Friday, June 23, 2017

Death in the family

I've had a death in the family.

What  'pastoral' response have we had:

From the paid pastor wonderful...training brings its benefits...he listened quietly and gently encouraged the conversation.

From others in 'ministry' roles, but unpaid: a copy of an insulting book by on grief and death by the Dutch Roman 'priest' Henri Nouwen, a card with a verse of a psalm in very poor distorting translation, and wanting to 'help'. See the paragraph above for the receipe for that.

Others come out with that great conversation ender: "I'll pray for you."

Maybe this is good to say sometimes, but rarely...and only after proper loving attention has been committed to the conversation. Too often "I'll pray for you" is the conversation killer because the speaker does not have the ability to engage in a conversation without 'giving advice' but doesn't know what else to do. Again, see the receipe for this above!

The recipe, to summarise: simply act like a decent friend and listen, no santimonious self agrandizement please. And of course you'll pray; you are a Christian aren't you? No song and dance about it, please. It is unhelpful.

The Lifehacker

In the Lifehacker blog, there was a post on an advice column for a Christian who had been homeschooled in the USA. It attracted a storm of invective from the cool crowd who commented.

Then I saw this post:

Interesting how, for a supposedly irreligious country a religious article prompted more comments than most other articles! This indicates that the editors got it right and there is a lot of interest. Those who disagree with the article of course have significant religious interest; just a different religion!

The tenor of them, and that of the article is that the  Religion of Me dominates. The advice also fails at Theology 1. Christianity has love (not sooky Hollywood love, but love as sacrifice for the benefit of others) at its operational periphery, but at its operational centre is that 'sin', something generated from action to the non-benefit of others, is unavoidable for us.

But its consequences for continued estrangement from relationship with the creator (yeah I know that the Religion of Me prefers materialist existential framing) are evaporated by the creator's action to evaporate it; this is available for us to appropriate by just wanting to. There! and in langauge that I hope might strike a chord with the Religion of Me.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Let's be nice

If you've been following this blog you will know that I am keen on church spaces being dignified, inviting and great places to be: we have a vast Christian tradition of building wonderful spaces, which some are in denial of.

Here's an example I came across on YouTube:

Sunday, April 30, 2017

How might we now go?

Our meetings (that is our 'services') despite a reformation and the passing of centuries of social changes, remain modelled on a quasi pagan ritual: the Mass.
Maybe that has some references to the early church meetings, but I wonder.

Time to meet as Christians, not post-pagans; a fresh perspective:

At our church we have the opportunity to start fresh with a new 'service' in the middle of the day (at last, a concession to we night owls who regard 9am as early morning).

Start with morning tea, for about 15 minutes, then small conversation groups: even the smallest congregations could have three; five to seven would be the max. Then you need to spawn a new meeting. The max number of people in each group would be 7 (give or take), so once the group hits 35-49 people: spawn; or change format.

The small conversation groups could spring from a Bible verse, or some Christian experience, someone's latest reading, and might include prayer; maybe starting with prayer. These would be about 15 minutes.

Next we all come together for a talk: the 'sermon' de-liturgized. This might go for about 15 minutes. Any news could be given before the talk.

After the 15 minute talk we would return to small groups: same or different from before, for prayer.

After 15 minutes we'd come back together for a couple of songs, hymns, a short devotion (a couple of minutes) and benediction.

The whole thing could run from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on people's choices.

Everyone would be encouraged to join the whole show, but would know that the talk would start at a fixed time, so they could just turn up for that. In fact, people could come and go for the segments of choice, to juggle other commitments they might have.

Congregations with a liturgical background might us liturgical forms for the segments: nice to stay in touch with our important traditions.

This should be held in an acoustically 'soft' space, at tables: that is not an echo-y hall, perhaps a carpeted space with drapery and an acoustic ceiling: it should be a well designed and attractive room that is warm and inviting: that lifts the spirit. So, there's a challenge for our architects.

Here's an image that might give some hints


Refreshments would be available afterwards: another cuppa, with food; lunch if some wanted to stay.

Serious teaching could be at another time, in seminar format: pre-reading, or watch a short YouTube video, or listen to a podcast; a more detailed talk, then discussion afterwards for about 20 minutes. The whole thing should take an hour, ending with perhaps a song or hymn and brief benediction.

