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Showing posts from 2008

Summer Break

Well I know after only four weeks of blogging it seems a little soon to be having a holiday but I am going to be without internet access for the next two weeks so posting would be problematic. Please come back in January when things will start up again.

Hopefully by then some more contributors will have things to say (hint hint). Take care of yourselves and feel free to comment on old posts and try and get a conversation going or contribute to one that has already started.

Have a blessed Christmas :)

Sarah B. on Matt 25

[It is my pleasure to introduce the first of our guest posters. Sarah is a Kiwi, raised in the Philipines, who lives most of the time in East Germany. She is mum to two girls and she and her husband are currently involved with YWAM. I have invited a few different people to contribute and Sarah is the first to respond with something. She would appreciate your feedback, she is writing here to help here refine her thoughts and understanding. Do you agree with what she has written? Do you disagree? Most importantly, why? What arguments to you find convincing/problematic? What evidence has been missed or interpreted in a way you are unsure of? Let us know what you think - Jonathan :)]

Matt 25 is a really hard one to interpret because it really needs to be read and understood in the context of Matt 24. It does not really stand alone as it is a continuation of Jesus speaking about events that will soon take place and giving more pictures to explain this. It starts by likening the Kingdom of h…

God, Worship, and Love: thoughts on 1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12)I must confess, I am becoming more and more frustrated with the songs we sing in church and the songs I hear on Christian radio. Far too many of them focus on our love for God. There is nothing wrong with telling God we love God, or expressing our feelings of gratitude, or even expressing how we want to feel towards God (despite the reality of our cold hearts). But it is depressing all the …

Preaching the Gospel

Over the summer I hope to revisit on the blog some talks I did earlier this year on 'how to read the Bible' and 'why preaching?' But till then, and continuing the theme of 'what is the Gospel?', there are some insightful thoughts from Paul Windsor's blog about lessons from Acts for preaching here. Enjoy :)

[updated 16/12/08] And here is a second post on a series Paul did on whole books of the Old Testament and linking them in different ways to Jesus of Nazareth.

God Doesn't Need Your Help: 1 Samuel 4:1-6:18

So, back in the day, when Israel was still a new kid on the block, a loose alliance of tribes with the same religion and ancestors, the Philistines, a rather more sophsticated group, go out to war to ensure the Israelites know their place (4:9). On the first day of fighting the Israelites get wooped (4:2) so they decide to bring in the artilery, i.e. God. The Israelites are confused, they think God lives in a box, so they get this (very special box called the Ark of the Covenant) and take it with them to the battle the next day. The Philistines hear about this and are terrified, but decide to man-up and try their luck anyway. The Israelites get wooped (again) and the Philistines get the box (4:10-11) and take it home as a souvenir and put in in the temple of their god Dagon. So much for the Israelites having God on their side.

Now God doesn't live in the box, but it represents the covenant God has with the Israelites, so, if you like, it's a bit like a wedding ring represe…

The Unexamined Faith

Over at Paul Windsor's blog we've been discussing the pros and cons of Christian celebrities, in the sporting world in particular. Now we wont get into that here and now, but the discussion prompted me to look a little closer at the story of Jonathan Edwards the British Triple Jump World Record holder and Olympic Gold winner. Reading an article about it from last years Times I was hit by one detail in particular. It seems as though Edwards who was raised in a devout family, had a conversion experience, and was a deeply committed Christian until after his athletics career, only lost his faith the first time he seriously questioned it, at the age of 40. Edwards who had toured churches in Britain, preaching the gospel and exhorting others to faith, suddenly comes out with:
When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God.The tragedy is not that someone should lose their faith, but that the first time they come across any reason for dou…

Mercy and Justice in Islam and Christianity

David Neff writes in December's Christianity Today (p42):

"One insight from the "Loving God and Neighbor [sic] Together" dialogue between Muslims and Christians held this July at Yale University was the difference between our understandings of love, compassion, and mercy.
"The Christian participants had been taught by Jesus that love should be indiscriminate - just as the mercy shown by the Good Samaritan was conditioned on nothing but the wounded mans need. That may not be the way we generally behave, but... it is the standard against which we measure ourselves.
"The Muslim participants startled us Christians by talking about the limits their religion brought to their compassion. Orphans, widows, and others in need through no fault of their own deserve compassion, they said. But in Islamic ethics, there was no obligation to help the person whose drunkenness or gambling or otherwise unwise behavior [sic] put them in difficulty.
"Reflecting on what I …

Getting in Tune

You will be forgiven if you don't know what that is. Before a practice or performance a guitarist will often spend minutes hunched over such a box, focussed intently on its flashing lights and arm moving on the screen. The box itself makes no music, but if the guitarist wants her music to sound 'right', even more if she wants to play along with other musicians, the guitar must first be brought into accordance with the box. It is a guitar tuner.

