Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Deming said: get rid of posters. This church said 'no'!

I agree, particularly when the posters over emphasise an issue that is already socially distorted. Domestic violence, in this case.

Here's a series of posters I saw on a church notice board...the photo catches about half of the series with the same message (and not a mention of mothers' violence towards children or wives violence towards men...all of which are at tiny proportions in the church).













And for Deming's view. When he says 'slogans' this applies to motivational posters too.

OTOH, a poster of biblical content would be great. We talk about the word; let's display it for quiet contemplation.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The personal creation


Christ at Christmas brings humanity and eternity together (David Smith, sermon at St James, Turramurra, 25 Dec 19).

In the incarnation: in Christ God steps into our world. (David Smith, sermon at St James Turramurra 24 Dec 19).

This is God, creator, personally involved and the involvement starts at the creation where God demonstrates by his method of creation eternity existentially involved in time, with creatures who can reciprocate relationship being in God’s image.

The universe is riven with love, with God’s personal involvement with our place, our being, the ground of our communion with our creator by his acting in the time in which we must act, creating in the mode of our being (in time and shown to be so). Without this we would not see the eternal Creator involved in the finite world of creatures, there would be an existential chasm,  unbridgeable.


The common assertion that God ‘created’ by ‘evolution’ undoes all this. Everything about the materialism that requires evolution depersonalises God, the universe and everything. It pushes God out of relationship with us, and removes his loving involvement with we his creatures.

Col 1:16: For by Him (Christ) all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Cracker!

Family and I went to a different service at our church today: later (better time for night owls like me, actually), it was the younger set's service.

It was a cracker. The sermon and the precentor were both on the money. Fine sermon on Paul's encouragement to give thanks in all things, and the precentor? She just got on with her job, and did so very well, smoothly, not attention grabbing. It all clicked together seamlessly.

One surprising thing in the sermon was the PowerPoint slides:

Generally very good graphically.

One surprise was the image of the New Jerusalem.

Yep: that's it. A 1950's faux Tuscan park in front of New New York, from Dr Who.

I'd have never guessed.

For little kids

I recently picked the Bible Society's book "Christmas" by Susannah McFarlane.

What a great idea to get children interested in Christian faith and to start understanding it. Then, on page 6, it started to unravel. "People didn't want to do what God told them to....They wanted to decide things, not God." And this was for kids, who spend their whole lives being told what to do...is God like that?

Just a bigger teller what to do? I don't think so. Just think about Genesis 1:27 and 3:9-10. God made us for relationship, to be 'in sync' with him, then sought that relationship.

What's missing in the book is that God started out as the one who loves, who seeks relationship everywhere.

Thus the text might better be:

"People didn't want to be friends with God and live how he had made them to. People turned away from being Gods friends and tried to be God's bosses. But they didn't know enough, and weren't wise enough.

We are all like that, we think we know better than God about who God made us and we muck things up...often we do this a lot.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot really be  God's friends because we keep telling him we don't want to live like he made us."

You get the picture. For kids particularly, its about relationship, about relationship broken, and about God himself coming into our world (that he made for us) to make us strong enough to be his friends again.

Then, of course, you'll have to deal with what it means that God made everything. The first thing kids will hit at preschool is materialistic, pagan evolution, which de-personalises the universe, pushes God away from real involvement with us, and denies that he created us in any realand meaningful way.

Indeed, part of the theology of Genesis 1 is that God stepped into our world in the very act(s) of creation and did so to show his means of creating: by his direct word, and that this creation was immediately from the 'hand' of God. The place made for us to be friends of God. The creation account imbeds the relationship in the real concrete world; not in some immaterial fiction that has no relation with anything real in our lives.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Small group facilitators’ training program outline.

Intended for use over a two year program of two or three weekend training retreats.
Would include talks, workshops, videos, discussions, good food and drink, relaxing walks in the countryside.

Items are identified as being treated in year 1 (y1) or year 2 (y2) of the program.

Main Strands

Biblical Understanding

Development of an appreciation for the Bible in its historical settings, the debates which have been had about this, the different views of the Bible and their origins. Put biblical books into their contexts and understand the flow of biblical history.

Old Testament (y1)

Overview of OT, themes and history of Israel, biblical (OT) archaeology

New Testament (y1)
Overview of NT, themes and early church history, how the text came to us, biblical  (NT) archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Papyrus discoveries, the Jesus Seminar, and where heterodoxy comes from (e.g. Thiering, Spong)


Faith through Time (i.e. History of Theology) (y2)
Early church’s christology, ecclesiology, development of views of God, influence of pagan philosophy (still continues to this day!).


The Bible Today (i.e. Current Trends in Theology) (y2)
Major modern theologians, their concerns and intellectual contexts.



Group Life

Development of communication and group facilitation skills, being able to empathise and lead people, understanding group life in voluntary associations, establishing common ground, leading adults as distinct from teaching children or lecturing students. Introduction to adult education concepts and presentation skills.

Working with People (y1 and 2)
Interpersonal skills – communication styles, listening to people (overt and covert messages), ‘body language’ as communicator.


Running a Group (y1 and 2)
Group dynamics – the establishment of group roles by implicit negotiation, development of group communication (parts of the Alpha training course tape may provide useful techniques).
Leader as facilitator, leader as ‘representing Jesus’ to the group (as we all do to each other).
The place of prayer and bible reading, getting a group going as a small community of faith, dealing with and accepting dissent as resource for the Spirit to use.



