Monthly Archives: May 2008

Ortberg Lets His Mother Into The Pulpit

Ortbergs On Mother’s Day

Date: 13th May 2008

It is not easy to overshadow John Ortberg, but this is something achieved by his own Mother in this podcast.

The most memorable part is when John’s Mum (don’t call him “Johnnie”) talks about writing to her children and asking them what she should have done differently. There are a few brilliant insights here, including:

  • Good enough is good enough
  • Value doing more than getting things done

    Anna Quinlan in her book “Loud and Clear”

    There is a picture of my three chair, sitting in the grass, on a quilt, sitting in the shadow of a swingset on a summer’s day, ages 6, 4 and 1.  And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about and how they sounded and how they looked when they slept that night.  I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, their baths, reading them their book, getting them to bed.  I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and getting it done a little less.

  • Allow children to discuss their negative emotions
  • Give children a more realistic (as opposed to idealistic) view of themselves.

Life is Tended

And someone says to you “Don’t worry”


What’s the first thought that occurs, is it:

“Oh thanks, I never thought of that, I had just decided to worry because I wasn’t aware that the “don’t worry” alternative existed.

But now you have pointed out to me that there is another way, the “don’t worry” way, I will of course now stop worrying,

And you send the “Don’t worry” signal to your brain, to your stomach and the other parts of you that have been worrying, and once the signal arrives, you stop worrying.”

Of course it doesn’t work like that.

When folk say to you “Don’t worry” I feel like they are criticising me for having a nervous disposition.

Or “Don’t panic” – which always feels like I am being judged for being panicky

Or “Just relax” which feels like I am being told I off for excessive nervousness

“It’ll all be okay” which means I lack sufficient positive energy.


Whatever it is that people say “Don’ worry”, it never seems to work.


So if it is so useless for someone to say to me “Don’t worry”.

Why does the Bible say this exact same thing time and time again.

I have never counted this, but I believe that the Bible says this 366 times, that’s one for every day and one spare for leap years.


It says “Don’t worry” 366 times, but we find this hard to get a hold of this.


And yet this ability not to worry has been something which has characterised the best of Christians over the years. There must be a way that these 366 injunctions not to worry can make a difference to us.


Do how do we let these “Don’t worries” speak to us.

Getting Folk To Worry

It used to be my job to get people to worry.


I wasn’t a dentist or a debt collector.

It was when I was an outdoor instructor.


When I worked in the outdoors, a large part of what we did was work with young people who were in either primary 6 or 7, and have come away with the rest of their class for a week in the outdoors.


For them, and for me, the two parts of the week they looked forward to the most, and dreaded the most (because they had been told about this by folk in the year above them) were the abseil tree and the aerial runway.


The abseil tree was about 35 foot up. You would begin at the bottom of the tree, and right at the start you deal with people’s worries.


An easy way to deal with the worry would be to say “We’re not going to do this.”

But what you do instead is deal with folks worries.


Folk are thinking

The rope is going to snap

The instructor has it in for me

Folk have all these worries swirling around inside them

I am not going to be able to climb up there

If I fall the instructor is going to be asleep.


All the time you are dealing with these worries.


You would tell people how to put their harnesses on properly, and then you would get them to stand in a line and let them know that you had checked their harness and it was on safely.


You would show people how to use a karabiner, one of these metal clips that go onto the rope.


When you were up the tree you would show them the rope, and tell them that it was strong enough to lift a truck

And show them the safety rope, which meant that even if they let you go, you would be holding on to them.


You would divert them away from thinking about height and the ground and falling down there very fast and other thoughts that would be racing through their minds, and get them to concentrate on things that would help them, like how to stand with their feet and where to put their hands.


Folk would have these worries swirling around, And you would try and you would manage

To get to those worries, and get them up and down that tree.


The Thoughts That Go Around

It’s the same when Jesus tells us not to worry, he knows about these worries swirling around

And he wants to deal with them

These thoughts that set our hearts pounding, our blood pressure rocketing and our sweat glands pumping.


My Life Depends On It (v22-23)

The first thought that Jesus wants us to deal with is the “My Life Depends On It” thought.


The “Life depends on it” thought has a habit of attaching itself to all kinds of things that our life does not actually depend upon.


It could be a particular car, that we have staked our happiness on,

“My life depends on an Audi” or whatever

More often perhaps it is a particular house or property, the dream home,

“My life depends on getting that home in 22 Alder Gate”

Or perhaps getting our children into a particular school.
Or perhaps a figure that we need to get for our home when we sell it.

