Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik: Some Thoughts

My first response to the massacre in Norway is grief and sorrow. My heart goes out to the survivors, to the families of those killed, and to the nation. I have no comprehension of what it must be like to be one of those people and to have lived through this. I pray that somehow those deeply wounded by this can find it in their hearts to forgive and go on, I'm not sure I could.

It seems that Anders Breivik, baptised at 15, claims to be a Christian of sorts, and whether he is one or not (it is disputed), as a Christian myself, I want to disassociate myself from everything he stands for. What he has done is repugnant and a complete reversal and corruption what Jesus came to do on planet earth. Jesus came in non-violence to bring peace, to show that the path of God's Kingdom is non-violence, urging his followers to turn the other cheek. Sadly, too many of his followers have not heard this and since the adoption of Christianity as the 'state-religion' of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century, have been engaged in violence whether State sponsored or otherwise. This act is a violation of everything Christ came to do – it is evil. I would ask that people who see this not to judge Jesus, Christianity and Christians on the basis of what he has done. I would say that we should also not blame Norwegians or Freemasons (he claimed to be one). He was clearly deeply troubled, calling for a revolution led by the Knight's Templar, a Medieval military group who wore white mantles with red crosses who were involved in the Crusades! 

My grief is compounded by more than a nagging feeling that this is not the last of such events from so-called Christians and other right wing extremists. The rapid growth of Islam in Western Europe and other European nations, the continuing problem of a small number of extremist Muslim acts of terrorism, and out-of-proportion Islamophobia will no doubt lead others to join Breivik's crusade.  God help the world if any of these sort of people get near power, we never want to see the likes of Hitler again (of course we have in other nations of the world and no doubt will again).

Breivik represents one of the differing responses to Islamization of Norway and Europe. He sees himself inaugurating a crusade against Islam and left-wing liberal ideology which he believes is corrupting his nation and Europe. His hope is that others will join him in his crusade. His approach is utilitarian, genuinely believing that the deaths of those he killed is justified for the greater good. The sad thing is that there will be others who will act in the same way. He will inspire others to attempt the same. His patient preparation and inability of the authorities to stop him is a warning to other nations, the threat is not merely from some Muslim extremists, but from so-called 'Christian' fundamentalists. We who are Christian need to stand up and shout loudly against such actions supposedly in the name of Christ. Christ would completely and utterly renounce him and his views, and so do I.

The answer we find in the New Testament is not such attitudes or acts. It is to reach out to others in love and reconciliation. It is not to live out of fear and judgmentalism, but in freedom and grace. While living among people of other cultures is a challenge to all of us in our limited cultural worlds, the gospel calls for unity at the cross. And where others do not live out of the cross, but adopt false ways of living including violence as in extreme Islam, ours is not to respond in kind, but to follow Jesus' way and pray for our persecutors and bless them, to heap coals on their heads by living of out of love. It is a much harder path than the path of revenge and meeting kind with kind. But Jesus came to end an 'eye for an eye', hard though it always is. Indeed, it is as we respond out of grace, mercy and love that they will see that we are Christ's disciples (John 13:34-35).

The shift in the cultural make up of the west is inevitable in a world where European birth rates are in decline and the world is increasingly 'coloured' and culturally diverse. We have to remember that colour is only skin deep, and underneath every one of us is equal, an image bearer, granted freedom and volition to live out our humanity in different cultures. Sure, we need to expect immigrants to live by the laws of our land, based on rights, responsibilities, respect and dignity. But what people wear, what they eat, the colour of their skin, the languages they speak, their cultural expressions, are all to be celebrated rather than feared. After all, eternity will be made up with people from every nation joined in Christ as one. The first Christians stood against the demarcation Gentile-Jew, and so must we stand against that of Arab-European/Indian-European/etc etc. There is no room for cultural supremacy in the Kingdom of God.

I have heard a number of people critique moderate Islamists for not speaking up loudly against Muslim extremists. Here is our chance to speak loudly against one who shows any inclination to suggest that Christianity should be associated with something like this. Please join me in making sure that people hear loud and clear that this is not what we are about.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jesus the Cold Case: A Response


This morning I watched 'Jesus the Cold Case' which aired on TV One last night. The program involved Bryan Bruce exploring the question of who killed Jesus and why? The agenda was to challenge the idea that the Jews were behind the killing of Jesus as this has led to blaming Jews for his death, to anti-Semitism and to horrors such as the Holocaust. Here are some thoughts in response.

Positively, the program did unmask a whole range of Christian traditions that have accumulated over time such as Jesus looking like a western man with long hair, when in fact he was a short man, with rounded face, cropped hair and tanned skin. It showed how many of the supposed sites in Israel where Jesus supposedly did this and that and upon which churches are now found are likely bogus. I like some of the drawing out of the political implications of Jesus, with Jerusalem a tinder box and Jesus killed by the Romans in the end for being a political danger. I like the recognition that his actions in the temple were decisive for his death. It also rightly brought to the fore that to whatever extent some Jews played a part in Jesus' death, Pilate and the Romans did the deed. He was sentenced by Pilate, and was crucified by Roman soldiers. It also rightly challenged anti-Semitism and the Holocaust – like all racism and atrocities against humanity, these are abhorrent, repugnant and to be rejected out of hand.

With all that in mind, as a NT biblical scholar and a part of the academy Bryan Bruce drew on for the program, the whole thing was unbelievably poorly conceived and put together, it was subjective and imbalanced in the extreme. If this reflects on the quality of Bryan Bruce's work in other 'cold-cases', I would suggest that he has little if anything to offer.

Why do I make this claim? Here are the reasons.

1. Imbalance
Through the program Bryan Bruce drew on a range of scholars like NZ's own Lloyd Gering, Bishop Spong, Dominic Crossan and others. Without exception, the scholars drawn on are a particular breed of liberals (e.g. Jesus Seminar) with a particular viewpoint and agenda i.e. they reject the Scriptures and revision them radically reinterpreting Christianity through a liberal sceptical lens. They pick and choose which bits of the Bible they prefer, rejecting others. Now, unbeknown to Bruce and many others, there are a vast array of biblical scholars and theologians out there who find their views incorrect at many levels. Some names that did not feature in this are N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Craig Blomberg, Don Carson and Richard Bauckham, among many others. Most if not all the things discussed in the program have been discussed in biblical scholarship. Through the program we hear 'most/some/all biblical scholars' again and again – let the reader know, his confidence is misplaced and arrogant. He does not have any idea what 'most, some and all' biblical scholars think, he has not done his homework. It is absolutely unacceptable to present such a biased perspective when there is mountains of scholarship that can be brought alongside what he put together to critique it.

