Runs on the Board

athersWriting in Thursday’s Times (19th January 2017), Mike Atherton (above), their cricket correspondent and ex-England Captain wrote a piece about leadership. It’s worth a read if you can get behind their pay wall. Apparently the English Cricket Board (ECB) has enlisted the help of an ex-Army Officer now Management Consultant, Gemma Morgan to help them develop new leaders.

In doing so, they assess potential leadership candidates in four areas;

  1. their impact within a group,
  2. their ability to make things happen,
  3. their interpersonal skills and
  4. their thinking skills.

That’s not surprising. It’s what you might expect. But what’s striking in the article is her insistence on character being key. The overriding message at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst is that leadership is service. Their motto ‘serve to lead’ is everywhere. Now that’s remarkable. It’s almost the polar opposite of how things ordinarily work in the world of sport. Normally captaincy is about having ‘runs on the board’. As  Morgan, an ex-international lacrosse player, observes,

‘Coming from the sports field initially this turned leadership on its head for me, because until then I understood leadership as hero-based: am I the best player, the leading goal scorer, the go-to player that kind of thing’.

Many of us in church planting and  pastoring resonate with that kind of thinking. But our competencies have to do with preaching, evangelistic effectiveness, theological knowledge and strategic thinking and so on. But, she goes on,

‘At Sandhurst I came to understand that it was not about me but about duty and service to others. It opened my eyes. Before they teach you any technical stuff, they underpin everything with values that are uncompromising. Integrity, for example, if you breach integrity you’re gone and you won’t be invited back. Once you’ve got these anchors in place, they add on the technical bits. In sport and business it is the other way around. In the army, they will not take a risk on character’.

In recent months, the England One Day Captain Eoin Morgan decided not to tour Bangladesh citing security risks as his issue. He copped a fair amount of flak for that. This was interpreted as a leader choosing to abandon his men when faced with hardship. It looked self-interested. It may not have been if he was making that decision in such a way that it gave implicit permission for others to follow suit. Interestingly Alex Hales decided not to tour as well. When pushed for her verdict on this decision Gemma Morgan would not be drawn because she simply didn’t know the rationale and motive behind Eoin Morgan’s decision. But she did say this, ‘You have to lead by example and my experience is that people will follow if you think you have their best interests at heart’.

It turns out that leadership is not so much about having ‘runs on the board’. And England’s own history bears that out because one of the most respected and most successful Captains was a man who arguably wasn’t good enough to get in the 2nd XI. He was the man who got the best out of Bob Willis and Ian Botham in the 1981 Ashes series. His name is Mike Brierley and he’s written a book called ‘The Art of Captaincy’. It’s on my Amazon wish list!

For those of us who suffer under the delusion that we might still be the hero every church needs, Morgan did close with this encouragement,

‘There is a time for autocratic and direct leadership but to get people to follow unquestioningly you have to have invested a lot of time in the relationships. If you’re selfish you will get found out. If you get a combination of a brilliant player, a charismatic leader, and someone with the interests of others at heart? Then, great. But they don’t come along very often’.

The odds are that most ofus are not in that category. And neither are our leaders. And so character really matters. And self sacrificial service is paramount. Who’d have thought it?!

In Mark’s Gospel Chapter 10 verse 45, we read this, ‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’. That’s leadership. And it’s runs on the board. Just in a different kind of a way.

Religion is a tragic waste of time

Let me state something that I hope is becoming a deepening conviction. Religion is a monumental waste of time. But it’s actually far worse than that. It’s a futile and tragic enterprise. And yet many of us, whether Christian or not, continue to allow law keeping to shape our lives. It seems as though we can’t evaluate  how well we’re doing unless we compare ourselves to some recognisable standard.

This is a current issue for me because I’m in Romans 10 for my quiet times at the moment. In that passage, Paul describes two ways to pursue the righteousness that God requires. He does so in verses 5&6. On the one hand there’s a righteousness based on law. And secondly, there’s a righteousness based on faith. I much prefer the latter (as does Paul). But for many years I was taken up with the former. Like the Jews in the cross hairs of Paul’s well aimed observations, I too was zealous and clueless. Paul doesn’t quite say that about his cherished fellow countryman. But he comes pretty close. He writes in verse 2, ‘I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes’.

