The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness

by Timothy Keller

 

One of the joys of my holiday reading was this relatively short book by Tim Keller. He addresses the very relevant issue of low self-esteem, saying that the real issue is our ego which needs to be controlled, not allowed to control us.

The natural condition of the human ego is empty, painful, busy and fragile. The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. We therefore get no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.

We also sometimes say their feelings are hurt. But our feelings can’t be hurt! It is the ego that hurts – my sense of self, my identity. Our feelings are fine! It is my ego that hurts.

He concludes that trying to boost our self-esteem by trying to live up to our own standards or someone else’s is a trap. It is not an answer.

He uses Paul as an example of someone who learnt how to control his ego and therefore deal with self-esteem issues.

“His sins and his identity are not connected. He refuses to play that game. He does not see a sin and let it destroy his sense of identity. He will not make a connection. Neither does he see an accomplishment and congratulate himself. He sees all kinds of sins in himself – and all kinds of accomplishments too – but he refuses to connect them with himself or his identity. So, although he knows himself to be the chief of sinners, that fact is not going to stop him from doing the things that he is called to do.”

“His ego is not puffed up, it is filled up. He is talking about humility – although I hate using the word ‘humility’ because this is nothing like our idea of humility. Paul is saying that he has reached a place where his ego draws no more attention to itself than any other part of his body. He has reached the place where he is not thinking about himself anymore. When he does something wrong or something good, he does not connect it to himself any more.”

We have to get to the point where we stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with ourselves. In fact, we stop thinking about ourselves. This is “The freedom of self-forgetfulness” in the title of the book. The ego is just like our toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.

When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them. They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change.

He concludes that the only way to achieve this freedom is through the gospel of Jesus. It is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance. In Christianity, the verdict leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict.

The verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my résumé. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.

An excellent little book, full of encouragement and I found it helpful and challenging at so many levels. I am trying to forget about myself more, keep my ego in check!

 

Tony

 

Buy The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness from Amazon

 

 

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

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Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now

by Ayaan Hirsi ALI

 

This is the most thought provoking book I read over the summer, written by a Somali refugee who has denounced her Muslim faith and is now an academic in America. She has written a number of books about Islam which combine her reflections with her experiences. I took more notes on this book than any other I read over the summer.

At the heart of the book is the claim that there are 3 types of Muslims.

The first group she describes as Medina Muslims. They envision a regime based on sharia, Islamic religious law. They argue for an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version. What is more, they take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else. Medina Muslims believe that the murder of an infidel is an imperative if he refuses to convert voluntarily to Islam. They preach jihad and glorify death through martyrdom. The men and women who join groups such as Al-Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab in her native Somalia—to name just four of hundreds of jihadist organizations—are all Medina Muslims. These focus on the parts on the Koran written during Mohammed’s exile from Mecca in Medina. A small minority of Muslims fall into this category but the number is rising as converts to Islam gravitate towards this view.

The second group—and the clear majority throughout the Muslim world—consists of Muslims who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence. These are called Mecca Muslims, basing their faith on the more peaceful elements of the Koran written whilst Mohammed was in Mecca.

The third group are the Muslim dissidents, who she calls Modifying Muslims. The majority of dissidents are reforming believers—among them clerics who have come to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.

She describes a battle taking place for the hearts and minds of the majority “Mecca Muslims” between the” Medina and Modifying Muslims”. In this context she says

“The only viable strategy that can hope to contain the threat posed by the Medina Muslims is to side with the dissidents and reformists and to help them a) identify and repudiate those parts of Muhammad’s moral legacy that stem from Medina and b) persuade the Mecca Muslims to accept this change and reject the Medina Muslims’ summons to intolerance and war.”

She identifies five teaching of Islam that need to be reformed, bringing comparisons between this and the reformation within Christianity brought about by Luther, Calvin et al.

“The five things to be reformed are: 1. Muhammad’s semi-divine and infallible status along with the literalist reading of the Qur’an, particularly those parts that were revealed in Medina; 2. The investment in life after death instead of life before death; 3. Sharia, the body of legislation derived from the Qur’an, the hadith, and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence; 4. The practice of empowering individuals to enforce Islamic law by commanding right and forbidding wrong; 5. The imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.”