For the same reason, Christians need to spend time as often as possible in prayer and reading the Bible. These precious times allow us to tune our thoughts, desires, and feelings into harmony with God's. When our lives feel dischordant and out of tune our greatest need is to reorientate our inner world according to the music we find in scripture and the great composer we meet in prayer. Then we will know what it is to live in harmony, not with the world around us but the transcendent reality of God. The same God who will one day …

Word Study: Preaching/Teaching in Titus

This word study is done at the request of a member of my homegroup. If you like this sort of stuff you should think about learning to read Greek. You don't have to go to Bible College to do it, reading a langauge is the easiest part of a language to learn (you will never have to write or speak Biblical Greek I promise!), and to do word studies like this one only requires a very basic level. Even if you are convinced learning Greek is not an option, comparing a number of translations will often give you an idea of a word's semantic range in that context.

Format will be a verse reference in Titus where the word is found, followed by the Greek lemma (root word), a transliteration, English rendering in two translations (NIV, then NRSV), and my own comment.

(NB. about halfway through, I realised the word study was going to be WAY too long, but I started so i'll finish. But pleased be assured, future word studies will be much shorter. :))

1:3, κήρυγμα, kḗrygma, preaching/proclamat…

How cool is this?

When Christoph Römhild, a Lutheran pastor in Hamburg, Germany, sent Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. student Chris Harrison a list of 63,779 cross-references between the Bible's 1,189 chapters, the two became enthralled with elegantly showing the interconnected nature of Scripture. Each bar along the horizontal axis represents a chapter, with the length determined by the number of verses. (Books alternate in color between white and light gray.) Colors represent the distance between references. The graph won an honourable mention in the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Science journal.
Source Christianity Today

My only question is... can you spot Psalm 119??!! Frequently being the tallest person in the room myself I feel have a new connection with Psalm 119 :) Just as well because it's coming up shortly in my Bible reading schedule.

Potters, Parents and Idolatry: Isaiah 45:9-11

Woe to you who strive with your maker,
earthen vessels with the potter!
Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, 'what are you making'? or 'your work has no handles'?
Woe to anyone who says to their father, 'what are you begetting?' or to their mother, 'with what are you in labour?'
Thus says the Lord, the holy one of Israel and its maker:
Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands?
(Isaiah 45:9-11)
The image of a pot speaking to the potter as he turns it on the wheel is hilarious. Apart from the the misshapen clay actually talking in the first place, there is also the audacity of the clay to be saying 'excuse me, but you've missed a bit!' A kindly potter might say 'I'm not quite finished yet and please hold still while I work.' Even worse is the picture of a child challenging their parents over the event of their conception or birth. My two year old daughter frequently questions my j…

Emerging Church Bashing

Roger Oakland of Understanding the Times International is presently touring NZ in order to expose the evils of the emerging church. Steve Taylor, a prominent Kiwi proponent of the emerging church, responds in an exemplary manner here.

It saddens me when people pour their time and energy into fighting imaginary foes within the church instead of concentrating their energies on God's mission. The emerging church is not really a thing that can be attacked but a broad label that describes a number of different attempts to do church in a way that connects more effectively with our society for the sake of the gospel. I disagree with a lot of 'emerging' stuff, but find some of it very helpful, and I am wholly sympathetic to their project. I have yet to find one who isn't willing to listen to other points of view. I have no sympathy for petulant hate mongers who generate division in the church and attack those who are trying to constructively engage with a lost and broken world …

Transcendence, Poverty and Loneliness: Psalm 113

Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts up the needy from the ash heap,
To make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
Making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 113:5-9)

One of the connections often missing in our theology is the link between worship and social justice, a link that is strongly made throughout the Bible (e.g. Isaiah 58; James 1:27). At first reading I thought that was what was going on here in Psalm 113. But then I realised this psalm isn't directly addressing human justice but God's. God's transcendant otherness is described analogically here as being 'on high,' above both the 'heavens and the earth.' This might suggest that God is not concerned with such earthly and material issues as poverty and social exclusion.* But that is not the case. Instead, from God's transcen…

What is the Gospel?

Just a quick thought relating to Phil's comment on the Titus 3 sermon. Is the good news (Gospel) just the transformation itself or is it the life to be lived afterwards as well? Is the good news the passport with my new citizenship in it, or is it actually living in the new country? Is the good news the Cross or is it the life of discipleship? Is the good news the Resurrection, or the resurrected life it brings? Have we really preached the gospel if we don't mention both? I have always felt that evangelism that doesn't also point out the cost and consequences of accepting Jesus as saviour is dangerous and dishonest (see Luke 14:27-33). Let me know what you think :)

How to pray when you have the attention span of a puppy in a field of bunnies

OK, every once in a while I decide to Sort-My-Prayer-Life-Out. I'm sure many of you can relate, even if you dont pray, it is just like any other kind of resolution. I normally last about a week of doing 15/30/60 minutes (whatever I decided to do that time) before I miss a few sessions and then feel too guilty to pray at all. Kind of misses the point of having a relationship with God through prayer if I just use it to generate periodic bursts of guilt, n'est pas? This is what I do now, maybe it will help you. Or maybe you need to tell me i need to get back to being on my knees for an hour a day and try harder to focus. Let me know what you think :)

When I eat I say a prayer.
When I walk I say a prayer.
When I start a car journey, I say a prayer.
When I put my daughter to bed, I pray with her.
When I go to bed I pray with my wife (if she is awake).
When I read a prayer request on email I say a prayer.
When I see some bad news I say a prayer.
When someone prays at church or elsewhe…

Jos, Nigeria: Local Election Sparks Religious Rioting which Kills Hundreds

Hundreds of people were killed and an estimated 7,000 – 10,000 fled their homes in two days of rioting last week between mainly Muslim Hausa people and mainly Christian Berom people in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, Nigeria. Senior Christian leaders in the state believe that the riots were coordinated and planned, and that the political events were used as a pretext for anti-Christian violence.

