Bashing the Bakery & Criticising Church

Sometimes you’ve got to get out of the house. You know, the times when you have to concentrate on something.

I popped into a local bakery for some thinking space. Coffee was good.  However, my cogitations were disturbed by a conversation I overheard.

Two young women came into the cafe, sat on a table nearby and started to talk to one of the people serving behind the counter. It turned out that the older lady working in the shop was the mother of one of the two seated women. The conversation covered many topics ranging from work to holidays, shopping, diets and haircuts. But the killer subject was the very bakery in which we were sat.  Mother and daughter launched a tirade of complaints about the products, the company, the bosses and just about anything associated with the place. It put me off going back.

All this set me thinking about the way we talk about the church’s problems to one another. Who else is listening? Of course no church is perfect. All groups populated by human beings need evaluation and improvement. But there is a time and a place, isn’t there? It didn’t seem right to Paul that the Corinthians were airing their dirty linen in public, “one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!” (1 Corinthians 6:6 NIV11)

Mind you, the problems of the early church are pretty obvious. We’ve been reading about them for 2,000 years. So, how do we balance this? Here are four principles.

  1. Personal before Public. It must always be right to first go and talk to the person or persons who can change things.
  2. Helpful or Harmful? Will talking about this issue build up or tear down the faith of the person to whom I am talking? “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 NIV11). In particular it is wise not to talk about issues younger Christians may not be able to put into context – and our children should not hear us being negative about God’s bride. 
  3. Honesty and Holiness. It is fruitless to pretend the church is perfect. Therefore when someone asks you for an opinion about the church it is vital to be honest, but also to remember that the Holy Spirit is in the audience. What we say should reflect our real feelings, but not make the Spirit sad. 
  4. Hindrances and Healing. A good question to ask before beginning a conversation about the church’s problems is whether it will solve something and bring the church nearer to a state of better health or not.  Will what I am about to say hinder the church moving forward, or help it?
Of course, many of these issues are subjective and subtle, but I hope these principles will help us to be honest with one another, but also wise in the way we talk.  Let’s not “bash the bakery”, or no one will want to come and sample its delights.
What principles do you adopt when faced with these challenges?
Malcolm Cox

“The Hanging Chimney & Proverbs 24”

I love a fire. Not that I’m a pyromaniac, but fires in the hearth were part of my childhood. They take me back to family Christmases and a smoke-filled lounge.

Our new home has a chimney, so we decided to install a wood burning stove. In preparation for the arrival of “wood burning stove installation man” I stripped the wall paper and removed an innocuous piece of wood.

As the piece of wood came away, I paused. Looking more carefully I saw a gap between the upper and lower parts of the chimney breast. It should not be there. The higher part of the chimney was completely unsupported. How long it had been hanging there is hard to say, but it must have been many years. At any moment it could come crashing down. The piece of timber was inadequate, but I shoved it back in place until “wood burning stove installation man” (WBSIM) arrived.

WBSIM was suitably appalled and dashed off to retrieve supports from his van. The frame in the photograph was rapidly installed, he built some brick columns, and we all breathed easier.

Sometimes things happen in life that expose our lack of strength.  Our faith seems to be inadequate to the challenge.  We might reflect on this Proverb, “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!” (Proverbs 24:10 NIV11).

But we do not need to be victims of our weakness. Instead, we can be grateful that it has become exposed – for then we can find the strength we need. At the risk of stretching the metaphor we need the spiritual equivalent of WBSIM – the Holy Spirit. He it is that supplies us with hidden strength. I do not know how to build chimney supports, but someone does (WBSIM). I may not know how to find the faith I need, but the Spirit does.

The next time you discover that collapse is more likely than stability, why not go to God in prayer and claim this promise, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV11)

Malcolm Cox

“Perseverance Produces Character”

Yesterday was leadership workshop time for the London International church of Christ. Family Group leaders from all over London (and I even spotted some from Birmingham, Norwich, Manchester and Glasgow) gathered for inspiration and instruction. 

The afternoon program was split men/women. Toks gave the men a talk on character, and here below are my edited notes on that lesson.

