This Sunday we will finish our series “New Year:New Year” which has been based out of the book of Colossians – do have a listen to all the talks if you’re interested. The aim of the series is to get our foundation and motivation right as we start 2015 so if things go according to our plans we will be able to thank God and not get proud, and if things don’t go according to plan we’ll be able to trust God and not get depressed. And one of the most important topics to consider when it comes to a New Year and a New You is the subject of work. And I think we all fall into one of two categories
- Work is too important to us (it is an idol that rules us) – in the long run this leads to symptoms like anxiety, overwork, neglect of other areas of our lives, pride and exhaustion.
- Work is not important to us (it is a necessary evil to endure) – in the long run this leads to symptoms like boredom, laziness, a begrudging attitude, envy, moaning and grumbling.
In this post I outline my sermon from Sunday and also give some discussion questions if you want to go deeper in City Groups. Do watch this brilliant video from Tim Keller and his book Every Good Endeavour is required reading for anyone serious about faith and work (I quote from him liberally below, often without reference). By the way, when I say “work”, I am talking about paid work and unpaid work, work in the home and work in the office and I am also talking about work at the university and school (i.e studies).
There is one more thing to say by way of introduction. The topic of faith and work is of huge importance for us as a church looking to bless Dublin and play our part in bringing cultural change. People from all over Ireland and, with the tech bubble that now exists in Dublin, all over the world come to Ireland for jobs. So if we want to be a church that exists for the good of the city we need to equip people to bring God’s love to the city through their work. Here is a great quote by Mark Greene from Thank God It’s Monday that captures what I mean;
“The impact of Christians effectively robbing their work of spiritual and ministry value is to produce a sense of guilt. The working Christian comes home at the end of a fifty-hour week and thinks
“I haven’t done any evangelism. I haven’t done any ministry. I’m not serving God. I must make time outside of work to do all these things”
The result can simply be exhaustion and discouragement. Exhaustion because too much is being attempted, discouragement….because there is a sneaking suspicion that the thing we spend thirty, forty, fifty hours a week doing is of no intrinsic value to God”.
So let’s look at the subject of faith and work under 2 headings.
(1) Your Work Matters To God (The Biblical Overview)
Let’s piece together the 4 parts of the biblical story
1. Creation: Work is Good.
In the beginning God worked. God got his hands dirty. He brought order out of chaos and beauty out of darkness. He took what was formless and filled it and made it wonderful. And at the end of each day of work he said “it was good.” He enjoyed his work. He got satisfaction out of his work. And what we’ll see is this continues throughout the rest of the bible…God is always working, getting his hands dirty
- In creation God is a gardener
- In Jesus God comes not as a philosopher or army general but as a carpenter
- In the resurrection God comes back and starts helping his disciples to fish
- In the consummation, at the end of time, God is cleaning up after a great battle and building a magnificent city
From start to finish, God is a worker. Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted place in our world, the creator is a worker, a designer, a gardener, a carpenter, a fisherman and a city planner. And God’s call to the first humans (Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:15) was to image him by working and continuing the work he had begun, to join him in the work! God is saying “just as I am a gardener, so you need to garden, just as I take care of the world, so you need to care of the world, just as I am king over this earth, so I call you to be vice-regents with me.”
This gives our work so much dignity. If you look at all other ancient world-views and religions and how they saw work, it never had this kind of dignity and status. Only the Jewish and Hebrew thought was so positive about work. Work is a vocation. Work is a calling. Work is a task given us by God himself. Work is not a necessary evil or an afterthought. The garden was perfect, there was nothing wrong with it, it was paradise…and yet God calls us to work. We are to bring order out of chaos, beauty into the blackness and fill what is empty.
Tim Keller says this about the view of work given in Genesis 1-2
Work is taking the raw material of creation and developing it for the sake of others. Musicians take the raw material of sound and bring the meaning of art into our lives. Farmers take the raw material of soil and seed and bring food into our lives. This means we are God’s ministers in our work not only when we are witnessing or talking directly about Jesus, but when we are simply doing our work. A musician is serving God when she makes great music, not solely when she is singing about coming to Jesus.”
2. The Fall: Work is Broken
After Adam and Eve sin, God says “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life…By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” What was once liberating has become toil. What was once enjoyable and satisfying is very often futile. What brought rest to our lives now often brings exhaustion. Subduing, ordering, filling and beautifying our world is now not an easy task. Work is broken and twisted and this manifests itself in 4 main ways.
- Unemployment – This wasn’t God’s intention. Some people choose not to work to do other things, and that is fine. But others want work and can’t get it and that is not what God wants. When you are unemployed you start with a sense of anxiety about the future and about money and how you’re going to survive. But it often leads to a place of boredom, despair, loneliness, isolation and depression. When I helped on a job seekers course a few years ago, the biggest challenge for people was morale. They doubted themselves and their ability. They felt worthless. They had lost hope. They felt rejected. They couldn’t see a way out. Work is such an important part of what it means to made in the image of God that to be out of work is to experience one of the greatest curses of living in a fallen world. Read on for more details.
- Boredom. Work is pointless and doesn’t bring joy. The book of Ecclesiastes talks a lot of about this.
- Anxiety. Work is full of pressure and you often feel like a failure.