2. Bias
This imbalance leads to biased perspectives. For example, he draws on one or two scholars who argue that John the Baptist did not die as the Gospels say. They suggest John did not die for challenging Herod's adultery, but for political reasons. Perhaps there were political reasons lurking in his death, but there is simply no evidence to back it up except the opinion of a couple of radical thinkers. This would not hold up in any court! There is the view that Pilate could not have given the crowds an alternative at the Passover to choose Barabbas or Jesus. Why? There is no evidence of such a possible decree and it is inconsistent with the picture of Pilate in Josephus etc. There is the view that when Jesus cleared the temple it was insignificant, that he did not come into Israel on an ass but walked in. All such things, and there were many others we could pick apart one by one, are mere conjecture and opinion based on absolutely no evidence – just machinations of some scholar's minds. This is inadequate. Take the authorship and dating of the gospels for example. He dates Matthew and Luke in the 75-80 region, and John in the 90-100's. He states none were written by apostles. While many would agree, many would not. Many date Luke at the point Luke's work in his second volume Acts ends, AD 61-62. Many believe Matthew the apostle wrote Matthew and John wrote John. The early church from the early second century at least, holds that Peter was instrumental to Mark's Gospel. Luke writes plainly that he drew on eye-witness testimony to write his gospel. Many scholars believe that Luke was an excellent first century historian, with almost all geographical, political, historical and other references easily cross-referenced to secular literature. He says things like, Jesus never had a tomb or used Joseph of Arimathea. Who says? On what basis? It is simply speculation. He argues that Jesus was likely crucified on an olive tree in seclusion, and his body disposed of. As Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura would say, 'Reheally!' Why not argue that Martians took the body after he was crucified upside down in a latrine? There is no basis for such claims. On the other hand we have four Gospels each saying much the same things, but with differences one might expect from genuine accounts based on recollection. It seems a big deal to the makers that the Gospels were 30+ years after the event. Interview someone who was involved in Watergate in the early 1970's or the American Space program, and see if their recollections are accurate. You will find that they are if not perfect. The program was arrogant, it is as if these views do not exist. Sure, we can't be certain of any of these thing, but strong cases can be made.  This was not well balanced forensics, it is bringing an a priori viewpoint to something, and then seeking to prove it.

3. Inconsistency
It is amazing how Bruce at time accepts what the bible says but at other times doesn't. Surprisingly he does not question Jesus as a miracle worker, one would have thought he would. Those in the know recognise why he doesn't, all sources for Jesus accept him as a miracle worker. He accepts that Mark wrote Mark on the basis of the ascription, but rejects that John and Matthew wrote their gospels, yet they have an ascription likely written at the same times when the four gospels was becoming a collection for circulation. Hengel would say in the early 2nd century this happened. Bruce notes that aside from the Gospel writers, we have no other witnesses to draw on to check their work. That argument cuts both ways. If we use its logic, we have nothing to critique the gospels on at all, and so we should take them as read and decide what to do with them. Yet he does a remarkable job tearing them down with nothing. All he really has is some radical scholars opinions and his own weakly researched one. Another inconsistency is to prefer Paul's letters because of their early dating (which he gets wrong saying 50-55, when Spong rightly in the same program says 50-64 – I would say 48-64/66). He rejects the idea that Jews were ascribed the blame in the NT for killing Jesus, yet Paul in 1 Thess 2:13-16 directly attributes the killing of Jesus to the Jews. Of course, as you can imagine, a whole range of scholars consider this an interpolation – yet, using the art of Textual Evidence as practised by the serious, there is NO evidence that it is an interpolation except scholars being uncomfortable over the so-called anti-Semitism in this text. Remember Paul is a Jew writing this, hardly anti-Semitism, just a Jew critiquing his own country-men. He quotes Joseph Zias and 'expert on crucifixion' who says there are many ways to crucify in the ancient world, but then surmises Jesus must have been crucified in any way other than the one recorded. But, if there are many ways for the Romans to crucify someone, why not the way we read in the Gospels?

4. Assumptions
He makes assumptions like 'Jesus of Nazareth' must mean that Jesus was from Nazareth and not Bethlehem, so the idea he is from Bethlehem is a construct. Yet Matthew explains this, Joseph took Jesus away from Bethlehem when his life was threatened, and then left for Nazareth via Egypt. It says in Luke and Matthew that he grew up in Nazareth. As such, when emerged on the scene, he was to all intents and purposes 'a Nazarene.' Why assume this is incorrect? Bizarre. Pure speculation. Then there is the way he deals with Joseph, Jesus' father. He thinks Joseph never existed. Yet he refers regularly to Jesus' father, a carpenter. Why not Joseph? In Mark 6 there is mention of Jesus' brothers, one being Joseph? Perhaps he was named after his dad? There are sisters? Can't for the life of me work out why he wastes his time speculating and assuming such things? Another assumption is that Herod did not kill the babies in Bethlehem on two grounds, one is that he wouldn't have bothered as his control was unquestioned; secondly, that it is not mentioned in secular sources. Well, neither argument is compelling. Herod was despised by his own people as a non-Jew and sell-out to Rome. He was likely paranoid. In the ancient world, there is nothing more dangerous than someone people think is king, and the best thing to do is wipe that kid out early to remove any threat. Further, the absence of reference to it in secular sources proves nothing. Why would one small massacre in a small non-descript town (note he admits through the program that Bethlehem was tiny, a few hundred people) in the backblocks of a tiny nation Israel, get into the writings of historians? Note how he deals with the raising of Lazarus. He discusses the 'saved by the bell' tradition and then simply decides that the Lazarus account never happened. Whether it did or not cannot be decided on the whim of some dude without anything. Man this guy annoys me – how dare he call himself a forensic scientist. He is an embarrassment. There is also the statement that Palm Sunday never happened, this despite scholars he quoted believing that it did. Whatever. There is the idea that Jesus when he went into the temple and courts to clear it and debate, that 'he expected to get away with it.' Come on. The Synoptics are shaped around three passion predictions in which Jesus clearly stated that he would suffer and die (Mark 8:31; 9:30; 10:32). There is Mark 10:52-45 where Jesus speaks of his ministry as patterned after the servant who dies for the nation, and as a 'ransom for many.' There is the garden scene in Gethsemane whereby he pleads with God for deliverance from his cup of suffering – the cross (Mark 14:32-42). These and other references to his forthcoming death all suggest he had no expectation of getting away with it, but expected to die. Sure, we can write these things off, but it is selective reading, choosing the bits we want, with no real basis other than the agenda.

5. Confusion over Christian History
One of the problems in the presentation is the way in which later Christian history is fused into his rejection of the bible. So for example, the date of Jesus' birth. Jesus can't have been born as per the Gospels because he was born before 4 BC under Herod the Great. Now, the current calendar was put together centuries later by people who did not know this. We have known this for years. It proves nothing about the factuality of the narrative, because no date is given in the narratives at all! Look at any bible dictionary, encyclopedia, commentary and they will say Jesus was likely born between 8BC and 4BC, not sure what it proves. I have mentioned Jesus' looks above. Biblical scholars for years have critiqued western art and its depiction of Jesus and the Last Supper etc. Again, one can believe everything in Scripture and be unaffected by later Church tradition. We know that the stories of Jesus we embellished over time, and in the period of relics and indulgences, badly distorted. Holy sites are almost all questionable. None of this says anything about the Scriptures. Irenaeus and others in the mid to late second century accepted four gospels rejecting the others, they were set well before these corruptions of the Christian story began to fully proliferate. There is a real misunderstanding of Christian history. Further, there is reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls as a cave full of 'biblical documents'. That is nonsense. It was full of OT and other Jewish documents, there is nothing from the NT in the documents. Aside from radical speculation without a hint of scholarship, there is no evidence established of a link between Christianity, the NT, and the Essene Qumran community. This is a naive and ill-informed.

