Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is it just me?

Time to off load a few things:
1. Is Melissa Lee the worst potential major party candidate in terms of foot in mouth disease that you have ever seen? She is astonishing. Her capacity to make a twit of herself leaves me breathless. Any chance national had in that seat have gone up with her hopes of being a long-term MP. Is it just me?
2. What is National doing appointing a woman to the Family's Commission who is on her fourth marriage and the last one shrouded in controversy. Can we separate personal and public lives like this? I don't like judgementalism and Christine Rankin may deserve a break, but surely! Is it just me, but this is a mess.
3. Is the failure of America to vote for Adam Lambert the biggest boil over in Reality TV history? To me it is. While I don't actually love his voice that much or get into his style which at times is OTT, he is by far the best singer to have ever performed on the show. America got this one wrong! Is it just me?
4. Can anyone stop the Bulls winning the Super 14? I can't see it. Is it just me, but aren't the Bulls are really good team. By the way, South Africa could be a massive threat in 2011.
5. Is T20 cricket actually going to become boring. Standing and slogging like that is rather too much. I prefer real cricket. I wonder if T20 will last long term. It is pop cricket without any long term satisfaction. Is it just me, or will people tire of this quickly?
6. I see why it is lethal for North Korea to have a nuclear bomb. I think it is disastrous for the world. But, how is it that US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel can all have them and they decide who else has them? I don't get it. They are thus the police for the world. Why not all get rid of them. Yeah right, no chance! It wouldn't work because in the vacuum would come the next nut job. Interesting. Is it just me, or is the world trapped between two problems; no one should have a nuclear weapon, and if anyone is going to have it, North Korea shouldn't. But on what basis and who decides?
7. What the heck is the Swine Flu thing all about? It is now being labelled a pandemic, yet it seems to be no worse than a normal flu. Is it just me, or has the Media become a terrorist organisation in the sense that, in their zeal to feed us information, they breed fear, with their doom and gloom predictions. I would have thought half of us would be dead if their initial response was accurate. They need to be a lot more sober and measured! Is it just me, or is it a storm in a tea cup?
8. When is it that we move from race based seats in NZ and let democracy take its course, with Maori no longer relying on the sympathy seat and getting there on merit. We had rather a vibrant debate at home last night over this. One daughter was vehemently in support, others were not so sure. When does favouring a race become a way for them to avoid getting in and winning on merit? When will we function as one nation with one set of rules for all. Or is that not possible. I do think we need to raise the oppressed but can this go on indefinitely. I don't have the answer and am torn on this one, but I do think the day must come. Is it just me, or is the time nearly here? Or is it another few years away.
9. Is the mainline church in NZ in huge trouble. Found out yesterday that 46% of NZ Pres churches have no youth! Far out! They have the odd child here and there tagging along with their parent/parents. But, they are in a hole. European NZers don't want to know. Is it just me?
10. Has winter started way early this year? For the last few years the cold stuff has hit in June, yet May has been freakishly cold. Is it just me?

That's enough. Is it just me?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is the Church that Bad 5

George, your comments on church seating arrangement has set me off on another tangent.

The early church started in the homes of people and they sat around in big lounges (atriums) and shared. In the old Roman houses there was also a central area for reclining around a table, this was probably where they broke bread eating meals and sharing the Lord's Supper. Initially I think they were like big home groups. 1 Cor 14:26 represents one example of this; a giant sharing time. We have to remember though that the reason that they did this was not so much choice, but because they were forced to through persecution. If they had been able to, they would have met in larger gatherings I am sure. So we have to be careful not to deify such gatherings as if they are the only way to do church. On the other hand, such church gatherings had strengths over ours. Two come to mind in particular. First, the whole body participated with the gifts more evenly (e.g. 1 Cor 14:26). Secondly, they could get a much richer sense of community.

Then after Constantine the cathedral and the big crowds and the priesthood took over. They gathered in large rectangular buildings in rows (pews) facing the front. The priest preached, led the communion, and they sang. In those days there was no instrumentation so even though there was a priest there, God was still very much the audience. With the advent of choirs and organs they were not on a podium facing the congregation, so this sense of God as audience remained. The preaching of the Word tended to be more like the sense of school, as the preacher expounded to the people, who listened.