Christianity in Society - Interaction of Christians and Christian thinking with society.


How they Used to do It (Church History) (y1)

Cults, Heresies and Other Religions (y2)

Explaining the Hope Within Us (apologetics) (y1)

Christianity and the Arts (y1 and 2)
        literature
        film
        drama
        music


Reactions and Results (y2)
Christian impacts in society and history, ‘social and historical apologetics’ e.g. the Christian seedbed of modern science and how this has dislocated to materialism but using the ontological capital of Christian thought. Views of society and social revolutions or not (Methodism in Britain). The rise of democracy and its links with Protestant thought. The notion of the rule of law for civil justice.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Eternity meets time

In a wonderful article (paywalled) in The Australian, Greg Sheridan starts with:

The first Christmas Day was the moment when eternity announced its presence in time. The immense and the everlasting pierced the thin veil of time.

An interesting aspect of the creation account: Genesis 1 is that it does the very some thing. One of the challenges in many 'religions' and indeed aspects of philosophy, is the conjoint function of 'eternity' and 'time' or universals and particulars.

Some religious views deal with this by placing veils of illusion between what is foundationally real and the human experience; not Christianity (or Judaism, for that matter).

God shows his congress with us in time by acting in the constrained time that we live in: he created in six days: he paced his interaction with us in terms of our limits. There was nothing made up or artificial in this. There are, after all, no limits to the creator.

Genesis 1, along with the incarnation, shows the creator as real in the contingent creation. It also shows that our experience of life and God is equally real. Not illusion, not imaginary, not a dream. Real.

Christmas is upon us!

I'm a bit over-Christmassed this year. Our usual Christmas day companions are overseas; we had our Christmas lunch last Sunday, which was 7 Lessons and Carols at my local church.

Christmas eve, we took in an early service (7pm, rather than 11pm) for a rousing session of carols:

First Nowell
What Child is This?
O Holy Night
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Angels We Hve Heard on High
Joy to the World.

And a somewhat  unusual, but well-placed reading: John 1:1-14. Excellent. The theology in the history (for which see Luke 1).

Then today (Christmas day) two, yes, two (2) services. One at our regular church, and the other at our previous regular church to stay in touch with some old friends.

Last night the sermon included this observation:

Christ and Christmas brings humanity and eternity together.

I liked it.

One of the 'problems' of theology is the communion between the eternal God and man in his temporal world.

This is done in Genesis 1 where God acts in our time-constrained and physical world, with physical effect with rational causality from his will (his word): the stage-setting intersection of eternity and humanity, enabling the reciprocal communion because we are in God's image: like him in aspects of our nature and he is existentially active in our world.

The incarnation completes and authenticates this: with God in Christ being one of us, but God and man, rescuing us from our alientation from our Creator. Both concretely grounded in the Real. The Real, where we  sweat, weep, laugh and love.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Want a lonely Christmas?

I know many people find Christmas lonely: I know because Ray Hadley on 2GB radio said so.

For a Christian within a more 'traditional' congregation, Christmas is a time of high activity. Indeed all of Advent is a special season.

A local church for me is quite busy over the lead up to Christmas:





















If you want to be really 'pointy' Christ Church St Lawrence will keep you busier than a bee on a honey drive (they are also a little naughty referring to the Eucharist as 'mass').


Now, this might not solve a loneliness problem, but it will keep you busy, with people (if you want to chat all the better), and one hopes thinking of others rather than self.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Want to be a Christian?

While awaiting a friend to finish a meeting, I was browsing through the pamphlets in the foyer of the church centre, wondering what there was for a stranger, newcommer, interested person, enquirer, etc. to pick up that might pique their interest, satisfy their curisosity or stimualte them to thought and future attendance at a seminar, training session or even church meeting ('service' as we like to call them).


So here is our passive evangelist (or 'marketing colateral' if we were a business). A mess! The medium is the message, so what is the contained message here? 'Don't care.'

Then the content. I looked for something that would attract the target audience: 'alpha', 'the priceless pearl', 'John's Gospel', a few rag-eared New Testaments with unreadably small print, a survivor's guide to baptism.

None of that attracted me, I don't think any would attract me as a neophyte.



A display for literature that seeks to attract and influence should look attractive, considered and inviting, with all the brochures clearly displayed. It should also include material that would introduce the faith, introduce the Bible, deal with common questions and common objections. Be topical, relevant, interesting and accessible.



Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The physical creation is important

When bookish types get hold of the Bible, they tend to 'bookish-ize it'. That is, they make it about non-world things, about ideas in the mad Plato relm of 'forms'. Mad is the word.

The Bible resists this. It's literary principle is 'concrete-realism'. Its about things that happen in the world where one stubs one's toes. This world

Thus two 'this world' events are critical to understanding the world, the creator and ourselves:

The creation and the incarnation.

Creation


The importance of the the PHYSICAL aspects of creation: 6 days are proof positive that metaphysical naturalism doesn't rule.

If God had left the time door open (that is days are some sort of literary devise detached from anything real) then the atheist is epistemically guiltless because time did it, not God.

If it's 6 days then there is no more creation taking place i.e. no new genetic information arising in the creation (apart from miracles), as evolution and its time lords demand.

Incarnation


The PHYSICAL resurrection shows death is not natural to the creation; he's God because only God can overcome death ("I will raise my own body").

If there was no physical resurrection then he hasn't overcome death and thus is not the creator as that sort of creation says death is a natural part of the creative order (unless of course flesh is not really natural to the creation as the Gnostics believe).

