Sunday, October 22, 2017

Heaven (not a place where nothing ever happens, contra the Talking Heads)

The sermon made the mistake that the popular misconception of Christian ambitions makes. Thinking its about heaven (well, we got past that to recognise that its not 'getting into heaven, but getting heaven into us' that's God's plan, cute saying but wrong in detail.

The kingdom of God's consumation is the new heavens and new earth. The new creation. That's our ambition, and God's.

God's plan

On the table in our foyer at church this morning I saw a leaflet entitled something like 'God's plan to eliminate slavery starts with you'.

Not sure if this type of manipulation is crass or blasphenous.

Sure, slavery is evil, but 'God's plan...starts with you'? How presumtuous. Maybe God's plan to eliminate slavery doesn't start with you at all, but with someone else.

Let's be exuberant

Today, sermon on praise; Psalm 145 to be precise.

We were told a few good things. One that sticks in my mind is that praise is exuberance of delight in God.

So, I reflected on my experience of other church types, bearing in mind our church's disdain for 'performance' or anything like it. Thus we decend to the insulting depths of ill-considered folksiness.

Formal liturgy with everything being done as well as is practical, rehearsed, effort applied, thought through...is a means of exuberant praise.

Preparing for a service without distractions (crying kids, expressive congregations, happiness AOK, of course), acting like adults in the planning and order goes to an exuberant service with the result that all feel good.

And lastly, my eyes wondered to the offensive unadorned back of the upright piano...a slab of small Bosendorfer (such as a model 200, for instance) would be truly exuberant compared to the banal, which is very much unexuberant.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Our theatre of the absurd

The theatre of the absurd is no longer the fashion it was once, but it is still around:

Reading Schaeffer: The God Who Is There. (Crossway Complete Works)

p 164

FS lists the brokenness of man as: man separated [himself] from God, man separated from himself [no longer an integrated being], man separated from himself [no longer in integrated community], and “Fourthly, man was separated from nature”.

I came to a halt with the fourth separation. The word ‘nature’ suggests an independent ‘natural’ reality. But, not so. The non-human world is not ‘nature’, with its hint of autonomy from the creative acts of God, but The Creation, fallen as it is, due to the first separation. This makes the pain of our position even more sharp: we separated ourselves from God and as a result...we are separated from his creation which we were to be stewards of and live in in enjoyment and God’s company.

But FS goes on to some great analysis.

Page 168-9

“The beginning is simply that God exists and that He is the personal-infinite God. Our generation longs for the reality of personality, but cannot find it. But Christianity says personality is valid because personality has not just appeared in the universe, but rather is rooted in the personal God who has always been.”

Page 183

“...The heart of the rebellion of Satan and man was the desire to be autonomous; and accepting the Christian faith robs us not of our existence, not of our worth (it gives us our worth), but it  robs us completely of being autonomous. We did not make ourselves, we are not a product of chance.”

The final sentence caps it all very well.

The alternative to being made and that through the purposeful love of the infinite-personal God is the ironic ‘autonomy’ of chance where purpose is absent, and we live a perceived absurdity of being people full or purpose and intent, and indeed, love, but in a universe, a reality, we imagine has none of this as basic. This man looks back to his roots in meaningless (purposeless) chance and sees a black absence of personality, love and purpose.

To joint the two, as both implied and express theistic evolution does, for example, compounds the absurdity and evacuates the gospel of credibility. It would tell us that God 'used' purposelessness/chance on purpose, to produce a world of purposeful beings (in his image) that gave no evidence of his purpose! More than absurd because it destroys the fellowship of beings founded in the creation as described in Genesis 1 where God's acts and our being share contiguous objective space-time causality as persons in communion.

"The beginning"

is simply that God exists and that he is the personal-infinite God."

Schaeffer goes on to say:

Our generation longs for the reality of personality, but it cannot find it. But Christianity says personality is valid because personality has not just appeared in the universe, but rather is rooted in the personal God who has always been.

The God Who Is There: near the start of the last sub-section of section 6, chapter 1.

Barth

Nice to have quotes from great theologians at church.

Barth featured this week, with this quote thrown up on the screen:

‘The goal of creation, and at the same time the beginning of all that follows, is the event of God’s Sabbath rest and Sabbath joy, in which man, too, has been summoned to participate.  It is the event of divine rest in the face of the cosmos completed with the creation of man – a rest which takes precedence over all of man’s eagerness and zeal to enter upon his task.  Man is created to participate in this rest.’ Karl Barth, Dogmatics III/I, 98.

