Saturday, December 17, 2016

An Alternative to Secret Santa

For a few years now the adults in my family-in-law have not bought each other presents but have indulged in a Secret Santa so secret that no one know who they are getting a present for. Everyone buys a gift and then they are distributed randomly. Last year I decided to codify and develop the rules for this game in order to make it more methodical and to eliminate the ability of couples to work together to get the gift they wanted.

This is good fun. Takes about an hour and is usually a source of much hilarity and mirth. Last year we tried these rules for the first time and it was a great success, for everyone except me. I had bought a truly awful booby prize (a giant second hand soft toy Santa) and delighted in seeing someone else open it with horror and revulsion but with almost the last stroke of the game I ended up holding it much to everyone else's amusement.

Robinson Rules for Secret Santa Distribution Game, version 1

Friday, December 16, 2016

Three Christmas Blogs

At this time of year, when for the 10th, 20th, 50th, time in your ministry you are trying to find something fresh and orthodox to say about Christmas reading blogs can be a real boon. Here are three good thoughts, all of which could become your best Christmas sermon yet . . .

The (Real) War of Christmas

A Reluctant Evangelist Journeys with a Magi 

Making the Nativity a Bit More Terrifying with the Help of Revelation 12

Bonus feature: And of course people still don't really care that Jesus was not born in a stable of an inn, or anywhere near an inn really.  Which is why despite this being known for decades now, every church will still have a nativity in a stable. Except perhaps where Ian Paul has been preaching?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

6 Principles for Christian Political Engagement

I don't know how I haven't come across it before but the Lausanne publication, Global Analysis, looks to be a very useful Evangelical publication with high quality content you wont find anywhere else. I mustn't spend my day trawling through back issues, as tempting as that may be, but may I recommend to you a helpful article on Christians facing political crisis in Brazil over the possibly-corrupt impeachment of a possibly-corrupt president? The six principles, which are enlarged upon in detail in the article, are equally applicable to other contexts, they are:

  1. Knowing how to behave is more important than knowing what position to adopt
  2. Cultivate Christian political reticence
  3. Distinguish the different debates
  4. Avoid dichotomous thinking and recognize the many possible positions
  5. Go beyond simplistic moralism in the Christian perspective on corruption
  6. Distinguish between an ideal and the carrier of that ideal
I recommend reading the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Often it has been said, and sometimes by me, that most "successful" church plants in the West in recent times have simply been transfer growth in action. Church growth through siphoning people out of older churches into the new ones. Result: some large churches growing, while many others struggled to compete, and overall the church shrinks. The whole thing is equivalent to rearranging the deck chairs as the Titanic sinks, it may make some people happy and more comfortable but it is doing nothing to address the fundamental crisis. Ian Paul uncovers some unpublished research from the UK that pushes back against this assumption. Well worth a read.

Let me know what you think :-)

Monday, December 12, 2016

No God, No Science: Michael Hanby

This may be old news for some, but thought this was both an interesting autobiographical account of an academic journey and also a really fascinating and important project. Enjoy

Michael Hanby's book is on Amazon and kindle, if I ever get round to reading it, I'll let you know!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Orthodox Christianity and the Original Manuscripts

Shane Pruit has been sharing his wisdom about out of context scripture use. It is a reasonably useful piece, although perhaps more helpful in critique than construction (but then the latter is always much harder to do). However he begins with a most extraordinary statement:
Orthodox Christianity believes that in the Scriptures in their original manuscripts are without error and fault.
Which just blows the mind. Clearly Shane is making a value statement here, "orthodox Christianity" is a judgement as to what Shane finds orthodox rather than a historical or sociological claim, but even so what are these original manuscripts he speaks of? Certainly, when dealing with a letter from Paul, e.g., we can posit at some point there was just one original version. But what do we do with Genesis, Job, Isaiah, or the Gospels all of which were composed over time, combining various sources, being edited and added to by different folk depending on the needs of the day and the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to speak of an original manuscript? At what point in the history of composition and editing do we say, "that's it, that is the original!"?

Even if we are comfortable positing the past existence of some final form of any particular Biblical book neither we, nor the historical church, have ever had access to such manuscripts. So how does any statement regarding their lack of error or fault help any discussion of anything? What would be much more helpful would be a statement about what the Bibles we actually have today are and what they can be relied on for.

Worse still, the doctrine of inerrancy encourages the sort of magic-book-from-the-sky thinking that is true of Mormonism or Islam. Instead orthodox Christianity recognises that God has spoken in many times and in many places through his prophets, and in these last days through his Son, and that his ongoing willingness to reveal himself through human beings and human processes (such as the formation of the canon) is far more wonderful, gracious and miraculous than any supernatural Kindle delivery could ever be.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The false link between suicide and mental illness

One characteristic of human society is the tendency to keep doing something over and over again despite it not working. One example would be our approach to incarcerating criminals to punish them instead of rehabilitating them, compounding their trauma and making it harder for them to live productive law-abiding lives when they get out. But this is the "common-sense" approach, the intuitive human response to the failings of others, punish them and they wont dare do it again. It has never worked, ever, but let's keep doing it. Secular society is screwed because it cannot comprehend that its vision is blurred by sin and therefore knee-jerk, common sense solutions are usually destructive and counter-productive.