Since the mid 20th century we have moved into the pop generation. Now the front of our churches is covered with musicians. It tends to feel on the one hand, like a rock concert, with the congregation as the audience listening to the band. This is tragic, because the audience for the worship is God! It is all about feel, beat and the latest song. The preaching of the Word is now difficult, I can say this from experience. On the one hand you are wanting to preach the Word in depth and really draw the people into it, yet they want to be entertained. We are in an age of instant gratification and hedonism. It is the age of the TV presenter who is dynamic and charismatic. So preachers are in a no win situation.

Churches have gravitated to this model because they have simply been forced to. Those that remained traditional in their worship and with solid preaching have had to shift models or die. Take the NZ pres church; those churches that moved with the shifts in music style and got really dynamic good preachers are the ones that are stronger today. The others are in big trouble with heaps of oldies, few kids and youth, cold empty buildings; or they are already closed.

The problem with the model though is that, like all 'pop culture', pop church is shallow and people move on. That is the nature of pop life, we move on as consumers looking for the next best thing. So in these churches, as worshipers mature, they find it is empty. Many intuitively feel that there is something missing and can't name it, and many move on. There is a distinct lack of community in many of these churches. The home group movement has helped alleviate this, but the very nature of the church structure mitigates community, particularly the larger churches.

The emerging church for me is a positive development. In some instances it is driven by a liberal agenda. In others however, it is motivated by a desire for deeper community so eating and sharing are encouraged. It seeks to make the proclamation of the Word more relational, interactive, rather than 'one man' (usually a man), preaching to the masses who are passive. In some cases it is very mission orientated, hoping to draw people into the community and taking church to the people.

The problem for a pastor in the main model we are locked in is, how to move the church on from it. You simply can't take a bunch of worshipers and overnight change their whole culture of worship, it won't work. You will tear the church apart (like wineskins). There are generational issues. I remember at one church we are at, Emma my wife, moved the big cumbersome lecturn off the stage of the church. One old guy flipped his lid. He couldn't handle it. He left the church. It led to a real set of problems. For him, it was sacred and church. Renewing a church is a long term project and takes real patience, love, gentleness and processing. It doesn't happen easily. Most church goers don't understand the nuances of mission and sociology. Please please please be fair to church leaders. They are trapped in a model and the getting out of it is very very difficult. I know one pastor right now who has completely fallen apart as he has smashed his head against a church that simply won't change. He is off to another church a bit of a broken man. Please realise that it is not easy.

Then we have people coming along, usually from an American mega-church telling us all how to run church. So the pastors read their stories and try to implement their ideas. Again, this works sometimes but not other times, because every situation is unique. It is hard going.

I think that we are in a time of transition. The old model will go on. Many will continue to do this and do it well. The challenge for them is to find ways to ensure there is participation, there is community and there is interaction with the Word. Pop churches are unavoidable for we are a pop culture. The challenge for them is to find good songs with good theology, deenthrone the band, preach in such a way that has depth but is not boring and bland, and to deepen fellowship and relationships. The old trad churches will either allow themselves to renewed or die. We are and will continue to see the development of new ways of church, in homes, with creative worship etc. (By the way, a note here. A lot of the ideals of worship expressed by emerging churchers are simply unattainable because of the work involved week by week, they are too resource and labour intensive. The church tends to gravitate to one style in any situation because it is impossible to maintain the resources to be dynamic and creative all the time!) The emerging church will continue to express itself. Hopefully then there will cross pollination. Change always brings resistance as well, so there will some good old scraps and arguments as people defend their narrow minded approaches! But hopefully, over time, a new way or ways of doing church will arise by the Spirit and we will again be able to reflect better the ideals of church in the Scriptures.

On the other hand, maybe not, because the church has never had it together has it? That is the point of my original blogs!

So what about us. We are the church so let's get in there and be the solution. Rather than put it down lets become constructive in connecting in with a local congregation and helping it on its journey in Christ; in building community, deepening worship, etc etc. Or perhaps we can't bring ourselves to do that; lets gather in new ways, trying new models of church in homes etc. And all the time, knowing that as we do, we delight God despite our failings. And as we do, let's continue to go out into the world and witnessing and then bringing them into the family of God. Let's renew our love for his people his church. Let's find a struggling pastor and help them. He/she might be suspicious of us for a while, but if we are committed over time, we will win their trust and be able to help them in the very very difficult task of bringing God's church into renewal. It always comes back to love to me. Love perserveres!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is the Church That Bad 4?