Or making this deadline, getting this job, or getting this central heating to work, or this iPod to work.


These things that we have accorded life status.


Jesus deals with this, by taking the two most basic things – food and clothing.


Note that Jesus is not talking about nice clothing, he is talking about actually having a clothing.


You would think if any two things could claim “Life depends on it” status

Then food and having clothes would get close.


But Jesus says even these are not as important as we think.


“Isn’t life more than food”, “Isn’t body more than clothes”.


Life is more than food

Body more than clothes


What is the more than?


In the Bible, relationships always count for more than stuff.

When stuff is destroyed you can normally recover

When relationships are destroyed, the consequences are far more disastrous.


The ten commandments depend on looking after three main relationships

Relationship with God – the first three commandments

Relationships with parents – one commandment

Relationships with neighbours – Last five and mentioned particularly in three.


Those are the bedrock

They are more important

Even more important than having clothes.


Deal with the “Life depends on it thought”, there are some things that get close to life depends on it status and those are relationships

And the only relationship that your life truly depends on is God.

Life Is Untended (v24)

The next thought that swirls around is, is the notion that life is unsupervised.

That it is like playtime at school, no longer is the teacher keeping an eye on things

You have to fight for yourself now.


Or it is like leaving home, and no longer are Mum and Dad around to help with things.


And Jesus says that life is not unsupervised, abandoned, a vast vacuum in which we are at the mercy of fate, luck, they system.


That is the message that the ravens bring to us. In fact the word in Greek means any black bird – so it could be crows, starlings, or blackbirds. Any bird that is black, and they are hundreds of them, bring us a message, life is tended, as these birds are looked after, so are we.


And these birds have a big lesson to teach us,

You should almost be able to hear them say one word, as they caw, crow or cheep

You can just about hear them say “We had breakfast this morning”

Jesus does not say

“Do not worry, everything is going to be alright”

“Do not worry, it might never happen”

“Do not worry, because life is tended, because even the blackbirds are fed.”


Life is tended by God

There is enough

There is enough

And we do not need to be scared.


Next time you see a black bird, be reminded

That bird was fed because there was enough

How much more does God care for us.

Worrying Helps (v25-26)

The next thought that Jesus asks us to deal with,

Is to the “it helps to worry thought”


I don’t know where this one comes from.

I think we imagine that if we worry, then when the worst happens it will not have surprised, we will have thought it through.


There is some truth to that.


I remember before Ellen McArthur was about to go round the world in the yacht B & Q she was asked by an interviewer, “What happens if you are travelling round the Southern Ocean, something happens to the yacht, you get thrown about, you get knocked unconscious” and then the interviewer added as an afterthought, “but I suppose you don’t want to think about that.”


And Ellen McArthur said, “That is exactly the sort of thing I want to think about.” And so her and her team have talked through the procedure that will happen if that ever happens to Ellen.


And that is the kind of worrying that will add an hour to your life.


But there comes a point after Ellen is on the boat, and she has to stop her thinking about this. She has to manage her mind. She has to keep this stuff, because it is not going to add an hour to her life.


When we decide to let worries into our head, we have to ask the question, “Is this worry going to add an hour to my life.” And if it’s a worry about what happens when you got knocked unconscious at sea, or what happens if the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, or how can we make sure our children know how to cross the road, or do I need to get down to the doctors to get myself looked at, then those are concerns that can add an hour to your life, so they are worth dealing with.


But if it is the kind of worry that is not going to add any time to life.


Are the kids going to be alright at school today? Or what did she mean when they ended the telephone conversation that way? Or what is going to happen to property prices.


If it is not going to add hours off our life, then we need to get in the habit of cutting off air time.

And this done

We are now free to strive for the kingdom.


That is the one the Christian should strive for,

Strive for the kingdom.


We are here that the poor may be fed

That the weak may be defended

We are here that the a godless and broken world

May be inspired to follow Jesus when they see something in us

We are to leave our mark, and yet with such humility that only a few will remember our name

We are cultivate the gracious

We are ensure that our neighbours are loved

We are to comfort those who mourn and be vulnerable that others might occasionally see our own tears

We are to serve, and to have the grace to let others serve us

To enjoy God

To enjoy God

To live like Jesus

This is the kingdom



Before I nail the final two thoughts, can I say that what I am not talking about this morning is the same as depression, or anxiety depression, or stress related depression.


What I am talking about this morning is being a better Christian, is putting the words of Jesus into practice.


Depression, is never dealt with by our failures as a Christian


An expert on this John Lockley, says that Depression rarely has a Spiritual Cause.


