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Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

Do you trust? Do you believe?

I’m not talking (at least in this post!) about God – I’m talking about convicted criminals!

Tapu Misa has written another thought-provoking piece about –among other things– the house-arrest conditions of Bailey Kurariki, suggesting that the public needs to trust him to learn how to live in society.

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Issues of culture, religion, politics and the like are of much interest to me.

This Friday, quite an interesting complex of issues will be focused in one event in which I’ll be taking part.

As a pastor of one of the churches in the Northcote area, I’ve been asked to take part in the ANZAC Day Commemorative Service, where we will (as the brochure will read) commemorate “those who have fallen in service of their Country.” My part in this event –which I will do gladly– will be (and I quote – again from the already printed order of service) to offer a “Call to Worship”, a “Prayer of Remembrance” and a “Benediction”.

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“In a free society, there has to be a happy medium between burqas and boobs on bikes.”

Tapu Misa has just written another great article discussing popular culture, advertising, sex and all that… Have a read of it here.

She’s in touch with both research and public opinion, and wonderfully expresses her own convictions without losing touch with those who may disagree with her.

Topical… Provocative… Well-informed…

That’s good journalism.

Keep it up, Tapu.

(the Title, ‘sex: taboo or tapu?’ was inspired by the coincidence that ‘tapu’ is not only the author’s name, but means ‘sacred’ [according to the concerned Tongan lady quoted in the article]…)

(EDIT: The video below shows a song by ‘Flight of the Conchords’ called ‘Business Time’ which is quite an interesting [and hilarious in my opinion!] parody of the difference between ‘real’ sex and the false notions seen in advertising, etc. – In my judgment, the song is actually making a good point, and not in an explicit way, so I think it’s safe for most people, but don’t watch if you’re easily offended…)

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Science fascinates me.

I’m not sure which I love more; the answers we’ve got or the remaining questions we hope to answer. Science is such an important thing to support. It has given us so much.

We humans should value science as an invaluable tool in life. But how does this tool work? Are there ways in which we can mis-use the powerful tool of science?

I’m reminded of a quote from the film Jurassic Park. Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” (more…)

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Today I walked past a man sitting on a bench on the sidewalk. He was –no doubt– simply taking a work break. He was smoking. This happens all the time… Sure, some people probably don’t appreciate the small of cigarette smoke as they walk by, but it’s still no big deal, right?

Then, minutes later, in the Turkish shop I was getting lunch at, a guy lined up behind me. I thought I recognised him. He was wearing sunglasses, so I wasn’t sure. I thought he might have been the new pastor at the Presbyterian church my wife and I were married at (after all, the church was a short walk away). A look at his T-shirt confirmed that it wasn’t… (more…)

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What does the phrase ‘missing church’ mean to you?

Poor attendance? Vacation? Sickness? Sleeping in?

Perhaps we’re all aware of the pressure to ‘make it on Sunday.’ Various methods are employed to encourage people to show up. In some situations, if you don’t show up for a few weeks, you’ll get a phone call from someone who – usually after a bit of small talk – will mention that they ‘haven’t seen you’ for a while.

Before I say any more, let me be very clear about how I feel about Sunday morning. I believe that the followers of Jesus after Pentecost gradually adopted Sunday as a time to meet together. It seems that they called Sunday ‘the Lord’s day.’ I agree with the writer of Hebrews that we shouldn’t forsake the’ assembling of ourselves together.’ (Heb. 10:25) I am enthusiastically in support of Sunday meetings so that we can – as the writer of Hebrews instructs precisely before the above passage – ‘stir up love and good works’ and also remember and celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. I aim to always meet on this day and in this way.

While I don’t mind people being encouraged to make meeting on Sunday a priority, I am nervous about the way this is often done. I fear that in our genuine (but possibly unhelpful?) attempts at ‘getting people along,’ we may be in danger of missing the point. For example, I wonder if we can mistakenly assume that a person’s regularity of attendance is an indicator of their walk with God. If they show up regularly, then things must be fine, and if they’ve missed a few weeks, they might be struggling with their faith. I’ve heard such comments many times. All the time, I’m wondering, “Yeah, but what about the people that are regular attendees that might be struggling?”

