Chat-up lines? (book review)


20 FIRST DATES

 

The Bible and Our Daily Work: Work and ambition (Pt 6)


Is it wrong to seek promotion and advancement at work? Is it right to have ambitions? Christian people can be faced with decisions in their business or professional careers where such questions are pertinent.

1. WHEN HAS AMBITION NOT GONE FAR ENOUGH?
In 1 Thessalonians 4.11, 12 the apostle Paul sets out some basic ambitions connected with our work which should characterise all Christians. Not to desire these goals is to be astray. We are to eagerly seek to achieve at least three things:

To work
The context of that work is to be a quiet life – but the great ambition, if we are physically and mentally able, must be to work, v11.
Note again that there is no disparagement of manual labour in the NT. Paul commends working ‘with our hands.’
Leisure is not intrinsically better than work. It should not be our ambition to be on perpetual holiday. This is what the world so often aims for. Laziness is condemned throughout the Bible, Proverbs 12.24; Titus 1.12.
The Christian is to desire to be useful, productive and to make a contribution to the common good. This is the so-called ‘Protestant work ethic.’ God made us to work and we can find a degree of fulfilment and satisfaction in our work. As Christians our work becomes an act of worship, Colossians 3.23.

Through our industry to win the respect of unconverted people
The background to Paul’s remarks in v12 is in v9, 10. Some of the Thessalonian Christians were so zealous in their love for brothers and sisters in Christ that some people were taking advantage of that and had given up work and were living on hand-outs from the church, cf. Titus 3.14. Such behaviour brought the name of the Lord Jesus into disrepute.
We need to add that ‘success’ at work is not the only way to win respect. It may be that ordinary people will be directed to Christ by the way our faith enables us to cope with crises or drudgery or other difficulties, Philippians 4.12, 13.

Through our work to be dependent on nobody
In v12 Paul commands the Thessalonians to aim at earning their own keep. The New Testament is keen to help those in real need but it will not allow an able-bodied Christian to become content to live from other people’s charity.
Our first ambition should be to support ourselves. This takes priority over whether or not we like the job, 2 Thessalonians 3.11-14.

2. WHEN HAS AMBITION GONE TOO FAR?
God has given us all some set of abilities. If those abilities cannot find an outlet we become frustrated. It is therefore good to have ambition to use our potentials to the full, Ecclesiastes 9.10. But this must be in the context of seeking a contented godly life, 1 Thessalonians 4.11;1 Timothy 6.6. With this in mind here are six indications of when our ambitions have goner too far.

  • When our ambitions are greater than our abilitiesScripture commands us to have a proper estimate of ourselves, Romans 12.3
  • When we are prepared to compromise Christian principles to get promotionThe ‘end justifying the means’ is never God’s way, Psalm 23.3
  • When promotion is pursued for self-exaltationAmbition is not condemned but selfish ambition is always condemned, Philippians 2.3
  • When ambitions are pursued out of the love of moneyJesus told us that we cannot serve both God and money, Matthew 76.24; Hebrews 13.5;
  • When ambitions are pursued out of envy and discontentThe spirit of the world is that ‘the grass is always greener,’ James 3.14-16
  • When ambition is pursued at the expense of our responsibilities to othersWe are to put the needs of others before our own, Philippians 2.4; Ephesians 5.25
  • When ambition is pursued to the neglect of the needs of God’s kingdomLocal churches are a priority. We are to seek God’s glory Matthew 6.33; 1 Corinthians 10.31

‘Right ambition consists not so much in wishing to be promoted, but in wishing to deserve promotion’ Matthew Henry

This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.

Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work
Part 4 in the series is ‘Work and Rest
Part 5 in the series is ‘Work and our Attitudes

A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.

Join in helping Dalits in India – interview with Moses Parmar


India: Good Shepherd Ministries

India’s outcast Dalits (untouchables) have endured three millennia of oppression and injustice.

Leaders of this group, which totals a quarter of a billion people, have in recent years asked the church and Christian organisations in India to assist them in their plight. Good Shepherd / Operation Mobilisation India Ministries (GS/OM India Ministries) is at the forefront of this response and the massive movement of the Holy Spirit underway among India’s Dalits.

During a recent visit to the UK to meet with prayer partners, the organisation’s North India leader, Moses Parmar, took time to answer questions from EN about the situation in India and his current work.

EN: How would you describe the spiritual state of India at present?

