Posts

My complicated relationship with Lloyd Ogilvie

Read in 2 mins

A portrait on the wall

I never knew Lloyd Ogilvie. Never heard him preach. Never shook his hand. Never beheld his toothy smile. Yet, I felt as though I did. For three years I served on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. And during those years I spent many evenings in the parlor, a large room hung with the portraits of senior ministers of the past. Ogilvie was Senior Pastor from 1962-1972 and his successor Keith Brown was his former associate pastor. Like everything else he touched, he left his indelible imprint upon the church, in ways greater than the black and white photo on the parlor wall.

A complicated relationship

Churches are complicated. And churches with an illustrious history are even more complicated. Over my time at First Presbyterian Church I many shared stories about how Ogilvie’s personal dynamism and commitment to a rigorous new members class led to the church growing to become one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the northeastern United States.

By the time I left I was, to be frank, pretty sick and tired of the Ogilvie legacy. As a hard-working associate pastor, it’s difficult to hear stories of the glory days and not feel an implied critique of today’s (perhaps less than glorious) reality.

The truth–one that was difficult for some to accept–is that the Bethlehem of Ogilvie’s tenure was gone. Post-Steel Bethlehem was world’s apart from the 1960s-1970s–the Madmen years in which executive wives stayed at home while their husbands played at the executive golf course and watched over the city from their corner office in Martin Tower (recently demolished).

It was the best of times

I have a melancholy temperament at the best of times, but it’s always seemed a little unfair that ministerial heroes of yesteryear made their name (so to speak) in the midst of culture that was positively oriented to American Christian civil religion.

I’m not sure it was that difficult to plant a church like Eugene Peterson did.

I’m not sure it was that hard to develop a 12-week new members process like Ogilvie did when women didn’t work and families could live on a single income.

Perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps I’m bitter. I’m sure it’s a bit of both.

Ogilvie positively impacted many people. At the same there was something of a low-church, low-theology, positivity-focused evangelicalism about him. He certainly didn’t go to the lengths of someone like his contemporary colleague Robert Schuller, but they seemed of the same ilk. Always ready with the big smile, the positive catchphrase, and the promise of a life ahead that is better than the only past because you let Jesus in.

The future is not bright

Today’s pastors cannot offer a future that is made smoother by Jesus’ presence in it. Better, yes. Smoother, no.

The truth is that I think pastors often don’t get credit for the immensity of the task that’s before them today. That’s a shame because it is an incredibly difficult job and its a job they’re (we’re) doing in the face of a culture that is shifting in some really significant ways.

So, this weekend some time to thank your pastor!

Why children are fleeing from London

Read in 1 min

The rise in violent crime in the United Kingdom–and particularly in London–is leading immigrant families to send their children back to their homelands for safety.

Read this intriguing BBC article here.

The article features this story about Somali immigrant and Islington (London) mayor Rakhia Ismail:

The new mayor for Islington, Rakhia Ismail – a mother of four who came to London from Somalia as a refugee – believes that some areas of the city are unsafe for young people.

“Does the parent wait for her child to be killed? Or does the parent take a decision – quite a drastic decision – to take him all the way back to wherever that child is from originally?”

She says she knows families who are waiting for their children to finish primary school so they can leave the UK.

She estimates that out of every five Somalian families, two are taking their children back home.

Dr Fatumo Abdi – a mother of Somali origin – said parents were struggling to know how to react to knife crime.

“This is not something they’ve encountered before. But we know living here in Britain, the context is Britain. This is a British problem and it’s a problem that we’ve fallen into.

“It’s not the answer but these are desperate parents.”

She believes poverty, inequality and exposure to violence are big factors as to why young people fall into criminality.

“Our communities are living in very poor disadvantaged areas with poor educational attainment. All these things affect how our children move through the world.”

What’s interesting here is how this turns a typical narrative (that immigrants increase crime) on its head–or, at least makes the narrative a great deal more complex.

