Monday, July 31, 2006


From chapter 5 of Paradoxy – coming to grips with the contradictions of Jesus, by Tom Taylor. Published by Baker Books 2006

Haiti has been identified as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. When parents died, their children were sent or sometimes voluntarily went to a relative or neighbour who agreed to take them in. However, most adults could not afford to take on more mouths to feed, minds to educate, or bodies to clothe. The result was that these children entered homes where they received only the bare essentials to survive. They were expected to work for the family, who kept them at emotional and physical arm’s length.

The Haitian Creole term for such children was ‘house children.’ Their status was little more than indentured household slaves. Haitian adults housing such children explained to me the unwritten rule that these children were not to be touched or spoken to affectionately. They typically lived behind the house, either in a shed or sometimes under a simple lean-to. They took their meals by themselves and otherwise lived a life of doing chores on demand. I had heard about many instances of abuse of these house children.

As I sat at a table talking to the father of the family where the little girl with the blank eyes lived, I said ‘hi’ to her and asked in Creole what her name was. She stared at the floor, a wary expression of fearfulness on her face. To my distress, the father sternly demanded that she respond. She shuffled over to me and extended a limp hand for me to shake, never looking up from the floor.

When I questioned the family about it later, they argued the rationale for such treatment of house children. Families with such kids cannot afford to raise them as their own and certainly cannot afford to send them to elementary school, which at that time would have cost about twelve dollars per month and would have provided them with a new, clean school uniform and a daily meal. The parents of house children cannot promise them much of a future, so why get their hopes up? They should be grateful, so the argument went, to have a place to stay and meals to sustain them.

I countered their arguments, decrying as persuasively as I could their innocent and young status, as well as the lack of compassion in the house child practice. But it was an uphill battle, always met with the same rejoinder: as a wealthy American, I could not possibly understand.

As I flew back to the United States after living in Haiti for several months, I stared out the window. Seven hundred miles. Just seven hundred miles off the coast of one of the world’s wealthiest countries. That’s how far Haiti is from Miami. If the Haitians living in their poverty only knew. Yet after living and working among Haitian people, watching their hardships, rubbing shoulders with them in their burdensome poverty, and seeing their desperation now juxtaposed to the lavish wealth of even the average American on the plane, I was threatened by fatalistic hopelessness for the Haitians’ circumstances. I could do little more than weep for them. And that I did.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Complete Worship Service

From chapter 5 of The Complete Worship Service - creating a taste of heaven on earth, by Kevin J Navarro, published by Baker Books 2005.

[In preaching] I do not think we have to choose between being culturally relevant or textually accurate. Why do we need to be binary when it comes to this issue? Why can’t we be faithful to the text and relevant to the issues our people are struggling with? This is the issue John R W Stott addressed when he spoke about living between two worlds. We must exegete the text, but we must also exegete our culture. As we strive to preach a message series, I believe we are forced to think about this issue. And I believe that as we do this with excellence, people will talk and say, ‘You’ve gotta be there.’ They will say, ‘The music is great, the people are friendly, and the teaching is really a blessing.’ God will begin to use us to reach out to our communities that so desperately need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.

I encourage you to have a solid theological orientation when it comes to worship service planning, but I also encourage you to have an entrepreneurial spirit. Try new and innovative initiatives that will give your people incentive to invite their friends to your church. Certainly focus on the quality, but also ponder the human needs you are addressing and then begin to tell your community about your church. We need to aggressively think of ways to connect without community. We need to pray that our church would be like a magnet, drawing all who are looking for life in Christ. And then we need to pray that when they actually arrive, this is in fact what they will find.