But what happens is that when Christians do suffer from depression, it feels for them like it does have a spiritual cause.


Let me give you some examples.


One of the symptoms of depression is low self-esteem.

When the Christian suffers from low self-esteem this feels like “God does not love me”

It is not the withdrawal of God’s love that has caused the Christian to feel like this. God still does love that person. But the low self-esteem which is caused by the depression has caused them to feel like this.


Or another symptom of depression is guilt or paranoia – and to the Christian this feels like they have committed some heinous sin, possibly even the unforgiveable sin (as a rule with the unforgiveable sin, if you worry you have committed it, then you haven’t).


What I am saying here, is that the depression is cured by the depression

Not by the commandment to worry less.

So if you have depression or anxiety, the relief for you today is that is caused by what your own insight, or possibly the doctor is telling you that it caused by.


It is not caused by your failure as a Christian. In fact the two most obvious examples of depression in the Bible, to Elijah the prophet and to Paul the apostle, happened after their most effective times as a followers of God, not after their failures.


All this stuff about black birds might help, but it must be part of the other things – getting a routine, antidepressents, behavioural therapies or whatever the doctor recommends.


God Loves The Blessed Ones

The next worry causer which flies around us and which God wants us to nail is the idea that God only looks out of the blessed ones, the important Christians, and that our day-to-day struggles which are not titanic, or life and death; that God cares for the important ones, but we are left behind.


Occasionally I get emails from a website called “Friends Reunited”. It’s that website that you go to find out what people you went to school with are now getting up to. I got an email to say that someone in my class at school had recently updated their biography, and I found that one of these had been a girl I was maths class with, a girl called “XXX XXX.”


Now XXXhad always had a little something about her, a sense that she was destined for greater things.


What I am about to read out is based not on her profile, but on a CV for her on the web which I found through her profile. This is what it said.


“XXX XXXX iis Head of External Affairs for The RadioCentre, the venture which promotes and represents commercial radio in the UK, responsible for fostering relationships with government, parliament, regulators and other bodies concerned with radio. She was previously Managing Director of one of the UK’s largest groups of local radio stations and was an award winning radio presenter and producer at Radio Forth and Classic FM.

A graduate of the University of York’s music department, Lisa previously served on the boards of the Salisbury International Arts Festival and the Canterbury Festival. She is a governor of Gordonstoun Schools and lives near Elgin with her husband and daughter”


XXX is clearly one of the blessed ones, and good on her. But there is a feeling that whilst God has nicely arranged for Lisa to get her radio awards, he perhaps has forgotten to sort me out as well, my wee worries are low down the scale.


Jesus deals with that thought by saying “Consider the Lilies”. (vv 27-28)


Jesus says consider the lilies, which is a word for any field flower, and then says “If that is how God looks after the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more does he care for you.”


Your front lawn that you walked past this morning, and which you are planning to mow before the winter sets in – God cares for that lawn


The grass verge that you saw on the side of the road – God cares for the verge, how much more does he care for you.


God cares for your window box, for your borders, for the wood up on Dechmont hill, for the grass that the sheep are munching on, for the heather on the side of ever Munro, how much more does he care for you.


Just like those black birds are a reminder of the care of God

So too is your lawn.


This is a resplendent, well tended creation

A garden of nourishment

A vibrant playground of crawling, swimming, flying

Of sprouting, flowering and growing

None of it is still, none of it is forgotten

If God cares for the least of things, how much more does he care for you.


God Has Concentration Lapses

Final thought, is God has concentration lapses.


Who here has ever had the experience of going into a Doctor’s waiting room, and wondering if the doctor has forgotten to call you.


I had it this week, and it seemed that the whole waiting room emptied before I was seen.


You do not know what is going behind the screens, you do not see what the queue is for your particular doctor, or why it is that some people seem to be getting seen straightaway.


And because you do not see things happen immediately we get anxious, and we soon assume that we have been forgotten about.


It is the same with faith.


We have an immediate tendency to assume that we have been forgotten about.


So our prayers

Whether to do with some danger

Or whether to do with the weather

Or whether to do with the years of support we have given to a football club are now dependent on one penalty kick

We seem to immediately assume that God has forgotten what we need.


We have plans at work, and some major interruption spears us

Or someone becomes ill and plans are thrown into chaos


And you say, God had you forgotten that I was busy this week
And could have done without that.