6. Speculations
I could put the whole program in this section. A couple of further examples are of note. It is assumed and speculated that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist because he was baptised by him. Was he? There is no evidence of this. It seems rather, that they were related, that John was in the Wilderness with a knowledge that he was a prophet of the coming Messiah. Jesus came to him for baptism. Then John recognised him and told some or all of his disciples to follow Jesus, which some including Andrew did. Maybe John was Jesus' mentor, maybe he wasn't, it proves nothing and is pure speculation. He draws on Crossan's idea that Jesus saw that John's approach to the Kingdom was wrong after John died, and so came up with another idea based on a non-violent kingdom. Maybe, but again, speculation. Maybe God told him of another way? There are arguments that Jesus went to visit family in Bethany i.e. Martha, Mary. Again, maybe, but irrelevant. Proves little. There is the idea that Judas is a construct, that he did not betray Jesus. There is the idea that there was no trial, but the Romans took him and killed him. There is the idea that he did not die as said, or carry his cross – these are all later additions to the text. May the reader know, there is no basis for this except pure opinion. There is the idea that just because Judas' name sounds like Judah, it is a construct. There is an assumption that wherever there is an OT prophecy mentioned or alluded to in the passion, it is a creation based on the prophecy, not a fulfilment of the prophecy. Well, yes, one could argue this if one liked. But one could equally argue the converse, that there was an explicit attempt by Jesus to fulfil prophecy, and that the events were shaped by God in history to fulfil prophecy. A balanced argument would hear both sides and let the reader/hearer make up their own mind. That is what Christianity is all about. There is nothing historical, balanced, forensic, academic or anything to any of his analysis in the program.

7. Factual Errors
There are factual errors like his saying that Luke records the wise men coming to Bethlehem to follow the star – that was Matthew's Gospel Bryan. Lloyd Gering is interviewed early in the program stating that the accounts of the crucifixion are constructs as none of Jesus' followers were at the cross. Wrong. There were women at the cross in every gospel and in John, one of the men 'the disciple Jesus' loved' who is given care over Mary (John 19:26). The traditional view is that this is John, while some argue it is Lazarus or another disciple. Whoever it is, it is a disciple who may have passed on the material. So the argument that there are no sources for what happened is spurious. It is also sexist, Gering showing no respect for the women that were there. Many scholars believe that Mary Jesus' mother was one of Luke's sources for his gospel based on the material found in the Infancy Narrative. The women would have been a perfect source for the material in Luke's Passion Narrative (e.g. Luke 23:26-31). John may well have been the disciple mentioned at the cross. A classic error was the comment on the Lukan Census in Luke 2:1-3. He states that it was impossible for the descendents of David to come to Bethlehem to be counted as per the narrative. He says there were 50 generations, David had 300 wives, this would leave potentially 10 billion descendants. Yeah right! There still are not 10billion in the world today! There were 200,000 to 300,000 in Galilee at the time of Christ and some 1-2 million in Palestine at best. So, using such ridiculous stats is of little use and skews the discussion irrationally. He states that the Election of Israel, Torah, and Law were given 2000 years before Jesus was born. This is inaccurate, with the call of Abraham perhaps 2000 years before Christ, but the Exodus/Sinai event in the 1400-1200 region, depending on which chronology of the OT you follow. He follows Crossan who argues that Jesus could not read, of course he could read. He knew reams of Scripture, as did Paul. He should have stuck with Vermes. There is the statement that Christians were fed to the lions in the Coliseum. This is incorrect. They were killed at Nero's Circus the site of St Peters Basilica.

8. The Bible is Anti-Semitic
There is this claim that the Bible is anti-Semitic that lurks behind all this. There is a fear of anything in Scripture that paints Jews in a bad light. This is due to a phobia amongst westerners to give any credence to the Holocaust. There is an attempt to discredit. I too am disgusted by all oppression and violence against peoples on any basis, let alone race. All genocide is revolting and abhorrent. However, it is a complete misreading of the Scriptures to find this in the NT. The NT was written in a time of great clashes between Judaism and Christianity. There are statements that are strong such as John's use of the term 'the Jews' in terms of Jesus' opponents; there is Matthew's statement in Matt 27:25 'And all the people answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!"' There is Paul's comment that the Jews killed Jesus in 1 Thess 2:15. Yet these need to be read in the full perspective of the NT. The first Christians until Cornelius were all Jews or converts to Judaism! The critique of Paul is a Jew writing of his own people and says nothing justifying the Holocaust. Matthew's comment too, is placed in a Gospel that advocates non-violence and gives no grounds for any racism. John clearly does not mean 'all the Jews' when he uses 'the Jews', rather, it means 'all the Jews who reject Jesus.' After all, all followers of Jesus in John are Jews! At one point in the program, it was even said that John's Gospel is a 'Gospel of hate'. What? Love is the dominant theme in John! Its theme is that God loves the world (e.g. Jn 3:16). It is because of our love that all people will see that we are followers of Jesus, who is love. My goodness, what a corruption.  The Bible affirms all humanity as created in God's image and Jesus came to end such bigotry. We do not need to revision the NT in this way.

Conclusion
So why did Jesus die? Jesus died because he really upset many of the rulers of his nation, the Jews. Not all felt the same, there are two Jewish leaders at least who turned to him, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The reason he upset them was he challenged their thinking and power. He claimed to be the Son of Man. He claimed the power of God to forgive. He claimed to be the one interpreter of Law, the 'Lord of the Sabbath', repeatedly challenging their views on law. He was accused of threatening to destroy the temple. He hung out with the wrong people, sinners, the marginalised, the unclean. He flouted the externals of the law. He refused to play the game of power and lead and assault on the Romans. He threatened their power. The crowds loved him. He entered Jerusalem arrogantly on a donkey, as if he was Messiah. He assaulted the temple. He incited debate. He was a threat. So they went to work to get rid of him.

The Romans are equally culpable. When the Jews brought Jesus to them, they sought to convince Pilate that Jesus was a political threat, a revolutionary, an agitator, a threat to Rome. Pilate wasn't really interested as he was no threat. Yet, to appease the Jews at the volatile time of Passover with Jerusalem full of pilgrims, he condemned Jesus to death. It was political expediency that led him to do it.

The coming together of Jew and Roman to kill Jesus does not implicate all Jews, or all Romans for that matter. It theologically speaks of us all rejecting God again, and killing him. No one race is to blame. There is no justification for anti-Romanism or anti-Semitism. Jesus came to draw people to God and love, not to hatred and violence.

