Gordon MacDonald on Calling and the unappreciated and unnoticed.

“Called men and women can come from the strangest places and carry the most unique qualifications. They may be the unnoticed, the unappreciated, the unsophisticated.

Look again at the men Christ picked: few if any of them would have been candidates for high positions in organized religion or big business. It is not that they were unusually awkward.

It is just that they were among the ordinary. But Christ called them, and that made all the difference.”

Gordon MacDonald

Abraham Heschel on time, space and the answer to the problem of civilisation.

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“We are infatuated with the splendor of space, with the grandeur of things of space. We know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, except to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space.

As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face. To understand the teaching of the Bible, one must accept its premise that time has a meaning for life which is at least equal of space: that time has a significance and sovereignty of its own.

The answer to the problem of civilization: not to flee from the realm of space; to work with things of space but to be in love with eternity.”

Abraham Heschel: The Sabbath

Daniel Yankelovich on the trap of contemporary individualism. 

“In looking to their own fulfilment, they are caught in a debilitating contradiction: their goal is to expand their lives by reaching beyond the self, but the strategy they employ results in constricting their lives, drawing them inward toward an ever-narrowing, closed-off “I.” People want to enlarge their choices, but by seeking to keep “all options open,” actually diminish them.”

Advice for Christian Creatives: Secrets for dealing with criticism

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If you want to create one of the great challenges you will face is criticism. The simple act of creation contains within it an implicit critique. The person who is truly satisfied with the status quo will not feel the need to create something new. Thus creation inevitably creates a reaction, sometimes awe and appreciation, but often jealousy, envy and fear. You cannot create without some form of conflict. Therefore no matter how awesome you think your creation is, there are going to be people out there who think that it stinks, and who are prepared to tell you so.

Negative feedback is especially painful for the creative. The sheer act of creation is taxing. Even when it is life-giving and fun it still requires energy, focus and determination. Creativity is your passion being brought to life in tangible forms. So when someone tells you that they don’t like your creation, it is inevitable that their critique will feel personal.

In the past we were a culture of creators and producers, we are now a culture of consumers and critics. In our socially networked world today, there are millions of ways that people can tell you that they don’t like what you are doing. Anyone with a smartphone can bang out a negative comment about your creation in the time it takes them to wait for their coffee. The difficult thing is that most of this feedback is anonymous and distant. Anyone with microbe of the paranoid in their body can be turned into an anxious mess by such feedback.

When we truly examine our culture of criticism, we discover that behind most critics there is actually a frustrated creator. They are simply holding up your work to their view of the world, their passions and values, the only difference between you and them is that you had the courage to put it out into the world. Yes there are some genuine and skilled reviewers out there, but as an author I have discovered that most reviews tell you far more about the reviewer than they do about your book.

Whilst we have turned into a culture of anonymous criticism, we are also simultaneously a culture which is afraid of offering constructive feedback to those close to us. This is what makes try outs for reality singing shows so funny as we laugh at tone deaf people who have been told that they can sing by friends and family. Behind the awkward hilarity there is a truth, we will critique those we do not know, but withhold needed criticism from those we know. To further confuse things, sometimes those near us will critique us from a place of jealousy, our act of creation will cause them to question their place in the world, the implicit critique of creation will feel as if it is pointed at them, and therefore they will turn on the creator.

So how do we find the balance between the tsunami of criticism which will paralyses us, and the feedback that we desperately need which will enable us to be better creators and human beings?

Here are a few ideas for getting the balance right when it comes to criticism.

Ignore critics you do not know. Don’t listen to those who are outside of the audience you are creating for, you did not make it form them so why bother listening to them? Seth Godin says “Don’t punish yourself by listening to the mob.”
Ignore the criticism of those who lace their critique with agendas. Block out those who parasitically live of your work to further their own agenda. Instead define and then understand your audience and those who you are creating for, do this and you will discover a truly beautiful relationship.

