Monday, October 31, 2011

Election 2011: 4) Which System?

At the election we get a vote on what electoral system we want. We will be asked two questions: 1) Do we want to keep MMP or not? 2) If not, which system: MMP, FPP, PV, STV, SM. 


 

We all know what MMP is: 120 MPs, 70 electoral MPs we vote in with one vote—the most votes wins; 50 who get in on the list depending on proportion of the vote. This yields coalition government, compromise, moderate consultative governments. It gives room for more voices. It forces NZ politics always to the middle. It has been around now for about twenty years and while we have had some fun and games forming governments, it has yielded stable government and NZ. Its weakness is that the minor parties can wield disproportionate power.


 

First Past the Post (FPP) is well known to older kiwis, one vote per person, 120 electoral MPs, winner takes all. This tends to polarize politics like the US Republican—Democratic system. The voices at the margins tend to get consumed in the huge party machines. It can get a government elected with less votes than the opposition. It is simple but does not require the same level of consultation and compromise.


 

Preferential Voting (PV) and Single Transferable Vote (STV) are systems whereby, when we go into vote, we get one vote and it is not picking a candidate, we rank the candidates by preference, 1, 2, 3, etc. We use this in local body elections for some positions in Auckland. It means you need to know all the candidates really well, something I found hard when I voted in Auckland recently. The differences between PV and STV come down to how the votes are processed.


 

In PV if a candidate has over 50% of the 1's, they are in. If not, the person with the least 1's is removed, and the 2's come into play added to their 1's. This goes on until someone cracks 50%, and they take the seat.


 

In STV, people are ranked as with PV. However there are less electorates (24–30) and multiple MPs from each electorate (3–7). A quota is worked out which a person must cross to get voted. Then the same system in PV is used to work out who cracks the quota. It seems rather complicated to me.


 

SM is similar to MMP except there are way fewer list MPs (30) and they are worked out differently. There are 90 electorates, and we get to vote for a local MP. The other 30 MPs are from lists decided by the percentage of the party vote. So 10% of the vote will not yield 12 MPs overall as in MMP's but 3 MP's. This means we get a bit of a MMP and coalition feel, but the minor parties has less of a say in the system. It kind of brings together FPP and MMP.


 

Which is more 'Christian?' Well, that is hard to say, and perhaps impossible. One could argue systems that force consultation reflect the Christian ideal of working together in partnership, but they also lead to compromise. So, I suggest you pray, think and vote—when the dust has settled, get on working for restoration within whatever system NZ decides.


 

In yesterday's Sunday Herald 30/10/2011 a poll made it look like MMP is here to stay: 57.2% said yes to MMP. Only 27.6% said no to MMP. While 26.9% said not sure/do not know. For me, I think I will go either MMP or SM. What about you?

Election 2011: 3) What to Think About When Voting

So we come to vote, how to go about it? First, we all need to pray. Christians across the churches should be gathering in these weeks leading to the election and praying that God's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (esp. 1 Tim 2:1–2). We want the right people in power, that our nation will be well led, safe, protected and provided for. This is a tough time in the world, and it will take some seriously good leadership to get us through the economic and political challenges we face.

Secondly, we need to think in regards to the gospel. Here are some elements:

We get two votes of course and so we need to be strategic with them. Where the local candidate is concerned, I think we should vote on two main fronts: 1) The person, who will be the best local politician and represent the electorate well; 2) The party they represent. That person will get to vote with the government so the policies of their party are critical (see below).

So, get to know your local electorate candidates. Look out for meetings and go and listen to them. Email them, ask them questions. They are desperate for your vote so they will answer if they have a brain.

With our party vote, we need to vote for what our hearts and minds informed by the Spirit and thinking about the gospel and world leads us to vote.

How?

Get to know the political parties and their policies. Because of MMP, this is a far more complicated thing than in the first-past-the-post days of two clear parties right and left. Then it was easier to know where they stood. Now it is a cluttered political scene with small parties and their various policies. This is further complicated in that they don't release their policies in one big lot, a kind of manifesto approach as in the old days; rather, they leak them out. They spin them through the media too. So we need to try and get through the red tape and get inside their minds. We can also observe our local MP, are they active for our concerns?

Get to know the leaders and what they stand for. We need to observe the main party leaders closely. Who will give us good leadership? As Christians, character is of as much importance as skill—who has both?

Thirdly, we need to think about voting from the point of view of what God dreams of for his world. I imagine he wants a nation with:

