Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Externally Focused Church

Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson

Many Christians feel empty and frustrated and go from Bible study to seminar to the latest Christian book, hoping to fill the ‘purpose void’ with more personal development or insight. It is more likely that until we discover our place of ministry, we will not feel the satisfaction of Ephesians 2: 10 – doing the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do. In a recent Bible study, after carefully studying the Ephesians 2:8-10 passage, one man blurted out, ‘If I’m his workmanship, and he’s prepared good works for me, well, that means that my good works don’t have to look like your good works!’

The church also is strengthened as its people engage in good works. The way to inwardly build a church is through outward service. God gives gifted leaders to the church ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.’ There can be no ‘building up’ until people are engaged in works of service. God saved us to do good works; church leadership is there to prepare people for good works; the Word of God equips us ‘for every good work,’ and we are to ‘spur one another on towards love and good deeds.’ Now the question is: Will we follow through by actually engaging in good works?

There is a vast difference between bodybuilding and weight training. If you’ve ever been channel-surfing and caught a bodybuilding contest on ESPN, you’ll know that the purpose of bodybuilding is to maximally develop every muscle in the human body and then, with the help of a good tan, a small bathing suit, shiny skin and striking poses, to show it off. But to what end? For what purpose? There is no end; there is no purpose beyond building up the body! That’s it. Weight training is different. Athletic records are continually being shattered largely because the strength and capacity of athletes are increasing through weight training. For athletes, weight training is a means to a greater end. Strength, flexibility, and speed are their goal – not the size of their muscles. These athletes train for their event. Their training is not the event.

The purpose of the church should be more than ‘body’ building. The church should be more like a training facility designed to equip the saints for works of service.

From chapter 4 of The Externally Focused Church published by Group 2004

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Soul Obsession

Nicky Cruz

The man who translated for me that day [in Poland] was an extremely educated [Pole], a scientist, and I could tell he was having a hard time staying focused. Several times I looked over at him and saw tears in the corners of his eyes. He did his best to stay composed, but as I told the story of my mother’s [deathbed conversion], we had to stop. He bent over and began crying uncontrollably. It was an awkward moment, and I wasn’t sure what to do.

I took a step toward him and placed my hand on his shoulder. ‘Are you okay?’ I asked. He said to me, ‘I’ve never heard such a story of forgiveness before. I’m sorry, Nicky. I’ll be all right in a minute.’
The stadium grew deathly quiet. People were so moved by the interpreter’s response that many started crying. It was the first time I can remember having to stop a service so that the translator could compose himself. His response so touched my heart that I started crying with him. We stood on the stage in silence. After a few minutes I patted him on the back and whispered, ‘We need to finish. Will you be okay to go on?’ He wiped his eyes and nodded, then continued translating.

I invited people to come forward and accept Jesus, and no one was prepared for the response. Like a tidal wave, the Spirit of the Lord crashed upon the crowd, bringing people to conviction. The translator’s brokenness had resonated with the crowd.

I later went with him to the park to talk. I couldn’t believe what a sweet, genuine person he was, so gentle and warm. A godly man. He told me how much he loved the Lord and how hard it was to live in Poland under the persecution of the government. At one point he grew quiet and motioned toward the KGB agents following us. ‘That’s why I can’t talk to you much,’ he whispered. ‘I can never share what’s really on my heart.’

Before I left Poland, two of the KGB agents approached me to talk about the Lord. I was surprised that they
came to me in public, but they wanted to know more about Jesus, so I told them. Right in the open I prayed with them and led them to salvation. I’ll never forget how excited they were. ‘Thank you,’ they kept telling me.
From chapter 9 of Soul Obsession, published by Waterbrook Press 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

Where the Road Runs Out

Peter Lineham

Theologically Protestantism had moved some way since the 1940s. There is clearly little future for denominational theology. The prediction probably extends beyond the Protestant community into the Catholic, although the dynamics of Catholic theological development seem to be different. Liberation theology and humanisation had become central themes in the Christian community. Conservative forms of Christianity had also significantly strengthened, although this trend was not really considered by the founders of CCANZ. The goals of the movement included a theological statement, which proposed "to share together in mutual study and reflection the word of God as revealed in Scripture and Tradition and through the many voices of human experience." It also proposed "to facilitate and encourage a living theology among the people of Aotearoa" and "to make available to all the Gospel imperatives that underlie the Conference of Churches’ actions and reflections." In reality, however, the theological discussions around faith and order, which had been a characteristic of ecumenism worldwide went largely neglected in New Zealand after the 1960s.