The Lord is ready to bring the city to our doorstep, but are we ready? As we would clean up our house before inviting someone over for dinner, we need to clean up the mediocrity we have settled for in the local church. Garden-variety worship is unacceptable. It is not what God wants from us. And it certainly is not what spiritually desperate people are longing for. People are longing for a taste of heaven. Go out of the way to have a hospitable spirit toward people looking for Jesus. When they encounter this kind of hospitable community, they will in turn say, "You’ve gotta be at this church.’ This is my prayer for your church and for mine. May God grant us life-giving churches!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The New Puritans

From chapter 2 of The New Puritans – the rise of fundamentalism in the Anglican Church, by Muriel Porter, published by Melbourne University Press 2006

In hindsight, the compromises of the 1950s have been debilitating for the national Church. Would it have been wiser to create a national Church that did not include Sydney, if it was not prepared to accept the will of the majority? I suspect it would have had little effect on Sydney’s ongoing life and its relationship with the rest of the Church if it had remained separate. Certainly in recent years it has substantially gone its own way regardless of the rest of the Church, and been quick to threaten schism will result if national decisions are taken that it does not like. The threats are never specific, and do not necessarily imply that Sydney would formally leave the national Church. Rather, they are suggestions that a different style of federation would be required if women became bishops, for instance.

An Australian Church without Sydney would, however have released enormous energy for growth and renewal in the other dioceses, freed from Sydney’s relentless negative influence. I acknowledge that this is a minority view. Most Anglicans still fondly hope that one day, real national unity of purpose will be achieved with Sydney coming onboard without its current agenda. But as a member of General Synod since 1987 and of its Standing Committee since 1989, I know this is highly unlikely. I also know only too well the huge burden the Church carries in trying to cope with the continual, determined and well-resourced opposition that emanates from Sydney. Sometimes families reluctantly have to agree to take separate paths for the good of everyone concerned. Perhaps this is what should have happened in 1955, although possibly the ‘fathers of the constitution’ believed that if Sydney were adequately protected from any unwelcome intrusions into its territory, it would become more relaxed and co-operative in its relationships with the other dioceses. Sadly, this had not happened.

Alternatively, the constitution should not have two avenues of protection for minorities: either the high bar of a two-thirds vote on key decisions or the discretion for dioceses not to adopt specific canons, but not both. It is manifestly unfair that a minority can frustrate the will of the majority on an issue such as women priests for bishops, preventing other dioceses from introducing the measure, even though there is no way it can be adopted in their own dioceses without their approval in any case. These protections mean that diocesanism works in one direction only: Sydney Diocese controls what it will allow within its jurisdiction, but effectively also controls what other dioceses can and cannot do. Some kind of separation might yet need to happen. Given Sydney’s much greater comparative strength now, any such division at this point would be far more damaging for everyone than it would have been in 1955.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Five Years On

From chapter 14 of Five Years On – continuing faith journeys of those who left the church, by Alan Jamieson, Jenny McIntosh, and Adrienne Thompson. Published by Portland Research Trust 2006.

In the research we have been looking for common threads in order to generalise about what we presumed to describe as ‘typical’ of the categories we discerned among church leavers. At the same time we are extremely aware that each person is unique, that each journey is different, and that no one fits neatly into a box. We have talked of ‘stages’ of church leavers but it might be truer to talk of ‘zones.’ A zone is a space not defined by closed borders. For example, in the terms of this study, a person may be moving toward becoming an Explorer but still exhibit many of the traits of an Exile. Thankfully, there’s no quick quiz to help you neatly classify another person – or yourself.

These categories can’t be forced onto people, but we have become very certain of their usefulness. This was demonstrated at the first training weekend held for people interested in facilitating groups like Spirited Exchanges. Many of those who came had left church, others struggled at the fringe. They were introduced to the categories of the Displaced, the Exiles, the Explorers and the Wayfinders not as a grid on which they might exactly plot their position but more as a pictorial map by which they might identify the zones through which they travelled.

Nearly all of the participants could track the pattern of their own journey on the ‘map;’ or could see how it would help them to understand another’s story. As the group discussed what it might feel like to be in each zone and what images might symbolise that particular space there was clear agreement. People were not so much learning something new as recognising what they intuitively knew already.

So people nodded when they heard others describing how it feels to be Displaced: isolated, powerless, angry, betrayed and misunderstood were the adjectives used. In the discussion about the Exile space the group- came up with some powerful images: ‘like being at a major intersection…like having a suitcase burst and scatter its contents all over the place….like looking at your own grave.’ Many of the group had experienced this state and could identify with the feelings evoked by these pictures. By contrast, the sense of new life burgeoning, the beginnings of hopefulness and a restored energy to do not merely to talk: these were the elements that characterised the experience of those who described the Explorer zone. Once again, the majority of the group could recognise common ground.

