Sunday, January 29, 2017

I'm a bad person

At church this morning, for the first time in my life (except of course at Randwick Baptist Church, but that was more of a circus for spooks than anything else back in the 80s) I had a visceral reaction to walk out of the sermon!

It happened this way.

The minister was conducting the service and our interim pastor was to give the sermon. As Chinese New Year has just passed we were treated to a bit of a show: choir that sang in both Cantonese and English (alternating verses), minister in a Chinese traditional shirt (nice touch).

It was explained that CNY was fundamentally a pagan celebration to get the 'gods' to be nice about the crops. So here we were, seeming to absorb a pagan practice without comment. It troubled me.

During the sermon it got worse.

The sermon was about stories we were involved in. CNY was a 'story', as was Australia Day (26th for those interested). We were then told how bad we were to Australian aborigines, how we'd invaded their land and done all sorts of wicked things.

We? Who did he mean? I don't do anything wicked to AAs. I pay them a lot of money via the tax system to in some cases subsidise their traditional life of child abuse, wife bashing and inter-tribal wars, augmented these days by alcohol. Maybe that's wicked, but that's down to successive governments just giving good money after bad, and not treating all equally: that is, get a job if you want money.

Maybe he had in mind the 'stolen generations' fiction. Probably given his age. But the accusation of cultural oppression, disregarding the great good that has come to AA as a result of the British settlement all those centuries ago, not to mention the work of missions, was appalling. That's when I felt the impetus to exit stage left.

Further we went to Nelson Mandela. Now he has said and done great things. But let's not forget the wicked things he's done too. The man has blood on his hands, and he wasn't jailed for being a peaceful freedom advocate, he was jailed for terrorist atrocities.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Creation (by Haydn)

I was amused to hear the announcer on ABC FM intro The Creation by Haydn, explaining that the problem for the librettist was that there was no story!

Unlike those who would have us believe that the creation account is (merely) a story, an arts person can see the blinding obvious: there's no story here folks, just facts; move along now.

Thus, of course, Haydn's librettist had to use his imagination to make a story out of the bare account he had to work from.

Two bibles

After reading through the NT letters a couple of times in the NRSV, I've started reading in TNEB (The New English Bible).

My copy was released in 1970 but I picked it up second hand in the late 90s, I think.

The letters are 93 pages in the NRSV and 126 pages in TNEB with virtually identical page sizes. Its a very wordy translation and somewhat pompous from today's perspective.

I don't like it that much compared to my favourite: the NASB, or the NRSV (not my favourite) but will persevere with my project.

I'll probably go on to read at least Luke and Acts in it, maybe Revelation as well.

Monday, January 23, 2017

I know who you are!

Back to the sermon-prayer-sermon-prayer of Sunday.

So many riches in that session!

During the sermon part of the prayer part of the sermon we were all told that God had given a couple of 'words' to the pray-er. One was that there were some people in the congregation seeking to be Christians. Well, there may have been, but no need to make a song and dance about it. Indeed, in a congregation of  younger people, odds-on there was some such person, so just get on with it and try not to make people feel singled out. Hardly a respectful or edifying thing to do.

The second 'word' was that some in the congregation were anxious about the future; about everybody would be a fair bet: start of year, uni or school about to start, work likewise. Now, it is good to bear such matters in prayer, and I found the core prayer in this regard encouraging. However I was irked by the pray-er's request that those who considered themselves in the target group for the prayer raise their hands; some sort of clerical voyerism at work, I dare say! Not necessary, not helpful and not good, IMO. One does not impose such juvenescent humiliation on people.

Holy hands

There was so much in yesterday's sermon for comment, and I've just remembered this.

As we were singing one of the ditties that pass for hymns these days, the fellow who was later to sermonise us raised his right hand. Initially I thought he sought toilet permission, then maybe that he wanted the music to stop. I was flummoxed.

Maybe I should raise my right hand too; as though I also could answer the question. But then I realised! He was one of the folk who only half believe 1 Timothy 2:8. Perhaps it is only semi-inspired in their book.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon or prayer, or prayer or sermon?