The WCC made a major step towards unity in its Lima Text on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry in 1982. Then in 1984, after the agreement had been reached, Anglican theologian Janet Crawford joined these discussions. New Zealand responses to the Lima text were circulated as a background to the formation of the CCANZ. A sign that New Zealand Catholics were increasingly embracing ecumenical theology came in the form of their comment to the Vatican that "the movement of the Spirit of God among the churches and other ecclesial communities throughout the world is evident."

Yet ecumenism was bound to be overshadowed if the churches and their agencies made joint activities their dominant concern. This is one key reason why international ecumenical trends since the 1980s have been discouraging. The present era is viewed as an "ecumenical winter" in WCC circles. So the vision was lost. In New Zealand by 2001, the final General Secretary of the CCANZ lamented that "we prefer to hide in the security of our sectarian style of worshipping our God, quietly believing that we alone have God’s truth and denying the gifts the other Christian traditions can teach us in understanding more about the mysteries of God’s ways."

The irony is that today belief is no longer essentially shaped by denominational tradition, and forms of worship have increasingly homogenised. Yet the net result has not been ecumenism.

From chapter 4 of Where the Road Runs Out – research essays on the ecumenical journey, published by CCANZ 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Designers of the Future

Gareth Jones

As we turn our attention more specifically to computers and cyberspace, and even to cyborgs in the future, a number of features emerge as of central importance.

The first is that the use of computers is pervasive. They are now integral components of so much on which our lives depend. We are all touched by them, even when we are blissfully unaware of their presence. Our culture can no longer exist without them.

Second, computers transcend familiar physical limits. The old physical boundaries with which we are all familiar are ceasing to exist in cyberspace. As a result, computers are making a qualitative change to the way we live. Doing away with these boundaries affects our relationships with one another, and therefore our social fabric. This is the essence of what I have referred to as ‘the death of distance,’ since it makes possible new relationships and communities, ones which wouldn’t exist in the absence of computers.

Third, computers affect the way in which we think of ourselves, and even what we regard as real. As we create an increasing array of virtual-reality worlds, the effect is to blur the boundary between people and machines. This is what cyborgs are meant to do, but this is already happening. As computers become increasingly minute and ever faster, this trend will almost inevitably intensify. In other words, we are fast entering the sphere of cyborgs, and we are dimly beginning to realise that cyborgs are actually ordinary people like us. They are not a select group of entities brought into being by technocrats as experimental models of some future race; they are you and me, who appear to be craving for a cyborgian (to create a new term) world.
Developments are gradual and decisions to adopt new procedures are generally taken by the population at large. True, the developments themselves are brought about by scientists and technocrats, but once available are seized upon by ordinary people. They appear to meet some felt need.

From chapter 6 of Designers of the Future – who should make the decisions?, published by Monarch 2005

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Working the Angles

Eugene Peterson

The gospel spells out in detail Jesus ‘speaking’ salvation into being : rebuking the chaos of demons, separating men and women from damnation by calling them by name into lives of discipleship, defeating the tempter with citations of Scripture, commanding healings, using words of blessing to feed and help. The ‘word’ is foundational in the work of salvation as it is in the work of creation. Just as everything outside us originates in the word of God, so does everything inside us. We can’t get behind the word of God. There is no human insight, no human desire, no human cry anterior to this word of God. There is no great abstraction, no great truth behind or previous to this word. Everywhere we look, everywhere we probe, everywhere we listen we come upon ‘word’ – and it is God’s word, not ours.

