Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Tomb of Jesus

I see that Titanic director James Cameron is making a doco for Discovery Channel on Jesus' tomb which has apparently been found in Jerusalem! The idea is based on an excavation in southern Jerusalem of what is termed the Talpiot Tomb with 10 empty ossuaries (stone 'bone boxes' for burials). Some of the ossuaries are inscribed with the names Yeshua bar Yehosef (Jesus son of Joseph), Maria (Mary), Yaaqov bar Yehosef (Jacob son of Joseph), Yehuda bar Yeshua (Judah son of Jesus), Yose (Joses), Matya (Matthew?) and Mary e Mara.

Now some have put two and two together and have concluded that this is the burial place of Jesus and his family along with a disciple or two (Matthew and Mary Magdalene).

Is this for real?

Well there are severe problems with the idea.

Firstly, the names are astonishingly common at the time. According to Richard Bauckham's analysis these names were all in the top ten most popular names in Israel at the time (Joseph 2nd; Judah 4th; Jesus 6th; Matthew 9th). Mary was easily the most common female name, up to 1/5 women were named Mary! This throws things into doubt; it lessens the probability that this is Jesus of Nazareth's family.

Secondly, we actually know the names of Jesus' brothers; James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. He also had a number of sisters (cf. Mk 6:3). If this is Jesus' family where is James, Judas, Simon and the sisters? Where is Joseph? The evidence begins to look less compelling.

Thirdly, the mention of Mary e Mara does not read 'Mary Magdalene'. Hence one has to surmise that this is a name which incidentally has never before been discovered for her.

Fourthly, how is is that one disciple, Matthew made it in. But wait, there's more! His name is Matya; is that Matthew? So we have a problem; is this really Matthew and why is he there? Where are the other disciples? Or maybe Matthew was a family member of Jesus? Another brother? Who knows?

Fifthly, we reenter the Da Vinci code with Judah son of Joseph. There is no evidence that Jesus married. The argument that the Wedding Feast in Cana is Jesus' wedding is nonsense; John's narrative clearly precludes this. Neither does Dan Browns appeal to the Gospel of Philip and Mary Magdalene wash; the latter does not mention marriage and for the former to supposedly mention marriage requires twisting a Greek word back into Aramaic which is bad scholarship. Neither is there any shred of evidence Jesus had a kid. At this point we realise it is another piece of historical reconstruction that can only be called fiction.

Sixthly, we have the problem of the evidence for the resurrection and the problem of alternative explanations. You can read my thoughts on this at whereby I argue that the best explanation of the available data is that Jesus rose from the dead.

So it is all a nice construct. It illustrates again that western humanity is squirming desperately to get away from its Christian roots. Anything else will do. The problem is that as we as a society increasingly shift to alternative religious and non-religious philosophical points of view, our societies decay is palpable. Western world, you can't have your cake and eat it to! If you want the ethics of the Christian faith, you need the power of the faith to drive it and bring about the society we all long for... the power is found through faith in Jesus Christ as risen Lord and crucified saviour; then the Spirit of God will turn our nations around. Stop all this rubbish and have faith! This idea needs to be sunk like the Titanic itself; may the wreck never be found!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Should Christians Tithe?

In Interpretative Method this week I raised the issue of tithing in relation to Malachi 3. I avoided the question that the passage raised 'should Christians tithe'. Here I will dare to give some thoughts:
1. Christians who believe God's word tells them to tithe should tithe: Paul when dealing with arguments over non-essentials such as eating, Sabbaths, eating meat from the temple butchery (cf. Rom 14-15; 2 Cor 8) suggests that the answer lies not in one group imposing on others what they should do, but on people living by their conscience as they believe in the Lord. Those who reject tithing should allow others to disagree with grace and freedom. Those who argue from the Scriptures for tithing too should not impose on others their viewpoint. We should allow freedom of conscience on this issue.
2. Christians who believe God's word does not endorse tithing should not: Similarly and for the same reasons, Christians who after weighing up the arguments believe tithing is not required of them, should live this out. They should continue to give freely and generously to the work of the Lord and the needs of others, but they are free not to tithe.
3. My position is that the NT does not endorse tithing: There are four references to tithing in the NT. Two are parallel texts (Mt 23:23; Lk 11:42) in which Jesus severely critiques Pharisaic pedantic tithing while neglecting a concern for the weightier matters of the need to care for the needs of those in desperate material need. While some argue that Jesus tells all Christians to tithe in the wording of these verses ('do not neglect the former'), I am not so sure. He is addressing the Pharisees in the Jewish world-view and at no other point does any NT writer refer to or endorse tithing except one reference in Hebrews. In the other passage in the Gospels Jesus also critiques the Pharisee who while being a committed tither, does not go home justified whereas the unscrupulous traitor tax collector is justified before God as he repents. The only other reference is in the context of the writer to the Hebrews arguing that Jesus belongs to the superior priesthood of Melchizedek. None of these texts clearly endorses tithing for all Christians.
4. The NT endorses radical, selfless, free, generous giving: These four cryptic references to tithing are totally subsumed in any number of references to radical giving to the needs of others. Luke's Gospel, Acts 4 and Paul's letters to the Corinthians give this most clearly. Christians are to reject greed and give radically to alleviate the suffering of others and to see the work of God flourish. They are to do so not for personal blessing, but out of grace wanting to see others experience the fullness of God's blessing. They are to do so without compulsion but in imitation of the selfless giving of Jesus Christ our Lord who though rich, became poor to bring wholeness and shalom to others. They are not to be limited by any 10% but give all they have over to God, not to make themselves poor, but that there may be equity. On the other hand those who are poor should not be oppressed by the tithing principle causing them to bring further suffering to themselves to meet some clergy imposed legal requirement. Those in need should be the recipients of the generosity of those who are wealthy as in the case of Barnabas who sold his land to alleviate the needs of the poor in the Jerusalem church or in the case of the Macedonian, Galatian and Achaian churches who cared for the Jerusalem church under poverty (similarly Acts 11:29).
5. The imposition of tithing will lead some to sin and some to suffer: The imposition of tithing can see the rich let off the hook in the Lord. They who are blessed materially are to give beyond any limit of a tithe, knowing that they have been blessed to give, for it is more blessed to give than receive. On the other hand, the tithe is an oppression to those without. This is what happened with the OT tithe. At the time of Christ the three-fold Deuternomic tithe and the Levitical tithe were applied along with the temple and Roman taxes! This meant that the poor people of the land were terribly oppressed with between 17 and 40% of their income going to others in this way. In our land with high taxation rates along with 10% imposition from the church sounds dangerously like oppression to me! As I said above, those who are in financial need in the church are to be the recipients of the generosity of the wealthy rather than oppressed and poor as others living resplendent financial blessing. In some quarters the rich are seen as the blessed ones and the poor correspondingly seen as cursed for their sin and disobedience. Such ideas are anathema in the NT!