(courtesy of a pal of mine)

Monday, December 16, 2019

The better Advent close

You've possibly heard of the final Advent service of 9 lessons and carols, invented, it is said, in Truro Cathedral by Ed Benson in 1880.

Like me, you possibly find it too long.

So at church we are doing the much better, more 'graspable' and with more Christian reference service of 7 lessons and carols (7 being the number of 'perfection' or  completion: see Genesis 1).


WELCOME

ANTICIPATION

CONGREGATION – Jer. 33:14-16

SONG
O Come O Come Emmanuel

Isaiah 11:1-10

ANNOUNCEMENT
Luke 1:26-38 (I've been asked to read this one)

SONG
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

PRAYER

ARRIVAL
Matt 1:18-25
Luke 2:8-20

SONGS
Hark the Herald Angels
Joy to the World

Luke 2:25-35

SONGS
O Holy Night
O Come Let Us Adore Him
Here I Am to Worship

CONGREGATION – Is 9:1-7

Benediction

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Calvinism is like socialism

I was looking at the Koorong Books catalogue again today. Koorong is Australia's major Christian resource retailer. Now owned by the Bible Society, but used to be owned by Paul Boots. It started out of his parents' garage, I understand, in one of the Koorong Aves.

It then moved to a joined up pair of shops in Ryedale Rd West Ryde. I remember helping empty shipping containers of books when they arrived from the USA on a semi-trailer. Now that's the way to move books!

I think those shops used to be used by the 'House of the New World' a hip Christian mission for youth work. One of my High School teachers had been involved with it and I visited there a few times in the early to mid seventies. Happily I decided not to follow either Alinsky's hate or Hirt's delusional aspects (see the picture).

John Hirt, founded House of the New World


I was young, I was in my Calvinist phase. Happily Koorong is no longer a branch office of The Banner of Truth (I visited the HQ in Scotland many years ago...when I was coming out of Calvinism), but the range has other down-sides in my estimation. Too much empty fashionable books, not enough popular hard-thought works.

One thing Calvinism did was it got me into reading serious tomes about theology and faith. I read a ton of them. I even had Calvin's commentary -- the full set -- and used it to prepare Bible studies.

Calvinism in a way is like socialism. It's a something for the headstrong young, but good to grow out of.

I was a socialist too when young. Uni indoctrinates one into its attractive but superfical beneficence. But I went further. I joined Action for World Development, an organisation with some links to the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, but more links, I think to 'liberation' theologians. It was to the left of Che Gauvara. I met some great people in that group, and some wild ones. I experienced my first house party with co-ed dorms! That was...a little confronting!

I sought books at the Sydney Black Rose bookshop. I read Bakunin, Murray Bookchin and Ursuala LeGuin (her book set on an anarchist planet) and a few other anarchists. I subscribed to the New Internationalist, I read The Guardian.

Then I woke up, and afterwards awoke from Calvinism too.

I had also realised the New Internationalist was a people-hating marxist rag, I realised the only thing going for The Guardian was its tissue paper stock, and that now because it was easy to dispose of: like toilet paper is.


I recently picked up my old Bible marked up with Calvinist prooftexts, but started to read it en genre: that is, like history, poetry, letters, mission accounts (the gospels). I no longer could read the Bible in the arid stoicist style of Calvinists.


Finally, I was full of regret: all the time I'd wasted reading too much Calvinism and too much socialism! Oh that I had read Mises instead of Bookchin. Friedman instead of Bakunin.

But...all under the bridge now.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

They came.

The church I'm part of runs a number of 'community-facing' programs. One of them is Mainly Music, and there are a few children's Sunday programs that also attract some non-members. Mainly Music has lots of participants from outside our congregations.

These groups give a contact point with adults who might not be in the church circle.

This morning, our Christmas 'Celebration' included gifts for children moving from one Sunday group to another  (as they grow), and a big contribution from Mainly Music children. Many of their parents and some grandparents came along.

Then we had a brunch for no charge.

More opportunity for chatting, getting to know and building a brand...as marketeers might say.

A great example of a customer involvement chain.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Koorong Catalogue

Koorong's Catalogue arrived recently -- my wife picked one up on the way home -- as always, I flicked through it with a mixture of interest and dismay.

The dismay arose from book titles like Piper's Don't Waste Your Life. Now that would attract readers, wouldn't it. Particularly people not Christian looking for something to lift them. How about 100 Things God Loves About You, seriously? Disciplines of the Godly Man. Not too bad sounding, but still about finger wagging.

One of the things about self-help and 'New Age' books, except for the really kooky ones, is attractive, upbeat 'come and take me' titles.

I didn't see any books that might be truly evangelistic: taking the gospel to people who are just seeking to get through life when they feel its tougher than they can handle. This would be books that  take from the Scriptures wisdom about who we are, being God's creation, and what life is really meant to be like and where the power for such life comes from.

Like (yes, I did find a title that might fit this) The Way of the Warrior, Hope in the Dark, When God Becomes Real. The 'best sellers' list had some good looking titles. I hope the general reader would find them stimulating. I hope they were written that way, for the 'general reader' market.

But then, the Bibles: so many 'red letter'. Or, as most print is rendered: the words of Jesus in brown! I hate such design. 10% of men are red colourblind: protanopic. It looks bad: the words of Jesus in dull beige!  Just cut it out. There is no theological or literary reason for the words of Jesus in weird colors.