- Overwork. Work becomes an idol and becomes our whole identity. We now work not to serve God and others, but ourselves, for money or for status. Keller says
If the point of work is to serve and exalt ourselves, then our work inevitably becomes less about the work and more about us. Our aggressiveness will eventually become abuse, our drive will become burnout, and our self-sufficiency will become self-loathing.
But if the purpose of work is to serve and exalt something beyond ourselves, then we actually have a better reason to deploy our talent, ambition, and entrepreneurial vigour- and we are more likely to be successful in the long run, even by the world’s definition.
3. Redemption: Work is restored
When God comes to restore our world, he comes in physical form, as a carpenter, to restore our physical universe. He did not come to save our souls out of this universe, he came to save our souls and body FOR this universe. And he wants to give us the foundation and motivation, the power and identity, with which to bring redemption to our workplaces. He wants us to be so secure and confident in him, to have all our identity and status in him and his provision, that we don’t look at work purely for money and status, but look at work as a way to serve him and bring justice, peace, beauty, healing and goodness to world. We’re to make society as good as it can be. We are to once again see work as a calling, as a vocation, as way to image our creator and bring his creative power into the world.
4. Consummation: A physical world of work
God saved us, that we might be restored to our original task, though now the garden has become a city. But we’re still to rule with God. Some jobs will no longer exist
- We won’t need doctors, because there will be no sickness.
- We won’t need search and rescue teams as no-one will be lost
- We won’t need the police, because justice will justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream
- We won’t need any Church pastors, because we will all know God perfectly and live in his presence
But we’ll still work and work will be satisfying and good, it will bring joy to us, joy to our creator and joy to one another. And we’ll make more magnificent civilisations and cities and buildings than anything this world could ever dream of. We’ll make better music, draw better artwork, play better sport, make better high tech business’s and eat better food than anything this world has to offer.
(2) God matters to your work (Colossians 3:16, 22-4:2)
There are 3 things that we need to learn to help us find the ‘redemptive edge’ to our work. And they call come under the heading of seeing work as a calling.
1. See work as a calling – do it first and foremost for him
This is the main trust in the passage from Colossians. God is our boss. God is our only audience. So even when our boss is not there, we don’t cut corners and see what we can get away with, we do it for him. We’re not trying to impress our boss, we’re trying to impress God. Mark Greene tells a story of a minister who asked a young girl, who served as a domestic in one of his families what evidence she could give of having become a Christian, and see meekly answered, “I now sweep under the mats.” Her motivation had changed, she was serving Jesus, she was practicing the presence of God. Work is a calling. Work is a vocation. Work is for God. And that brings an integrity and sincerity to your work.
2. See work as a calling – do it to serve others
Keller picks up on the teaching of Martin Luther in Psalms 145-147 where it talks about how God is loving towards all he has made, and how he cares, provides, protects and satisfies his creation. He feeds every living thing. He loves every living thing. And people have often ask, how does God provide for his creation? And the answer is through you and me. God chooses to love his creation through you and me. We’re still God’s ambassadors on earth. The Baker, the Farmer, the Mother, The Milk-Maid, are all God in disguise. God with masks on – God is loving, providing, caring and feeding you through them. When you marry and bear children, it’s a calling of God, it’s God in disguise, it’s God’s way of creating and distributing his gifts. When the farmer farms and the baker bakes, it’s God in disguise, it’s Gods way of feeding you. When you set up high-tech business’ in Dublin to make software and help people bring order and efficiency to our world, and you provide jobs and money for people, it’s God in disguise. It’s God’s way of providing for you.
Keller goes on to apply this to those looking for work and says that the functional reason you should do a job is because it helps others. You shouldn’t do a job for the status or money, you should look to see whether it’s useful for other people. Don’t be a drain on society, be an investor, so don’t get a job that makes money, but doesn’t help people. Hopefully you can find a job that does both! Work that’s good work helps people and promotes the common good. Work that’s good work may not be well paid or specialist but it is an expression of Love. He says
“We are not to choose jobs and conduct our work to fulfill ourselves and accrue power, for being called by God to do something is empowering enough. We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor, and so we should both choose and conduct our work in accordance with that purpose. The question regarding our choice of work is no longer ‘What will make me the most money and give me the most status?’ The question must now be ‘How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and human need?”
2. See work as a calling – do it with excellence
Paul says “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart.” If you’re raising children, do it to the best of your abilities. If you’re studying, do it to the best of your ability. If you’re stacking shelves, do it to the best of your ability. If you’re arranging financial transactions, helping people find careers, caring for people in hospitals, selling software, building software, playing rugby, teaching kids…whatever it is, do it to the best of your ability. Work at it with all your heart. Why? Because this is worship to God and loving to others.
But there is another reason. Even if you’re doing a job you don’t like a job, you find it too menial or too hard or too boring (or whatever!) if you (a) see that job as a calling to serve God and love others and (b) you do it to the best of your ability, you’ll have greater joy in that job. You’ll be able to give thanks for that job. It will make the “non-ideal job” manageable and doable, maybe even enjoyable at times, until you find a more ideal job that suits your talents, gifting, experience and qualifications comes along.
To work with excellence and to work in the service of God and others is to have the right attitude and will mean you moan less, you cut corners less, you grumble less and you stop thinking that the grass is greener on the other side. That is what the book of Ecclesiastes says, which talks so much about the toil and futility of work – if you can learn to give thanks for it and do it with the right attitude, well that is a gift from God and will help you find meaning in what is often a meaningless world.
