Category Archives: Discipleship

Day of days

All of us at one time or another have raged at the injustice in the world. Indeed, social inequality is one of the most pressing issues of our day. We see power imbalances everywhere, corporate greed ruining the planet, governments suppressing their citizens – and our hearts break.

Into this strife Augustine writes. He takes these challenges head on as he addresses the final judgment of the world in Book 20 of the City of God. The last judgment is the day when life as we know it will stop and the veil that has kept us from perceiving the presence and reality of God will be forever ripped in two. We will face our maker, our master, our martyr – but this time the lamb will become a lion and every single person who has ever lived will give account for their life.

While in this life the relative benefit of those who seek to be godly is obscure:

It will then be made clear that true and complete happiness belongs to all the good, and only to them, while all the wicked, are destined for deserved and supreme unhappiness.

XX.1

Unfortunately how this will all work out is not clear to us, or possible for us to discover. Why God sometimes visits judgements on people who deserve it, and sometimes they seem to get away with it. Why those who seek to love God are often buffeted by the winds of adversity, and others who love only themselves are left alone – only God knows the reasons for these things. The important thing is that at the last judgment:

It will become plain that God’s judgements are perfectly just, not only all the judgements that will then be passed, but also all the judgements passed from the beginning, and all which are to be pronounced hereafter until the day of judgment.

XX.1

The duty of the believer is not to watch the wind, seeking to discern the whys and wherefores of individual circumstances and connecting them back to individual behaviour. No our duty is to trust in the loving kindness of our Heavenly Father, for:

At that day, it will become evident by what just decision of God it comes about that at this present time so many, in fact almost all, of the just judgements of God are hidden from mortal perception and understanding. However, in this matter one thing is not hidden from the faith of the devout; and that is, that what is hidden is just.

XX.1

Are we waiting patiently? Are we trusting implicitly? We who cannot predict with any certainty the path of a single starling as it swoops in the evening sky, let alone the dizzying murmuration of several hundred can certainly not predict the hidden course of perfect justice in the hand of the loving God in the life of one person.

Our response should be to ensure we are sowing seeds of righteousness that will bear a rich fruit on that final day, building our lives with solid gold and precious gems, plucking up the weeds and cleaning out the barn. The rest we humbly leave to the maker, master, martyr God.

The right and wrong cause of conflict

Looking back over the last few weeks we have touched on some big themes – some of which we like to talk about, others we try to avoid. I’ll let you decide which is which!

I was struck when reading Book 15 of the City of God this week that there are really insightful lessons for us on a key topic that perhaps we don’t like talking about but is an inevitable part of being human – conflict.

In this section Augustine traces the early days of the earthly and heavenly cities, right back to their founding fathers Cain and Seth. He sees the conflict between Cain and Abel as a picture or symbol of the conflict that will always exist between the two cities.

As we trace Cain’s descendants they are the first to establish a physical city on earth. He compares this to how Rome was founded by two brothers, one of whom killed the other. Augustine contrasts the evil jealousy of both sets of brothers with the goodness experienced in the heavenly city:

Cain was the diabolical envy that the wicked feel for the good simply because they are good, while they themselves are evil. A man’s possession of goodness is in no way diminished by the arrival, or the continuance, of a sharer in it; indeed, goodness is a possession enjoyed more widely by the united affection of partners in that possession in proportion to the harmony that exists among them.

XV.5

He goes on to explain that the members of the earthly city “fight among themselves; and likewise the wicked fight against the good and the good against the wicked. But the good, if they have reached perfect goodness, cannot fight against themselves”.

Thus we see that there will always be conflict between the citizens of the two cities as well as conflict within the earthly city as it fights itself. Moreover, we know that no citizen of the heavenly city has reached perfection so “there may be fighting among them inasmuch as any good man may fight against another as a result of that part of him which makes him also fight against himself”. He goes on to say

Spiritual desire can fight against the carnal desire of another person, or carnal desire against another’s spiritual desire, just as the good and wicked fight against one another. Or even the carnal desires of two good men may fight.

