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Rediscovering friendship [part 2]

Cultural difference is not really about different foods and clothing and surface cultural products (though it might manifest there). Cultural difference is about us not understanding each other.
Culture is what is normal to us. It is the air we breathe. It is the way we think and see the world. It is what is natural. We can’t imagine how anyone could think or see or do things differently; and when we do encounter that difference it is with shock, surprise and disbelief.
An example: A Ugandan is staying with a Norwegian family. The Norwegian mother is preparing the supper and asks the Ugandan guest, “How many potatoes will you have?” To one of them it is an innocent question. To the other it is deeply offensive. Why the difference? Our language and social reflexes are rooted in underlying systems of value that are usually unconscious and so deeply held they are close to being hard wired – one of us instinctively values efficiency and fears of waste; another values of lavish generosit…
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Rediscovering friendship [part 1]

It’s at the heart of marriage. It’s the joy of singleness. It’s vital to gospel ministry. It’s key to cross-cultural encounter. Friendship Peel away the superficial modern meanings of friendship and dig down into the ancient sources and you find something very rich and strong. Reading Augustine’s Confessions I am struck by how hugely important (for good or ill) his friends were in his life. He lived with them and ate with them. He loved them deeply. Their life choices – work, travel, marriage, ethics, philosophy – were each other’s business. In many ways their friendships were similar to the covenanted friendship of David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:1-4 cf. Ruth 1:16) – intensely loyal, devoted, knit together. In one of his most extreme passages, Augustine speaks of his anguish after the death of his friend: “I, who had been like another self to him. It was well said that a friend is half one’s own soul. I felt that my soul and his had been but one soul in two bodies, and I shrank from l…

Heretical discipleship and the light that chases away the lies

There are a number of reasons why we live in a tricky time to discern heresy in the church of Christ. The issues at stake are often not directly the truths of the ancient creeds – the doctrines of God and Christ – or directly the gospel truth of salvation through Christ alone dying on behalf of sinners – the issues that were so highly contested in the fourth and sixteenth centuries. The modern heresies are much more often issues of discipleship – Christian life – which is of course connected in extremely important ways to the doctrines of God, Christ and atonement but the crunch points and hot discussion points are often not directly treating those historic doctrinal issues so they can often appear to be 'secondary' or areas of legitimate disagreement.The issues are sometimes at the level church culture, mood, tone, emphasis and trajectory rather than outright and consistent false teaching. It is not necessarily the case that you can point to particular sentences and paragraph…

Did the word of God originate with you?

I was deeply encouraged and also deeply challenged as I prepared on Acts 2 recently. Encouraged about the power of the gospel and challenged about my cultural-ethnic pride.

First it was deeply encouraging.
We have good news that crosses every language barrier the wonders of God (Acts 2:11) That’s the good news – the wonders of God – not the wonders of humanity, not the wonders of human potential, not the wonders of our cleverness and goodness and impressiveness – No – the wonders of who God is and what God has done – that is the good news. That God is nothing like most people think he is – he is a wonderful God, Father, Son and Spirit, overflowing love and goodness and kindness and humility – a love which caused God the Father to send God the Son to rescue people who hate him, rescue them from death and darkness and hell at incredible cost, by going through hell instead of sinners.
Compare the apocalyptic passage from Joel (quoted at Acts 2:19-20) with Peter’s sermon interpreting it a…

Pilate the evangelist

One of the best evangelistic sermons ever preached: Ecce Homo. [Behold the man.] Of course Pilate is not being an intentional evangelist in John 19:5. He is a cynical, ruthless political operator who is perfectly happy to have an innocent man beaten and tortured. But then Caiaphas was a cynical, ruthless political operator when he preached brilliant gospel truth: It is better for you that one man should die for the people (John 11:50). And John tells us that in this statement Caiaphas was (inadvertently) prophesying (John 11:51). John loves double entendre and dripping irony. The truth comes forth most powerfully from the mouths of its enemies. So we shouldn’t be surprised when a few pages later we find a report of Pilate also preaching the gospel. So why is “Behold the man” such a great evangelistic sermon? It is pointing to Jesus. “We preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:5). The point of preaching is to ‘placard’ Christ before the hearers (Galatians 3:1).It is pointing…

10 things servant leadership is

I used to think that all that was necessary in gospel ministry was faithful Bible handling. Preach the Word carefully and surely everything else should follow? But I was wrong. Sadly it is possible to have high quality expository preaching and ungodly leadership. It shouldn’t be possible but it is. And it’s a very ugly thing. Peter Mead has written recently on the danger that can be done to a church or ministry when appointment of leaders values ability over character. So here are ten aspects of biblical servant leadership, specifically in relation to gospel ministry leadership, from 1 Thessalonians, especially chapters 2 and 3: Servant leadership is, wherever possible, Plural. A lot of articles and books on leadership assume that it is a personal project. Search Google Images for ‘leadership’ and you will see lots of clipart of a single figure with a crowd following behind. But the New Testament picture of leadership is far more often of team ministry (Acts 14:23; Romans 16). 1 Thess…

10 things servant leadership is not

Let’s clear a few misconceptions. Servant leadership is not: A new thing. Although the term ‘servant leadership’ and interest in the concept in management circles is quite new (second half of the twentieth century) the idea is a thoroughly biblical one coming out of ancient texts like Deut. 17:18-20; Matt. 20:20-28, Phil. 2-3, 2 Cor.; 1 Thess. 2-3 and many others.An optional style of leadership. When talking about expository preaching one of the misconceptions is that it is just one style of preaching among many valid approaches – whereas if expository preaching means faithful Bible preaching (correctly handling the Word of God) it is the only valid approach. In the same way, if servant leadership is biblically commanded it is not simply one among many styles of leadership (charismatic leadership, strategic leadership, decisive leadership etc.) it is the only way. Rather than ‘servant’ qualifying ‘leader’ it could be argued that it is better to think of ‘leader’ qualifying ‘servant’. …