Even the simplest, most basic jobs, which the world things are pathetic, have dignity and worth before God. He was not above the station of a gardener or a carpenter. He got his hands dirty, He worked with all his heart. He blessed others and it gave him personal satisfaction. Work with excellence. Work with gratitude. Work to serve others. Work to serve God.
The Agony of Unemployment
So let me finish by making 4 simple points of application to those who are unemployed. Please do read this earlier blog post from October 2012 when I seeking work in Dublin myself.
- Stay Grateful – see how God is providing for you through the city and the live register. Gives thanks to God for the benefits you receive, the food you receive, the help you receive, all free of charge.
- Take the next step – take the necessary steps that you can to seek work, whether through FAS or a back-to-work scheme or through starting at the bottom of the ladder in a more menial job and treating that as launching pad for something else in the future. Don’t pass over work because you’re above it. And sign up for a FAS community employment scheme or a course at Jobcare.
- Take Support – Whether from your family, friend or the church family. Speak to your City Group leaders. We can give you emotional and practical support. The church is called to be a family that looks out for one another.
- Read Matthew 6:25-33 a lot – learn to trust God as a father who will provide for you and remain committed to seeking first his kingdom. I know at times in our lives these verses have been very important to Leanne and myself. He is a good father who cares for you and he will give you everything you need. He may not give you everything you want but he’ll give you everything you need. Hold on to that promise.
Reflection and Application
Here are some questions for you to think through with a friend or in City Group
- Is Work too important for you or not important enough? Why?
- In your opinion, why is work robbed of “ministerial value” in the church (see Mark Greene quote)?
- Does our church assume a hierarchy where those in church leadership are the most important and those with “normal jobs” are less important. If so, how can we combat this?
- What is the biggest joy and greatest stress for you at work right now?
- Which bit of the biblical overview was new to your thinking? How does this inspire or motivate you in your work?
- Which of the 3 applications with regards to seeing work as a calling is most challenging to you? Why?
- How can we help those in our church family who are unemployed?
- What un-answered questions do you have with regards to faith and work?
So it’s been a while since I have posted and do you know why? We launched our church and we’re now one month old! Do check out the facebook photos of our launch to get a feel for what we’re doing.
This Sunday we have our first Connect Night so I thought it might be worth posting something on our vision and values by summarising a series of posts I did on the Christ City Church blog in September and October.
The church is supposed to provoke questions and awaken desires within people’s lives. Instead of ‘bashing people with the Bible’ we’re to understand and apply the gospel to our lives in such a way that we start to look, act and talk more like Jesus. And it’s when people see Jesus in us that we’ll provoke questions and make a difference in Dublin. Our vision is to make a positive difference to the city of Dublin spiritually, culturally and socially.
For some reason (called religion!) the church can become stagnant, irrelevant and boring. This is such a tragedy as the church is God’s number one means of bringing his love and healing to the world which is certainly not boring; in fact it is an adventure. And that is what mission is all about, being caught up on God’s adventure and finding your place in it. Once you understand mission like that, it becomes way more fun.
Just as God doesn’t want the church to become stagnant, he doesn’t want any of us individually to become stagnant either. He wants us to grow and change and mature and grow up! He wants us to become more obedient to Jesus, more saturated in his Word and more filled with his Holy Spirit so that we start looking more and more like Christ.
Jesus famously said that the way we love one another will be the greatest sign that we are his disciples (John 13:34-35). This is a scary statement as we so often fail and the disunity in the church becomes a reason why people don’t become Christians. We want to be a community that cries, celebrates, confesses and chills (four cheesy Cs I know!).
Leaders are hard to come by and when you find one, you’ll find that there are people trying to cut them down (i.e. tall poppy syndrome). We are committed to raising leaders by developing people in three areas – character, theology and gifting. We want Christ City Church to be a place where leaders are found, nurtured, trained and released.
What would it mean to be a church not for ourselves? I think it would mean two things. Firstly, we’d become a church that is for those in Dublin who don’t go to church, hate church, laugh at church, have fallen out with church, don’t understand church or any combination of the above. Secondly, we’d be less concerned about building a great church and more concerned about playing our part to make Dublin the greatest city it can be. And that’s our vision, to make a positive difference to the city of Dublin spiritually, culturally and socially.
If you were going to read only one of the six posts above, read the last one. It’s my favourite and the one I feel most passionate about…and there is a cool picture of a skeptic! NOTE: Vision and values are always aspirational; the big challenge is to make them a reality. May God help us!
Since January 2012 when Leanne and I decided to come to Dublin, the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah have been some of my closest companions. For many people these books are unread and under-emphasised. However, they contain two great stories about God bringing his people back from exile in Babylon, restoring national confidence and rebuilding not just the temple and the city walls but Jerusalem as a city that radiated God’s love. Since Jesus’ coming, Jerusalem has been replaced by the church, God’s people, and so the application of these books today is about renewing (or starting) churches that seek the peace and prosperity of the cities they inhabit (see Matthew 5:14-16 and 1 Peter 2:9-12).
So not surprisingly, these two books captured my heart and imagination as we came to Dublin with the set purpose of creating a community of Jesus-followers who would bring hope, love, confidence and the message of Jesus to Dublin. In preparation for the launch of our church we have been studied Nehemiah for 6 weeks in April-May, relaying heavily on John White’s brilliant little book: Excellence In Leadership: The Pattern Of Nehemiah. Here are just a few thoughts and a few quotes that I have taken away from my most recent journeying in Nehemiah.