XV.5

There is much more in Book 15 worth exploring, including a fascinating explanation of the long length of life before the flood, incest and giants. But that is for another day! The jewel that I would hold up before us is this brief dive into the types of conflict, summarised as:

  • Earthly city infighting
  • Earthly and heavenly city fighting each other
  • Individuals within heavenly city fight with themselves against their own sinful nature
  • Spiritual desire of one person fights against carnal desire of another (within the heavenly city)
  • Carnal desires of two good men fight against each other

While the first and the last in the list are ultimately ungodly conflict, the other three causes could have a godly purpose and motivation. Indeed, there can be no progress towards perfection without conflict – either in the individual or the church. There are remnants of the sinful (carnal) nature in all of us, even the most godly.

What this tells me is that in vain do we seek a life free of conflict, whatever city we belong to and whatever our need for peace and calm. We should expect conflict, welcome it (to some extent), and learn from it in order to grow in godliness and spiritual maturity.

Choosing a life void of conflict, with comfort or any other object as our goal, is choosing a life of spiritual stagnation. The key question I leave this section of the book with is this…will I live determined to be driven and controlled only and ever by my spiritual desires throughout any and all conflict I experience? Whilst I naturally avoid conflict, if when it comes, I can keep this as my spiritual north, then the conflict will be redeeming and healing whenever it arrives and wherever it leads.

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you

If there is one book that has incapsulated the journey I have been on in the last 15+ years it has been Canoeing The Mountains by Tod Bolsinger. I only read it three years ago, but little did I realise I had been experiencing the reality of its challenge long before Tod articulated it for me.

It was the summer of 2017 and I was sitting in Cafe Nero riveted to Tod’s description of explorers Lewis & Clark. They set out in 1803 to map the western part of America, an expanse previously unknown and assumed to hold a water course to the Pacific Ocean. Tod interlaces this analogy of exploration with the steady marginalisation of the church in western civilisation.

The beauty of what Tod does in this book is that he is able to draw insightful parallels from their unexpected adventures in the wilderness with the monumental shifts that have taken place in society’s relationship with the church.

The gems in this book are too rich to summarise in a soundbite, they reward the thoughtful. This book deals with how to lead transformational change within an organisation when all around us is shifting. In the military they call it VUCA – volition, uncertain, complex & ambiguous. How do we lead change in a VUCA world?

What kind of leader do we need to be in order to both care for people and lead them into uncharted territory?

I have found its wisdom has remained with me these last few years. It calls us to not remain in the shallows but cast out for deeper waters abandoning our preconceived assumptions of what life would hold. Complete surrender is the goal, letting go of the need to gain approval or acceptance.

Stepping in to the unknown will mean we let go of our human resource to find all sufficiency in God’s provision – often in the unlikeliest of places & the least listened to people.

Reflecting on this book helped me to see two things clearly that I will be forever thankful for:

I need to care less about what people think of me – I surrender my need for approval

I need to care less about the problems causing the decay – I surrender my need for control

This is the fifth book review ahead of Thrive Scotland 2020, a catalyst conference starting on 9th September for encouraging Christians in the workplace.

The father’s heart for authentic living

A review of Unravelled by Jon Peterson

Unravelled is the fourth book in my Recommended Reading ahead of Thrive Scotland conference in September 2020…and it is the most hard hitting so far. This book is part manifesto for a renewed vision for a 21st century way of being church, and part guidebook to experiencing unshakable spiritual security in the Father’s love.

This book came to mind as I was doing some amateur stone dyking in my garden. I wanted to jump straight to rebuilding the wall and filling in the gaps…but before I could do this I had to do the hard, boring, dirty work of removing soil, weeds and small stones from the collapsed section.

In exactly the same way Jon expertly deconstructs our false thinking about leadership, authority and spirituality in western church culture. As a master surgeon he splits our skin with his scalpel in order to extract the tumour. And some of it is close to the bone as a result – this is a deep examination of our motives and hidden drivers for how and why we do ministry.

If we would see churches and workplaces transformed by the power of the gospel some deep surgery may be required. We all know churches have individual characteristics that express the gifts and flaws of their family makeup…are we ready to put ourselves on the operating table in order to become more like Christ together?