An occasional Saturday afternoon intensive might be held three times a year to further knowledge and practice. This could be celebration as well as 'teaching'. Or we all just head up to Hillsong occasionally.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mindlessness

An article in The Sydney Morning Herald's The Good Weekend on Mindfulness triggered a follow up to my post on this topic.

A note I sent to one of our paid Christians on this topic:

Dear Filburt,

There was an article on 'mindfulness' in the Good Weekend on Saturday. If you've not seen it, I've attached it, as I recall that you extolled the virtues of this practice in a sermon some months ago.

I've been long acquainted with 'mindfulness' and related practices, and have pondered the nature of the approach to meditation that it represents.

As the article points out, the roots are in Buddhist practice. It therefore has to do with the Buddhist conception of the world. It follows, to my mind, that the preoccupation of mindfulness with the self in isolation has less to do with the world as the Bible portrays it: characterised in 'concrete reality', and more to do with the Eastern characterisation of reality as very much not concrete; rather, chimerical! Thus it harks to an dissolution of the individual in the amorphous depersonalised emptiness cooked up by Buddha and his demons.

I wonder, then, at the intended purpose of mindfulness in your reference to it and the positives of the practice that would displace (or even augment) God's provision in his word.

David enjoins us to mediate on the law; Yeshua to be in the personal presence of the Father in dependence upon him; Paul encourages us to pray without ceasing (for others).

These are entirely at odds with the solopsistic self-absorption of Buddhist/Zen/Hindu meditation, which seeks to produce a benefit by denying what is real, trapped in the ignorance of the Buddhist 'doctrine of creation' and its necessary flight from reality (contrast the Biblical doctrine of creation): that is, that we are persons in the image of God who is love (i.e., to be other-directed/in communion), called to fill our minds with his word.

There is a vast tradition of Christian 'mediation', which, as a writer in the Melbourne Anglican put it "The...focus...is an explicit form of prayer, not a conversation with the self, based on the conviction that salvation comes from God and not from ourselves. Christian mindfulness, by definition, is entry into the saving presence of the God, the holy Trinity".

Far better, I think, to teach and encourage spiritual engagement (as, for example in the long standing tradition of a 'quiet time') than a risky spiritual disengagement that could open the door to all sorts of trouble...as indicated by some of the research mentioned in the article.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

if it pleases you...

The sermon this afternoon was remarkable; about prayer, springing off Luke 11, but with a careful reference to the word translated 'persistence' in most versions, in verse 8. the ESV is closer with 'impudence'. Our speaker used 'shamelessness'. Similar thing (the New English Bible translates anaideia in Luke 11:8 as 'shamelessless' (importunity in the AV).

He went on to quote a piece from the SMH writer Elizabeth Farrelly, who late last year wrote:
We think prayer is a plea for wealth, health, happiness, love…like children pleading for sweets. But that is 180 degrees wrong. The very word, ‘please’, is a clue. Properly speaking please is not a demand but an offer, not a gimme, but an ‘if it pleases you’. It is in other  wants, a listening, a straining to hear the will of the universe or what you might call the voice of God. The effort of prayer is to see more truly, hear more clearly, connect more deeply.
Many good things in that passage; except of course for the materialist's inevitable misunderstanding of their own position: 'hear the will of the universe'? as if the universe is a person with a will and can communicate! What a disappointing position. But how liberating and moving that it is about a relationship with God, the 'ground of our being' who is truly personal: we are continuous in that with the only self-existent one: he is personal, as are we (in his image) and connected as Yeshua connects God and humanity once more in fellowship...nothing is better. Farrelly misses so much in that she thinks all we 'relate' to is a bunch of mute impersonal atoms. For this view, there is no hope.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Silly songs

Last Sunday was silly song day.

In fact, most Sundays are silly song day.

The lyrics that stuck with me were the repetitive "because of who he is" about God's love; repeated about 5 times, then the response: our 'love': "because of who I am"; also repeated about 5 times.

Sounded like it was pumped out of the Brill Building for a fee, not from the heart of someone who has a story to commit to song...and I don't mean the vacuous story of a 16 year old in their first 'love'. I mean something like Horatio Spafford's "It is well with my soul"

It was so empty that I don't think it was about God's love at all, and the response was completely wrong. Nothing God does is about 'who I am', except one in need of rescue. But Yeshua put aside his divinity "for the joy set before him" and not because of any good time that we would have.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Adam and Eve and love

Nice to see a piece in the Wall Street Journal about Adam and Eve teaching about love. Apologies of this is paywalled in either the Australian or the WSJ.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Wright on creation

Searching for a Tom Wright video on YouTube, Mr Google gave me this, as it quickly parsed by NTW: no, not that NTW, this one: The Royal Revolution.