Listen to those who you trust. Go to people who you admire, who have character, who are not prone to jealousy, who have your best interests at heart. Those who love you so much that they are willing to tell you the hard stuff. Even when it is painful, seek out their critique of your work and your life. (See Proverbs 12:1)

Get a bit tougher. Destroy the myth in your mind that everyone is going to love your stuff all the time. Negative feedback will always be there until the day you die.

Understand Grace. Root your identity and security in Him. When you secure your self understanding in the truth that the God of the universe died for you because he loves you so much, everything will be ordered in its correct place. Your identity will not be tethered to your creativity. Once you understand this you will no longer live in fear of criticism, you will be truly free to create.

10 Tips for Christian Leaders Who Don’t Want To Become Self Promoting Jerks Online

Social Networking can be a fabulous tool for leaders to advance the kingdom. However like so many other things it can also lead us into dangerous territory if unexamined.

Below are some tips on how to use social networking well in our celebrity obsessed, image based culture without falling into the sin of pride. I have probably broken several at times, but hopefully they will be of help to you.

1) Avoid being a fame-vampire. Just because you had coffee with someone well known doesn’t mean that you have to tweet about it. We tend to do this because sub-consciously believe that if we broadcast the fact that we are associating with someone well known, that their fame/influence will rub off on us.

Would you be willing to tweet that you just met with a person who had no influence or social capital?

2) Don’t add to the Hubbub. We live in a culture of incredible distraction. Just because we can broadcast to thousands the first thought that comes into our head doesn’t mean that we have to. Just communicate the important stuff.

By refraining from the cacophony you just might give others space and silence. Is your broadcasting of the mundane robbing others of the silence they need to encounter God?

3) Real life Followers>Online followers.

4) Platform never beats spiritual authority. Lot of people talk about platform these days. Platform sells books, generates hits and followers and results in speaking requests. However platform doesn’t always equate with spiritual authority.

You can have a massive platform with little spiritual authority, and you can have significant spiritual authority and a terrible Klout score.

5) Promote resources not yourself. Beware the thin line between selling books, resources, events, Churches, others you wish to champion, ministries you believe in and selling yourself.

Do your social networking patterns push people towards resources that will build up their faiths, or are you allowing some of the glory to bounce off onto you?

6) Avoid humblebrags. Don’t ever use the hashtag #humbled. My friend Amy said to me the other day that if someone uses the hashtag #humbled there is a 90% chance they are bragging.

We know deep down that social networking naturally tilts towards self promotion, so we try and self promote whilst trying to be humble, check out the humblebrag feed on twitter to see why this approach doesn’t work.

7)Ask the dangerous question ‘why?’ Before posting always ask yourself ‘why am I posting this instagram pic/tweet/status update?’ Deeply search your heart for your true motivations. If you struggle with this find a social networking accountability buddy who will ask you the tough questions.

8) Take breaks. Take regular technology sabbaths. This is one of the best ways to ensure that you keep social networking as a tool rather than an idol.

9) Be Patient with God. God will advance your ministry if he so desires in His good time. Just because we live in a time where it is easy to push our own carts does not mean that we need to. Both the bible and history is littered with the tragic tales of people whose influence exceeded their spiritual development.

10) Track your time. Keep a track of how much time you are devoting to social networking. Not just in real minutes and hours but also in mental energy. Do you find yourself thinking about what you could say online when you are even off line? Are you robbing your family, friends and neighbours of your complete presence and attention? Sit down and plan how much time you wish to spend a week online and stick to it.

Dallas Willard on knowing Jesus Today

“If you really want to know Christ now, you have somehow to set aside the cloud of images and impressions that rule the popular as well as the academic mind, Christian and non-Christian alike. You must try to think of him as an actual human being in a peculiar human context who actually has had the real historical effects be did, up to the present. You have to take him out of the category of religious artifacts and holy holograms that dominate presentations of him in the modern world and see him as a man among men, who moved human history as none other.