The whole program claims that the early Christians 'rewrote history to suit their purpose.' The real truth is that Bryan Bruce has joined a whole lot of other revisionists to rewrite history to suit his own purposes. His purpose is to destroy Christianity, and westerners are buying it. There is the claim that the early Christians had one of the greatest PR campaigns of history. I would argue rather, that they simply went out and told what they had seen and heard. That the differences in the Gospels are a result of authentic honest attempts to record the story of Jesus honestly as they recalled it. I would argue that the Gospels are linked to the end of the lives of Apostles, they recording the stories before lost in time. They believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and died for that belief. They went about living not out of anti-Semitism, but out of non-violence and love, and even though many were killed for their faith, eventually saw the whole Roman Empire 'taken over' by this belief. Sure, after this point the stories became embellished and the faith corrupted. But that does not do anything to remove the power of the story as it is written.

I would say that we are now living in the midst of another PR claim much more insidious. Western thinkers since the Enlightenment and up to the present day have been seeking to tear down the edifice that made such a huge contribution to why western culture has blossomed so much, Christianity. As we look around, we see Westerners abandoning Christianity. As they do, we see the Judeo-Christian ethic in decline. We see greater and greater social problems around the breakup of the family. We ponder how to deal with the problems of alcohol, drug abuse, family violence and other issues. At a global level, we see its dominance receding. Well, that is what will come from this counter PR campaign, and it is based on the most biased, uncritical, assumptive, speculative, reading of the world ever conceived.

The Media is tied up nicely in this. I ask, why was I not interviewed for the show, or better, why was N.T. Wright or others who deal with this stuff in a more specialist way interviewed? Because it would have muddied the drama and reduced its effect. It would have brought to the public arena the converse voice. Those who defend Christianity are marginalised in NZ. We no longer hear balanced debate. The goal is demolition of Christianity. The Media is out of control in many ways (e.g. Murdoch), this is another example. TV One, when are you going to give a balanced view?

We need to wake up and rediscover the story.









Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Burqa: Should NZ Ban It?

This is a longer version of a column published in the Challenge Weekly July 2011

The Burqa has been in the news since two women were banned from Auckland buses recently. As most readers will know, burqa is the black outer garment worn by women of some Islamic traditions to cover their bodies in public. It includes the head-covering (hijab) and face veil (niqab). It is likely that such clothing was worn by Arab and Persian women even at the time of Christ and before, as indicated by the Greek historian Strabo (64 BC – AD 24). The early Christian leader Tertullian (c. AD 200) praised the modesty of the 'pagan women of Arabia.' Islam itself is divided on the necessity of wearing the burqa with some believing such modesty in public is obligatory in the Qur'an, and others. For those who consider it necessary, the face is considered the most tempting part of the body; hence, the veil.

Many westerners believe that the burqa should be banned. The usual reasons are security concerns resulting from recent suicide bombings – women can conceal bombs in their clothing; identity issues especially in places like banks – how can one be identified when one's face is covered almost completely?; cultural perspectives whereby it is seen as non-kiwi behaviour – New Zealanders do not like the sight of people completely adorned in black with their eyes only showing, this smacks of the sort of thing one sees in movies where the bad guys or girls dress thus; consistency with the banning of other head coverings like hoodies in malls and other places – if it not ok for others to wear hoodies, helmets etc in public, for consistencies sake we should not allow the Muslims who do this either; feminist concerns seeing it as demeaning to women – especially in a nation with rich history of women's freedom; and freedom concerns. What can we as Christians say in response?

A case can be made for expecting people to expose their faces where their identity is required such as when a police officer needs to identify someone or in a bank where people are withdrawing money etc. However, in consultation with the Muslim community, it is likely that ways of achieving this without public shame can be agreed. For example, one could have someone in the bank and a room specially prepared for identification with another Muslim worker. Similarly, there must be discrete ways of dealing with other security situations with sensitivity and care.

Beyond that, as a Christian, I find it hard to find a theological reason to ban the burqa in NZ. Our Muslim community has never threatened New Zealanders as in other nations. Indeed, the small number of Muslims in NZ are peace-loving citizens. As such, we can hardly make the case that we should ban it on security grounds. Further, we can't really challenge it in terms of women's freedom, as many Muslims believe it is 'freeing' to wear the burqa as it removes the threat of becoming a sexual object, it allows them to freely go about their work. Studies have shown that many Muslim women enjoy the 'freedom' it brings. In terms of it being foreign to NZ culture, there are two issues. First, what is NZ culture in terms of dress? We have no agreed statement in this regard, and NZ had always respected religious and cultural diversity. Think of Maori moko etc. While it is different, we have no real cultural grounds to remove it. Secondly, we need to get over our aversion to wearing black as if it is 'evil.' After all, the All Blacks wear black and intimidate with the haka. And we love it. So, aside from our prejudice, there is no real case against it. Indeed, if I admit it, I am always taken aback when I see a women in a burqa, and I have to admit it, it is my prejudice. I am seeking to challenge this attitude – it I believe, is false!

One of the interesting off-shoots of this issue is the issue of dressing modestly vs. provocatively. Christians are encouraged to dress modestly. The 'head-coverings' controversy in Corinth was likely an issue of women dressing with their hair hanging free which was seen as highly sexual, causing offence to husbands and others. Paul exhorts modesty and cultural accommodation in their clothing (cf. 1 Cor 9:19-22). In 1 Peter 3 women are urged to dress modestly in line with their culture as they seek to win their husbands to faith. Shouldn't we be more concerned about the clothing of many people in our culture who flaunt their bodies and dress provocatively than those who dress modestly, even if it is in a way we are not used to – the recent 'slut-march' being case in point? What is the bigger issue we face, provocative clothing that entices sexual promiscuity, the porn industry, the soft-porn of mainstream media, the booze culture in which women and men dress scantily and provocatively. There are men who provocatively touch themselves in rap and other music forms. There are 6-packs all over advertising. Aren't these much more of an issue than women choosing to dress as these Muslims do? While I personally believe there is no need to dress to this extreme, struggle with it myself, and would never expect that a woman must cover herself to this extreme, I wonder if we need to consider how we dress and how it looks. No wonder many in the Muslim world scoff at us on this sort of thing, we live in the defiled west. I am not targeting women with this either, it is men and women who need to consider this. However, where men are concerned, women need to know that we are often visually stimulated, so perhaps there is more of an issue with the way women dress than men.

My strongest interest in this is how Jesus would respond to a Muslim in a burqa, despite all the arguments. Well, we kind of know already what he would do. After all, his world was full of women dressed in black with their heads covered, dressed very modestly with little flesh to be seen. They were limited greatly in what they could do publically, who they could speak to, and how to dress. We see in John 8 how they are treated if they violate culture, they were in danger of stoning – as in some parts of the Muslim world under Sharia Law.