I have one over-arching lesson from Nehemiah’s leadership which I break into seven points. Each point will have one simple application question to help you reflect on the content. (Warning: this is a long blog post!)
(1) Balance in Leadership
The most striking aspect of Nehemiah is his balance. John White says (p.55)
Thus prayer, administration, on-site supervision, physical labour – all were part of a whole.
Nehemiah is as prayerful as he is strategic, as hard-working as he is dependent on God, as organised as he is personable, as courageous as he is humble. The five points below will elaborate on each of these. What a challenge to all of us leaders to not rely on our natural strengths but to develop a godly character which compensates and makes up for our weaknesses. As Tim Keller has insightfully said (in his paper Ministry and Character):
Godly character covers the gaps in our giftedness.
He goes to on say:
You may be rather ineloquent, but if you are very godly, there will be a wisdom and insight that is attractive to others. You may lack the temperament and skills to be an effective counselor, but if you are very godly, there will be a sympathy and love that shines through and proves effective. You may be very disorganized and not very dynamic in your personality, but if you are very godly, there will be a humility about you that will command people’s respect. In other words, your godly character fills in the gaps left by a lack of giftedness. In fact, people who are multi-gifted are at a disadvantage in that people usually think they are more spiritually mature than they really are. This is because it is their talent, not their holiness, that is covering all the bases in their ministry.
Nehemiah certainly shows godly character and an ability to get on with whatever needs doing. His love for God and the city of Jerusalem shine through in his servanthood, hard work and love for the people.
APPLICATION – which area of leadership do you need to be ‘covered’ by godliness?
So let’s have a look at the various things that make him an excellent leader.
What is the first thing you think of when you think of a great leader? Or, what is the first characteristic that is important for someone considering leadership in the future? In the Bible, all the great leaders have been people of prayer. Think of Abraham in Genesis 18 pleading with God for Sodom and Gomorrah, Jacob in Genesis 32 wrestling with God for a blessing, Moses in Exodus 32-33 pleading with God not to destroy his people, David in the Psalms wrestling with God about sin, sickness, enemies, doubts and lots more. The list continues with Daniel, Hannah, Paul, Epaphras and many others and includes our Lord himself who knew intimate fellowship with his Father in heaven. Jesus often withdrew to places of solitude to pray and escape the crowds (Luke 4:42). Whenever he had big decisions to make, he made time for prayer (Luke 6:12). Before his trial and temptation he asked for his disciples to help him in prayer (Luke 22:39). Even on the cross, his leadership is marked by prayer (Luke 23:46).
And so it is with Nehemiah. Our first encounter with the leader is in prayer (Nehemiah 1:4-11), as he claims the promises of God. He hears news that Jerusalem is in great trouble and his first reaction is to mourn, fast and pray. It seems he did this for four months, taking into account the dates we are given in 1:1 and 2:1. John White says this about Nehemiah’s prayer:
There are three prerequisites of pleadings: jealousy for God’s reputation, love for one’s fellows and indifference to one’s own life and destiny. If these are true of us, we will plead as Moses and as Nehemiah…. When and where appropriate, there is nothing that delights God more than to takes his promises seriously. The Holy Spirit strengthens our faith under such circumstances….For God’s promise is his extended hand. And when we reach out we are startled to find we have touched life and power. We have grasped the mountain moving hand.
From chapter 2 onwards, we see a man of action and much of the narrative is fast-paced and furious. But, before all the action is a man in prayer; listening to God and allowing God to form the desires of his heart. As he brings before God the situation, his passion and courage grow and his fears and doubts are dealt with. As we’ll see (from chapter 2), he starts all his planning on his knees (a point White continues to reinforce); asking God for guidance and inspiration as he considers taking a remnant from the Citadel of Suza and travelling 800 miles to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and once again establish Jerusalem for the praise of the Lord. Maybe more than anything else, his time in prayer allows him to “count his life worth nothing to him, if only he might finish the task set before him” (Acts 20:24). God moulds him into who he needs to be, in order for him to rebuild the city walls. Please don’t think prayer goes out of the window once he gets going. In addition to this opening prayer, we will hear him speak eight further short arrow prayers to God in times of pressure. Again, this shows his reliance on God for everything.
John White says this:
Prayer needs leisure. It must never be hurried. We need time to worship, time for confession, time for the Spirit of God to change our perspective and enlarge our vision. The more time the committee spends in prayer, the less its members will need to spend in futile discussion and more its discussion will count for the Kingdom
APPLICATION – do you have set periods of time set aside each month for praying? Maybe a morning a week or a day a month?
If in chapter 1 we meet Jeremiah in prayer, in chapter 2 we get a glimpse into his brilliant brain as he masterminds one of the greatest tasks of urban renewal in the history of the world. He plans every single detail, from his reassignment under Artaxerxes king of Persia (from his initial role as cupbearer to become the Governor of Jerusalem – see 1:11 and 5:14), to the letters of safe-passage for the journey, to the timber for rebuilding the walls and the house in which he will stay. Once he arrives, his first move is to do a secret, night-time reconnaissance and investigation of the city walls to fully understand the situation and the task ahead.
White says this:
The organisation took place in the presence of God….[Nehemiah] illustrates a principle in godly planning – the principle of anticipating difficulties and bringing them into God’s presence. Prayer is where planning starts.