The rioting began at 2.00 a.m. on Friday, 28th November, following local elections on Thursday 27th. A police spokesman said that the clashes were triggered by a rumour that the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) had lost the election to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In the midst of the violence, the election results were announced, confirming that the PDP had won all 17 local government areas, including the Jos North local government area where the violence was centred. In Jos the ANPP is considered to be a predominantly Muslim party, whereas the PDP is perceived to be mainly Christi…

Subversive Management Theories for the Church?

Just had a really interesting chat this morning. A friend of mine who is a business analyst at a large company was telling me about some of the management theories that were currently being implemented/discussed in his company. I was struck straight away by how powerful these ideas could be if we applied them to church. Let me know what you think :)

Blue Ocean Strategy.

In a nutshell: It's a big ocean, don't waste your energy competing with everyone else find a niche that is all your own.

For the church: how many towns have four or five churches singing the same songs, preaching the same messages and running the same programs. Evangelicals are the worst at this. We tend to 'fish in the same pond' when there is an ocean of need out there. Let's have some diversity. Get all the local churches together and all agree to do something different. That way we will stop using our time and resources doing exactly what the next guys down the road are doing just as well!

C…

Reading Titus 3 with reality TV

[Here is a shortened version of a sermon/talk I did at my church this morning. Let me know what you think. Or if you were there let me know what you thought. Positive and negative comments are all appreciated, otherwise how can I get better? Just click on the word 'comments' below, thanks :)]



The Big Stuff, Downsize Me, Extreme Home Makeover, What Not To Wear, and Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares are a selection of TV shows shown in NZ that all follow a similar story line. The plot goes like this: once there was a messy house/overweight person/needy family/unfashionable woman/failing restaurant; but then Sian and Gez/Damian and Lee-Anne/ Ty and team/ Trinny and Suzzana/ Gordon Ramsey appear and bring about a miraculous transformation; so that now the transformed house/body/family/fashion victim/restaurant live a transformed life totally and wonderfully different to what went before.
This desire for and interest in transformation is not a new thing. It's not only the r…

Living life in the diaspora

A diaspora is a scattered people. The word has been commonly used of the Jewish people who for centuries have been a minority group in nations around the world. In most European countries, the USA, Australia and even New Zealand, Jews live and work, often participating as full citizens of their host nations. The explosion over the last century of global migration has meant that Jews are no longer unique in being a diaspora. Now Europeans, Africans, Asians, Indians, and Pacific Islanders are found throughout world in nations in which they are resident aliens. However much a first generation migrant to a new country tries to assimilate and adapt, she will always be aware of difference. There will be cultural and social norms in their new country that just dont come naturally; stories, beliefs and attitudes that are integral to the host nation but that are foreign to her, and vice versa.

But with each generation those distinctives must be held tightly or the host culture will eventually a…

Doing theology like it matters

In the modern western world Christianity is declining fast. Although some churches are growing they are not growing fast enough to offset all the shrinking that is going on. What is the point of doing theology? How can theology matter when most our world believes belief is a private and personal matter, 'up to the individual,' isn't theology just a matter of trying to enforce your opinions on others?

Someone, who wasn't a Christian, once asked me what I was studying. When I told him 'theology,' he was impressed. I was surprised, I expected it to be a conversation stopper. But he was interested, he told me 'everything comes back to theology in the end, who we are, what we do, good and bad, the meaning of life, I would love to study theology... but I have to make a living.' I thought, 'wow, and this guy isn't even a believer and yet he understands why theology matters better than most Christians I know.'

You see, whever we make statement about s…

Reading the Bible in a strange land

I thought I would start by explicating (or unfolding) the subtitle of this blog a phrase at a time. This will create the 'mission statement' for the blog, so that anyone interested in what might follow will know roughly what to expect.

I live in New Zealand. It is a strange land to read the Bible in for two reasons.

First it is strange for me because I was born and raised in Britain, and New Zealand is a long way away. I still feel new here, although I have now adjusted to the different flavoured Marmite.

But more importantly it is strange for the Bible. The Bible was written in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of thousands of years ago and in lands thousands of miles away. New Zealand has two official languages Te Reo Māori and English. New Zealand is also a 'developed' democratic nation with the technology, infrastructure, welfare state, and police services that go along with that. When the Bible talks about thirst, poverty, injustice, politics, or even worship, we have d…