Friday, July 31, 2009

Wright on Rights and Sex

"Sex and ‘rights’... someone, sooner or later, needs to spell out further (wearisome though it will be) the difference between (a) the ‘human dignity and civil liberty’ of those with homosexual and similar instincts and (b) their ‘rights’, as practising let alone ordained Christians, to give physical expression to those instincts. As the Pope has pointed out, the language of ‘human rights’ has now been downgraded in public discourse to the special pleading of every interest-group. The church has never acknowledged that powerful sexual instincts, which almost all human beings have, generate a prima facie ‘right’ that these instincts receive physical expression. Indeed, the church has always insisted that self-control is part of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’. All are called to chastity and, within that, some are called to celibacy; but a call to celibacy is not the same thing as discovering that one has a weak or negligible sexual drive. The call to the self-control of chastity is for all: for the heterosexually inclined who, whether married or not, are regularly and powerfully attracted to many different potential partners, just as much as for those with different instincts."

from this enormous document

Friday, July 24, 2009

What makes a good sermon

I was at a discussion the other day as to what makes a good sermon, and was not very impressed by the conclusions that most people seemed to have come to. So thought I would try and formulate my own list. please add your own in the comments...

  • Christ centred
  • Coming out of the study of Scripture and prayer
  • Connecting firmly with the listener's world
  • Content first, then personality
  • Uncluttered and to the point
  • Devoid of pop psychology or meaningless spiritual sounding phrases

That would be my list. but I suppose a lot hinges on what you want a semon to do. I found that by expecting a sermon to be primarily educational rather than therapeutic I was in a minority. It is not that I dont believe sermons can and should be therapeutic, I just dont believe that expecting every sermon every week to be transformational for everyone is realistic or desirable. But for every week the congregation to be reminded of the truth of Christ, the testimony of scripture, and challenged to adjust their world view from that of the surrounding culture to that of the biblical narrative is both desirable and manifestly possible.

Let me know what you think :-)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The sacraments, individuals, and community

Just reaidng 1 Corinthians 1 and was struck by verse 17:

"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." (NIV)

Now the sacraments are important, communion and baptism. But in the whole of the NT (correct me if i'm wrong) they are never related to an individuals calling. The power to baptise or share communion is never presented as being a matter of calling or gifting (unlike preaching for example) but as a function of the Christian community. Paul's statement here even suggests that it is undesirable for those who do the preaching and evangelism to be the ones administering the sacrament because that might confuse the issue. People might think it had anything to do with the individual administering. The interesting thing is that you see this confusion all the time today, especially (but not limited to) those churches where only the minister is allowed to administer the sacraments, as if these works of God had anything to do with one person's abilities. In fact I would advocate that the minister should never (or at least hardly ever - and certianly not on special occasions) lead these sacraments and make a point of saying that it is the church community inhabited by the Spirit and not a special individual that God has given the ordinance and grace for the celebration of baptism and communion.

Let me know what you think :-)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Should the church spend its energy doing social work?

There is a tension for me in that any social action must intentionally serve the gospel, that is be intended to be an avenue for people to come to saving knowledge of Christ. But I also feel Christians need to do things because they are the right thing to do, not with an ulterior motive of prosyletization. The most promising avenue for me is an articulation of conversion as the work of God, and of social action as a sign of the gospel. But how you consistently and authentically do that in practice I’m not sure.

[This was a comment I originally made on Phil's blog here, but thought it was worthy of a post of its own.]

some untested axioms

Axiom 1

Simplicity is the enemy of truth
but for truth to be understood it must be expressed in simplicity.

Axiom 2

The world is the enemy of the gospel
but for the gospel to be received it must be expressed in the world.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

the power of positive thinking not so great after all

It seems that self esteem needs to be based on facts rather than wishful thinking. At least this study seems to prove that. Personally I seem to swing wildly from feeling totally useless to thinking I am the messiah (I'm not by the way- I'm a very naughty boy). But one can't help but wonder if all that self conscious introversion is healthy for anyone, whether they regard themselves highly or not. Surely instead of wondering if you are good looking, or successful, or highly regarded, it is better to rest assured that you are indeed loved by God and spend your energy trying to view others as God does, that is as lovable, instead of worrying whether or not you are. You are lovable, not because you want to be, but because God finds you so. (1 John 4:19) That fact may seem strange, but then who said life should make sense to you?