This afternoon's sermon was encouraging:Psalm 16! Too little content for the number of words used, but that is often the case. My general view is this: if you can't land your major points in 20 minutes, your calling may be elsewhere.

As usual we ended with prayer, but unusually, the prayer included a mini-sermon. This is not the role of prayer. God does not need preaching to, nor does one take time out for an excursus addressing the imagined hearer/s.

Noting that God is not hard of hearing, needs no explanations nor excessive detail, public prayers can be brief, to the point and non-begging. Our Father in Heaven is only too ready, willing and able to provide for us.

Reminds me of a friend may years ago who observed the way of prayer in our then circle, where the word 'just' was used more than any other word, and, I might add, pleonastically, and thus tediously. Please stop!

Blind men

Two comments on a letter in The Australian:

1: “Religion is a blind man in a dark room, looking for a black cat that isn’t there and shouting, ‘I found it’?’’


2: In that case, that must mean Atheism is a blind man in dark room, declaring "There is no black cat in here", just because he can't find it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Read the Bible

One good thing that did come out of the service for younger people was seeding my desire to do a major read of the Bible.

I pulled out a NRSV I bought over 20 years ago to read the entire Pauline corpus (that means all the letters attributed to Paul the Apostle).

I'm more than 2/3 through in a few days, so might end up reading the generals as well (Hebrews to Jude).

The aim is to get this reading done by the end of January.

So there we are, at last, a New Year's resolution.

Reading the Bible quickly is great to do. One gets the overall picture and themes very clearly, not something that I find easily emerges from bit-wise reading small groups of verses. So, my suggestion: read it fast and read it slow. I read the Psalms slowly: one a day, so I cover the lot twice a year. A nice start to the day, too.

My serious reading pattern is the NT twice a year, and over a two year period the OT in divisions of History pre-Promised-Land, History Promised-Land, Little Prophets, Wisdom, Big Prophets.

I'm not all that keen on the NRSV, and prefer my favourite, the NASB, but the NRSV does have right at the back some editorial goodies going for it, that I'd not seen until this evening!

A very useful index of subjects of the Old and New Testaments, not too detailed to be quite useful.

The index doesn't give Langton-Estienne references, so I might add these and maybe post them (I'll ask the publisher's permission, of course).

A biblical chronology, with some external events. This pretends that we don't know the dates of creation, Babel and Noah's flood, which of course, on the Bible's own data, we do. I'll add them for my own purposes.

A summary of Paul's life and work, fabulously detailed with full Langton-Estienne references.

A list of prayers recorded in both testaments, in alphabetical order.

Table of Jewish feasts.

The Jewish calendar.

The link on references above is to Bible.Org; they have a sister site, Lumina, for study which looks pretty good.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Pascal's wager

Introducing decision theory in a popular book on stats that I'm currently reading (Matthews, R. Chancing it.), this table illustrating Pascal's Wager was shown:

Pascal was working on a 50/50 chance of God existing. Matthews asserted that for something about which we know nothing, this was a bit rich.

But the whole thing is a 'bit rich'!

Firstly, despite his piety, Pascal has got it wrong.

He sums up (in Matthews' rendition, above) the content of 'belief in God'...and it must be the 'philosopher's god, not the real time and effort in rituals. No mention of grace, relationship, fulfilment, ontological context, and so on. He misunderstands, at least, Biblical theism as though belief in God is some sort of ticket, rather than the fellowship and love that we know.

The misunderstanding is compounded in the 'God exists and Choose not to believe' quadrant. The context missing here is not a vengeful God, but God continuing the unbeliever in the unbeliever's chosen state: alienation from God.

This evening

Only a few people of my age and older (and some younger) go to the evening service; it tends to be for young people: post high school, some post uni.

I both liked it and didn't.

Liked for: the casual friendliness, the obvious commitment and capability of those serving as compere, cantor and teacher, they were all very good, the disarming simplicity of the service, the outstanding musicianship of cantor and musicians.