Sunday Best?
For many, Sunday morning is a great time of catching up with friends, celebrating God in song and receiving useful Bible teaching. But let’s not forget how others can see it. A routine trip to a building, making their way to their seat (if they are greeted, it is impersonal and brief), singing songs that make them feel guilty for not being ‘happy all the day’, sitting through a monologue that doesn’t relate to where they are at but still manages to leave them feeling discouraged about their relationship with God, briefly hanging around afterward in case someone may talk to them or invite them to lunch or something else, and heading to their car wondering how they will motivate themselves to go through the same routine next week. And that is an example of how a Christian may feel. What about someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God?

I’m not suggesting we do away with Sunday mornings. I am suggesting that we work hard to make them as relevant to reality as possible, and that we realise that what we ‘do’ on Sunday morning will never be able to meet all of our needs as the ‘church.’

It seems to me that failing to understand why we meet, combined with a misunderstanding of what ‘church’ is, creates a dangerous situation. Not a small, harmless one, but one that can either contribute to someone being hurt, or someones hurts not being known or cared for. Let me offer some thoughts about these two ingredients.

‘What’ Is The Church?
This is the wrong question to start with. It’s not a question of ‘what’ the church is, but ‘who’ the church is! ‘Church’ is not the building you go to to meet with other Christians, a street address, or a block of time on Sunday. The Church consists of people who recognise Jesus as Lord. This understanding is not new, but we still ask each other the same confused types of questions that reflect the mistaken view of Church, such as “how was ‘church’ this morning” or “where do you go to ‘church’ at?” or “what is your ‘church’ like?” Instead, we should ask, “Who do you church with?” I think it would be a great excercise for us to not call Sunday ‘church.’ I’m not saying make Sunday less important! I’m just suggesting that it might be helpful in reminding us that ‘church’ is not some ‘thing’ that we do on Sunday mornings, but rather it is people who follow Jesus every day of their lives – and people who happen to meet together on Sunday.

Why Do We Meet?
This is a great question, and deserves a great answer. More and more I’m seeing that there is not really any biblical doctrine or instructions for what we are supposed to ‘do’ when we meet. The commands that are given in the New Testament are the kind that we can follow any time, any where. So what do we ‘do’ when we meet? Well, I think Hebrews 10:24-25 provide a nice summary statement.

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

This, of course, is just one passage in the New Testament. As you can see, the time, place and style of the meeting is not the point here. It is exhorting each other to love and good works that is called for. We need each other. We really do. If we are to live lives that are counter-cultural, we are going to need help. We’re going to need more than a few songs, a sermon and a cup of coffee.

That is why we must never stop meeting together! That is why our songs must be real, and reflect that life (yes, even the Christian version) is not a smiles-only club. That is why teaching must be more than a Sunday sermon, and must be interpersonal, challenging and sharpening. That is why our relationships must go beyond ‘catching up at church’ and develop to the point where we not only allow others to sharpen us, but we actually look for it. That is why ‘church’ is not a place or a time, but a people. That is why so many Christians are ‘missing church’, but still attend a building and service each week.

May we truly be committed to Christ and to each other.

May we stop expecting all our needs to be met on Sunday.

May we see the difference between the Sunday meeting and church.

May we exhort one another to love and good works.

May we develop our relationships to where we can give and recieve such instruction from each other.

May we stop ‘doing’ and ‘going to’ church, and start ‘being’ the Church.

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People love to wrestle.

They just do. Sure, it doesn’t always involve mud, sumos or fake punches (W.W.F.), but people like to engage one another. Games like arm-wrestling, mercy and tug-of-war show that we like to test our strength against that of an opponent.

Things like talk-shows (with their intentionally explosive topics), newspaper opinion columns, web-site battles, negative book reviews and many more examples show that such wrestling often takes place on the battlefield of ideas. Some, when they hear or read an idea that they disagree with, they are compelled to corrective action, as if driven by an unseen force that motivates them to set the wrong to the right. Even people who don’t like to argue will engage in some passionate sharing from time to time. This testing, trading and exchanging of ideas seems to be ingrained into our very humanity.

I think this ‘wrestling’ is a healthy, beneficial and necessary practice for Christians to embrace. But in our 21st century, western, comfortable church communities, there’s a problem…

We’re horrible at it.

