's will in the workplace

For those trying to think through how to live out their faith in the workplace, here is a lengthy article that appeared on the Gospel Coalition website. It is written in an American business setting but the principles set out are relevant. You can find the original article here:  Discerning God's will in the workplace

How to Discern God’s Will in Your Workplace
JANUARY 16, 2019            | Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra  
In 2004, businessman Terry Looper—founder and CEO of the $6 billion Texon energy company—was partway through negotiating a sale when he realised he’d forgotten to pray about it.
“I hadn’t even tried to get neutral,” he said. “Getting neutral” is his term for pushing down any greed or selfish ambition, quieting his heart, and listening for the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Looper makes decisions by spending time in prayer and Bible reading, consulting with colleagues and family, watching for circumstances, and asking God for “peace in my gut.” (His book detailing the process, Sacred Pace: Four Steps to Hearing God and Aligning Yourself With His Will, releases next month.)
He’d forgotten the last part about peace.
“After all those months—I wasn’t supposed to sell,” he remembers. “I couldn’t believe I’d been negotiating for a year to sell this division, and I wasn’t even supposed to sell.”
At the risk of angering his board and his potential buyer, Looper pulled out.
Following how he feels the Holy Spirit leading isn’t unusual for him. When he started his company in 1989, he felt convicted to limit himself to 40-hour weeks and no sales goals.
“I don’t ever recommend entrepreneurs starting a company or a ministry on 40 hours a week,” he said. “But I do recommend anything the Lord convicts them to do.”
His approach is unconventional, but not unusual for Christian businesspeople.
“I do look for that peace for big changes in direction,” said Fred Heldenfels, president and CEO of Heldenfels Enterprises. (The company manufactures and installs concrete structures.) “On the other hand, if we all acted like Gideon every day and asked for a sign on the fleece, you’d be testing God, and you wouldn’t get anything done.”
Christians in business—especially those whose choices affect employees and company direction—often wrestle with how to follow God in their decisions.

TGC (The Gospel Coalition) talked to five of them about the best practices they’ve developed to discern God’s will in situations that aren’t explicitly addressed by Scripture.

1. Realize God Cares About Work
Eric Stumberg grew up in a family of Christian entrepreneurs, where the rules for being a believing businessperson included: Don’t work in an immoral industry. Don’t do anything illegal. Work hard. Talk to people about Jesus. And give money to the church, so pastors and missionaries can do the real work of God.
It wasn’t until a retreat in 2013 that he realized that “Jesus would call people to the marketplace as businesspeople,” he said. “The Lord gives us different assignments in the way he’s made us.”
The realization changed his life and his business.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that is awesome news! I have to dig more into this,’” he said. He told his friends, started a book study, and talked his church into bringing in speakers on faith and work.
Okay, so what’s next? he thought. A decade earlier, he’d started Tengo Internet, a company that provides WiFi access for outdoor spaces such as campgrounds and state parks.
He started paying his employees full benefits, telling Made to Flourish that “compensation is also a theological issue. . . . I didn’t want people to be unable to get medical care.” He did a market analysis to find out living wages and bumped up his base pay. And when he moved into a new space, he designed extra offices to be leased to someone else—currently an Anglican church planter and a nonprofit that fights sex trafficking—at below-market rates.
There’s no decision—whether about health care or customer service or office space design—that doesn’t have a theological basis and implication, he said. And that includes who to hire.

2. Hire (and Fire) with an Eye Toward Calling
“When I was 16 years old, someone gave me the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill,” JP Morgan Securities senior vice president Jeff Durkee said. “I wish they would’ve given me a Bible.”
Hill wrote that “wise people make decisions quickly, and change them very slowly, if at all,” Durkee said. The message was reinforced by a manager who told Durkee “if you can’t tell within 15 minutes if a guy is a jerk or not, you shouldn’t be in management.”
“I carried that model for decades,” Durkee said. “My early hiring was not good.”
Thirty years later, while reading Proverbs, he learned that gentle words and many counsellors are a better way to go. Now he interviews potential employees multiple times, spending a lot more time getting to know and assess them.
LifeWay president and CEO Thom Rainer checks for three things—character, competency, and chemistry.
“I haven’t always gotten it right,” he told TGC. His weak spot is competency—if he likes a person’s character and personality, he can sometime hire without making sure the person can do the work.
“Some of the most difficult conversations are where people I have a good relationship with didn’t make it, because they weren’t the right fit at the right time,” he said.
Stumberg tries to “think about if they can do the work, and if they should do the work.”
That distinction can also be called “discerning your calling.”
“It’s kind of math,” he said. “If God calls everybody, and I am part of everybody, then God calls me. . . . When you hire somebody, that’s a factor—are they called to be here or not for a season of life?”
When you hire somebody, that’s a factor—are they called to be here or not for a season of life?
To figure that out, Tengo Internet assesses potential hires for competency and personal compatibility.
“And then we pray,” Stumberg said. Sometimes, someone in leadership will feel a “check”—what they call an instinct or gut reaction—that something is wrong with a potential hire. Once in a while, that’s enough to refrain from hiring somebody—say, if they’re a family member of a current employee, and the relationship between them is difficult.
But since Stumberg hires veterans freshly out of the military, people with difficult family situations, and people with a lot of student or credit card debt, that uneasy feeling is often “less of a deal breaker and more of a red flag,” he said. “We sense something is off in our gut, so we pray about it and think about it.”
Once hired, Stumberg’s employees “probably get more chances than they normally would because . . . there’s a different level of ownership of leadership around the sins of people,” he said. He aims to disciple and shepherd them in their work, and that carries a different burden than someone looking for competencies right off the bat.
He’s careful with his hires, because “there is no neutrality in the gospel,” he said. “You’re either in the kingdom of heaven or of Satan. You can’t make a decision that doesn’t have an implication” for kingdom work.
Making those decisions is a lot easier when your fellow leaders understand gospel motivations.

