Posts Tagged With: Christianity

Madrid and Mission part 2m

As I have mentioned previously, Hetty and I are contemplating “mission” as I come to the close of my paid working life. What should/could it look like? Where? How? Why? Questions come pouring out every time we consider it.

We started thinking about Spain many years ago when a man offered me a tract in Guell Park in Barcelona. I dismissively said that I couldn’t read Spanish. He replied, “I have one in Eengleesh sir.” I had to take it then. Later when I looked at it I found that it came from an evangelical group in Barcelona. I returned to the man, told him that I was a Christian, thanked him and said I would pray for Christianity in Spain. We have prayed for Spain ever since and when we visit I make it a practice to visit churches and pray for the leaders and congregatIon.

Spain has been in our hearts ever since. We return when we can, we pray for it often and we find there is a draw that is greater than the food, climate and culture. We like the people. There are problems however; the biggest being that we don’t speak Spanish beyond “tapas”, “queso” and “paella.”

So we are at the point now of badgering God about the meaning of all this. We have discovered that there are many vibrant Christians seeking a renewal/revival in Spain. Our question: is there a role for us in this?

Plaza Espana on a Sunday afternoon

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He is in every room of our life.

The following was written by my wife, a Christmas fanatic!

“There’s a Nativity scene in every room of my home,” I tell people at this time of the year.

I am a lover of Christmas. Unashamedly I celebrate the coming of Christ as a babe in Bethlehem. While others complain that putting decorations up in November is too early, I am thinking it’s not early enough. If eating mince pies is a reminder that Jesus came to redeem sinners, then what’s wrong with having them in the shops a week after Easter?

And so I put a Nativity scene in every room.
There are two, side by side, in the front window. They were fashioned in Peru; very simple creations that reflect the people of South America in their look and dress. One sits in a hand shape. On the stable roof of the other a little angel is curled up, asleep, while Mary watches her precious Baby and the wise men clutch their gifts.
I stop to look while I’m rummaging in my bag for the front door key.
Jesus came.

Inside in the hallway there are three wise men standing to attention on the dresser.

nativity

The Nativity

They are candle holders with small candles sticking up out of their crowns.
Surely these visitors to Jesus were always destined to be bearers of the Light. They made their way to Jesus’ side by following a star. They found the Light, did a u-turn, and carried that Light back to the East from where they’d come.
Jesus illuminates.

A few steps further, into the kitchen. Here is my best Nativity scene. It’s a beauty!
A cross-stitched triptych depicting the shepherds, the Holy family, and the Magi, is the backdrop for the corresponding figurines in front. It’s a rich scene. The deep hues of the clothes worn by the characters, the ornate rugs carried by the camel, and the opulent gifts held out to the Newborn are contrasted with the straw I’ve strewn around their legs. I have collected extras for this scene – several animals, an odd assortment of angels – from around the world.
The centre of their attention is Jesus. He lies in the lowly manger with arms outstretched.
Jesus gathers.

In our family room there is another Nativity on the piano. It’s carved from a piece of soapstone. It sits beneath another framed cross-stitch which says “Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”.
The scene is simple. Three characters. One small, small Infant. Yet He is all that the quote from Isaiah declares.
Jesus fulfils.

I go into our bedroom, and there on the mirror hangs another Nativity scene. It comes from Belgium. It is made of lace.
I often notice it while I’m glancing in the mirror before dashing off for the day. “Is my hair okay? Collar straight?”
“Oh look, there’s Jesus…..”
In this scene it’s hard to see all the details unless you come close. Then you see the ox and the donkey, the shape of the manger and the tilt of Joseph’s head. Then you notice the haloes around the faces.
It’s delicate and intricate.
Jesus cares.

Finally the bathroom and yes, there is a Nativity scene in here too. A plain wooden one; one piece. Joseph stands, Mary holds Jesus close to her breast.
It’s on the bench above the washing machine. Today there is a pile of washing in front of it so it’s not easy to spot. A toothbrush, laundry powder and a bottle of moisturiser stand around it like bizarre wise men.

