Faith

Secular Shariah Law

Hands are are thrown up in horror when people suggest Shariah law may become part of Western democracies with the influx of Muslim migrants and refugees. But I would suggest that there is another Shariah law of which we need to be even more wary.  Slowly over the last decade or so Australia has descended into a state of political correctness and the problem exists for those who may not agree with aspects of that correctness. The nature of ‘political correctness’ is that if you don’t agree you must be ‘incorrect’. The consequences: you become the object of social bullying and ostracised.

One may struggle with the idea of same sex marriage, current views on gender, child rearing and a whole host of other concepts. The problem is that if you don’t agree with the pc majority you and your views are considered unworthy of social acceptance or tolerance. In other words we have entered an era of secular shariah law. Or using a Henry Ford analogy you can have any colour T model ford as long as it is black. Other views are not permitted. If one doesn’t hold the view of the majority in the area of ethics and morality one gains pariah status.

At the heart of a vibrant democracy we need to be able to discuss and debate views in which worldviews encounter each other and can be weighed up. Even in the Cold War era Australia was wise enough not to ban communism. Yet that style of openness has been eroded. Only particular voices are now considered worthy to be listened to. Ironically even media articles arguing for tolerance are intolerant of discordant voices. Most disturbing is that one’s conscience can no longer be a reason for disagreement. The secular Shariah police will ensure that.

And that is the aspect that bothers me most. I understand and accept that with changing social mores many people, indeed most people, won’t agree with me but now, increasingly, many of us are being forced to agree or at least submit to the edicts of the secular Shariah law whether we like it or not.

Categories: Christianity, Church, community, Ethics, Faith, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Be Holy – Be Set Apart

Leviticus 20:26 You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

John 17: 6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

Romans 12:2  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

DSC_1051cropIt has always been difficult for Christians to be ‘in the world but not of it’ simply because holiness is such foreign concept for a broken heart and mind to grasp. And as we have been reminded with the recent 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the medieval church like the rest of us also struggled with undeserved grace – the undeserved love of God which becomes the motivation to  inspire us to grow in holiness. The Christian knows that this too is only possible because the Spirit of God empowers us, and the Word of God guides us, towards an ideal that will not be achieved in our lifetimes.

But this challenge to holiness has clearly been in decline in the church in recent generations. The sexual abuse of children and its concealment by leaders in churches, poor ethical relations towards women, financial impropriety … and sadly the list goes on, has meant that the standing of the church in the Australian community is at an all time low ebb.

One of the consequences has been that many in the community have not even wanted hear any of the positions that Christians may hold on same sex marriage, gender and euthanasia. Our voice has been sullied in the minds of many. So what should Christians do? Shout louder? Demand certain legislation? Put ads in the media?

I passionately believe there are two things that are required. One is a genuine attitude of repentance for having failed our calling – over and over again. We have failed the community in which we live. The people who should have been pointing our neighbours to God have been more interested in protecting their own doubtful reputations and we done the name of God no favours.  The second is that we need to reclaim for ourselves an understanding  and commitment to holiness. This is not spiritual snobbery, or spiritual condescension but in simple terms a reminder that God has  set his people apart to be witness to Him – His holiness, his compassion for broken people and his claims over the hearts and minds of men and women.  If a Christian thinks of him or herself as a vessel for God’s use and purpose in the world, then life takes on a different perspective. It is not about me, but about God. It is not about my reputation but God’s.

Now this many not make us any more popular than we are at present, but it will mean we are becoming the people that God wants us to be. It will also mean that when lives are broken and people are looking for answers they won’t be turned off by the stench of the church. Rather they will come to know there are other broken people who have been discovered by the love God and there is hope and that there are answers – not just for moment, a  day or a life time but for eternity.

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Has Jesus left the Church?

I have deliberately made the title vague. It can be taken in a number of ways.

I have just been observing the lead up to Christmas and Christmas itself in Europe. In some places like Seville there was a Christmas market which only sold items for nativity sets. In another few markets I could have bought gloves, scarves and solar panels to do me for a few lifetimes. There has been a mixture of the sacred and secular. All in all, the secular wins.

