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 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 to be something there. Curiosity started me, now I just keep going.
  • It really draws me read stuff written thousands of years ago; man, that's really amazing!

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)

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 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, 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


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


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.