Much to ponder, of course, as there always is from Wright, but I found very interesting his linking of Genesis 1 and 2 with the tabernacle passages in Exodus, thence John's gospel.

The theological cloth he weaved showed creation as one of the peaks of theology as part of the link between God and Humanity.

Regrettably most proponents of biblical creation do not operate at this level of theological sophistication or insight (heck, who would? there's only one NTW), instead being stuck with a detached literalism or a banal legalism.

Now I'm all for the correspondence of the genesian account with actual events, but this becomes powerfully illuminating in Wright's model; in fact, it sets Wrights model on fire: not only is creation-tabernacle-cross the three act play of revelation, but it is set in the creation, almost recursively, and plays out in terms of the creation of which Genesis speaks; which makes sense, of course. It would be theologically hollow if the creation could not provide the terms of its own account or show its significance in the fellowship of God and Humanity in terms of the space-time events which it must-needs be carried upon.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

God's got a plan

I've  heard it; you've probably heard it: "God's got a plan for your life."

If this is not an essentially teleological observation, I expect that it is meant to encourage one to be in synch with who knows what to get who knows where.

The Wright talk on After you are Christian provides part of the answer.

The other part was set out in our sermon last Sunday. The speaker told us. Start. Get going, take a step and being prayerful, growing in wisdom and being attentive to the Spirit in the Word of God, God will work all things together for good...as we travel the ups and downs of life. Our Father will join us in our experiences to work in a path that we take together.

He didn't actually say all of that, but the first bit he did. The rest follows, of course.

Now what a relief that would be to a younger person, I would think, puzzling over the cute evangelical injunction implied in 'God has a plan for your life'. The plan is there; the NT is full of it. But for you, or me? Get on with it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

capital Letters

For some reason the projected songs we sing at church are very oddly capitalised. I wonder if others have detected this. The second person pronoun is often capitalised in respect of God, but not always (particularly if it is 'thee'). Sometimes a common noun is capitalised if not the first in the line, but sometimes not.

It looks drippy. It looks uneducated.

Vision

This morning's sermon was somewhat special. It took the usual urging to give financially to a whole new level.

It started with 'vision'; in a proper way, not the hollow reflex of the business world. Then it went to generosity; about living in the light of our Saviour.

I liked that too. Generosity was used not merely about money, in fact, that was hardly mentioned. It was about a mental attitude. It was about the woman with two mites, in a way: a woman who was truly generous.

Then I let my eyes wonder over the front of our auditorium. I looked up. The gable light is divided by mullions that are obviously spaced just not quite evenly, and just not quite symmetrically about the apex line of the ceiling. To the right the backyard quality bare plywood covers for the baptismal pond, on bare pine frames. Nearby a 1950s style lectern pushed lazily against the pond casing, and in front of it a communion table from another era, in another style, just left there for no particular reason.

The lectern in use was a black and silver metal music stand. Unattractive, cheap. It was joined on stage by a trio of disorganised microphone stands. To the left at the rear was a non-descript blue tarpaulin flung over the drum kit. Another, quilted cover, partly covered the rarely used giant electric organ. The timber framed back of our wardrobe style piano faced us blankly.

Decoration was by way of two haphazardly placed living room sized vases with bunches of flowers completely out-scaled by the space, although nicely done in their own right. One on the banal plywood cover of the pond, the other on a tall stand, again styled incongruously with everything else in the space; as though we got it at a garage sale.

All this in contrast to the flash new million dollar extensions we've just completed.

A mess, haphazard; as though attention to surroundings is not church territory, putting the lie to the physicalness of God's creation. As though nothing has to be good, or considered or enjoyable; as though our space does not have to be a blessing to our guests, let alone ourselves.

Does this portray generosity; the light of our creator God who brought forth the world in love and creativity? Does it portray even basic care for the visual experience of the congregation or the atmosphere it produces?

No! The unspoken message was careless shabiness. Disdain for craft or joy. Disregard for the effort to deploy capabilty and resources with generosity. Not lavishly or to squander but generousity as an attitude pathed out of love and care.

It undid the sermon.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Beautiful Math

Note I sent to the author upon reading A Beautiful Math: 


Loving your book A Beautiful Math. I was hoping for a little more math than it has, but I've chased up a few of the papers you mention to get my math fix.