Some people hold the motto: “let go and let God”; making spontaneity and inspiration spiritual whilst assuming that those who plan ahead are acting out of worldly leadership models. Others are so keen to map out every detail that they never spend time giving their plans to God, allowing God to change their plans and ultimately trusting in God for the success of all they do. Psalm 127 says: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.” We must trust in God and rely in his strength but we must also build and plan and work hard (see Paul in Colossians 1:29 and 1 Corinthians 15:10).
White puts it well when he says:
It does not matter how trivial or how ambitious the projects may be. Facts will be needed, buildings will need to be inspected, problems anticipated, needed resources calculated. To build a tower, you first count the cost. To go to war, you first do intelligence works and find out your chances of winning.
As an aside, Nehemiah had obviously already proved himself as someone who was good at planning, had a keen mind and was good with the details. In his role as cupbearer to the King of Persia, Nehemiah was the equivalent to the chief security officer for the most powerful man on the planet (like Obama’s top bodyguard). God has used the years of working in the secular work place, with all the pressures and training that Nehemiah would have lived through, to prepare him for this great task.
APPLICATION – do you have an extensive period of time set aside each month (1-2 days) for planning?
(4) Mobilising Others
At the end of chapter 2, after months of prayer, planning and investigation, the time comes for him to mobilise the troops. This is a two step process. Firstly, he casts vision and secondly, he delegates.
With regards to his vision casting (2:17-19), White points out four elements:
- A pervasive sense of identification (He is a leader who gets involved)
- An acknowledgement of the seriousness of Jerusalem’s plight (He is realistic and faces the facts; he doesn’t shy away from reality)
- An appeal to specific action (Let’s start rebuilding)
- A personal testimony (God’s hand has been upon me…let me tell you how he has provided so far)
Nehemiah then manages to mobilise 39 different groups (chapter 3) from all walks of life: priests, levites, temple servants, goldsmiths, merchants, officials, private individuals, masters, servants, men and women and even perfume makers (vs8). They are all given different roles around the circumference of the wall and Nehemiah worked with them.
The depressed population of Jerusalem had listened with wonder to the way in which a heathen king had supplied Nehemiah with timber and with letters. They were presented in the flesh with a leader who had trusted God, had brought the timber to Jerusalem and who now stood before them, knowing what the problems were, but still ready to go on with the building. His confidence was infectious. And the people were encouraged..
…the pattern has repeated itself endlessly during the history of God’s people – the fear and fascination of a God-given vision, one man or woman’s willingness to follow that vision, to boldly acknowledge the risks and costs, to share that vision and then challenge God’s people to follow.
APPLICATION – Do you need to step back and envision your people? Who else could you involve who is not currently active?
(5) Hard Work
I recently heard a quote from Thomas Edison which said: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Nehemiah understood what was needed. White says:
Nehemiah shared hardship with the workers. His beard would be clogged with grit, his eyes red with dust while sweat would probably leave streaks down his cheeks. Spirituality is no substitute for sweat. Nehemiah’s organising ability, his coolness under stress and his prayer would have been wasted had he not worked. Prayer may move mountains. But prayer and elbow grease are wonderful allies.
The Apostle Paul himself would say “I worked harder than them, yet not I but the grace of God that was in me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
APPLICATION – Are you working efficiently? Are you working hard?
From the outset of his mission, Nehemiah faced opposition and it came at different times and in different guises. The timing of the opposition is uncanny and warns us to expect spiritual attack at the most unhelpful time. The devil and his demons are clever and organised! I have detected six forms of attack that Nehemiah faces:
- Ridicule (2:10/19, 4:1-3) – Discouragement and doubt, so you give up.
- Physical attack (4:7-12) – Fear to paralyse the workers.
- Murder plot (6:1-3) – Fear to make you run.
- Lies (6:5-8) – To provoke an ungodly reaction to discredit and entangle you.
- False prophet (6:10-13) – Deception to side-track you.
- Internal strife over money (5:1-19) – A temptation to divide the people and kill the work (see too, Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5)
Behind each of these acts, there was one source (the devil) and one aim (to stop the work). Sometimes it is subtle, sometimes aggresive. Sometimes he plays on the leader’s weakness and insecurities; sometimes he goes after the people. The New Testament continually exhorts us to be on our guard against the devil’s schemes for our fight is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:10ff, 1 Peter 5:9, James 4:7 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-4). How should we fight spiritual attack? In three ways: (1) prayer, (2) God’s word and (3) common sense. Nehemiah does that on each occasion and ultimately triumphs.
John White talks about the ‘School of Courage’ which Nehemiah was trained in for this and he says:
It’s a tough school. Thousands of leaders down the ages have taken the course. There are practical classes in opposition, in difficult circumstances, in loneliness, misunderstanding and tribulation. Some students quit because classes are so rough, not realising their value. There are no entrance qualifications. Any Christian may apply for training. And the Principal himself is available for interviews with every prospective student, at any hour of the day. You have only to knock and you will be admitted into his office.
APPLICATION – How is the enemy trying to attack you right now? Which of the 6 ways speaks most accurately to your current situation?
(7) Leading by Example
It goes without saying, from all that we have seen above, that Nehemiah led by example. He was servant-hearted, he was obedient to God’s law, he acted with integrity in every situation (particularly with regards to money) and he was willing to die for the sake of the people and God’s city. It is clear to see Nehemiah as a foreshadow of Jesus – the greatest and mightiest leader of all time who came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:40-45), was obedient to God in every situation and loved his people so much he ultimately died on a cross. In Nehemiah, we begin to understand more fully all that Jesus did in reclaiming his people in order to be a light to the nations.