So I would argue not for the tithe but for radical, free generosity as led by the Spirit. There is nothing in the NT that says that it is wrong to have a large income as long as it is ethically gained. However, the NT is emphatic in calling the wealthy in Christ to give gloriously and generously out of grace and gratitude to the God who has given everything they have! So let's just do it.

NZ Greatest One Day Cricket Team

Wierd guy that I am, in light of the performance against the Aussies the other day, I have been thinking about the best team of players from the start of NZ one day cricket experience. I have not considered players who played before one day cricket like John Reid who would no doubt have been a great one day player. However, I have gone for the best 11 as I see it.

Openers: Astle is a certainty with 16 one day centuries (next best 7, Fleming!). He also adds to the bowling with 99 wickets as well. Not a bad fielder too; the complete package. The second opener is Turner who provides the foil for Astle, able to hit over the top or to attack. In a curtailed career he averaged 47 and scored 3 centuries. We know from his county cricket performances that he is beyond peer as an opener in both forms of the game.

Top Order: Crowe has to come in at 3. He is NZ's best batsman without question averaging 38 and with a solid strike rate. Fleming is the next legitimate batsman with 7 centuries. He will also captain the side.

Middle Order: The middle order I think will involve two awesome alrounders, both quickish bowlers and fantastic attacking batsman; Chris Cairns and Jacob Oram. These two are no-brainers.

Wicket Keeper: there are three candidates here; Smith, Parore and McCullum (Wadsworth did not play much one day cricket (13 games); he would have been brilliant). Smith was a quick scorer (strike rae 99) and a great keeper; a lowish average of 17. McCullum is not as good a gloveman perhaps, but a good finisher with a strike rate of 80 and average of 23. Parore scored more runs at 26 but with a slower rate. All in all I will go for McCullum anticipating that by the end of his career his figures will be unparalleled in NZ one day wicket keeping/batting history.

Bowlers: Hadlee is a no brainer as is Bond in the shorter form of the game. Worthy of mention are the parsemonious Chatfield, Lance Cairns (who can forget his 6 6's as well), Chris Pringle, Geoff Allott, Gavin Larsen; all of whom were fine medium pacers. Danny Morrison too did well. However, Bond and Hadlee will blow the top of many innings at their very best! Without question Vettori joins them to complete a solid bowling line up with Cairns and Oram.

This leaves one more player. I could go for another genuine batsman like John Wright or Andrew Jones. Jones scored well with 2784 runs at 35.69 but he scored too slowly for this team (sr: 57.86). Wright scored nearly 4000 runs (3891) at 26.46 but too scored too slowly(sr. 57.18).

Other possibilities are Roger Twose, Ken Rutherford. Both did well; Twose scored 2717 at a very impressive 38.81 at an efficient 75.40 with 1 100 and 20 50's. A few more 50's converted would see him in the team for sure. Rutherford scored a few more but at a much lower average of 29.65 at a slower 64.30 with 2 100's and 18 50's. Twose also can bowl a little.

On a turner we could bring in a spinner. If so, it would be Dipak Patel or John Bracewell. In this regard Patel wins with a superior average (50 vs 57), a superior strike rate (72.2 vs 74.1) and a superior economy rate (4.17 vs. 4.61). Who can forget Patel's performance in the 1992 World Cup? He then, makes the squad but only plays when it is a slowie.