Generalisations about a group can thus become a gift to the individual. Instead of locking a person into a stereotype, they can become a way of validating a person’s story, and furthering self understanding.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Finding God in the Fast Lane

From chapter 3 of Finding God in the Fast Lane – how to live in God’s presence in the midst of the maelstrom, by Joyce Huggett. Originally published 1993; this edition by Kevin Mayhew 2004.

[The Jesus Prayer] is particularly powerful because it can be prayed at any time, no matter what we are doing. A friend of mine, a widower, taught me this when I visited him on one occasion. When I asked him how he was, a cloud passed over his face as he admitted that he was in turmoil because he had an important choice to make by the next morning. But then his eyes twinkled as he showed me a bowl of gooseberries and a panful of peas: I’ve had a wonderful afternoon,’ he went on. ‘First I topped and tailed the gooseberries and then I shelled the peas and all the while I was praying the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me and guide me.’

Kallistos Ware, in The Power of the Name, points out that the joy of the Jesus Prayer is that it may be said, once or many times, in the scattered moments that otherwise would be wasted – for example, when we are engaged in a semi-automatic task such as dressing, washing up, mending, gardening, walking, waiting in a queue or sitting in a traffic jam. We can pray this prayer, too, in a moment of quiet before a potentially painful or difficult meeting or interview, or when we find ourselves unable to sleep, or while we are waiting for full consciousness to dawn when we wake up. The prayer’s radical simplicity is especially meaningful and helpful when we are tense or anxious.

The Jesus Prayer also makes a marvellous springboard for the prayer of gratitude. I discovered this one day as I was preparing vegetables for supper. For two days life had left me tempest-tossed and battered, but as I lifted the situation to God, a shaft of light seemed to pierce the darkness. Suddenly I saw both the reason for the turmoil and a way out of it. Quite spontaneously, I found myself cutting courgettes and repeating: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, thank you for having mercy.’

Monday, July 17, 2006

God’s Life in Trinity

From Trinity and Gender Reconsidered, by Sarah Coakley – chapter 11 of God’s Life in Trinity, [a ‘conversation’ with the work of Jurgen Moltmann] edited by Miroslav Volf and Michael Welker, published by Fortress 2006.
[Other contributors include: Harvey Cox, Jr, Douglas Meeks, Daniel Migliore, Gerald O’Collins, John Polkinghorne, Nicholas Wolterstorff.]

[Moltmann] never explicitly raises this question: What ‘difference’ does it make to the issue of gender that God is ‘three’? Also, what difference does it make to gender that in the Incarnation the Son crosses (and we might say transgresses) the ultimate ontological binary ‘difference’ – that between God and humanity, Creator and created?

Although I admittedly bring these current ‘interests’ [secular gender theory] to the theological discussion, I also wish to appeal to Christian spiritual practices that can claim to aid a radical dispossession to the Spirit’s power to reformulate and redirect our worldly thinking about gender. Precisely by the regular discipline of silently listening to the Spirit in prayer and of meditating on the Bible , precisely by the invocation of the Spirit’s epicleptic power over bread and wine, precisely by the handing over – in these pneumatological interactions – of my human desire to control, order and categorize my world, I am already inviting what is ‘third’ in God to break the hold of my binary thinking.

The Spirit, then, is from this perspective no longer seen – as in so much Western medieval iconography of the Trinity – as the waiting ‘feminine’ adjunct to an all-male negotiation of salvation; but the Spirit becomes the very source and power of a transformed understanding of gender, one rendered labile to the workings of divine desire in us. No longer do I start with the binary building blocks of ‘male’ and ‘female,’ but instead with a primary submission in prayer to a form of love that necessarily transcends, and even ruptures, my normal forms of gender understanding. To speak thus, and admittedly boldly, is no mere subjective appeal to ‘experience’ (for if such a repeated activity of prayer can be called an ‘experience,’ it is a highly paradoxical one, a sort of blanking of noetic certainties.)

