Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christine Ha: what an inspiration!

Last week the final of Masterchef USA 2012 aired in NZ. It came down to a cook off between Christine Ha and Josh Marks. Personally I thing Becks should have been in the final with Christine, but I don't get to taste the food. Anyway, the final was close and Christine came out on top. 

Now what made the whole thing so stunning was that Christine is blind. She cooked with a helper but did her own work through and through. Her story is utterly amazing. She is Vietnamese. Her mum died when she was young. She has a bachelor of business administration. She has a masters of fine arts for creative fiction/non fiction. She has been a finalist in various writing competitions. She has a food blog. She is married with a lovely family. She has neuromyelitis optica where her own immune system attacks the optic nerves and spine. She has been blind since 2007. She can see as if "looking through a very foggy mirror." She won the show because of her amazing palate and creativity, not to mention her ability to get the job done, each time under extraordinary pressure.

Christine Ha shows us what it means to be truly human. She has now allowed her "weakness" to hold her back. In fact, it strengthens her as she demonstrates determination and her sense of smell and touch overcome the so called"disability". I am not sure if she is a Christian, but she shows us what it is about. "My strength is made perfect in weakness" wrote Paul. Yes indeed. She shows the kind of courage life requires in a broken world. She doesn't wallow in her affliction, playing the role of a victim, expecting society to support her, or wanting to be euthanised. She rings out every last drop of life and is achieving more than mostly of the "abled" people of the world. 

As one who doesn't face such an obstacle I am inspired to be the best I can be by her example. Congratulations Christine and thanks. I am forever a fan.

Is the Devil real?

I was reading the temptation account today and it got me thinking about the reality or otherwise of the Devil. It is common among theologians to argue that the Devil is not a being but an ancient explanation or personification for evil. As I read the Temptation,  I read of something that can approach Jesus, talk to him and interact with him. He can memorise Scripture, and use it in argument. He can carry Jesus across time and distance. He can think. He can hear. As I read the remainder of the NT his reslity is assumed. However difficult that may seem, it all sounds real to me.

Now, interestingly the argument for the personhood of the Holy Spirit and his status as a member of the Trinity is not dissimilar. Christians vehemently defend the Spirit is a person of the Trinity. We gain this from reflection on the action of the Spirit across Scripture--He speaks, hears, acts, guides, etc. How can we argue for the reality of the Spirit on the one hand and against the reality of the Devil? I suggest we need to be consistent and either argue for a binitarian God and the Devil as some cypher for evil; or we argue for a Trinitarian God, and the Devil as a real spiritual being.

I strongly prefer the latter. We engage a bitter antagonist who seeks to steal, kill and destroy. He and his minions are at work at all times hellbent on corrupting, possessing, distorting, prowling to destroy God's work. Jesus came to destroy his work. He is driven back and overcome when people yield to God, live to please him and do his work. That is what I choose to do. Shalom.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Matthew’s Wonderful Christmas Story

Recently I got to write some study notes for the Bible Society and spent a bit of time in Matthew’s advent story. What a joy it was to focus more attention on his version of Christmas. I discovered a whole lot of things I had never noticed before. I thought I would share some of them briefly. I encourage you to read Matthew’s story in light of these and see what else you can find in them. Matthew of course wrote to Jews to demonstrate that Jesus is truly Messiah and the culmination of Israel’s story. There is such depth in it that it is mind-blowing.

First, there is the genealogy. It is patterned on sevens, four times coming to 42 generations. It speaks of Jesus’ true descent from Israel’s father Abraham and the Patriarchs, and from the paradigmatic king, David—he is the new Davidic King, the long awaited Messiah. It is full of people of sinful pasts like Judah who betrayed Joseph and was seduced by Tamar faking that she is a prostitute. There is Solomon born of David’s murder of Uriah and the theft and sexual immorality with his wife Bathsheba. There are the kings of Judah who failed God repeatedly. Such a genealogy gives us all hope with the skeletons in our family closets. It ends with a Jacob who is the father of Joseph—sound familiar? It is Joseph’s genealogy, and we realise that Joseph was royalty, a direct heir of the Davidic king. Perhaps if the Davidic line had not fallen, David would have been king. Instead Tiberius Caesar of Rome, Quirinius on his behalf and the puppet sham King Herod run the show. Realising who Joseph is makes the rest of the story come into focus—Joseph is heir to the throne, and Jesus will be raised in the real Davidic royal family.

Secondly, we see Joseph behaving as a true Davidic heir should. He treats Mary with real dignity despite her seeming “sin.” He will divorce her quietly. Then, when God speaks through his angel, he acts with complete obedience. He marries her and raises the child as his own. We have a great picture of broken families restored by God’s grace—and don’t we need this today! We see that through the whole narrative—Joseph is the exemplary Davidic heir. This continues through the story as he responds immediately to get the baby out of danger, takes him to Egypt and returns home.

Thirdly, we see plays on the OT story all over the place. I have already mentioned Joseph being the son of a certain Jacob, a la the Genesis narrative. Jesus is raised by a “king,” as was Moses. Later he will return from Egypt, he will give the “new Torah”— he the new Moses. We notice that God names the baby “Jesus,” the Greek version of the Jewish name Joshua. Jesus is a new Joshua. This Joshua will not enter Israel with an army to overcome with might and force liberating the land from corruption. He will enter as a defenceless baby, rise to manhood, and then go and liberate all humanity through the cross and resurrection—the power of love, seen in healing, preaching, deliverance and forming a new people on earth. He will use twelve men, ordinary blokes, who will see Israel reconstituted around twelve “tribes.” But it will not stop there, it will go global. Glorious!

Fourthly, he is more than a new David, a new Joshua, a new Moses, he is “Emmanuel,” God with us. He is miraculously conceived by a virgin. He is the Son of God, not merely a man—the mystery of Christology. This is the power of creation life formed by God within the human womb. With a mustard seed in a womb begins the transformation of the cosmos. This is incarnation, as a transcendent glorious God becomes immanent among us, and in the most vulnerable of places in the ancient world. Matthew quotes Isa 7:14 from the Greek OT (LXX), where parthenos is used, to ensure readers realise that Mary was not merely a young woman, she was a virgin.