Didn't like for: AV system failure (why is this hard to failproof?), prayer time, chat sessions, lack of rehearsal with musicians 'musos' having to be reminded to start playing, casual 'hi' and 'see ya'. Some formality would work, lending an air of respect of the congregation to the gathering. It doesn't need to be much, but an intentional start and an intentional ending: used to be 'call to prayer' and 'benediction'. Together they remind one that this is not a nightclub, even if in casual language. Purposeful start and finish also give polish to the proceedings (not like a performance, although it is, incidentally, but like the congregation is worth a good experience).

Prayer time almost felt like the compere was embarrassed, although I knew she was not. We had a few moments to pray for another in the congregation. Good idea, in some ways, but generally private prayer one can do at home. Prayer is a vexed problem at our church. We don't quite know what to do with it in a service, and few work well; although some have been spectacular.

The 'hi to neighbours' segments I found awkward; mainly as there was no one near me (another worrying indicator). But that aside, awkward anyway.

Discussing the sermon in small groups is also a good idea, but execution needs work. There was plenty in the sermon for a huge conversation, but too much for a small chat.

The cantor had a fine voice, and stage presence, but I found her 'ecstatic frown' off-putting. The songs were also musically demanding and not real good for congregational use, IMO.

All said and done, I know the target group loves the service. I still hark back to past joys of Anglican Evensong and Evening Prayer. They do it for me, and probably always will.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Big Story

For new Christians, or anyone, really, a one day program giving an overview of the Bible. Three more programs could be church history, theology and apologetics.

Friday, January 13, 2017


Thinking over some recent posts that relate to this idea (starting with this one), my experience of the mentor business popped up from my dark recesses. It was the early 1980s when I was active in youth ministry (small Bible study groups, Sunday School teaching, youth camps, etc) that I do believe I was a mentor to a young Christian fellow, just a few years younger than I was.

We didn't use that term, of course, the minister just asked if I'd work through some studies with Zeke. I did, for a few weeks; quite a few weeks, actually. I picked him up from his place and we went to my place for study, chat and prayer. It was a real friendship, we talked about work, girls, plans, hopes. I was impressed by his sagacity.

I moved into the city, he didn't and we drifted apart. But, it was a great (and now that I've remembered it) and memorable experience.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Story of Reality

Having read the very brief review of this book on Tim Challies blog early this morning (thanks Mr Street Sweeper machine), I thought it would be good to check a few other reviews.

Here's a couple:

Cross Examined, mentions a podcast by the author.

The publisher's review.

My only initial concern is that the reviews seem to lean towards Christianity as 'worldview'. No! The Bible tells us what really is! No 'view' about it. If one doesn't start with the Bible, then of course one does end up with a world view from the supermarket of human inventions; but this is not the same thing, because this 'view' will be likely more informed by the fallen nature than the love of God and so be dislocated from what is basic to what is.


Life is a deficit.

We probably know that, given the sin and failure that besets us. But no need to grind it in. Recently we've used deficit thinking in our small group work.

Courses to fix things that are wrong. In this theme we will start a course on 'resolving conflict' next term. OK, conflict is real and resolving it well can produce growth, friendship and courage. All that's good; and I'd like that Christians are good at this important social skill.

Recent courses in the wider sphere that I've noticed are 'stress management for Christian men' and 'anger management' also presumably for Christian men.

My wife returned from a shopping expedition with a book titled 'Encouragement'.

Now THAT would be a great thing to develop! The ability to encourage people, to build them up and to both start and leave on a positive note and to be inwardly strong enough to do it!

Some in our church could do with some skills in this area instead of dealing with any challenges that a person faces by telling them that 'God is in control'. Arid fatalism in the face of real distress!

Not biblical, of course, and betrayal of a poor doctrine of creation, but, heck, its the easy way out and limits one's emotional involvement and commitment to another.

Just five?

Today two of the blogs I read promoted the idea of five points modeling the biblical narrative. I like the idea of structuring the Bible; maybe that's the way we need to teach it.