  • Stable non-corrupt united Government—who will best give us this? Look for signs of unity and strong by fair leadership at the top of the party. Clearly, we need to think about the major parties here, and their coalition parties. Which party(s) will give us stability?
  • Economic prudence and wisdom, the generation of wealth through policies that encourage business and innovation etc, the distribution of wealth so that the needs of all are met—who has the policies for the dangerous struggles of the time where we are simultaneously trying to maintain our economy in a failing market, incentive to businesses and people to be innovative and employ, yet ensuring that there is a safety net for the poor i.e. their tax policies, their policies that encourage business, how do they balance this? Do they appear to have the capacity to manage the economy well? In a sense this is always the number one question, because everything else flows from this.
  • Asset Sales: This is a bit of an issue with National wanting to sell 49% of Air NZ and some power companies. Others repudiate this. What are the implications of selling part of or all of assets. It yield money, but is it selling our soul? 
  • Justice: safety, protection and justice for all—who are committed to protection of NZers, concerned too for the victims, committed to restorative justice where appropriate, but protective justice (e.g. no parole) where appropriate, making a priority of protection of the nation.
  • Education: where our young, regardless of race and 'class,' can get a good education that opens up options of them as adults whether tertiary education, a trade or other occupation. One big issue here is student loans, who is thinking of creative ways to pay for tertiary education, yet at the same time, ways to pay them off e.g. assistance to students who stay and work in NZ.
  • Primary health care for all: where all NZers have access to primary health care, affordable GP's, access to hospital services.  
  • Family: where a government empowers families as the basic care unit of the nation. My sense is that all the main parties focus on schools rather than families. The school should not be the first point of citizen-formation, rather, the family unit. What is the parties approach, is if family centric? As I see it, of the 'bigger' parties, United Future and Maori (Whanau) seem the most on to it here.
  • Moral goodness and social ethics: to what extent does the government embody and encourage a Judeo-Christian morality and ethic? To what extent does the government encourage egalitarianism ensuring that whatever people's personal opinions are, all are protected and not marginalised or oppressed on the basis of their world-view, gender, age, culture etc. Western human rights may overstate individualism over society, rights over responsibilities, but is still a good thing. For example, in the past abortion, decriminalisation of prostitution, civil unions, etc might have been election issues. Some issues around might be the decriminalisation of marijuana, gay adoption etc. I get the sense that while these issues are always around, this election there are no real major ones on the horizon that might rally Christians in one direction or the other. Most of the mainstream parties are liberal-minded, so it makes little difference at a social ethical or moral sense who we vote for. They are all much the same, socially liberal.
  • Environmental concern: Is the party focussed on sustainability, but in a common sense manner which does not crumple economic growth. Clearly the Greens lead the way here, but are their policies sensible?
  • Religious and personal freedom: While I am a Christian with strong convictions, I need to allow others the same freedom I wish to believe what I believe and live life without oppressive imposition on others. This is hard to grasp for some Christians who want a Theocratic nation. Thankfully in NZ, all the main contenders seem to me to hold these values.
  • Social justice—care for the poor: Two real solutions seem to exist: 1) That government is the best means of redistribution of wealth from those with to those without; so a lack of trust in the wealthy redistributing their wealth, greed, so the left tend to support taxation of the wealthy e.g. those in Wall Street, those in Queen Street; 2) That government has become too big and unwieldy, that we need to reduce government, retain the safety net at the very bottom, stronger means testing etc, force people into work, and encourage personal charity and generosity through government policies. Some hold to tax the wealthy will crumple growth with more business and personal costs, and we need growth. So one side tends to demonise the wealthy and believe in the government as the best means of distribution. The other side tends to demonise big business and the wealthy and believe they should be taxed less to generate jobs through business. We need to seriously think about this as we go to vote, who has it right? Or is the answer somewhere in the middle?

So what are the really big issues this election. To me there is one major issue at this election, the economy. The globe is on the brink. We need to vote thinking of who can get us through whatever is coming. Who will give best leadership to stimulate business in a struggling market, and yet ensures the care for those who are struggling—the unemployed etc? That is, reducing government debt, stimulating the economy, ensuring the safety net is there. Not easy! This does not necessarily mean voting Labour or National, but it means thinking of the implications of coalitions and on economics for whoever we vote for.

The Madness of Student Loans: Starting Adult Life with a Noose Around Your Neck

It is not easy starting working life. I remember entering the work force as a young teacher back in the day. While it was great to get paid at last, the challenges were many as I came to terms with "real life." As I read today's NZ Herald Article "Hundreds of Students in Debt for $140k-plus" by Elizabeth Binning (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10762805) my heart sank. According to the article there are:

  • 270,040 with loans up to $10,000.

  • 209,071 with loans of $10,000–25,000.
  • 110,186 with loans of $25,000–50,000.
  • 29,203 with loans of $50,000–100,000.
  • 1500 with loans of $100,000–120,000.
  • 617 with loans of $120,000–140,000.
  • 541 with loans of $140,000.

That is over half a million NZers, not only starting their working life with the many challenges of finding their way in the workforce, but with a financial noose around their neck. I have always questioned this system. Living in Auckland and going through the struggle of trying to raise enough to buy our own home, I can't imagine what it is like trying to make your way with a huge debt around the neck.

Sure, it is a huge cost to a nation to pay for tertiary education. Perhaps, it is too great a cost, and we need a loans system. But, if we are going to have a loan system, we need some way to help people pay down the debt. Something has to change.

The thing is that we need an educated workforce. We are isolated and need young people who are creative, innovative and able to be productive and creative in a competitive world. Being competitive in the world demands that we help our young people get well educated, so the money spent on educating our young is effectively an investment in our nation's future. It is crazy to have a system that sets them back before starting.

I see this issue at Laidlaw College where I work. Young people come to Laidlaw, borrow to study, and then go out to work, often in lowly paid ministry positions. They often pay the price as life goes on, and it is not easy.  