Fifthly, there is the irony of Herod as opposed to Joseph and the wise men. Joseph is the true penultimate Davidic king in the story—a man with a heart after God. The three wise men are Gentile astrologers from the east, the direction of Israel’s historic enemies. Classic—the first to worship God are corrupt foreign magicians. Yet they see who Jesus is. It continues to be like this, the most expected recognise Jesus. Here we see the Great Commission anticipated as Gentiles across every nation will bow the knee to the Messiah and Lord. They recognise who Jesus is, Herod does not. He and his wise men work out that he is a threat, for the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. However, they do not bring gifts and worship him, they use deceit and bring weapons to kill him. Anticipating the scores of martyrs that will come from Christ’s people, children are slaughtered in the name of power. Herod represents all that is bad in humanity—infanticide, destruction, hubris, power-hunger and more. Jesus came to free the world from such men. Sadly, the “battle” goes on.

Sixthly, he is born in Bethlehem. He will be shepherd. This rings bells from those who know the David story. David the shepherd boy was anointed by Samuel in the same place. The final son of Jesse has arrived. Later on, John the Baptist will play the role of Samuel, and anoint Jesus, not with oil, but with baptism, and the Spirit will fall. It recalls Isa 42 and Ps 2—the Servant King has come to his world to set it free. He will then embody Israel and kingship and his Adamic being and enter the wilderness and do what Israel, David and Adam all failed to do, to overcome the enemy of God. He is the new Adam, the Messiah, the new Israel all in one. He will then set about restoring the world, not with military force, but with the power of love. Magnificent!

The Christmas story is truly wonderful. It heralds the arrival of the new David, Moses, Joshua, Israel, Adam, etc. It is the moment when all of history to this moment comes to its climax in the arrival of God the Son. And he will be one of us. He will then go out and in a three year cameo, set ablaze the greatest revolution of all time. He will live out of obedience, die a slave’s horrendous death, and rise. He saves us and shows us the way. Thank God for his lovolution in which love is made flesh and dwells among us. Our response should be that of the Magi, come to the child and worship him with all we have.
May God bless you and your loved ones this Christmas. Shalom. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Respectfully—No Bob, It is not Time to Ditch the Anthem

So Bob Jones wants the National Anthem ditched (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10850117).It is great that he lives in a country where he can freely state this opinion without fear of reprisal from the State or someone else with vested interest. I wonder why that is?   

Bob clearly set out to offend when he wrote the article. He begins by slamming the Australian song, claiming that Australia is not “young and free.” His basis is that Australia, NZ etc. are actually old nations in world terms. Well, in strict socio-political terms he may be right, but he misses the point. When one sings an anthem like this, one is not singing the latest pop song expressing how things are now, one sings a song that speaks of the founding principles of a nation, those ideals upon which the nation is built. It expresses the desire and sense of the nation then. It functions as a reminder, a link with history, our forebears giving their all to establish a people and singing a song that encapsulates present hope and future dreams. It works to stop us renouncing those cherished values—which is exactly what Bob wants us all to do. For what Bob? Materialism?

He then has a crack at the “bloody haka” as a “national embarrassment.” Really Bob? An embarrassment? Isn’t it rather glorious that the people of NZ have embraced Māori culture to the point that we are defined as much by the haka as by the anthem. Sure, it is overdone at times. But come on. I think it is a sign of our progress to finding our identity and unity as a nation that the “glorious haka” is now a central symbol of our life. Bob sounds like a tired old Euro-centric modernist to me.

He then turns his attention to the anthem. He seems annoyed with the manner of choosing the anthem, through a contest in an Australian-owned paper decided by Australians and Germans. Here we have more than another tinge of racism; after all, our history is intertwined with Australia and the colonialists came from Europe. The mundane name “Bob Jones” proves the point.

His diatribe pauses to slam God save the Queen because it lacks an object, “from what?” Here we of course have a case of metonymy whereby “Queen” represents the monarch and her people, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. It includes us actually. “From what?” Are you serious Bob? A glance over history suggests things like wars (remember Hitler?), economic recession, plague, oppressive rule, and more. We need God’s help now as much as ever.

His problems with the anthem are first, that it’s over the top lyrics. Personally, I love the lyrics, they express great hope. What is wrong with expressing our dreams for a blessed nation that is good and great, characterised by love, truth, freedom, peace, racial unity, honor and prosperity, and that we do not fall prey to dissension, envy, hate, and corruption? Bob seems to find the anthem boastful. It is not, it is a prayer that we will be great, an expression of human desire for the things listed above.

Bob is upset about our failure to uphold peace. Here he has a point. But rather than us then ditching the anthem, why not ditch violence and try and live the anthem and its desires? If we haven’t lived up to it, instead of abandoning it and settling for something less, shouldn’t we then sing it more in the hope that we get its point and work even harder for peace?

Then Bob gets to his real issue, the God-talk in the Anthem. For Bob, God is a “mythical entity” and embarrassing. For an atheist, I suppose it would be. He quotes Einstein, “religion is simply childish.

Well it may come as a surprise to Bob, that there are many scientists who beg to differ from Einstein. Furthermore, the majority of the world remains childish and believes in the myth (http://www.laidlaw.ac.nz/_blog/Our_Blog/post/Should_We_Be_So_Negative_About_Christianity%E2%80%99s_Supposed_Decline_Recent_Research_into_World_Figures/). I sure do! I love the myth. It is better than that Santa and Easter bunny nonsense! It changed my life, and I am thankful.

Bob seems to assume atheism has come up with a better explanation for the origins of our universe. They haven’t. Some of us consider the idea that the universe self-created or something came from nothing as childish and naïve. It is pretty childish to me to suggest that because we have sent unmanned space crafts into our solar system and a touch beyond, that we can now deduce there is no God. Really Bob? Get real. We can’t even get to the nearest star-system beyond our sun (http://www.universetoday.com/15403/how-long-would-it-take-to-travel-to-the-nearest-star/). What do we know about what is out there? Bob’s understanding of the Christian God is also deeply flawed. Thinking Christians don’t believe God lashes out with natural disasters; rather, he gives himself in love for a world he will not give up on. He won’t give up on Bob either.