We don't not find Jesus rebuking them or even challenging the culture in a direct sense over their clothing. Rather, we find Jesus accepting and affirming women, loving them, showing them utter respect, weeping for them, allowing them to anoint his feet, speaking gently to them, showing them tremendous care and concern. We find no rebuke of them. Rather, he reached out to them as with all people, including the worst of all sinners. He didn't live in fear and suspicion; he loved them as they were, seeing past their clothing into their hearts. The Christian faith calls for Jesus' followers to accept people despite their sin, let alone their clothing.  We are to look at the heart not the externals (1 Sam 16:7). We are to emulate Jesus in this regard. As such, rather than us living out of fear and condemnation of our Muslim neighbours, when we see someone in a burqa we should catch our own prejudice and respond with Christian grace, love and hospitality. Perhaps we should greet them warmly. Men need to be careful in this regard of course, we need to show cultural sensitivity and respect and not embarrass a woman in public. Perhaps a small nod and a hello will do. Christian women however, can engage with them relationally, greeting them, talking to them and reaching out to them in love. They can show them the hospitality of the gospel. They can cross boundaries. We used to live in Mt Roskill where there were many dressed in this way. Perhaps the Christian women of Mt Roskill especially can show real warmth and love to these people. They can make them feel warmly welcomed and not ostracised. This was the experience of the two women from TV3 who went out and about dressed in burqa's recently found themselves marginalised – one woman in a shop even barred them! We must not make the same mistake, these are God's blessed women to be loved and cherished, as all his people.

I believe we Christians should see these Muslims who dress in this way not as something to fear, but something to embrace as an opportunity. Christian women can cross the cultural divide and show love and hospitality to them. Indeed, for the Muslim as for the Jew, such hospitality is part and parcel of their culture. Such efforts might lead to amazing opportunities of reciprocity and chances to dialogue over the things of the gospel. After all, Muslims are deeply religious people, they do not have the barriers of the secular western mind. Often, it is in such contexts, that the power of God is seen as such people are open. We do not need to join the islamophobia of the broader western world.

The gospel calls us not to stand in judgment over people who are different, but to accept them, love them, and draw them to Christ through love – Go deeper.

 
 


 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First All Black Squad, thoughts

The All Blacks squad is pretty predictable in most ways. The fullbacks are what one would expect, Mils M, Israel D, Isaia T. There are really only two wings. I am disappointed Maitland missed out, and surprised Sivivatu is excluded. Only two specialist wings is a surprise. The midfield is entirely as expected, Fruean has not done enough despite his power. Only Slade has the full set of skills for the first five back up, despite the improvements in Cruden. The half backs were as expected.

In the forwards Read was a certainty as was McCaw, Kaino and Thomson. I really think they need another genuine open side flanker. That being said, it is clear that they are going for a more power-based side, and are not going to play the speed-go wide all the time game. That is the Aussie approach. As I see the team, there is actually no genuine open sider, McCaw plays like a number 6 now.

The locks are as one might expect, with Hoeata forcing his way in. I think our lineout is vulnerable without real tall timber, and I can see the South Africans in particular, targeting their lineout very closely. We are vulnerable here.

I am disappointed Crockett is not in, but aside from this the front row is still very strong – despite Flynn's lineout throwing in the Final. His form was irresistible though.

So, I would have preferred Todd for Messam, Sivivatu for Guildford, and Crockett perhaps for Woodcock (not sure on that). Aside from that, it is what one might expect.

I think we are clearly going for a power game as opposed to a pace-wide game. This is clear from the selection of the outside backs with three fullbacks, along with the selection of the loosies. Expect a conservative approach.

Whether this can contain the Australians I am not sure. We can beat everyone else. 

The Scourge of Gambling Grows


I have just read an article in the Sunday Star Times suggesting that soon Lotto players will be able to buy their instant scratchies online, to increase the size of Big Wednesday prizes, to decrease the size of counters so smaller shops can sell tickets, and that lotto tickets can be sold at the supermarket checkout (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/5261862/Gambling-itch-may-get-more-scratch).

As McEnroe might say, 'you can't be serious!'

Aside from the inconvenience of waiting minutes longer at already understaffed supermarkets' checkouts while the checkout operators have to process this nonsense, this is not good for NZ in any way whatsoever (IMHO).

The explicit goal of the new policy is, to quote the article, 'to get casual customers to gamble more often.' What the! This is from the NZ Lotteries 'Statement of Intent' for the next two years, the work of their CEO, a certain Todd McLeay. He openly states that his goal is to 'encourage the 86% of New Zealanders who play the lottery to spend more.' He states, 'We know many of them have intentions to buy but for various reasons they don't get round to it. If we can improve the convenience of purchase then we'll go some of the way to helping attract them to play more frequently.' They are also replacing billboards with 600 digital signs, to get into sync with consumer behaviour. It is insidious, intentional, and corrupt.

Little wonder that the Problem Gambling Foundation see the sale of Instant Kiwi online as a 'ticking timebomb!'

I cannot believe this. In an age where more and more people are struggling, jobs are hard to get, the gap between rich and poor grows, and gambling figures are on the rise, this is stunningly dumb! This is about seducing more and more people seeking to make it rich quick into wasting their money on something they are never likely to win. It feeds our consumerist lust, luring us with the fake dream of prosperity! It will see more and more lives wrecked. Online gambling is uncontrolled, one can fritter away all one has without anyone else knowing, it is without restraint.

I find it especially distasteful the way that gambling is run as a business with a CEO and driven by the profit motive. Todd McLeay is clearly motivated as with any CEO with the bottom line. So we have the fusion of the problems of consumerism with the motive of personal greed, it is greed upon greed. It is sick in my view. It is enough that we make gambling easier and easier, but we buttress it with the power of consumerism to seduce New Zealanders to part with their hard earned money with the myth that they will get rich. It is the god of mammon at its very best. It is abhorrent and evil.

We should be encouraging people to save, invest wisely, avoid debt, and spend their money on good wholesome things like family, education, health, their future, and of course, the care of others in need! Not to seduce them into something that is as likely as being hit by lightening 4 times in succession!

The whole thing is dumb, further evidence of a society self-destructing. Just as putting alcohol into supermarkets and recreational drugs into dairies has further fuelled our nation's problems with these things, this will further fuel our problems with gambling.

It will be the poor that are abused most by it of course – it always is. The article claims 71% of lotto players come from poor areas and that Maori spend more than the rest of the population on Lotto. It will be their children who go without. It will be their marriages that are torn apart. It will be their wives and kids beaten. It will fuel crime as people get desperate. It is disgusting!

As I write this too I ponder the oft-discussed question of whether churches and church-established trusts should take money from gambling for their ministries. I have always felt uncomfortable in that the church has historically (as it should have), given leadership against the scourge of gambling. I ask, how can the church continue to speak out with a clear untainted voice while on the other hand taking its profits? Sure, you can justify it by saying, better that we get it than the crowd down the road. The truth is however, in taking the money, you are giving tacit support to the enterprise. It seems contradictory to me, despite recognising that one can mount an ethical argument – I just don't think it is a strong one. 

Are we getting to the stage where churches and Christian Trusts need to rethink and, despite the cost, refuse to take that money, so that we can stand against it with our full force and might? Our voice should be the loudest against gambling and its abuse of the poor. We should be there to support those who are in its evil grip. Now more than ever, we cannot be compromised as this scourge deepens. The whole system is driven by greed, self-aggrandisement, injustice, and oppression. It oppresses, and leads to indebtedness and can result in crime as people get desperate. I think it is.

I pray that this will be stopped, and indeed, gambling laws will tighten rather than loosen.