Another possibility for the llth man is a middle order batsman and part-time bowler to fill the spot in the middle order and give a few overs when required.

The candidates are Chris Harris, Jeremy Coney and Craig McMillan. As batsmen the averages are close (Harris: 29; Coney 30.72; McMillan 28). McMillan wins the strike rate battle at 75.44 (cf. Harris: 66.51; Coney 64.92). McMillan has 2 centuries, the others one. So McMillan is probably slightly more useful.

As bowlers Coney has the best economy rate (4.17) as against a similarly miserly Harris (4.28) and McMillan (5.52). Harris has 203 wickets, about 4 times Coney (54) and McMillan (46). In terms of average there is littel between them with McMillan at about 35; Coney and Harris about 38.

Harris is also an inspirational one day fielder.

All in all, it seems to come down to a decision between another batsman Twose and a batsman-bowler and Harris is the best option. I will go for the latter because of the whole package he brings, cover fielder, miserly bowler and good middle order batsman.

So the team is:
Astle (Canterbury)
Turner (Otago, ND)
Crowe (Auckland, CD, Wellington)
Fleming (Canterbury, Wellington) (Captain)
Cairns (Canterbury)
Oram (CD)
Harris (Canterbury)
McCullum (Otago; Canterbury) (Wicketkeeper)
Hadlee (Canterbury)
Vetorri (ND)
Bond (Canterbury)

Perhaps this will look different after the World Cup!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Black Wash

It's been a few days since we slaughted the Aussies in the recent Chappell-Hadlee and it is good to get past the euphoria and think about it in a sober manner.

It is all good that we won; as the cliche goes, winning is a habit and it is good to get into the habit. It is also good that we exposed the weakness in the Aussies; that is, their bowling attack, which is not the usual miserly Australian bunch. Australia go to the West Indies with a brilliant batting line up, and a weak attack. Ironically though, I think the addition of Clark will strengthen their bowling as he is more accurate than Lee and more suited to the slower tracks.

Having said that, I think Australia will struggle to subdue the batting line ups of the Indians, Sri Lankans, West Indians and Pakistanis.

I think too that NZ will find the going tough over there as they face tremendous batting sides. Any chance we have relies on a fit Bond, Vettori and our batsmen giving the bowlers something to bowl at every time. They cannot have an off day!

I am really excited about the cricket world cup. We have nothing to lose. Whereas the Rugby World Cup is giving me the jitters as we prepare to face off against France, Ireland or Argentina in the quarters. I suspect it may be France and we know what happened last time we played them in a sudden death World Cup match (forget the play off for 3rd last time!). I wouldn't be surprised at a NZ-Ireland final. We have everything to lose in that world cup!

So back to the cricket; NZ is in a good place going into it. However, it is wide open! The luck factor is likely to come in.

The luck factor is underestimated as we pontificate on about 'the team that wants it the most' etc. Take the 1995 rugby wc final; food-poisoning! Take Tana's injury in 2003 at the rugby world cup. A friend of mine was recently in Britain and met up with the captain of the French rugby team in 1999 that knocked the AB's out. He said when they were behind the posts as 24-12 down he and the team knew that it was all over, they were devastated. He said to them that they needed a miracle and to just go for it. The bounce of the ball went their way and they won.

I think the luck factor will determine the result in the WI's with injuries, one-off innings etc turning the tables until the winner is found. It could be anyone of the top 8. Am I allowed to pray for it to be NZ?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How Do We Know That the Bible is the Word of God?

A student asked me this very good question the other day and so I thought I would put some thought to it.

The problem we have as Christians is that we work in a certain degree of circularity. We argue that the Bible points us to God and then determine who God is from the document. Can we therefore make the claim that the Bible is the Word of God? For me, it is a cumulative argument like so many theological arguments i.e. no one argument proves it, but the sum-total of a set of arguments points strongly in this direction. Having said that, it has to be conceded that this like so much of what theologians and philosophers postulate is not able to be proved totally in an emperical sense. Rather, it is a one faith-based conclusion to a set of thoughts.

1. The Bible's Self-Witness: There is no statement in the Bible that says that the whole Bible is the Word of God but there are a series of statements in which the Bible says things of itself that point in this direction.

For example, Paul writes in 2 Tim 3:16 that 'All Scripture is God-breathed' i.e. inspired by the Spirit of God. 'All Scripture' here includes the Old Testament writings as established at the time and accepted by the first Christians as authoritative. However, it may also refer to writings such as Mark's Gospel or proto-gospels and even some of the early letters of Paul.

Another example is Heb 4:12-13 where the unknown writer says that 'the Word of God is living and active, sharper than a double edged sword...' Similarly Paul describes the Word of God' as the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17). This points to the early Christians believing that the written word was inspired by God.

That it is legitimate to apply this notion 'word of God' to the NT writings is reinforce in Peter's comments on Paul's writings in 2 Pet 3:15-16 where he states: 'Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.' Note that Paul's letters are classified here as Scriptures indicating that early Christians quickly classed his letters as the Scriptures.