I wonder if Bob has considered whether there is a link between this great nation we love and cherish and the song we sing? Could it be that the God of nations, despite the antipathy of some in our midst, has heard our prayer as it has been sung, and has acted in his gentle loving manner to shape NZ into what it is? Could it be that the prosperity Bob himself enjoys (good for him), is in part, a result of God working among us?

Nations need symbols. They need reminders of what formed them. They need to be bought back again and again to their core and original values. They shouldn’t just throw them out because some in the nation have a change of values. Neither is it about national pride, it is about wanting to be in a nation that is full of goodness and love, in which people can freely state what they believe (however wrong, wink wink), and enjoy peace and prosperity. I will keep singing and praying for that.

Bob finishes with his final swing—having a crack at the gay community. Really Bob? Is that the best you’ve got? I say keep the Anthem, sing it more, sing it often, and mean it. Perhaps if more Kiwis lived it soulfully we would be even greater? Whatever, in a world that is dangerous, we need all the help we can get. Is it time. Not in my humble opinion.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I Believe Marriage is Essential to Humanity and Christian Faith


At the recent PCANZ General Assembly we discussed marriage and matters of sexual orientation—the latter in regards to the ordination of practising homosexuals, the former in relation to current legislation before Parliament and the church’s theology and role in marriage. As I prepared for the discussion I realised afresh how integral marriage is to the whole Christian story and ongoing Christian life. I spoke on this in the debate, somewhat nervously (such an intimidating place), and want to unpack what I said.

1.       Marriage is Integral to Creation and Image Bearing

Marriage is implied in Gen 1:26-28 which is critical to understanding God’s plan for humankind (I see this at the heart of what I call the Great Cosmission, God’s plan to build a world). Humans are made in God’s image, in some senses we are like God. This has a range of ideas in it including relationality and dominion.  In Gen 1:27, both male and female are created in God’s image. In Gen 1:28 they are told to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” There is nothing at this point specifically about marriage, but it implies the sexual union of male and female to produce children—heterosexual sexual relationship. In a world before In Vitro fertilization, which is of course a very recent phenomenon, the creation of a new image bearer requires heterosexual sexual relationships. Even in the case of In Vitro fertilization, conception requires combining male and female elements to produce children and fill the earth. Image bearing depends on the created complementarity of male and female. Indeed, no one can live without this—we are all born of it. God’s purposes to form a people is based at its most fundamental level on heterosexual sexual relations. For the writer of Genesis, God sees this as “very good” (Gen 1:31).

In Gen 2 the story of humanities creation is told again and further clarification is given. Of Adam it is said, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) and so a partner is made for him (helper is not a subordinate role, the Hebrew is used of God, e.g. Exod 18:4). The partner made is the female, Eve, made of the same stuff and perfectly complementary to Adam. Marriage itself is instituted in Gen 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Marriage is mentioned twice in this text. First a man will leave his “father and mother,” implying a family heterosexual unit (the first being Adam and Eve). The man will join a women, his wife, and they become one—a new marriage unit who form a family. This clarifies the basis on which image bearers will fill the earth—through marriages and families. Human society, in terms of the pre-fall world, is formed on the basis of the heterosexual marriage relationship.

In Gen 3, at the heart of the Fall is the failure of Adam and Eve to unite around God’s command and live it out in partnership (Gen 3:1–7), and the first impact is contention in the family unit with Adam blaming Eve (Gen 3:12) and God telling the first couple that the result of their failure would be ongoing contention and male dominance (Gen 3:16). This has played out ever since and needs restoration—this is the work of Jesus and now that he has come, his followers. 

2.       Marriage and the Law
While Christians do not live under law and are free from law, the Christian ethic is not antinomian, and the law inscribed on our heart and the life of the Spirit is consistent with the heart of the law. Three of the Ten Commandments, which are the heart of the law, relate directly to marriage. First, the fifth commandment specifically tells a child to obey his or her “father and mother” (Exod 20:12). This implies a family unit and expects children to live obediently to build strong families which will fill the earth. Paul quotes this text in Eph 5–6 (cf. Col 3) and adds that fathers should love their wives, treat slaves well and not embitter their children.  “You shall not commit adultery” implies fidelity within the family unit (Exod 20:17). This is endorsed in the NT (e.g. Matt 15:19; Mark 7:21; 10:19). Sexual relationships are to be limited to marriage units. “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” does the same (Exod 20:17). The notion of family is also found in two of the other ten commandments including Exod 20:5, 10, where members of the family will not continue the sins of their “fathers” (implying forebears in inclusive terms), nor work on the Sabbath. Family is implied in both. When the Shema, the central confession of Israel, is given in Deut 6:5, this is followed by a command to pass this onto the children—marriage and family are all over the Law. The rest of the law affirms marriage, rejects adultery and a range of sexual practises which vary from the marriage relationship (esp. Lev 18, 20). Jesus softened the consequences of these practices, renouncing capital punishment, but did not soften Israel’s rejection of sex outside of marriage. If anything he raised the stakes, challenging it at an attitudinal level (Matt 5:31–32).

3.       Marriage and Jesus
Mark’s Jesus affirms Gen 2:24 in Mark 10:6–8: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew’s Jesus says this, but adds the caveat, “except for sexual immorality” (Matt 19:9).

Jesus then affirms that marriage is instituted at creation (above), is related to creation of gender and image-bearing, reaffirms marriage of both parents and new marriage units and that this relationship should be permanent. It is also in the singular, speaking of monogamy. Jesus’ teaching on love would also indicate that these should be relationships of love (e.g. Mark 12:29–31). While Jesus did not get into detail over a range of sexual practices he challenged disciples not to even contemplate alternatives (Matt 5:27–30), rejected divorce except in the case of unfaithfulness (Matt 5:31–32; 19:9) and sees sexual immorality (porneia) as an evil (pornēros) thing (Mark 7:19-21). This Greek word at the time was a summary term for sex outside of marriage, and should include the full range. While polygamy existed in Israel’s history, Jesus gives no vindication to it. Jesus appeared to state that marriage is a part of this age and would not feature in the age to come, likely because humanity will have completed its commission to fill the earth (Mark 12:25). Jesus himself was not married of course, and so marriage is not obligatory for all humanity. One does not have to be married to be a complete. However, marriage remains central to ongoing human existence. He also redefines family seeing those who obey the word as family (Mark 3:31–35) and knew he would divide them (Luke 12:49–53). However, Jesus’ mission to form a new humanity is not about individualism, but the redemption of people, marriages and families. It lies at the heart of God’s vision for a renewed world.