One of the key questions I have found this book making me ask myself is how do shift from “attending” to “belonging”?

The first authentic step I found fairly painful was to examine my own heart and realise that I was putting the vision of what I thought God was calling me to do before the people I was doing it with. This vision-first dynamic creates dividing lines and weakens the family bonds.

The second step was realising I needed to deliberately put myself in a place of weakness and vulnerability to hear what God was saying to me through others. This Stumbling Edge, as Ken Janke (one of our Thrive speakers) calls it is the place of faith, failure and growth. Eventually, we can even come to enjoy our feet not being able to touch the bottom as we learn to live beyond the illusion of control.

There are many more lessons within these pages for those with the courage to walk this path with Jon. It was a blessing to meet him and Ken Janke in March 2019 – and then read some of Ken’s story in this book. My prayer is that God uses this book to help us become more humble, more real & more secure in the Father’s heart. Enjoy!

This book review series is in anticipation of the Thrive Scotland conference coming in September.

Embedding whole life discipleship into your church’s DNA

A review of Scattered & Gathered by Neil Hudson

This is my third book review on our Thrive Scotland reading list. If the first book (Thank God it’s Monday) helped us understand our work as a joyous calling to kingdom living, and our second book (Every Great Endeavour) helped deepen our biblical basis for whole life discipleship, then this book is our manual for embedding these truths in our churches.

Neil writes with warmth, sensitivity and empathy, learnt no doubt through years of helping church leaders wrestle with these meaty topics. He uses his experience to gently unpack our established expectations of church – what it means to be a gathered community.

Throughout this is a book of encouragement and exhortation for church leaders, who Neil wants to spur on rather than drag down. This is not a book selling a new formula for quick fix discipleship, or a list of new initiatives to do on top of our current activities.

Instead it is a realigning of what we are already doing across a broader canvas and with our frontlines in sharper focus

Each chapter starts with a reframing of testimonies from biblical characters – shedding fresh light on some familiar stories. After delving into key topics such as worship, preaching, small groups and fellowship from a whole-life perspective, he then identifies helpful examples of how it might look in practice, alongside advice on making a start on incorporating a wider kingdom perspective into our church rhythms.

This is a timely and practical book for church leaders keen to equip their church for life on the frontline. For those who have sought to create a church culture more supportive of our scattered lives, but seen it remain a fringe issue, this book provides the blueprint to moving from gesture to posture, for…

“Gestures are fine and are appreciated when offered, but a posture is permanent“

This series is in anticipation of the Thrive Scotland conference coming in September.

Essential reading for the Christian at work

A review of Every Good Endeavour by Tim Keller

It is a rare jewel of a book that effortlessly articulates and unpacks the complex struggles and dilemmas that those of us seeking to serve God in the workplace wrestle with, yet this book cracks the code of our unspoken questioning.

If you have ever wondered if your work is important to God; if God has a greater purpose in putting you in an organisation; or if your work can be meaningful in the midst of the mundane then read on.

Some of us are struggling just to survive in our jobs let alone thrive. How can I do what I do every day in a way that is more connected to God’s purpose of extending His kingdom? Throughout the book Keller explains the wrong thinking that has shaped our assumptions – like why society values certain types of roles over others and why work is so tough, even when you’re in the right role.

He meticulously unpicks our sloppy thinking around our subconscious spiritual hierarchy, and society’s beloved idols that unwittingly shape our thinking.

I found it a book of immense helpfulness in aligning my own job to how I can then serve others, serve society, model competence and witness to Christ – a formidable calling!

If you have all that sorted then feel free to skip this book, for the rest of us it is Induction Course 101 in essential frontline living – every Christian entering the workplace should digest its rich teaching before picking up your new lanyard and photo ID.

This series is in anticipation of the Thrive Scotland conference coming to in September.

A new perspective to start your week

A review of Thank God it’s Monday by Mark Greene

Have you ever found yourself lying in bed on Monday morning wishing that you had one more day of lockdown before heading back into the office? Wishing that you didn’t have to face the world of half asleep, mask wearing commuters on their way to another dull day in the office or factory?