It is, however, tied to a very close rendition of the textual authority of Paul in Romans 8 , where he speaks simultaneously of prayer as divinely done in us by the spirit ‘with sighs too deep for words,’ and yet as also forging us – through this painful process of nescience and loss of control - into the very likeness of Christ, into ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ Such too, as I read Paul (rather differently on this point from Moltmann), is the significance of the celebrated saying ‘neither male and female’ in Gal. 3:28; it is not, as I see it, that maleness and femaleness are necessarily obliterated by what Paul envisages, either now or eschatologically, but rather that they are rendered spiritually insignificant, or (as we might now put it) nonbinary in their possibilities, in the face of the Spirit’s work and our transformations into Christ’s body.

Epicleptic: Epicletic prayer acknowledges that God is the primary agent that makes worship effective and nourishing. Preaching is ultimately effective because the Holy Spirit uses it to comfort, challenge, or convict us. The Lord’s Supper is not made powerful by how hard we think about Jesus, but by the how the Spirit works through it to nourish our faith. Epicletic prayer places us in a posture of humility, longing, and expectation, and frees us from the burden of thinking that the power of worship is all up to us. From the Reformed Worship site.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Intimate Merton

From Part IV (The Pivotal Years) of The Intimate Merton – Merton’s life from his journals, by Thomas Merton. Published by Lion Publishing 2006.

March 10, 1963.
I thought today, at adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, what a blessing it was I did not go in 1956 to be analysed by Gregory Zilboorg! What a tragedy and mess that would have been - and I must give Z. the credit for having sense it himself in his own way. It would have been utterly impossible and absurd. I think in great measure his judgment was that I could not be fitted into his kind of theatre. There was no conceivable part for me to play in his life; on the contrary! And certainly it is true that the whole thing would have been unimaginably absurd. He had quite enough intelligence (more than enough, he was no fool at all!) to see that it would be a very poor production for him, for the Abbot (who was most willing), and for me. I am afraid that I was willing at the time, to go, which shows what a fool I was.

In any case, all manner of better things were reserved for me. But I have not understood them.


In a Zen koan someone said that an enlightened man is not one who seeks Buddha or finds Buddha, but just an ordinary man who has nothing left to do. Yet mere stopping is not to arrive. To stop is to stay a million miles from it, to do nothing is to miss it by the whole width of the universe. Yet how close it is, how simple it would be to have nothing more to do – if I had only done it. Meanwhile, I am more content than I have ever been here with this unripeness. I know that one day it will ripen, and one will see there had been nothing there at all except an ordinary person with nothing to do in the first place.


The evening light. Purple coves and holes of shadow in the breasts of hills and the white gable of Newton’s house smiling so peacefully amid the trees in the middle of the valley. This is the peace and luminosity William Blake loved. Today after dinner, a hawk, circling the novitiate and the church steeple, designed a free flight unutterably more pure than skating or music. How he flung himself down from on high and swooped up to touch lightly on the pinnacle of the steeple and sit there, then fell off to cut lovely curves all around the cedars, then off like an arrow into the south.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Church of the Isles

From chapter 5 of Church of the Isles – a prophetic strategy for renewal, by Ray Simpson, published by Kevin Mayhew 2003

Tragically, the worship of most churches consists of packaged words that do not so much as say hello to the sun’s dawning, the rain’s falling, or the day’s dying. Or else the worship spills out of the psyches of dominant members who are too surfeited to notice the rhythms of their own bodies, let alone of the days or the years. Yet it is possible to create a sense of daily rhythm which touches and inspires a wider number, even among the most mobile populations, and which connects them with the ebb and flow of deeper realties.
In emerging churches the corporate worship follows the rhythm of the natural seasons and of the church year, and observes seasons of fasting or spiritual warfare, of lamentation for the sins and hurts of society, and of joy and celebration of creation.