I was interested in your mention of Paley's watch. You pointed out that by comparison with natural processes a watch is quite simple. Merely a few springs and cogs, compared to the processes of nature.

But is this not the problem? We have an artefact sustained in significant (at least local) disequilibrium for no apparent reason; it has a specified function that is the result of a large number of coordinated dependency chains that are themselves in disequilibrium with their environment (e.g. production of brass requiring mining, refining, transport, smelting, etc, similarly for glass, paint and other components).

But, that aside; let's accept the simplicity of the watch. Compared to the complexity and interactions of the natural world, that surely raises the question that you in a question begging wave of the hand dismiss. If a simple ol' watch needs a designer, by induction, so does a more complex assembly of mutually dependent systems.

Of course, you dismiss this too, I guess because you prefer that reality is finally material and cognition, love and will are merely epiphenomena of stochastic material interactions, with no basic connection to Being. I differ on this and prefer to understand that fundamental to reality is mind (person); by implication, love, relationship and will are real: they have basic unconstructed connection to Being. I also think that this makes better sense of how people actually live.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I'm a bad person

At church this morning, for the first time in my life (except of course at Randwick Baptist Church, but that was more of a circus for spooks than anything else back in the 80s) I had a visceral reaction to walk out of the sermon!

It happened this way.

The minister was conducting the service and our interim pastor was to give the sermon. As Chinese New Year has just passed we were treated to a bit of a show: choir that sang in both Cantonese and English (alternating verses), minister in a Chinese traditional shirt (nice touch).

It was explained that CNY was fundamentally a pagan celebration to get the 'gods' to be nice about the crops. So here we were, seeming to absorb a pagan practice without comment. It troubled me.

During the sermon it got worse.

The sermon was about stories we were involved in. CNY was a 'story', as was Australia Day (26th for those interested). We were then told how bad we were to Australian aborigines, how we'd invaded their land and done all sorts of wicked things.

We? Who did he mean? I don't do anything wicked to AAs. I pay them a lot of money via the tax system to in some cases subsidise their traditional life of child abuse, wife bashing and inter-tribal wars, augmented these days by alcohol. Maybe that's wicked, but that's down to successive governments just giving good money after bad, and not treating all equally: that is, get a job if you want money.

Maybe he had in mind the 'stolen generations' fiction. Probably given his age. But the accusation of cultural oppression, disregarding the great good that has come to AA as a result of the British settlement all those centuries ago, not to mention the work of missions, was appalling. That's when I felt the impetus to exit stage left.

Further we went to Nelson Mandela. Now he has said and done great things. But let's not forget the wicked things he's done too. The man has blood on his hands, and he wasn't jailed for being a peaceful freedom advocate, he was jailed for terrorist atrocities.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Creation (by Haydn)

I was amused to hear the announcer on ABC FM intro The Creation by Haydn, explaining that the problem for the librettist was that there was no story!

Unlike those who would have us believe that the creation account is (merely) a story, an arts person can see the blinding obvious: there's no story here folks, just facts; move along now.

Thus, of course, Haydn's librettist had to use his imagination to make a story out of the bare account he had to work from.

Two bibles

After reading through the NT letters a couple of times in the NRSV, I've started reading in TNEB (The New English Bible).

My copy was released in 1970 but I picked it up second hand in the late 90s, I think.

The letters are 93 pages in the NRSV and 126 pages in TNEB with virtually identical page sizes. Its a very wordy translation and somewhat pompous from today's perspective.

I don't like it that much compared to my favourite: the NASB, or the NRSV (not my favourite) but will persevere with my project.

I'll probably go on to read at least Luke and Acts in it, maybe Revelation as well.


Monday, January 23, 2017

I know who you are!

Back to the sermon-prayer-sermon-prayer of Sunday.

So many riches in that session!

During the sermon part of the prayer part of the sermon we were all told that God had given a couple of 'words' to the pray-er. One was that there were some people in the congregation seeking to be Christians. Well, there may have been, but no need to make a song and dance about it. Indeed, in a congregation of  younger people, odds-on there was some such person, so just get on with it and try not to make people feel singled out. Hardly a respectful or edifying thing to do.

