Posts Tagged With: Faith

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 2020? 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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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

Telling Bible stories to young children

Once again my wife reflects upon one of our passions – how to present gospel stories to children.

 

The story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. (John 13:1-17)

 

Traditionally, we concentrate on Jesus, the teacher, humbling himself to wash the feet of his disciples. However, to a young child, this would not seem unusual at all. Their experience is normally one of adults caring for them; teachers and childcare providers, parents, and grandparents. It would be strange to them if the disciples had washed Jesus’ feet!

 

So how could we tell this story?

 

Often Bible storytellers try to interpret the stories. We want to be sure the child understands the meaning and the lesson. In short, we tell the child what they should think.

I’m wary of this approach.

I believe that when we impart God’s Word to young people the Holy Spirit is present and active in their hearts and their heads.children 1

We need to trust that He will guide them as they hear our stories.

Our aim should be to facilitate worship in children.

 

The lives of children are full of friends, family gatherings, travelling, food, and identity. This story has it all. Jesus plans a meal together with his friends. They all travel to an upstairs room in a house. They probably walked along dusty roads to get there. When they arrived there were probably hugs and kisses all around. The table had an array of food and drink, lovingly prepared by others in their circle of friends.

Most importantly, Jesus was with his friends: they identified themselves (and the community recognised them) as His followers.

 

So, as you tell this wonderful story, touch on these points of contact.

 

Children will also visualise the story as you tell it. They will “see” it using their own experiences. Therefore a table full of food will be their family’s dining table.

Enrich the story for them by telling them the colours, the smells, the icky ness of the dirty feet, the warmth of the water in the basin, the gentleness of Jesus hands, and the softness of the towel.

 

When we tell stories in this fashion we help a child take it into their heart. The story will resonate with them.

 

And finally, give the child a way to respond to what they have heard. Wonder with them, sit quietly and ponder, provide art materials, sing. Follow their lead as they follow the Holy Spirit.

 

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, Faith, Family, Hetty's Devotions | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Two Dreams

Our dream life is a mysterious and unfathomable part of the mind.  My wife had two successive dreams that caused me to wonder. I usually find this area of life too ethereal to write about but here are the two dreams as my wife relates them.
Last night I had two dreams. Like Pharaoh, I woke up wondering what they could mean. Where is Joseph when you need him?In the first dream I was at a book fair run by a church and a Bible college. There were many tables laden with theological books. There were also women putting lots of delicious looking baked goods onto other tables. Little children raced around amongst the tables and everything looked ready for business. But there were no customers. One woman expressed her dismay. “We made all this food to encourage people to come.” “But there’s no place for people to sit” I said, “and you’re not offering any coffee or tea.”

In the second dream I was again at a fair. This time it was a toymaker’s. I had heard about it and Pieter agreed to take me there. He dropped me at the door and we arranged a time for him to return. As I stepped into the building, which happened to be an old wooden church, the toymaker himself greeted me. But my attention was completely taken by the sight before my eyes. Handmade toys of every description: felted dolls in gaudy colours, brightly painted wooden vehicles and puppets, metal wind-up toys sparkled on the shelves, and a hundred pretty mobiles hung from the ceiling. “Oh, this is amazing!” I enthused.

Immediately, the toymaker reached up and took down one of the mobiles. It was a nice one, but others had already caught my eye. As I continued to enjoy the fantastic array of toys, the toymaker took the mobile to the counter and began to wrap it. I believed he had made a wrong assumption and I was quick to point this out to him. “No, no,” I said, “I don’t want that!” He didn’t stop straight away, and I had to repeat myself several times. Finally he ceased wrapping. His hands fell at his sides and he looked up at me. There were tears in his eyes and his whole face crumpled with grief. Slowly he turned and walked away.

Some women were also in the shop and they’d seen what happened. One came to me and quietly explained. “The toymaker made every toy in this place,” she said.
“But didn’t he understand that I didn’t want to buy that toy?” I interjected. “I would have bought something else; it’s all beautiful, I would have found something to buy.”
“Buy?” she said. “He was going to give it to you!”

You can imagine my horror to hear this. I needed to find the toymaker and explain my actions. But then Pieter returned and still the toymaker hadn’t reappeared. I had no choice. I left the toy fair empty-handed.

Somehow I think these stories should be prefaced with the words of Jesus – “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…….”

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Uncertainty

As I was sanding down an old cot this morning, in preparation for our first grandchild, my mind started to wander.  Afterall, sanding is boring. I reflected on the fact that the older I have become, the less certain I DSC_0432am of many things.

Views that I had held solidly in the past, now, were not as concrete as I thought.  I hasten to add that my faith, belief in God and Scripture are not among these uncertainties although interpretations of some key ideas are.  Some of these uncertainties may include interpretations of Scripture, but others are social and environmental. I was very conservative when I was younger but now I realise that I am on the left of many of my friends. Subtly and imperceptibly I have shifted over time.

I can think of a host of examples where my thinking has changed or mellowed. Whereas once I was a staunch supporter of the 6 twentyfour hour day version of creation – now I see many more (Biblical) possibilities. The role of women in church, the environment, my political views are just some more examples of where my black and whiteness has morphed into something far less concrete and certain.

Being certain has a comfortableness about it. I miss that. In many areas of life I can no longer say with unwavering confidence, “This is the truth and if you don’t believe it, you must be wrong.” You may have a point after all (Michael).

As I was sanding down the frame I wondered why this had happened.  Is it that the realities of life have washed over me?  Is it that now I see some many more complexities though simple experience?

I came to another conclusion although the above might also be true. I think it is mainly that my God is far bigger and more majestic than I ever imagined  60 or even 30 years ago.  The God of Scripture, the universe and life itself has a complexity and omnipotence that cowers my certainty.  His Word has a depth in which I often feel out of my own depth! My brothers in the past said with utmost certainty and conviction that the world was flat and at the centre of the universe.  What do I say now which must cause God to laugh at my puniness and ridiculousness?

That is why I am more uncertain than ever before – and in a way – I am content to be so.

 

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