4.       Paul and Marriage
Paul endorses Gen 2:24, using it twice. In 1 Cor 6:16 Paul quotes “the two will become one flesh” in his polemic against the Corinthians having sexual relationships with prostitutes. More directly in Eph 5:31 in his instructions to husbands and wives in his household code he quotes it. In 1 Cor 7 Paul gives a range of instructions on marriage, endorsing it, and unpacking Jesus’ teaching on marriage for his context. He gives room for a marriage to end when an unbelieving spouse wishes to end the marriage. Otherwise, he confirms Jesus’ teaching on marriage in Mark 10/Matt 19. He expects elders to be “the husband of one wife” confirming his preference for monogamy rather than polygamy for Christian leaders (1 Tim 3:2). All over his letters, writing into a world rampant with sexual immorality, he repudiates sexual immorality (e.g. Rom 1:24–27; 1 Cor 6:9–10; Gal 5:19). Romans 1 is most interesting in this regard in that Paul refers to the Genesis narrative consistently as the basis for his argument against homosexuality.  It is a manifestation of human idolatry, a rejection of the creator and goes against nature—heterosexuality which is essential to the created order.

5.       Other Factors
Israel is a family become nation, the family of Abraham (Gen 12:1f). The nations of the world have their origin in families (Gen 10). Marriage is used to define the relationship of God and Israel, with God as a faithful husband and Israel and unfaithful wife (e.g. Isa 54:6; Jer 3:1; Ezek 16:32; Hos 1–2). The church is the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7; 21:2). Paul’s favourite metaphor for church is family, seen in his wide ranging use of kinship metaphor (God as father, brother, sister). The church is the family of God, into which all humanity is adopted as God’s children with full rights (Gal 4:4–7). The church began in family units (oikos), such as that of Lydia or the Roman jailor in Acts 16. The vision of a renewed earth in Rev 21 has no hint of sexual immorality (Rev 21:8; 22:15). Marriage is simply implied.

Across the Biblical narrative which is the genesis and foundation of our story, marriage is endorsed and is central. It is the building block of God’s commission to humanity to fill his earth. Humans are created through it. The coming of Christ was to restore the original creation intention. God’s dream is of a renewed humanity—not merely individual salvation, but men and women finding salvation and forming families built on worship and love. We are called to live out Gen 1:26-31; 2:24 faithfully as God’s people.

When a theological notion is etched into the whole Biblical Narrative including creation, the heart of the law, Jesus' teaching and Paul's teaching, both positively (affirming marriage), and negatively (repudiating alternatives), it should be seen as fundamental to the faith. Indeed, it is hard to find anything that is more fundamental than marriage and family when one considers that God in Christ is forming a new humanity. With all this in mind, it is inconceivable that authentic followers of Jesus who live out of the biblical narrative would contemplate alternative marital constructs and variations of what is central to being human in a Christian worldview. To do so is to live a different story and faith and, in my humble opinion, should be opposed.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Presbyterian Assembly 2012, Reflections

The 2012 PCANZ General Assembly in Rotorua is done and dusted. The highlight for me was catching up with old friends and making new ones. While the Assembly had its challenges, it is networking and relationships that count. I enjoyed the worship, Malcolm Gordon is very gifted and he and his team led us well. The moderator, Ray Coster did a commendable job leading with grace and respect. The business committee were tireless in their efforts, it is far from easy to run an Assembly with our polity! The tone of the business was positive, especially considering the sensitivities around the debates. The hosts were brilliant, the food was especially great! My friend and former colleague at Laidlaw College Tim Keel was sensational and challenging. I love his fresh contemporary missional perspective. That said, I think it was an almost impossible task for him to speak in the midst of intense debate. I would have loved time to gather in groups to consider the implications of what he said for the church today rather than get into the minutae of endless debate. Still, all in all, it was a great experience.

On the other hand, we continue to be tied up as a church on the matter of ordination and homosexuality. We had three motions seeking to overturn previous legislation to block practising homosexuals and those in de facto relationships from ordained ministry. One was based on liberty in non-fundamental matters, arguing that the issue is not of the essence of the faith, and so should not be legislated. The second argued that where 2/3 of a congregation wanted a particular minister whatever their sexuality, they should be free to do so whether gay or not. The third proposed that the PCANZ remove all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Although many agree with liberty on non-essentials and utterly repudiate discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, each was rejected by about 65 to 35%.

The first of these likely failed because the majority of the Assembly believed marriage and sexuality are fundamental issues to human life and existence, and to Christian faith. I would think this is right with heterosexual marriage essential to image bearing and creation, the Mosaic law, Jesus' teaching and Paul's teaching. The second based on a 2/3 majority I found somewhat ironical. On the one hand, those supporting homosexual ordination believe that 1/3 of the whole church wanting gay ordination should cause the whole church to drop the legislation. Yet at a local church level where 1/3 oppose an ordination, it is not seen as sufficient to stop the ordination.

It is a hard debate because it cuts so deep, especially for those of homosexual orientation. I don't think anyone enjoys the debates. We are victims of our own polity in all this. On the one hand it is great that we can debate these issues, and people have the "right" to continue to challenge. On the other hand, when will it end? I have to say, even though I disagree with their position, I greatly admire the courage and commitment of those working for the ordination of homosexuals. Although the debate was difficult and there were some comments which were a little marginal, I also commend us all for the way we discussed the issue.