2. The Canonisation Process: The early Christians after the resurrection quickly saw the apostles as God-appointed spokespeople not unlike OT prophets. The books that were included in the NT were those that were apostolic (either by an apostle or linked directly), dated in the first generation after Christ, and which were theologically aligned to apostolic theology. There was dispute about some but the majority of the NT was set in place by the end of the first century. The Scriptures were seen from the beginning as the inspired Word of God in the same manner as the OT. We believe as Christians that the Spirit oversaw the process through human agency and the NT was set in place as the primary documents inspired by God through which God speaks his word today. Most importantly they are the Word of God because through the writings of the word of God we can find the living Word of God.

3. Its self-fulfilment: I am amazed at the fulfillment of the OT prophecies. The OT predicted that the saviour would come from the tribe of Judah, would be born in Jerusalem, would be born of a virgin (Greek LXX), would be known as the Son of Man, would do miracles, would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, would suffer and die a dreadful painful death (Ps 22 is an amazing description of crucifixion), would have his clothes gambled for, would be pierced, would be buried with the rich, would rise from the dead and not see decay, would be the light to all nations and more. The Book of Daniel is set in the exile and points to the sequence of world kingdoms that follow it with uncanny accuracy. Although Christians debate this, for me the restoration of the nation of Israel and Jerusalem (1948, 1967) was an astonishing modern day fulfillment of the hopes of the OT prophets which were not completely fulfilled in the return from exile. In addition, the NT speaks of a rise in terrible suffering for the nations including famine, war, earthquakes, plagues and pestilences, the tossing of the sea etc at the climax of human history. These things are certainly occuring to me and as such we are nearing the climax of human history, the return of Christ.

4. Its coherancy: The Bible is a great coherent story from start to finish. It speaks of creation, fall, the call of a family and nation, that nations ups and downs, the hope of a Messiah-saviour, the coming of the saviour, his ministry and self-sacrifice to save the world, his resurrection, the coming of the Spirit to inspire those who believe to spread the message; God has come, salvation is here. And now we are in the age of the church, continuing the mission of God to see the world believe. I love its coherancy. Despite it being 66 books written over a period of 1500 years with many authors, it is one story that flows beautifully together with unbelievable coherency and consistency. It speaks as one work that God has governed with his Spirit.

5. It Explanation of Reality: One of the reasons I became a Christian is that I realised that the world-view undergirding the Bible is cogent reason to follow it. There are many angles on this. Here are some. Firstly, it explains our existence which to me demands a creator. Secondly, it explains the importance of humanity as God's image bearers and the apex of his creation. Thirdly, it explains the problem with the world i.e. sin and the inability of humanity to stop doing evil. Fourthly, it gives a coherent vision of salvation found through a means that allows humanity freedom, involves God in saving us through the cross and experiencing the Spirit when we believe. Fifthly, it gives all followers a vocation, to work for God and his purposes to promote good and hope through love. Sixthly, its ethic is brilliant; LOVE! Not only is love encouraged it is demonstrated in a God who through love, created and save. Seventhly, it gives hope that evil will be vanquished and we will experience eternal life through Jesus in untainted glory. Eighthly it is not some mythical nonsense but is rooted in human history that can be cross-referenced and checked out; based on the supreme event in human history, the resurrection. I could go on, but you get the point. There is no other explanation of reality that rings true to me and explains origins and gives such wonderful hope.

6. Its impact: The Bible is the world's best seller. Within 3oo years it had transformed the most powerful military nation in the world, the Roman Empire, not through military might but through love, martyrdom and proclamation of its central message; that Jesus is saviour and Lord of the world. Through it billions have come to know God through his agent Jesus Christ whose story lies at the centre of the Bible story. It then inspired generations of the Roman world. In recent centuries it has spread throughout the world as is the largest and most influential religion in the world. Its ethic has undergirded western civilisation.

So for me the Bible is the written Word of God through which the living Word of God is found and experienced. Not all experience him when they read it, but they are forced to decide one way or another. It is the vehicle through which God speaks. Its centre-piece is the four-fold Gospels which hold it together and have primacy in terms of understanding God and who he is because they tell the story of the coming of God's Son, Saviour and Lord. So read it and hear the Word of God.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cricket Stuff

Oh yeah, Go England! Who would have thought that England would give the Aussies a 2-nil thrashing in the Tri-Series! Outstanding. It also makes me wonder how the Ashes would have gone if this English side had had a decent build up. But maybe that is irrelevant. Hats off; and they did it without Pieterson! Fantastic. I think the Aussies had it coming!

Now does this get the NZ team off the hook because it turns out that the English are a good team?

No way! They really are under achieving at present. Our talkbacks are clogged with criticism and defence of Stephen Fleming; 'should he stay of should he go?' Well it is clear to me that Fleming is not himself. On his last trip over the Tasman he was sensational, dominating the Aussies. Then there was his demolition of the South African Graeme Smith several years ago. He is not the same man, down on passion, down on confidence and down on form. Sure he got a ton in the final game, but it was not his usual free-flowing innings.