The parable of the sower

The parable of the sower is one of the easiest parables to interpret, because unlike most of them, this one comes with an explanation:

18"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." (Matt 13:18-23, NIV)

Even so I have recently heard it misused a number of times recently. Simply this is a parable challenging the listening crowds as to their reaction to the gospel (message of the kingdom). It articulates three reasons why people do not ultimately respond to that message as they should:
  1. misunderstanding
  2. shallow roots
  3. worry/ materialism
Finally it states the one reason why those who do respond to the gospel as they should, do so:

4. understanding

According to this parable the kingdom of God begins in our lives with understanding. Understanding comes at the beginning and the end of the parable. The 'yield', that is the good deeds and the transformation and the worship, are the result of understanding, rootedness, and carelessness, but priority is given to understanding.

Rootedness comes when we are committed to the Christian community. People seldom decide one day that they are not Christians any more, but they do easily drift away and slowly forget when they are not deeply connected to other Christians. But we can only make that commitment in as much as we understand the need for it and how to do it.

Carelessness, is an essential Christian virtue, because we only have one life, and can only serve one master, God's kingdom requires all of us, not part while the other part keeps an eye on the world's ideas of fulfillment. Again this is only possible through a right understanding of who God is and what he asks of us and promises to us.

So whatever expression of the kingdom of God you participate in, whether a traditional church, or a mega church, or a trendy urban missional community, or anything in between, your priority should be understanding. because although there are so many important and vital elements in the Christian life, they all begin with understanding.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Quote of the day

on using Greek and Hebrew in your preaching...
"Wear your knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew language like you wear your underwear - it is needed for support, but it is embarassing if you display it publically."

Thanks to Paul Windsor writing from Pakistan

Reading the Bible for its own sake

This is an article I wrote for the national Baptist magazine (NZ) this month. I had to write 5-700 words that were provocative but not controversial and also served to be a little personal, so people could get to know me... let me know what you think.

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My two year old daughter, Charlotte, often requests songs at bedtime. Sometimes she makes up titles that she wants me to sing. If I can, I try and find a song that fits the title she has made up. Sometimes, especially with the more wacky titles, I have to improvise an original. The other night she asked to sing “pray.” Well, I know there is an MC Hammer song by that name but it isn’t really a bedtime number, and I can’t rap. But I did remember an old children’s song, “read your Bible, pray every day (repeat a few times)... if you want to grow.” Charlotte enjoyed it and has asked for it again since. Now Charlotte does pray every day but reading is a little beyond her just yet. However, singing that song has made me think about how, although I have always known that I should read the Bible every day, for a long time, whenever I did read it, I often wondered what I was supposed to do with it.

I think the problem for me stemmed from the expectation that every time I read the Bible I should be receiving some sort of message from God, some radical new insight into God’s will for me or something. Of course if this actually happened everyday it would be both exhausting and confusing. Recently I asked our church youth group what sort of book the Bible was, (which is a trick question, it’s not a book it’s a library!) and the answers ranged from a book that predicted the future to an instruction manual for our lives. I then pointed them to some of the more awkward and confusing passages of scripture (e.g. Leviticus 15 or Psalm 137) and asked how those fitted into their idea of what the Bible was. It was great to see the lights come on, especially as those same lights had only come on for me relatively recently.

So much of our difficulty in reading the Bible comes from it not being the book we think it should be. When we read the Bible with our own idea of what the Bible is our Christian growth can get stunted. It is not our holy horoscope. It is not basic instructions before leaving earth. It is not God’s thoughts on every little detail of my life. It is not the Christian version of Nostradamus’ prophecies. It is not even a theology textbook! If God had intended it to be any of those things then surely it would have turned out different. Bible reading that will help us grow starts with reading the Bible just for its own sake, without preconceptions or agenda. What you will discover then, is that the Bible is so much more than you thought it was. So much more interesting, deep, powerful, strange, dangerous, surprising, and inspired, than any book you or I could have come up with.

So, for what it is worth, here is my suggestion for what to do with the Bible. Get to know it. Don’t put pressure on yourself to turn every verse into a word for you right now. Take it easy, explore the nooks and crannies. Don’t jump from one verse to another but read big chunks. Don’t be afraid to spend a week, even a month or more, just getting to know one intriguing part really well. Don’t be too quick to find answers to the questions the text raises, instead sit with ambiguity; wrestle with God’s word. Don’t explain away the bits that don’t fit with your theology, instead let them challenge and provoke you. Find the unpopular passages of scripture and befriend them. Most-of-all, read what it actually says, instead of worrying about what it might say to you.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in applying the Bible to our lives, that it should guide our theology, and that it gives us hope for the future; but this way I think we stand a better chance of being transformed (and grown) by God’s word rather than accidentally conforming the Bible to our own ideas of what it should be.