Even for a normally sighted person such as me, it is irritating. The contrast on the page is bad, demanding high intensity lighting at night. All scripture is valuable, not just Jesus words. I am reading the NIV NT brown letter edition at the moment. The low contrast hard to read, pale red type is irritating to read, hard to read, and breaks the flow of narrative. Its BAD.

Trouble is, most Bibles out of the USA come with this tedious innovation. Proving that the market there is undiscerning and not all innovation is to be applauded!


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Relax, take it easy: the final post on this 1 Advent


Some tricky questions

In a previous post I wrote about being prepared for some basic questions of Christians.

Now for some more 'tricky' questions.

Hasn't science disproved the Bible?

First question in response:

"What do you mean 'disproved' and 'science'? Economics is a science. How has that shown that the Bible's history of Abraham's progeny is incorrect?" That's a bit of a de-stabilising opening. But what this question usually has in mind is, the idea of evolution has trumped over the creation account in Genesis.

Firstly, nothing known to science would make anything in Genesis impossible. Ideas about evolution all depend upon life and there is nothing in science that shows us where life comes from. Science is behind the game already.

Secondly, evolution relies upon the production of determined life from randomness, entails a chemical langauge system, not a material one, being applied to molecular arrangements then it requires more time that it actually relies upon for evolution to even have a hope of producing the organisms it claims it produced.

Evolution also makes personhood something that emerges randomly from matter. The Bible tells us that matter emerges by will from personhood.

How can a God of love allow evil in the world? [He doesn’t, he fights against it! Do you?]

Most people who ask this are materialists deep down: in a material reality, there are no ‘values’ and so the concept of evil does not exist in that world. Thus, first, they must say what they mean by evil and how they can see a difference between mere inconvenience and evil, rather than seek to use a Christian concept against Christ.

Secondly, this question assumes a ‘neutral’ position of values that can be used to judge God. However, there is no such position as God is the creator and sustainer of all being, Evil is in acts that are in opposition to God. Such acts can occur as we stand in rejection of God.

He created us for fellowship, which is a personal disposition based on love given freely. If its not free, its not love. But it is free and that means we are able to turn from relationship with God. Thus people do things that are contrary to ‘God-nature’. Natural evil occurs because we have all, the custodians of the creation, rejected God and his fellowship, so, non-God-nature is in the world, meaning that our care of the world, and the world or cosmos itself is now deeply flawed; but by grace has made a way back to that in Christ – if you want to not participate in evil, turn to him.

First question in response:

"I can't understand your question until  to tell me what you mean by 'God', 'love', and 'evil', or even 'world' ".

Can people be ‘saved’ through other religions? [‘Saved’ is relationship with the Creator]

Again, as above, this question presumes a ‘neutral’ world from which one can judge God. Being ‘saved’ is returning to fellowship with God, the creator and sustainer of all that is and sharing his life through the new life Christ gives us. No human invented religion can do this as they have as their object the doer (the individual human), not the giver (God).

Being ‘saved’ is not a performance category, i.e., not something we ‘earn’, but is a relationship category: being in relation with the creator, in the creator’s terms. It is the creator who founds and defines life and love in a reality that is at base personal (shown in he being God in three relating persons).

What about the people who haven’t heard about Christ? [Do they seek God or self?]

Firstly, we can rely on God’s mercy. But we also bear in mind that we all have in inner moral compass, as creatures in God’s image. Paul the apostle, and our common experience tell us that we don’t even achieve our own standards, if we are honest with ourselves. The crucial question for those who have not or could not have heard about Christ is, does one think one can rely on one’s self, or humbly admit one’s incapacity in some way?

A related issue is those who claim to be good, or ‘moral’ but do not believe in God and think this is ‘good’ or perhaps impressive to God. Firstly, is their view of themselves selective, or comprehensive? It is undoubtedly selective. We all like to remember the good bits, disregarding or supressing what does not fit our self-estimation.

Secondly, our relationship with God is one of personal commitment in love. It is not a matter of impressive ‘performance’ although we strive for ‘performance’ as a consequence of our new life

The question also relates to moral equity: those who also don’t believe in God but do ‘bad’ things, on the same life-basis as the ‘good’ atheist. Their life is in degree more rebellious to the good of others than the ‘good’ person, but not in principle. Both regard themselves as good in their own eyes.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Advent 1, more!

I ended my 1st Sunday in Advent listening to Advent music, care of For the God who Sings on ABC Classic FM.

I cannot think of a better way to end the day.

We were treated to:

  • Parry, (Charles) Hubert

    I Was Glad [07'11]
    Choir of King's College Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury (conductor)
    Evensong Live 2019: Anthems and Canticles, King's College KGS0038
  • 10:08pm

    Bach, Johann Sebastian

    Cantata No. 62 "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" [19'38]
    Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Joanne Lunn (soprano), Jan Kobow (tenor), Dietrich Henschel (bass), William Towers (alto), John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
    Bach Cantatas, Vol. 13: BWV 36, 61, 62, 70, 132 & 147, Soli Deo Gloria SDG 162
  • 10:27pm

    Bach, Johann Christoph

    Lieber Herr Gott [04'16]
    Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier (conductor)
    Johann Bach, Johann Christoph Bach, Johann Michael Bach: Motetten, Ricercar RIC 347
  • 10:32pm

    Schütz, Heinrich

    O lieber Herre Gott, wecke uns auf [03'41]
    La Chapelle Royale, Philippe Herreweghe (conductor)
    Schütz: Musikalische Exequien etc, harmonia mundi HMC 901261
  • 10:35pm