So let me end this (very long!) blog post with two of my favourite quotes from White. He says at the end of his chapter on the leader and personal attacks:
There has always been a true elite of God’s leaders. They are the meek who inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). They weep and pray in secret, and defy earth and hell in public. They tremble when faced with danger, but die in their tracks sooner than turn back. They are like a shepherd defending his sheep or a mother protecting her young. They sacrifice without grumbling, give without calculating, suffer without groaning. To those in their charge they say “we live if you do well”. Their price is above rubies. They are the salt of the earth. And Nehemiah was one of them.
And he ends the book by saying:
Nehemiah was human. We need not speculate on his weaknesses for we have our own. Rather, we must be grateful for what we have learned from him. The fact that he was shaped from ordinary clay to become the leader he was should surely encourage us.
He has shown us the worthiness of waiting on God in prayer and that all real planning begins in God’s presence. His example has made it clear that true leadership must be consistent with an ongoing servant-hood. We have seen that his concern for God’s priorities and for the people of Jerusalem detemined his leadership style. He taught us the value of keeping ultimate goals always in mind and rebuked us with his attitude to money. We have watched him move from stress to stress and from strength to strength as he walks through the doors of fear to ultimate triumph.
And finally we have seen that he continued to run as well in the closing laps of the race as he had in the opening. The same faith and obedience that led him to take huge risks in the presence of King Artaxerxes continued to motivate him toward the close of his life.
APPLICATION – Where are you currently shirking the call of sacrifice, servant-hood and integrity in your daily life and ministry to others?
Dublin is home to around 75 000 students and is a great place to study. Do read my earlier post for why Dublin is a great place to go to university. In this post I want to look at how someone who calls themselves a Christian can flourish whilst a student in Dublin.
SINK OR SWIM?
As someone who has worked with christian students for over 10 years in a variety of universities in the UK and Ireland, university is usually a place where Christians either sink or swim. Let me explain what I mean. Sometimes a young Christian who has been very active in their local church back home and calls themselves a Christian comes to university and either because of the new choices available to them, the desire to fit in or the intellectual landscape they encounter, they end up giving up on the faith of their youth. On the other hand, others who were maybe nominal Christians growing up and were never very active in nor convinced about their faith, suddenly discover that in Christ both their intellectual questions and the desires of their heart are fully satisfied. For the former, university becomes the time when they fall away from faith. For the latter, university becomes a time when Jesus shapes and dictates the rest of their life. Now of course not everyone will fit into those two categories; but broadly speaking university is a time when Christian students either sink or swim.
So how can you ensure that if you are coming to Dublin (or any city for that matter) as a student this September (whether for your first year or a subsequent year) that you flourish? Here are my 5 top tips:
(1) Find a good local church.
I would always encourage students to join a local christian group on campus. I think these are great for finding like-minded Christians in the same stage of life as you and together you can become a community that demonstrates your faith in Christ to others on campus. When I was a university student, I was actively involved in leadership in the CU and I currently help out and speak at a number of CUs that are facilitated and resourced by IFESIreland as well as the Agape Student Life Group. However, the Christian Union or Agape is not the primary place for belonging or discipleship; that is the role of the local church. That was Jesus’ model. The CU should see themselves as a missionary army on campus, sent to spread the love and peace of Christ to their peers. In the local church you will find people who are older, wiser and more experienced than you and this will provide stability and a refuge for you during your time at university. Additionally, ensure you find a church that teaches the bible clearly and well as this is the primary means by which God grows his saints. It is not about being impressed by the latest ideas; it is about being built up with the Word of God (see 2 Timothy 4:2-5 for more on this distinction). If you’re interested in what we do check out http://www.christcitychurch.ie or get in contact.
(2) Find genuine and deep friendship
Either with some christian friends on campus or in your church, it is important that you to find 2-3 friends who you will get to know well and who will know you well. In our church we talk about 4 C’s – people you can cry with, celebrate with, confess your sins to and chill with (cheesy I know!). The bible says that our main problem in life is that we like to justify ourselves and prove ourselves by our academic performance or the way we look or our christian duties/morality or our achievement in another area. However, our greatest need is to humble ourselves, admit we could never make it on our own and throw ourselves on God’s grace. Jesus said “blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3) so we need others who will help us be real with ourselves, our failings, insecurities, weaknesses and sin and will help us become all that God intended for us to become. For more information on this see Hebrews 3:12-13 and Ephesians 5:8-10. DON’T try and be best friends with everyone – that will end up in slavery and immaturity. Invest in a few friends well. Proverbs 18:24 puts it nicely.
A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(3) Engage your brain
When you come to university in Dublin, you come into an intellectual landscape that is (a) increasingly secular and (b) deeper than you have ever had to think before. If you are not careful, you may find that your reasons for being a Christian are rather flimsy and shallow compared to others around you. This naturally leads to doubt and confusion and is the reason many fall away from faith. The bible tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. One of the ways we can do that is to engage our brains, even if you are not someone who is into theology or philosophy. That is one of the reasons why I wrote The Intro Course which is all about asking the big questions of life (questions on meaning, truth, love, Jesus, suffering and religion). I was acutely aware that 18-35 year olds today have no place where they can ask their questions, voice their doubts, grapple with different perspectives and develop their thinking. There are few places to dialogue together with people from different world-views and religions. So my encouragement to you would be to face up to the fact that you probably know less than you think and that your Christianity is probably more shallow than you think – and engage your brain. A great place to start is to read The Reason For God by Tim Keller, If God Then What? by Andrew Wilson or The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. If you are struggling with the reliability of the bible then you should read The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable? by FF Bruce.