But Christmas is only a microcosm of society’s attitude to faith and religion in general. So little of the Christ of Christmas remains but that is true of life in general.

So has Christ left the church, in the sense that even the church has left the Christ of Christmas tucked away in some small corner? We sing the carols, attend church for the one time in the year but they are empty tokens. How many sermons were preached this Christmas that declared a radical Christ who introduced a new kingdom through his own death and resurrection? How many sermons declared Christ’s own words, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” That politically incorrect statement comes from the Messiah and is unpopular in many churches today. The cute baby in in a feed trough is easier to speak about and certainly less confronting.

But there is an even scarier perspective. Christ withdrawing himself, not unlike the Shekinah leaving the temple in Ezekiel. Christ leaving because the people who bear his name do do so thoughtlessly. I know he says in Matt 28 that he will be with his disciples to the end of the age but that was on the basis of their continued faith (not perfection).

The radical Christ, the counter cultural Christ, the Christ of a new and everlasting kingdom, the Christ who purchased the lives of his people on the cross and is now preparing a place in eternity for them, the Christ who dwells in his people through the Holy Spirit, the Christ who fought injustice and prejudice, the Christ who tells us that this life is only a brief pilgrimage … He is so hard to find in many churches and many western lives. Alas in my own life.

Has Jesus left the church? Only if we, his representatives on earth, have left him. In our syncretititic and politically correct age we need need to have the courage of the one who gave us his name to stand up to the culture and attitudes of our age and reveal how amazing his message really is. This Christmas have we been overawed and amazed that God became one of us because He loved us so much? Have we been humbled by his claim on our lives? Are we rejoicing in the revelation of His kingdom?

 

A nativity scene in a side chapel at Caen Cathedral

  

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Preparing Christian Young People for the Future

As a homeroom teacher who has a group of students for three years from year 10 to year 12, one of the topics that constantly exercises my heart and mind is, how do I prepare my students for the rapidly changing future?  After taking the roll and making the daily announcements, what do they need to hear from me that will assist them, not just for a school day – but for eternity?  I would love to hear from other Christian teachers.

I have a few basics:

The Bible needs to be a constant reference, and prayer is essential. My own example is important because if I don’t walk the talk then anything I say is made void. But that is just the beginning.

Picture 566The anchor must be a regular and ongoing reference to Scripture and its overarching story of redemption with coming of the king and his promised return to fulfill his kingdom plans. This vision of a place in the Kingdom, I believe, must underpin everything I say and do.  It is the foundation.  Regular communication with this personal God is the next layer.  However, the next step is crucial. How do these two underpinnings apply on an ongoing daily basis as these young people prepare for their future? This future, as every adult knows, will have twists and turns, pains and joys – incredible highs but also incredible lows.

Recently we have been exploring the lives of Christians in predominantly non -Christian and often persecuted cultures.  Our children need to know that in the history of the church, Christianity has not always been part of the dominant culture. In fact it has been at its best when marginalised and persecuted. The history of God’s people from OT Exile through to the early church and beyond has revealed the amazing story of God and his kingdom, in the darkest of times. Not knowing the future, my students still need to know that a personal God has his children’s future in His hand.

My students also need to know how the story ends. There isn’t any doubt where the victory lies and who has the victory.  But in the meantime there is work to do as we prepare for the return of the King.

Year 10 students are by their very nature idealistic.  This idealism is a wonderful trait as it can enable them to develop Christlike eyes for the world.  How does Jesus look at injustice, asylum seekers, the poor distribution of resources, persecution, pain suffering and … so on. A year 10 student doesn’t have that hardened adult cynicism but rather looks for the possibilities – possibilities we need to encourage and not stifle.

Our students need to have a vision of hope. In a materialistic and often hopeless or directionless world I need to pick out perspectives of hope: hope for their own heart and lives, hope for the possibilites as they serve their God, and hope for change that is empowered by God himself – change in themselves, others and the world in which they live.