This massive, overwhelming previousness of God’s speech to our prayers, however obvious it is in Scripture, is not immediately obvious to us simply because we are so much more aware of ourselves than we are of God. We are far more self-conscious than God-conscious and so when we pray, what we are ordinarily conscious of is that we are getting in the first word with God. But our consciousness lies.

So it requires effort – repeated, imaginative, biblically shaped effort – to acquire and maintain our awareness of this unqualified, thoroughgoing previousness of God’s speech to anything and everything that comes out of our mouths.

At some point [in learning language] we find ourselves answering God; the usual way to describe this use of language is with the word ‘prayer.’ Prayer is language used to respond to the most that has been said to us, with the potential for saying all that is in us. Prayer is the development of speech into maturity, language in process of being adequate to answer the one who has spoken most comprehensively to us, namely, God. Put this way, it is clear that prayer is not a narrow use of language for special occasions but the broadest use of language into which everything that is truly human in us - all the parts of our creation and salvation – comes to mature expression. But we live in a culture that has little interest in this language. We live in a society in which language is constantly being eroded and reduced.

Where can we go to learn our language as it develops into maturity, as it answers God?

The Psalms.

From chapter 2 of Working the Angles – the shape of pastoral integrity, published by Eerdmans 1987

Monday, November 21, 2005

It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian

Tod E Bolsinger

So often as Christians we focus on the ‘wedding day’ of our salvation – the day a person begins a relationship with Christ. And yes, that is an exciting day. Salvation comes to the person, and the spirit takes up residence in the centre of that person’s being. But what about the next day and the day after that?

When Calvin comments on Ephesians 5, he doesn’t give a sermon on ‘submission’ or family relationships; he instead spends the entire passage talking about the intimacy of how Christ weds himself to us and how we are to be cleaved. The language comes right out of Genesis – that when we become believers, we are cleaved to Christ. And that literally we’re one flesh with Christ. And that we’re transformed through living with Christ. Believers and Jesus are to become like an old married couple who have stared at each other every morning over oatmeal for so long that they begin to look alike.

He offers an important description (and let me clarify with comments along the way):

That joining together of head and members [Christ is the head, we’re the members], that indwelling of Christ in our hearts. In short, that mystical union, [this is wedding language – technically, this is wedding night language] are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed.

Do you now recognise what Calvin is teaching here? He’s saying that everything that Christ has becomes yours, and everything that is yours becomes Christ’s. The way the bank account becomes one in a marriage. The way the property becomes joint. The way in which at that moment when I officiate a wedding I tell couples that their lives are joined together in such a way that it will take an act of God and the state of California to separate them – and I also tell them, God will be more disappointed and the state will be more annoying if you do.

From chapter 3 of It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian – how the community of God transforms lives, published by Brazos Press 2004

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Gospel According to Oprah

Marcia Z Nelson

In 2002, Oprah travelled to South Africa to produce a ‘Christmas Kindness’ show that aired in 2003 and was followed up in 2004. The 2003 Christmas show focused on AIDS orphans in South Africa and bluntly asked for assistance. ‘What I wanted for you to see is the extreme need for us, for everybody who hears this today, to do what you can to help,’ Oprah told viewers. The 2004 show followed up some of the stories presented in 2003, covering South African schools and social programs, and showed where $7 million, collected by Oprah’s Angel Network in response to the earlier show, had gone. Singer Alicia Keys and Brad Pitt appeared in 2004 to talk about AIDS and access to medication. Pitt was on tape but Keys appeared live to talk with Oprah, who gave the singer a cheque for $250,000 to support Keep a Child Alive, a program that provides AIDS medicine to African families. Keys said that having an impact on the lives of those she met seemed easy despite the size of the need. ‘I couldn’t believe how simple it was,’ Keys said, sounding a you-can-do-it-too note.

The efforts of much less well-known individuals were also shown. A California film producer related her story of going to Africa, as did a photographer who went to Africa to shoot school portraits for children. ‘I see inspiration,’ the photographer said in describing his experience.

