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GLS: BILL HYBELS on Courage

This is the first of a series of posts on the Global Leadership Summit that I attended in Newcastle recently. Even compared to the usual high quality of these conferences, this was an excellent year. We heard huge amounts of high quality content – teaching, encouragement and exhortation – over this two days. Blogging the sessions is a useful way to process everything.

Bill Hybels opened up the conference with a call for leaders to have courage.

Be strong and courageous. Don’t be fearful or discouraged, because the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1.9

Bill-Hybels-GLS-2013Courage to pursue the vision that God has given you; courage to face reality; courage to build a healthy culture in an organisation; courage to establish values; courage in the face of pressures; courage to finish strong. Be strong and courageous!

How many visions never make it off the starting block because of a leader’s fear? Our cowardice adds to the world’s suffering.

How many organisations suffer because the leader cannot face reality? Or let fear keep them from apologising, from modelling humility, repentance and forgiveness? How many leaders let caution and fear hold them back in championing values? And how many hurt their own organisations by not facing up to the succession question, or fearing reinvention? Be strong and courageous!

Typically excellent stuff from Bill Hybels, with plenty of practical encouragement (although his personal examples are always on a totally different scale!). This was a powerful reminder that courage is not an optional extra for a leader. As he says, courage correlates to every component of leadership. ‘Pastor Bill’ talked a lot about his need to declare the ‘Joshua prayer’ to himself – and to keep doing so – at many points during his years in ministry. Bill is a favourite speaker of mine, not least for his passion and total commitment to the significance of the local church. This is a man who loves Jesus and loves his church, and in listening to him I never fail to be encouraged and emboldened – both as a leader and a disciple. Be strong and courageous! Don’t be fearful or discouraged, because the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. 

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In this provocative article on the biblical theology of the city Tim Keller describes the city as a form of cultural ‘gardening’, designed by God to “draw out the riches he put into the earth, nature and the human soul at creation”.

Keller describes how the city was designed by God as a place of refuge and safety, a place of cultural development and a place to meet with him, but sin corrupts the city, creating places of violence, pride and idolatry.

This short article ends with a summary of why cities are crucial to the church’s mission to reach the world, and how the church can engage effectively with the city. I particularly liked Keller’s four models of urban ministry:

We despise the city. Church as fortress. (Forgetting the city as Jerusalem).
We are the city. Church as mirror. (Forgetting the city as Babylon).
We use the city. Church as space capsule. (Forgetting the city as battleground).
We love the city. Church as leaven. Jeremiah 29.

Any theological model of the city will fail if one or more of these three biblical themes of the city is neglected, omitted, or over-emphasised.

Tim Keller, A biblical theology of the city, Evangelicals Now, July 2002

The Poison of Lies

“Here’s what I was learning: secrets are poison. They suck the life out of you, they steal your ability to live in the present, they build walls between you and the people you love.”

Tyler Hamilton/Daniel Coyle, ‘The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs

The passage today is 1 John 4.7-16.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

God shows his love not just with words or gifts or power, but by coming into the world, sacrificing himself for us. It’s such a good reminder that the primary thing we have to offer the world is ourselves, poured out in love. A readiness to sacrifice for the sake of another – this is real love.

Jesus came that we might live through him. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10.10) Where does this life come from? 1 John 4 v.12: God lives in us; v.13: We live in him and he in us; v.15: God lives in him and he in us; v.16: Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. This abundant, eternal life comes from God, out of our shared life in Christ – this ‘mutual indwelling’. He in us and us in him. In Christ humanity is irrevocably entangled with the divine. What an amazing thing to get our heads round!

We’re into our final Gospel today with John 1:1-18, which is known as the Prologue to John’s Gospel.

So many of the themes we’ve already looked at are found in these verses, but at the same time this is very different to the Old Testament passages we’ve seen. These verses acknowledge Christ’s deity explicitly – he is the eternal Word made flesh and dwelling among us. “All things came into being through him“. The source of life and the true light, born into darkness, unrecognised and unacknowledged. I’ve read these verses many times, but on this reading it’s this verse that hits me:

He came to his own people, and even they did not receive him. (v.11)

It’s such a sad statement. Here was the very glory of God come into the world, the world which was made through him – and his own chosen and beloved people, his “treasured possession” (Deut 7.6) did not recognise him or want him. What terrible rejection.

But to anyone and everyone who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God. When we welcomed Jesus we were given the right to be part of a new family, part of God’s own people.  What a wonderful privilege! So many of the Old Testament promises were made to the people of Israel, long before we were ever on the scene. But now we have been given the right to be part of God’s family- “grafted in” as Paul says (Romans 11) – and therefore we have now become inheritors of all the promises to Israel!

“… remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2.12-13)

“From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.” (John 1.16)

We’re back in Matthew’s Gospel today with Matthew 2:13-18, catching up the story after the Magi have left and returned to their own country. Joseph is warned in a dream that Herod is after him and leaves immediately for Egypt. It seems that Jesus must have been just under 2 years old at this point, for Herod then orders all the children in Bethlehem under 2 to be killed. A terrible day indeed.

Herod is so desperate to stamp out any threat to his reign, that he will even kill tiny babies! So often those in power act only out of fear of losing that power. The fear consumes them to the point that they are willing to do anything to maintain their position. We see this on a large scale in so many countries around the world, and too often we also see this on a smaller scale in our workplaces, communities, and even churches. The petty power struggles, the desperate manipulation of people and situations to maintain status and influence, the attacks on others that bolster our own esteem… The net result is fear, distrust, abuse, pain, destruction… and for what? No earthly power lasts, no amount of worldly status is worth anything in the end. Herod massacres the children, but is very soon dead himself.

The only character in this story with real power, doesn’t cling to it, but humbles himself, laying down his life…

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil 2.5-8)

I liked Greg Boyd’s reminder in this clip that the way God shows his power is very unusual, and in the same way we also are called to be an unusual people…

(The rest of this sermon can be found here)

Today we’re skipping away from the Gospels to read 1 John 1:1-7, John’s excited introduction to his letter.

We saw and heard and touched him – it really happened! “The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us” says the Message version. The words of this introduction echo so closely the prologue to John’s Gospel, which we’ll get to in a couple of days – God’s light and life coming into the world in human flesh. Amazing!

Reading these words reminds me that while it’s easy to love the light, sometimes the darkness feels safer. We gaze from a distance, preferring to hide rather than risk being fully exposed. But real relationships only thrive in the light, where there is no hiddenness, no dark corners, no holding back. We miss out on so much life when we avoid the light, when we hold back parts of ourselves out of fear. It can be a scary thing to allow the light of God to shine fully on our hearts and minds, but it’s the only way to real life and real fellowship with him. We cannot have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, says John. But if we walk in the light, with him, there’s true fellowship and forgiveness. Let’s commit, as we move into a new year, to stepping out bravely into the light with him.

The following lines, from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins, are long favourites of mine:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.