    Milner, Anthony

    Out of Your Sleep Arise [02'43]
    Joseph Wicks (organ), St John's College Choir Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha (conductor)
    Christmas with St John's, Signum Classics SIGCD 458
  • 10:40pm

    Cooman, Carson

    The Appleton Motets in Op. 767: IV. Watch Therefore [01'59]
    Cambridge Consonance, Jeffrey Grossman (conductor)
    The Welcome News, Gothic G-49280
  • 10:42pm

    Long, James

    Vigilate [04'11]
    St John's College Choir Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha (conductor)
    Advent Live, Signum Classics SIGCD535
  • 10:46pm

    Byrd, William

    Vigilate [04'42]
    The Cardinall’s Musick, Andrew Carwood (conductor)
    The Byrd Edition, Vol. 8: Cantiones Sacrae; Propers for the Feast of the Purification, ASV CD GAU 309
  • 10:50pm

    Bach, Johann Sebastian

    Cantata No. 61 "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland" [15'13]
    Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Joanne Lunn (soprano), Jan Kobow (tenor), Dietrich Henschel (bass), William Towers (alto), John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
    Bach Cantatas, Vol. 13: BWV 36, 61, 62, 70, 132 & 147, Soli Deo Gloria SDG 162
  • 11:06pm

    Jackson, Gabriel

    Vox clara ecce intonate [04'44]
    Truro Cathedral Choir, Luke Bond (organ), Joel Garthwaite (saxophone), Christopher Gray (conductor)
    Vox Clara: Music by Gabriel Jacks, Regent REGCD479
  • 11:10pm

    Jackson, Gabriel

    7 Advent Antiphons [18'05]
    Truro Cathedral Choir, Luke Bond (organ), Joel Garthwaite (saxophone), Christopher Gray (conductor)
    Vox Clara: Music by Gabriel Jacks, Regent REGCD479
  • 11:29pm

    MacMillan, James

    Strathclyde Motets "Dominus dabit benignitatem" [04'34]
    The Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
    James MacMillan: Miserere, Coro COR 16096
  • 11:33pm

    Gregorian Chant

    Laetatus sum, gradual in mode 7 (Liber Usualis No. 560, GR 139) [02'05]
    Choir and Monks of Farnborough Abbey
    Gregorian Chant, Herald Records 122
  • 11:35pm

    Jachet de Mantua/Adriaen Willaert

    Laetatus sum (Psalm 122) "I sacri e santi salmi..." [06'51]
    Capilla Flamenca, Dirk Snellings (conductor)
    Adriaen Willaert: Vespro della Beata Vergine, Ricercar RIC 325
  • 11:42pm

    De Wert, Giaches

    Il Secondo libro de motetti: Hor est iam nos [08'31]
    Collegium Regale, Stephen Cleobury (conductor)
    Giaches de Wert: Vox in Rama - Il Secondo libro de motetti, Signum Classics SIGCD131 
    This last was in tribute to the recent death of Stephen Cleobury.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Christmas time comes

As we approach Christmas, youth group is about to wind up...its participants will have a 6 week or more break from their Christian friends, activity and encouragement.

Sound like a good idea to you?

No, me neither.

When I was at uni, I really looked forward to the opportunities for fellowship with other Christians at holiday time. But it was a wasteland.

Until, doing a master's degree (at uni again) I started attending St Barnys at Broadway. There was a holiday program for we stranded students. A good number attended and a wonderful time was had by all. Through it I was encouraged by the connections I made and the atmosphere of the place to join the choir (don't know if they still have a choir now).

Before my experience there, I went to a few summer schools at Capernwray at Mittagong. That was a great time, fabulous education, wonderful encouraging environment, and the chance to hang out with real Calvinists (despite which, the foregoing).

Katoomba convention also figured in my year at about that time....more Calvinists, of course, but they are OK when you get to know them. And most don't know they're Calvinists anyway :-)

I'll think about how we might do similarly at our church and what form it might take...maybe none, but a 'beach mission in the city' might be an approach, but for senior high school to uni age group. A couple of social outings, a couple of group meetings. That would be all...but people meeting each other would be the aim.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Our Advent 1

I was pleased by the service at church yesterday: new year's day for the church calendar

Hymns were great, including O Come O Come Emanuel.

I read the Bible passage for the service: Matthew 11:16-30.

The sermon on that passage was a knockout. It is here if you want to hear it.

If only we had had a call to worship, a benediction and a tad more prayer.

My candidates for call to worship:

Romans 13:11-14
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

and for benediction:

1 Thess 5:23-24
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

And at least one structured prayer. Perhaps the confession (from AAPB)

Merciful God,
our maker and our judge,
we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed:
we have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves;
we repent, and are sorry for all our sins.
Father, forgive us.
Strengthen us to love and obey you in newness of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Sunday, December 1, 2019

1 Advent

Today, first Sunday in Advent. Very important season in the church calendar.

BCP sets down the following (note the majesty of the old English)

The Collect

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

The Epistle

Romans 13.8-14
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

The Gospel

St. Matthew 21.1-13
When they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them; and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the Highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple; and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

At my church? Matthew 11:16-30. Yep, only one passage, but close to the BCP...in Matthew at least.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Be prepared

When I worked in sales, I used to prepare a few standard answers, so I didn't look like a dope when I got an obvious question:

What does it do? Why is it better than Zippo? What's your company about? Why would I buy it?

