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“The church exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world’s own manner and which contradicts it in a way that is full of promise.”

Karl Barth

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“On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.” Michel de Montaigne

Don’t judge me, but the other night when there was nothing else on TV, I fired up 4oD and watched the first episode of Scandimania, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest venture.

I’ve been keen to visit Scandinavia for a while now and honestly, I thought an hour in front of a harmless cookery programme with nice scenery would be pretty easygoing.

Then something surreal, and then profound, happened. Hugh – that’s right: eccentric, wonderfully British Hugh – met with Björn Ulvaeus, one of the members of Swede synth sensations ABBA. Out of that coming together of two people you’d never put in the same room, I found myself thinking about humility.

Why? Lagom.

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Lagom is a Swedish word that, as Björn explained, doesn’t really have an English equivalent. It’s one of those times when the English language doesn’t quite have the depth that so many other languages have. The closest it seems we can get in English when it comes to lagom is ‘just enough’.

More than just a word, for Swedes it signifies a way of life – a recognition that excess is often dangerous, that there is usually just the right amount of something to be had, that any more or any less is a waste.

Lagom.

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Lagom got me thinking. Because for a long time, humility has been something I’ve struggled with. It seems that being humble is deeply ironic because the minute we think we’ve done well at being humble, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot. (That’s an over-exaggeration, of course). I want to be humble for many reasons, not least because it’s Biblical (see Luke 14:11 and more), but also because living humbly is a beautiful, counter-cultural thing. But to this point, I haven’t quite found a way to work out what humility looks like.

It’s not putting myself down, lamenting my shortcomings, highlighting my deficiencies. Equally, it’s not bragging about how good I am, how much I’ve prayed lately, how many people read my articles.

It’s just enough. It’s recognition that we have God-given talents and should use them and take pride in them, because we are using them for God. But at the same time it’s realising that what we have comes from God, and that our place before him is a humble one, where we lay down our lives for others and for God.

Lagom. Just enough.

This short interview with Tim Keller is incredibly insightful – in particular, this comment:

“They want community yet they aren’t willing to pay the price. I think that’s the best and the worst about your [the millennial] generation.”

What do you think? Do you agree?

One of the best scenes in television.

The weight of words

October 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

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“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” Markus Zusak

Words are powerful. So often it’s what people say to us that lingers in our minds, nagging away at us and chipping away our confidence. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a cutting comment or an unintentionally upsetting remark – and the chances are, we’ve made a few of those comments ourselves. Words have power.

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The Hebrew language has a depth which our tongue can only dream of. There are seven words to describe love, with the three most commonly used drawing distinctions between friendship (raya), intimacy (dod) and commitment (ahava). This allows for intentional use of words to define a situation.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words we use to define and describe our faith; the language we use when discussing our relationships with Jesus.

In the course of my day I can say I love Jesus, the sun, the West Wing, kiwi fruits and the book I’m reading. I can also hate tube delays, chocolate ice cream and the way a national news story is portrayed by the media.

Two words – love and hate – that we apply to countless situations, to the point where there is a danger they lose their meaning. Do I love God the same way I love kiwi fruits? No. Do I hate injustice the same way I hate chocolate ice cream? No.

Yet the limitations of language mean the lines are blurred.

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The question is, does it really matter? Because truth be told, it seems unlikely a whole generation will be able to change the language they use to describe their feelings. Individually, I may be able to adjust what I say, but it will not make much impact on others.

Or will it?

You only have to spend a short amount of time in a group of people to notice certain phrases repeated again and again. Within a small, intentional group, language crosses the boundaries of our own tongues. What we say gets picked up. Repeated. Embedded. Accepted.

So maybe we do need to adjust our language. We cannot create a new set of words overnight, but we can adjust our intention and think about what we say, and how we say it. We can reserve reverence for the things that matter, and disdain for the things that deserve it.

It may not change the world, but it may just begin to change, in a small way, how we talk about God.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling

I love this NYC timelapse.

I think this video is beautiful.
I think you will too.

Adrift from Simon Christen on Vimeo.

quiet This week I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Shawn Smucker. Shawn is a writer whom I deeply admire, someone who has an innate ability to describe encounters in a poignant, beautiful and impacting way. His latest book How to use a Runaway Truck Ramp is a brilliant example of this, and one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Shawn is keen on recognising the importance of silence, so I asked him to share his thoughts. Here he is.

The Megaphone Man Screaming in my Face

My friend’s mother (we’ll call her Beth) was on a train into London when a man standing in the aisle collapsed to the floor, motionless. If you’ve ever been on a train in England, you’ll probably remember one thing: no one says a word. The seats can be full, the aisles can be packed with people crammed up against each other, but no one talks.