She is optimistic that change in Islam is possible, but the west needs to encourage the reformers rather than be afraid to speak out.

“We must no longer accept limitations on criticism of Islam. We must reject the notions that only Muslims can speak about Islam, and that any critical examination of Islam is inherently “racist.””

“But I believe that a Reformation is not merely imminent; it is now under way. The Protestant Reformation itself erupted quite suddenly. With Islam, with equal suddenness, the change has already begun and will only accelerate in the years that lie ahead.”

Her own experiences of persecution and threat, she believes her life is in danger because of what she has said and written, has led her to say strong things, e.g.

“Today, with radical Islam, we have a new and even more violent system of apartheid, where people are targeted not for their skin color but for their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion, or, among Muslims, the form of their personal faith.”

“Should it be blasphemy—punishable by death—to question the applicability of certain seventh-century doctrines to our own era?”

She even suggests that anyone reading this book is likely to open themselves up to persecution. I therefore wonder what I am letting myself in for in not only reading the book but writing about it!

I am willing to take the risk because I want to have a greater understanding of Islam and the issues facing my Muslim friends. Ignorance leads to fear. This book introduced me to some very interesting, if controversial thoughts. I look forward to exploring them with some of my Muslim friends.

Tony

 

Click to buy Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now

 

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good

by Tom Wright

I have been heavily influenced by Tom Wright and was looking forward to reading his latest book, I wasn’t disappointed. I found this book so inspiring and encouraging, such a spur to action.

The main challenge of the book is that Good News is really that, not just good advice!

“For some, it’s a new kind of spirituality: here is a Jesus-focused interior life for those who want that kind of thing. For others, it’s a new way of living: here is a Jesus-based morality you, or indeed your community, might like to follow. For others again, it’s about taking out an option on your future – a kind of retirement plan, except that the retirement in question takes place after your death rather than before it. It’s a way of making sure that you at least will be safe and sound, even if the rest of the world isn’t.”

He believes such thinking totally underestimates the teaching of Jesus and the Bible.

“He wasn’t like someone offering people a new type of torch so they could see better in the dark. He was like someone saying that the sun had risen, and that if you would only open the curtains you’d see that you don’t need torches any more.”

“This news is either offensive or boring. Either scandalous or merely nonsense.”

He identifies lots of ways we, the church, have distorted and limited the Good News.

“Whipping up emotion for its own sake, then calling that emotion faith and insisting that such faith is the key to eternal life is just as much a caricature as rationalism is……..The problem with both rationalism and romanticism is that they divert attention from the central message of the gospel. They try to get the fruits (Christianity does make sense; Christianity does involve the personal experience of God’s presence and love) without the roots (Christianity is about something that happened, which constitutes the good news).”

“God wants to put humans right to put the world right. And the good news is that this, too, has been accomplished through Jesus.”

“The good news, in other words, is not all about me. It is all about God and God’s creation – God’s new creation, which results from the covenant renewal that has been effected through the coronation of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and the world’s rightful Lord.”

“We cannot stress too strongly, or too often, that the whole message of the New Testament – the whole point of the mission and message of Jesus, of his life, death, and resurrection – is the coming together of heaven and earth, not their separation.”

“The good news is that the living God is indeed establishing his kingdom on earth as in heaven, through the finished work of Jesus, and is inviting people of all sorts to share not only in the benefits of this kingdom but also in the work through which it will come to its ultimate completion.”

He is equally scathing about the world,

“Millions of people in the modern Western world take it for granted that the great defining turning point in human history happened with the rise of the modern Western world.”

He then points out all the problems caused by the modern world and asks how that can compare to the Good News of Jesus.

“One of the truly extraordinary things about recent history is that, despite the events of the twentieth century, people still believe all this. You might have thought that two world wars, the Gulag and Auschwitz, stock market crashes, famines and tribal conflicts in Africa, the desperate plight of the Balkans, and the recent atrocities of violent fundamentalists would make people pause, scratch their heads, and wonder whether progress is still on track. That doesn’t seem to happen.”

This book has inspired me to freshly give myself to God’s purpose of making the world a better place, not just saving a few souls for heaven; to work towards seeing God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven. To present the Good News in its fullness, not just as good advice, one option amongst many.