It reads so well; but I know that Barth meant by this some world other than the one we are in. For him the creation account is a 'story' not a description of events in our objective and causally contiguous space-time.

The worry with his view is that he must go elsewhere to ground (as we say these days) his theology. That makes it someone else's ground, and not the one revealed by the Holy Spirit and where God's fellowship with us is shown and defined.

The 'ground' in the Bible is the action of a purposeful God who brings about results by his will ('speaking').

This set aside, where to we go for truth about our relationship with God and his creating us for fellowship if the only information we have from God (and repeated, tellingly in Barth's context) in Exodus 31:17. God speaking! is set aside? Trouble?

The trouble: we reject an account reflective of, demonstrating and defining purposeful will, and default to the only modern alternative: impersonal and purposeless chance.

Reality is either one or the other. Barth has to choose. He choose wrong.

Batman

Some churches to outreach (not many, I might say), and others to 'in-drag'. Most actually.

Here's a bit of 'in-drag'. I wonder how many non-church families attended?

I blogged on this a while ago, but only came upon this picture today.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

ESV Study Bible

A review that I much like in parts.

Particularly:

Inherited Depravity

The common and erroneous theory that all human beings are born tainted with the guilt of Adam’s sin is unapologetically alleged in this volume: “Inherited guilt and corruption leave every person completely unable to save himself or to please God” (2,530). Thus, numerous texts are exploited to this end (cf. Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3, etc.).

and

Illumination of the Spirit

The ESVSB teaches the dogma that the Holy Spirit directly operates upon the mind of the Christian, providing special understanding and power.
After the inward renewal that makes someone who has trusted Christ a new creation, the Spirit also brings spiritual understanding, convicts of sin, reveals the truth of the Word, brings assurance of salvation, empowers for holy living, teaches, and comforts (2,521).
The commentators never explain why those “illuminated” are at such terrible odds with one another as to the meaning of Scripture and religious practices.

The bits on Geneis are good, but I take exception to the eschatology and a few other items, tho'.


Wowsers

The church is, or was criticised for 'wowserish' behaviour in previous generations. Let's think, '1950s'.

The rubrick was: no smoking, no alcohol, no gambling, no dancing and no movies (the last two a little extreme, and not widely supported by church-goers).

Now, today:

Government funded campaigns and medical warnings against smoking.

Government funded campaigns and medical warnings against alcohol abuse

Government funded campaigns and widespread warnings against gambling

Police and sniffer dogs turn up to young people's dance parties, where young people take drugs, get sick and sometimes die.

Movies: same old here, but more and more depravity, particularly internet pornography with its attendant dangers.

Looks like our forebears from the fifties were kinda right!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Basic Books for Christians

If I was to suggest 12 (or so) basic books for Christians?

In no particular order:

C. S. Lewis: Mere Christianity

G. K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy

F. A. Schaeffer: The God Who Is There, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, Escape From Reason

J. McDowell: The New Evidence that Demands a Vertict

Gerstner, Lindsley, Sproul: Classical Apologetics

Strobel: The Case for Christ

Sire: Scripture Twisting

Campbell: The Koran and the Bible

Moreland and Craig: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian World View

Blanchard: Does God Believe in Atheists?

Olson: Mosaic of Christian Beliefs

Oden: Classic Christianity

Wilson: A Primer for Christian Doctrine

N. T. Wright: Following Jesus

F. A. Schaeffer: Genesis in Space and Time

Now, that's a lot of books.

My suggestion: read 1 per quarter, so there's three years or so worth of reading. Read them a few times, but at least twice: once quickly, to get a grasp of the ideas. Once slowly, to ponder, make notes, and reflect upon as you go.

And, an addendum, which could end up running into pages, but a few that might also be helpful and easy reads:

Stott: Basic Christianity
Plantinga: Beyond Doubt

I'd suggest that before reading the larger books one reads a couple of reviews of them to get the flavour before plunging in.

Also note, that like all good reading, these books reflect some divergent theological views. So, read them in the light of the Bible, and reflect on their differences.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

That's all folks

That wasn't today's benediction at church, but it was darn close.

The conductor (also snr. pastor) introduced the sermon-speaker, then excused himself and left to attend the other service on foot in our complex.

No problem with that.

The sermon ended in prayer, the precentors got up to sing, all fine. The song ended, and pause...pregnant pause...more pause.