Oprah concluded the show by facing the camera and thanking her viewers for their contributions. ‘It’s our human family that is suffering across the ocean,’ she said. The last word went to children, with film clips of South African schoolchildren saying, ‘Thank you.’

The South Africa shows exemplify Oprah at work informing and moving viewers about suffering. For her, suffering is not a general philosophical question; it is a particular condition being experienced by individuals, in this case children in South Africa who have been orphaned by AIDS. The remoteness and magnitude of the issue – South Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans – is scaled down and humanised into the faces and stories of individuals. Oprah’s shows selected a half-dozen educational and social-aid programs reaching a vast group of children. They showed a variety of solutions to the problem and people who have take action. Also included was an interview with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who provided a moral framework for this action. Hence, Oprah doesn’t need to preach because she’s got a preacher on hand.

From chapter 2 of The Gospel According to Oprah, published by WJKP 2005

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking

Phil Dowe

Miracles, if they occur, challenge the naturalistic idea that the scientific domain of explanation is all-embracing. But even if we think of science and religion as separate domains, each legitimate, miracles seem to force a point of contact between the two. For this reason, the topic of miracle has always been one of the focal points in discussion of the relation between science and religion. The most penetrating analysis of miracles and their significance for religion [is] that of Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776)

In Chapter 10 of his Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding, Hume sets out the empiricist challenge to the idea that miracles provide a rational underpinning of religion or some rational basis for belief in God. In particular, Hume has in mind events such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a basis or rational underpinning for Christian faith.

Hume’s discussion comes in two steps. The first step involves the probability of the occurrence of a miracle. Hume’s ‘first argument’ leads to the conclusion that it is never rational to believe, on the strength of the testimony of others, that a miracle has occurred. The second step of Hume’s argument addresses whether the occurrence of a miracle, if it could be established, could be evidence for the existence of God. Hume argues that it would not be, because such ‘miracles’ should rather be taken as as-yet unexplained natural events.
In a typical and delightfully ironic tone Hume ends his chapter with the following comment:

‘Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of [a miracle’s] veracity. And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.’

Hume means that given that we cannot ever rationally believe that a miracle has occurred on the basis of testimony, any person who does so actually witnesses a ‘miracle’ within themselves – that of being able to believe against the evidence!

From chapter 4 of Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking – the interplay of science, reason and religion, published by 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Books and Boots

Ian Dougherty

For Reed, collecting rare manuscripts and books was not an act of personal avarice and possession. In 1925 he divided his Bible collection between the theological colleges of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches: Trinity Methodist Theological College in Auckland and Knox Theological College in Dunedin.

With the disposal of his Bibles collection in 1925, Reed decided to build up a new collection with the idea that it would eventually go to the Dunedin Public Library. The library had opened in 1908 in a superb building in Moray Place, courtesy of United States millionaire Andrew Carnegie, but with few books. The first city librarian, William McEwan appreciated Reed’s intention of donating his collection to the financially strapped library one day, but suggested that in the meantime some of the material might be put on display. Reed did not want any publicity but began to anonymously exhibit autograph letters in the library. The album he had put together containing 60 letters was placed in the library’s entrance hall, and a new page turned each week.

The dogged librarian pressured Reed to make further material available for display. I July 1926, having already agreed to display autograph letters in the library, Reed wrote to McEwan:

‘Now, with regard to the Bibles, MSS and ‘Association’ books. I have been turning this over, and have come to the conclusion that your suggestion ought to be complied with, or at any rate given a trial, and Mrs Reed agreed with me that it might be a bit selfish to keep these things in our hands until our executors hand them over in due time, instead of making them available now to a wider circle. Whatever is done, I think for the meantime we would like it to be anonymous. But I would like all exhibits to be kept together, or ‘earmarked,’ as there is provision in our wills for providing all necessary casing and making it a named collection.’

During the 1920s, Reed mellowed in his attitude towards publicity. In 1926, he declared that he was putting together a collection of ‘association’ books that would eventually go to the Dunedin Public Library. In 1929, he made it known that the autograph letters housed in the library were his and would eventually become the property of the citizens of Dunedin. He also wrote regular articles for the Otago Witness, regarding autograph letters he had purchased, and a series of ‘chats’ on original letters and books associated with ‘great men and women,’ which were illustrated in the newspaper and then exhibited in the public library.