The book of Hebrews is a pretty harsh book to a church that was falling back into old patterns of thinking and sinful behaviour and many in the church had already deserted Christ. The writer has these strong words to say,
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
Many of us need to move on from the elementary teaching about Christ and move from milk to solid food (see also 1 Corinthians 3:1-2).
(4) Take a stance early
It is very important you nail your colours to the mast early because if you compromise your christian value-system in the first few weeks for the sake of fitting in (whether with drink, drugs, sex or whatever else) you will find it very hard to claw back that ground that you have lost, and you’ll feel like a hypocrite. Now there is always new mercy every day (Lamentations 3:23) and God is gracious, patient and forgiving, but that is no excuse for excusing sin. It is actually a stimulus for holy living!!
Now to take a stance early you will need to (a) be convinced biblically on the stance you are making and (b) be confident in the value Jesus gives you. If either are unclear in your heart or your head then you will more than likely compromise when peer pressure or exam stress kick in. Knowing your identity in Christ (point b) is so important because it will give you the power to be rejected by your peers, because you know you are ultimately accepted by God. This also leads back to points 1 & 2 and finding a good church to support you and genuine and deep friendship.
(5) Go for it.
There is nothing more destabilising for your non-believing friends than to find that you are the life and soul of the party. Jesus promised us life to the full and you’ll be amazed when your friends see you living life fully for God but also fully engaged in many aspects of university life. They may have (previously) written you off but over time, you will win their respect. In the end, a quiet confidence, a humble strength, a deep-seated joy and a genuine love for others shines through. Those qualities are all found in knowing your identity in Christ (see number 4) and the way to that is through the scriptures and community (numbers 1-3). Of course, you’ll need tonnes of the Holy Spirit too!!
My cousin Luke Smith (who works full time with students) put it well in an interview when he said:
My advice to a christian fresher is tell your house mates that you are a Christian as soon as possible (don’t expect them to be impressed). Then be the life and soul of every party (watch them be affected over the first year)!
So there you have it. I am sure there are more things to be said, but these would be my 5 top tips. One final point – however you decide to navigate the challenges, tensions and complexities of being a Christian student in Dublin in the 21st Century, whatever you do, do NOT end up in a “Christian bubble!”
I hope you end up swimming!
Every now and again you read a book which expresses an idea that crystallises everything you thought but had never put into words. One of those books for me was Provocative Church by Graham Tomlin. I read the book 7 years ago and it has shaped my approach to Christianity and church ever since.
The central theme of the book is actually based on a quote from Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century mathematician, philosopher and theologian. He famously said:
Make religion attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature. Attractive because it promises true good.
3 weeks ago my manager at HubSpot, with whom I have many humorous discussions about Jesus being a fairytale, said to me “it’s a great idea Steve…be great if it were true!” Now whilst he thinks I am crazy for believing what I believe (and he really does!), at least he thinks it’s a good idea, at least he can see that it is attractive, it makes a difference to my life and if it were true, it would make a difference to the world. So according to Pascal, I am 50% of the way there…I now just need to show him it is true!!
Tomlin says at the start of his book:
One of the key themes of this book is that unless there is something about church, or Christians, or faith that intrigues, provokes or entices, then our message will fall on deaf ears. If churches cannot convey a sense of ‘reality’ then all our ‘truth’ will count for nothing. Unless someone wants to hear, there’s no point in shouting louder. Churches need to become provocative, arresting places which makes the searcher, casual visitors, want to come back for more.
He goes on to say:
Pascal’s point is that before we ever get to the stage of explaining or convincing, there needs to emerge in people the desire, the question, the hunger to discover more, to find God.
Now reading Tomlin got me back to reading my Bible (like all great Christian books should do!!) to see what God’s word actually said about the the nature and witness of God’s people (in the Old and New Testament). As I re-read the ‘big Bible story’ I could see that the idea of a “provocative people” was there all the way through.
- Abraham and his descendants were to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3) and that they were to be distinct in the way they lived (Genesis 18:19).
- Moses was given the law by God on Mount Sinai so as to show the wisdom and closeness of God to the nations (Deuteronomy 4:6-7)
- The high point of God’s People in the Old Testament is 1 Kings 10 when the Queen of Sheba (probably the richest person in the world) comes to hear the wisdom of Solomon and delights in the happiness of his people.
And I could continue with more examples. Of course we know that God’s people made a complete mess of it, and we still do today. But God’s intention for his people and what we see when they get it right is a provocative people who cause those who don’t know God to start asking questions…to awaken a hunger in people that what they are seeing before their eyes is true!
So it is not surprising that when Jesus formed the new community of God and speaks the most famous sermon in the history of the world (The Sermon on the Mount) in Matthew 5-7, he describes the church like this:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
This is not about people being bashed with the bible. This is about people seeing a light, a love, a hope, a joy, a strength and a wisdom among God’s people that causes them to investigate the light (on their terms!) and then, if they so decide, start to follow the light itself.