Going into the election, I think this is an important issue to consider for us all. It is great to see some parties confronting this. The Green party is proposing a debt write-off scheme whereby if a graduate stays in NZ and works and contributes to the scheme, a year's worth of debt is wiped off. They and the Maori Party propose a universal student allowance at the level of the unemployment benefit for all full-time students. The Maori party is also proposing bonding students, and writing off student loans. They suggest repayments should start when one is earning 150% of the average wage and a five year period of grace. United Future proposes a zero-fees policy for tertiary education in place of the student allowance meaning students can only borrow living costs. NZ First is suggesting match a dollar for dollar on repayments. I like the Maori policy. While I am not sure how we can pay for any of it, it is worth finding a way to do it.

There is an oppressive sense to the loans system. It is designed to level the playing field so all can do tertiary education, yet it is not working in this way, with Maori and it further marginalising the poor. Those who want to study know that if they do, they will likely carry a massive burden into their working lives—something they may never overcome.

I encourage all to consider this as they vote this election. 

  
 

 
 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Election 2011: 2) How Can Christians Be Involved in Politics?

In the last blog post I suggested that Christianity is at its essence, in a sense, political.

Life is political in fact, with someone having to run the show across its every part, families, schools, communities, social groups, sports clubs, local governments, churches, cities, nations and international politics. Christianity imagines 'political' rule in all these contexts as being about leaders who take people with them with processes that are collaborative, participative, egalitarian, with decisions made that accord with the values of God seen in the gospel.

So, we are to be 'political' first in those parts of the world we find ourselves having a leadership role. Husbands and wives are to lead well in partnership, mutual service and collaborative decision making. While some define these leadership roles on the basis of gender with the man as the leader, I am not of that view. I think each home should be run based on the call and gifts of the marriage partners. This has to be worked out together in love.

Outside of the home, the level of a Christian involvement will depend on their call and gift. Some will be motivated and given opportunity to participate in the leadership structures of social contexts like clubs, businesses, schools, governmental departments and the government itself. Some will not have leadership positions, and the Scriptures are quite clear—short of violating the command of the ultimate Lord, we are to be subject to the authorities under whom we are placed. This is a recognition of God's providence in the structures of the world, and also to model God's way to the world.

Where we find ourselves in a position of leadership at any level we are to do so God's way—humility, partnership, compassion, justice, goodness, etc; renunciation of personal ambition at another's expense, one-upmanship, violence, coercion, manipulation, deceit etc. We can seek to persuade and influence and with passion, but not using power to force situations. We are to allow God to raise us up rather than force the issue too. Christians do not go seeking power, they allow God to raise them to it. Conversely, they are not to be afraid of it either and back off—we are to humbly take up the opportunities if they come. We are to lead positively, patiently and humbly, and not force our desires on others.

Where politics at the highest level is concerned, Christians can be as involved as anyone, as led, gifted and inspired by God's Spirit. If so, we need to really know our stuff not only the Christian gospel and its implications and limits, not only to be Spirit-led people, but to learn the art of politics by being the most informed of people in terms of the things of the world like political systems, economics, justice, etc. This applies in every sphere of course i.e. we need to be best we can be and deserve leadership in our own right, not just because we are Christians.

One of the cool things about our political system is that we can all be involved. This is in fact the result of the blend of Greek democracy and Judeo-Christian egalitarianism which has developed over the centuries—for which we can be truly thankful. It is sure better than an Iraq under Hussein, a Libya under Gadhafi, a Zimbabwe, nations under despotic corrupt rule. Every Christian should vote, take their place in the system. We should be prayerful and very thoughtful. We should think about how we vote, what principles we should employ as we come to vote. For example, do we vote on social justice i.e. which political party will care for the marginalised best? Or should we vote on a moral issue like abortion? Or should we vote for the party that has the best looking leader? Etc. We should think about the gospel and what God would want us to vote on. We should watch, read and listen to understand what the policies of the parties are and think. We should get to know the local candidates and think which one will represent us best. Voting is not easy, but we should take it seriously. It is not enough to stab in the dark on election day.

We can also join parties. If we hold strong convictions and feel led by God, we can join a party and influence at the level of the selection of candidates and formation of policy. We can pressure politicians through writing to them and seek to challenge them and influence them in a particular direction. If we do, we need to do it in Christ's way. We can protest when the cause is worthy. We can be very politically active should of using coercion, corruption and violent force. And this can work at any level of life—where two or three are gathered, there is power, there is politics. We can get involved and move through a party and become a politician—as led and given opportunity by God. Wherever we are, at whatever level, we are to serve—this is essential to being Christian. After all, if Jesus King of the world came to serve and not be served, that is good enough for us.

So, as we come to the election, we need to pray and think. Who will lead us best in accordance with the values of the Kingdom? Which party? What policies? We can't assume because a person is a Christian they will do a better job, they may not have the skills and wisdom required. So, this election, make sure you do you homework and work for NZ to be an even greater country—go the All Blacks (couldn't help myself).

 

Election 2011: 1) Is Christianity Political?

What has Christianity to do with politics? Some Christians see Christianity is apolitical. Some reject Christian engagement in politics. Some imagine that Jesus is about spiritual transformation, not engagement in the messy world of politics. There was a time when I kind of thought this. However, now I see a deeper story.

In Genesis the world was created and humanity given dominion—right from the start, a political idea. They were to fill the world and rule over it (Gen 1:28)—again, political. Of course they were also to care for it as they did as Genesis 2 makes clear—that is, there were limits to political rule, it is not domination and plundering the world—sadly, this is not what has played out. To rule is a political idea.

