Thursday, March 25, 2010


Whenever I go to the dentist I think about sin.

This is because tooth decay is so similar to sin decay. Little openings which grow worse when simple disciplines are overlooked. [Or, when we allow the wrong things to fill our mouths]. Sow an attitude and you reap a habit, a character, and then a life. The spiritual life goes better when we give attention to small details.

I was at the dentist yesterday. So I've been thinking a lot about sin in the last 24 hours. I won't bore you with my file of awful dentist experiences! But this time he looked into my hole-y mouth (I have a few gaps now) and gently chided me about how if I didn't wait so long to come in and I wouldn't have so many situations that are unsalvageable.


Now there is a word to get stuck in my gullet (just beyond my final tooth).


Maybe this is where tooth decay is so different from sin decay? Because there is no sin situation that is unsalvageable. There is no sin situation beyond the touch of God's restoring grace expressed to us in Christ's redeeming death.

I might stand at the sink and brush vigorously hoping that such brushing will salvage a bad situation. But it won't. It never will. But I can kneel at my chair and confess quietly knowing that such confession will salvage a bad situation. It will. It always will.

nice chatting


Saturday, March 13, 2010

concentric circles

One of the most common things I find myself saying to younger people is the importance of building a network of friendships where their various friends can be located in various concentric circles.

In the core circle are those friends with whom we are close. In the outer circle are those friends who are a bit more than acquaintances with whom we are not that close. Then there are various circles in between. For healthy relational living there need to be people in each concentric circle - and strategies need to be developed to enable this to happen.

It is such a helpful picture to draw on the back of an envelope...

However the mistake that is so often made is that some circles remain empty. For example, sometimes the core receives all the attention as friendship becomes dependent, even co-dependent, on just a few people where the honest and the intimate are freely shared as life is absorbed with them. On other occasions - oh, so sad - it seems that the only place where people are found are in the outer circle as a searing loneliness takes over, and social skills remain limited.

Two implications of this:

(a) Local church communities need to audit what they do and how they do it in order to ensure that it is readily possible for a given person to develop friends in the inner and the outer concentric circle. Audit the events. Audit what you know of the life of each person. Is there a balance through the circles?

(b) This is another image that can be placed in a divine frame. I love my 'divine frame'! It is such a useful picture... Let God take control of friendships. Let him enclose every relationship. Let his frame be of such a colour that it draws out such colours in each friendship in each circle.

nice chatting


Friday, March 12, 2010

leadership imperatives (part two)

... continued ...

In sorting through some boxes from my previous life (finally!) I came across some scruffy notes containing some reflections on leadership. With it coming up to the one year anniversary of moving on from a senior leadership role as Principal of Carey Baptist College, I thought to myself ... why not?

Drawing on all that I have learned and loved and lost and laboured with in the leadership life - and in no particular order - here would be the rest of the imperatives that come to mind:

11. GRATITUDE: say it
It is the first principle of leadership to say 'thank-you' - as often, as authentically, and as creatively as possible.

12. TEAM: build it
Acknowledging God as the Project Manager and everyone else as sub-contractors is where it starts - and thinking deeply about the Trinity is where it continues.

13. VALUES: live them
They are called 'core' for a reason...

14. CALLING: do it
It is an act of obedience before it is a recognition of gifting - in fact, the gifting, or grace-ing, enables the obedience.

15. PEOPLE: believe in them
It is about seeing all that a person could become at 50, at 60, at 80 - and then starting to make plans with them now as if all of it will come to pass.

16. AMBITION: delegate it
Give this one to God to handle on your behalf.

17. CHARACTER: deepen it
Make space for the Spirit to let this happen without watching it happen.

18. MARKETING: grapevine it
Choose to get all the basic elements of a functioning community as right as possible - and then entrust yourself to the grapevine under God's good hand.

19. METAPHORS: model them
Sure, other imagery may be added, but we will never move beyond biblical imagery like servant, shepherd, sage, seer, steward - and parent.

20. OBSTACLES: climb them
The best way to climb a mountain is to keep walking towards it one step at a time - don't stop, don't run ... and don't panic.

The imperatives I found most satisfying (under God's gracious hand)? #2, #12 and #15

I loved creating processes which drew vision out of others and then giving my best energies into help making it happen. I cannot think of any one of the great ideas that surfaced in those years which originated with me. Such was the quality of the team that the college functioned so well during any of my extended absences. I will always love watching people grow, unfurling like a koru to an extent that they never knew was possible.

The imperatives I found most challenging (still under God's gracious hand)? #3, #11 and #7

Dealing with peoples' out-of-date perceptions of Carey was the most persistently challenging issue. And even among those whom I led the gap between what I intended and what they perceived could be alarming - and sometimes it wasn't my fault. While I loved being oriented towards others and saying 'thank-you' often and well, like many senior leaders, I was surprised at how much thanklessness and isolation surrounded the role of a leader. In those middle years this broke me as I discovered I was not emotionally suited for this level of leadership. But by God's grace he enabled me to fulfill that calling until he lifted it from me...

Maybe this will help give you some perception into your leadership!

nice chatting


leadership imperatives (part one)

In sorting through some boxes from my previous life (finally!) I came across some scruffy notes containing some reflections on leadership. With it coming up to the one year anniversary of moving on from a senior leadership role as Principal of Carey Baptist College, I thought to myself ... why not?

Drawing on all that I have learned and loved and laboured with in the leadership life - and in no particular order - here would be twenty imperatives that come to mind:

1. TRUST: invest it
It operates like a bank account, needing plenty of early and slow deposits before the troubled season of withdrawals comes.

2. VISION: facilitate it
It is less about discovering and directing it myself and more about drawing it out from others and then discerning together which way to go.