So it is with our response to suicide. To kill yourself must be the response of the weak minded and sick - so the thinking goes - so to combat rising suicide we treat individuals medically. Yet suicide is a perfectly rational response to a world as broken as ours and the hopelessness engendered by the dominant forces of our society that push us to live meaningless lives as consumers and victims without transcendent meaning or purpose.

Professor Said Shahtahmasebi, Director of the Good Life Research Trust Centre and editor of Dynamics of Human Health, writes:

Over the last 20 years, I have repeatedly challenged the conventional wisdom about suicide, emphasizing that suicide rates follow a cyclical pattern (the sequence of downward and upward movements of suicide rates). Instead of concentrating efforts on breaking the cycle, decision makers, mental health services, and researchers claim credit for lowering suicide rates when the cycle is on the downturn, then demand more funding to continue with the same services. But when the cycle is on the upturn, they claim suicide is a very complex issue with many socio-economic and environmental risk factors and that they, again, require more funding to extend the same service to more people.

Instead Shahtahmasebi relates how projects where community relationships and family support is increased show that suicide rates can be substantially reduced. Why should this be? It seems obvious to me, instead of being considered as individual consumers with a medical condition to treat, they are having their social bonds and meaningful relationships reinforced and being supported in the existential crisis of life. In meaningful human relationships they find purpose and support for living life.

Suicide is a rational response to hopelessness: why suffer longer if things will not get better? Drugs to ease the pain cannot change the cause of that pain or the futility of a life without hope. Here is one of the greatest gifts Christianity has to offer our world, the hope, the faith, that this world is not all there is, but that there is so much more to being human than what our consumerist individualist materialist society has to offer us.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why You Want to be "Left Behind"

Two different posts on the rapture came across my desk this morning, and I thought, surely I have blogged on this myself? But no, I have not. I must have preached on it at some point, because I can remember pontificating on this subject, but not here. Well in order to make good for the omission enjoy Rhett Snell and Doug Chaplin as they explain why being "raptured" or "taken" is not actually the Christian aspiration.

Image result for bed rapture funny

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Need for Humble Atheists (and Theists)

Read the rest of this helpful article by John Thamatil. (I'm not sure about his frequent, continual, undefined use of liberal - but never mind) HT

What binds many atheists together is an unshakable conviction that they know everything there is to know about religion, namely that it is irrational bondage to immutable doctrine. No amount of counterevidence can convince such atheists otherwise. What irony! But where do they come by this knowledge about religion? Their expertise seems to be derived by virtue of sheer sentience alone.

By contrast, if a theologian were to broadcast her convictions about molecular or evolutionary biology without some years of careful reading and study, she would be met with jeering laughter and summarily dismissed. Why then are uninformed atheists who have never read in theology exempt from similar derision? Sadly, every pedant believes himself entitled to his unearned convictions about religion.

The Addictive Power of End Times Speculation

The mighty Rhett Snell has picked up his blog again (I wonder how long he'll last this time), check out his theory on why people get so into annoyingly unbiblical end times nonsense.

I think that where codes-and-calendars end times theology is dangerous, is that it can give a sense of false growth. We read a theory online, or hear it from some bible teacher, and we come to think that we have mastered an area of our faith. A bit like levelling up in a computer game, or Popeye after he’s eaten some spinach. At worst, we begin to believe that we’ve taken a step that other Christians have not; that we’ve entered an elite class of Christianity.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Measuring Success or Faithfulness

[This is first in a series of posts reflecting on the last six years of pastoral ministry in a NZ Baptist church. I'm not looking for sympathy (seriously), or to whinge, I'm trying to reflect on real issues in our theory and practice of ministry.]

At one of my interviews for the role of pastor at the Bay I was asked, "How do you measure success, is it just numbers?" At the time I confidently declared, "Success is about being faithful to Jesus, the numbers don't mean anything." If I'm honest though, at the back of my mind was the firm belief that my ministry would be both faithful to Jesus and show numerical increase.

At the end of six years of ministry at the Bay the numbers are pretty bleak. Each of those years after the first we have seen a decrease in people attending Sunday services, the main yardstick used by our denomination. Baptisms have more or less equalled funerals, and new families have just about equalled those leaving, but each year the church has been less full on a Sunday morning. The other hard data is offerings. For the first four years we increased our income each year, but the last two have seen it dropping, and next year looks lean for the church. If they don't reverse the trend or find other sources of income they will need to start cutting back on ministry.