After the Fall of humanity in Gen 3, as human society formed, it was politically corrupt from the start—even Adam and Eve contended for power in the home. Contention filled God's world with people across its every part contending for power and authority. This is the corruption of world politics. They built cities (in Greek, polis from which politics comes). Kings built empires and dynasties dominating through military force; people like Nimrod in Gen 10, Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar etc. The story of the nations is people vying for power with governments coming and going. The story of the world is empires, nations with their armies and religious systems contending to rule over each other.

Israel was chosen by God from among the nations and he was their king ruling over it. They signed an agreement to this effect, the covenant. Initially they had a political system with them living in tribes with leaders under God as king. This broke down as we read in Judges. Israel cried out for a king like the nations and God allowed them one, warning them through Samuel that they would go the way of the nations with the King taking the good looking young women for his harem, and the young men for his armies. They relied on armies rather than God. God became a pawn in their quests for power. This played out with David establishing peace, the golden age of Solomon, and then division and decline. Israel and its political leaders were like all the nations, corrupted. After the political division of 1 Kings 12, they became swept up in world politics, they were destroyed and exiled by Assyria in the north and Babylon in the south and came under foreign political rule.

The Persians then smashed the Babylonians and Judah returned home, and rebuilt the nation. This time they had no king. For 300 years or so they were under Persian and then Greek rule. In the Maccabean period, they broke free for a period, and were ruled by the leaders of the rebellion. However, then the Romans came and conquered the world. By the time of Jesus, Rome ruled with force and by giving a certain autonomy to the nations. In Israel a puppet King Herod had some sway on behalf of Rome, as did priests (Sanhedrin) and Pharisees. The dream of a different world grew, with a leader of Israel (Messiah, Christ, anointed one) who would come and establish God's reign. There were different conceptions of this figure, some very political, some more spiritual.

Jesus entered into this world declaring, "the Kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the Good news." To cry out "the Kingdom of God is near" is very political. It declares that God has entered time to assume control. Jesus was misunderstood by his followers in this regard, they expecting him to assume military and political control, first over the nation, and then leading them to political dominance of the world. Jesus' teaching and approach however was political, but in an utterly different sense to what was expected. He taught of and demonstrated an approach to politics that revolved around subversion and service. His people would certainly be involved at every level of life, but would not resort to corrupt approaches to gain political power—deceit, manipulation, corruption, bribery, force, violence, etc. His approach did not require people to try and take over Israel or Rome, they would work within the systems of the world inviting people into this kingdom, and transforming by the Kingdoms values which revolved around love, compassion, justice and service.

The vision of Jesus and God is then a new world political system under Christ's reign planted in the world and infiltrating it over time. In this vision, subjects of God the King go to serve the world, giving leadership not with political force as we see it in the political mess of many parts of our world, but through engaging in every part of God's work in Christ's way—service, humility, persuasion, goodness, justice, grace, mercy, compassion, resistance of evil and so on. As we look over the last 2000 years we can see the infiltration of this political dream across many parts of God's world. While there are many nations which look like the world of colliding empires Jesus entered where despots and dynasties justified by religious constructs, we also see many nations which have been influenced by the Kingdom of God with safeguards against the rise of such systems. Not that Christians are immune from political corruption—the period of Christendom saw God's political way terribly corrupted as the "Christian" faith become a justification for political force and violence. Some Christians today still cannot shed this kind of theocratic imperialism—it is flawed! Yet, in many parts of the world we see the influence of both Greek democratic ideas and Judeo-Christian egalitarianism and values. No system is perfect, but the Kingdom of God has helped in many instances shape a better world.

Paul has this sort of vision for the world. He called the Kingdom a politeuma (from the Greek polis), with its centre in heaven, from where Jesus came to establish God's commonwealth, and from where he will return (Phil 3:20). Christians are to live as citizens (politeuomai) of heaven on earth in the context of the nations e.g. Rome, the US, or NZ (Phil 1:27). They are to engage with the world for its transformation. This will involve politics, engaging with the structures of the world from politics of a family, the smallest club (e.g. a rugby club), to the governments of the world. As they engage in God's way led by God's Spirit, God transforms. They are to be involved, not only trying to win people to God, but to be 'political' in a transformative sense by the Spirit. There are clearly limits on the use of power in this engagement—no deceit, corruption, bribery, violent force, and domination from these Christians at a personal level. But this does not mean we can't be actively engaged. It means we have to work with people who are not believers and do not have the restraint of the gospel and that will be difficult at times. It will lead to persecution, suffering and marginalisation at times. It will also lead to transformation at others.

The thing is that Christianity is about the restoration of Gen 1:28. Christians are co-heirs with Christ. We are being transformed into his image. We are going to rule the world to come. Some Christians imagine we sit back and wait for Jesus to return before getting into this. However, this is not the mission. We are to be transformed, and then engage for the transformation of the world. We are to take our position as God's image bearers 'ruling' over his world, but with the ethics of the gospel—this was the original plan of God anyway. We are to function out of service, love, justice, mercy and so on.