I would love to hear what other Christian teachers do to encourage their students vision for the future – a future that is anchored outside themselves in the God who reveals himself in creation and especially, Scripture.

Categories: Children, christian, christian education, Faith, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Teddy and Opa

I am still surprised by my own thoughts, feelings and behaviours at times. So the other day when our first grandchild was born I was surprised by the overwhelming surge of emotion that swept over me. When my wife contacted me with the news there was that mixture of tears, choking and adrenalin – all the more embarrassing because I was trying to teach at the time!  I knew this was exciting but Teddy’s arrival was more than that. For a moment I was taken back 40 years when our first child was born. The red hair, once again, took my breath away. The miracle of new life enthralled me all over again. I remembered that mixture of anticipation and fear. Then I was a new dad now I am a new granddad.

I have had to wait a long time for this moment so for just that reason alone Teddy’s birth was very special. Untangling all the emotions is a bit like trying to roll up a ball of wool after the cat has got at it. There is just so much going through my heart and head. On one side you know the

Teddy and Opa

Teddy and Opa

sleepless nights that the new parents will go through; the tiredness but that is outweighed by the enlargement of the family – a new person, a new personality that shares some of the parent’s but then makes it his own.  There will be diamonds and coal  – the good days and bad. There will be the accidents and illnesses but also the achievements. Life is dangerous but also exciting.

As a parent the greatest joy is being able to share with your child the story of faith; the story of God who not only created you but loves you with this amazing love.  For me, that part of my daughter and son in law’s journey will be the most important and exciting one.  There will be all the amazing “firsts”  – tooth, step, mum, dad … opa, supergran.  But ultimately these pale when a young heart comes to know their God personally.

I love you Rosey, Paul and Theodore – may God bless this new stage of your life with His amazing grace!

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Fences: of God or Man?

We like to categorise. Put things in baskets. Label. It makes life so much easier. In Christian circles we have this advanced grid at work. Catholic – Protestant. Once we have chosen that basic category, then in the Protestant section we then select the denomination. And then what end of the spectrum: Liberal – conservative. We fine tune: Adult baptism – paedobaptism. Creationist – evolutionist. And if a creationist – what sort? A clever person could make a flow chart of all these distinctions and many many more. It is a trick we use to enable us to place everyone on the faith map somewhere and have likeminded people around ourselves.

I sometimes wonder what it was like a few years after the last apostle had died. John was gone, now what? We have to think for ourselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. No more letters to or from Paul. No flying visits from those who had personally known Christ. Now the early church had to live the gospel by themselves (and I am not forgetting the Holy Spirit). The Word still needed to be applied, lived, meditated upon in this volatile Roman world but without some of the human reassurances.

FountainsNot much different to today really. But now after 2000 years we have these categories – measuring sticks and safety alarms (like my trusty Calvinometre – which measures how far someone is from a Calvinist position on any topic). My question is: How helpful are our categories in enabling and empowering us to understand how the gospel needs to be radically (from the root) lived in 2015? Does it blind us to what the Word may be saying to us today. My nagging suspicion is that it does.

Does that mean we accept all views? Of course not. Paul and John warned of false teachers. But then again, in 2000 years we have built some human fences that may no longer be helpful.

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Pilgrims in a Foreign Land

Pilgrim

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My Friend Johan

When I was regularly writing for a church newsletter I had a “friend” whom I used to illustrate points – usually negative ones. “Johan vander Bakslijder” was my fictional creation who was involved in things that one hoped that the congregation wasn’t – even though I knew that some were. It was a way of raising issues without accusing people directly and without making the climate too uncomfortable.

But if the truth be known, often Johan’s struggles mirrored mine. In fact there is a bit of Johan or his wife Johanna in each one of us.