A Christian, I think, needs to be able to answer a few questions and be able to do it in different contexts, at different lengths, and smoothly.

Here's a grab bag of the questions:

Why do you:
  • go to church
  • read the Bible
  • always seem busy in Sundays
  • pray
  • read those sort of books...
and so it goes.

You might prepare 'cultural', 'religious', 'personal', 'casual', 'serious' answers.
But in none of these, in most cases, do you need a 'theological' answer. What we are after is an answer that is truthful, but only gives as much information as to answer the question...we want to open the door for other questions, we want to be known to be accessible about religion (as they would call it), but not inappropriately over-bearing.

Let's give it a go.

Hey, mate! Why do you go to church so much?

  • What do you think happens at church?
  • I like to be with my friends who go
  • It grounds me; I like to be able to get out of the busy-ness of life each week. Helps refresh the inner man.
  • I went to church as a kid, and it always brings back great memories of family. I even run into old friends there from time to time
  • Nowhere else do people really talk seriously about life; it helps you take a look at things objectively
  • Its the only place I know where ancient history comes to life

and so on

Do you/why do you...read the Bible?
  • What do you think the Bible is/know about the Bible?
  • It makes you think realistically about life/love...
  • Its part of my recharge routine to put life into perspective
  • A lot of people talk about the Bible, so I like to read what it really says
  • The part of history I like is what in the past still affects us today. The Bible is about that
  • It interests me
  • Theres's always something in it to get you thinking
  • The most printed book ever...got to be something there. Curiosity started me, now I just keep going.
  • It really draws me in...you know...you read stuff written thousands of years ago; man, that's really amazing!
etc.

Do you believe in God?

Here, I would follow what Koukl calls 'the Colombo method', for example:
  • Depends what you mean by 'God'. What do you mean? [said nicely, of course]
They define God, you possibly disagree, but then you say, no, that's not who I believe in. I believe in...then you define God, following the scriptures. Or, you perhaps:
  • When I say I believe in God, I believe....[and you set out God's nature]
Why/do you pray?
  • What do you think prayer is?
  • Its a conversation with the only one who truly is.
  • It connects me with the one who created us [this can launch into questions of origins/basic philosohy: what is basically real, etc.]
  • It helps to ground my day and keep me realistic about life
  • Surprisingly, I learn a lot about myself and my motives when I pray
  • Prayer is the most intense conversation with the Spirit behind all life: I hope it deepens me/makes me more senstive to...aware of others
Then you might encounter questions about Christians/the church/the Bible being 'against' things that in its half-baked way the world is for.

They might start "why is [Bible/God/Christianity] against..."

The general response is: why do you think it is against...?

And, the last one is "Why are you a Christian?"

Your answer is for you, but my range of answers includes:
  • It explains the fit of human experience with life realistically, cogently and thoroughly.
  • It brings me into relationship with the Creator despite my natural inclination to think that I could do it my way. OR
  • It gets rid of what blocks my relationship with the Creator/what is basic to all reality.
  • Its the best experience of living there is.
  • It doesn't shirk the down-side of life, while bringing depth and enjoyment to the experience of life in a context that extends beyond just me and those I love.
  • Lots of world-views explain evil. Christianity explains it best, and it also explains joy, beauty, peace and fun!
  • It brings me inner peace and contentment.
Then, there are other tricky questions...tricky for some, maybe. I'll have a crack at them later.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Does it Resonate with you?

I came across the magazine Resonate recently, on the pile of take-aways in our church premises foyer. Seemed to be some really good material in it. Including a small group guide to developing authentic relationships and faith sharing. Also, a great on-line presence with related videos.

The guide included a debate...I wasn't sure if it would have been a real debate, with people taking differing views (which would have been best), or an on-paper debate with oneself (which would have been worst).

Why 'worst'? Because while proclamation is enjoined, it is rarely done, exempified or demonstrated in real life. We give lots of input in church, but its usually someone else speaking, asking everyone else to get out and speak to their friends without showing what this is, or having people in church engage in talking out their faith.

We need to have opportunity for anyone who wants to speak in church, and opportunity to listen to each other. It is both good, and good training. How do we learn to talk out our faith, if we never actually do it, even in church settings? This is particularly so in youth work. Instead of just passive listening we need to encourage young people to speak, debate, know how to articulate their faith and deal with both genuine questions and smart-alec-ness.

To conduct effective faith conversations we need knowledge, of course, but importantly, we need to be doing it with each other, and we need to be able to use our own language, or to slip into the language we are comfortable with. Everyday langauge, not theological school discourse or church sermon language.

I read the Resonate blog related to the magazine article. Petty good, then I read this:

One day, during the fasting month of Ramadan, his friends expected him to order pancakes as usual. They questioned him when he shook his head and walked on. He explained that out of respect for the culture and for God, he too was using the month to fast and pray.
That's like Paul saying 'out of respect to God, we are not going to disturb the trade of the Ephesian silversmiths' idol manufacture' and by the way, we'll give our respects to the Diana priests every time we meet for communion.

I would probably refrain from food that offended my Muslim friends in their own country too. But I would do it out of respect for them, not respect for their pagan moon-goddess and their savage triumphalist religion that enslaves women and slaughters non-muslims.




Friday, November 22, 2019

Train to succeed

The church, in my experience, is deficient in training.

I mean structured, organised,  goal oriented effort to base spiritial and intellectual formation. In most churches in my observation and experience it is haphazard, relies on the sermon or somewhat trivial studies in children's and youth ministries.