I tried to be the kind of bloke that I thought God would accept. I didn’t want to suffer his punishment in hell and, being ignorant of the gospel, assumed that by keeping his law (or at least my modified version of it) he’d find me acceptable. But try as I might, I simply couldn’t do it. And don’t think you’ll do that much better. Because no sinner can attain righteousness through the law. And that’s because it’s not the job of the law to make anyone righteous. It’s the job of the law to show us what righteousness looks like. So that we know we’re not. It’s meant to drive us to despair of ourselves so that it might also drive us to Christ. Israel made the tragic mistake of failing to see that Christ as the end or, as the new NIV puts it, the culmination of all that the law was pointing towards. The righteousness of which the law speak, is found in him. And it can be ours simply through faith in him. All we need to do is give up our pointless exercise in religious rule keeping and put our confidence instead in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

And yet, everything other than authentic biblical Christianity is achievement based. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and so on; the multiplicity of human religious enterprise says that righteousness comes only through religious rule keeping.  God requires righteousness, for sure. And he doesn’t lower the standard for acceptance. But what he requires he also provides. But not to those who work, but to those who have faith. This is the momentous news of the gospel. And anyone who doesn’t get it labours under a tragic tyranny; attempting to pursue a righteousness which is both impossible (because the law can’t give it to you) and unnecessary (because Christ can). Is that not the best news that you have ever, ever heard?

Gay marriage, why all the fuss? (III)

So now to the responses to the objections I raised a couple of posts back.

Don’t we simply paint ourselves as homophobic bigots when we speak against the Government proposal to redefine marriage?

Perhaps, but it’s not necessarily homophobic to oppose gay marriage. Obviously, people who oppose it could be. I’m not. I don’t hate people who feel same sex attraction. So let’s not use the accusation of homophobia simply as a way to shut down legitimate and temperate discussion on this issue. In opposing the redefinition of marriage, I’m not actually denying any legal rights to any gay couple. They have the same legal rights as a married couple, if they want them, through entering into a civil partnership. I disagree with the Government proposal because of my support for traditional marriage. That doesn’t make me homophobic and more than stopping breweries from calling lager bitter would make me lager-phobic.

Aren’t we being unjust when we discriminate against gay couples and deny them the same right to marriage as heterosexual couples?

First of all, it’s not necessarily unjust to discriminate. We do it all the time. Unjust discrimination is unjust. But not all discrimination is unjust. Not everyone is treated equally by the law, we make distinctions. We don’t let minors drive cars for example. So not all inequality is unjust. The question is whether the inequality is justified. Obviously some think that it’s unjust to deny gay couples the right to marriage. But the question is why we think that. Obviously, as a Christian who wants to live by the Bible, I’m persuaded that acting on the desire of same sex attraction is a decision of which God does not approve. Consistently doing so, in a habitual unrepentant manner excludes us from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6). In God’s eyes, it’s that serious. And inevitably that will inform my view of what the Government should approve. I just don’t think that they should approve something the Bible calls sin, any more than I would expect them to approve of theft, greed or drunkenness, to quote three more examples from 1 Corinthians 6. I’m a Christian and of course I’ll want my Government to approve what God approves. There’s nothing remarkable about that. But anyway, gay couples already have all the same legal rights as heterosexual couples through the civil partnership legislation. It’s just that since the dawn of time, or thereabouts, marriage has been understood to be that public, covenanted relationship between a man and a woman. The gender complementarity has been part of the essence of that relationship. That’s up for grabs now.

Aren’t we just arguing unnecessarily about the meaning of a word?

After all, no one’s saying that a heterosexual couple who get married are no longer considered married because homosexual couples can go through the same ceremony. Let’s be clear, we are arguing about the meaning of a word. But sometimes that’s worth doing because you lose something when you redefine a word. For example, if I use the word bungalow, you immediately know what I mean. It’s a one story home usually inhabited by pensioners living near the sea (ahem). There’s no such thing as a two storey bungalow. That’s a house. A house is not a bungalow. It doesn’t stop the bungalow being a bungalow if you call a house a two storey bungalow. It’s just not a bungalow. It’s a house. You can redefine it if you like but it therefore changes the meaning of the word ‘bungalow’. For donkeys’ years, marriage has universally been taking to mean an exclusive lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. Under this Government proposal, ‘marriage’ no longer means the same thing. We’d have to use the adjective heterosexual or homosexual to clarify what type of marriage it is. And describing your marriage is homosexual is like saying you live in a two storey bungalow.