The second 'word' was that some in the congregation were anxious about the future; about everybody would be a fair bet: start of year, uni or school about to start, work likewise. Now, it is good to bear such matters in prayer, and I found the core prayer in this regard encouraging. However I was irked by the pray-er's request that those who considered themselves in the target group for the prayer raise their hands; some sort of clerical voyerism at work, I dare say! Not necessary, not helpful and not good, IMO. One does not impose such juvenescent humiliation on people.

Holy hands

There was so much in yesterday's sermon for comment, and I've just remembered this.

As we were singing one of the ditties that pass for hymns these days, the fellow who was later to sermonise us raised his right hand. Initially I thought he sought toilet permission, then maybe that he wanted the music to stop. I was flummoxed.

Maybe I should raise my right hand too; as though I also could answer the question. But then I realised! He was one of the folk who only half believe 1 Timothy 2:8. Perhaps it is only semi-inspired in their book.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon or prayer, or prayer or sermon?

This afternoon's sermon was encouraging:Psalm 16! Too little content for the number of words used, but that is often the case. My general view is this: if you can't land your major points in 20 minutes, your calling may be elsewhere.

As usual we ended with prayer, but unusually, the prayer included a mini-sermon. This is not the role of prayer. God does not need preaching to, nor does one take time out for an excursus addressing the imagined hearer/s.

Noting that God is not hard of hearing, needs no explanations nor excessive detail, public prayers can be brief, to the point and non-begging. Our Father in Heaven is only too ready, willing and able to provide for us.

Reminds me of a friend may years ago who observed the way of prayer in our then circle, where the word 'just' was used more than any other word, and, I might add, pleonastically, and thus tediously. Please stop!

Blind men

Two comments on a letter in The Australian:

1: “Religion is a blind man in a dark room, looking for a black cat that isn’t there and shouting, ‘I found it’?’’

and 

2: In that case, that must mean Atheism is a blind man in dark room, declaring "There is no black cat in here", just because he can't find it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Read the Bible

One good thing that did come out of the service for younger people was seeding my desire to do a major read of the Bible.

I pulled out a NRSV I bought over 20 years ago to read the entire Pauline corpus (that means all the letters attributed to Paul the Apostle).

I'm more than 2/3 through in a few days, so might end up reading the generals as well (Hebrews to Jude).

The aim is to get this reading done by the end of January.

So there we are, at last, a New Year's resolution.

Reading the Bible quickly is great to do. One gets the overall picture and themes very clearly, not something that I find easily emerges from bit-wise reading small groups of verses. So, my suggestion: read it fast and read it slow. I read the Psalms slowly: one a day, so I cover the lot twice a year. A nice start to the day, too.

My serious reading pattern is the NT twice a year, and over a two year period the OT in divisions of History pre-Promised-Land, History Promised-Land, Little Prophets, Wisdom, Big Prophets.

I'm not all that keen on the NRSV, and prefer my favourite, the NASB, but the NRSV does have right at the back some editorial goodies going for it, that I'd not seen until this evening!

A very useful index of subjects of the Old and New Testaments, not too detailed to be quite useful.

The index doesn't give Langton-Estienne references, so I might add these and maybe post them (I'll ask the publisher's permission, of course).

A biblical chronology, with some external events. This pretends that we don't know the dates of creation, Babel and Noah's flood, which of course, on the Bible's own data, we do. I'll add them for my own purposes.

A summary of Paul's life and work, fabulously detailed with full Langton-Estienne references.

A list of prayers recorded in both testaments, in alphabetical order.

Table of Jewish feasts.

The Jewish calendar.

The link on references above is to Bible.Org; they have a sister site, Lumina, for study which looks pretty good.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Pascal's wager

Introducing decision theory in a popular book on stats that I'm currently reading (Matthews, R. Chancing it.), this table illustrating Pascal's Wager was shown:


Pascal was working on a 50/50 chance of God existing. Matthews asserted that for something about which we know nothing, this was a bit rich.

But the whole thing is a 'bit rich'!

Firstly, despite his piety, Pascal has got it wrong.

He sums up (in Matthews' rendition, above) the content of 'belief in God'...and it must be the 'philosopher's god, not the real God...as time and effort in rituals. No mention of grace, relationship, fulfilment, ontological context, and so on. He misunderstands, at least, Biblical theism as though belief in God is some sort of ticket, rather than the fellowship and love that we know.

The misunderstanding is compounded in the 'God exists and Choose not to believe' quadrant. The context missing here is not a vengeful God, but God continuing the unbeliever in the unbeliever's chosen state: alienation from God.