I do not agree however that he is the problem. He looks like a man who is at odds with his coach. The NZ team shows all the signs of a side struggling with its leadership and Bracewell being a dominant figure is more than likely at the heart of the problem with the NZ team. He is not so much the man-manager as I see it. Since he has taken over, there have been a string of problems. His treatment of Sinclair and Vincent, the obvious truth that the NZ team is not fit (ridiculous), his employment of a softballer to manage the fielding and their fielding is miserably poor, his treatment of the NZ batting order bringing a Marshall in, a Marshall out, Sinclair, Vincent, MaCullum and Vettori up and down the order, Bonds trips and subsequent no-shows, the failure to play Patel and so on. The result is an unhappy captain and a poorly performing team.

So the solution is obvious. After the World Cup and I have to say I am not confident, Bracewell moves on and John Wright comes in! Bring it on! I do hope though that I am wrong and the NZ team, Bracewell, Fleming and all, get it together and win it!


Adventure Sports and Christ

I have just watched a bit of evening TV and saw on One was an account of Michael Holmes whose main chute got snarled up so that he could not open his reserve and then plunged into blackberries somehow surviving with a collapsed lung and a broken ankle. The other is Andrew McAuley and Australian explorer who has gone missing near Milford Sound kayaking from Australia to NZ.

Having seen the accounts of both, Michael was exceedingly lucky (or blessed depending on your perspective on God's involvement) while Andrew on the other hand, is not so.

What has happened to Andrew is terribly sad and my thoughts go out to the family.

These two events however, make me ask the question; where is the line for Christians between celebrating our humanity with exploration an/or life-threatening activities and treating life as a precious gift to be celebrated and not wasted with excessively dangerous activities?

On the one hand, life is to be explored, enjoyed, celebrated. God is with us as we do things, and so extreme sports and death-defying adventure can be seen as a glorious part of living, of being human. I also wonder where we would be as a civilisation without the risk-taking of our forebears who travelled land and sea to experience the world. Our very existence depends on the explorers and colonialists who left Europe in great danger and broke in the land. Conversely, one can see this as a unmitagated disaster whereby indigenous cultures were raped and plundered!

On the other hand our lives are a gift. We are God's temple and as such we can ask whether we as God's people whose lives are gifted for God's purposes should put our lives on the line with death-defying activities. Similarly, one has to question the motivation of such people? Why do it? What in God's eyes is gained with extreme skiing, kayaking the Tasman etc? Is it really the quest for honour, glory and prestige which drives such people?

My take on it, is firstly that the world would be a boring place if we do not take risks. Indeed, there is risk in getting up, crossing a road etc. We as God's people should lead the world in enjoying God's creation and experiencing life with joy and freedom. However and secondly, I think there are limits defined by wisdom and honouring our God who has given us life as precious. I question activities that have a high degree of probablity of death or serious injury.

I would not want to dictate a rule for all Christians but do think that we need to weigh these two dimensions up. So for example I really struggle with the thought of kayaking solo across the Tasman. A few years ago I was asked to join a team to row the Tasman in a race (akin to the trans-Atlantic Race). I heard that one of the organisers who is a prominent NZ rower would not himself row it because he felt it was too dangerous. I felt as a father, husband and Christian that it was not something that I should do.

I think I come out on the conservative side of these two factors. Guys like me probably need to get into life and take a few risks and enjoy the experience. Others I observe treat their lives with cavalier and almost stupid freedom. Such people probably need to take stock.

Other situations come to mind. I watched 'The Fastest Indian' and Bert Munro was a risk taker. Yet in his own eyes he was not, he was a brilliant mechanic and knew what he was about. Then there was Steve Irwin. He died young, but he really lived. I feel he crossed the line and I was not surprised when he died. But he brought great joy and caused people to celebrate God's creation, so it is difficult to judge.

As for parachuting, I think it is a pretty safe activity now a days. I am not sure it used to be.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

What is marriage?

One of the questions facing our age, is what is a marriage. A theology of marriage is desperately needed at present. The civil union, defacto and homosexual relationships phenomenon brings this to the fore. In the good old days (were there any really?) in western society, marriage was easily defined. When two heterosexual people wanted to 'become one' they went through a civil union often in a religious context. Defacto and homosexual relationships did occur but were frowned upon. Civil unions were nowhere to be seen. Marriage was safe in its cultural context.

Now we are faced with essentially three forms of cohabitation: traditional marriage, civil unions and defacto relationships. This raises the question for me, what is a marriage in Christian terms? Are civil unions and defacto relationships actually forms of marriage or are they non-marital sinful relationships? Many evangelicals, I believe working from their Christendom mindset, automatically believe them to be non-marriage and inadequate. This leads them to reject people in defacto relationships for leadership in church or even membership. Without critical thought they bar civil unions from church even if they are heterosexual relationships.