The word rhythm comes from a Greek word (rhuthmos), whose root meaning is flow. Physicists are discovering that our universe has an underlying pattern; nature is full of symmetry. Rhythm is indivisible. There is a rhythm of the seasons of the year, and a rhythm of the seasons of life. There is a rhythm between masculine and feminine. The emerging churches seek to flow in these rhythms.

Mike Bream, of St Thomas Church, Crookes, Sheffield, calls his church to a holiday period in July and August because that is the natural thing to do. Then it has more energy to develop programmes in the new autumn season.

In the first millennium the daily prayer together in the larger, hub churches was normal, and these were called ‘People’s Services.’ However, they degenerated. Monastic churches developed long, wordy services that suited celibate monks, but which put off the general population. Daily worship in central churches became clericalised, form became more important than fellowship, ritual more important than relationship. A counter-church culture developed which encouraged prayers from pulpits or in groups, but not corporate daily prayer.

In the third millennium, we have to make good the gaps, integrating the creativity and spontaneity of occasional prayer gatherings, with the first millennium’s rhythm of corporate daily prayer. This is beginning to happen, in churches of all shapes and sizes. Some use Anglican or Roman Catholic liturgies . Others use simpler, more flexible patterns. Daily prayer patterns from contemporary communities such as Aidan and Hilda, Iona, Northumbria and Taize are increasingly being adopted.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bonhoeffer as Martyr

From chapter 5 of Bonhoeffer as Martyr – social responsibility and modern Christian commitment, by Craig Slane, published by Brazos 2004

It was Reformation Sunday 1934 when Bonhoeffer, preaching to this London congregation, distinguished two kinds of churches: the church that aims for success becomes ‘a slave to the powers of this world,’ while the church of faith lives solely by the past deed that God has done in the world, ‘the cross of Golgotha.’ By this particular November Sunday, Bonhoeffer’s mind was already leaping toward the future. Exactly five months earlier he had been approached with the possibility of taking on one of the newly forming seminaries of the Confessing Church, an option he had been weighing together with another: a trip to India where he might actively experiment with Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance based upon Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For a time he was, as he put it, ‘hopelessly torn’ between these alternatives. Yet, as different as these two paths may have seemed, either of them might have sufficed to answer what became a burning question for him. Was it possible for a community gathered on the basis of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to establish a base of resistance against tyranny?

To put it bluntly, Bonhoeffer was searching for a politically viable form of Christian community. Three years prior he had encountered Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in a highly personal way. He would testify in 1936 that since that fresh reading of it, ‘everything has changed.’ In his judgement he had ‘become a Christian.’ Shortly before leaving London, he hinted to his brother Karl-Friedrich that communities of this kind could be just the kind of power ‘capable of exploding the whole enchantment and spectre [Hitler and his rule].’ Whether in India or Germany, it would be Bonhoeffer’s growing fascination with this way of Christian life that was searching for concrete expression. When finally he decided to oversee one of the newly forming preachers’ seminaries, he had at his disposal a means by which to negotiate ‘the powers of this world’ and simultaneously to experiment with ‘a community of the cross.’

After its first summer at Zingst, the seminary was moved to Finkenwalde, where, among other scholarly pursuits, Bonhoeffer undertook an intense examination of Matthew 5-7 with his students. Eventually his work culminated in the 1937 publication of Discipleship, at the heart of which stands his exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount. The German title, Nachfolge, contains more than a hint of imitation, of imago Dei and the imitatio Christi. Because of the personal circumstances and sociopolitical pressures out of which the work is written, it is a grave mistake to read it as a timeless, abstract treatment of Christian spirituality. Rather, the existential question exerts pressure from all sides: how must the follower of Jesus live in the Germany of the 1930s, where racism, nationalism, and a growing appetite for war have made themselves friends of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Finding Faith

From chapter 7 of Finding Faith – a self-discovery guide for your spiritual quest, by Brian McLaren, published by Zondervan 1999

The question [What is God?] has a certain charming naivete when you think about it. Who do we think we are – we small creatures with three-pound brains, a few limited senses, and life spans barely long enough to get to know our neighbourhood, much less the planet, and much less the galaxy, and much less the universe, and much less still its creator! Who do we think we are to be able to define or even describe the creator of DNA, galaxies, dust mites, blue whales, the carbon cycle, light, and a billion other realities we have no notion about whatsoever, no awareness of at all?

