Posts Tagged With: Christianity

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.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Devotional, Faith, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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.

 

Categories: Bible, Christianity, Church, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 7 Comments

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.

Categories: Christianity, Church, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 7 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.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, Faith, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 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

Pilgrims in a Foreign Land

Pilgrim

Categories: christian, Christianity, Faith, Photo, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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.

 

 

Categories: christian, Christianity, Faith, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, Church, Faith, Family | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lure of the Occult

St Michael's Victory over the Devil, a sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein

St Michael’s Victory over the Devil,  by Sir Jacob Epstein

I remember back in my high school days, last century, that every now and then an occultic fad would pass by: Ouija boards, seances and even palm and tea leaf reading. People have this “spiritual” itch that they want to scratch with these practices.

There is an excitement about dabbling covertly in these unknown realms. Many people have done it from Arthur Conan Doyle (who seemed so logical in his Sherlock Holmes stories!) through to the notorious Rasputin plus many, many more.  Every age seems to have its own versions and own followers. The latest incarnation is a game called Charlie Charlie.  The interweb has made the progress of this and other modern fads more immediate. A few days ago the SMH reflected on the speed at which Charlie Charlie had progressed.

Now it is easy to say that most people who engage in these facile games are not impacted for the long term.  But why does Scripture exhort us to steer clear of these activities? In Ephesians 6: 11 & 12 Paul reminds us to equip ourselves with the full armour of God: Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” In other words, there is a realm of existence about which we not only need to be very wary but we also need to consciously protect ourselves. And if we don’t dabble in it we don’t have to be fearful either and the child of God will be protected.  Second Thessalonians 2 reminds us of the “lawless one” whose aim it is to encourage us to serve the lie – that is Satan.

When we read the Old Testament we also find many frightening passages which literally damn these practices as they are in direct contravention of the first four commandments.  God doesn’t mince His words when He speaks of divination, sorcery and its practitioners.

As parents and teachers we need to be sensitive and aware of this discussion.  Some young people may be just playing a foolish game, for others however, there may be a real spiritual longing – one that we could tap into and nurture in healthy directions. An added concern is the alarming prospect that there may be those for whom these games act like a gateway drug and introduce them to more worrying and even more sinister activities.

Whatever the situation, this latest fad is a clear reminder to be vigilant and to protect, educate and nurture those in our care or sphere of influence in ways that enhance and protect their spiritual and eternal welfare.

Here are a few helpful resources on the Web:

http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-occult.html

http://studentsoul.intervarsity.org/occult

This has a useful list of texts further down the page.

http://www.gospelway.com/religiousgroups/witchcraft.php

 

Categories: christian, christian education, Christianity | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

The Wesleys’ Hymns

This past weekend my wife and I attended a Wesley Hymn Fest, where, as you can imagine, we were led in the enthusiastic singing of Wesleyan hymns.  Now I don’t come from the Methodist tradition but there was something very special about 250 people being led by a small group of musicians, pipe organ and choir, declaring in song  messages of hope, faith and truth.

I was struck by the wonderful words of the hymns.  Charles Wesley, often assisted or supported by brother John, knew his Scripture and wove this understanding into his verses.  Many hymns were inspired by particular Bible passages, or were Bible passages put to music. In response to Isaiah 51:9 he penned:

Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!
Thine own immortal strength put on!
With terror clothed, hell’s kingdom shake,
And cast thy foes with fury down!

The hymns also reveal a great understanding of the human condition. In an era when many children died young one can feel the tension of faith and pain that Wesley was only too familiar with in a hymn we didn’t sing last Sunday:

Dead, dead! the child I loved so well!
Transported to the world above!
I need no more my heart conceal;
I never dared indulge my love:
But may I not indulge my grief
And seek in tears a sad relief?

The language is quaint but the messages are still intimately personal:

My God, I am Thine, what a comfort divine,
What a blessing to know that my Jesus is mine!
In the heavenly Lamb thrice happy I am,
And my heart it doth dance at the sound of His name.

The image of the dancing heart is uplifting! Charles Wesley wrote nearly 6000 hymns which were often composed for special occasions. And still there were many others from the era who wrote fabulous hymns from John Newton’s Amazing Grace to Isaac Watts’  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Watts was a comparative sluggard as he only wrote 750 hymns. And there are others: William Cowper, Frances Havergal … and all the way back to Bernard of Clairvaux  to name only three.

In many churches today these hymns have disappeared under the weight of modern songs and choruses.  Every era is inspired by the Spirit anew but we shouldn’t forget these incredible songs from the history of the church – a history that extends all the way to the early church. In the case of the Wesleys it was a history of renewal and revival. It would be good if we had links to these brothers and sisters from the past every time we met in worship.

Here is one of my favourite singers singing one of Charles Wesley’s songs.  Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band also have a great album of Wesley’s songs called Paradise Found:

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, hymns, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.