So when the man collapsed at the other end of her train car, Beth peered down the aisle to see what was going to happen. And what happened was rather shocking.

Nothing happened.

No one went to his aid. No one motioned towards the man and asked their neighbor if they thought he was okay. In fact, one man sitting directly beside the man now lying in the aisle didn’t even stop reading his newspaper. It was as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was as if people always collapse on trains and everyone knew that if you just leave the person be, eventually they would stand back up, brush themselves off and get on with their day.

Beth stood and wove her way around the people standing in the aisle. The train kept clacking on down the track, shaking slightly from side to side. She arrived at where the man had fallen over and bent down beside him. He revived. When they arrived in London, Beth handed the man’s care over to a medic.

“Everyone just stood there,” she said, shaking her head. “No one was going to do anything for that poor man.”

When I lived in England, I also took the train into London almost everyday. It was a beautiful ride through green countryside. I always loved how the rolling hills gradually gave way to small towns, then highways, until finally the tide of the city surrounded us and the train eased into the station.

As much as I enjoyed those train rides, there was one particular section of the London Underground that I wasn’t too keen on. The reason is that on the District Line somewhere around Earl’s Court, a strange man often showed up on the train. He looked homeless: tattered shirt, torn trousers and sneakers that were falling apart, but that wasn’t what bothered me. His beard was straggly and his skin smudged black from the tube smoke, but that wasn’t it either. He carried a megaphone and multiple handmade signs under his arm.

He stood quietly as the train stopped, but as soon as it pulled away he got out his megaphone and began shouting in people’s faces. He set up his signs where everyone could see them and went from person to person, challenging their religious identity. Most people reacted in one of two ways.

Those who rode that particular section of train often sat there and tried to ignore him. They were familiar with the way he operated and didn’t want to draw undue attention to themselves or engage him in any way. But those who were new to this man were shocked. How could someone so blatantly violate everyone’s sense of personal space? How could someone say such mean things to strangers?

One day this man aimed his megaphone at a young Asian lady. The poor girl looked so frightened and alarmed, and her response led me to believe she didn’t speak English, or at least not well. One question etched itself on to her face: Why was this strange man shouting at me?

But the rest of us just looked away. We didn’t want to draw the man’s attention. All of us, that is, except one middle-aged woman.

I can still picture her. She stood up, marched over to that man, and got right in his face. She raised her index finger and pointed it at him.

“How dare you talk to this young woman that way? How dare you frighten this poor child? Now you take your little megaphone and you go somewhere else!”

He raised his megaphone as if to shout at her, but she pushed it back down to his side.

“I’ll have none of that!” she shouted. “Now be on your way.”

And would you believe it? The man walked to the other end of the car, sat down, and didn’t say another word.

Shouting can be immensely effective. After all, Beth’s movement to the side of the fallen man was, in a sense, a shout, and after she moved down the aisle beside the man, other people came to their aid. They just needed that first movement.

That first shout.

And look at the middle-aged woman on the train with the megaphone man: a few well-timed shouts was all it took to shut him down, to take the wind out of his sails, to make him second-guess the way he treated people.

But shouts don’t always work. After all, those of us who were familiar with that shouting man and his megaphone had tuned him out long ago.

If all you’re doing is shouting, guess what? No one is listening anymore. If the noise you create is always criticism and put-down and in-your-face shouting, your audience is shrinking, no matter what the numbers are saying. And if you want to maintain and increase your platform, you’ll have to figure out way to shout louder and louder.

Eventually, your followers will be following you because you shout, and not at all because of what you’re saying.

We all want to disrupt what we see as evil in the world. We want to fight injustice, free captives and lead people to truth. But we’ve swallowed the culture’s lie that the only way to do this is to shout, louder and louder and louder. In reality, the most effective way to bring about change is to incorporate silence into our platform.

What is silence?

Silence is being quiet, sure, but silence is also mercy. Kindness. Encouragement.

Take a break from all the shouting. Your whispers will carry further.

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To find out more about Shawn, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

tbToday, I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Tyler Braun. I first came across Tyler last year when I did a review of his brilliant book Why Holiness Matters.

Tyler is a great guy, and a voice worth listening to in a world where so many people are clamouring for attention. He’s humble, wise and discerning, and I have really valued and learnt a lot from his thoughts on mentoring over the last few months. His post below is about just that – mentoring – and it’ a great read. Over to him – and I’d love to know your thoughts on what he says.