We must always reminds ourselves that God knows what we need


Remind yourself that today you need food, and God already knows this

Remind yourself that today you need to be loved, and God already knows this

Remind yourself that you need to have clothes on around you, and God already knows


God has not forgotten

His plan does not match our timetable

His purpose does not match our tick-list

His blessing does not match our shopping list

But God does know what we need

And we do need to panic like heathen


And when we worry is defeated

We are free to strive, to strive for the kingdom.



Stoning Women and Exonerating Men

Apparently the error lines are tighter for women, they don’t have to do much wrong (in comparison to their male counterparts) to earn public hatred. Like a re-enactment of the attempted stoning of the woman caught in adultery, it turns out that the most hated celebrities are female, and their male counterparts receive no such abuse (some of this gets picked up here).


Heather Mills


Nothing highlights this more than the contrasting fortunes of the Beckhams (we forgive David his philandering but no such mercy is shown to his vocally undergifted wife) and the McCartney-Mills (with the Frog Chorus there is a case for leniency, not so if you pour a jug of water over your husband’s lawyer).

What is curious is that there are women in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament whose stories might come close to those of Kerry, Heather, Amy and Victoria. However none of these women receive scriptural criticism. Indeed it is a feature of the New Testament that it nearly always refuses to criticise particular women – Martha is possibly the only exception and even there the situation is complicated.

For more on this check out John Bell here.


The Same Struggle

Tex: Philippians 1:28-30

Tremendously depthful talk on the context of the Philippian suffering, and that such suffering is a sign and a work of salvation. Deals with the contradiction between our apparent circumstance and what is actually going on.

You have been given a spine

This begins with very helpful historical record of the city of Philippi, and its story of militarism and support for Rome, and the contradiction between the cult of Rome and faith in Christ. Bell goes into depth about the particularl loading around the terms “Lord” and “Saviour”, particularly with respect to the Emperor Nero.

A great quote from Gordon Fee at 45mins 30sec:

” Such people cannot be intimidated by anyone or anything because they belong to the future, with a kind of certainty that people whose lives are basically controlled by fate could never understand.”

There is one complaint here. This is basically an analysis of the conflict between the military empire that is Rome and the kingdom of Christ.

Never, either in Bell or Ortberg, have I heard this applied to American militarism and empire (I could be wrong, and this might happen in parts of the services not on the podcast). Why this is urgent is that many of the soldiers seen in Abu Ghraib and those responsible for some of the stories coming out of Gauntanamo probably go to Church. If there is nothing said in Church, offering a critique of our own participation in Empire, then those soldiers have little moral and spiritual equipment to deal with the cultures of empire that exist in those institutions. I must write to Rob Bell and John Ortberg and say something about this.

The Gap

VimThis is about three depthful sermons joined onto one another. That’s the only complaint.

Like a page of Dallas Willard you have to spend three times the amount of time processing this sermon, as you did to take it in first time round.

Ortberg starts with a reminder of his overall arching view of Spiritual Growth, borrowed from Willard:

V – Vision

I – Intention

M – Method

Combining to produce VIM.

Rubber BandThen there is a section about Spiritual Growth closing the gap between who we are (the real life us) and whom we are meant to be (the perfect us that Jesus calls us to be in Matthew 5). Are any of us here experiencing no gap between the real us and the perfect us? And are any of our neighbours experiencing the gap? This is the gap, and this creates tension, and what tension always wants to do is to resolve itself.

This is the image of the band which Ortberg borrows from Greig Hawkin (the name must be spelt wrong here, because it’s not showing up in Google).

The tension is good says Ortberg because this is the energy of the Spirit (if we were being pedantic about the physics, this would be the force of the Spirit), creating the tension which pulls us towards the perfect self. There are three things we can do to reduce the tension:

1. Move the vision of perfect self closer, reduce our standards.

2. Put too much tension in the band, snap the band – this is despair and hopelessness. If the Spirit tells you tomorrow that there is no hope for you, this will be a first, because the Holy Spirit has never said that to anyone before, says Ortberg.

3. Move towards the perfect through spiritual growth. This is the subject of sermon two, the results of a Spiritual Growth survey amongst Churches which shows correlation between Spiritual Growth and Biblical meditation (in the private sphere) and Service to others (in the public sphere).

There is a brilliant bit about the need to meditate on the Bible. People are too passive about this. Ortberg talks about growing up in a Baptist Church where the number one complaint was “we never get fed.” This is excusable in new Christians, he says, but not in people who have been coming to Church for 20-30 years.