Just to hammer home my point, let's go further into NT churches. The Jerusalem church was pretty awesome in its first few years; huge numbers, growth, outpourings of the Spirit, evangelism, radical sharing of resources, worship daily, great teaching, prayer, focussed on the Triune God. They were full on for Jesus. For many of us, this is the 'NT church' we yearn for. I think God in his wisdom and providence gave us this church to give us a sense of hope for what the church could be. They got in a real bind a couple of times though. First, the distribution of food for the needy widows was favouring the Jewish Hebrew speaking widows over the Jewish Greek speaking widows. They got through that by appointing Hellenistic Jews and proselytes to leadership, a bold move. Then there was the circumcision controversy which rocked the church until they had the Jerusalem Council to sort it out (Acts 15). But it was not a bed of roses from there with Judaisers and pneumatics affecting the church (e.g. 2 Cor 10-11; Phil 3). But all in all, the Jerusalem Church was awesome. Saul put paid to a lot of its impact though in Acts 8.

The Antiochian church was pretty cool too (Acts 11, 13). Heaps of prophets and teachers, people including Gentiles coming to Christ, Paul and Barny giving them the word. Then they sent Paul and Barn out on the mission that changed the world. Rock and roll!

Most of the other churches kind of were off the wall in some way or another. The Galatian churches were nearly wrecked by Judaisers. The Colossian church was infected with a dreadul heresy which diminished Christ and was into a blend of Jewish legalism and philosophy and which saw Paul challenge them with the cosmic Christ who is utterly supreme and to live by the Spirit. Then there is the Ephesian church which started brilliantly (Acts 19) but which was ravaged by false teaching as Paul predicted (see Acts 20; 1-2 Timothy). The Cretan church was a mess which Titus was sent to fix. The Philippian church was a great church but they became divided (Phil 4:2-3) and Paul had to write to correct their false thinking, joylessness, loss of passion and division; and to warn them against false teachers. The Seven Churches of Revelation had all sorts of issues including lukewarmness and false teaching.

The point is, it has always been like this. It has never been this glorious place full of glorious people, unity, peace, spot on worship, brilliant teaching, every one out preaching the gospel, pastoral care flowing, prayer meetings overflowing etc. There have been golden ages and then tough times. Even in the NT we see this with the Ephesus church which started so brilliantly and then was deeply troubled by false teachers.

I think we have to get real. Let's keep the ideal as high as it should be but lower our expectations. The church is made up of sinners, of leaders who wouldn't make it in the world in many cases. It always gets locked in patterns and structures that need renovating. God will get us there by his Spirit. It doesn't help when the flock just rocks on off.

I really struggle to accept believers who say that they have given up on 'church'. In Auckland there are literally hundreds, perhaps 1000's of churches. There are house churches, mega churches, mainline churches, liberal churches, conservative churches, pentecostal churches, all sorts of denominations, ethnic churches, emerging churches etc. Are you telling me that there is no church out there for you?

If we claim that there is not, then I wonder where the problem truly lies. Could it be that rampant individualism, the idolatry of 'me', consumerism and 'freedom' has got out of hand? We treat God's church as a place to meet our needs, to pop in and out of at our leisure. We critique and do not participate yearning for perfection. If so, we will never find it.

To me it not about any of that. It is about honouring God by gathering to worship, fellowship, and witness. It is about seeking to become more than we are. Yes, the church needs a kick up the butt at times. Leaders need sorting etc. But, in the meantime we are called to be the ones who work from the inside out to change it, not to stand on the outside and rail against it. True prophets speak from within the people of God, identifying with God's people, bringing his word to it, but standing within it.