So, Christianity in a sense is apolitical—we reject the corrupt politics of the world. At another level it is very very political! There is no dualism as if we are about spiritual things, and the world political. Where two or three are gathered in the world, there is politics. We are not to shirk this but engage. We are to be involved given opportunity by God according to our own call. Some will become 'politicians' within the structures. Others will give leadership to God's people, a kind of commonwealth on earth, the 'politics' of the church. Most will be in the hurly burly of life, being 'political' at their level, leading, working with others, serving, taking their part in the glorious story of 'Ho Theos who made a world.'

So, as we come to the election, let's not be naive as if Christianity is apolitical—it is not, it about a King, a Kingdom, and subjects of the King working in his world with the people of the world for its transformation. The key thing is that we do it God's way at every level.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reflections on the RWC Final

Easily, the greatest day in NZ sports history winning with our fourth choice first five and R. McCaw injured. Has there been a gutsier display from an All Black team. More like the halcyon days of NZ rugby than the airy-fairy recent years of expansive back play. This is real rugby. Fantastic.

The choice to retain Graham Henry and his team was correct. You can't beat experience! I repent of my belief he should have been dumped four years ago. Let's don't forget Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen.

Against my better judgment (as if I would know), Graham Henry's rotation policy was vindicated. Stephen Donald came on and was ready, he knew the calls, he was confident. Same with Cruden a week or so earlier. Without the rotation policy, they would not have been ready.

The AB fitness coach Nick Gill is a legend!

The AB's peaked against Australia which we had to do to get to the final. They looked jaded in the second half. Who cares, one point or one hundred, a win is a win is a win.

Rugby is as much a game of defence as attack, this proves it.

Why give player of the match to a losing Frenchman? They lost. It should have gone to the NZer who made the most tackles when the game was won by tackling.

The ref was awesome! Sensational, a World Cup Final decided by the players and not the ref. He was only 33, and maybe it is time to have more younger refs, they can keep up.

My previous blog about the French was right; they are dangerous, play their best rugby against us when they are written off. Thankfully the AB's clearly understood this and were ready—just.

Nice to hear a European All Black giving glory to God—go Brad Thorn. We should get him to Laidlaw to speak.

Is there a greater sports achiever in our history than Brad Thorn? Winner of Aussie League Comps 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006; State of Origin 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005; he played eight games for the Kangaroos. He was a part of the Crusaders Super-comp winning sides in 2001, 2008; the Canterbury team that won the NPC in 2004, the tri-nations in 2003, 2008, 2010. He was named as one of the twenty best players to play for the Broncos in 2007. Now he is world champion. Seventeen years as a rugby professional, and now off to Japan—his body will need some serious TLC as he ages.

Rugby at a world cup is a different beast to all other rugby. It is far more intense, physical, and won by power, force and guts. We now know what it is about and how to win. We should be able to plan better for the future.

Richie McCaw is a great leader. He has learned from adversity. He leads humbly, from the front, and with calmness in the fire.

A lot of players will now move on, but it is not as if the world should be thrilled as if the AB's will now get weaker. Richie is only 30. Kieran Read is brilliant. The Franks, Whitelock, Thompson, Cruden, Kahui, Jane, and Dagg; not to mention the waves of youngsters coming through, all suggests to me that the world's pain at the hands of the AB's will go on.

We need to win an off-shore world cup now to show the world that we can win it away from Eden Park.

I am so pleased for Christchurch—enjoy it people.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Does Growth Indicate a Healthy Church?

I was asked the other day by a ministry-colleague whether growth is a necessary sign of health i.e. if a church is healthy, then it is growing? Or again, if a church is growing, does it mean it is necessarily healthy?

This is a great question. First, we have to ask what growth is. Is growth numerical? Is growth something deeper? Well, in biblical terms, both are growth (nice rhyme). Ideally, the church overall and an individual church is adding numbers to it, the growth of the body in quantitative terms—through converts of course, while not losing believers out the back door. Ideally too, a church is growing through the maturation of its people, qualitative growth. Eph 4:11–16 seems to me to speak of both types of growth, as the leaders of the church including pastors, evangelists and others, equip the body which grows to maturity, likely both qualitative and quantitative. So, you could have a church that is really growing qualitatively, but there are no new people coming in. That is, the people are growing in maturity in Christ, becoming more solid in their faith, more committed disciples, more prayerful, more loving, more worshipful, more holy or even more evangelistic, etc, i.e. more committed to the things of God, but not growing numerically. This does not mean it is an unhealthy church, it may be a very healthy church, and more healthy than the one down the road that is growing quickly. Hopefully, part of this growth will be a passion to share the faith. But this does not guarantee converts—it may lead to resistance, persecution and even the breaking up of the church in some contexts.

Secondly, what about numerical growth, is it a sign of health, and conversely, a sign of lack of health. Well, I would say it depends. For example, is it a sign of health that a church is growing when the people are coming because of the great light show, music, entertainment and preaching, even if the preaching is pop-preaching that is more like spiritual junk-food than a real hearty spiritual meal? Is it healthy when a church is growing quickly, but when you dig deep there are great issues of spiritual immaturity, lack of unity, contention, spiritual abuse from autocratic leaders? Is it healthy when the people have left the church down the road because of a split and have come because they like the style of the new one? Is it healthy if many are going to move on again within a few years, going to the next 'cool' church out there? Is it healthy when a church is growing but heresy is being preached? Or not even heresy, but an imbalanced gospel say, preaching health, wealth, and prosperity if you follow Jesus. I don't think it is. Not all growth is good growth. On the other hand, if people in the church are out preaching the gospel and people are coming to Christ, and the church is growing through new converts, then it is a sign of health.

