Posts Tagged With: Christian

The Avalanche of Poor Behaviour

The vitriol against our bankers is reaching fever pitch. Even at the local gym my wife encountered patrons seething at the behaviour of the banks. This comes on top of the recent inquiry into child abuse. The churches, in particular, came out of that with their reputations badly damaged. There is another current inquiry into the behaviour of the managers of Aged Care Homes. The police are under scrutiny because of poor behaviour and our politicians have reached lows that has even left voters aghast that new lows are even possible.

The level of self righteous anger is seen on tv news shows, radio talk back, newspapers and blogs. Society is venting! The populace is restless and angry.

There is one segment of society left out – the rest of us – the ordinary punter. But are we really in a position to cast the first stone? Let me ask: Are our tax records spotless and our driving record immaculate? Have we always been honest and honourable with the boss, or spouse or colleagues? Have we used the cash economy to avoid tax? If there was a tv screen on our foreheads that broadcast our inner thoughts for everyone to see, would we have any friends? If we came across an easy way to make extra, illegal, money but wouldn’t be caught, how would we behave?

The problem is that each one of us, banker, politician, you and me – everyone – has a sinful nature. It is an unpopular concept in today’s society in which truth is considered relative. Today we are told that there are no longer clear wrongs and rights in the moral sphere and yet we are surprised when people “do wrong”. We ourselves do wrong but we justify it to ourselves – just, as I am sure, the bankers did, or the paedophile, or the manager of the home or …

Yes, we do need laws to protect children, bank depositors, old people and so on, but let us not pretend that we are innocent.

In the apostle Paul’s words, “We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sinfulness is a problem we all need to deal with. The ultimate answer is not the laws that we have piled on year after year to try to control all sorts of behaviour but rather the real answer is an encounter with Jesus Christ and the the forgiveness and renewal that is freely available through him.

Yes the laws are important to order a civil society but even more important is a radical renewal of each person – politician, policeman, you and me.

Yet first, each of us has to acknowledge that we have a problem and we ourselves do not have the resources to deal with it but Jesus has. In Luke 19:10 Jesus says to the tax collector ( or banker, or business manager or you and me) “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Step one is to acknowledge that we are “lost.”

Categories: christian, Christianity | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Epiphany: a story

Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar

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(Picture from The Life of Jesus, painted by Paul Forsey)

It was a black night. Nothing lit our Eastern sky, nothing. The tiny pinpricks of starry light were almost blotted out by the inky darkness.

Nevertheless, our team was out there on the dunes, peering into our telescopes, occasionally lighting a small candle to jot notes and diagrams onto our parchments.

It was a still night, which was a good thing. Sand grit can be a problem if it’s blown into our equipment and ink. Caspar was sitting in the middle of a huge groundsheet, gazing across to the horizon. It was so quiet that, even though I had my back to him, I heard it when he stopped breathing. He wasn’t dead, just dead surprised.

I turned and said, “Cas?” and then looked where I thought he was looking.

I answered his unspoken question. “I think it is.”

“I’m going to make a light” he said, “you get Melchior.”

I set out over the dunes. With no illumination I stumbled along. Once I turned to look behind me and saw Caspar’s small candle. But behind him was a rising glow from near the horizon. I finally found Mel; actually I stumbled onto him. He cursed as I landed on him, causing his ‘scope to drop to the ground.

“Look” I said, and standing close behind him with my arm alongside his head, I pointed to the west. He moved slightly to follow my direction. “Yes…” he murmured.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking” I asked.

“I think I am, Balthazar!” he replied, and I heard the twinkle in his eyes.

We ran then, back to Caspar, who had been consulting the charts. He was fairly jumping out of his skin! And that’s not bad for an eighty year old astronomer.

This was the beginning of our journey westward. That little star, rising up into our world, had been predicted for centuries. But not as headline news in the Astronomers Of The East Gazette. No. It was hidden in the historical parchments of our discipline, to be discovered through intense cross referencing and study. A group of us were hoping and waiting for its appearance in our lifetime. And here it was!

The following days were a buzz of preparations and talking. Our colleagues agreed that Mel, Caspar and I should be the ones to meet the promised King. The King born somewhere to the west of us. The King whose star we had seen rising in the darkness.

And this King would be worshipped with gifts.

So a committee was formed to find appropriate gifts. The gift registrars. They consulted the astronomical charts too, for clues. Each gift would be fraught with meaning. Finally they came on the night before we were to set out. Three packages were presented to us.