The Holy family are witnesses to the business of a bathroom. It’s not pretty. It’s not clean. But it is the business of cleansing and beautifying. The Son is there in the midst of our muck.
Jesus cleanses.

In January I will move through my home to collect my Nativity scenes. They’ll be carefully wrapped and stored away for the 9 months until early November. Jesus’ life will be compressed into our period of time between then and Easter. His birth, and then His death and Resurrection. Next December we will begin the Advent season again, waiting for Jesus.
But in God’s reality of time, which is ‘time-less’, Jesus never leaves. He never arrives, because He always was. We don’t have to wait, because He is.

He is in every room of our life.

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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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Biblical Literacy … again

While listening to the radio the other day I heard an artist lament the lack of art history knowledge among art students today. He decried the lack of historical reference markers that enabled an intelligent discussion of art and its presentation in today’s society. Students had no knowledge of the historical scaffolding upon which they were trying to present their artistic expression.

This is also a good metaphor for biblical and theological discussions today. In the wall to img_1469wall debates we are currently hearing on the radio, TV and internet with regard to same sex marriage I am astounded at the lack of biblical literacy by those representing various iterations of the church. The lack of understanding of Christianity’s foundational text, a poor comprehension of Church history and thoroughly shoddy theology leaves one aghast at those representing and giving voice to many denominations in Australia today.

 

I am not alluding to disagreements about what the text means. That has always been an issue within the church and between denominations. My beef is more about the manner in which the Bible is used and abused. Issues such as the nature of the Old Testament, different genres within the Bible, the meta narrative that holds the Bible together and so on are so often missing in action.

The consequence is that we hear phrases like “I feel” or “the vibe” of the Bible/text/book. The subjectivity within discussions is quite alarming. The over arching idea presented in many of these debates is that we can make the Bible say anything we want it to say. Worse still, we read the Bible through the lens of the spirit of our age rather than asking what God’s message and intention is for our times.

If churches are to learn anything from our current discussion I think there can be no better lesson than to return to a serious and intentional study of God’s Word. Maybe that is the Reformation needed today.

 

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My Turn

I have been watching the American election process with a fascinated horror. It is like observing a slow motion train wreck and being helpless to do anything about it. For me, it is scary to think that the “winner” will wield amazing power within and outside the US.

Yet the most appalling part of this debacle is watching the behaviour of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Their writhing and slithering around the candidates with obfuscation and weasel words is sickening to witness.

Let’s get a  few things straight. Every political candidate is going to be flawed. We won’t get the perfect candidate until we are in heaven – and then we won’t need them anyway. Less flippantly however, it is the hope that fellow Christians put into the political process, as though this process is going to be a means of “salvation”, which is alarming.

Christ was neither for the Jewish leaders nor the Romans. His allegiance was to the Father. I think we can learn a lot from that. Our allegiance should not be primarily for one party or the other but to the Father and His purposes. Our task is to put forward an image of an entirely different Kingdom – not a kingdom where we need to create a hierarchy of crucial issues and  choose abortion over gun control, or tax over social justice as issues, but rather where we give the world in which we live a picture of what life can be like under King Jesus. We can begin by showing that in our families, in the way we treat the weak and the vulnerable … and the list is endless. The problem has been that we have seduced by our culture. That seduction is in large part the the reason why there is teeth gnashing amongst many Christians today.  We have come to realise, rather late, how far the temptation has led us astray

For too long we have made the mistake of  assuming that democracy is somehow “Christian”. Like Churchill I believe it is the worst of all forms of government  except for all the rest. Now that Western societies have largely foregone their Christian values of the past (which, by the way, enabled democracy to work) we can no longer assume that the majority will get things right. For Christians there is a growing clash of values. We need to rethink our place and purpose in modern post-Christian democracies. I am not saying, don’t be involved – we need to be. But it isn’t the source of our hope.

I believe we are seeing the discomfort and angst of that transition in the current US election. But that uncomfortableness is true for any political arena in Western democracies today. In the US today that change is so glaringly in the spotlight.

Our task is to think about what allegiance to the Father means and how we can be counter cultural in a genuine way in this changing world.

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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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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.

 

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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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