The sermon-speaker then took the initiative, clearly had not be forewarned, and closed the service, but not knowing how.

A prayer (the only other prayer in the service had been pre and post sermon), and...an awkward, 'that's all folks' type of ending.

Now, my church is averse to being accused of 'mere performance', but this was awkward, if not clumsy.

We don't need the superb polish of St James King Street, but we do need dignity, presence, and good organisation, so that all things are done properly and in good order.

Whatever else happens, a neat, biblical benediction itself can be encouraging, uplifting and hope-building.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Knock

In the Alpha course, which we are doing....again....(about 5th time for me as facilitator), I was caught once more by the video where Rev 3 is quoted in connection with Holman Hunt's painting of the person at the door.

This is connected with Christ seeking to bring salvation to a person.

But not so. Read the text carefully: it is in the passage where the church at Laodicea is being remonstrated for being luke warm and self-satisfied.

Christ is seeking to be part of that church again. It is not a reference to salvation, but restoration.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hospitality

I couldn't help but be hugely pleased at church this morning.

1. The conductor (we like to say 'leader' I'd prefer 'reader' from my Anglican roots, or 'precentor' to give a liturgical flavour), our senior pastor gave such a wonderful welcome to service that I wish I'd taken notes.

The drift of it was that the events that impinge upon us, or influence us are separate to the who that we are, in God's image, redeemed and filled with his Spirit. Great!

2. The other pastor who gave the sermon, urged us to invite someone to a meal each month for the rest of the year. Nothing fancy, either at home or cafe, either share or go Dutch...for being together, being friends and sharing time. How friends are. Not to impress, but to be.

He also referred to the contact we make with visitors and how important to be friends to them; particularly people who are here briefly from  abroad.

I recalled when I'd visited churches abroad and reflected on the degree of welcome.

Spencer St Church of Christ, Melboune: invited to afternoon soccer after service, member struck up friendship, we had coffee in my hotel room and talked about faith, Schaeffer and creativity.

Garden Grove Community Church: big service, offical greeter/usher. No contact post service.

Disciples of Christ, New York: met pastor in study, attended evening Bible study with other young adults. No contact post this.

Cambridge Baptist Church: invited to home group, accepted as part of it, friendly conversations, but no contact after.

All Souls Langham Pl London: attended a number of services, part of small group, didn't feel included. No contact after.

University Presbyterian Church, Chicago: somewhat friendly minister, more interested in his 'litugical dance' than visitors. No contact after.

Cootamundra Baptist Church: fully accepted, but not social contact, except with minister (Barnes?).

Cootamundra Anglican Church: hardly noticed, but got on well with young woman who also worked in the same office as me.

Group I joined travelling across the Mediterranian, South African woman, US bloke, Austrian woman (they were the Christians, there were other fellows from Canada, Switzerland and US): got on fine.

Score

1. Melbourne Spencer St Church of Christ

2. Cambridge Baptist Church

3. Cootamundra Baptist Church.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The music: not performance, but godly

It is easy to confuse good music well done with mere performance; but as we are called to do things well, and this would apply to our music, we must consider that too.

I recently attended with a friend a small ethnic church about 40 minutes drive from my place.

I couldn't understand the language, and wondered what it would be like.

At service start time I became aware of a musical hum. Not acoustic feedback, but on purpose. It grew louder, and varied subtly.

I then noticed the keyboard artist at the synthesiser. I noticed another set of keyboards near him.

The musicians started moving onto the stage: calmly and unassumingly. I knew this was not 'performance' but something done well and in good order.

We ended up with four guitarists, one drummer, two keyboards, four singers. The 'lead' singer (the cantor?) changed, so there was no celebrity occuring. It was Christians joining together in doing a Colossians 3:16. Beautiful. Full of earnestness, but no over-emotive 'swoon' music.

Oddly, I had a similar experience at Christ Church St Lawrence at Easter  many years ago when Austin Day was serving as rector and the choir of King's College at Cambridge was serving as choir.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Worship?

Sermon this morning was on worship...well, no it wasn't, it was on singing, and it even got that wrong, failing to deal with:

Ephesians 5:19
19 speaking to [a]one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;

Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

and

Romans 12:1
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

Thus, our entire life lived god-ward is worship, and we sing to each other. Due to Ro 12:1 this too is worship, but it is done, not in soppy emotive songs 'to God', but to each other, both as made in the image of God, and as building each other up in love.