3. PERCEPTIONS: accept them
They are often so wrong, but always so real and therefore needing to be treated as right.

4. POWER: share it
The goal is to lead without displays of power largely because responsibilities, and not just tasks, are delegated fully.

5. INFORMATION: forward it
If it is not really confidential, pass it on as early and as fully and as widely as possible. Withholding information is one of the great abuses of power.

6. GOD: submit to him
It is worryingly common for division within a community to be an extrapolation of a leader's own lack of submission to God.

7. EMOTION: replenish it
It is not so much a physical or mental or even spiritual struggle - as it is an emotional one.

8. PRONOUN: delete it
With every public communication, written or oral, give it one final edit to remove the "me/myself/I"s and replace them with the "we/us"es.

9. SELF: know it
It is not narcissistic self-absorption to recognise your own rhythms, wiring, personality, weaknesses - and then have the grace of the One with whom you do not need to be defensive come and touch, and transform, it all.

10. LEADERSHIP: demystify it
'Every Christian is called to be a follower of Jesus and a leader of others'.

... to be continued ...

nice chatting


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

the undefended leader continues

Regular readers of this blog might remember my enthusiasm for the books by Simon Walker known as "the undefended leader" trilogy. I have posted lengthy blogs on each of the three books here, here, and here.

This morning I received an email from Simon Walker. Here are some extracts:

"Over the past six months I have written the draft of my new book, The Undefended Life. It's a substantial text addressing what an undefended life actually looks like ... it is the most radical, challenging piece of writing I have ever produced.

I am in conversation with a conventional publisher about production of a print version of the book to come out in early 2011. But the publishing world is changing rapidly; authors also need to take different routes to reach their audiences. I've decided therefore, that I am going to publish most of the full text of the book on this blog. The plan is to release a chapter every week, so that the book in total will be revealed over 17 consecutive weeks.

Obviously, the blog is freely available to anyone - so effectively I am giving my book away. Why have I decided to do this?

For one thing, paper is getting expensive - let's not print things people aren't going to read. For another, we live Post-Borders; booksellers are quaking - the internet generation increasingly demands content for free ... But at a more philosophical level, by publishing my book on the web, I am inviting a collaborative editing process to take place. Text is now fluid; the web affords the opportunity for me to listen to you, and for you to be involved in the formation of a final text. Collaborative writing platforms such as Wiki have opened our eyes to the way of generating knowledge collectively. Whilst my book is not a text to be openly edited, it is a text to be openly commented on. And I will then revise the text accordingly. At some stage, I will close the blog and crystallise the final text into a solid form ... When The Undefended Life becomes such an object, I hope your hand will have played a part in its formation, and I hope you will also want to buy a copy!"

An exciting and risky sort of project.
I encourage you to subscribe to the blog and be part of the conversation - and the eventual book.

nice chatting


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

alcohol - again

I am in the midst of another period of real distress about the prominence which alcohol and its abuse has in our society. The son of close friends had his drink spiked on the weekend. Very scary with complete memory loss for some hours! My son in high-school tells me that a group of his close friends 'got wasted and hooked-up' over a recent weekend. My daughter, starting medical school, goes off for a weekend's orientation and the time just drowns in alcohol.

I am sick of it.

Then there is all the stuff in the news. How many of the saddest stories have the abuse of alcohol as a common denominator? I wrote about this some years ago with mixed results! The blessings of alcohol are grossly overstated just as the curses of alcohol are greatly understated.

Let me start with a story...

I know a young adult who recently went on a weeklong University field trip. It was a typically pathetic and unimaginative group of students who only knew one way to have a good time: consuming alcohol. They got drunk every single night. This young adult chooses not to drink. Oh, the mocking and the scorn that is heaped on! Oh, the sheer disbelief in their faces! "What?! - you don't drink?"

But as the week went on, two things occurred. One was that the mocking gradually turned to intrigue in the face of the person's quiet stedfastness. "Wow - you really don't drink, do you? Why is that?" This person told me that a dozen different conversations opened-up through the course of the week which naturally led to deeper discussions about life and vocation and choices ... and Jesus.

The second thing that happened was that those Christians on the field trip - so committed as they were to being relevant that their opportunity to witness disappeared into the drinking sessions - started emerging to whisper that they were Christians too. They seemed strangely emboldened by this person's stance. Gradually these conversations flowed as well and some real solidarity and community developed that strengthened each other to be distinctive under pressure.

So, what do we have here? Think about it. One person's willingness to have the courage to be distinctive opens up conversations leading both to witness (with those who are not-yet believers) as well as to community (with those who are believers). WOW! I like it, I really like it. Salt and light in exquisite tension and being lived right at a point in our culture that matters.

What am I not saying?
I am not saying that it is impossible to consume alcohol and be effective in mission. No! I am not that stupid. God bless you if this is your conviction. Nor am I even saying that it is some-how 'un-Christian' to consume alcohol (although if you talk to me about water-into-wine again I'll probably go "blah, blah, blah" which is a strange response to make to a gospel text!).

What am I saying?
I remain genuinely surprised that more Christians do not make the same choices as this young person - for the sake of the gospel. I am convinced that part of the reason is a simple failure of courage to stand-out from the crowd as different. I heard an Anglican bishop on BBC's Hard Talk recently state that the church was originally meant to be counter-cultural. Now it is merely ... cultural! We are more concerned about relevance than we are about endurance. I doubt whether the word 'relevance' was ever on the lips of New Testament believers. We are being duped to believe that mission is all salt and all incarnation - and it isn't. It is light. It is attraction.

C'mon everyone - let's raise our glasses to living distinctively with distinction.

nice chatting


[PS - not a bad topic for my 200th post, eh?!]