Why Australia Are Now Favourites to Win the World Cup

In the wake of the Crusaders losing to the Reds, things from a NZ perspective smell a bit like 1990-1991 again. In 1987-1990 the All Blacks were brilliant. They won the World Cup, and swept all before them, until the Sydney test of 1990, where they were thrashed by the Wallabies. They then won the return test against the Wallabies 6-3 at Eden Park, but the truth was there, they were on the decline and the Wallabies were on the rise. This was followed by the Wallabies thrashing the All Blacks in the semi-final of the cup in Britain, inspired by the dynamic David Campese. The Wallabies then had a good pack, and some of the greatest backs to play the game including Farr-Jones, Lynagh, Horan, Little, and the mercurial Campese. These guys were game breakers. Our backs looked pedestrian in comparison. While our forwards may have had the edge, they tore us apart.

Are we seeing the same thing emerging. For a few years we have smashed the Wallabies, their forwards simply not up to it. Now however, as we saw last night in the final of the Super 15 and at Hong Kong last year, they are gaining some degree of parity. At least enough to allow their backs to do their thing. Then there are their backs. They have a brilliant half-back, Genia, far superior to anyone in NZ. Cooper is brilliant! Behind a badly losing pack he may be a problem, but with Genia feeding him and a pack that can now compete, he is lethal – a Benji Marshall type character. Then there are the brilliant Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor to go alongside other really good footballers like Matt Giteau, Rod Davies, Mark Gerrard, Digby Ione, and Lachie Turner among others. As a set of backs, that is something really special. While they might still not be able to match the All Black Tight Five, they have some great forwards particularly in the loosies; men like Rocky Elsom, Scott Higginbotham, James Horwill, David Pocock, Beau Robinson, Benn Robinson, Nathan Sharpe, Dan Vickerman and others. This is the basis of a forward pack that can get enough ball.

Considering the All Blacks we have a tired look about us, kind of like the 1991 side which was full of people at the ends of their great careers. McCaw looked slow last night, not at all a 7, more of a 6. Is Brad Thorn one year past it? Mealamu and Woodcock are now aging. Is Ali Williams really back to the level required to win a World Cup Final? Of the current crop of forwards, the Frank's brothers, Crockett, Sam Whitelock, and Read stand out. Read is a great! Kaino is solid. But, is that enough to demolish the Wallabies to the point that we can stifle their flair for eighty full minutes of a final? I now have serious doubts. While we have reasonable half backs, none of the current crop are brilliant and in that upper echelon of the likes of Loveridge, Farr-Jones, Genia, Kirk, Van Der Westhuizen. Commonly, a great half-back is a critical component of World Cup wins. Carter at the moment looks slow, and lacking in direction, and his kicking is not great, at the moment. While the mid-fielders Nonu and Smith are competent and perhaps better, they are well known and predictable. Sonny-Bill Williams has talent, but will it break open defences at the very highest level of a world cup final. He struggled last night to me. Can Sivivatu avoid injury and reach his peak? Is he past it? There are other wingers and fullbacks like Maitland, Jane, Guilford, Smith, Dagg and Toeava, but are they really able to tear open the Wallabies? Is Mils now past it? When I compare the two backlines we seem down on pace, flair, and shear brilliance. They are on the rise, we are on the wane.

Of course it is too late now to make wholesale changes and renew the team. There are many young hot shots coming through. But, unlike the Wallabies who have been rebuilding, we have tended to retain the nucleus of 2007.

I also noted last night how much the game felt like Cardiff 2007. When the heat came on, McCaw and Carter did not respond well as leaders. Where was the leadership to take control, and systematically drive to victory? As in Cardiff, it was more like panic.

Then there is the path to the Final. We will have to knock over the French (then a light week, Canada), then Argentina/England or Scotland, the Springboks and the Aussies in the final over three weeks! That is a huge schedule. No room for an aging team in this.

So all in all, I suggest that the Wallabies are now the favourites to win the cup. Our best asset is that we are at home and that evens it out a bit. But to me, all in all, the Wallabies are definitely the team to beat.

Two things give me hope despite this.

One is that, unlike 1991, we have a united coaching team. The Wylie-Hart thing was a shocker, whereas the Henry-Smith-Hansen combo is seasoned. On the other hand, they have Deans who I thought should have taken over the AB's after 2007.

Secondly, the last time we won the cup was when it was at home and the Wallabies were the favourite. Here's hoping. But for me, the Wallabies are the favourites.

Let’s Get Real About Obesity: The Problem is Gluttony, Greed and Laziness

I see in the Sunday Star Times yet another article stating that obesity is on the rise (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/5261735/Startling-rise-in-levels-of-obesity).

Well, we all know this. There are a plethora of shows on TV about the obese (I love Biggest Loser, but am sick of them generally), and you only have to walk the Mall to see it to be true.

Otago University Prof Jim Mann has noted the huge increase in the fatness rate, especially among the young. It is suggested that 15 years ago 3200 kiwis die a year through obesity – still only about 20% of the number of babies aborted but 10x the road toll – so it is pretty bad. Now, according to BMI, 1 out of 5 kids are overweight, and 1 out of 12 obese.

According to the article, half of the adult population is overweight or obese. Even with knowing that the BMI is not that great a measure, especially for guys who are heavily muscled (at one stage I had 8% body fat and was overweight), it is bad. As a result, a heap of Kiwis have Type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep problems, heart-disease, get strokes and cancers. It is costing us a fortune as a nation. It is another symptom along with our other addictions, of our spiritual poverty and decline. As Mann suggests in the article, it is the new 'normal.' Houston, we have a problem.

Dealing with it is tricky. The converse problem is eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. Indeed, when you confront a young women especially about her weight, you are likely to set her spiralling toward a new problem, which can be equally if not more, insidious. As such, one must approach such things very carefully and in love – the article suggests talking about health rather than obesity, that makes sense.

The usual solution is education, ad campaigns like anti-smoking or anti-speeding, school programs, bans on junk-food, more programs on the box about eating healthy and the terrors of fatness, and so on. These have a place of course.

However, perhaps the best place to start as a Christian is to recognise its real root, gluttony and laziness – as Dr Phil says, 'you can't change what you don't acknowledge.' People get fat because they eat more than they expend. The excess eating then turns to fat, and they become overweight and obese. It is quite simple really. It is worse when you eat the wrong foods, too much sugar is converted to fat, too much fat becomes – well – fat! (Saying all this, it is a bummer that all the nicest foods seem bad for you! – remember though, you can train your palette to like other food).

We have two problems occurring at the same time: we are gluttons, and we are lazy. We are gluttons because consumption makes us feel good. It feeds our idolatry of self, narcissism. This driven culture is producing empty people with a spiritual and emotional emptiness. When they eat, they feel better, that sense of fullness fills the void. I know that, I am a good old fashioned comfort eater, on a bad day. The eating-to-fill-the-void solution is not long-term though, and as with all addictions, you need more and more to get the same desired result. Advertising and junk food are not the problem in a direct sense, but they feed our lust. It is greed.