To reduce worship, which in Christ has a vast compass, to singing betrays the gospel.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Five Important People

In this morning's sermon, the speaker related a view from an author, who's name escapes me, that we are 'the average of the five people closest to us'.

Interesting. I tried to quickly think...

In the benediction prayer, the minister ended by 'the grace, mercy and peace of God the Father, Son nad Holy Spirit, three of our five closest, be with us now and evermore.'

Monday, August 14, 2017

2,500,000 conversations for $3.50

Our church has an outreach committee. It is really an 'in-drag' committee, because I don't see much outreach happening: that is, going OUT to REACH people.

Doesn't happen.

The committee at last count has 3 members.

I've been at this church for 7 or 8 years. Let's say 7.

If every committee member spent one hour in conversation each working day with one person outside the church (like chatting in coffee shops, or dare I say it, pubs), in that 7 year period they would have 'reached out' in 5250 conversations.

That's a big number more than their efforts have achieved!

But what if every paid Christian in Sydney did that, and had been for the past 10 years?

1000 paid Christians, 10 years, 250 conversations a year: 2,500,000 conversations for the price of a cup of coffee.

Darn lot of conversations!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Batman

What you see when without camera!

A church in Ashfield was advertising its latest evangelical bright idea. A Batman movie!

I kid you not.

I was told that one of the church members was handing out promotional cards for the film at the local school.

So this is how we represent almost 2000 years of Christian tradition, and the most life-building news ever: come to a Batman movie!

Meanwhile people are born free, and everywhere in chains.

I wonder how many turned up....I wonder what they made of it. In Mcluhan terms.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sgt Schultz

I think at our church we have the Sgt. Schultz approach to Christian education.

If you don't know, Schultz is a character in the ramschackle comedy 'Hogan's Heroes', set in a a prisoner of war camp in WW2.

Schultz maintained his calm by 'knowing nothing' about anything...I think we are training our kids to be the same about the Bible and their faith...know nothing.

On the weekend I was talking to a young teenager and mentioned the word 'apostle'. She asked me what an apostle was!

After 7 or 8 years in an evangelical church, she didn't know a basic word of our faith.

I wonder what else she didn't know.

I asked another young person about the studies in youth group. I asked if there was any structured program that took them through knowledge of the Bible, etc. Stone dead silence. He may not have known, of course, but basic to teaching is to tell your student what they are learning.

For a faith that includes the idea of knowledge in its writings and heritage, the fact that we don't seem to care about it astonishes and disappoints me.

By year 8 at high school a young person should know the basic structure of the Bible, how we got it, the text-critical issues that scholars have dealt with, the 'trajectory' of salvation, something of the historical movement through the Bible and contextual history: in outlines.

In practical terms they should have had some exposure to public Bible reading, praying and talking about their faith: maybe practiced in Sunday School/Kids' Church and youth group. For those who are interested, regular participation in services should be encouraged.

Then there's apologetics. They should know the basic points of resistance to the gospel and how to deal with them.

But....nothing!

We put a ton of effort into 'outreach' but put nothing into the mission field within our walls!

Heaven help us.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How church?

I left our morning service flat, despondent, disappointed. What is a service for?

We had long meandering intro chat about a bunch of things, sang two songs consecutively (we like to say 'back to back' these days, as though one song is sung in reverse), somewhere we had a prayer, a Bible reading and a sermon, then communion (remember when Yeshua made grape juice at the wedding...you guessed it. We have grape juice in little medicine cups. Disgusting).

Some people at our church have an aversion to 'performance' as though there is some puritanical aversion to doing things so that people enjoy them, their time is not wasted with disorganization, and feel uplifted by the environment, content and order of the service. Paul enjoins order, remember.

I pine for my Anglican roots.

We went throught the Bible on a three year cycle, at each service read from OT, NT and Psalms, joined together in the creed and prayers in an orderly and I think dignified manner, and had time for extemporary prayers, but never the corny Baptist prayers, which could be abbreviated as "just...Lord...just....Lord..." sometimes there's a bit of pleading content, but often not. Its as though people don't know how to pray or what prayer is. Or they haven't thought beforehand about what they will say.

I  know Anglican churches differ, but I also enjoyed, in a spiritual manner, the efforts of the choir, the organist and other intrumentalists in helping us sing to each other (another of Paul's statements.)

I'm thinking.....thinking...where to?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

100 years!

Our church recently celebrated 100 years as a going concern.

We had an afternoon tea, cake cutting and immediately a dinner consisting of spit roast meats and an assortment of salads and vegetables...but you don't come here for cooking info.