There’s more to come so hold your horses on the comments. Don’t vent your spleen just yet. I may be about to tackle the very issue you raise. Keep your powder dry, just in case I don’t.

Gay marriage, why all the fuss? (II)

I posted a few opening comments to set the context for this discussion here. This is the first of two follow ups to that. Perhaps three. I’m working on another reason and trying not to be careless (and so be misunderstood).

Let me begin by saying that I think I’ve grasped one of the main underlying motivations for seeking a redefinition of marriage. And I have some sympathy with it. As things stand, gay couples do not have the same social approval for their lifestyle that marriage usually confers on heterosexual couples. Gay couples can have all the same legal rights as a married couple. But they can’t legitimately, or legally, describe themselves as a married couple. It feels like a niche arrangement for a marginalised community. And they don’t like that. And they have a point; after all, ‘just civil partnershipped’ doesn’t quite cut the mustard on the back of a VW Beetle as you drive away to honeymoon. Does it? They know that a civil partnership isn’t the same as marriage. And some would like to see that changed.

The opportunity for that appears to have opened up through Equality Legislation. As citizens, we’ve been persuaded that sexual orientation should be put in the same box as race and gender. It would be racist not to treat a black man the same way as we treat a white man, before the law. It would be sexist not to treat a woman the same way as a man, before the law. And so, it’s argued, it would be homophobic not to treat a gay couple the same way as we treat a straight couple, before the law. But those who crave gay marriage want something that the law can’t give them. They want acceptance. They want what’s been marginalised to be considered mainstream. And I understand that ambition.

But even if this legislation goes through (as I suspect it will), will they get what they want? Their understandable desire for societal acceptance as gay people is but a faint echo of a deeper craving for ultimate acceptance than runs deep in the human heart. And so a gay man, for example, may meet the man of his dreams, they may marry and they may even be welcomed by the community in which they decide to live. But will that satisfy the longing for acceptance? Perhaps a little. But not entirely. Not exhaustively  Not completely. We’ll only know true fulfilment and satisfaction in Christ. As Augustine said in his Confessions, ‘Y

  • ou have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you’. Christians ought to be distinguished for our gracious and compassionate acceptance of gay people. For sure we need to do so without condoning their behaviour, which is but one symptom of their rejection of Christ. But we also need to be distinguished for the gracious way in which we point our gay friends to the gospel because it’s there that they’ll find the ultimate acceptance that they crave.

This is not an argument for or against Gay Marriage, I know. It’s just an observation that those who want acceptance as gay people are looking in the wrong place. They may get what they want and then discover it’s not what they really want. But even so, I’m not persuaded that the desire to seek social approval for homosexual couples into mainstream society is a sufficiently good reason to undermine a centuries old institution like marriage. For that reason, I’ll respond to the objections I’ve raised in the previous post in the next one!

4 Reasons for Kids to Obey Their Parents (not that they’ll listen)

In a previous post I looked at the unmistakable, non-negotiable biblical command for kids to obey their parents.

Of course, as we all know, it’s one thing to know what to do. But usually knowing what to do provides little help in motivating us to actually doing it. If merely knowing what I’m meant to do was enough reason to motivate me then I’d have stopped eating quite so many Mr Kipling Almond Slices a long time ago. Biblical obedience is about doing the right thing for the right reasons. And God motivates us to obedience with reasons. And so Paul provides four of them for kids. Look at Ephesians 6:1&2 again,

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

So here are the four reasons;

1. Kids are meant to obey their parents ‘in the Lord’ because it’s part and parcel of being a Christian. It’s what discipleship as a kid looks like – you obey your parents. If Jesus means anything to our kids, if they love him and his ways because of what he’s done for them then they can show their loving response in this way. So kids can’t think that their being faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus if they’re not obeying their parents. But if our kids are serious about following the Lord Jesus, as many of them are, then we need to help them understand that this means doing what their parents say.

2. Kids are meant to obey their parents because it’s right. The Bible doesn’t often use this argument. But God is saying it’s self-evidently what kids ought to do. Let’s put it the other way round. If children don’t obey their parents then it’s wrong. It’s just not the way God designed the world to be. And choosing to live counter to the way the world was designed may be courageous. But mainly it’s stupid.