Have I been faithful? I'm certainly conscious of areas of failing, of mistakes made, of opportunities missed, but overall, in honesty, I think I have done a good job. I've got it right more often than I've got it wrong. I think the congregational decline we have experienced is due to cultural and demographic changes. My ministry has not been sufficient to reverse those trends, but it has not been the cause of it. I can't take responsibility for rising house prices and families moving out of the city. I can't take responsibility for social trends away from institutions and regular attendance. I can't take responsibility for increased religious diversity in the community or a secularising nation. I can't take responsibility for money being tight, people getting older, or wages not increasing relative to living costs.

That is what I know logically, but psychologically that is not how I feel. Anyway, success is not about effort but about result. I am not a successful pastor. My faithfulness has not been sufficient.

Then I grow uncomfortable with the question. Since when have I cared about my success or my faithfulness? What sort of a question is that? What about the faithfulness of Jesus? Didn't he call me to this role? Isn't he the Lord of the church and the harvest? Is my lack of success a failure of his? Did he send the wrong guy for the job? Did he fail to deliver on something he promised? Did he not give me what I needed to succeed?

My ambition and hope for the church during my ministry has not been fulfilled. Who am I to say that Jesus feels the same? It is entirely possible that Jesus is not remotely interested in increasing numbers on a Sunday morning or balancing the budget. These certainly aren't things that crop up in the gospels.

Jesus has been faithful.

Every time I faced a challenge or situation I didn't know how to handle, he led me through. Every time I ran out of energy, compassion, wisdom or strength, his grace was sufficient. Every time I wanted to quit and run, he renewed my call. Every time I was wounded, he healed my hurts. He never abandoned me, my family, or the church. Whenever we met in his name, he was there. Whether we succeeded or failed, he was there.

I'm tempted to say I've done great work despite the conditions; that I've laid the foundation for the next pastor to build on, cleared away the deadwood and weeds of the past; that my ministry will bear fruit in the years to come as seeds I sowed finally mature. Perhaps I am a success, just success delayed? Perhaps, but I think it is probably just more of the same horse shit.

I cannot put "success" on my C.V. and I'm actually glad of that. Not because the numbers don't hurt or depress me, but because, despite my insufficient faithfulness, I have learned more of Jesus' all sufficient faithfulness. I remember the reason I followed this call, to this church. Yes, I thought I'd be able to buck the trends and show everyone how it was done, so much for that, but I also just wanted to be somewhere where I would have to rely utterly on God; where if Jesus didn't show up I would be sunk; where I would be pulled deeper and closer into his grace. I'm sorry if it seems selfish, that I've let the church or the denomination down; but I think that of the two things, the one I have been granted, it is the better.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wars and Rumours of Wars

I write in the morning after the USA 2016 Elections, which featured the historic election of Donald Trump. Apart from my personal interested as a resident of planet Earth at this time, it is interesting to note some of the apocalyptic language emerging in discussions of what this means. Even archaeologists are turning to the medium of prophecy. Hear the word of Tobias Stone,
So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover and move on. 
Stone suggests that future historians will be able to draw clear lines from Brexit to Trump to the 3rd World War, or something equally bad. Mind you, just because historians can draw those lines doesn't mean they are here.

Then there is the word of Thom Hartman who is more interested in the domestic fallout than the fallout shelter. 
The last time a Republican president was elected with both a GOP House and Senate was 1928—Herbert Hoover. Yes, that Herbert Hoover. The one of the Great Depression. Get ready.
The fun thing about Trump of course, is none of us, himself included, have any idea what is going to happen next. He didn't expect to win. He doesn't have a plan or any policy commitments that can't be explained away as campaign bluster. Yes the way he is talking sounds a little like Adolf, but this is a different century, Trump's USA will not be able to run on the same rails as Hitler's Germany. Technology offers both hope and increased danger in this situation. The GOP may be rallying around their new messiah but will he be loyal to them?

The world will be watching, and holding its breath.

Kyrie eleison.

Monday, October 17, 2016

George Athas on the Bible's Attitude to Rape

This will be my last George Athas share for now, another lecture I haven't had time to watch, so saving this for later. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

George Athas - The Bible's attitude to Rape from Reason for Hope on Vimeo.

George Athas on the Tearing of the Temple Curtain

I've really been enjoying the blog of George Athas, OT lecturer at Moore in Sydney, he puts up brief but useful and challenging posts. He's doing some really interesting research as is obviously not afriad to slay the odd sacred cow. Fancy, for example, daring to suggest that Christian preachers have had it all wrong about the significance of the temple curtain being torn, I've been taught one meaning for this since I was knee high to a grasshopper, it's all about how Christ's death removed the barrier between God and humanity. George would beg to differ. Let me know what you think :-)

Hays on Figural Reading

I saw this posted on BW3's blog, and don't have time to watch it now so am putting it here for later. Should be good. Let me know what you think if you watch it.