In 1929, Reed began discussing with McEwan the mechanics of gifting his entire collection to the library.

From chapter 6 of Books and Boots – the story of New Zealand publisher, writer and long distance walker, Alfred Hamish Reed, published by the University of Otago Press, 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Amazing Grace

Steve Turner

Whatever thoughts [Newton] had about the legitimacy of the slave trade, he kept them to himself during his years at Olney, possibly erring on the side of caution because he knew that any public pronouncement would go on record and he would have be sufficiently convinced to be able to defend it. It would be against his interests to sermonize on provisional judgements.

He must have been aware of the debate about slavery, particularly as some of the trade’s most vociferous opponents were Christians. In 1757, the Member of Parliament for Hull, David Hartley, introduced a debate in the House of Commons as to whether the slave trade was ‘contrary to the laws of God and the rights of men.’ In 1769, Granville Sharp, who was to become one of the most prominent abolitionists, published ‘A Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery in England.’ In 1774, John Wesley, who had read Newton’s autobiography several times, produced his polemic, ‘Thoughts on Slavery.’

Newton was also aware of Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, an evangelical aristocrat devoted to spiritual and moral reformation. She had become a Christian after hearing Whitefield and was then herself responsible for the conversion of Lord Dartmouth. Well bred and wealthy, she was passionate about using her influence and money to spread the gospel, educate Christian ministers, and relieve suffering and injustice.
Inspired by her Christian faith, Countess Huntingdon was more concerned about individual dignity and national justice than the dangers of crossing barriers of class and race. In 1765 when it was common for an educated English person to describe Native Americans as ‘savages,’ she sponsored a tour of Britain by Samson Occum, a converted Mohegan from Connecticut involved in land rights issues and raising money for charity schools. He came to Olney and preached at St Peter’s and St Paul’s.

Newton was impressed with Occum, and what particularly struck him was that despite their racial and cultural differences their experience of conversion was identical. ‘In describing to me the state of his heart when he was a blind idolater [he] gave me, in general, a striking picture of what my own heart was, in the early part of my life.’

From chapter 6 of Amazing Grace – John Newton, slavery, and the world’s most enduring song, published by 2002

Monday, November 14, 2005

Sasha’s Legacy

Nicola Daly

It was obvious to us that we needed to either bury or cremate Aster on the Friday, as she had been dead for a couple of days already. We chose to cremate her and made contact with the Karori Cemetery directly. It has a small chapel that is often used for stillborn and newborn funerals and it seemed the natural choice for us as well. We organised the funeral for Friday afternoon. Our good friends took on the task of ringing other friends to let them know about Aster’s death and to invite them to the funeral.

On Thursday evening I was allowed to leave the hospital and take Aster home with us. It had been touch-and-go for a little while as my post-natal health was causing some concern, but finally we were given the all-clear. I vividly remember leaving the hospital in the dark with Aster all wrapped up in blankets and hopping into the car with no car seat. My younger brother had arrived in Wellington by this time and drove us home and we joked about being pulled over by the police for not having the baby safely in a car seat. This is one of many memories of us sharing some laughter during a bleak and distressing time. Maybe it is a survival or coping mechanism –whatever it is called – I am pleased that my memories of Aster’s farewell are couched in some laughter.

Things seemed to fall into place beautifully, which made things easier for us and also cemented in my mind the notion of the ‘ripple effect’ of little Aster’s life. So many people spoke of being affected by her death, either to me, to my mother, friends, or other members of my family. I felt heartened by the fact that Aster’s little life had meaning beyond my realm and I continue to feel heartened six years later by people’s recognition of her as our daughter and not a baby that never lived.