I would have made a bit of a show of the evening, a couple of short speeches covering old and new, then some interesting entertainment of a decent sort; exerpts from Mozart's great mass in C-minor perhaps (to which I listen as I type this)??

The next day in our service all was well done...again no Mozart, but we're Baptist! Give us a break.

People were invited to pop up the front and share their reflections on the church's recent history, although we have one member of our congregation who was born before the church was commenced! She's still alert too, and turns up under her own steam!

One of the speakers reflected on the relationships with people (naturally, what else is there?) and looking forward to seeing them again...."if it's all true".

Yikes...did I miss something? The voice of one filled with the Spirit?

A later speaker reflected on the great 'teaching' over the years; she wasn't kidding either!

Still, the minister cannot control what people understand from sermons, Bible studies, their own reading, weekend seminars and retreats....ahhh....let's just stick with sermons; clearly the least effective means of communicating new information and producing attitude change.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heaven here we come...

In her helpful book Heretic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali mentions that Christians look forward to heaven.

Wrong!

The long arc of salvation ends in the New Creation...we don't expect to waft around disembodied, we expect to have fun in the permanent company of our heavenly father and creator. Thus the kingdom of God is likened to a wedding party, or a many roomed mansion: all good stuff.

TV Cops

This morning I caught the end of a police reality show just before the morning news (which is also a police reality show). The reporter was talking to a policeman who was discussing his job as including shooting bad guys. She asked if he had any religious qualms about killing people. He fluffed a bit, but didn't really have any.

What he should have said was: correction, lady, the 10 commandments prohibit murder, not killing, but as I'm not an ancient Jew, they are inapplicable to me. On the other hand, Paul in Romans 13:4 tells us that the state has the sword for good against those who do wrong and that's what I'm doing.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Allah <> Jehovah

I've just read a book by Nabeel Qureshi Answering Jihad (essential reading for all politicians: send a copy to your local MP). He discusses in one chapter whether God as represented in the Bible is the same as Allah represented in the Koran.

He makes a good case for an inequality here.

I make a futher case.

God enjoins drinking alcohol (Deut 14:26...my favouite verse), music (1 Chronicles 15:16 is good here, as is Genesis 4:21), dancing (Ecclesiastes 3:4) and parties (Deut 14:26 again, Matthew 22:2, and of course John 2:1 ff).

So, God is a fun Father; Allah is not.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Olive tree

For my everyday computer-based Bible reading and study I use Olive Tree's Bible Study.

Recently I bought the Thompson Chain Reference module.

I've hankered after this for a long time. It was used by a wonderful old Christian who I admired in my young adult-hood. Rolley (Roland?) Bunker, now probably dead, lead a very active outdoor life as a farmer and stone mason. His hands were large and powerful and in them was usually his Thompson Chain Reference Bible, which he used expertly. His Bible knowledge informed his most gracious speech and the humble approach he had to all. So my purchase is in part homage to my great old friend. His mere presence was an encouragement, and he was ever kind


Christ creator

Wonderful words from the Burmese Christian Church pastor letter for July 2017:

Let’s focus on Jesus Christ our Lord and celebrate Him for who he is as our creator Colossians 1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation, [a]16 Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. Let’s celebrate Jesus because He is our redeemer with His own blood 2 Corinthians 5:21Common English Bible (CEB)21 God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God. Let’s live in the light of His grace and demonstrate His goodness, His greatness as a living testimony for Jesus and keep His commandment as we love one another and celebrate Jesus, because He is our victory in life here and for eternity John 16:33Common English Bible (CEB) I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” God bless you all and have a good July 2017 in Jesus name. Amen.

Monday, July 10, 2017

After we meet

In a previous post, I suggested that after the church 'service' we break, then hold an optional 30-40 minute study session.

If your congregation is large enough, I'd suggest a couple of study groups. Bedrock: that would do the  basic framework of faith, and Landscape: deepening understanding of the Bible, theology and other topics.

The sessions could be split into 2/3s content and 1/3 questions. Questions and discussion are essential for learning. I'd also have worksheets that people could use to revise (another great way of embedding knowledge). That would build into a handbook. I'd also have a members-only blog for questions and discussion through the week, and I'd put links and other content on it.

Each week we would also encourage participants to learn a topic relevant verse of the Bible.

The formal sessions would run in step with school terms, with the off term sessions recapping the term's content and covering other material.

Twice a year would be either a retreat of one or two nights away or a full day session to explore some areas more intensely.