3. Seek Unity Among Leadership
“Once, I was trying to sell a division, but my biggest customer said they didn’t want me to sell to their biggest competitor,” who wanted to buy it, Looper said. “They had been a gracious customer of mine, but they were also 40 percent of the business,” so removing their part from the sale wasn’t going to make the buyer happy.
He prayed about it, and felt God was leading him to honour the customer’s wishes.
“The investment banker, management team, and board said I was crazy,” he said. But Looper owns the majority of his company, so he has the latitude to make counterintuitive decisions. (This one worked out. He carved off and kept his best customer’s part, which then grew on its own.)
When a leader in a Christian company wants to follow God into those sometimes foolish-looking decisions, it helps to have everybody on board.
At Tengo Internet, all three members of the leadership team are Christians. “Sometimes when we’re wondering which product to offer or direction to go, we pray,” Stumberg said. “Sometimes we feel peace or confirmation. If someone says, ‘I’m not for that,’ then it will not win. We have unity before we charge forward.”
You can’t make a decision that doesn’t have an implication for kingdom work.
He links that pursuit of unity back to Psalm 133:1: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”
At Suntech Building Systems, the leadership team doesn’t usually pray together. But executive vice president and COO Brad Larson does pray about decisions privately.
“I would also ask myself, Is there any fear of missing out involved? Is there any unhealthy ambition? Are we growing for growth’s sake?” he said. “We’ve done that before, and it’s horrible.”
His leadership team is also made up of Christians. “To be equally yoked is really important,” he said.
Stumberg uses the same language. When a friend asked his advice on whether it would be a good idea to buy into a business, Stumberg asked him whether he’d want to be yoked to the current owner. (He didn’t.)
“Why spend energy to yoke yourself to someone you don’t want to be yoked to?” Stumberg said. “We don’t need to put a ring on it. Let’s just keep dating”—in this case, remaining employer and employee without binding together as co-owners.
Being equally yoked doesn’t mean you always agree, Heldenfels said. “But knowing that most of my leadership team members have been believers is important to me, and gives me a certain confidence that at least the values and priorities are shared.”
That’s especially helpful if the company looks at power and money in a countercultural way.

4. Hold Power and Money Loosely
As Looper found out, sometimes following God will cost you a business deal. And as Stumberg discovered, sometimes it’ll cost you in salaries and benefits.
“One of our core values is to do the right thing no matter what it costs,” Larson said. He’s in construction business, where customers, general contractors, and subcontractors all argue over who covers unexpected costs. For Larson, following God might mean paying for someone else’s mistakes, not filing a lawsuit when he has legal grounds to do so, or fessing up to a mistake even if it might lose him a customer.
Or it might mean sacrificing to give other people margin—such as pricing services lower than the maximum market rate or not asking employees to “give 110 percent” and be constantly available, Stumberg said. “That’s not caring for them. If you’re taking more than is in them, that’s not sustainable. That’s exploitative.”
It can be expensive to follow God. But it can also be profitable. Looper has “never been disappointed” when following Scripture and prayer to his decisions. And Heldenfels—who is facing rising construction costs due to administrative tariffs on steel—isn’t worried.
“God has worked out situations like this before,” he said. “I can see with hindsight God’s hand on us, and his providence with giving us just the right project at the right time.”