One more thought. Yes, we are facing a crisis in what the church should look like and be. In many churches our worship is pallid, the preaching is shallow, the worship struggling and light weight, the witness lacking. Yes, many of us sense that there is more. But, no one has found the solution to this in the west. Some think it is the mega church, others the house church, some the emerging church. We are in a complex age facing post modernism with all its complexities. We need to find the answer. The answer will be found by those who commit to it, work in it, pray and seek the way ahead. Jesus who builds his church will respond, he will lead us by his Spirit to renewal as he has done through the early church, christendom, reformation and on. It will be those who do not give up who find the way ahead. In the meantime, let's show the church, her leaders, and her people the grace we long for ourselves.

Enough... I must go to the gym and knock off some lard.

Eirene and Charis

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Is the Church that Bad 3?

Great conversations are now being had. George you said 'you know it really bugs me how hard it is to find a church whose doors are open during the week when you might want to spend a quiet moment.' On the one hand I agree, it would be nice to find one. I am sure there are churches (often Anglican and Catholic) that open in this way. However, I know from experience that I have been in churches with open door policies and they simply had to close the doors for two reasons. One is that people came in and stole stuff! Second, because that meant we needed the church 'manned' (or womanned') at all times! There was no one to do this. So it fell down.

On the other hand I question the theology of church implied in the comment. What is the church? It is not a place? It is not about geography. Church is the gathering of people in the name of Christ. Jesus said something about 'where two or three are gathered.' As such, what does i mean to find a church open. If we go with Hebrews, church is entry into the heavenly sanctuary to meet with the high priest Jesus. It is always open. The temple curtain is torn. We can enter at our leisure. God's church is 'open all hours.' Another thing to say here is that, if geography is important, the whole earth is the temple of God. 'The earth is the Lord's and everything in it.' So, church is open in God's temple.

But I hear you. Sacred spaces are special. There are chapels at places like retreat centres which we can sit in.

You also say 'I actually am starting to think based on many of your comments in the last 2 posts on this subject that the church you/I should attend is not the one with the flashest set up, but the one that you/I can walk to (as long as it is not totally opposed 'belief' wise) and my logic for this is that it is the place you are most likely to find yourself amonst your neighbours and that seems a place that would be pleasing to God?

Here I think I agree with you. I would not push that too dogmatically as often people have good reasons for driving past 18 churches to get to one. However, I think the idea of church, life and community should come together ideally. That is, ideally, we would work near home, send our kids to the local schools, shop in the local shops, go to the local church and reverse the fragmentation of community that is threatending to destroy our lives. Much of western fragmentation is linked to this community fragmentation. Ecological problems are linked to us travelling all over he place in our cars. This would be reduced. Community life does not exist in our suburbs. This would enhance it. Churches are more gatherings of individuals and this would be alleviated if we lived near each other and had lives together outside of Sunday. Mission becomes highly complex as we work in one suburb, our kids are in another suburb (or 3), our sport is played all over the place etc etc. We have no decent connections which can become opportunities. We are all acquaintances whose lives never truly connect. Living and working in a community could change that. So, yes to me, if you can, go to a church near home and work and build community. God wants the world transformed, so why not become a builder of community in our local setting?

There are terrible negatives around us all going to big churches. One is that they focus the resources of God in one place so that it is over-resourced while the churches in the suburbs which might be half empty, but with people who have to come to under resourced churches and they struggle. These big churches in the condensation of resources inadvertently kill off others. An off shoot of this is that those saints who can't travel to the big churches and like to walk or get picked up for the closer churches are left high and dry. Another is that these churches tend to have little community and thus we perpectuate the community fragmentation of the world in them. Another is that they are expensive to run and so they become money orientated. Another is that there is little room for service in these churches for all but the most excellent. So, the people of God do not express themselves as they could in a smaller church.

Now this is hopeless idealism isn't it. Yet then again, is it?

Alistair I think your question relates to how we treat leaders who are not doing the business. You ask 'do we love them?' The answer in Christ is a resounding YES! Even if they are enemies, we love them (Lk 6). When it comes to their teachings, we must be very careful here. Where there is true heresy, then we need to question and challenge. Some churches have no lines for such challenge and then we have to make the call as to how far we push. I would see the person personally and speak to them about it. I would send a letter to the elders of the church about it. But I would do so as a last resort. The first real question is, are they teaching heresy, or are they imbalanced? For example, prosperity teaching is flawed, but in my view it does not fall into the category of preaching that Jesus is not Lord, that he did not rise from the dead, denying the Trinity etc. These are 'heresies.' Prosperity teaching is not completely wrong. The Scriptures tell us God will bless giving. It is the way it is applied that is wrong. It is also wrong because it it an imbalanced eschatology. Much of the reward promised in Scripture will not be experienced in this age, or at least in this age it will be partial. The emphasis in the NT is sacrifice and service now for eternal reward. It is an 'over-realised eschatology.' To me it is imbalance not heresy except perhaps in its most extreme forms.