Not many of us bounce out of bed on a Monday pumped full of delight at a new week at work. For the Christian this can present a dilemma – we know that we should be thankful for, and serve God, in everything, but why is it so hard to be satisfied in our efforts to serve God at our workplace? How can we flourish in the workplace?

This book from Mark Greene is the metaphorical light switch to help illuminate our thinking. If you want to see your work from God’s perspective and how we can thrive at work you will love this book.

Central to the book is establishing a new context for our service, using real life stories told with Mark’s irrepressible wit and charm. It’s a funny, compelling, warm-hearted exhortation to see the kingdom of God as it touches every aspect of life.

Can we see with new eyes what God wants to do through us?…through you…with that difficult to deal with boss, or dismissive colleague? Or lonely neighbour. This easy to read book is littered with real examples to connect what we think with how we act.

Mark’s aim is to not to give us a new To Do list everyday, but a fresh way of approaching our everyday lives. One of the key questions it raises is: Who are our hero’s? This book is jam packed with real heros from the Frontline, people who won’t have their biographies on Christian bookshelves, but who have their deeds etched in heaven’s annals.

If we are willing to see it, God is inviting us to bring His peace, His Shalom, to our broken world, and this not through perfect people but through the frail and faltering steps of His children who really do thank God it’s Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday…

This book review series is in anticipation of the Thrive Scotland conference in September.

Reviews of this book from other Christians in the workplace can be found here

A refreshed vision

For the last few years a small group of us have been sowing into the Aberdeen business community, with a heart to bless the city. We are refreshing our vision for 2020, you can read more below:

The Business Connection 2020 – Refreshing Our Vision

The Business Connection (http://thebusinessconnection.org/) exists to equip, encourage and empower people in the corporate sector in Aberdeen city and shire. We are a not-for-profit charity (SC045163) run by four trustees from within the business community for the benefit of the business community. All Trustees are volunteers, sourcing their income from professional employment or leading their own business or social enterprise. The charity is self-funded and relies on the donations of supporters to fund our activities. The charity’s activities have progressed over the last seven years:

– Since 2013 we have been hosting fortnightly breakfasts for workers to make friends, share stories and build relationships.

– Since 2016 we have also been hosting monthly talks on the last Friday of the month aimed at supporting the business community with helpful, thoughtful presentations on local and national issues across a range of topics.

– In 2019 we hosted the first Thrive Aberdeen conference along with 12 other Christian organisations (including Evangelical Alliance, LICC; Transform Work UK and many others) aimed at calling, gathering and celebrating those of a Christian faith in the workplace.

As we begin a new decade, we are relaunching the charity with two new Trustees – individuals of deep faith who bring significant experience across the public and private sector in Aberdeenshire.

Together we have sought to discern what the needs of the city and shire are at this moment in time. We believe that now is the time to sharpen our focus on the specific challenges facing our historic city. In order to ensure we invest the right resources in our vision we are stopping the fortnightly breakfasts for the foreseeable future.

We see that the forces that have shaped Aberdeen to be the city it has become are shifting and the city has entered a period of reinventing its identity. This change in direction has a knock-on impact on those of us employed in the city. We are asking ourselves: “How can those who care about the health and well-being of the Aberdeen business community help them influence the future direction of the city and shire?”

Alongside this focus on providing an intentional platform for influencing executive decision making, we also want to support the business community in having a more direct impact on helping organisations seeking to bless the neediest in the city and shire. So, we are also asking ourselves: “How can those of us who have benefitted from the prosperity of the region bless those who have not?”

We believe this dual pronged approach enables those in business to be a force for good – helping connect the decision makers to the workforce; and helping connect some of the most fortunate in society with some of the least fortunate. We are proposing a two-pronged approach in 2020, with a series of thought-provoking sessions from key organisations both within and outside the Aberdeenshire region on these two themes.

We invite those of you within our 280 strong network to come along and engage with our guests. We invite the key decision makers and culture shapers in Aberdeenshire to come and share thoughts on how the workforce in this region can help contribute to a better future for everyone.

We very much look forward to the year to come.