5. Rely on Daily Prayer and Bible Reading
“God sees the future, and I don’t,” Looper reasons. “He knows what’s best, and I just think I do. He loves the people around me more than I ever could.”
Discovering God’s character and will through Bible reading and prayer, then, is crucial.
“I virtually do not leave the house until I’ve prayed, meditated, and read Scripture,” said Durkee, who also has two friends who pray for him. “I put that armour on virtually every single day.”
Reading the Bible doesn’t mean you’ll find a verse to back up your latest business plan, Stumberg said. “But if you’re always in Scripture, that’s always forming you into the mind of Christ, so you can say, ‘This sounds right and true.’”
Even then, not every decision is the right one, Heldenfels said. “There are a lot of decisions made. Sometimes my instinct is to do something counterintuitive, and it doesn’t always work out. Certainly, my life would be a lot less stressful if I batted 1,000 percent, but I don’t.”
Larson doesn’t either. “I don’t ever assume that I am sanctified enough to make the right call,” he said. “My default mode is selfish and sinful, so I’m going to make decisions that benefit me. I want to be so immersed in God’s Word and in good teaching and counsel that I protect the people in my care from myself.”
Ultimately, the most important leadership skills aren’t about tactics, but about the leader’s heart, Larson said. “Whether a pastor or a CEO, the most important thing we can do for our leadership ability is to shepherd our heart in the gospel and be washed in grace.”

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer for The Gospel Coalition. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

Encouragement in our failures

At the end of one year and the beginning of a New one, here is some real encouragement for those who looking back are most keenly aware of their failures. It is encouragement we all need for we all fail. It comes from a post by John Tillman on 'The Park Forum' which you can find here:  Recalling the Failures  but which I have copied below. 

John 21.17-19
He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep….Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Reflection: Recalling the Failures
By John Tillman
There are many meanings of the word recall.
Industries recall products that are flawed, defective, or dangerous. Employees and representatives can be recalled from their positions when they have an embarrassing failure.
At this reflective time of year we, individually and collectively, recall both good memories and bad. We tend to focus on the bad.
Christ sees more failure in us than even we know, yet he re-calls us—he calls us to himself again, and again, and again. Christ re-calls the failures.
It is not just Peter who is reinstated in the last chapter of John’s gospel and our last reading of this year. Other disciples who failed famously are there—Thomas who doubted, Nathanael the cynical elitist, the power hungry sons of Zebedee. These confused and doubtful disciples are going back to the familiar when they are met by a familiar face on the shore.
Once in a parable, Jesus said, “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead,” and he meant it. One thing that rings so true about the gospel accounts is that the disciples are slow to believe and understand what has happened, even after seeing Jesus alive.
The resurrected Jesus is patient with them, staying around, appearing to the disciples over and over. He slowly and lovingly works to overcome their doubts and fears and reissue his call on their lives. And he is lovingly patient with us as well.
Christ’s message of reinstatement is for all of us. He doesn’t see our failures as the world sees them.
The world calls us a bad debt. Jesus redemptively reinvests in us.
The world sees us as the sum of our shortcomings. Jesus adds himself to our equation and calls us to our eternal future.
The world wants to put us back in our place after failure. Jesus comes to us with a second (third, fourth, fifth…) calling.
The world wants us to compare our calling to others. Jesus rejects comparisons and personally invites us to a unique path.
The failures of the past year, or any year, are not our end, but our beginning. Jesus brings hope to our aftermath. Hope amidst our confusion. Jesus speaks calm and welcoming words to the anger prone. He feeds the weary and hungry. He comforts the hurting and troubled. He washes away the doubts of the disbelieving.
Jesus has a following—a following of failures. Join us, won’t you?
*When looking back at your year, do so with insight into your failures from the Holy Spirit, but also with his redemptive grace and love. The Prayer of Examen is a wonderful tool of reflective prayer. We recommend it daily or weekly. But the practice can be adapted to review this year in the light of God’s grace. For more information about the prayer, follow this link. Take your time in an examen prayer, especially when reviewing a long period. Set aside time this evening or tomorrow to spend in this practice.
Prayer: The GreetingHappy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there! They will be satisfied by the beauty of your house, by the holiness of your temple. — Psalm 65:4

Why invest in church planting?

For anyone wondering why as a church we might want to be involved in church planting, here's an article that appeared recently on the Gospel Coalition website by Ross Lester who is a pastor in the USA and also part of the leadership of Acts 29 which is a global family of church-planting churches spread across the world including the UK.

You can find the article by clicking here Why invest in church planting

Remember the lonely

From CARE Prayer Diary:

Lord, please inspire churches in every community to reach out to the 1.2 million lonely older people in the UK, to befriend and support them and to share the truth of the gospel with them. Amen

Half a million older people go at least 5 days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone. This can be as bad for someone’s health as 15 cigarettes a day, worse than obesity and could increase risk of death by 29%. The Office of National Statistics found almost a tenth of people aged 16 to 24 – a figure three times higher than for those 65 and over (the highest proportion of any age group), were ‘always or often’ lonely.

Psalm 68.5-6 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners in singing...

  • Gatherings

Church Diary