On the issue of sitting under their teaching, I sit only under Christ's teaching. Preachers and teachers (me included) are merely conduits for God's word. I can sit under the teaching of someone who does not agree with me at every point, as long as they are not preachign heretical stuff, and receive from God his word. I test everything (1 Thess 5). I don't then condemn them because they disagree with me. Who am I to stand in judgement over the Lord's servant? I am responsible in Jude 20 for my own faith, no teacher or preacher is. So, I listen to a sermon to hear God through it and he speaks.

If we decide we are going to bail from this church or that because we disagree, we will be on the move for our whole Christian lives and never find a church. We do not follow Paul, Cephas, Apollos; we follow Christ! He is our Lord. We expect too much of preachers and teachers to have everything right and to live our lives dependent on them. They will let us down! They are humans, as flawed as we are.

You ask about leaving churches. I have only ever left a church because of the guidance of God to move away for training or another call. I have never left a church for any other reason. In one church, I wanted to stay on and lead the church, they did not want me to, I sought the Lord and he directed me to another church.

The church is the Temple of the Spirit which means it is a group of believers called by God togeter. We should go where we are called by the sense of God and stay there until called out. I know many great saints who remain in churches led by liberal ministers for that reason. They refuse to leave because they feel God calls them to and they remain. They are committed to the church and know that it is God's people and that it is imperfect. That is the point of my first blog on this track. It has always been great and bad at the same time. At times a church has a great period. Yet even in that time, there will be flaws. At times a church will struggle and even fall to pieces. Yet they are still a church of God. There is a time when he will remove the lampstand, but I believe God fights for his church.

On your friend, it sounds like a good approach. However, it depends on what the issue was. You see, one of the problems of the church today is discerning what is core and central as opposed to what is peripheral. For example, the resurrection of Jesus is central. I would leave a church where, after speaking to the person, writing to the elders and even the Presbytery or Bishop if the church has that structure, and they did not back down on this issue. On the other hand, if it was speaking in tongues, baptism, women in ministry, how the world was made, what hell is like, what happens when we die, etc etc, I would not leave on the basis of this. That being said, we have to live by our conscience (1 Cor 14-15) so do it. But, if you leave, go somewhere else, even if it is a home church. Gather with God's people for this delights the heart of God. Just don't give up on the bride! And, don't live in negative critique always hammering the church, generalising about it, running it down... there are many great churches with great people doing their very best. That is the point, I have never been in a church where the leaders are not doing their very best. Whatever you do, do it with love and grace. As Paul says in 1 Cor 16 in the midst of the Corinthian disaster, 'do everything out of love!' So, there is a time to leave but I would leave over doctrine in an extreme case. Otherwise, I would allow the Lord to lead me. Leaving a church is not a sin, but I would do so only when I really knew it was God.

All in all, I think we need to go to a local church and we should go to serve and not be served. We go not to critique but to connect. We go to worship God not stand in judgement over his servant. We go to build and not tear down. We go not to be babies fed on milk, but making every effort to add to our faith goodness (etc 2 Pet 1) and be proactive change agents. Even if we just run a home group, play a guitar, serve the coffee, we go to serve. We are to take up our towels and crosses within the church and not just outside it.

Will it be easy? Nothing in Scripture tells me it is easy. But if we realise what the church is, that it will always be flawed, and do not have a false ideal for it, it will be great. And then we as the bride of Christ, will be presented flawless before God.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Is the Church That Bad 2?

I see there are a few responses to my blog the other day. Thanks to you all.

One of you said,'Yes there is a lot of criticism of the church, and perhaps that is bad, as it is easy to get hurt,cynical and overly critical. However I think that we also need as communities to be open to change and can't just accept the status quo as the only way to be. Many of us church drop outs have found that there is no place for challenge in the church, and no modelling of how to be a prophetic and helpful voice in bringing about change.'