Thirdly, a church can be static numerically despite great efforts. There are churches where people are active in prayer, evangelism, discipleship and worship, and yet there is little numerical growth. One of the flaws in many Christians thinking is that if we do a, b, c, and d, then growth will necessarily occur. I disagree. The gospel when preached can often repel. It can lead to persecution, rejection and hatred. It is the aroma of death to the perishing. If we are in an environment which is resistant, and many people today and over history are and have been, proactive and authentic Christianity can be offensive and can even dwindle, recede, or be driven under-ground.

So, growth is not necessarily a mark of growth. It may be, it may not be. It all depends. We seek growth and seek to nurture, but the work is God's. Paul puts it best when he says, one plants, another waters, but God makes it grow. In my thinking, growth involves human volitional response and we cannot control this. What we seek to do is be faithful to the best of our ability to the gospel and pray for growth, qualitative and quantitative. Then it is up to God. We need to stop judging one another and ourselves on the basis of growth—be faithful and let the Lord of the harvest be the judge.

Why the World Cup Final is not a Done Deal

My head and heart say we should win. The French have shown little capacity for quality rugby aside from 7 minutes against the All Blacks, and holding out England and Wales. So, all the form books say we win.

But rugby history tells us that this proves nothing with the French. In 1953 (3–0), in 1973 (15–3), in 1977 (18–13), in 1979 on Bastille Day at Eden Park (24–19—totally unexpected), in 1986 (16–3), 1994 twice (22–8 and at Eden Park, 23–20), in 1995 (22–15), in 1999 at the RWC (43–31), in 2000 (42–33), in 2007 at the RWC (20–18), and two years ago at Carisbrook (27–22), where we rarely lose to anyone, they beat us. In all of these, except perhaps 1973 on that ill-fated British tour, in 1986 after the Cavaliers-Baby Blacks etc fiasco, and 2000 after 1999, we were overwhelming favourites.

Of particular interest are their victories over us are victories at times when we appeared dominant. For example, in 1979 we were coming off a Grand Slam tour and had won the first test well. In 2000, they could beat us despite us wanting to avenge 1999. Then there are the two RWC losses to them. In 1999 we had beaten them in the same year 54–7 and two years previously in France, 37–12. In 2007 we had beaten them four times in succession over the previous two years, 47–3, 23–11 in France in 2006, and 42–11 and 61–10 in NZ. With those results, who would ever have imagined we would lose in 2007 in particular? Finally, there is 2009, only two years ago, in NZ, again at a time when we would want to right the ledger after 2007. This recent win demonstrates the danger more than any other. They seem to be most dangerous when we are favourites and they are not expected to win. This is exactly one of those occasions, with us beating them by twenty points just a few weeks ago (37–17). This suggests that they will be very very dangerous this weekend.

So, it is clear it is not a done deal. All the form books say an All Blacks win, but the French aren't just any team and with almost everyone writing them off, they are more dangerous than ever. I think anything could happen tomorrow night. I hope it is a win to the AB's—not for me, but for Graham Henry, the coaching staff, Richie McCaw and the senior players, and for the people of Christchurch in particular. Canterbury is the heart-beat of NZ rugby and it would be a fitting climax to a great era and give them something to smile about after all the suffering of the last year or so. If the French win, it won't be a surprise, nor will it mean that we choked. It will be just another one of those days.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Head Versus Heart, All Blacks Vs Wallabies

My heart says the All Blacks will win this week's RWC semi at Eden Park. My heart can never do anything else, I am Kiwi across every cell of my body. My head however is saying something else. I can't shake off the feeling that the Wallabies have the upper hand. Here's why:

  1. Australian teams are dominant this year over the All Blacks, the Reds winning the Super Fifteen, and the Wallabies caning the All Blacks recently in Brisbane, and last year in Hong Kong (luckily perhaps). There is a sense of 1991 here, with the tide swinging their way.
  2. They are a young side on the up, and while we have some great young players, there are many who are rather long in the tooth. Woodcock, Mealamu, Thorne, A. Williams, McCaw—the heart of the pack, are all old. We clearly need to renew the side, can they hang on for two more games?
  3. Add to that the injuries. First, we have lost Carter our playmaker, and the best player I have ever seen (Murray Deaker and Fred Allen agree with that so I am in good company). Secondly, there is the problem of Richie M, the best openside of all time in my mind (or Jones?), who is hanging on by a thread. Three, there is Read who is the best number eight in the world when fit, but at the moment looks a shadow of himself. We are very vulnerable generally, and especially around the fringes with these injuries. Then there is the injury to Dagg—we need him as we lack penetration otherwise. Who knows how Cruden will front up, although he is a better player than a year ago. 
  4. Then there is the brilliance of Genea and Pocock who can target the weakness we have in pace and fitness around the fringes and getting to breakdowns. It will take an enormous effort to keep these two people from taking control.
  5. Then there is the Quade factor—he is due for a big one. If he sparks, we are in big trouble. 
  6. The 'choke factor.' I hate the idea of us as chokers, but we haven't managed to win these games for a few decades now—can we do it this time?

I am not writing us off though. I think there is a chance we may win this game, but the odds are against us.