From Vicki’s story in Sasha’s Legacy, a guide to funerals for babies, published by Steele Roberts, 2005

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Art of Prayer

Timothy Jones

I grew up in a Christian denomination that tends to downplay the role of the supernatural in God’s dealing with humankind. I often heard the maxim, ‘Prayer doesn’t things; it changes us.’ And who can argue with the conviction that prayer can and should transform us? But these words were often said as though personal transformation is all prayer accomplishes. It was almost the idea, as one popular spirituality book suggest, that prayer is ‘just talking to’ yourself and ‘reprogramming’ your internal computer.

When I enrolled in a hospital chaplaincy apprenticeship program during seminary, the subject of praying for patients came up in our training group. ‘I pray out loud with a patient when he or she asks for it,’ my chaplaincy supervisor told us. ‘The patient often finds it emotionally therapeutic.’ For him, that was about it. It made patients feel better. But for him it seemed to do nothing to influence God or shape the outcome of events. It would never fall on responsive ears.

But we can say more than that prayer reassures us when we are needy. Much more. God stands in relation to the world and its events not as an autocrat but as an artist whose work of art shows in every stroke or chip the contribution of an apprentice. ‘The strongest one in Christ’s kingdom,’ wrote E M Bounds, ‘is he who can knock the best.’

God listens attentively to our asking, not because he is cowed by us or our demands, but because he chooses to do so. Prayer changes things not because it is a magical formula but because behind it is nothing less than the Creator’s power. Prayer moves the hand that holds the universe. There is more to our asking than we can ever imagine because there is more to God than we can ever fathom. And there is in him a generosity that exceeds our imaginations.

From chapter 7 of The Art of Prayer (revised and expanded edition), published by Waterbrook Press, 2005

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Surprise Me

Terry Esau

What if: every day, for thirty days, I pray and ask God to surprise me? ‘Surprise Me,. God.’ Nothing more, nothing less. Three words. Not asking for something in particular. Not giving him my list. Not presenting my agenda. Just inviting him to barge into my life in any old way he pleases – to crash into the busyness of my schedule and mess with it.

Then, what if: every day I record my thoughts and activities? All the twists and turns that give shape to the month. I’ll look for when, where, and how God steps into my world in a practical, everyman sort of way, and then I’ll transfer it all onto my hard drive. I suspect this won’t be a collection of ‘highlight’ stories (TV tales of only the positively answered prayers that seem out of context and too good to be believed), but rather a measure of ‘reality spirituality.’ I suspect it will include stories of seemingly unanswered prayers as well. Maybe the surprise will be that on many days no sugarcoated coincidences aligned at all – the day headed south and just kept going. Maybe the surprise will be in how I handle that, or don’t handle it. Maybe the surprises will be more internal than external. Maybe the sea will part, the rod will bud, and the sky will rain biscuits. Maybe not.

I have no idea what those ‘maybes’ will look like – except that I expect they won’t be what I expect. Today there is no story. But come Monday, the experiment begins. Thirty days from now I’ll be done. The book of stories will have been written, assisted by the Surprise-Meister. All the ‘aha’ moments will be in the bag; the good, the bad and probably the odd as well.

I’m hoping it will be a tapestry that blends my physical , emotional and spiritual worlds. I’m hoping it will feel real and honest. I’m hoping it won’t feel like on of those happily-ever-after dimple-grinned Christian tomes that smack of well-intentioned inauthenticity. I’m hoping it will look like thirty days in the life of a regular guy who embarked on a terribly irregular experiment.

I’m not sure exactly why I’m doing this, except that I feel the need to stir the pot of my personal suburban faith.

From the Introduction to Surprise Me – a 30-day faith experiment, published by Navpress, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

Anchorhold

Raymond Pelly

What happens [in our Anchorhold] when we hear sounds not just with our ears, but with hearts and minds informed by knowledge of the deeper significance of these things – that they are all part of God’s creation? Heart-habitat.

Learning to keep our ear to the ground. That is, learning to hear- in silence, reverence, respect, awe, wonder – what there is to hear, what mother earth, the creation, would teach us, her wisdom. And here let me emphasize that silence, reverence, respect, awe, wonder – often referred to as the ‘egoless virtues’ – are ways of knowing and seeing where we get our busy self-centred selves out of the way and get in touch with what’s ‘out there’ and beyond us – to our great delight!