The Bible condemns gluttony and greed. A rebellious son who is a glutton and drunkard deserves the death penalty in ancient Israel (Deut 21:20) – not in the NT thankfully! The Proverbs say 'put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony' (Prov 23:2), 'for the drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes then in rags' (Prov 23: 21). Readers are warned to avoid the companionship of gluttons (Prov 28:7). Israel was condemned for their greed by the Prophets (Isa 57:17; Ezek 16:27). Jesus condemned greed (Matt 23:25; Mark 7:22; Luke 12:15), but still hung out with those who indulged condemned by others as a glutton (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). Paul condemned greed and gluttony which of course were an essential component of Greco-Roman licentiousness and feasting (Rom 1:29; Eph 4:19; 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 2:5; Tit 1:12). Peter too condemned false teachers who lived out of greed (2 Pet 2:3, 14). 

With this in mind, the first half of the solution is to stop eating so much and living out of greed. We need to stop consuming as much. And what we consume, needs to be good food – God's unprocessed stuff like fruit, veges etc, is the best. We need to get the portion sizes right too, that is key. My weakness is here, I eat well, but I like to eat a lot!

The other problem is our laziness. In our western society in particular, we simply do not move about enough. We sit in front of screens grazing or pigging out. We travel by car in the main, to work, to school, to almost everywhere. We sit at desks. We pay people to do the lawns. We are, to put it bluntly, lazy. Laziness is also condemned in the Bible. The writer of Proverbs tells the sluggard that it is wise to observe and emulate the business of the ant (Prov 6:6). It condemns those who sleep in as 'sluggards' or 'lazybones' (Prov 6:9). Laziness drowsiness and produces poverty (Prov 10:4; 15:19; 19:15; 20:4; 21:25; 26:14-16; Eccl 10:18; 11:6), hard work the converse (Prov 12:24, 27; 31:27). In Prov 13:4 is written, 'a sluggard's appetite is never filled'; summing up our societies essential problem. The lazy person is written off as stupid (Prov 24:30). The NT also condemns laziness (Matt 25:26; 1 Thess 5;14; 2 Thess 3:6-7, 11; Tit 1:12; 1 Tim 5:13; Heb 6:12).

As we know we live in this sort of environment, and our society isn't likely to change much for a while, we have to fake the exercise that once was etched into our normal lives. We need to take time out for a walk, a ride, a run, a swim, a gym session, a dance session, a kayak, a tramp – whatever it is that gets us moving. We need to make space every day preferably (or perhaps 6/7 and preserve the Sabbath principle).

The solution then would appear obvious. We eat less and we exercise more.

Of course, it is more complex that this. First, it is not just eating less, it is eating healthy. The cost of healthy foods is far too expensive relatively speaking. We all know this. Secondly, often we do not have that much time to exercise as we are so busy working.

That being said, the solution remains the same and for the good of ourselves, our families, our nations, our world, we need to work it out knowing the problems. If we shop clever and do our own cooking and don't buy our food already cooked or from junk food outfits, we can manage the portion sizes and quality and we can eat well. And if we resolve to turn off the box, get up off our bottoms and away from our screens, we can exercise as we go about our lives. It is possible.

The answer is not really found in schools and education programs, although these have a place and I think we have no choice in a nation where parents are failing their children (the school has to do these things because of parental failure!).

The answer really is found in every home in NZ. Parents need to set an example to their kids by cooking well, and demonstrating their commitment to good health.

I was advised by an old guy as a young dad to ensure my kids saw me exercising and competing. He believed that was critical to teach them the values of exercise, and how to win and lose. So I did. They would come and watch me compete in indoor rowing competitions, and I would in turn support them as they raced and played. They saw their mum running in races and triathlons. It was part of life. We went tramping in summer. We went to playgrounds and parks more than the TV, not that they didn't enjoy that as well. It is fun to come home from a day of exercise and fun and sit around and watch a good movie or program. It is when all we do is that, that we have a problem.

So, let's face the real issue – it is not advertising, junk food outlets, etc etc. It is our gluttony and laziness. It is a part of our consumerism, fed by its spiritual poverty, and exhorted by its spokespeople. If we get off our butts, cook well, eat less, and get active, the problem will be solved. So, come on NZ, get off your fat butts and get moving. And let's eat well, and in proportion. Enough, time for a coffee and a piece of chocolate – ok, I will have an orange instead, lol.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Reflection on Being Fifty – Old Man Saggy Fat Face

This was a song I wrote in 2002 which went down very well among the boys of St Kents when I was doing a short fill-in stint as a chaplain. It reflects on the absolute truth of what happens to men as they get old. Look into the face of an older man, you will understand. It sums up what it means to be fifty.

Old Man Saggy Fat Face (1)

Copyright: Mark Keown, 2002

Verse One

I want a nice six-pack, yeah washboard abs

But all I've got, are squashboard flabs

I want a small prostate, so I can pee like Niagara

But it's all gone bung, thank God for Viagara


 

Chorus

I've got…

Old man saggy fat face

The curse of the male race

I've got…

Old man saggy fat face

I'm drooping all over the place (2x)


 

Verse Two

I want a full head of hair, full of body and sway

But my toupees slipped back, and it's all going grey

I want rippling muscles, bulging mounds of steel

But it's turning to mush, I can't even turn the wheel


 

Chorus

I've got…

Old man saggy fat face

The curse of the male race

I've got…

Old man saggy fat face

I'm drooping all over the place


 

Bridge Spoken

And it's all because of Adam and Eve

And entropy plus gravity

Yeah who is there to save me?

Botox or plastic surgery?

Or I am stuck with the saggy fat-face

My body drooping all over the place

Expanding gut and greying hair

From mesomorph to the body of a pear

Yeah is there any hope for me?

Or will I droop for eternity?


 

Chorus

I've got…

Old man saggy fat face

The curse of the male race

I'm drooping all over the place (2x)


 

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Greg Laurie Event: Some Thoughts

It is popular in today's NZ Christian context to hear people demean mass-evangelism. It is not uncommon to critique this approach as flawed, an anachronism, as not appropriate as a means of sharing the gospel in these times. I have to say that I have had my own questions over these sorts of things. The last one I attended was Luis Palau late last century.

Well, as I see it, the recent Greg Laurie event should lead us first to rejoice rather than critique. Yes, we should always assess, critique and evaluate, but first let's rejoice, and keep on rejoicing even as we ponder how to do things better on behalf of our Saviour.

In the NT, aside from general appeals to rejoice always and continually (e.g. Phil 4:5; 1 Thess 5:16), there are two particular times where there is mention of partying and celebrating. The first is the glorious eschatological feast where the people of God gather together, evil defeated, suffering ended, corruption righted, and we party. We party like its 1999! Isaiah mentions this some 800 years before Christ in Isa 25:6-9:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast
of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death
forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people's disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation" (NIV).

I love the sound of the 'aged wine', 'the best of meats and the finest of wines'. The vision of 'he will swallow up death forever' is powerful, God, like a giant T-Rex, swallowing death, bring it on. The Empty Tomb represents his doing so. Glorious. Luke refers to this party in Luke 14, the great banquet. Revelation is all about this – what a party.