Yet even given our limitations, perhaps some real degree of knowledge is possible. Consider this analogy to my children. Imagine them when they were younger, say under eight. If you had asked them, ‘Who is your dad?" how would they have answered? They couldn’t have told you about my height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, or any other vital statistics. They were incapable of saying anything intelligent about my genetic makeup. They didn’t know much about my philosophy of life, what books I had read, what places I had visited, which degrees I had earned, what music I liked, how many languages I spoke. They certainly didn’t comprehend my sexuality or my financial position, nor could they identify with many of my adult emotions – including the depth of my love for them. My doctors, teachers and colleagues knew more about me, in these senses, than they did.

Yet in another sense, they knew me intimately, in a way beyond anyone else. They knew the smell of my skin, the feel of my hair (which I had more of back then) , the strength of my hands, the fine nuances of my smile. And more- was I faithful or inconstant, generous or stingy, forgiving or hard, playful or grim, kind or cruel? And even more - who was I to them? Who could know these things better than they? True, their limitations as children gave them certain disadvantages in understanding their father, but their relationship as my children gave them other incomparable advantages.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Common Prayer on Common Ground

From Part II of Common Prayer on Common Ground – a vision of Anglican orthodoxy, by Alan Jones, published by Morehouse Publishing 2006

As we have seen, Anglican orthodoxy begins and ends with mystery. Walker Percy, in his novel The Second Coming, has his protagonist ask, ‘Do you realise what it’s like to live in the middle of twelve million fundamentalists? The nice thing about Episcopalians is that you’d never mistake them for Christians!’ A compliment and an insult at the same time. But the criticism that we are so open-minded that we are empty-headed is unfair. We have our doubts but we don’t wallow in them. We appreciate ambiguity but don’t make it into a virtue.

Other caricatures are more probing. Theatre director Peter Brook wrote this nearly forty years ago about the then-new cathedral in Coventry, England. It was built:

‘according to the best recipe for achieving a noble result. Honest, sincere artists, the ‘best’ have been grouped together to make a civilised stab at celebrating God and Man and Culture and Life through a collective act. So there is a new building, fine ideas, beautiful glass work – only the ritual is threadbare. Those Ancient and Modern hymns, charming perhaps in a little country church, those numbers on the wall, those dog-collars and lessons – they are sadly inadequate here. The new place cries out for a new ceremony, but of course it is the new ceremony that should have come first – it is the ceremony in all its meanings that should have dictated the shape of the place, as it did when all the great mosques and cathedrals and temples were built. Goodwill, sincerity, reverence, belief in culture are not quite enough: the outer form can only take on real authority if the ceremony has equal authority – and who today can possibly call the tune? We have lost all sense of ritual and ceremony…but the words remain with us and old impulses stir in the marrow…it is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep children good.’
There’s some truth in this – and even some prophecy. Where many of the liberals got it wrong has been precisely in the area of ritual. The Latin Mass is on the way back. There are signs that the young, while still wanting to think for themselves, long for mystery and the transcendent in liturgy and find the offerings thin and threadbare. Rationalism is never enough.

The old Anglicanism of my parents and grandparents has been described unfairly as ‘a kind of domesticated pantheism: a communion with shrubberies and rockeries, the song thrush at the bird bath, with the look in the eye of a reliably well-behaved dog.’ [Kennedy Fraser in The New Yorker] Now England is seen as post-Christian and postimperial, where a religion shaped for a very English God is showing signs of strain now that England has nothing outside itself to rule and conquer. And the cheapest caricature of our agnosticism is this: ‘What friends call honest doubt, or seeking, enemies call hypocrisy. Many Anglicans, content to rub shoulders with God will say and sing words they are light-years from believing.’ [Ibid]

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Joy in our Weakness

From chapter 10 of Joy in our Weakness – a gift of Hope from the book of Revelation, by Marva Dawn, published by Eerdmans 2002 [revised edition].