In that way, the wisdom of creation might have to do with discerning the difference between what’s dying around us and what’s struggling to be born. The incoming tide wipes the beach clean. Gales roar over the landscape destroying what is rotten or rootless – just as rain and sun enable and nurture new growth of every kind. These earthy images of judgement and grace are the stepping stones that allow the prophet Jeremiah to be in touch with God’s calling: ‘to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’
In the same way, once we begin to hear the powerful and unsentimental wisdom of creation, of mother earth, both tough and tender, we can explore searching questions about ourselves and our world: What’s rotten and rootless in us? What counts as genuine, as new growth? Can we tell the difference? What are the things – good and bad – that we feel strongly about?

The poet Cilla McQueen, now living in Bluff, speaks of years of being formed at heart level by the hills, rain, wind, sea, inlets, light of that particular place: habitat-habits of the heart.

She might be part of the granite cliff she leans on,
her face seamed with shadow like a rock.


From chapter 3 of Anchorhold – the prayer of the heart in daily life, published by st Peter’s Publications, 2005

from Poet, in Markings, Poems and Drawings, by Cilla McQueen, University of Otago Press 2000.

Friday, November 04, 2005

FlashBang

Mark Steele

It is you and I that God continues to ask to unwrap [the needy]. Unwrap those whom I have written off. Those whom I consider lost causes. Unwrap those whom I have had a hand in tying up as well as those whom I haven’t. Be willing to bite so hard that the bandages break.

But I would rather chew the soft food and let the hard cases stay in the tombs [like Lazarus] because I assume they will both smell and taste horrible. This is why my efforts have resulted in moments of spectacular flashes – without truly changing anything.

Because I cannot pick and choose the way I will be used.

It is an issue of real authentic love for each and every person. It should take a sacrifice on many levels to accomplish God’s task because this task is supposed to change me, and change does not occur where circumstances are predictable and comfortable.

Consider for a moment the people, relationships, and situations that you have considered dead. God would dare say that they are merely sleeping. But, they are in need of a swift, deep bite. The sort that leaves a permanent indentation.

Are you willing to bare your teeth and be that person? Because it is the first step toward the answer. The answer to why our plan has not been working and how it, perhaps, could. The clue that leads away from hollow fireworks and into healing that is truly remembered. Remembered enough to bring change.
That is, indeed, a volatile place to be. A daring world where not one soul is safe from our attack of love. Where no one can cower in the shadows and bide their time until mummification. Because there are followers of Christ who are not waiting to be asked for help. We, instead, root out the dying and grab their hand before it is even fully outstretched.

And, in that process, do not even realise that we have just been rescued ourselves.

From chapter 5 of FlashBang – how I got over myself, published by RelevantBooks 2005

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Nobody’s Perfect

Dean Shriver

One issue often overlooked today when character is discussed is contentment. The omission is major. There is perhaps no greater need in the North American church today than to hear contentment preached and see it modelled by its pastors. Much sin and suffering among God’s people (including pastors) sprout from the root of discontent. Foolish financial decisions and enslaving debt are often the fruit of refusing to be content with God’s provision. That divorce in our church which catches us by surprise is frequently only the end of a long, family-destroying process birthed by discontent in the heart of a husband or a wife.

Contentment, or lack of it, provides an important window into the state of a preacher’s spiritual life. The presence of contentment expresses heart obedience to the tenth commandment, ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbour’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ In other words, ‘You shall be content with what the Lord your God has provided you!’