Perseverance Produces Character
Rom 5.3-5 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Talent is seen on the outside. Character is about what is inside a man. The latter is more important than the former, for this is the substance of who we are.
James 1:4 “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
What is a godly character, and how can it be grown? Here are three important aspects.
1. Patience
2Tim. 4:2-5 “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Let’s remember that people have been patient with us. That should help us to be patient with our wives, our children, the people we are trying to help, and those we are training. Jesus is a great example of patient love. He was patient, but not tolerant of sin. Let’s learn to differentiate between the two. They can look similar, but are very different.
Whether we are correcting, rebuking or encouraging (as Paul instructs Timothy above) we must salt all of these with patience. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit and will grow in us if we want it to and pray for it. 

One symptom of patience is being consistent in discipling/training others. Do we have consistency in our relationships? 

One symptom of a lack of patience is giving orders instead of careful instruction. We get impatient when we take on too much. Are we discipling too many people?
2. Pride & Humility
Prov. 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

One sign of pride is self-sufficiency – which is deadly. It is like saying we do not need God. We need the wisdom of God’s Word and we need it brought to us by other people. It is important to remember that spiritual wisdom always trumps worldly wisdom.

Prov. 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Prov. 18:12 “Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honour.”

One sign of pride is being resistant to change. How does this show itself? By not asking questions, not being on touch, not accepting criticism, being defensive and hiding what is in the heart. Do we struggle with these tendencies?

Another sign is only listening to the advice we want to hear. Rehoboam did this in King 12. The result was a divided kingdom.

Prov. 15:31 “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.”
Prov. 10:17 “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.”

One last symptom of pride is when we agree with someone when with them (at least we give the impression of agreeing, but may not do so in our hearts) and then go away and do something different. If we disagree we must speak up.

Luke 6:39-40 “He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”
3. Purity
Gen. 39:12 “She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.”

Joseph’s example is inspiring. He fled from a situation in which sexual sin was a very real possibility. Is sexual sin hindering the men’s ministry? Are we talking about it? Confessing our sin? Confessing temptations? Asking one another?

Job 31:1 “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.
Num. 25:7-8 “When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped;”

Let’s be aware of where we can be tempted. What are the circumstances of my greatest temptation? When alone, or travelling? Plan a defence. Where do I need to be radical?  Perhaps Potiphar’s wife was needy. We must beware of spending time with ‘needy’ women who are not our wives – whether at work, or in the church. Instead, let’s live in the presence of God (like Joseph), and we will be strong in resisting these temptations.

1Cor. 6:18 “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.”

An important principle what helps to inoculate us against sexual temptation is to stay busy with God’s work. Leave no vacuum. 
Godly character is built by persevering in learning to be patient, valuing humility over pride and protecting our purity.

A Workman Approved

January marks a fresh start. Fresh starts require fresh thinking. It is with just such an aim the family group leaders of the London International church of Christ gathered this morning. The annual leadership workshop was kicked off by Corey & Angela Stuck teaching on, “A Workman Approved” from 2 Timothy 2.15. Here are selected excerpts from their lesson.
“A Workman Approved”
2Tim. 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
“Approved” = tested like metal.
Three habits to become approved….
1. Pass on conviction, 2 Tim 2.2
2Tim. 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Our calling is not just to believe the right things, but to pass on our convictions to others – like Jesus did. How did he do it? He: 
*Prayed for his disciples
*Patiently repeated lessons when they did not “get it” the first time
*Told truth, even if it hurt
*Helped people in their hurts, not leaving them to go through them alone
*Did not run away when tough times came, or he was mistreated
*Passed on conviction, not just instruction
*Had these things in his heart, not just his mind
We pass on convictions effectively when we understand the heart and the motives behind why we do what we do, and not just the actions themselves. 
Suggestion: write out a list of your non-negotiable convictions. Then next to each one write why they are they non-negotiable. If we do this we will be less shaken by those who question our convictions, and clearer about what we are trying to pass on to others and why. 