MP: India is a very spiritual country and there are many religions established there.
Generally, the Indian is a very religious person; there are festivals every year and people spend much money on these celebrations. People will travel all over the country to complete a pilgrimage, especially the Kumbh Mela, when 40 million people descend upon the Ganges River to have what they consider to be a holy bath. So, yes, the desire from people to have their sins forgiven and to receive blessings from God is very real.

Pain and suffering are also very connected to this, because if people’s prayers aren’t answered, there is no medical system in much of India. So, people are keen to try and please their god or gods.

With regard to Christianity, people are, on the whole, very interested. In a few places, there is opposition to the Christian message, but overall people are fascinated by the gospel, to learn about a God who loves and cares for them and wants to hear their prayers. Indians actually love prayers. If you go from house to house in the villages, saying, ‘I would like to pray for you’, they are very happy.

EN: Do people think that Christianity has been good or bad for India over the years?

MP: The reality is that Christianity in India has only spread along the main coastal areas and major communication routes. Approximately a third of the population, mostly residing in the interior, have never heard about Jesus.

Generally, those who know about Christianity have a good image of it. They think Christians run schools, hospitals and do good ministry that helps poor people. A very small number despise Christianity though, because in their eyes it empowers people by breaking down India’s traditional caste system and makes society more equal. That doesn’t go down well with those who want to keep the rest of the population poor and make money out of that status quo. Close to half of all Indians are uneducated and that illiteracy is the best way to maintain their oppression.

EN: Can you tell us about your background and how you came to Christ?

MP: My grandmother came to Christ from a Dalit background. The family was persecuted though, so they had to leave the village where they lived and run to the city. A mission school was located nearby and the missionaries there insisted to my grandmother that they educate her children. And so my parents were educated and, when I was born, my family were Christian and employed with an honourable job. So, we were able to break the cycle of poverty in our life because of education.

By the time I was born though, the faith in the family had become more nominal. My life was changed when I came to Christ through attending a student Bible study group when I was 17. At that time, a GS/OM India Ministries team was ministering in my home town and their commitment and zeal for mission impressed me. I felt that when I finished my studies I would join this organisation, which I did when I graduated five years later. I had actually wanted to go to Bible college, but my pastor felt that people who go to Bible college and become pastors often don’t have such zeal for evangelism. He encouraged me to join GS/OM India Ministries for a year and then go to Bible college, but I never left and 28 years later, I am still here! Of course, because the organisation provides a great way to study and apply God’s word in ministry, I have been in a place where I could learn more about the Bible and serve in missions.

EN: What kind of work are you currently involved in?

MP: My major role is with the Good Shepherd Community Church, where I am the national chairman of the council of Good Shepherd churches in India. We have 3,000 congregations across the country and every second day we plant another one. We call more than 25 people a ‘church’, so it’s not ‘where two or three gather in my name’. I work with 14 others in a leadership team and together we co-ordinate training for pastors. Because I come from a Dalit background, I also find it easy to connect with many Dalit groups, making friendships to open the door for the gospel. Dalit leaders living in the cities often want us to go to their villages and share the gospel with their families and teach the Bible to them, because they think that will change their lives.

EN: You have done much work with the Dalits. How is the gospel impacting them?

MP: In the past, GS/OM India Ministries was only involved in caring for the spiritual condition of a person. But we realised that the gospel is about more than saving souls and the forgiveness of sins. It gives a new family to a person, a new relationship with God and a new identity based around dignity. One other Dalit leader told me that, when you preach the gospel, you should not start from Matthew 1 but Genesis 1, because people who hear about him who has sent his son into the world need to know that he has also created them. This means equality and honour for each person, including the Dalits. That is the greater Good News for them, grasping the concept that they have brothers and sisters in Christ, that nobody is higher or lower than them. That brings mental empowerment and confidence. Further-more, the gospel brings them into a family and a community that will love, care and comfort them, especially in a time of crisis. Thus, our work has become more holistic.

According to Dalit scholar Dr. Kancha Ilaiah from Hyderabad, there are three spiritual needs of Dalit people — access to God, access to Scripture and access to corporate worship. In their own original religions, Dalits cannot become priests, they cannot read scripture and they cannot go to the temple, but can only worship individually at home. Christianity provides all of these, which is why the gospel makes such a huge impact in Dalits’ lives.

EN: What encourages you most about what God is doing in India?