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Certainly not all churches are representative of this, but mentoring is quickly the buzz word of choice for churches looking to reach younger generations. Fortune 500 companies are making the news by starting mentoring programs they hope will fulfill the desires their younger employees have for interaction with more experienced members within their organizations.

With the success these moves have made for companies, churches are also starting programs for mentoring. If churches start programs for mentoring they’ll kill the entire concept by trying to force relationships. What I think churches need is not another program, but a shift in mindset. Anyone can create a sign up sheet for those looking for a mentor, but churches should be equipping people with the tools needed in order for mentoring to become a core focus.

In 5 years, your church will have moved on to the next quick fix if you create a mentoring program, but if you instill a mindset of mentoring within a church, in 5 years you’ll have a church full of people who are more connected and shine forth the light of Christ like never before.

First off, it’s important to define what is meant by mentoring, so it’s understood what is being discussed:

Mentoring is inviting someone into an intentional relationship for the sake of personal and spiritual growth.

I have no doubt my call away from creating mentoring programs is discouraging for those who have had in mind to do this very thing. So let’s spend time examining how we can instill a mentoring mindset in a church. Over time this will be more effective than a program anyway.

The Gospel Leads to Mentoring

The lack of understanding about what the Gospel is can be seen all around as the Gospel is truncated to simply mean being saved from sin. Jesus then is Savior, but not King. The focus on grace is simply saving grace. Where is the focus on equipping grace? Where is King Jesus found in a lived out theology? What does God have for us to do with our lives after he saves us? These questions are often ignored.

If the Gospel saves us, and also equips us for the present and the future by infusing God’s power within us, then we can begin to see how we are called to care for others. If mentoring is only a quick fix to reach a generation it will never become sustainable, but connecting mentoring to the core belief of Christian faith means it becomes integral to the outworking of that faith.

Lead the Way

Churches are full of leaders who want their church to build a mentoring mindset but they’d prefer to leave to work for others. If developing a mentoring mindset is something you desire for your church, but you cannot find the time or energy to help lead the way, you need to find something else to focus on then. Without the key staff/volunteers/idea leaders leading the way, mentoring will not develop.

Just as you should never preach a message you haven’t first taught yourself, you should never tell others to do something you are not first willing to do.

Look for the Linchpins

Every church has indispensable people who are the glue of the congregation. They hold everything together by serving, teaching, leading, praying, etc. Churches develop a mentoring mindset because these linchpins put their effort toward it.

Reach out to these indispensable individuals and start having conversations that help get the ball rolling. While it is vital for you to lead by example, you also cannot lead the church toward mentoring on your lonesome. You need others who are passionate about investing in people. Who are the leaders in your church or community that people are drawn to? These linchpins are the people you need on board.

Celebrate What’s Already Happening

Chances are mentoring is already taken place, in various forms, all around you. But often it’s taking place with little to no intentionality or fanfare. Opportunities are wasted because people choose to stop investing their time and energy in them.

You have the opportunity to champion the pockets around you where mentoring is taking place. You have to start somewhere, and celebrating what is working is a great place to start.

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Tyler Braun is the author of Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost Our Way—But We Can Find it Again. Tyler lives in Oregon with his wife Rose and son Judah. You can find Tyler on Twitter or his blog, www.manofdepravity.com, where he writes about Millennials and finding the significant life we’re all searching for.

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“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis

This might sound bizarre. In fact, it is bizarre. But sometimes, when the sun is at its warmest and the skies at their bluest, I find myself longing for winter.

It’s not that I don’t love the sun. I cherish its warmth, the way the world feels more optimistic when it shines, the way it accentuates the vivid spectrum of colours that paint our world. Yet something within me pines for winter.

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I think it is because when I am enclosed by the cold grip of winter and defined by the darkness that it brings, I appreciate and recognise the importance of the sun more.

Those things I love about the sun – its brightness, its warmth, its life – I recall only rarely while I can feel its gentle warmth upon my face. The value of the sun is diminished by its constant presence.

Rather like a low hum in a quiet room, after a while it becomes background noise, until it is either muted or drowned out by a louder voice.

This is not the sun’s fault, but my own.

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From this, two challenges – or perhaps opportunities – present themselves. One is to continue to nurture the memory of the sun during the winter period. To recall its hope, remember its beauty, to cling to its life during the dark months.

The other is to recognise the presence of the sun while it shines. To not become so familiar with it that it becomes merely a background hue. To appreciate it in the here and now.

To bask in its warmth. To live in it.

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“And then her heart changed, or at least she understood it; and the winter passed, and the sun shone upon her.” J.R.R. Tolkien