The second time a party like this mentioned is twice in Luke 15. First, in Luke 15:7 of the shepherd who joyfully celebrates after saving his lost sheep: 'I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent'; and again in Luke 15:10 in the parable of the women rejoicing over finding her lost coin: 'In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.'

God, his angels, and whatever strange and wacky creatures and beings people his dimension heaven (Check out Rev 4-7; Ezek 1), party outrageously when one person comes to Christ. Well, at the Greg Laurie event, something near 3000 lost sheep and lost coins were found. If that is so, then we should too be celebrating. This is a glorious time. Where else in NZ, in the last few decades, in one weekend, did this many turn to Christ? I am not aware of any other place in recent times. To put it into context, it is about the same number who came to Christ at Pentecost, the launch of the Church (Acts 2).

I want to pay homage to Graeme Lee, Bruce Patrick and others who gave so much to make this event happen. Similarly, hats off to Greg Laurie and his team. They put up some $200,000 of their own church's money for this. They took no money home with them. That is amazing. That is service, the koin┼Źnia of the gospel, people partnering to share the gospel. I am stunned and blessed by them. There were thousands who poured themselves out for this event!

At a theological level, I do have some questions concerning aspects of such events. For example, I was surprised at how 'Christian' and full of Christianese the music, speaking and presentation was. I wondered if it could have been a little more seeker-friendly. I wondered whether a thirteen or so minute appeal for money at the event was appropriate on night 2. Still, it was made clear that unbelievers and visitors did not need to contribute, and things like this cost a lot. I wonder at the packaging of the gospel in entertainment, gloss, powerful music etc. That can be double-edged sword where people come to Christ not for the preaching of Christ-crucified, but the power of the experience, music, entertainment and so on. Paul himself took great care in Corinth not to play the games of the rhetoricians and Sophists, presenting Christ in a manner that obscured the message of a crucified Messiah. He brought the message clearly and unadorned to ensure that people came to Christ for the right reason (1 Cor 2:1-5).

Yet I can also hear more loudly Paul's voice from Phil 1:18 echoing, 'what counts, is that in every way, Christ is preached' and so, like him in Phil 1:18, 'I rejoice! Actually, that is what is left for me. I prefer a gospel message that speaks as much about life on earth and the gospel as the invitation of God not just to eternal life when we die, but life in service of him now. When we come to Christ we are swept up into the purposes of God to transform his world, to work for good, to restore his world, to work for reconciliation, to share the gospel in witness, word, deed, and attitude, to see a whole world transformed – to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. It is more than an after-death insurance policy, we are caught up in God's kosmission, his mission to his world. But, hey, Christ was preached – and in this, I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice, because it is a day of true miracle when so many come to Christ. I join the hosts of angels in the heavenlies, rocking and rolling. It all anticipates the great day when we will drink the best wine, converted from water by our savior, and we will eat the best food one can imagine, when he returns – maranatha, our Lord come.

So, join with me in rejoicing for the lost sheep who have come home. I pray for every convert that these converts, every one, will be swept up in the love of God and his people, and will grow to full maturity in Christ. I pray that they will find the joy of serving Christ as I have. I pray that they will stand firm to the end. Amen.  

 
 


 

 
 

  

A Bizarre Encounter with BBC World: Alisdair Thompson


I was quite stunned last night to receive a phone call at around 9.45pm from, of all people, the BBC. It was a producer on the BBC World Service asking if I would join a discussion concerning Alisdair Thompson's recent radio interview and his sacking. Apparently, they had read my blog on the issue and wanted me to make a contribution. That is all good, and I entered the conversation, said a few sound bites amidst others, and that was that. Not sure I did very well, such situations are nerve-wracking and you second guess what you say.
My interest in the event is not that it happened, but how it happened. I got into blogging a year or three ago and thought nothing much of it. Blogging is really an extension of me working out what I think about stuff. I find blogging one way of doing it. If I had time, I would do it a lot more, even if no one was listening – I don't usually have time. Truth is, I think I enjoy just putting my thoughts down. I have never really cared much if anyone took any notice, who read it, etc. I figure, in a world with excessive available communication, where there are a million bloggers, twitter, facebook etc, well, I will just say stuff and if anyone cares, good for them.
This has kind of woken me up a little. It shows that you never know who is listening. I mean, I would never have expected someone in Britain to: 1) find my blog; 2) Show an interest; 3) Let alone invite me on a show. Far out.
We definitely live in a world where you can speak to others through the Net, and with search engines, you never know who is listening. It is a means of sharing Christ and getting a point across. I would have preferred it if someone had read something I had written about Jesus and wanted to engage over that.
I actually feel sorry for Alisdair Thompson. He has a government medal for services to the nation, he has served his nation well across a long career, he was the deputy president of a political party and a mayor for some ten years. What a guy. I feel for him. But, in this world, you can't cross certain lines, and he did unwittingly, and then kept digging. God bless him.
Anyway, the upshot is, that there is power in the electronic word. It is not incarnational, but it still has power. People are listening, and with the power of the search engine, who knows who will notice. Who knows what effect it might have? Who knows who will come to Christ through it.
It shows that there is a ministry of e-evangelism and it is possible to be an e-evangelist.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all book-evangelists, writing the Gospels for the world to read. Many have followed in their footsteps like C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright and others. I myself have dabbled and will continue to do so with my book What's God Up To On Planet Earth.
Paul was a letter-evangelist, letters a primary medium of his day.
In recent years there have been radio-evangelists, TV-evangelists and Video or DVD evangelists (especially Alpha).
In a world where we communicate in many means, e-evangelism is definitely another way. The power of the word in all sorts of forms (language) to communicate the story of the Living Word is amazing, in a myriad of forms.
God has chosen language as his medium of self-revelation and is likely not fussed whether it is written, spoken and in what medium, face to face, book, letter, email, website, blog, a film, a cartoon, art, drama, poetry or whatever. 'What matters, is that in every way, Christ is proclaimed' (Phil 1:18).
'In every way' is developed in context in Phil 1 in terms of motive, whether by false motives or true. A search of the type of Greek construction Paul uses, the eite – eite ('either, or') constructs, shows that his intent is broader. He always uses the construct with a stand-alone axiom or premise, and then develops it with an 'either-or' construct for the purpose in the context (see my chapter on Phil 1:12-18 in my book Congregational Evangelism in Philippians (https://wipfandstock.com/store/Congregational_Evangelism_in_Philippians_The_Centrality_of_an_Appeal_for_Gospel_Proclamation_to_the_Fabric_of_Philippians). 'In every way' then expresses Pauls' delight that the gospel is being preached, whatever the way. Even if it is done so by people who are hoping they can increase his personal suffering in Roman prison, he is delighted. All that matters is that Christ is proclaimed. That is why, whatever we think of the form of evangelism at, say like the recent Greg Laurie Harvest event, we should delight that the gospel is preached. Especially when 2700 people are converted!
As for blogging, who knows who googles searching for God. We have a great opportunity, we must take it well.
The upshot is that I must do better.
I will remember that next time I blog there really are people possibly listening!

By the way, here is the link: BBC World Service, World Have Your Say.