My examination of the Bible suggests that marriage is a creation ordinance whereby a man and woman leave their parents home and form a new home and family unit (in continuity and relationship to the wider family). Today in NZ this happens in three ways; first two people just decide to move in together (often celebrated as a glorious day in soaps) and form a defacto relationship. Second, two people form a civil union, declaring legally before the government their commitment, usually without religious connection (not exclusively so). Third, two people get married in the traditional sense. Some do so without any spiritual or religious connection with a marriage celebrant outside of church. Others do so in the traditional Christian/Christendom church wedding. All seemingly make some kind of commitment to each other. In the wedding, it is usually a lifelong commitment; the defacto relationship often leaves this open.

So how does God see all this? One could argue that the traditional marriage is the ideal. But where are we told in the Scriptures that we must marry in a church, before a priest/minister/pastor, or that we need to do things in any set pattern. Cultures define the point of marriage differently. Complicating things is that traditional marriages fail almost to the point of 1 in 2! Are those marriages which fail any more authentic than the defacto that lasts or even crashes?

Further complicating this is that the Scriptures do not define what makes a marriage a marriage. Paul in 1 Cor 6:16-17 seems to even suggest that to have sexual relationship with a prostitute makes the partners one flesh; a relationship that violates the relationship the believer has with Christ and offends the Spirit.

So here is my attempt to at least get close to the answer.

1. A man and a woman
One thing that is consistent through Scripture is that marriage is between two willing adult partners, one a man, one a woman. Now when a person is a man or a woman is a problem again not defined in Scripture. Indeed in Jewish culture, 12 seemed a critical age. It would seem that adolescence defines the turning point. So, while the age is hard to pin down, marriage is to be between a man and a woman. As such, homosexual relationships however defined would seem to fall outside of this. Polygamy, while found in the earlier part of the OT, is not verified in the NT and monogamy is assumed throughout the NT. Adultery is forbidden!

2. A total commitment of one to the other
The marriage relationship is consistently seen as a lifelong one in the Bible. This is seen in Hosea where the marriage relationship is a metaphor for commitment to God from the covenant people. This total commitment underwrites all the NT says about marriage.

Beyond this it is hard to be prescriptive. The manner in which the relationship is formed or ratified is difficult to define. There is no requirement of a legal dimension, a church wedding, verification before a priest/minister/pastor or God's people (marriage is a creation ordinance for all humanity not a specifically Christian ordinance). The notion of arranged marriages is not addressed; we in the west may be uncomfortable, but it has worked well in many cultures for centuries.

That being the case, perhaps we need to readdress our attitude to civil unions and defacto relationships. Perhaps the questions are: are the two people engaging in a heterosexual relationship of two adults? Are these two thoroughly committed to each other? Are they living exclusively and not engaging in adultery?

If so, should it matter to us that the man and woman are in a defacto or civil union relationship? Are in fact they married even though they do not acknowledge that they are? If so, then we should not just assume a defacto or civil union relationship (aside from a homosexual union) is not marriage. We should treat each relationship on its merit in relationship. We may find that a couple in a defacto can participate in leadership because they are in fact married by the biblical definition.

All these are just thoughts. I would be interested in your response.

On being a sports parent

One of the roles in life I never anticipated was being a parent of kids who are able at sport. Today my youngest has flown to Wellington on her own at age 14 to race in the Capital Classic 15oom. A few months ago she had the honour of winning the North Island Colgage Games 1500m and was approached by the Chairman of the Board of Athletics NZ who told her about qualifying for the World Youth Champs. Her PB at the time was 4.39 and she needed to run 4.32 before April 8 to qualify. Excited she came home and after a holiday, last week fronted up at the Auckland Champs. She managed to knock a second off her PB on Saturday running 4.38. She then raced on Sunday winning the 3000m and then ran in the Porritt Classic in Hamilton on Tuesday. This time she clocked a 4.34.6 meaning she needs to run 2.61 seconds faster to make it. Today she has flown down to Wellington to have a go. She is brave and determined. We are philosophical; she may make it, she may not. Even if she qualifies she may not be selected because if more than 2 qualify, then the two fastest finishers at the nationals in early March get selected.

The point of this is not to brag about her or the other two daughters who are also good runners and international sportswomen, but to say how hard it is to be a sports parent. There are tensions everywhere. There is the problem of money (take for example the previous post). There is the question of how hard to push them. Our experience is not to push them at all, but to encourage them to be self-motivated. There is the danger of trying to live your own sporting dreams through them. There is the problem of getting too involved; sport taking over life. We are Christians and there is the danger of it taking over our lives, the kids missing out on church, youth group etc. Then there is the time question. It takes time to train, to go to races. All this cuts into socialisation. Sure, there is socialisation in the sport, but there are school friends, church friends and soon to come, boy friends. It is all so complex.

I never anticipated it. Both me and my wife Emma were good athletes as kids but our parents had nothing to do with our sport. We did our own thing. Emma used to run to races, race, and then race home! No wonder she never cracked the big time. She never had a coach and her parents never came to watch her compete even though she played hockey, athletics, tennis and more and was very good! My parents weren't much better. Dad came and watched me play rugby once and said, 'you'll never make it!' Man that was encouraging.

I tend to get a bit excited and fired up, a passionate sort of guy too, which does not help! I remember years ago asking the girls, 'how do you want me to behave on the sideline.' They said, always encourage. When they made an error or had a bad race, they said, make sure you are smiling and positive when we look over!