My own experience is of this nature.

I was asked to teach Sunday School. Just thrown in, no training, mentoring, supervision. Then I was asked to help organise the youth group. Same training and development approach as the last time. I went on to conduct the youth Bible study. Again, the tried and true method was used: none.

And so it went for almost every aspect of church life!

Except, when I became a Christian, I worked through a booklet of studies with my counsellor. Not much but OK. Nothing like it should have been. Although, both Bob S. and Ron K. were wonderful pastors a few years after this time.

Except youth work at the denominational level. Although that too started poorly. I was asked to be a 'counsellor' at a youth camp. I enjoyed this very much and found it deeply satisfying. But it was all hit or miss.

Happily I had a few great mentors by this time, and Paul C instituted some structured training. Rick L, Judy G and others were brilliant examples, and I participated in Theological Education by Extension for a short time while finishing my degree. I was also blessed by a seminar in youth work conducted by Ron K. has asked us to read Penetrating the Magic Bubble by Pat Hurley (back in 1981!), so I did.

We need to do better. We need all ministry organisers to have a base line of capability and knowledge, as Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and 2 Timothy 2:4-6. See this article as well.

Here's an outline of a plan I drew up about 20 years ago.

Small group facilitators’ training program outline.

Intended for use over a two year program of two or three weekend training retreats.
Would include talks, workshops, videos, discussions, good food and drink, relaxing walks in the countryside.

Items are identified as being treated in year 1 (y1) or year 2 (y2) of the program.


Main Strands


Biblical Understanding

Development of an appreciation for the Bible in its historical settings, the debates which have been had about this, the different views of the Bible and their origins. Put biblical books into their contexts and understand the flow of biblical history.

Old Testament (y1)

Overview of OT, themes and history of Israel, biblical (OT) archaeology

New Testament (y1)
Overview of NT, themes and early church history, how the text came to us, biblical  (NT) archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Papyrus discoveries, the Jesus Seminar, and where heterodoxy comes from (e.g. Thiering, Spong)


Faith through Time (i.e. History of Theology) (y2)
Early church’s christology, ecclesiology, development of views of God, influence of pagan philosophy (still continues to this day!).


The Bible Today (i.e. Current Trends in Theology) (y2)
Major modern theologians, their concerns and intellectual contexts.



Group Life

Development of communication and group facilitation skills, being able to empathise and lead people, understanding group life in voluntary associations, establishing common ground, leading adults as distinct from teaching children or lecturing students. Introduction to adult education concepts and presentation skills.

Working with People (y1 and 2)
Interpersonal skills – communication styles, listening to people (overt and covert messages), ‘body language’ as communicator.


Running a Group (y1 and 2)
Group dynamics – the establishment of group roles by implicit negotiation, development of group communication (parts of the Alpha training course tape may provide useful techniques).
Leader as facilitator, leader as ‘representing Jesus’ to the group (as we all do to each other).
The place of prayer and bible reading, getting a group going as a small community of faith, dealing with and accepting dissent as resource for the Spirit to use.



Christianity in Society - Interaction of Christians and Christian thinking with society.


How they Used to do It (Church History) (y1)

Cults, Heresies and Other Religions (y2)

Explaining the Hope Within Us (apologetics) (y1)

Christianity and the Arts (y1 and 2)
        literature
        film
        drama
        music


Reactions and Results (y2)
Christian impacts in society and history, ‘social and historical apologetics’ e.g. the Christian seedbed of modern science and how this has dislocated to materialism but using the ontological capital of Christian thought. Views of society and social revolutions or not (Methodism in Britain). The rise of democracy and its links with Protestant thought. The notion of the rule of law for civil justice.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Give me that Old Time Religion

On YouTube I came across some items by A W Tozer including an audio book of his great "The Pursuit of God" and a sermon "In Everything by Prayer".

Check them out.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Get out of here!

After being at a new church just after I was married, I was chatting to another relative newbie. We were seeking a home group to join. You know: get to know people, share our lives, pray together.

He told me that he went to a really great group, and why don't we come along?

Great, we thought. He gave us time and place, and we were set. Thrilled. Happy. Included. Welcomed.

On the evening of the meeting we were well ready in time and then sat to dinner.

A phone call.

It was the curate (it was an Anglican church).

He wanted us to not come along.

Hang on; run that by me again.

He wanted us to not be part of this group...you know...don't come. Cancel your idea of attendance. Nick off, or as they say in the pub, get fkd.

That's how we felt. Devastated.

Were we incipient lepers? Liable to mad Christian disease?

No idea. But, here's a tip, the group was dominated by the parish...no, the diocesan worthies...we surmised that we were simply  'non-U'.

This was the gospel according to the Duke of Bedford, not The Lamb of God.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The seeker-sensitive service!

There was a fashion a few decades ago, of making church services to be more 'seeker sensitive'. I think this was a reverse innovation made by Willow Creek church in the USA.

Happily I didn't experience this travesty of Christian witness, practice and mission, but I speak in past tense. I have now experienced it.

I get the feeling that my own church is going this way; minimial Bible reading and prayer and songs (not hymns) that are trite, trivial and musically irrelevant (difficult to sing pop-tunes, not designed for congregational singing). We no longer steep our congregational times with the knowledge of the faith and our delight in it, but act like it is shameful!