“This one is the only gift we could give to a new King” they said. “It is the ultimate symbol of power and majesty.” Caspar stood beside me and whispered breathlessly “Gold!”

“This one” another registrar said, holding up a small box, “was a tricky one. Something in our research suggested this new King is also Godly. So in this box is the very precious frankincense.” He handed it to Melchior.

A third registrar stepped forward.

“Finally, our last gift.” A few of the other members of the committee shuffled uneasily and looked down, as if they weren’t too sure about this choice of a gift.

“Myrrh.” And it was offered to me.

An explanation was called for. The registrar continued. “It’s traditionally used as an embalming agent. The committee thought it appropriate as all kings eventually die, and this new King will deserve the very best of burials. Although” he added,

“this King is a God, so it should not be necessary. However, on the off chance…..” He was now clearly out of his depth so I stepped forward and took the package from him. He looked glad to be rid of it.

The journey continued. The next morning we were assisted onto our camels and the whole assembly of astronomers were there to see us off.

Our College president handed us the scrolls containing copies of the prophesies of the Hebrew Daniel, concerning the King we were seeking. And so we left our home in the East.

It was together boring and exhilarating to be travelling.

At night we pitched our tent, found our telescopes and studied the sky as we had always done. But we hardly needed the telescope to see that Star; it became larger and brighter every night. It was our signpost, our route map, our light for our path.

During the days I reread Daniel’s prophesy. He was an alien in our country, captured over 500 years ago and brought to Babylon as booty.

He wrote about his God and a plan to bring a saving Christ into the world. The ‘Son of Man coming from heaven’.

When we reached the region of Palestine we made our way straight to the city of Jerusalem. I was glad to stop there. Beyond this country was the Mare Nostrum sea and I didn’t like sailing much. I preferred the ships of the desert – camels, and the waves of bare sand.

At the palace the guards brought us before the ruler King Herod. He listened to the reason for our coming, and looked puzzled. “No new kings here!” he blustered.

“A new born King, a baby perhaps?” I suggested.

Now he looked positively scary. “No newborns around here!! “

Melchior offered another idea, “we believe him to be the king of the Jews.”

“What?!!” roared Herod. “I am the king of the Jews!”

And then “Send for my advisors, and those magicians I have!”

They came, and they confirmed what we had said. In the town of Bethlehem the Christ would be born.

Now Herod ordered us out of the room while he conferred with his advisors.

We sat in a tiny anteroom, cooling our heels. “I don’t like that man much,” said Caspar, “can’t we just go over to that town and check it out for ourselves?”

But then the door opened and we were called back in.

Herod’s plan went like this:

We were to go to Bethlehem, find the baby King, and then return to Herod and give him the precise location.

It was something about the way his moustache twitched when he spoke that made me wonder. His whole demeanour had changed since before, but that moustache was twitching! I didn’t trust him.

Well, we found Bethlehem, and we found the King. Our star continued to lead us until it stopped over an ordinary-looking house in a plain old street. No palace, no royal crib, no red carpet.

We felt a tiny bit overdressed for the occasion, and the gifts we brought seemed a tad too grand for such an ordinary child, but we knelt before him. His parents didn’t blink. It was as if they knew His importance, as if they understood Who he really was.

I bowed deeply.

I offered the jar of myrrh to the child’s mother.

In my heart I felt some flutter of recognition as I gazed upon the small boy sitting on his mother’s knee.

The star had brought me to Him. He was the end of my journey.

Hetty Stok,

Epiphany, 2019

Categories: Advent, christian, Faith, Hetty's Devotions | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Madrid and Mission part 1

We have spent the last two days in Madrid looking at the possibility of future “mission” work, either in a church or school or both. We have come to the conclusion that church attendance in Spain, as with most European countries, is very low. There is still a strong hold that Catholic traditions have on behaviour but this doesn’t translate into a gospel empowered lifestyle.

There are bright spots. There are Catholic priests who are trying to shake up the church. A version of the Alpha course in Spanish is being used. There are small groups of evangelicals trying to make a difference. But in a population of 47 million people these are only pin pricks of light.

One of those pinpricks is Life International School, currently housed in rooms previously used by doctors at the ground floor level of an apartment complex. The 14 students between 3 and 5 are taught in the English language from a Christian Worldview. Lives and families are being changed. There are plans to obtain land and build but even bigger dreams to equip teachers and inspire others to set up schools. There are hopes to engage local parents and other adults through English conversation classes with a clear Christian perspective.