I never saw this coming I must admit. It is tough. It is expensive. It is easy to get it wrong. But the truth is, that it is a blessing! To have kids who love sport, keep fit, get some nice results along the way, and even feel a calling from God to sport is great. I think the key is gratitude, joy (keep it fun), perspective (sport is not life) and keeping God at the centre is what it is all about.

So I hope and pray that our little girl does run a pb and qualifies. But if she doesn't we are already so proud. We are just as proud of the other two girls who at the moment are not firing at their best, but they are having fun! We will let you know how she goes. And I will keep trying to be a good sports-dad who is ever positive, not driven, encouraging, loving and making it fun.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

What is family

I had a comment the other day about my suggestion that family is the basis for society. The respondent comments, 'what the heck does family mean and what does it mean to strngthen the family? Generally when we talk about strengthening family as Christian we are really meaning lowering the divorce rate and re-solidifying the marriage covenant and getting rid of civil unions etc! What does it mean now for family to be the core unit of society in our multi-ethnic, blended families, postmodern (where most people would consider their friends as their family) society with so many different expressions of family I would say that the mandate for family to be the core of society is a hollow and frivilous ideal to pursue.'

Where does one begin! Thanks! Family in biblical terms ranges from the ideal through to the fragmented. The ideal is never defined clearly; in fact, the biblical story involves God working through profound disfunction e.g. Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau; Jacob and his 12 sons etc. However, the ideal is found through piecing together a range ethical strands.

Firstly, there is the ideal of a love-based relationship; that is a non-negotiable. Love involves the full range of attitudes of peace, patience, goodness etc found in 1 Cor 13; Gal 5:22-23.

Secondly, there is the ideal of heterosexual monogamous, faithful, loving marriage. Polygamy is never endorsed in the NT and monogamy is assumed in Jesus' teaching. Alongside this are warnings against all manner of sexual relationships outside of this relationship. Hence, the kind of family we are to believe in, endorse and encourage is just this kind.

Thirdly, there is a great concern to raise children in a loving, nurturing, encouraging and disciplined environment. This concern is found in the OT (e.g. Deut 6) and into the NT. Jesus' attitude to children exemplifies this with his deep concern to receive children and bless them, Paul even turns the traditional notion of the mother's primary role in child-nurture on its head and lays the responsibility on the father; for me, this is a rhetorical device to indicate that both mother and father are to work for the good of the child, to raise them to contribute to God's world.

Fourthly, the family in both OT and NT is not limited to the standard western notion of the nuclear family. It transcends the father-mother-children model which dominates much western and right wing Christian thought. The family is a broader concept. The leadership of the family if anything, lies with the grandparents and great grandparents. There is a real honouring of the elderly, a respect for gained wisdom. Uncles, Aunts, cousins etc are all a part of the 'village' that brings up the child. Sadly, the impact of globalisation has seen a continual inter-migration of people from all over the world and an almost total breakdown of this dimension as families live all over the place and the older generations are isolated from family and their wisdom and leadership lost. This has spin offs for the elderly who are often lonely and vulnerable and for the family which loses its connection with the past.

Fifthly, a Christian would say that the triune God is the head of the family and that he is family, the primary model for the unity and oneness that brings a family together.

Sixthly, the family is bigger than even the blood tie itself in Christian thinking. The Christian responsibility is for the neighbour defined as more than family (see the Good Samaritan). When we come together in Christ we are family! There is often a conflict between the family we are in Christ and the family in which we were born. If the genetic family do not accept the conversion of the believer, it can fragment the family and even see violence and persecution result.

So there is an ideal and I cannot accept that we should not stand for it, endorse it and encourage others that there is a better way than the fragmentation of today's view of family.

However, we also have to acknowledge the role of grace in all of this. While holding to the ideal and seeking it, we must not stand in arrogant judgement over the world around us. We must be open to accept that others who we encounter are found in all sorts of 'family' arrangements such as single parent families, gay families and so on. Our view of family is not a rod to beat them with. Rather, we are to extend grace to them knowing from our understanding of the broken families we meet in the Bible, that God can work in these situations.

I am dismayed at the moral high ground we seek to claim. This implodes as our Christian leaders fall, our own families crash and our kids grow up in many cases to be as dysfunctional as anyone! This is because what we believe is ideal is far from our reality. So we must communicate our belief with humility and non-judgementalism. However, neither should we sell out and say such a view is hollow my friend! It is a glorious ideal to be worked for.

I am a Dad with a lovely wife and 3 kids but we are far from perfect. It is by far the hardest thing that I have ever done, being a Dad and a husband. But, I will aspire to the ideal with all my being! I believe in it! I will proclaim it! But I will also be open armed to those who live in different situations. Two of my daughters have friends who have a gay parent... we respect them and love them. The balance is not easy and we have not got it perfectly; But I do believe in family!

What would you do?

What would you do?