The tragedy of the Assembly is the amount of time that continues to be spent on this issue. I ponder whether there is a third way. The difficulty is that if any concession is made, this is seen as a loss to evangelicals and human rights exemption will lapse meaing the church has to ordain homosexuals. As such, it seems to be an all or nothing debate. This means that the stand-off will likely go on and future assemblies will continue to be hamstrung by this issue. That is unless we agree to some sort of truce for a given period, but that is hardly likely with so much passion in the debate. For many too, it is a justice issue, and I respect that.

What puzzles me is why those who are so strongly in favour of the ordination of gays, lesbians and people in de facto relationships don't move to set up their own church -- as some conservatives have done in recent imes. Were I one of those advocating in this way, I would far rather be a part of a fresh movement rather than bash my head decade after decade trying to change the mind of the PCANZ Assembly -- especially with the need to get a 60% majority to reverse previous legislation. This may be decades away if at all. After all, we have been at it for 25 years now! Separate presbyteries or synods within the church is not likely to work. I ponder whether it is time for an amicable divorce, and what that might look like. Property becomes the touch stone issue at this point. But I still ask, is there a way? Can we work this out? The only way both "sides" will be free to "be" will be some kind of separation. This idea is somewhat ironical though, when we are talking about marriage, fidelity etc!

I admit to being more than a little stunned by the stand made against same sex marriage by the Assembly. In our polity, a motion must get 60% to be passed, and I expected them to be very close, even to be lost. Yet, the votes endorsing Christian marriage, rejecting same-sex marriage and that the PCANZ would speak as one voice to Parliament were all passed by between 70-77%. With my theology which sees marriage as central to God's vision of humanity, I admit to being encouraged by this outcome and that the PCANZ will now speak to Parliament on this matter. I am surprised that this has not featured in the mainstream media since the Assembly. I am not sure why?

There were other things that delighted my soul. Particularly encouraging were the statement to support vulnerable children and to work from the bottom up for a living wage. What a great idea. Awesome work here from the Wellington Presbytery. As one who grew up in the Pacific Islands, I think it is great that the Pacific Island Synod was set up, giving PI Presbyterians a place to stand and be heard. A motion was passed in support of the climate change refugees in the Pacific. I admit to not really having realised how critical their situation was. I hope future Assemblies reflect even greater concern for social justice. I hope evangelicals will get more involved in initiating these in the future and reflect an understanding of a broader gospel. I also love our bi-culturalism, and the way we take it really seriously.

I yearn for more focus on other areas of mission at General Assembly. There was one speech, rather late in the evening and so lost in tiredness, on evangelism. We need to reframe evangelism for this context, yet we speak little of it. Many missional moves in the area of money and missional leadership from the Council of Assembly were held in great suspicion and sent back for more discussion. The delay disappointed me, but it will come back better I am sure. I long for the day when we gather and discuss how we are going to share Jesus to the world, rather than being embroiled in ethical debate. Not that the two are disconnected of course, but there must be a way to deal with these things more quickly and get to matters of the proclamation of the gospel in word and deed at a local church level. I like the idea of an Assembly week with more time on worship, inspiration and equipping. I hope we can find ways to sharpen our business, and not retrace the same old debates endlessly.

Finally, with all the negatives, it is great to be part of a church that will discuss hard issues, a church where people can question things. The funniest moment of the Assembly was Martin Stewart's motion that we have annual assemblies. The moderator put the motion, and there was total silence from the 270 commissioners! The "nos" were resounding in contrast! Has there ever been a motion completely rejected in this way? Martin took it brilliantly! Well done.

 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reflections on another Hong Kong Adventure


Two years ago I went to Hong Kong to do ministry. I have just got back from another eleven day Hong Kong jaunt, fellowshipping and ministering at the Vine at the invitation of my great friend and ex-Laidlaw student, Andrew (and Christine) Gardener (http://thevine.org.hk/). This one involved two Saturdays lecturing at the Vine Bible School (Manna) on Paul, preaching at the Vine mid-week African, S.E. Asian and Nepalese refugee gatherings, and some time with the Vine staff. Here are some reflections.

First, Hong Kong is relentless. People work long hours (often 10am to 10pm each day). The Christians in ministry are no exception. I sometimes feel busy here in NZ, but it is nothing in comparison. Not only is it busy, but the pace of life is full on. For those at the Vine, when they get to work they have to stay often late at night because public transport is the only real option and some come to work by ferry or long bus trip. It is a corporate material culture, and work is highly valued. For the non-Christians, work will get a better “next life.” For the Christians to engage, they have to incarnate in the relentless pace. It is a hard place to work, especially for those with young families. Pray for those caught up in it.

Second, Hong Kong accommodation is crazy expensive. We have a four bedroom home with a pool in Albany, Auckland, and that would get you a small moderate two-bedroom, one kitchen-lounge and bathroom high rise in Hong Kong. Rentals are also comparable to this. This is a huge challenge for those on low incomes, with the minimum wage $28 HK dollars an hour (that’s about $6.70 NZ). Education is expensive too. Christian workers face real challenges here.

Thirdly, the gospel is going crazy in Hong Kong. One mission worker who works in mainland China says that it is estimated 28,000 Chinese are converting to Christ a day! That’s around 850,000 per month, and 10 million a year! There are now some 120m Christians in China, and growing. Their greatest need is bibles. In Hong Kong, even in English, bringing Christ into the conversation is never a problem. They are wide open. They might not become Christians, but they are happy to talk about it. The shroud of cynicism and criticism we encounter especially among westerners is not evident. There is a hunger for God. Everything feels spiritually elevated. The Vine in Hong Kong has a big ministry to the many asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong; they are so hungry. One expects to see people come to Christ when you speak and one is not surprised that people experience Christ directly in power. It is very refreshing after ministry in what is often barren NZ. They also need theological teaching big time. Asia is a path more with post-grad degrees should consider. More and more should also learn Mandarin at school and university. Perhaps that’s a word for you.