The staff at this school come from the US, Canada and Russia. They are an amazing group of people who have responded to God’s call.

We have been inspired and humbled by what we have seen and heard. The commitment and sacrifice is genuinely amazing. Our challenge now is discern what God is saying to us

An interesting TGC article: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-gospel-in-spain/

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Sin had slithered …

 

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;  he will crush your head,  and you will strike his heel.”

Gen 3:15

Sin had slithered in

and God living harmony

destroyed.

Life and love became terminal.

Hope less.

 

Through the human

silence of the guilty

in the garden

the Word spoke again.

 

Sin and love

declared enemies.

One must go.

 

An enemy crushed.

A head abolished

forever.

 

The cost:

The Godman would come

From the broken

Mother of the living.

A divine son slain.

A Word crucified

so that love

and harmony

will rise and rule again.

 

 

Pieter Stok

 

 

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Bible Black Holes

Another blog post from my wife.

Did you know there are black holes in the Bible? There are mud puddles, canyons, and prickle bushes as well.

I know about these because I tell Bible stories to kids.

Have you ever noticed how many empty spaces there are in Bible stories? For instance, what did Jesus and Zacchaeus discuss over lunch? And what was happening on Easter Saturday?

Try telling these stories to children. They’re not afraid of black holes. They will launch straight into them.
Slimy mud puddles that most Sunday school teachers avoid, such as how Mary got pregnant? Kids will take a running leap into that one.
Tricky prickle bushes that college theologians won’t venture near? No problem for the minds of 5 year olds. A group of preschoolers once explained the Resurrection to me.

Grownups can read the signs at the top of a cliff that say “Don’t go too close to the edge” or “Danger. Unstable cliff edge”, but kids only see an opportunity to explore.
Burning bushes, talking donkeys, floating zoos, miracles…
And the best part is that they will joyfully take the grownups by the hand, if we are willing to let them lead us.

Next time you’re reading your Bible and you find a black hole, find a child to tell the story to. Sit alongside them and wonder together. No space suits, flack jackets, parachutes, or safety harnesses required.

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The Prophetic Imagination 

I have just finished reading Walter Brueggemann’s book “The Prophetic Imagination” (1978, revised 2001). From the outset I want to make it clear that I don’t understand all of it.  His descriptions, allusions and theological ideas left me floundering on more than one occasion.  I found his writing style difficult.  Yet, it is one of the most exciting books I had read in recent times.

Breuggemann’s main thesis is that the prophet’s task is to lead the people in the groans and complaints (grieving) over the current order (which he calls the “royal consciousness”) with its lack of compassion, justice and with its propensity for self-justification and  self-preservation. Positively, the prophetic is called to lead the vision and praise for a new kingdom – a new future led by Jesus himself.

Brueggemann takes us on a journey through the Old Testament, from Moses to Solomon and then onto Jeremiah. He explores the idea that the God in the midst of His people in Moses time had been subsumed to the King’s wishes from Solomon onward.  The “Royal consciousness” of Solomon’s kingdom (much like the arrogance of pharaoh’s royal consciousness) had overrun the alternative community inaugurated by Moses when he led the people out of Egypt.  The prophets’ task then was to grieve for that which had been lost and the kingdom’s deathly future and to herald a new possibility.

Brueggemann says much about the grieving of the prophet for the addiction to the culture of death. This resonated with me.  Because we live in a culture of death at present and we,  like many of our fellow citizens, are blinded to its decay and futility.  The powers of our age with their spin, bread and circuses camouflage the fact that our present social order is toxic and deadly.  Even our churches have taken on many of the attributes of royal consciousness in the way they operate.

This book also made me think about so many issues our society faces – refugees, minorities, aborted children, in fact all those dis-empowered and on the fringe.  His solution however is Christ centred. The answer he discovers from Scripture is a real king and a real kingdom that has been inaugurated and that calls its citizens to both grieve for the present but also energize the new.

Brueggemann also reminded me of the “prophetic” element of the Christian’s “prophet, priest and king” calling. There is the challenge for the body of Christ to be far more grief stricken for that is which is unjust, deadly and flawed in our culture and to proclaim and embrace a more Christ-like vision.

Even though this book has been around for a while I believe it has a particular relevance for our present time. And moreover,  you are probably smarter than I am and can even get more out of it.

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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

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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Is it Time for a New Reformation?