We avoid conflict. We avoid uncomfortable subjects. We avoid wrestling. We let things grow and fester until an issue that would have been merely uncomfortable becomes one that is seen as hopelessly unbearable. Often, issues that need resolving are never dealt with, and if/when we finally do deal with it, our relationships are often never the same or so severed that they seem beyond repair.

I’m convinced that communities that wrestle are much more likely to be communities that can foster lasting unity. Somehow, we seem to all expect unity to happen though avoidance, sugar-coating and/or positivism. I don’t see how it can happen that way.

Unity must be grown, maintained and fought for. Certainly this is evident in the Scriptures. Whether it was Moses disciplining the Israelites, one of the many Hebrew prophets calling the people of God back to true worship, Jesus rebuking the disciples and Pharisees, or Paul exhorting the new covenant communities back to their identity in Christ, the struggle for unity is evident.

I find the Apostle Paul to be a shining example in how he protects the unity of the various communities he addresses. First, we can recognise that Paul was probably not writing to these churches because he had nothing better to do, but because there were existing issues that compelled him to write. Second, we can observe how he responded to the various issues that he was confronted with. In Romans 14, he doesn’t take sides, but points both the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ back to an ethic of sacrifice on the behalf of the other (v.14-21 in particular). Consistently, however, Paul becomes incensed any and every time an additional burden is placed on the churches – particularly the Gentile converts (Gal. 5:1-12 and Phil. 3:1-3). Paul didn’t even hesitate to name names and even challenges his co-Apostles (Gal. 2:11, 13; 2 Tim. 4:14)!

Whether we like it or not, it seems we – all of us, not just pastors, elders or other church leaders – have a responsibility to know our faith and protect the unity of it. To submit to this calling is to be willing to both give and receive correction – to sharpen and be sharpened – to bounce ideas off each other – to allow others to think differently – to challenge and be challenged – indeed, to wrestle.

This powerful, unique, simple and foundational unity is worth the effort it takes to protect it. How we go about this is paramount. Our protection of unity must not be characterised by control. Unity is not unity if it is forced. This means we must allow people to discuss, question and explore ideas other than our own (which are often actually the ideas of others that we’ve embraced or been taught).

One misconception I perceive is that we confuse unity with uniformity. Neither Jesus, nor Paul seem interested in everyone being the same in every way (Mark 9:40; Romans 14:5; 1 Cor. 6:12, 7:6-9), however, both are uncompromisingly steadfast concerning the truth of the Gospel (Matt. 10:32-39; 1 Cor. 15:16-17; Eph. 4:4-6).

For the Church, there are many hard and difficult conversations to be had. Many long-standing and long-questioned doctrines and/or traditions are being reviewed (although some of these doctrines and/or traditions may not be as long-standing as we think). Voices that have been silenced and controlled by church leaders throughout the centuries are finding ways of being heard. The Internet alone has provided instant messaging, chat-rooms, web-logs and post-threads where people can find long-desired wrestling partners, and ask the questions they were either never allowed to ask, or were given short, insufficient, simplistic, careless answers to. This is both liberating and scary.

As we head deeper into the 21st century, many challenges await us. With these challenges comes the need for discernment. A balance between the evil of forcing or assimilating people to accept our ideas (are we not falliable?) and the greater evil of teaching that all ideas are equal. It is my suspicion that the more we force ideas on people, the more they will wriggle out from under our the control we think we have of them. However, the more we let them test and embrace ideas on their own, the more they will commit to (and share) those ideas.

While the future may look bleak, perhaps we should remember that we are not the first generation that has faced such challenges. False teachers, ‘super-apostles’ and ‘other gospels’ were no stranger to Paul and the Apostles, and they seem to have not gone away since.

Jacob (Israel), wrestled with God (Genesis 35:10), and the people that took his name (Israel) also took on his example. In my Judaism class, the rabbi shared how Jewish communities were and still are marked by their culture of ‘wrestling’ with God and each other over their Scriptures, yeilding a beautiful culture of learning and growth.

Finally, I suggest that a culture of wrestling will help us to keep small problems small, help us to maintain a sharpening, strengthening and growing ethic in our communities and help us deal with the challenges that the future has for the Church.

So wrestle well, and wrestle with love.

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