Tony

 

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Staying Fresh For The Long Haul

A marathon rather than a sprint!

Over the years I have often reflected and taught on the importance of seeing life as a Marathon rather than a sprint. I have reacted to those who have taught things like “it is better to burn out rather than rust out”. I have been influenced by seeing the devastating effects when people suffer burn out, this has happened to too many of those close to me. I have resolved to do all I can to prevent this happening to myself and others I have influence with.

I have therefore taught on the importance of being aware of our emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health. Making adjustments when warning signs show themselves in any of these 4 areas, especially if emotional health begins to suffer. I have taught on the need to identify rhythms and patterns in our lives. Ensuring the right balance of rest and work, fruitfulness and abiding, on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis.

Having taught and reflected on this subject at length over the years I found myself showing all the signs of burn out early this year.

The symptoms were obvious, exhaustion which wasn’t caused by lack of sleep, struggling to relate with people, feeling a desperate need to get way. The causes were equally obvious, my Father had a stroke in July 2014 leaving him very ill and eventually leading to his death in January 2015. During this period my Mother also had numerous health problems of her own, some of the time she totally lost her hearing and at other times needed to be on oxygen full time. She was also in and out of hospital. I became her major carer and following my Father’s death her own grief and health struggles meant she became increasingly demanding. I was fielding multiple phone calls each day and having to visit often on top of an already very full diary. She died unexpectedly just a few months after my Father in May 2015, just a day after I had finished sorting out my Father’s estate. I felt I had “honoured my father and mother”, however it left me emotionally drained and exhausted.

Identifying the symptoms and causes were the easy part, the issue was how did I respond? How did I ensure I stayed fresh for the long haul and didn’t suffer total burn out?

I was honest and open with many people close to me and asked for their help and advice about practical steps needed to ensure I received the required refreshment.

It was agreed that I needed to keep going until the summer holidays when my wife Anne would have 6 weeks holiday as a teacher rather than to take time off immediately. Then to have an extended break to spend away just the two of us followed by spending time with family. I just about managed to survive the 2 months between my Mum’s funeral and getting away towards the end of July.

I am now back at my desk following a refreshing time over the summer. I have enjoyed reading many books, have many exciting new ideas and projects to pursue, have had a great time with my family and have pushed forward in dealing with my parents’ home. I feel refreshed, but only time will tell how effective the time off has been in enabling me to recharge my batteries.

Am more convinced than ever that we need to treat life as a marathon rather than a sprint and that we do need to keep fresh for the long haul.

We all are refreshed in different ways, for me I’ve always loved reading and find getting stuck into a good book always energised me. Each Summer I look forward to having time to read more books than I can whilst busy doing lots of other things. Having longer than normal away from other responsibilities of work I have read much more than usual.

With extended time to read I try to have a balanced diet, mostly I read Christian books but supplement this with secular non-fiction and fiction.

Amongst the fiction I have enjoyed has been –

The exploits of Brigadier Gerard by Arthur Conan Doyle. A real treat. Previously I’d never heard about this series of short stories, wrongly thinking that Doyle had only written about Sherlock Holmes. However Brigadier Gerard is an amazing creation and well worth others knowing about him. The stories are told in the first person as by Gerard himself. He is summed up in a quote attributed to Napoleon who says “that Brigadier Gerard has the special medal of honour, for I believe that if he has the thickest head he has also the stoutest heart in my army.” One of the joys of the stories is the total lack of self-awareness of the main character.

I have previously read a number of novels by both Mick Herron and Malcolm Pryce and had been looking forward to reading the next in their Oxford and Aberystwyth series respectively. They were what I had come to expect, crime novels with a humorous bent, in Pryce’s case an absurd humorous bent!

Finally I read Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor, a recommendation from the Times as being one of the books of the century so far. It was an interesting historical novel set in the 1930’s in London describing the changes that were taking place between the wars.

I really enjoy reading fiction, but find I get completely absorbed in a novel once started and therefore keep such reading to holiday periods only. However I find a good novel a great complement to “heavier” reading.

This blog is to encourage you to keep aware of how you are feeling, to look for symptoms and causes of burn out and then most important of all to take appropriate action. It is also to introduce a series of other blogs which come out of my reading and reflections over the summer.

Tony

 

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.