  1. We are at home, at Eden Park. A team has to be a heck of a lot better than the AB's to beat us there. Even the great 1971 Lions side could only draw at Eden Park back in the day. The 1978 Aussies, 1979 French, 1994 French sides all did it. But, they were one offs and it is years since it has happened. It is a huge advantage. It could tip the balance. We can beat a better side on Eden Park.
  2. The injuries and problems can work to bring the AB's together. While it weakens us at one level, it will drive out any complacency and bring a fierce determination. The truth is, the AB's are always at their most dangerous when they are on the ropes like this. Remember the Baby Blacks, the second test in 1970, 1971, 1976, and so on. We are fighters, Kiwi battlers. The very fact that there is every reason that Aussie should win says, there is hope. These guys will not die trying.
  3. Then there is the sense of a nation behind the AB's like I have not seen for decades. I wonder if it was a little like this in 1956 when we faced the mighty Boks after losing 4-0 to them in 1949. The combination of the AB's struggles with injuries, the natural disasters especially the earthquakes, and a 24 year hunger for another world cup, will make these guys play above anything we have seen. I hope the crowd are behind them big time, chanting, singing, and really rarking them up. That could carry them through.
  4. The South African game last week may help us. First, Pocock is unlikely to be allowed to get away with that much nonsense in the rucks again after that fiasco. Secondly, the Wallabies will possibly struggle to back up. That was a monumental game and they must be knackered.
  5. Then there is the Quade factor. Quade can win the game, or lose it. If the AB forwards can pull out one of their great vintage performances, and pressure can be placed on Genea and Cooper, then there is hope. If Beale is out, then that will also take a lot of attacking dynamism out. They don't look anything like the same danger without him.
  6. The one time we didn't choke was at home in 1987. We won, and we won well. Can we two-peat?

So, there is hope. My heart says, we will win, my head says, mmmm.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ten Reasons Why A.J. Miller is NOT Jesus!