From Ponderings on a Faith Journey we have:
Boring borrowed the exercise and laid out a brief and memorable summary of the biblical story – Creation (Genesis 1-11) Covenant (Genesis 12-Malachi 4), Christ (Matthew-John), Church (Acts-Jude) and Consummation (Revelation)
 From Tim Challies review of The Story of Reality:
creation, fall, redemption, consummation, and new creation
 But the one I like I heard decades ago at a conference:
creation, crisis, confusion, covenant, Christ, church, consummation
It brings the pivotal events of early history into the story and stops the Bible being a ethereal exercise not grounded in the events and chaos of human experience. The idea of 'five' is not bad: just like the number of fingers on one hand, but I think 'seven' has a bit more of a ring to it: seven days in the week ties it recursively to Genesis.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


It takes a while, but only the two last words have any church relevance.

Below my e-mail to Karl Vater, upon reading his article 12 ways to know if you're pastoring like a boss or like a leader (!).

Dear Karl,
I started reading your blog "12 ways to know if you are pastoring like a boss or leader" and thought I'd prefer to pastor like a minister! I wonder why this biblical word and concept has dropped out of our lexicon to be replaced by the business/military idea of 'leader'?

Adults do not have leaders except in task oriented contexts; then it works. But church is not a task oriented context, it is a ministry context; we serve each other as we are able (gifted, to use the cute theological word). There is no 'servant/leader'. There are servants. End of Story!

The sooner we remove the 'one man' obsession from churches and employ our pastors as a worker to undertake a range of jobs: teaching, mentoring (great concept), administering...the better for us, for our churches and everyone.

No one is going to grow when there is always a 'leader' there. Even in my small group work I eschew the idea of 'leader'. I do not lead a small group, I serve it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I'm new. What next?

I was doodling around the Internet today, seeing what was around for helping new Christians to grow.

There were endless curricula. For example, and here, and a good looking one from the Nazarenes.

The one I really liked was not so much about a 'course', but about Christian life: mentoring as the cool crowd says these days, or basic ordinary everyday discipleship to we ordinary folk.

I was impressed with the suggestion to start a new believer in ministry as soon as possible. One learns and grows through exercise: faith is the same as sport in that respect. And like sport one gets better not by training alone, but by doing the sport. No good saying that you are a vigaro or croquet player and you only lift weights, but never get on the field!

However, there remains need for a structured course, maybe in layers, covering similar ground with increasing depth, as time goes by. The expectation being that a person with a profession and a degree, for instance, would seek and obtain a sophisticated understanding of their faith experience in a timely manner.

This does not usually happen and the church, to my knowledge, doesn't support this outside structured theological study. Very wrong. We should all be encouraged to know the life, practice and thought of faith in ever growing depth.

Most of us, however, are stuck at the kiddie stage and so cannot communicate faith with any credibility or confidence, not having a conceptual structure of life, faith and the world from the Bible, and so not being able to fit the gospel into life and make sense of it to others.

Monday, January 9, 2017


On Sunday it was a missionary gig. No sermon, a pity, but encouraging talks from some landed missionaries.

The French student worker talked about her organisation: GBU. Now that rang an oddly clanging bell in my memory. I knew I'd heard it somewhere else. Of course! Or was it?

No, not that GBU, but this one.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Let's all join in...

Every so often the compare of our service (or president, or reader...) gets the bright idea to convert a congregational prayer into a free-for-all.

I've experienced this many times over the past decades.

It NEVER works. Long awkward silences are the feature. OK in a Quaker meeting, but not in any other. The intimacy that a prayer free for all usually requires is not a happy fit with the non-intimate setting of a congregation in a large auditorium. The setting makes it not work.

I'm tempted next time we have one of these futile sessions to immediately pray that it will be over soon and that we will be spared the long awkward silence that the incongruity of intimate prayer in an populated auditorium usually brings.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Some churches are wary of the Sunday congregation becoming a 'performance', or a spectacle. Often this fear is courted in 'low' churches, in misunderstanding of the conduct of the service in 'high' churches. However, it is easy to run into the baby and bathwater error. Sure, we don't want a Hillsong like performance in our congregation; but we also need to avoid sloppiness!

There's no excuse of unrehearsed ministry segments (e.g. choirs), unprepared Bible reading or short talks, disheveled projections, unorganised rambling prayers, or things just let go wrong, get ragged, or look as though no one cares.

Here we should care deeply, exercise our considered creativity, promote order and dignity, respect of those who attend and preparation.