Fourthly, the “Back to Jerusalem” movement is fascinating (http://backtojerusalem.com/). This is the idea that God is raising up Chinese Christians to evangelise the countries between China and Jerusalem. The vision is for Chinese Christians to go as tentmaker to live in these nations either side of the Silk Road, and to establish businesses and set up house churches. Most of these are Islamic countries, and so the challenges are great. However, they are prepared to die for the cause, as many have done so in China in the last century or so. Many of them believe that in so doing, they will complete the Great Commission, the great movement west of the gospel from Jerusalem and back. Whether this is true or not, it is most definitely the work of God to raise up tens of thousands of missionaries in this way. We talked to some Americans who are involved in training these missionaries. They said that westerners are now compromised as missionaries. Even as workers, people see us coming and know why we are there. On the other hand, the Chinese can get into these nations and are not seen as a threat. The next wave of mission in the world will not be western inspired, it will be Asian, especially Chinese and South Korean. We need to get behind them and support them.

Finally, if you are at a loose end for Jesus and considering where you can make a difference, consider Asia and especially China and Hong Kong. Go and work and take Christ with you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

So Who Owns the Water?


Preliminary Note: Before beginning, let me say that I believe that in light of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Government should consult Māori on major decisions related to NZ’s natural resources. Whether we like it or not, that is part of NZ’s essential bi-culturalism. What I have written below is critiquing the claims to “ownership” of the waters of NZ in the discussion, from a biblical perspective.
NZ is embroiled in a great debate over this question; who owns the water? Māori contesting the asset-sales claim that they own the water. John Key suggests no one owns the water. Well, let me humbly suggest that neither are correct from a Christian biblical point of view; it is simple, God owns the water.

That God owns the waters of the world is clear in such verses as “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, for he founded it on the seas, and established it on the waters” (Ps 24:1). This is quoted by Paul in 1 Cor 10:26 indicating that Christians believed in this. In Gen 1 waters are explicitly mentioned in the creation narrative a number of times, water an essential aspect of the created order. As Exod 20:11 says, he created the seas (Exod 20:11). Or Ps 95:5 which says, “The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.”

Psalm 33:6–8 speaks of God’s creation to which humanity should respond with reverence not radical claims of exclusive ownership:

“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the worlds revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (cf. Ps 65:7; 74:15–19; 89:19; 104:10; 107:33; 135:6; 146:6; Isa 40:12; 41:18; 51:10, 15; Amos 5:8).

God demonstrated his control over the waters at the time of Noah (Gen 6). God’s authority over water is seen at the plagues of Egypt as the Nile turned to blood and fish died (Exod 7:17–24), and at the Exodus and Jordan as Israel passed through the waters untouched enroute to the land (Exod 14:16–29; Josh 3:8–16). God provided water for Israel in the wilderness (e.g. Exod 17:2–6). Jesus demonstrated his dominion over the seas by calming them, and walking upon them, turning water into wine and his divine knowledge of what was in the waters (Mark 4:35–41; 6:45–51, Luke 5:1–11; John 2:1–11; 21:1–7). The NT confirms the notion of God’s creation and sovereignty over the waters of the world (Acts 4:24; 14:15; Rev 10:6; 14:7). Jesus lordship is over all of creation.

So, whatever should be decided about the waters of NZ and who should be consulted in terms of its use, or indeed the wind, or the solar energy, it is not the possession of anyone and this should not form the basis of the argument. All citizens of NZ under its government are stewards of the waters of the nation on God’s behalf. In Gen 1:27 humans, created in the image of God, are given dominion over the animals of the world and are to subdue the earth. They are not given ownership of the world, its waters, or any part of it. We are to rule on God’s behalf under his sovereignty. If we choose to claim ownership we usurp God’s rule and ownership. 

While one can understand the standpoint of anyone who claims ownership on the basis of prior arrival in a particular land, it doesn’t stack up. This debate should be conducted on other grounds, specifically the Treaty. What rights do Māori have over the natural resources of this nation on the basis of prior inhabitation and the Treaty? Now that is the question. That is much more difficult to answer. As I said above, I think at the least it means that there should be genuine consultation over such things to maintain national unity. Whatever the answer, from a Christian perspective at least, the debate is not over ownership. 


Fresh Evidence Jesus Had a Wife?


The news is reporting that a Coptic papyri scrap has been found which has the words “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’” and supposedly will “ignite the debate as to whether Jesus had a wife.” I am sorry, but I can’t help laughing as I read such things. The small business card size scrap is late second century at best, written in Coptic and believed to be a translation of a Greek document. This of course is the time of the Gnostic movement, which produced a number of spurious works with the weirdest perspective of Jesus.

Interestingly the words after “My wife” are deleted and so it may not have anything to do with his wife, e.g. “my wife is the one who obeys my word.” Or, “my wife, the church, my beloved bride.” It is hardly anything like “evidence” Jesus had a wife.

The truth is that there is still no evidence of Jesus being married. The NT says nothing of his marrying anyone although he had a lot of female friends and traveling companions. Such things are pure romantic fiction for those who do not believe the accounts, or want to raise doubts about Jesus and the Christian faith.

The papyri also mentions Mary, the first reference likely alluding to his Mother who “gave to me life.” It says, “Mary is worthy of it.” “It” could be anything. Mary is elusive, with at least three mentioned in the Gospels.

One line says, “she will be able to be my disciple.” This could refer to a female being Jesus’ disciple. Nothing new there, we already know that there were female disciples. For example, when Mary sits at Jesus’ feet in Luke 10, she is taking up the position of a disciple. Secondly, Matthew 12:49 suggests that there were female disciples. There are also female disciples in Acts, like Priscilla and others.

So, like so many of these fresh discoveries, it is a very interesting historical discovery which adds to our knowledge of the early Christian movement, but despite claims to the contrary, we know nothing more of the Jesus who lived 170 years before this incomplete Coptic papyri  came to light.


 

she will be able to
be my disciple

Let wicked people
swell up

As for me, I dwell with her in order to

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Another Political Party?

Also Published in Challenge Weekly Sept, 2012.

I had a thought the other day and wonder what you think?—is there a need for one more political party in NZ, a party that upholds a centre-left-wing economic ideology while upholding traditional Christian values? (Not necessarily a Christian party, but a more general party for the wider populace of similar mindset).