I am interested in this quote of the notion of 'church drop out.' I accept that there are many who for good reason, walk away from a church. Churches are full of the imperfect, including leaders who fall short of the ideals the Scriptures give us of church leadership. However, I simply have never heard of the category in biblical and Christian thought of church 'drop out' in the sense of leaving behind all the church i.e. a post-church Christian. 'Church drop out' effectively means dropping out of the body of Christ, dropping out of the temple of the Spirit, dropping out of the people of God. To me, the concept represents our individualism whereby we narrow the faith down to 'me' and no 'us' (see my earlier posts on this). There is no such category.

Conversion in the NT involved integration into the people of God. We are baptised into his body and the thought of us amputating ourselves puts us in a very interesting situation. We have a very flawed ecclesiology and theology if we think we should or can. Not that I am saying we are not Christian, but we are in a state outside of the ideal of the Lord of the church (Col 1:15-20).

Now, if we have dropped out of a church but have found a new way to creatively fellowship with other believers, then that is a different matter. Churches are not places but people who gather and in-so-doing become what they are. Go for it I say. Find new ways of doing Church. God knows we need it! Our current model is not perfect and there are many failings and flaws in it. However, for me 'dropping out of church' and remaining a Christian is oxymoronic. Technically in theological terms we can still be part of Christ in that state, but everything I have ever read in the NT tells me that it is not God's ideal. We are not living as Christ would want us to if we are living our Christian life alone and without the fellowship of his church.

I am also interested in the statement that there is 'no place for challenge in the church, and no modelling of how to be a prophetic and helpful voice in bringing about change.' Isn't church about all coming together and 'being' church. There is place for challenge in every church, write to the elders, use Mt 18 processes. That doesn't mean it will go well for us as we do. That doesn't mean we will get our way. Often we won't. And God forbid I always get my way!
As I read Christ and Paul, they did not get their own way but they model a commitment to live the faith at all costs. They encouraged and challenged. But, they would rather have died than walk away from the people of God. Actually they both did. That is what Christianity is all about, challenging and paying the cost.
Perhaps it is just me but I have never let anyone or any institution stop me living my faith as I feel led and challenging when I want to. But I have found that there is always good in the churches I have been in. There is always something to learn in a sermon. Worship gets tired and shallow, yet I delight in refusing to be drawn aside by this from entering into deep intimate relationship with God with all my being. After all, that is the greatest commandment.
There are always wonderful saints who are doing their best for God and the King. I have been in churches that look dead in the water, 30 people rattling around in a brick fridge. But as I have engaged them humbly, I have always found deep faith within them. I am truly humbled. Dare I say it, but is it not arrogant to write off all the church as we do in our critical moments? I have always found that I can challenge within a framework of encouragement, and as I do, my voice is heard, because it honours the recipient. It is funny how people are open to being gently challenged when trust is won.
But, going back to my previous post, is church that bad really that it needs this rebuke? Sure it always needs to change, but really.... the Corinthian church is far worse than any church I have been a part of.
I think when we critique the contemporary church we fail to realise that the church from its inception, has been flawed. It is made up of sinners. It will never be the heaven on earth ideal we wish for. It is our job to be church transformers, but the process will be long and slow. And we are often as much the problem as the person sitting beside us we critique.
For me, beware of docetism. Docetism says Christ is divine and not human. The same problem manifests when we read the Scriptures as 'God's word' and forget it is also a human book as well, the divine clothed in the human. We do this with the church. We simply expect too much from it. Study Church History more; at times it has been appalling!
I have been done over in 2 churches and know that in the echelons of the national church I now frequent, that it is deeply flawed and in many ways far short of the ideals of the gospel. But give up on it? Drop out? Walk away? Well for me, I can't! I am a part of it. When I do I tear it apart yet further. No, I will join Christ who says, 'I will build my church.'
So come on western individualists, get real! It is not that bad! It is Christ's bride, warts and all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

World Youth Athletic Champs

Check this out from the IAAF website... http://www.iaaf.org/WYC09/news/newsid=50182.html. Note the bit about Esther Keown... she is one to watch... but I am biased. You go girl!

Is the church that bad?