A number of books have been written in recent years that suggest that the direction the Christian Church has been going is profoundly warped and dysfunctional. Just take for example:

  • Radical by David Platt, which explores how we have shaped the gospel to suit ourselves and suggests, as the title implies, some uncomfortable remedies – image030uncomfortable for the materialistic, middle class, self-centred Western Christian.
  • Exiles by Michael Frost looks at how the church has been marginalised in Western cultures and offers new alternatives at being church.
  • There have been a host of books by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis looking at more effective ways of being the body of Christ.
  • Vishal Mangalwadi in The Book That made Your World shows how Western cultures influenced by the Bible have made huge strides but also reveals how we in the West have dropped the ball as we allow this heritage to dissipate.

You could probably add to the list. But my point is this: the sheer scale of people writing and thinking about the church at present indicates that all is not well in Western churches. If we add to this a host of other issues such as young people leaving the church, Christians leaving the church but maintaining the faith outside its influence and the ongoing influence of theologies that marginalise Scripture, we can get a sense of the enormity of the problem.  And we haven’t time to discuss all the areas of abuse the church has been involved in from paedophilia to scandals surrounding celebrity pastors, which have deeply wounded the voice of the church.

One of the stumbling blocks I see is that although some church leaders clearly recognise this problem their ability to act is limited. There are leaders in most churches who are alarmed by the figures both financial and human but in most cases they are seeking solutions from within the structure of their denomination.  The structure is the environment their thinking takes place in.  It is the structure, that for a whole host of reasons, from personal vested interests to tradition, that blinkers any genuinely radical Biblical vision. Property, jobs, “empires” and status are all involved in this unholy mix.  This is not dissimilar to the conditions in the Roman Church before the C16th Reformation.

And then there is us, we who in the West have succumbed to the attractions of materialism.  Our very view of life is shaped from the comfort of our easy chair.  We too are part of the problem.  Our thinking is shaped and anchored in our immediate self-interest. We too have vested self interests.

So, is it time for a new Reformation? I would genuinely love to hear the views of readers. And if it is, how will we hear God’s voice in the noise of our world?  How can our hearts be open to the leading of the Spirit? What steps can we take in faith?

 

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, Reformation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Some thoughts on: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

Currently I am reading “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” by Rosaria Butterfield. This book traces Butterfield’s journey from a lesbian professor of “Queerrosaria Studies” in the English Department of Syracuse University to a conservative evangelical wife and mother.  She is certainly not the poster girl for LGBTI movement nor of the growing voice of the Gay and Lesbian community in evangelical circles.  One can agree or disagree with Butterfield, but the book is eminently worth reading for a variety of disparate reasons:

1. It reveals how conversations between disagreeing parties can be held with honour and integrity:

One of the aspects of the book that I was most impressed with was the description of the respectful conversations she had with the Rev. Ken Smith over a long period as they explored each other’s beliefs and worldviews.  After Butterfield had written an article in a local newspaper a lot of mail came in her direction which was easily divided between hate mail and fan mail, except for one from a local pastor who wanted to have a respectful conversation. It is the genuine consideration of the pastor and the willingness by Butterfield to engage in that discussion where I see a model of how conversations can be held in our pluralistic society. Christians in particular need to take note as often our voices are perceived as judgmental and harsh. It struck me as a model as to how Christians need to deal with those with whom they disagree. It is light-years away from much of the judgemental stridency we hear too often.

2. The book reveals how Christian conversion can be a gut wrenching process  in contrast to some of the glib techniques sometimes espoused.

Butterfield calls her conversion a “train wreck”.  This is such a contrast to the simplistic “believer’s prayers” which often pass for “Christian conversion”.  She describes the amazing struggle to move from one way of life and worldview to another and the incredible personal cost.  The process involved the reorientation of every aspect of her life.  She says she lost everything except her dog.  I see it as a very modern expression of what Bonhoffer calls the cost of discipleship – a cost that those of us who have been Christians for a long time may have lost sight of.

3. The book includes some astute theological observations. I find these particulalrly helpful as they come with fresh eyes untainted by years of tradition. An unpacking of Ezekiel 16 is one example that I would like to explore in a later blog.

4. The book also gives us an outsider’s view of how we often behave in churches – the good and the bad.  Her observations are useful for us to assess our own behaviours and words and their impact on people who are unfamiliar with the ways of churches.  Butterfield also gives an entertaining and sometimes humiliating view of what we look like from the outside.

Finally, it is a book about a personal journey that can teach us all something, whether it is about our attitudes, beliefs or simply the way we go about expressing those beliefs.  I haven’t even finished the book yet and it has challenged me in so many areas.

 

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, community, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

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