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Spiritual Leadership

J Oswald Sanders (1917-1992) was a Christian leader for seventy years.  He wrote more than forty books on the Christian life including one book I dip into often, The Incomparable Christ. He was the director of the China Inland Mission (Overseas Missionary Fellowship), where he was instrumental in beginning many new missions projects throughout East Asia.  Spiritual Leadership encourages the church to pray for and develop Spirit empowered leaders. People who are guided by and devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ. The book presents the key principles of spiritual leadership. He illustrates his points with examples from Scripture and biographies of men who have led the people of God in history. The book has 20 chapters. I have tried to summarise the main conclusions of these chapters under five key questions. Most of the ideas presented in this article are directly from the book. But I have  communicated these ideas in my own way, except where direct quotes are given. Towards the end, I offer…

The Screwtape Letters

I have a list of Christian books that people always assume I have read because I am a pastor. I have often wondered whether the underlying assumption is that I have a lot of time so I am supposed to have read them. I suspect the it is more likely that such books are regarded as "essential" so not reading them is quietly intepreted as a dereliction of personal spiritual care. 
C S Lewis Screwtape Letters is one of those books. As it turns out I believe I had read the book when I was a young. Though the circumstances escape me. It is therefore entirely possible that I have simply come to believe that I had read it. Not that it matters any more because I recently read the book, just to make sure I do not forget, and of course get to grips with it.. Hence the reason I am talking about it now.

What is the book about?
The Screwtape Letters is a novel by C. S. Lewis that was first published in 1942. Screwtape is a senior devil writing to a junior devil, his nephew, Wormwood, on how be…

The Red Sea Place

Have you come to the Red Sea place in your life,
Where, in spite of all you can do,
There is no way out, there is no way back,
There is no other way but through?
Then wait on the Lord with a trust serene
Till the night of your fear is gone;
He will send the wind, He will heap the floods,
When He says to your soul, ‘Go on.’
And His hand will lead you through–clear through–
Ere the watery walls roll down,
No foe can reach you, no wave can touch,
No mightiest sea can drown;
The tossing billows may rear their crests,
Their foam at your feet may break,
But over their bed you shall walk dry shod
In the path that your Lord will make.
In the morning watch, ‘neath the lifted cloud,
You shall see but the Lord alone,
When He leads you on from the place of the sea
To a land that you have not known;
And your fears shall pass as your foes have passed,
You shall be no more afraid;
You shall sing His praise in a better place,
A place that His hand has made.
ANNIE JOHNSON FLINT

Transgender Identity

Martin Davie has written an interesting review of a recent book on transgender issues. Towards the article he highlights five important theological truths about transgender identity:  1.  Sex means the way that human bodies are configured to play a particular role as males or females in sexual reproduction.2. Human beings are made up of bodies and souls and, for the reason just given, their sexual identity is determined by their bodies.3. Intersex conditions are a result of disorders of human sexual development, which point to the inherently dimorphic nature of human sexuality by being developments which serve no positive functional purpose.4. It is impossible for either hormones or surgery to actually change someone’s sex.5. The sex into which we have been born is to be welcomed and lived out as a good gift from God because it is an integral part of who God made us to be, and that rejecting it and adopting an alternative artificial identity instead is consequently a sinful rejection …

How To Read Books

J Oswald Sanders in his book 'Spiritual Leadership' gives five rules that he found made reading more meaningful and of more lasting benefit: 1. Read little that is to be immediately forgotten since that only helps to form the habit of forgetting. Exercise the same discrimination in choosing books as in choosing friends.
2. Read with a pencil and notebook in hand. Unless the memory is unusually vigorous and retentive, much reading will be a waste of time. Develop a system of note-taking, and it be astonishing to discover how great this practice aids the memory.
3. Have a "commonplace book", as it used to be a called, a book in which to put what is striking, interesting, suggestive and worthy of permanent record. One's own comments and criticism can be added. In this way an irreplaceable accumulation of material be preserved and index for use.  
4. Verify as far as possible historical, scientific and other data, and let no word slip past until its meaning is understood…

The Slavery of Prosperity

I am currently reading C S Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.  In one of the chapters, Lewis puts a finger on why “prosperity” is dangerous to the human soul. It makes living in this fallen world comfortable. It makes us want to live longer in this world not because we want to honour God with our lives but because we are afraid of losing what we already have. In short, properity reduces the size of God and enlarges earthly possessions. Here is how Lewis puts it in his own words: Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it”, while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.When I think of prosperity, I see it in terms of the four thin…

On the right side of history?

One of the dominant lies of the age we are living in is that “you must be on the right side of history”. The thinking is that any opposition to immorality is wrong because in the end society will come to embrace the immorality in question. We are told we must ensure we are on “the right side of history now” or risk being shamed in the future because what is “moral” is determinedly by social consensus or the will of the majority.This is the thinking behind the push for a woman’s right to kill babies (which is wrongly called the woman’s right to chose). And also western society’s embrace of homosexuality, self-identification and transgenderism. In C S Lewis' Screwtape Letters, the senior devil Screwtape reminds his junior devil Wormwood on the importance of ensuring humanity remains obsessed with this philosophy of "living on the right side of history": Now if we can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionar…

Do you have leadership potential?