I hear a lot of criticism of the NZ church. I myself give some of it? Too much consumerism, no community, money money money, rubbish pop preaching, shallow repetitive me centred worship, bums on seats is what matters... and so on. Some say, 'we need to get back to the NT church.' I have one for us to get back to, the Corinthians! Check them out. Obsessed with status, divided, esteeming leaders and putting others down, harshly critical of their founder Paul, sexually immoral with one man having it off with his father-in-law's wife and others hanging with prostitutes, taking each other to court, some men opting out of sexual relationships with their wives to be more spiritual, going to idol feasts in the pagan temples, women coming to worship dressed as hookers, divided at the Lord's Supper with some (probably the wealthy and those of status) eating ahead of the others (prob. the poor) and so divided at the meal that unites, obsessed with tongues at the expense of the greater gifts, looking down on some gifts and elevating others, chaotic extreme worship with uncontrolled prophetic and tongues oracles blurted out, women out of control in the services, no belief in the bodily resurrection from the dead while still trying to maintain faith in Christ's resurrection... Now that's a NT church. Let's all go back there.

Check out Paul's response. It is not to say, stop going, opt out. It is not to tell them that they are a bunch of heretics and cast them aside... no he keeps calling them 'brothers (and sisters)', he urges them on in love, he challenges them to rediscover the pattern of the cross and reject division and heirarchy, to deal with their issues not in court but in the body. He does command them to remove the sexually immoral man but all in all, he urges and does not reject them.

The point is that the church has always been flawed. Right from its inception (here in Greece), the church has struggled. Why? Because it is not a divine organisation. We have a docetic (divinise the church) expectation of the church and forget its humanity. It is made up of people like me, sinners, who are at various stages of organisation. It is not a professional environment, a business. It is a gathering of sinners at various stages of growth in the Spirit. Why do we think it will so perfect? I think the church will always be flawed and weak and fail. Yet in it, God's light shines. Note that Paul does not deny the brilliance of the Corinthians; even in his thanksgiving in Ch1 he tells them that they are supremely gifted. But he corrects them, hoping not to use the rod, and to do so in love.

We need to wake up and realise that the church will never be heaven on earth. We yearn for it. We have a hope for a utopian ideal and the church always falls short. It will never meet every need. It will never meet every age. It will never meet every culture, perspective and be perfect. It is not a supermarket for spiritual health which we can discard and just leave.

No, it is a bride of Christ, and he is happy to married to someone who is not perfect but is highly blemished. Yet he laid down his life for us and will present us to God perfect and flawless (check out Eph 5). In its unity around Christ and its diversity in so many ways, it represents God in the world. Its flaws should delight us, because it means we can fit in. We cannot perfect it, God will do that. In fact, the more successful we are at mission, the more dishevilled the church will become as all sorts of people come into it with all their pasts, problems and hassles. Yet, these same people will be connected to the world's deepest needs. Beware those who seek to perfect it too much.

Check out the Corinthians in 1 Cor 1:26; 6:10-11; 7:17-24... they were ex-hookers, homosexuals, robbers, slaves; few from the senatorial and equestrian classes. There were a few well to do dudes like Erastus and Chloe etc. Yet, they were in the main, a bunch of nobodies. Kind of the like the 12 that Jesus selected to work with him. Kind of like me, an ex-drunken idiot who chased women, smoked the week, sought glory from sport and humour, and was generally a Richard Cranium... in fact described by my old English teacher as the most arrogant student he ever taught... guilty as charged! Forgive me Lord and bless him!

Anywhat, what is our problem? In 2 Corinthians Paul is humiliated on a visit to this church! Yet, I never see Paul give up on them. I never see him question their existence or want out. He experienced daily pressure for the church (2 Cor 11; 1 Cor 15), yet he saw that as his calling. Let's get real about the church, about worship, about pastors, about our old hurts... we have all seen bad examples. Yet Jesus said, 'I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.' Will we be on his side of the hell side? Finally, remember 1 Cor 3:17... 'whoever destroys (or corrupts) God's church, I will destroy him!' This is after Paul's challenge to the Corinthian elitism! Let's be constructive. Let's realise that all those churches full of old dears, or out of control young crazies, are God's churches and he loves them. I will not give up on the church. They will carry me out in a box before I do...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cricketers, IPL, Money and Country

A recent survey of 86 NZ cricketers has brought out some interesting stats. 45% consider securing a contract in the Indian Premier T20 league as the highest achievement in the sport, above playing for their nation. 61% said that if they had their time again, they would have developed their careers in the direction of T20 for the purpose of making the big bucks in the lucrative tournaments. The result surprised Heath Mills, who organised the survey. Playing for NZ was still important to many (77%). But most of them see playing for NZ as important so as to win a contract to the big bucks.