MP: It’s incredibly exciting to see the transformation in people who are hurt, abused and oppressed. Dalits are finding comfort in God, experiencing love and care as the Christian family stands with them through trials. Whole families who are illiterate are getting education. They are able to speak English and interact with us. This is greatly encouraging as they, particularly children, see a future in a world which is increasingly competitive. Furthermore, there are stories of girls who are no longer abused or kidnapped and now feel protected. Husbands who come to Christ are turning their backs on alcohol and are now responsibly supporting their families instead. Moral values are improving. All these things greatly encourage us.

EN: What challenge would you give to young Christians in the West concerning the needs of India?

MP: So much is available on the internet for Christians to connect to, find out, research and see what is going on. The website http://www.freeadalitchild.org offers background information and a means for people to respond by sponsoring the education of a Dalit child.

There is enormous oppression in the world, not just in India. Christians in the West should not just think how to save people and send them to heaven. Imagine what the Good News on earth is for them, what will bless them. There are so many things to do; pray, write, support, create awareness… The more people who know and talk about these things, the more difficult it will be for the oppressor to continue oppressing people.

Becoming a ‘proven worker’ in a dangerous business (book review)


THE TRIALS OF THEOLOGY 
Becoming a ‘Proven Worker’ in a dangerous business
Edited by Andrew Cameron & Brian Rosner
Christian Focus. 250 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 1 845 504 670

The process of studying theology is fraught with dangers that need to be faced and navigated. I personally know more than one theological student who ‘lost the plot’ as a result of their studies.

This book is primarily aimed at those engaged in theological studies, but has a wider relevance. The aim is to remind us that ‘the task of theology is to know the unknowable and to describe the unknowable’ and to warn of the danger of ‘substituting intellectual stimulation for genuine spiritual experience’.

Part One is devoted to selections from the writings of six ‘Voices Past’, namely Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, Bonhoeffer and Lewis. In Part Two we hear from five ‘Voices Present’, namely Woodhouse, Carson, Trueman, Bray and Hollinger. I actually read the book by alternating between past and present.

The focus of the voices from the past is more general than those from the present and maybe that’s why I found them more helpful. I found the best chapter concerned Augustine’s dread at entering the ordained ministry, aware as he was of his own shortcomings. The contemporary voices were each designated a specific area of theology, such as systematics, ethics or church history. John Woodhouse’s chapter on The Trials of Theological College should be read by all students and staff at the start of each college year.

The Afterword stressed that ‘the goal of our theological study is not to figure out God, but, rather, to arrive at awestruck incredulity and joyful confidence in God. It is to be blown away in wide-eyed, transfixed adoration’. Let’s pray that this valuable book will do just that.

John Brand, 
Faith Mission Bible College, Edinburgh

 

Communication in the church – understanding our single and married differences


As a speech and language therapist, my job revolves around teaching people to communicate effectively.

Many people do not know how to communicate, thus causing much relational breakdown and heartache. It can be seen between parent and child, peers, married couples, dating couples, and in church communities. Most have to learn these highly complex skills and do not acquire them ‘naturally’.

Even though technology has improved to assist us in connecting, people no longer live in close communities with familial support and interpersonal skills have deteriorated.

There is an increase in singleness in the UK — one in three people are single, and one in three children live with a single or step parent (Office for National Statistics 2010). As a Christian, I know that living in a fallen world and our sinful nature also impact on our communication (‘For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks’, Matthew 12.34) and what we ‘say’ verbally and non-verbally is tainted to some degree or another. The more Christ-like we are, with a pure heart, the more lovely our outward flow of communication will be.

Key to good communication

Good communication involves the ability to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’ and understand the message conveyed from their perspective. Then to adapt your message accordingly to find a meeting of minds; finding the ‘middle ground’ or mutually agreed ideas involves some compromise of one’s original mind set. What impacts these skills?

* Our hearts (right with God)

We need to understand that salvation is all of grace and none of our merit (Ephesians 2.8-9). We need to live with our identity, security, acceptance and purpose in Christ; to learn to love ourselves as well our neighbours (Matthew 22.39).

* Our expectations (marriage the higher state)

Even though singleness is commended by Paul (1 Corinthians 7.38), if you have grown up in the church, then your expectation is likely to be that you will get married and have a family. You and your family will live happily ever after in the church community for generations.

* Our prejudice (scripts)

The scripts that we have subconsciously are: Christians get married and stay married; they have children and grandchildren; if they are blessed, then they don’t experience the troubles in this area that non-Christians do.