3. Kids are meant to obey their parents because it characterises the godly lifestyle of God’s redeemed people. Honouring your parents is one of the Ten Commandments. God gave these to His redeemed people on Mount Sinai in Exodus 20. Obedience to those commandments was never intended to be the way to get redeemed. It was too late for that. They were already redeemed. It was meant to be a loving response to God’s redemption. It was part of being God’s new holy people. And so if our kids want to respond to God’s redemption in Christ then obeying their parents is one of ten obvious ways that they can do that!

4. Kids are meant to obey their parents because it’s the way to flourish in life. Paul supported his command to children by quoting the fifth commandment from Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16. In the original Old Testament context, obedience to the fifth commandment resulted in material prosperity and long life in the Promised Land. But when Paul applied it to Christians, he generalised it. I take it therefore that it’s a general principle and not a cast iron guarantee. But, all things being equal and generally speaking, children that have been brought up being obedient to their parents, observing the God given authority over them are more likely to live long and prosper. Think about it for a moment,

  • If your pre-school and primary school aged kids are the wild unruly ones, they won’t get invited to parties, they won’t get play dates and so on – it won’t go well for them in their early years.
  • If they’re the ones who don’t do what the teacher says in their primary and secondary school aged years then their experience of the education system will be unpleasant and they won’t learn what they could – it won’t go well for them in their teenage years.

As parents, we’re tempted to do whatever makes for a quiet life. But this is more important than that. Disobedient children tend to become disobedient adolescents and then disobedient adults. If they remain unwilling to submit to any authority that God places over them, it will not go well for them. Or for us! But if we teach them this essential truth in the short run we’re doing them a massive favour in the long run.

I’m aware that I need to give the biblical rationale to my kids much more than I have. They need to understand the reasons for obeying their parents. Usually they just get the second one communicated at an excessive volume! But it’s not motivating them in ways that are healthy, or Christian. I want them to obey us because they’re persuaded by all four of these reasons. And I want their response to our authority to be fuelled by the gospel and their increasing love for Jesus. I’m not saying we’re there yet. But at least I’m clearer on where I’m heading!

Economical with the Truth?

Interesting article from the Economist here. It’s about the alleged rise of evangelicalism in the Church of England. It doesn’t really analyse the increased marginalization of ‘classical’ or ‘conservative’ evangelicals, but you wouldn’t expect them to be aware of the complexity of the situation in the Church of England. I’m not sure I am! Or anyone is. But evangelicalism has increasingly come to be understood as an umbrella term covering over all manner of, let’s say, positions.

If what Peter Brierley and his statisticians say is right, then the future of Anglicanism in this country is of declining numbers of Anglicans but an increased proportion of both clergy and laity who would describe themselves as evangelical. Whether that leads to increased influence in the denomination, brought about by sheer weight of numbers or perhaps by financial clout, remains to be seen. I’m not holding my breath. The trajectory of the Church of England is unmistakably clear. It would take a complete change of direction if evangelicalism was to be regarded as mainstream. God can do it, if He wants. And so there’s hope. But humanly speaking, the writing’s been on the wall for a while now. We press on (at the margins) in CCB. But others are more involved and will stay until they’re ejected. They wouldn’t be the first good guys to be excluded from the established church.

But despite that, you’ve got to love an article that begins with the following paragraph; not so much for the accuracy of the observation but the beauty of expression!

EVER since the 18th century, England’s established church has harboured a suspicion of religious enthusiasm. Anglicanism’s cosy ubiquity as a reassuring, if vestigial, presence in every English suburb and village is regarded as a defence against the sort of fanaticism that leads to social or ethnic conflict. But every so often in English church history, compromise and emollience have triggered a countervailing reaction: an upsurge in faith of a more passionate kind. Such a change may be under way now.

It would be sad if the following observation were true,

Many of the rising generation of keen young clerics already make it clear they wish to work in large evangelical churches, ripe for American-style mission, rather than in slums or charming villages where social views are relaxed and doctrinal purity is not prized.

I suspect the reasons aren’t relaxed social views nor absence of doctrinal purity but an unwillingness to embrace a level of sacrifice that moves us well out of our comfort zone. My friends working for churches on the estates would certainly level that accusation at people like me. And they’d have a point. Perhaps, as I’ve heard Jonathan Fletcher say, when evangelicals are willing to go to the places no one else will we’ll see a revival of true biblical faith in this country. For myself, it won’t be me reaching Brixton from Balham. But we’re going to bust a gut to do what we can to train a great bloke to make it happen. We’ll keep you posted. But it’s be fair to say that we’re not expecting much help from our Anglican Diocese.