I am not sure why Heath Mills is surprised. I thought there might be even more who felt this way about T20. For me test cricket is the ultimate test of the game, but T20 is very attractive. It is a great game. It is fast, challenging and in your face. If you make it to the Indian league, you are a star, as close to a rock star as you can be as a cricketer. Test cricket is gruelling, tough on the body. It lacks the flair and attraction. And then there is the money!

There is so much money available in this league. Aside from those who place loyalty to country above money, and have old fashioned values of loyalty and patriotism, anyone would want the bucks. It is a money driven world. The dogma of the dollar looms. There is esteem and no doubt many young women who want the pleasure of your company if you get into this world. If you are not prone to taking up these offers, there is the security for family that comes from the money.

It all speaks of a fallen world and society. We are driven by greed and the pursuit of happiness and pleasure as number one priorities. As we as a nation abandon Judeo-Christian values, we are naturally resorting more and more in each successive generation to the values of our Greco-Roman past. Money, status, rank, power, sex; this is provided through this T20 league.

Cricket will never be the same. It is now fully professionalised and T20 is in control. Worse, our western civilisation is moving further and further towards its own demise and its eclipse by other nations. Nations like India and China are becoming increasingly powerful. We live in a changing world, and in NZ a changing nation. It is a huge challenge.

For us, let's not be seduced from the values of the Christian faith that we know are truth in a deceitful world. It is not about esteem, money, sexual licentiousness, personal glory, selfish ambition. It is about love, service, sacrifice, loyalty and humility. It is not about taking the biggest cheque on offer, but about honouring the call of Christ to take up our crosses and walk his journey of sacrifice, suffering and even death for the King and the Kingdom. It is about communities of faith not based on glamour, status, perfection, performance and a great show, but of deep love, service and community. Let's not do T20 church, but test church that shows the world that there is another way.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

He and we

Been thinking some more. I think from God's point of view it is all about us and me. He looks upon us his created people and yearns for us. He desires with all his eternal and omnipotent being to pour out on us blessing, to see us become who we were created to be, to walk in relationship with us. He longs to chat to us, to hear our voice, to hang out with us. He wants us to know unity as he knows unity within himself as Father, Son and Spirit. He has chosen even though he is utterly self-sufficient to create us that he and we in all our me's to be together with him. Nothing seems to thrill him more than us drawing near to him for a chat, to hang, to be with him. He awaits our call, he loves to be with us.

From our point of the view however, the right response is to make his glory the goal of our existence. It is all about God and him. The right response is worship of him and love for him. That is the greatest command; to love him with everything we have got. 'To the praise and glory of God' is the goal. So, it is more about he than we. He is to be the object of our delight. We are to seek to emulate him above all else in our relationships. He is to be glorified in our attitudes, words and deeds.

But we can't go as far as 'He not we.' 'Not' does not work. Why? Because 'He' is delighted when we are 'we'. He yearns for our unity. He longs for us to empty ourselves of selfish ambition, vain conceit, rivalry etc, and to emulate his love, compassion, affection, mercy in service to be one as he is One. The second commandment is to love one another, and to do so is effectively to love him, for we bear his image. He is thrilled to the heart when we love one another. It is an act of worship to love and serve.

Of course this whole blog begs the question, 'he'? I always have a theological and philosophical dilemma using 'he'. It is patently obvious if we as male and female both reflect God's image, then God is not 'he.' 'He' is she as much as he. So perhaps it is 'he/she' or S...HE.

Still, let's not let that distract us from the point today. It is about God's glory! The priority is not 'we' but 'He.' The path to placing 'He' first includes 'we and not me.' This leads me to laugh... hehehehe... enough!

The upshot is, may He be glorified in my life. May he be magnified in the church!