My productivity secret weapon

Read in 1 min

If you’re the sort of person who realizes that creative freedom comes from clarity and a calm assurance that you have a system to capture and then fulfill goals and obligations then you’re the sort of person who will enjoy what I’ve come to think of as my productivity secret weapon, the Rocket Book.

If you’re not familiar with Rocket Book here’s how the company describes the product:

The Rocketbook System is the combination of a special notebook and a free mobile app. Write notes and create designs in your notebook with a pen. Then, using patent-pending image capture technology, the Rocketbook app accurately and quickly captures and sends your notes to pre-configured cloud services

The beauty of the Rocket Book is it’s combination of (1) the tactile experience of writing handwritten notes, (2) a quick searchable way to digitize and store the notes in pre-selected locations, and (3) the ability to erase the notes and reuse the notebook’s pages infinitely.

Watch the video:

The possibilities for this product are amazing. I’ll be writing more on how I’m using this notebook in the near future.

LifeWay to close bricks and mortar stores

Read in 1 min

News broke yesterday that LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention has decided to close all 170 of its bricks and mortar stores. Christianity Today has the story. The news comes after the publishers retail division posted another year of losses:

LifeWay hadn’t had sales exceed its operating expenses in more than a decade, Baptist Press reported, and the margin between the two grew from $2.3 million in 2010 to $35.5 million in 2017.

It’s big news, mostly because LifeWay seemed (at least to casual observers) as though it was the one chain that might possibly weather the disruptive changes in book retail.

The Marks of the Christian

Read in 3 mins

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11, NIV

The Marks of the Christian

Regularly reading the New Testament ought to remind us of the ways contemporary Christians fall far short of the vision of the Christian life found among the early Christians.

I’m convinced that this shortfall is rooted, at least in part, by our neglect of the Bible as our rule of faith and life.

Faithful friends

As the Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi, we note his obvious affection for them (verses 3 and 8) and his gratitude for they way they have come alongside him in his gospel ministry (verse 5). Despite the personal cost and the difficulty of the Apostolic work entrusted to Paul, the fellowship of Christians like those in Philippi have made the burden more bearable as together they have entrusted themselves to the grace of Christ.

Personal transformation

These faithful brothers and sisters in Christ Paul reminds of God’s transformative purpose. “[H]e who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion in the day of Christ Jesus” (verse 6b).

Who among us doesn’t need to be reminded of Christ’s promise to work in us by faith the transformation we need so that when we meet him face to face we may step into a new creation free from the curse of sin and death?

We’re not yet the people we will become, but those who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus are moving–if at time haltingly–in the direction of Christ-likeness.

Paul’s prayer

Paul shares with his readers the content of his prayer for them and I suspect that Paul would pray the same for us today. This prayer shows us at least three marks of the Christian, that is characteristics of one who is a growing disciple of Christ. 

Able to discern (verse 9-10a)

Christians ought to be loving. And the love that marks our lives must be, according to Paul, a love that has some attendant qualities. Christian love is marked by growing “knowledge and insight.”

Knowledge and insight of what? It’s difficult to know precisely what Paul means here. At the very least it would seem to imply an experiential knowledge of God and of God’s revelation of Himself to us in the Bible. It is this knowledge that enables us to “discern what is best,” that is what most closely aligns with God’s revealed will.

Pure and blameless (verse 10) 

This discernment, rooted as it is in a love that is marked by knowledge and insight, produces in our lives a purity and a blamelessness. The concepts of purity and blamelessness seem to be neglected in contemporary Christianity.

All Christians are positionally pure and blameless because the obedience of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross have been credited to our account. However, what Paul is talking about here is volitional purity and blameless–it is based upon choice and upon actions that together form a way of life.

Fruit of righteousness (verse 11)

Christians are expected to produce the “fruit of righteousness” that is the product derived from the above and that is expressed inwardly before it is expressed outwardly.

It’s not difficult to see how we all have a long way to go on this. Ask God what needs to change in your life so that you’re not only willing, but able to devote yourself to Him in a way that leads to transformation.