Failure to be content in the place God puts you or with the material provision he provides is sin. But more, it is a sin that, if not quickly dealt with, will metastasise and become terminal to spiritual life. According to Romans 1:21, it is the refusal to give thanks (a mark of discontent) that leads to outright rebellion against God. Speaking of wicked men and women who suppress the truth about their Creator, Paul writes, ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their foolish hearts were darkened.’ In light of this truth, it is no surprise that the first step towards the fall was the sowing of discontent in Eve’s heart. In Genesis 2, God graciously gave the man and the woman the fruit of every tree but one in Eden’s garden. Adam and eve moved well down the road of rebellion the moment they permitted Satan to distract them from all God had given and caused them instead ot fixate on the one thing he had not. It is the same for us.
From chapter 6 of Nobody’s Perfect but you have to be – the power of personal integrity in effective preaching, published by Baker Books 2005

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Inspiration and Incarnation

Peter Enns

A current theological debate concerns the so-called openness of God. Much of that debate centres of whether God controls future events, whether there are possible future events of which God has no knowledge, and even whether God himself is open to change. A focus of that discussion invariably turns to some of the Old testament passages where God changes his mind.

I am not interested in asking whether God can or cannot change his mind as some abstract discussion. The issue I am addressing is how the Old Testament describes God. To ask in the abstract what God can or cannot do is interesting - sort of like ‘Can God make a rock so big that even he can’t lift it?’ – but beyond the scope of this book and maybe even beyond the scope of the Bible. It is not the God behind the scenes that I want to look at, but the God of the scenes, the God of the Bible, how he is portrayed there.

I realise this raises some questions. Does not God, as he is portrayed in the Bible, correspond to ‘God behind the scenes?’ In other words, does not the Bible, because it is the word of God, give us an accurate presentation of what God is really like? After all, if you drive a wedge between what the Old Testament says about God and what God is really like, how can we speak meaningfully of the Bible as God’s authoritative word?

This is a very good cluster of questions. I am not trying to drive a wedge between the Bible and God. Actually, and somewhat ironically, this is what I see others doing. I feel bound to talk about God in the way(s) the Bible does, even if I am not comfortable with it. The Bible really does have authority if we let it speak, and not when we – intentionally or unintentionally – suspend what the Bible says about God in some places while we work out our speculations about what God is ‘really’ like, perhaps by accenting other portions of the Bible that are more amenable to our thinking. God gave us the Bible so we could read it, not so we can ferret our way behind it to see how things really are.

God reveals himself throughout the Old Testament. There is no part that gets it ‘more right’ than others. Rather, they get at different sides of God. Or, to use the well-worn analogy, the different descriptions of God in the Old Testament are like the different colours and textures that combine to make a portrait.

There are diverse portrayals of God in the Old Testament. He is, on the one hand, powerful, one who knows things before they happen and who causes things to happen, one who is in complete control. On the other hand, he finds things out, he can feel grieved about things that happen, he changes his mind. If we allow either of these dimensions to override the other, we set aside part of God’s word in an effort to defined him, which is somewhat of a self-contradiction. But as we think about God, as we learn of him more and more, as we enter deeper into relationship with him through Christ, we will see that there is much in the full-orbed biblical portrait of God that we need to know. And of course, this is no surprise. ‘All scripture is profitable’ – even parts that don’t fit easily into our molds.

From chapter 3 of Inspiration and Incarnation – evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament, published by Baker Academic 2005

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bedside Manners

Katie Maxwell

In the hospital environment, the physical body in crisis is given the most attention. The medical field, perhaps as a result of societal acceptance, is gradually acknowledging the ramifications of the emotions in the healing and getting sick process. But the spiritual dimensions and implications are, for the most part, being neglected. It is in this area that the visitor can play a vital role in the total healing process.

Because the changes that are occurring are rapid and many, it is easy to understand why patients feel powerless. As a visitor, you have the ability to give them back a measure of control. By simply asking such questions as ‘Do you feel like visiting?’ or ‘May I sit down?’ or ‘Is this a good time to talk?’ you are letting them direct the visiting situation. Rather than being just another person telling them what they must do, you are, by asking, allowing them to take control as they see fit.

Visitors let the patient know they are not alone. They can relieve the great sense of isolation that surrounds the patient.

Visitors who have an especially close relationship with the patient can act as patient advocates, making sure questions get answers and basic needs are met. Interceding for patients when they are too intimidated or too debilitated to fight their own battles is advocacy at its finest.

From chapter 2 of Bedside Manners – a practical guide to visiting the ill, published by Baker Books 2005