You must not begin with all of the religious paraphernalia that has gathered around him or with the idea that his greatness must be an illusion generated by an overlay from superstitious and ambitious people—mainly that “shyster” Paul–who wanted to achieve power for their own purposes.

Just look at his teaching and his influence for what it has been through the ages—there is really no secret about that—and be clear-minded and fair in your estimate of what kind of person could have brought such teachings and influence upon human life.”

Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today

When Spiritual Growth Seems Painful

Often as God increases our ministry and impact it can feel as though we are moving in reverse. Life seemingly become more difficult. Spiritual attack increases, isolation from others becomes more palpable, the life of spiritual freedom begins to feel heavy.

Be assured that this is because God is working deep within, exercising spiritual muscles never before used; transforming areas never before exposed to His light.

At these moments it is essential to recognise what is going on through spiritual rather than earthly eyes. Freedom is found not in walking away from this growth, but into it.

David Bentley Hart on how religious ideas animate culture.

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“A culture – a civilization—is only as great as the religious ideas that animate it; the magnitude of a people’s cultural achievement is determined by the height of its spiritual aspirations.

The eye of faith, presumes to see something miraculous within the ordinary the moment, mysterious hints of of an intelligible order calling out for translation into artefacts.”

David Bentley Hart

How orthodoxy feeds our creativity

Jackson Pollock became a sensation in the art world of the 1950’s . For centuries everyone had used brushes; yet here was this man, like a dancer, dripping paint with sticks. The paint whirled through the air creating storms of colour that would hang in the air, before splashing across the canvas, creating huge, complex fields of patterned texture.

It was so contemporary. So cutting edge. So modern.

Holding it all together however was one piece of convention and tradition. An anchor of orthodoxy which allowed Pollock to ride upon the waves of creativity. It was the canvas.

The white stretched material created a frame of reference. A set of boundaries, a rectangular limitation.

Without this blank canvas, Pollock’s breakthrough abstract expressionist paintings would not hang in the greatest modern galleries of the world. Instead they would simply be dropped paint, mopped off of Pollock’s studio floor long ago.

It was the orthodoxy of the blank canvas which gave Pollock’s the freedom to truly create.tumblr_inline_mt8r7nWMR01rz9nx2

Our world is obsessed with creativity. It drives our dreams and our economy. Yet our world seeks creativity without limits, restrictions and tradition. This is the heartbeat of modernity. An attempt for the self to be utterly free of restrictions and limits. Ironically this is what ultimately imprisons us. Our desire to live without limitations and definition creates a culture which has turned upon itself; a self hating anti-culture.

Long ago the creator, when forming the universe, set in the grain of the cosmos limits, traditions and restrictions. The Word walked amongst us, his breath fell onto pages of scripture. Dogma and doctrine was formed. Humans needed orthodoxy.

The source of all creativity understood that to be truly creative, humankind needed these limits and restrictions, to soar upon the wind we needed to be tethered to a line held by the creator himself. We needed the orthodoxy of the blank canvas.

Orthodoxy without creativity is still true, but it remains upon the shelf unused, stale and irrelevant.

Creativity without orthodoxy ultimately destroys itself. Sawing off the branch upon which it stands.

However when you marry creativity and orthodoxy. When you realise that doctrine, dogma and orthodoxy is the canvas, you begin to dance like Pollock, filling the world with magnificent arcs of colour.

David Wells on how ministers can find freedom by escaping a career mentality

“The source of freedom for today’s ministers in located at the very heart of their vocation. The source lies not in their professional status or their current location along the trajectory of a career. It lies in the fact that they serve the living God, who is no respecter of persons, in the fact that they are the servants of his Word and Son, before whom all will be judged. It is this understanding that gives ministers the freedom to remain in one location however long it takes to make theological truth a central and effective part of their ministry, regardless of whether their careers pass them by in the meantime.”

David F. Wells, No Place For Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology

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