(19mins 28seconds) “When you don’t know anything about the Bible, early on in your Spiritual life, absolutely you need to be fed by somebody else, there needs to be somebody else who understands something about the Bible, to come and be able to help you understand it, but at a certain point in spiritual life, it’s time to take off the bib, get out of the high chair, pick up a fork and feed yourself.”

[This reminds me of an insight of John Stott which I heard a few years ago, about the role of a shepherd. Very rarely, when it is sick or very young, will a shepherd feed a sheep directly. The rest of the time it is the job of the shepherd to find the pasture where the sheep will graze].

There is a section then on four stages of spiritual growth

  1. Seeking
  2. Believing
  3. Following
  4. Companion-ing – being absolutely clear in practice about the priority to know and live with God

The closing section then features on the testimony of Kirk Rogg

Kirk Rogg suffered from ALS and talks about the testimony of life with God, and his desire that this be something that his friends respond to.

The sermon closes with singing of “Give me an undivided heart”.



Undo the damage

In the brightness of the day

In the company of this new family

In the hope of the empty tomb

In the hurricane power of the Spirit

In the sadness of the week’s disappointments

In the joy of the week’s goodness


In all these things we gather


We gather to offer you our worship

To give of you the best thoughts of our mind

The best intentions of our hearts

The best service of our hands

The best songs of our mouths

The best of things for you

Who gives the best for us


Pour down your Spirit upon us this morning Father

Pour down your Spirit

To make us more

To make the moment more

To make this company more

More than what we can see

The very body of Christ

The gatehouse of heaven


Undo the damage of this week Father

Undo the self-inflicted damage of our selfishnees our laziness

When we put making a good impression ahead of doing the right thing

When we got ourselves into a mess and then blamed other people


Forgive us our sins

Forgive them

Take them away

Take them away as far as East is from West

Take them away


In the name of Jesus


Ground Us, Strike Us, Comfort Us, Guide Us

Dear Lord,


Gather us in this morning.

Gather us in this morning


And let the truth rest deep within us


Let the truth

That you are bigger than the challenges that face us

That you walk with us in the valley of the shadow of death

That our enemies need not be feared

That our failures are forgiven

That Jesus can be trusted


Let the truth ground us,

Strike us

Comfort us

Guide us


Let the truth

That we were not made for petty schemes but for love

That we are called to be like children

That the poor inherit the kingdom and the riches count for nothing

That this is the body of Jesus


Let the truth ground us

Strike us

Comfort us

And Guide us


And beyond the truth

Beyond the gifts of love and peace and wisdom

Let it be that we would know you

Love you

Serve you

And make you glad


Forgive us our failures, our stupidities

Our puffed up egos

And our empty promises

Forgive us

Remake us

Meet us

And change us


For Jesus’ sake


On Psalm 42

So as the thirsty deer

Dry from work

Anxious from waiting


Knowing that there is something else

A drinking place

A place for peace


Knowing the thirst

Knowing the place

We come that you might let us drink again

At some oasis where the water does not run dry


Forgive us our wandering after the mirage

The fountain which we knew would never satisfy
But whose lies we believed


Forgive us when we stopped looking

Stopped believing in the place where you would satisfy


Make here the place

Make now the time

When deep calls to deep

And not just in a trickle

Not in a few dew drops

Or passing mist


But in the roar of waterfalls

In deep calling out to deep


Make here the place

Make now the time

Where the soul at last shall arise

Where the soul at last shall arise


And we shall praise



Upset and Disturb Us

Upset and disturb us tonight

Upset and disturb us


Not with the upset and disturbance

That leaves us wallowing in guilt

Not with the upset and disturbance

That leaves no room for hope

Not with the upset and disturbance

That gets shifted on to those around us


Rather the disturbance of the Spirit

That stopped Paul on the Damascus road

The disturbance that got Zaccheaus to make a new arrangement with his bankers

The upset of David when he admitted his adultery


Those things

That sort of upset


The sort of upset that clears out the distractions and indecision

The sort of upset that purifies the bad habits and harboured grudge

The sort of upset that will not rest until the conflict is resolved


Those things

That sort of upset


So that we look like Jesus

So that we know the Father

By the power of the Spirit



Motivation for young people

Quotes Given to Cathkin School Leavers – 2008

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do rather than those that you did do. So… sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover” Mark Twain

“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible and achieve it, generation after generation.” Pearl S. Buck

A definition of success attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

“To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better…

To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived,

This is to have succeeded.”

“There’s only two things I had to do to win the Olympic gold: Train when I wanted to, and train when I didn’t” – Peter Vidmar, Olympic Gold Winner

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Alva Edison