A couple of years ago, Lord Harris of Peckham, one of the largest donors of the UK Conservative Party said some unkind things about the then Prime Minister, Theresa May. He said, Mrs May was a “hopeless” leader of a “weak” government. He went on to remind her that she was “no Margaret Thatcher”. Mrs May certainly did not agree with him because history tells us she went on to run the election campaign on the slogan of “strong and stable leadership”. 
I mention that that story not to imply Lord Peckham was right. Although some would argue he was vindicated in the end because Mrs May did go on lose her majority after a poor campaign. My immediate point is simply that we all have an interest and opinion about leadership regardless of our station in life because it affects all of us! So it is good for us to be aware of the criteria for effective leadership. All of us face situations where we choose leaders whether nationally or in our communities. And of course many of us serve as leaders i…

Race, Justice and the Gospel

How should churches respond biblically to the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement and the issues it has generated on race and social justice? I recently sat down”virtually” with my good friends Tom Allen and Josh Williamson to discuss these issues with Dr Tom Ascol (Founders Ministry, USA). 

This conversation is in addition to two separate lengthy Q&As we have had in our church on race and justice (July and August). The wisdom of Dr Ascol provides priceless additional resource for future reference. It has been a joy to see our ethnically diverse church think biblically and counter-cultural about these issues.

Is “online church” church?

Ronald L Giese has written an excellent lengthy piece in Themelios addressing the theology of the “online church”. Here is his conclusion:Online church is not church. This is a contradiction, not an oxymoron. Some of the things a church does can certainly be taken online. Perhaps some parts can be done better online, in certain contexts, than in person. Perhaps others are best done in a hybrid model. The reason that online church is not church is at least two-fold. 
First, all the indicators, both historical (the past and future temples), and in imagery (the ramifications of the church as temple now), are that God’s dwelling in the church is in a place. And the indicators are that this place is in one place, the local church. So yes, this third level of God’s presence could exist in thousands of places at one given time, since there are thousands of (physical) churches that meet in a given time zone on a given Sunday. But the third level of God’s presence does not occur in one “church”…

Who Shall Deliver Me?

God strengthen me to bear myself; That heaviest weight of all to bear,Inalienable weight of care.All others are outside myself;I lock my door and bar them out,The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.I lock my door upon myself,And bar them out; but who shall wallSelf from myself, most loathed of all?If I could once lay down myself,And start self-purged upon the raceThat all must run! Death runs apace.If I could set aside myself,And start with lightened heart uponThe road by all men overgone!God harden me against myself,This coward with pathetic voiceWho craves for ease, and rest, and joys:Myself, arch-traitor to myself;My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,My clog whatever road I go.Yet One there is can curb myself,Can roll the strangling load from me,Break off the yoke and set me free.CHRISTINA G ROSSETTI(Source: The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti)

The Decomposition of Christianity’s Rivals

Gene Edward Veith has written a wonderful open letter to encourage pastors, as we wage war on the front lines of today’s cultural and spiritual battles. I particularly found his summary of the morphing of competing ideas to Christianity very helpful (with a little bit of rearranging of the points on my part):  “Modern and postmodern ideas and practices that have challenged Christianity have been taken to ever greater extremes. But some have been pushed so far that they are coming apart or morphing into something new. The arts seem to be at a creative dead end, rehashing their past and running out of new ideas. Science was thought to have banished the mysteries of existence, but now it is showing the universe to be more mysterious than ever. Technology is performing wonders, but in giving us virtual reality and virtual relationships, it is undermining actual reality and actual relationships. Society has become an assemblage of isolated individuals, under a polarised and dysfunctional go…

Why Minneapolis, and not Hong Kong?

Carl Trueman  has an interesting blog post where he discusses why young people in the UK and media I general have been more exercised about the dead of George Floyd than what is going on in Hong Kong. He suggests that it rather comes down to current negative perceptions of democracy in an era of identity chaos:  “I suggest that this is the result of two complementary cultural pathologies, both with rather worrying implications. First, the issue with Hong Kong lacks cultural appeal because it involves the importance of democratic freedoms—and democracy is increasingly seen by the burn-it-to-the-ground right and left (Exhibits A and B: Trump and Sanders) as part of the problem, not the solution. Fighting for democracy in the West is simply not as trendy as it was in the days of the Cold War. Now we take democratic freedoms for granted even as we decry the components of democratic culture—e.g., freedom of speech, freedom of religion, respectful civility toward those who disagree with us—a…

Book Reading Goal : Book 15

There are some books which we need to read and have in our library even though we are not able to immediately appreciate their full value. I think Mark Vroegop’s book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy is one of those books. 
Even though the book does a good job to explain why we need to learn how to lament now, it is quite obvious that there is another layer to this book that can only be felt when we ourselves are walking in a very deeply painful situation. 
There are not many memorable lines in the book. What the book does is that it keeps reminding us to empty out our pain before God in a way that honours him. I found the early chapters particularly helpful in this regard. The middle section on lamentations was also outstanding. The final third was less so. 
I think if I have a complaint, it is that he tries to cover too many aspects of lament. I don’t think combining the personal, corporate and pastoral elements of lament did the job. A shorter book focused on only one of those areas would have…