Every election I am uncertain who to vote for. On the one hand, I want to vote for those who believe a government should be very concerned for social justice. I am not a hard-core leftie, believing in personal responsibility, incentive and the ownership of personal property, but I do lean left. Romans 13 and Jesus’ teaching in particular lead me to the view that the State is God’s agent to help people who, in an unjust world, are in genuine need, cannot work and are severely disadvantaged. A good government helps people get a hand-up and ensure all can access cheap primary health care, get a good education and feel safe (justice). It acts to ensure that our egalitarian way of life is upheld. In an age of ecological threat, it will wisely move the nation toward greater ecological sustainability. In these issues I feel more comfortable with some of the economic and social ideals of left wing parties like Labour (well its original values not its current form), and the Greens.  
On the other hand, as with most evangelicals, I am conservative morally, valuing traditional marriage, the importance of family and sexual fidelity. I find abortion and active euthanasia abhorrent. I oppose gay marriage. I am dismayed at the on-going agenda to progressively dismantle the Judeo-Christian ethic that has undergirded our nation from its inception. On these things, I am more comfortable with parties that uphold these values which tend to be right wing. Similarly, I am very uncomfortable with the social agenda of Labour and the Greens in particular. Socially and morally I am right wing and conservative.

So how do I vote? With my economic leanings? With my moral leanings? Every election I try to make the best decision, but I never feel comfortable. This is because there is a massive gap in NZ politics—a party with a left-wing economic perspective but which affirms traditional Christian and western ethics and morals?
Is it time for those who hold this point of view to get serious and seek to form such a party?—one that is economically left but socially and morally right. This would give Christians who see the gospel in this way a place to vote at each election. 

Or, has the horse bolted and would it now be a fruitless waste of time? Would it be better to join an existing party and get active and seek to influence it in the direction of the gospel in all facets? Is this a red herring, and should Christians be focussing more on building redemptive communities of faith that embody the Christian ethic? What do you think?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why Lance Armstrong Is Being Unfairly Treated

So you ride for years and are the premier cyclist in the world (even if illegally), you win seven Tour de Frances by the rules at the time, you never fail one of hundreds of drugs and doping blood and urine tests and it seems you about to be condemned and stripped of all your titles on the basis of people saying you did it. Is this just?

On the one hand, it seems fair. The basis for this is a two-year federal investigation begun in February by USADA. They have the testimony of ten former teammates including emails from Floyd Landis (stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title), Tyler Hamilton’s testimony, and people willing to provide data of the cyclist and his teams doping activity. It is claimed that Armstrong used and encouraged others to use EPO, blood transfusion, testosterone and cortisone between 1998 and 2005 and used EPO, testosterone and human growth hormones through 1996. Witnesses also testify that Armstrong encouraged team members to do the same. Further, tests of Armstrong’s blood suggest blood manipulation during the 2009 come-back tour.
On the face of it, it seems pretty much an open and shut case, albeit a circumstantial one. Indeed, I am not questioning even whether it did or did not happen. It seems to me likely there was doping involved. Armstrong is not fighting the charges either, which seems to support that he is guilty. But is it all reasonable and just?

First, when a person competes in a sporting competition, they do so under the rules at the time. Under the rules at the time, Armstrong won fair and square. He was tested in the same way as all the other athletes at the time. He passed the tests, others didn’t. Perhaps he beat the testing system. However, who is to say that the cyclist who came second, third, fourth, fifth, etc, etc, did not do the same? Will all athletes in the particular tours now be subjected to the same scrutiny by USADA? One can only play a sport by the rules at the time. For example, should we strip the Springboks of the 1995 RWC if it is proven that a certain Suzy was working for the South African Rugby Football Union and poisoned the All Blacks? It all gets rather silly.
Secondly, while there are supposed anomalies with the 2009 tests, these anomalies are not conclusive proof, and it does not relate to his seven titles. Further, have all the riders in the tours also been tested in the same way to the same level? Is there sufficient evidence to prove use from Armstrong and non-use by the others, especially those who won the various titles in every stage and overall? Unless there is more to come out, the 1998-2005 samples have not yielded proof of doping. So, why is he being stripped of his titles again? It seems to me, you either go over the whole lot who got on podiums in every stage, and this would include the mountain, sprints, young rider, and overall categories, or you don’t bother. In that such an investigation is ludicrous, I suggest it is better not to bother with any of it and confine it to history.

Thirdly, those who are testifying are all guilty of the same thing, and as such, it is likely most teams were doing the same as well. Further, how much you can trust the likes of Landis and Tyler Hamilton is up for grabs.

Fourthly, refusing to fight the charges does not prove innocence. At the most it proves that Armstrong has chosen not to contest it. Perhaps the cost is too great? Perhaps he thinks it is loaded? Perhaps he has had enough. Perhaps he knows he is guilty, but knows everyone else is too and can’t be bothered with the whole thing? One can’t blame him. Silence is not guilt.
Finally, were the cyclists told on these tours that if any samples were retested in the future, and found to give up evidence of doping, that they would be stripped? That is, was that a component of the rules at the time? And if it is a part of the rules, are athletes told that everyone in the race who gains a podium on any stage and category, either at the time or later, will also have their samples retested? Is that even feasible? If that sort of legislation was in place, fair enough, throw the book at Armstrong. Otherwise, it is history, let it go. That said, such legislation becomes self-defeating and impractical.

There is an issue of natural justice here. I want doping out of sport and agree with the best tests possible at the time, with cheats dealt to. But I also want justice and fairness and not trolling back over history in this way. While it seems likely that Armstrong, like most in the tour, were playing the system, I don’t believe he is being fairly treated; and if he is, then I would think that the drug agencies will be very busy gathering data on all athletes and retesting samples from the said tours for a long long time. I say leave those tours in the past, tainted as they are. I say in fact, that the authorities should do everything they can at the time to ensure the sporting event in question is as clean as possible, but then let it go. There are simply not the resources to keep going back over the past in this way. The rules at the time are the rules, and then let it lie.
What about you?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Evangelical Presbyterians’ Statement On Same Sex Marriage

I am involved in a group called Presbyterian Affirm. It is an evangelical group within the NZ Presbyterian Church which seeks to promote the gospel and the renewal of churches. A group of us under the leadership of Stuart Lange have worked to put together a statement on same-sex marriage. Our hope is that the government will not pass the legislation, believing that the legislation is not necessary and strays from God’s ideals for humanity. Here is the recently released statement. I would appreciate your thoughts on it.