One misunderstanding in faith these days, highlighted by the novels of Frank Peretti, is an overly simplistic notion that evil is caused by some sort of little demons (even if we don’t picture them with red suits and horns and flying around with pitchforks and spitting sulphur). On the other hand, we must not over-intellectualise the whole matter of evil and define Satan merely as the evil deeds of human beings.

The biblical picture takes a position between these two extremes and recognizes that there are myriads of forms and causes of evil and that there is a significant supernatural element. There are definitely powers of evil external to ourselves, but usually they make use of our own humanly sinful inclinations. No once can rightly say,’ the devil made me do it.’ The powers of evil certainly are constantly tempting us, but we ourselves and our failures of will are to blame if we give in to their temptations.

However, in distinct situations demonic influences more easily take control, and we must walk very carefully
if we are called to go into them. I highly respect former Senator Mark Hatfield, whose book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, very openly described the easy temptations of power in high governmental positions.
Certainly our nation immensely needs Christians in politics, but anyone who chooses to enter the higher echelons of power will probably discover there Satan’s throne.

And what about you? Perhaps you work in an office situation where everybody curses or cheats or is involved in sexual immorality. Or maybe the demonic influence is much more subtle – perhaps in the power plays office colleagues use constantly to manipulate each other. It is difficult to maintain one’s Christian integrity and witness in such an atmosphere.

Similarly, those challenged physically or mentally often encounter difficulty as they try to keep clinging to Christ in the constant discouragement of worsening handicaps. Illness and disability are certainly not God’s intention for human life, so we might also say that in our afflictions we can also recognize Satan’s dominion.

Yet the people of Pergamum [in Revelation] are praised. They have remained true in their circumstances. They have clung to the name of Christ, by whose power Satan’s thrones have already been cast down and exposed. Their faithfulness provides a model of the ability to continue in contexts largely overwhelmed by evil powers. The name of Christ enables His people to be true.

Monday, July 03, 2006

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People

From chapter 8 of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People – where we have failed each other and how to reverse the damage, by Dave Burchett, published by Waterbrook Press 2002.

I was okay with the WWJD bracelets. I liked the idea of the subtle yet visible reminder of the reality of a daily relationship with Christ. My wedding band is a similar reality check. My ring has intertwined gold bands to symbolise our marriage and four small diamonds to remind me of my children. Three healthy sons are a daily part of my life. The fourth diamond represents the short but meaningful life of our daughter, Katie. When things go south, I have trained myself to look at that band and get things in perspective. Rarely is something more important than what that wedding band represents. And that refocusing helps bring me back to my spiritual foundation in Christ.

Given the value of reality reminders in my own life, the WWJD craze seems harmless enough. However, by the time we got to WWJD boxer shorts complete with false fly, I had reached the saturation point. Somehow the idea of dropping trou to be reminded of what Jesus would do seemed to have veered slightly away from the original concept.

Speaking of a fly (he transitioned smoothly), how about the Gospel Fly for bringing your unchurched, unsaved friends to the faith? The Gospel Fly is a fishing fly to be worn on your lapel that will make you a fisher of men. When your friend asks you what kind of fly that is on your lapel (which would happen to me constantly), you are instructed to reply, ‘This isn’t a fly for fish. It’s a fly for making me a fisher of men.’ Or an optional gender modification for women is to call it a ‘people fly.’ Oh, by the way, in the suggested script your nosy friend is referred to as a fish. Follow the script, hook your perspective fish, and add him to your eternal stringer. Remember to put on your WWJD waders – and good fishing!

You no doubt thought I was kidding with the ‘Jesus Saves’ air freshener. It actually did exist in a convenient three-pack, and the back packaging encouraged you to spread the word: ‘Express your feelings with this beautiful, meaningful air freshener. Use it anywhere…wherever a pleasant aroma is desired or an odour problem exists.’ I must ask: Can air freshener really be meaningful?

At a recent Christian trade show I encountered a mind-boggling array of ‘Christian’ stuff. Want the scent of salvation? We now have Christian cologne. Thought about wearing a fish cross Christian toe ring for witnessing during pedicure? You got it.