Here's how the one year Bedrock program might work:


Easter (autumn)
  1. The Bible: text, context, structure and themes. Treatment of Pentateuch and prophets.
  2. Person and work of Christ: based on Mark or Luke, but drawing out the theology.
Pentecost (winter)
  1. Church history
  2. The early church, based on Acts
Ecclesia (spring)
  1. Overview of Christian doctrine: based on the Apostles' creed
  2. What is 'saved': based on Galatians
Advent (summer)
  1. Living the life: two units; based on Ephesians and James.
  2. Arrival: all things new: based on Revelation.
Between terms and over January would be sessions to recap and to deal with apologetics and polemics, other religions and para- and non-Christian cults. These would be run as seminars with discussion, debates or short presentations by members.

(The names of the terms are based on the Christian calendar and the invented term 'Ecclesia' for 'ordinary time');


How we meet

Another format for meeting, following my post on a new format, that we sort of tried at the service of the D. Min (in progress).

A few songs...although I don't want to keep standing for 4 songs consecutively, then a morning tea break, sermon, prayer, close. Maybe there was a Bible reading there too.

I'd vary this so:

  1. Call to prayer recitation: to 'dignify' the context.
  2. A few songs: stand or sit as you like
  3. Bible reading
  4. Morning tea at tables, in groups, with a topic to spring from. The tables are important to bring people together and avoid cliqueing, pairing and isolation.
  5. Sermon (15-20 mins max), still at tables.
  6. Prayer: brief by a precentor, then at tables, also brief. Precentor would close with
  7. Benediction. A final song might follow.

All done in 60 minutes, with an optional study for 30 to 40 minutes following the end of service after 10 minutes.

Keeping strictly to time, people would be able to easily arrive at start, at Bible reading, at morning tea, sermon or for the study: it should play out flexibly.

The compere should resist the urge to comment on everything that has just occured, and on clumsy hand-overs to the next. This particularly applies to the sermon. Sermon intro? One is not usually necessary. Speaker just stands and delivers. End of sermon? "Bill will you pray, please?" (no attempted summary of John's sermon...we don't need it. We were all there, and we don't need an amateur theologian attempting to repeat what a theologian has just been through!).

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What about the poor?

Often in our church services, we have an 'interview'. All orchestrated, of course, and transparently so, but that's the way it goes in managed performances.

Today, a young woman (young to me) who made sure we know that she was 'doing her D. Min' (I was friendly with a Jewish woman a few years ago who, doing a PhD in Augustine, was one of the leading experts internationally in his theology. She only referred to 'my work'. She also counselled me against continuing with my then current girlfriend...wise woman, it turned out).

Our D. Min (in progress) speaker was all about the use of child labour in Pakistan, and  how we should stop this. We were invited to ask questions. I felt like asking, but for sake of calm did not, 'what will these children's families do for income if they stop work?'

Poverty, exploitation and slavery are complex in some dimensions, and to put the brakes on it can have parlous unintended consequences. In Pakistan, no less than anywhere else, better to preach the gospel, and rescue those children and their families that we may. But even this is complex.

If we are to pressure governments, start with safety, limited hours to allow for school for children and fair pay. Oh, and by the way, give it a couple of centuries for a pagan culture to catch up with our Christian aspirations, noting that child labour is part and parcel of agrarian life in poor countries.

What to think about Islam

Not a big issue in our area, but one for which we should be equipped.
I've met Muslims at work, as I guess most people have, and have found them universally to be lovely people, and the wonderful thing is, they are very happy to discuss  spiritual matters.
Indeed, I've acted as referee for one Muslim colleage, and have assisted a Muslim friend of a friend with some legal action.

But we need to know about the religion itself. Much like Romanism, Islam might be OK in small doses, but once it gains the ascendency, freedom evaporates. However, Muslims are people we must bring the gospel too: they are excluded from the life of God becuase they think 'works' and don't know 'grace'.

Some resources that might be of interest:

Pfander

Answering Islam

Political Islam

And on YouTube:

Acts17Apologetics, Pfander, and a couple of interesting videos: Islam, the untold story, A 1400 year secret and How Islam Began.






Saturday, July 1, 2017

Yoga

Recently the Anglicans have come  out against their premises being used for Yoga, with the claim that it represents an alternative spirituality.

Right on, and about time.

But, not 'alternative spirituality'; rather, fake/misleading/deceptive/degrading spirituality.

It is also dangerous:


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.