We Christians are a fragile lot. I am fragile. How often I am disappointed with a sharp undisciplined word that comes from my mouth, or a sudden rise in temperature when  my toes are trodden on … or an improper thought inveigles itself  into my mind. Daily through my foolishness I am reminded that God’s grace needs to be my constant companion. He needs to look at me through His “Christ coloured glasses” or else I would be in deep trouble.

But not only do I need that grace but also the people around me – people whom too often I am tempted to judge. People who have not encountered Jesus. People who also need to know that their brokenness can be forgiven and dealt with. Who is going to tell them or show them unless it is “Johan” or “Johanna” who can attest to the joy of having been forgiven and who continue to be forgiven daily despite their failings.

 

 

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Children’s Talks in Church

Here is another post by my wife whose passion is worship that involves all ages – especially children

Why is it that preachers look elsewhere when they speak with children about the things of God? Elsewhere than the Word of God? 

They spend a great deal of time conjuring “likes” out of their box of tricks. The church is like…. being a Christian is like…. forgiveness is like….

And there are a lots of objects in their magician’s kit as well. Namely objects for object lessons.  Unfortunately this sleight of hand only confuses the children who are before them.

Today we had a real magic trick performed for the kids. Three pieces of string of varying lengths were produced for the audience of a dozen preschoolers up to first graders. We heard about the tall people (longest string), the middle sized people (medium string), and … “babies” one child suggested for the shortest string, and we all laughed. More examples of varying things were suggested by the pastor, before he brought all six string ends together in one hand and said “watch this”. (I thought the correct word was abracadabra.)

Sure enough, he turned them into three pieces of equal length. Amazing!

Photo: Courtesy Domino the Jester

Photo: Courtesy Domino the Jester

Then he did another trick.

He turned the trick into an object lesson.

“We all look different, but Jesus has made us all the same.”

Maybe I think too deeply, or too literally about these things. I suspect some  children do too. Perhaps they’re thinking, “I don’t want Jesus to make me look like my brother. I don’t want my Mum and Dad or my baby sister to all be ‘middle sized'”. And that’s if they’ve managed to draw the connection between the strings and ‘us’.

Whichever way you choose to tackle this concept of Colossians 3:11, one thing’s for certain. Little children aged less than eight years old will probably not understand the abstractness of it.

This is when parents need to grow these concepts into their children as they walk along the road together, when they lie down and get up, when they eat and play together. This will be when the abstract becomes concrete for them.

And the pastors who are sitting with the church’s little ones at their feet?

Perhaps they should tell a story. A Bible story.

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Including Children in Church Community

There is a small but growing group of Christians who are eager to see the children of the church integrated into the life of the Church body and not just pandered to by programs. Although programs, in and of themselves can be quite useful, they can also stymie the discussions that churches and families need to have about faith formation in the life of their children. Programs by themselves often focus on knowledge (cognition) and what is missed is the beautiful mystery of faith and the excitement of disciple development.  I have written on previous occasions about the importance of the child’s vocation in the church. (Here is just one example).

Last night I heard David Csinos, who describes himself as an author, speaker, practical theologian, husband, researcher of children’s spirituality, and former children’s photo 4pastor, speak in Geelong. This was encouraging for a variety of reasons. It reminded me that there are more voices and often more articulate voices speaking out on this issue and it also caused me to reflect that this is not “rocket science” but requires families, churches and church leaders to engage in a prayerful discussion of how faith is developed in the most vulnerable and important members of our church communities.

If you wish to explore this important notion I have included some websites and books to explore:

  • David’s blog:   http://davecsinos.com/
  • The Journal of Family and Community Ministries (which is free to subscribe to): http://www.familyandcommunityministries.org/
  • A wonderful book is :  Children’s Ministry in the way of Jesus by Ivy Beckwith and David Csinos. This is a good place to begin your reflections if you haven’t started already, or to continue your journey.
  • Is it a Lost Cause: Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children by Marva Dawn.
  • And if you look under Child Theology you will encounter more of my thoughts/musings on the issue.
  • Another worthwhile approach is taken by the Child Theology Movement.

 

 

 

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, Christianity, Faith, Family | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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