To bring this all up-to-date, modern marketers are now understanding what God had always intended (it’s good to see business and culture catching up with God’s eternal ways…haha!!). I work for HubSpot which is a software company which helps companies grow through implementing Inbound Marketing. Inbound marketing is an idea that was first put into print by HubSpot’s 2 co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah October 2009 (the company was started in summer 2006). Inbound marketing is all about attracting people to your company/product through remarkable content (blogs, videos, whitepapers, ebooks etc) rather than forcing your company/product onto people through TV ads, billboards, spam mail etc (this approach is called outbound marketing and is said to be, mostly, ‘broken‘). So the idea of inbound marketing for your company/product is the same idea as what the Bible, Blaise Pascal and Graham Tomlin are saying about the church. Don’t force your way on people. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t shout louder. Attract them, lure them, bless them, delight them, help them, awaken a desire in them … and only when they want to engage with you, start to talk more about how what you are doing could be what they need!
That is my hope and desire for us as a church. That we would provoke questions, awaken desire and make people think. Many people will think we are nuts (they thought that of Jesus!) and many people will reject us (they rejected Jesus too!). But my hope is that many people will be intrigued enough to at least check out whether what we are saying could be true.
If you’re interested, we start a 5 week series called ‘Provocative Church’ on Sunday 7th September (next Sunday) at 4.15pm at Filmbase, Curved Street, Temple Bar. Our church then officially launches on Sunday 12th October, same time, same place. For more details about Christ City Church do read part 1 of a 6 part blog series looking at our vision and values.
I hope to see you soon.
This blog post was primarily written for those non-Irish prospective students who are considering moving from overseas to Dublin to study. Whenever you make a big decision like this it can be hard to know whether you should ‘take the plunge’. So here are 6 reasons why I think you should come to Dublin to study.
(1) Because of the Guinness. It really does taste better than Guinness anywhere else in the whole world. Read this post for more details…
(2) Because the Irish love the ‘craic’. What better place to study and have the time of your life than amongst the outgoing and fun-loving Irish, the most welcoming people in the world!
(3) Because of its vibrancy and beauty. Dublin is a city famous for its culture, history, tourism, music, sport and much more. It used to be famous for its Guinness and Jameson Whiskey factories but nowadays it’s better known as home to the European headquarters for Google, Facebook and many other worldwide, billion-dollar businesses. Dublin is also as beautiful as it is cosmopolitan. It has the picturesque River Liffey running through it and sandy beaches are only 15 minutes from the city centre. It is a short drive to the stunning Wicklow mountains and the west and south coasts of Ireland are breathtaking.
(4) Because there are 4 great universities in the city. Dublin is home to around 75,000 students. University College Dublin (UCD) is on the southside (25,000 students), Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is in the city centre (17,000 students) and Dublin City University (DCU) is on the northside (11,000 students). There is also the Dublin Institute of Technology, which has around 22,000 students among its various campuses. So Dublin is geared up for students with 100s of different courses.
(5) Because you’ll end up with much less debt. Whilst living costs in Dublin may be higher than in the UK, tuition fees for EU residents are much cheaper. Studying in the UK could cost you up to £9,000 per year but most EU students studying in Dublin would pay student fees of around £2,000 per year. This means you could save up to £7000 a year and around £21,000 over 3 years! So whilst there may be higher costs in the short term for studying in Dublin, imagine what you could do with a long-term saving of £21,000?**
(6) Because we are launching a church in a unique time in Irish history. In recent years Ireland has seen turmoil at its core – political, economic and religious. The very foundations of society have started to crumble. This has led to a collapse in hope and identity. This September we will be launching our church into the heart of the city centre (filmbase) with the aim of being a blessing to the city of Dublin, inspiring 18-35 year olds to discover their true purpose and to invest in the good of the city. To find out more check out www.christcitychurch.com or e-mail email@example.com.
If you want to read more about living in Dublin, do read this blog called “10 reasons Dublin is a great place to live”
* The Irish equivalent of UCAS is CAO (Central Applications Office). In Ireland applicants are made offers after receiving their exam results (this week), and any available places will then be advertised on the CAO website.
** Please note that fees in Ireland aren’t incorporated into a student loan as they are in the UK and that you may not be eligible for the same loans that you could apply for in the UK.
If you’re interested in maturing as a person, developing your skills and investing in your theological and biblical understanding then the Christ City Church Internship could be just the thing for you. Additionally if you’re reading this and you’re not from Ireland, then you will also gain great experience in cross-cultural ministry and church planting.
This year our church has had the great privilege of having two interns with us, one for 6 months (Gabriel) and the other for 9 months (Christian). It’s been great to have them with us for the year and it’s been fantastic to see them grow, change, step outside of their comfort zones and be used by God.
The internship which is based around 3 areas
- Ministry experience (developing your skills)
- Theological training (developing a biblical worldview)
- Character growth (growing in Christ-likeness)
Each Intern will receive a mentor and line-manager. The mentor will help them with personal growth and the line-manager will help them structure their week/year.
We are looking for 2 new interns for when our church launches in September 2014. If you’re interested do get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I can send you the application form and more details. Or else I can connect you with the 2 interns we had this year and you can chat to them first. The Internship can be full time (and we’ll help you with funding) or part time (and you work part time to earn some money) and it can be done for anywhere from 6-18 months.
All the information about the Internship can be found here