Note: Forgive me for the long blog, but this one really got me going!
Last Sunday night on TV One's Sunday aired the report A.J. The Messiah. The program was the story of A.J. Miller in Queensland in Australia, who, unlike most of us, genuinely believes that he is Jesus. Miller appears at one level to be a normal Aussie bloke, in his early thirties, longish brown hair, unshaven, good looking, articulate and charismatic. Yet, unlike anyone I know but in the manner of other Messiah-claimants, he says without inhibition, "I am actually Jesus." He claims to remember vividly his former life and death including his experience of crucifixion. The memories supposedly began when he was 2 years old and realised later that he was Jesus around 33. In the program he writes on a white-board, "I am Jesus. Deal with it"—to applause from his congregation. He has disciples, some of whom claim to have been with him 2000 years ago including Mary Magdalene who is his "soul-mate' and remembers vividly watching his "annihilation." Her family too thinks she is mad. Then there is Cornelius the soldier who claims to remember Jesus healing his servant (Luke 7) and recalls being asked to execute Jesus but not being able to nail him to the cross because of the love in his eyes—this was his death sentence in his "first life." A.J. is most definitely an attractive and dynamic man. When asked whether he did certain the miracles in Scripture, he says he did some like the healings and raising Lazarus. He did not walk on water apparently, nor turn water into wine. Helpful, because this sort of thing is observable. His mum tried to commit him to a psychiatric work. Miller writes this off as the same as his family in the first century who all thought he was mad—there is evidence of this in the Scriptures of course. He has no nail marks in his hands because, "it's not the same body."
This Miller does not appear mad. He genuinely believes his own story. If anything, he is deluded. In the story, we see him helping people find release from their addictions, get in touch with their pain, and having powerful emotional experiences. Rev David Millikan, a cult specialist and the reporter in the program, describes what he does as, "rehab, new-age, pop psychology." Millikan goes on, "he sets up as sort of spiral where people get dragged down and down and down and people are asked to plumb the depth of emotions from which many of them can never escape... One of his techniques is to help them find emotional trauma in their family." The people lap his stuff up with deep emotional experiences as he speaks. Miller genuinely believes he holds the salvation of the world in his hands. He spreads the word through You Tube and the web. There are 100,000 of his DVD's in circulation. He calls his message the "the Divine Love path" which offers oneness with God through his teachings. His community is called "God's way of love community" with disciples who have left businesses, family and everything to follow him. He has an inner core of thirty or so and a special thirteen, reincarnated to spread his message. Some are giving money, and he is buying land around the world, and setting up communities which he calls sanctuaries.
His message is tearing marriages and families apart. The program featured one Dhughaighn MacMurirch who spoke of losing his wife to the movement, and the pain it has caused. MacMurirch said he would like to "tear his throat right out!"— that would not faze A.J, they did something like this the first time around. Another woman testified in his meeting without any qualms at all, "yesterday I left my husband of thirty years!" She had decided on the basis of his teaching, that her husband was not her "soul-mate" because of his teaching. Miller is into soul-mates, God reveals whether our spouses are or are not ours, and if not, we can leave our present one and God will help us find the true one. As with any prophets and self-proclaimed Messiahs, any challenge to his teaching has little effect on him because of his claim to divine authority. He said to Millikan when challenged, "now now, David, you engage, read your bible, what was said about me in the first century, what does it say Jesus did in the first century"" When challenged further by Millikan that he is dangerous, A.J. simply resorted to the argument that people in the first century treated him the same way and challenged Millikan that he will come back for a deeper discussion in the future.
His teaching is classically apocalyptic, good vs. evil. Evil spirits are the explanation for the struggles of life. One disciple admits being overrun with demons and going on drinking binges. He believes a horrendous cataclysm is about to engulf the world and his communities are to prepare for this. He will emerge a saviour from the chaos. Some of the things he has said are that a continent is going to rise next to Hawaii, a 100m tsunami will hit Australia and other events such devastating earthquakes. Countries will disappear, others will change completely, and some emerge. One of the most troubling things in the program is Miller interacting with children! He is great with them and they clearly they love him. He answers their questions. When asked whether God has a mum and dad, he says that is the hardest question to answer, "I have lived now for 2000 years and I don't know the answer."
So, is this guy the Messiah? Jesus back at last? Has the second coming occurred, quietly and unobtrusively in Australia? Aside from jokes about Jesus being and Aussie, what can we say? From the documentary there are clear reasons that we can be certain he is not on the basis of the Scriptures:
  1. His bodily form is wrong: If A.J. were Jesus, he would indeed show the scars on his hands and feet. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus remains the same guy he was when he died and rose on earth. As such, he will be a first century Jewish male, not a tall lean Caucasian Aussie born man.
  2. His seeming return is wrong: Christ's return in the Scriptures will be a dynamic visible event in "the same way" as his departure (Acts 1:11). He will not be in the form of a baby born of a woman in Australia and live in seclusion in the outback starting another movement. He has done that. He is coming back full on to bring about the final restoration of his world, the resurrection, the judgment, and the eternal state. This guy is just another false messiah; one of the many Jesus predicted would come (Mark 13).
  3. His attitude to Scripture is wrong: A.J. appeals to Scripture in the story when it suits such as, his division of families, his own family's accusations of madness and rejection. He says he did certain miracles, but not others. He distorts it.
  4. His ministry is wrong: Jesus was not a pop-psychologist helping people get in touch with their emotions to be released from addictions. Jesus healed people with word and touch, powerfully releasing them from emotional and physical trauma through miracle. This guy does no miracles; he simply uses emotional manipulation, which causes people to attach to him. Jesus was not interested in attachment to him, but healing to become truly human and to go and engage in the mission of the kingdom.
  5. His sexuality is wrong: A.J. is clearly not celibate. He left the Jehovah's Witness church for a problem with a hooker. He is now clearly involved with "Mary Magdalene" and she is not the first he has told is Mary. The real Jesus was never in a sexual relationship with Mary on his first coming, he was celibate. A.J.'s behaviour is more akin to a guy who has worked out how to get women through the manipulation of the mind and emotions—he is a great con man, but he believes his own rhetoric. 
  6. His interpretation of the world is wrong: A.J. is another of these people who reads the world totally apocalyptically, with evil spirits everywhere who invade the body and lead us to sin. A good look at Scripture sees that the world has evil, and there are spirits mentioned, but not everything is a direct result of evil spirits. In fact, the Scriptures see the world both as fallen, but also as a good place. It is classic cult-leader apocalyptic making people opt completely out and join his band.
  7. His attitude to mission is completely wrong: Jesus never behaved like this, gathering money, building isolated communities to avoid the disaster to come. He told his disciples to go into the world and engage; to witness in the context of the world sharing the message of God's love and acceptance. Yes, he called for the establishment of communities of faith, but these were to be mission centres as much as points of gathering. They weren't hiding places from a scary world, they were centres from which disciples went out and shared the message. This is classic apocalyptic withdrawal behaviour, hardly Jesus at all.
  8. His attitude to money is wrong: He is clearly seeking money to build his "empire." He is drawing it in from all over the world to set himself up. Jesus did nothing like this. He had no "place to lay his head." He died naked and poor. He lived through the generosity of women who travelled with him. He did not go looking for money but rebuked anyone who sought wealth at the expense of others. This guy is a classic empire building apocalyptic false prophet.
  9. His prophesies are wrong: A.J. claims that continents will emerge from the sea, tsunamis will engulf Australia, and earthquakes will split the world. As a good Aussie would say, "Yeah right." He is another doomsday madman who will be revealed as a false prophet rather quickly.
  10. His attitude to marriage and family is wrong: There is no evidence Jesus went out of his way to break up marriages and families, or that he had a theology of "soul-mates." Rather, Jesus preached the kingdom and people followed him. He did not set up to do so. He did not endorse such things. He stated that he split families, but there is no evidence of his splitting marriages. So, Peter travelled with his wife (1 Cor 9). Other family members travelled with Jesus, like James and John's mother the wife of Zebedee. When there is talk of "leaving families" it is not about the complete dissolution of relationships, these are mission engagement trips, with a good follower of God caring for their family and children. This is nonsense. Jesus wants us to love our wives and kids, and within the framework of the kingdom, that is our first priority.
All in all, A.J. is not Jesus and people should not be fooled! He is another fake. To me, he is downright dangerous. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry in fact. He is at one level, as the reporter said, a buffoon. At another level he is dangerous. His level of delusion and confidence, his charm and charisma, make him lethal. We need to pray that his movement will get broken up, and quick. Pray too for people who are trapped to be set free! God help them all. What do you think?