This evening

Only a few people of my age and older (and some younger) go to the evening service; it tends to be for young people: post high school, some post uni.

I both liked it and didn't.

Liked for: the casual friendliness, the obvious commitment and capability of those serving as compere, cantor and teacher, they were all very good, the disarming simplicity of the service, the outstanding musicianship of cantor and musicians.

Didn't like for: AV system failure (why is this hard to failproof?), prayer time, chat sessions, lack of rehearsal with musicians 'musos' having to be reminded to start playing, casual 'hi' and 'see ya'. Some formality would work, lending an air of respect of the congregation to the gathering. It doesn't need to be much, but an intentional start and an intentional ending: used to be 'call to prayer' and 'benediction'. Together they remind one that this is not a nightclub, even if in casual language. Purposeful start and finish also give polish to the proceedings (not like a performance, although it is, incidentally, but like the congregation is worth a good experience).

Prayer time almost felt like the compere was embarrassed, although I knew she was not. We had a few moments to pray for another in the congregation. Good idea, in some ways, but generally private prayer one can do at home. Prayer is a vexed problem at our church. We don't quite know what to do with it in a service, and few work well; although some have been spectacular.

The 'hi to neighbours' segments I found awkward; mainly as there was no one near me (another worrying indicator). But that aside, awkward anyway.

Discussing the sermon in small groups is also a good idea, but execution needs work. There was plenty in the sermon for a huge conversation, but too much for a small chat.

The cantor had a fine voice, and stage presence, but I found her 'ecstatic frown' off-putting. The songs were also musically demanding and not real good for congregational use, IMO.

All said and done, I know the target group loves the service. I still hark back to past joys of Anglican Evensong and Evening Prayer. They do it for me, and probably always will.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Big Story

For new Christians, or anyone, really, a one day program giving an overview of the Bible. Three more programs could be church history, theology and apologetics.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Mentor

Thinking over some recent posts that relate to this idea (starting with this one), my experience of the mentor business popped up from my dark recesses. It was the early 1980s when I was active in youth ministry (small Bible study groups, Sunday School teaching, youth camps, etc) that I do believe I was a mentor to a young Christian fellow, just a few years younger than I was.

We didn't use that term, of course, the minister just asked if I'd work through some studies with Zeke. I did, for a few weeks; quite a few weeks, actually. I picked him up from his place and we went to my place for study, chat and prayer. It was a real friendship, we talked about work, girls, plans, hopes. I was impressed by his sagacity.

I moved into the city, he didn't and we drifted apart. But, it was a great (and now that I've remembered it) and memorable experience.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Story of Reality

Having read the very brief review of this book on Tim Challies blog early this morning (thanks Mr Street Sweeper machine), I thought it would be good to check a few other reviews.

Here's a couple:

Cross Examined, mentions a podcast by the author.

The publisher's review.

My only initial concern is that the reviews seem to lean towards Christianity as 'worldview'. No! The Bible tells us what really is! No 'view' about it. If one doesn't start with the Bible, then of course one does end up with a world view from the supermarket of human inventions; but this is not the same thing, because this 'view' will be likely more informed by the fallen nature than the love of God and so be dislocated from what is basic to what is.

Negativity

Life is a deficit.

We probably know that, given the sin and failure that besets us. But no need to grind it in. Recently we've used deficit thinking in our small group work.

Courses to fix things that are wrong. In this theme we will start a course on 'resolving conflict' next term. OK, conflict is real and resolving it well can produce growth, friendship and courage. All that's good; and I'd like that Christians are good at this important social skill.

Recent courses in the wider sphere that I've noticed are 'stress management for Christian men' and 'anger management' also presumably for Christian men.

My wife returned from a shopping expedition with a book titled 'Encouragement'.

Now THAT would be a great thing to develop! The ability to encourage people, to build them up and to both start and leave on a positive note and to be inwardly strong enough to do it!

Some in our church could do with some skills in this area instead of dealing with any challenges that a person faces by telling them that 'God is in control'. Arid fatalism in the face of real distress!

Not biblical, of course, and betrayal of a poor doctrine of creation, but, heck, its the easy way out and limits one's emotional involvement and commitment to another.

Just five?

Today two of the blogs I read promoted the idea of five points modeling the biblical narrative. I like the idea of structuring the Bible; maybe that's the way we need to teach it.