The best way to pass on our convictions is by modeling them in our own lives – that’s how Jesus did it. 
1Tim. 4:12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
The word “example” can be used to describe a die for a coin. If distorted, it has long-lasting negative impact and will be replicated for good or ill. This is why we keep our eyes on Jesus. He is the standard and we are always looking forward and moving in that direction. 
2. Effective discipling
2Tim. 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
We never grow out of the need for discipling, and neither do the people in our ministries. But are we effective? To be effective in discipling one another we will need to find the Biblical principles. If we are clear on these we will develop healthy practices. The verse above summarises so much of what this is about (a useful book on this topic is, “How to help people change” by J Adams).
Jesus focussed on discipling the heart, not the actions. What holds us back from doing the same? We do not need to allow our own pain of the past (or that of those to whom we speak) to prevent us from talking about matters of the heart. Let’s leave no elephant in the room. 
Angela pointed out that fear is a big issue for women. Fear of getting hurt and of hurting others in relationships. But the pain of the past does not need to control our future. 

Some ideas for deepening our relationships:
*Consistency. Nothing beats spending quantity time together regularly.
*Plan ahead. If we know when we are meeting up it takes stress out of life. 
*Reset. Sometimes things happen that get in the way of meeting up. When this happens don’t be passive, but reset things. 
*Variety. Vary times together – pray, watch a movie, eat, talk etc..
We need each other. Self-protection seems attractive, but it only prevents love being enjoyed. Remember: discipling works, that’s why Jesus did it!
3. Work as One
John 17:20-23 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Unity produces fruit. One of the reasons the church stood out in Acts 2 was the unity of the group – Acts 2:46-47,  “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” 
A healthy church or family group will have a culture of ‘oneness’ like that early church. Groups that have this will be ones where the members use their gifts for the benefit of all. The group will work together to help people to become Christians. We will have what Angela called, “the sense of a goose”. Geese fly in formation to make the flight easier. They help one another when tired and honk encouragement. Let’s have the sense of geese!

John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
How can we show our love for one another to the world? Be creative. Work together with other members of your group to show the love of Christ to this world. Have friends into your home and involve one another in the lives of each others’ friends. 
If we ….
*Pass on convictions
*Perform effective discipling
*Plan to work as one
…we can be confident of being a workman approved. 

Crashing Kitchen Cabinets, Shepherds, Simeon & Luke 2

We moved house in August. The new home is what they call a “fixer-upper”. Perfectly habitable but needing work.

The project list is long, but the one selected for the Christmas break was – “take the tiles off the kitchen wall so they can be re-plastered.”  Just have a look at the tiles in the picture and you will understand why this is a priority.

Goggles, gloves, hammer & chisel did their work and we soon had a wall bereft of tiles. One obstacle stood in the way of progress – the corner kitchen cabinet. My son helped me lift it off the wall, I removed the fixings, then the tiles and we lifted it back in place. Crockery, glasses, baking ingredients and spices were re-loaded onto the shelves and we went our merry way.

At 00.25am on New Year’s Day our dog jumped out of his furry skin at the loud ‘crash’ that emanated from the kitchen. The photograph tells the story. Cabinet and wall had parted company. Luckily only a couple of glasses broke, and the toaster sports a rakish dent, but it could have been much worse.

The post-mortem revealed a sobering truth. Removing the tiles meant that the screws holding the supporting plates in place had far less grip into the wall. The holes needed drilling deeper to provide support adequate to the new situation. There is a metaphor here.

Change is essential to growth. And it can make us stronger as well as more mature. But change is disturbing and will only strengthen us if we pay attention to the foundations, the roots, the state of the rawl plugs in the wall.  The New Year is here, and change is in the air.  If we want to see growth in our relationship with God we must anticipate disturbance.

The angels sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Lk 2.14). Simeon said to Mary, “…a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Lk 2.35). Quite a contrast. When Jesus comes into our lives he brings us peace, but also a sword.

Are we ready to let God drill deeper this year?  Let’s pray for the courage to allow our Father to move in us to make us ‘better’, but also stronger.  If we will, nothing will come crashing down.

Malcolm Cox