* Our pride (not by grace alone, by some of my effort — blessings due to me)

So pride ‘kicks in’ and judgment starts against Christians who experience troubles. Why is the single Christian not marrying (there must be something wrong with him/her)? Why is that Christian divorced (they must have sinned terribly, they can’t hold any position in the church, there is obviously something seriously wrong with them)? Why does that single parent have a number of children (they must have had multiple partners!)? And so, in churches, the judgment and insensitive comments ensue. Also the marginalisation, because you are ‘different’ and no longer ‘fit’ the mould of ‘married with children’, nor can you attend church meetings or be involved as expected. Divorced Christians within the church tend to be treated with the most contempt.

* Our injuries and issues (‘sensitivities’)

I have a heart for single Christian people of all ages and in all varieties of singleness: never married, divorced and widowed. Many have received emotional injuries in their childhood or have had some difficulties or tragedy that has left remaining issues that need to be resolved. When we have emotional injuries or issues, we can be oversensitive and overreact to the insensitive comments of others. Single Christians are also very independent, having to manage life on their own, but this has the temptation of turning into selfishness. They may also come across initially as being strong with a tough exterior, but this is mainly due to either being in survival mode or having defensive barriers up.

* Our idols (I want what I don’t have, e.g. only focus is to find the right person)

The ‘grass is greener on the other side’, and some singles think that if they find the right person, get married, then they will find true happiness and fit better into the church community. However, whether single or married, our true happiness is in the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that both states of singleness and marriage have privileges and difficulties.

* Our temperaments (positive — negative)

Our temperaments affect the way we cope with things. Positive people cope easier with difficulties and move on quickly. More sensitive people can go through the utter depths of despair and agonising grief before coming out the other side as a much stronger person.

How should we communicate?

We need to use godly and gracious communication that will cover the ‘what, why and how’ when something is said; be ‘quick to listen, slow to speak’ (James 1.19). ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen’ (Ephesians 4.29-30).

Where is the breakdown between marrieds and singles in the church?

During my life’s journey so far, I have been:

* single — never married as part of a Christian minister’s/missionary’s family;
* married to a pastor and in the centre of Christian ministry, but due to a third party in my marriage (a cultic-sectarian church, which brain-washed my then husband) he chose to divorce and remarry someone in that group;
* now I’m a single and divorced parent with five children, on the margin of the church. Due to moving from South Africa back to the UK, out of loneliness I founded and co-ordinate the Bedford Christian Singles group (across all denominations) which has been running for the past seven years (http://www.bedfordchristiansingles.co.uk).

By God’s grace, I am able to see difficulties from both sides (Genesis 50.20; Romans 8.28). I believe that much of the misunderstanding and miscommunication between marrieds and singles is causing breakdown in relating to each other in the church. In all these instances, we are not to be bitter or angry, but ‘kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Ephesians 4.31-32). The troubles of life will affect married and single Christians and non-Christians alike. Sometimes our trials are harder to bear because of the scripts and expectations in the church. There are some single Christians who are comfortable with themselves and married people in the church. However, in my experience these are in the minority and there are far more single Christians who are struggling, and some who have given up on church altogether.

Some difficulties marrieds face:

* Marriage relationship
* Childlessness
* Parenting
* Bereavement
* In the church, not understanding singles and being nervous about approaching or upsetting them

Some difficulties singles face:

* Loneliness in a predominantly couple / families-orientated church and not knowing one’s role
* Dating difficulties: finding a spiritually and emotionally healthy person to date who is a suitable and potential partner.
* Childlessness
* Single parenting
* Bereavement
* In church, feeling marginalised; having hurt and pain at not being ‘blessed’ by God as the marrieds and families are, and when the church is not supportive of singles or singles groups, and does not understand them.

The bridge of compromise

Hearts and minds meet through effective communication. The church needs to embrace and understand both married and single people. As singleness is expected to increase in society over the next 20 years, there will be an increase of singleness impacting the church. The church needs to be ready: not ‘brushing single issues under the carpet’, and removing the judgmental prejudice (Matthew 7.1-5). Both sides need to work at not being over sensitive (singles) and insensitive (marrieds), rather getting to know people personally in your church. Many of the key difficulties are actually the same for both married and single people. However, the church needs to differentiate at certain points and address the following: understanding singleness, singles meeting other single Christians; dating relationships; single and step parenting; divorce recovery; marriage and remarriage relationships; roles of single people in the church; to bring singles back to the centre of church life, and belonging in the church community. It is time for churches to understand singles and to communicate with them in an effective manner.

Please contact Jacqui Wright via the EN office if you are interested in attending or supporting a Christian singles conference.