From Ponderings on a Faith Journey we have:
Boring borrowed the exercise and laid out a brief and memorable summary of the biblical story – Creation (Genesis 1-11) Covenant (Genesis 12-Malachi 4), Christ (Matthew-John), Church (Acts-Jude) and Consummation (Revelation)
 From Tim Challies review of The Story of Reality:
creation, fall, redemption, consummation, and new creation
 But the one I like I heard decades ago at a conference:
creation, crisis, confusion, covenant, Christ, church, consummation
It brings the pivotal events of early history into the story and stops the Bible being a ethereal exercise not grounded in the events and chaos of human experience. The idea of 'five' is not bad: just like the number of fingers on one hand, but I think 'seven' has a bit more of a ring to it: seven days in the week ties it recursively to Genesis.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Leader...mentor...servant...minister

It takes a while, but only the two last words have any church relevance.

Below my e-mail to Karl Vater, upon reading his article 12 ways to know if you're pastoring like a boss or like a leader (!).

Dear Karl,
I started reading your blog "12 ways to know if you are pastoring like a boss or leader" and thought I'd prefer to pastor like a minister! I wonder why this biblical word and concept has dropped out of our lexicon to be replaced by the business/military idea of 'leader'?

Adults do not have leaders except in task oriented contexts; then it works. But church is not a task oriented context, it is a ministry context; we serve each other as we are able (gifted, to use the cute theological word). There is no 'servant/leader'. There are servants. End of Story!

The sooner we remove the 'one man' obsession from churches and employ our pastors as a worker to undertake a range of jobs: teaching, mentoring (great concept), administering...the better for us, for our churches and everyone.

No one is going to grow when there is always a 'leader' there. Even in my small group work I eschew the idea of 'leader'. I do not lead a small group, I serve it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I'm new. What next?

I was doodling around the Internet today, seeing what was around for helping new Christians to grow.

There were endless curricula. For example, and here, and a good looking one from the Nazarenes.

The one I really liked was not so much about a 'course', but about Christian life: mentoring as the cool crowd says these days, or basic ordinary everyday discipleship to we ordinary folk.

I was impressed with the suggestion to start a new believer in ministry as soon as possible. One learns and grows through exercise: faith is the same as sport in that respect. And like sport one gets better not by training alone, but by doing the sport. No good saying that you are a vigaro or croquet player and you only lift weights, but never get on the field!

However, there remains need for a structured course, maybe in layers, covering similar ground with increasing depth, as time goes by. The expectation being that a person with a profession and a degree, for instance, would seek and obtain a sophisticated understanding of their faith experience in a timely manner.

This does not usually happen and the church, to my knowledge, doesn't support this outside structured theological study. Very wrong. We should all be encouraged to know the life, practice and thought of faith in ever growing depth.

Most of us, however, are stuck at the kiddie stage and so cannot communicate faith with any credibility or confidence, not having a conceptual structure of life, faith and the world from the Bible, and so not being able to fit the gospel into life and make sense of it to others.


Monday, January 9, 2017

GBU

On Sunday it was a missionary gig. No sermon, a pity, but encouraging talks from some landed missionaries.

The French student worker talked about her organisation: GBU. Now that rang an oddly clanging bell in my memory. I knew I'd heard it somewhere else. Of course! Or was it?

No, not that GBU, but this one.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Let's all join in...

Every so often the compare of our service (or president, or reader...) gets the bright idea to convert a congregational prayer into a free-for-all.

I've experienced this many times over the past decades.

It NEVER works. Long awkward silences are the feature. OK in a Quaker meeting, but not in any other. The intimacy that a prayer free for all usually requires is not a happy fit with the non-intimate setting of a congregation in a large auditorium. The setting makes it not work.

I'm tempted next time we have one of these futile sessions to immediately pray that it will be over soon and that we will be spared the long awkward silence that the incongruity of intimate prayer in an populated auditorium usually brings.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Performance?

Some churches are wary of the Sunday congregation becoming a 'performance', or a spectacle. Often this fear is courted in 'low' churches, in misunderstanding of the conduct of the service in 'high' churches. However, it is easy to run into the baby and bathwater error. Sure, we don't want a Hillsong like performance in our congregation; but we also need to avoid sloppiness!

There's no excuse of unrehearsed ministry segments (e.g. choirs), unprepared Bible reading or short talks, disheveled projections, unorganised rambling prayers, or things just let go wrong, get ragged, or look as though no one cares.

Here we should care deeply, exercise our considered creativity, promote order and dignity, respect of those who attend and preparation.