I know of one family who have 3 teenage kids selected for a NZ sports team to play at a U19 World Champs. They play in an unfunded sport. They need $6000 each to make the trip. The family do not have the sort of money or income to pay for it. They live in a cheap rental through their work, and do own a small unit on which they have a mortgage of about $180,000. The only way they can fund the trip is to increase the mortgage. They are applying for funding at every possible community funding agency that they can think of. The kids haven't really got time to work for the money because they also play another sport at provincial level and are high academic achievers. The other problem is that the team management require the money progressively to pay for the ongoing costs as they come in such as gear and travel. So while they may fund it through community funding, they have to front up progressively (e.g. $4500 by Feb 24). This means the mortgage is the only option; although if funding comes, they can pay the mortgage back as it comes in.

So the question is: does the family withdraw the kids from the trip because it is too expensive and unmanageable OR does the family increase the mortgage and continue to seek the money from funding agencies.

It's a tough question. If they pull them out, they are missing a glorious opportunity. But is it worth it? Any thoughts will be most welcome.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Rugby on the 2 Feb

What is going on? Sure it is World Cup year, but here we are in the heat of summers that are getting ever warmer with the beaches at their best, and NZ, SA and Australian young men are hitting the fields to smash each other to smithereens on hard grounds and in searing heat! One has to question the wisdom of contemporary rugby administration that we are in this situation.

I do not get the NZ rugby approach. It seems to me that we should restructure the season. Begin with club rugby; move to NPC; select the best for a Super series; and then the best go onto the international season climaxing with a European tour. There can be some overlap for sure, but the graduated nature of the season beginning in March would give the year a great escalating sense.

Mid Feb-May: Club
April-Mid June: NPC
Mid June-Aug: Super Rugby
Sept-Nov: Test Rugby

Whatever system they use, surely they can start the big stuff later. Let cricket, softball and tennis have their days in the sun! Why compete with one another for the same crowds, same fields and same sun?

Oh well, as much as I tell myself I don't care, I do! I will be watching as much as I can and monitoring the results with interest. And of course only one result will make it all worthwhile; Richie holding up the cup in Paris!

Social Justice, Parachute and Politics

One of the interesting experiences of my holiday was hearing politicians debate social justice at the Parachute Music festival. I was struck by the way each politician took on an either/or mode of delivery. United Future were very much for the family. National was very much into personal responsibility and government enabling of individuals distributing social justice. The Greens were very into government intervention and as one would expect, brought everything back to the environment and the disadvantaged, powerless and marginalised. NZ First came across as nothing! I couldn't hear anything clear from their rep. Labour were 'more of the same' with the government in socialist style controlling society. It was eye-opening!

Yet surely the answer lies in all of these things; what makes the difference is where the emphasis must fall at any particular time. The central family unit must be the core of the nation and I am thrilled that there is one party who is taking that line. I wish one of the two major parties would move more in that direction although National are closer to this than Labour. Personal responsibility is critical for any society, and the role of government is a fine line between enabling this to occur without seeing people set free from all responsibility and promoting greed and between seeking to deal with social justice through the massive inefficient machinery of government. Yet, there is a need for creative government intervention to ensure that the marginalised and powerless are cared for and that greed does not see an ever widening gap between rich and poor. And of course the environment is critical; the calls are getting louder concerning the dangers of global warming whether the cause is human agency or merely the cycle of life; for me, it seems highly likely it is the former.

The solution is some measure of all of the above. So which of these need emphasis at this time? I would argue that we need to see a shift back toward personal responsibility, family and environment at this time. We need to see businesses encouraged through tax reform while retaining careful taxation to ensure that the marginalised and powerless are cared for. In terms of the environment and family, we have a problem. The Greens have cornered the market on environment and have aligned this with a leftist socialist concern for the marginalised and powerless. They also promote what many Christians consider 'anti-family' viewpoints, loosening the mores of family to include all manner of relationships and eroding the power of two heterosexuals raising a child in a balanced loving home (with involvement from the wider whanau). This means that the ecological concern is tied to what many would see as an 'anti-Christian' agenda where family is concerned. The problem for national is that to take up the ecological agenda will clash with its concern for economic development as without doubt the ecological issue will have economic repercussions.

This makes NZ politics very interesting. What is needed is a blend of concern for the generation of wealth (a little ACT, National), a strong concern for the family as the basis for society (United Future), a strong concern for the environment (some of the Green agenda) and ensuring that the basic needs of society are provided for those who are unable to care for themselves while ensuring a dependency underclass does not go without (a little Alliance, Labour, Greens). Then there is the Maori issue which is tied into the matters of social justice and the poverty (Maori Party). All in all, this is not an easy place to govern.

Add to the this the problem is that Labour and National are so similar in approach that it is amazing; national are a little more right wing; labour a little left; but in reality, both are terribly centrist.

So it comes down to a personality cult as there is not enough difference between the two main parties for the issue to be decided in terms of policy. My observation of Key is that National are in trouble; they have appointed a man who lacks charisma and is taking them too close to Labour adopting a centrist line. Brash for all his faults, had a strong profile and took National away from Labour and gave us a clear option. Could it be that Clark with overwhelm him as she has the other opponents and we have a fourth term of Labour. It is heading that way for me.