The Business Connection Trustees: Barry McAllister; Jim Grimmer; Martyn Link; Smart Masoni

A Bolder Boulder

I orginally wrote this post for the Evangelical Alliance to support the launch of their new course on Public Christianity called SENT. You can find a copy here.

The workplace can be a tough place to be, often bringing with it demanding bosses, difficult customers and complex career paths. In this mix of success and frustration it can be hard to carve out your own path.

So it is that after another exhausting day I slouch into the fading blue train seat and wonder if this is really what I should be doing with my life. I look at my emails pinging in and ask myself some questions…What is my tiny role in God’s big picture? In my struggle to get through each day am I simply surviving or building resilience? What could I do to change the culture at work? If I got the chance to say something to improve the corporate culture in the UK, what would I say?

It is into this space that we went as a group of 12 or so Christian business people in the last few months of 2018. Through the materials provided by Evangelical Alliance’s SENT course, we piloted material seeking to shape our views of public leadership. To many of us it is hard to see ourselves as leaders, let alone think about deliberately putting ourselves in the public eye. The Evangelical Alliance asked us to intentionally explore the role of the workplace disciple in the public square.

Through four sessions we were taken on a journey through understanding our worldview, unpacking distinctive Christian leadership, building our leadership competency and becoming a force for change. As we journeyed together we started to share our insecurities and hopes, we started to pray into each other’s lives, inspiring each other to be more confident in our leading.

Through the course, I often reflected on what it takes to start a movement. How do we harness individual enthusiasm and prayerfully channel this into a city-wide passion for renewal? It is impossible to tell the exact moment when the boulder’s centre of gravity inexorably crosses the tipping point and the fall is inevitable. However, we quickly see the gathering momentum as a result. This course pushed a small group of us on the northeast coast of Scotland over the edge and into the mist beyond. On behalf of all the participants, thank you for the push!

https://www.eauk.org/resources/what-we-offer/courses-and-small-groups/sent

10 lessons on having confidence in our leaders

Yesterday I read this verse in Hebrews whilst studying for a sermon I am writing at the moment on Jesus’ public humiliation before his crucifixion: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority because they kept watch over you as those who must give an account” (Hebrews 13v17).

Over the last 25 years, I have served as both a person-in-the-pew and in church leadership at four churches. I have also had many conversations with people who had little if any confidence in their church leaders. I admit that I have not always followed this instruction, so I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone. Here are 10 lessons that hit me afresh when I read this verse:

  1. Leaders will shape the DNA of a church, company or organisation whether they realise it or not, as will our attitude to them leading us (for better or worse)
  2. Having confidence in our leaders is not something that comes naturally to most people, it will normally require a change in heart attitude on our part
  3. It is a command of scripture, so we would do well to obey it and will find a blessing as a result
  4. Submitting doesn’t mean we will always (or often) agree, but it does mean supporting them by our words and attitude as far as is biblically possible
  5. Our leaders will make mistakes, we should get used to it. Sometimes they will recognise these mistakes (publically or privately), sometimes they will not. This verse is not conditional on our leaders admitting their mistakes.
  6. Complaining and moaning to others does not resolve anything (it only hardens our heart), be courageous enough to gently address unbiblical actions or attitudes face to face, or cover over with love and be silent.
  7. If we think the best, hope for the best and act for the best we will make their lives a lot easier and our own minds a lot more contented
  8. Other passages make it clear leaders do not have unquestioned authority, be clear what areas really constitute disqualification from leadership and which don’t (see 1 Timothy chapter 1 & 6, 2 Timothy 2 & 3).
  9. In a world where leadership is constantly in the spotlight (and everyone is an expert) be gentle with your leaders, always keeping your own failings and faults at the front of your mind. They will one day have to give an account for their oversight.
  10. Forgiveness, forgetfulness and prayer for their blessing will defeat a critical and bitter spirit that is rising up in our hearts from past hurts.

Father, help us to appreciate those who give of their time, effort and gifts to lead us, often without thanks for all their sacrifices. May we be easy to lead amongst the flock, being both biblically discerning and relentlessly supportive as we all follow you. Help them as they keep watch over us to know your presence and wisdom in their lives. Amen