A church I've visited a few times over the years seems to have gone further down this path. I've watched its notice board gradually reduce the number of advertised services on Sundays. 20 years ago there were 3. Now there is only 1. So much for the sensitiveness to seekers! How about building up the faithful in prayer, knowledge and love?


Unlike in the USA, where Willow Creek is, there is a very thin and selective community familiarity with Christian churches here in Australia. The probability of someone being a 'seeker' is very low, compared to the USA. As an example of the cultural difference, The Simpsons is replete with references to church life, the characters are frequently in church services, if reluctantly, church life often plays a significant plot role. By contrast, the soap opera 'Home and Away' mentions church so rarely that Christianity, even a cultural dilution of it, is invisible.

Our mission environment in Australia is miles away from that of the USA. We do not need or want 'seeker sensitive services'. They are pointless, irrelevant and pointless again.

Instead, we need to treat our congregations like Christians and enjoy the word read, preached, sung and prayed.

Mission is to be based, as it is in Acts 4, speaking the word of God with boldness. For this we need knowledge and understanding: of ourselves, the scriptures and the society around us to be able to go into it and proclaim the gospel meaningfully.

The church centre can be well used for what I call 'contact' events where people are attracted to come from which those more interested in spiritual things may find the Way. But these must be designed as part of a delivery channel to end with close contact for the faith.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Prove it!

Sometime paid Christians (I'm talking clergy-persons here) make it hard to understand their commitment to the gospel. Those that are very and conspicuously wealthy on their church's dime are a case in point.

But I'm happy to say I know two very influential very able and caring ministers who have proved the gospel.

1. An older minister, highly esteemed by large numbers of people decided to take the assistant minister role and ask his assistant minister to become the senior minister. He swapped jobs for the less conspicuous role as he was slowing with the inevitable depredations of age, and wanted to support the next generation.

2. A mature minister in the adjoining parish found all his children had left home to start their own households here and abroad. The rectory was now too large, with a number of unoccupied rooms that the parish had provided in an enlargement some years prior (at a significant cost to the parish).

I was hugely impressed when I heard that the minister had relinquished the rectory as it was too big, allowing the parish to let it while he moved into a smaller cottage in a nearby suburb. Wonderful example.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The meaning of life the universe and everything

42.

Speaking of Revelation, let's not forget the place of 42 in Revelation.


Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.


There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him.
Yes, 42 is the meaning of LUE absent the salvation of Christ. Douglas Adams was right, but wrong.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Sashes and pews

Michael Giffin wrote in Quadrant "The Future of Christianity" (2017)

A few years ago, there was a disinformation campaign about Cardinal Pell allegedly refusing to give homosexuals communion. This wasn’t true. What actually happened was a group of homosexuals, their parents, and their friends, went up to the altar wearing rainbow sashes, to make a political statement, and Pell refused to give the sash-wearers communion (even the heterosexual ones). His point was necessary. God’s altar is for sacraments. It isn’t the place to make politically correct statements about identity politics. Leave your sashes in the pews. You can receive communion without the sashes.
I draw your attention to "God’s altar is for sacraments. It isn’t the place to make politically correct statements about identity politics".

The entire conduct of congregation assemblies, for whatever reason is not to make 'politically correct' statements, any other political statements, or couple up the worship of our Lord with any human supremacist disposition. Thus my ire against the farcical and anachronistic 'acknowledgement of/welcome to country' being introduced into our congregational meeting.

Nothing that would divide the body of Christ into special interest groups, give or imply priority to one group over another, one historical or cultural leaning over any other divides Christ. Paul was angry enough about this within the church ( 1 Corinthians 3;4), let alone bringing it into the church from alien, if not animist domains.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Rainbow

Every time I get the chance, I quip that rainbows are great (for park benches, pedestrian crossings, etc.). The person who hears braces for a diatribe of admiration for sexual absurdities;  instead I point to its reminding us that God will never again use a flood to wipe out evil. Genesis 9

But there are a few other significant rainbows in Ezekiel and Revelation.


As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.

And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.


[ The Angel and the Little Book ] I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire;

Thus, rainbows remind me of the power and glory of God. Nice of local councils to thus help my Christian meditations.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Go out!

As I read the mission of evangelism in the Bible, it is all about 'go out'. Not 'come here'. Today, we are reluctant to 'go out' and much prefer having the lost 'come here'.

But others do 'go out'.

A couple of examples.

In Sydney there is a grand Anglican edifice: St Andrew's Cathedral zillions of people walk by and around it every day. Now, who's outside it talking to people about relgion? Not Anglicans, they've left it to Muslims, Mormons and Monarchialists (Jehovah's Witnesses), all of whom do a decent trade.

I understand the Cathedral owns Sydney Square which lies between it and the Town Hall. They could have a permanent stall there to meet people and chat.

Local churches could do simliarly at local occasional markets: sell their books, crafts, etc, but mainly talk to those interested.

Ministers have plenty of training...they could run courses at evening colleges or at community meeting rooms, with inviting titles, perhaps borrowed from New-Agers: "Finding Inner Peace" for example, or "What the Bible Really Teaches", or "The Bible: Centuries of Errors, Misunderstanding and Mistakes" (talking about heresies to talk about Christ). Even a course on Revelation: "The most mysterious book ever written".

Then there are courses like "Philosphy and Modern Novels". Of course, we'd read some novels together, and philosophy would slide into theology from time to time, but plenty of riches here.

That's what I mean by 'going out' and not 'come here-ism'.

It also means starting where the listener starts: Paul set the paradigm for this in Acts 17: go you and do likewise.