PRESBYTERIAN GROUP OPPOSES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE BILL

Presbyterian AFFIRM, a widely-supported conservative network within the Presbyterian denomination, is speaking out against the Bill which would allow same-sex couples to marry, declaring its views in a “Statement on Marriage” (see below). Presbyterian AFFIRM believes that “marriage is a unique human institution and treasure” which has “always been about the pairing of a man and a woman”, and that re-defining marriage to include same-sex couples would unhelpfully confuse the meaning of marriage.

 A spokesman for Presbyterian AFFIRM, Dr. Stuart Lange, said: “We believe, that despite some isolated voices to the contrary, the great majority of active Presbyterians in this country want the definition of marriage to be retained as the union of a man and a woman, and that (as Helen Clark and Tim Barnett said in 2004) ‘Marriage is only for heterosexuals’ and ‘Civil Unions are an acceptable alternative’.”

 
STATEMENT ON MARRIAGE

Marriage is a unique human institution and treasure, universally recognized as the union of a man and a woman as husband and wife.

Marriage has always been about the pairing of a man and a woman, and it is a deeply-embedded human pattern. It is inherently related to the natural male-female capacity for procreation, and to the responsibility for raising children. Marriage is thus unique in its very nature, intrinsically different from any other type of human relationship which society may recognise. The concept of same-sex “marriage” is a contradiction in terms. To change that would in effect re-define marriage itself, and would demean the understanding and practice of marriage held by the vast majority of New Zealanders. It is not a “human right” for a small minority to re-invent marriage for everyone else. Parliament should not agree to such a radical social innovation.
 
Traditional marriage and family is very good for society.

   Marriage is greatly beneficial to the stability and wellbeing of society. Stable families with a loving father and mother still generally offer the optimum context in which to raise children. In a country with so many social problems, Parliament must be careful not to allow a further undermining of marriage by confusing its meaning.

The claim that the current Parliamentary Bill is about removing “discrimination” is unconvincing.

Marriage is freely available, but it is not a right which individual citizens are always able to exercise. Because of the inherent nature of marriage, society rightly licenses couples to marry only if they meet certain conditions: if they are adults, if they both agree, if they are not already married, if they are not closely related, and if they are of opposite genders. That is what marriage is about. Nobody is required to be married. There are also existing alternatives, of equivalent legal status.

Society has already made generous provision for same-sex relationships to be recognized in law as effectively equivalent to marriage.

   If the issue is about “equality”, then Civil Unions should be sufficient, given that they are of equivalent legal status to marriage, with partners in Civil Unions having the same protection under law as married couples (and similar rights except for adoption). Those entering Civil Unions have often regarded them as equivalent to marriage, in effect a “civil” marriage. If in fact there are any inappropriate inequities between Civil Unions and Marriage, Parliament should amend the Civil Union legislation, not the Marriage legislation.

 The intent of this Bill appears to be a political move to further increase the societal normalization of homosexual relationships.

To proceed, Parliament would need to be sure that advancing such an agenda would be for the good of society as a whole.


This Bill may be a strategy to help same-sex couples gain the right to adopt children.

Access to full adoption rights by same-sex couples needs to be discussed directly and openly, separately from this Bill, and with primary consideration for the welfare of children.

For Christians and many others marriage is sacred, the God-ordained bond of a man and a woman.

The Christian ideal of marriage lies behind all New Zealand’s marriage legislation, and is part of our national heritage that should not be abandoned lightly. Christians believe that marriage is the gift of God, defined by God, and approved by God. On the basis of the teaching of the Bible, Christians believe that God’s intended context for sex, reproduction and family is loving, faithful marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage is not just a social custom or a legal contract which can be drastically re-defined to suit human thinking. Marriage is recognized by the State but does not belong to it. Marriage as given by God reflects the essential complementary role of male and female as created in the image of God. It is grounded in nature, and in basic male-female physiology. The concept of same-sex “marriage” is spiritually offensive to many Christian people, who still constitute a very significant proportion of this country’s population and its voters. It is also objectionable to many cultural minorities and non-Christian faiths. The Church does not seek to impose its convictions on everyone else, but can and must speak up for what it believes is right and true, and for the good of families and society as a whole.


Presbyterian AFFIRM, August 2012

 The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, one of New Zealand’s largest mainstream church denominations, does not currently have a specific policy on same-sex marriage, but since 2006 it has ruled that people who are in relationships outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman should not become ministers or leaders in the church.

 For further comment, contact:

Dr Stuart Lange, Co-Chairman Presbyterian AFFIRM, Ph. 09-832-5775, smlange@xtra.co.nz  021-0224-2957
 
What do you think?

 

 

 

 

Monday, August 13, 2012

One Mans Olympic Reflectons


So the Olympics are over. Here are some reflections.

First, ‘way to go’ Kiwis! Awesome job! As an old man indoor-rower, I especially loved watching Cohen, Sullivan, Bond, Murray, Drysdales and the others smash the world. Lisa Carrington’s win was brilliant. While others were disappointed, Valerie Vili remains a superstar with her silver, beaten on the day by a better thrower. Not to mention our sailors Jo Aley and Polly Powrie, Sarah Walker, etc; and of course Mark Todd—what a legend. He gives hope to my generation, although a come-back is only possible if you have already been there! And Nick Willis will always be a hero for me despite not having his best day in the final. We see in these athletes the best of being Kiwi—humility, guts, resilience, overcoming the odds, determination, courage and beating a much bigger world.

Secondly, I am intrigued that all of our golds were won sitting down either in a boat or on a bike. Does that reflect that NZers like sitting on their buttocks? Is that what we do best? If it is, we may as well exercise as we do so. It would be good to get some medals standing or swimming in the future though.

Thirdly, we rocked by population. We came fifth by total medals per population, behind Caribbean countries, Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad-Tobago, and the Bahamas. For gold medals, we were fourth, behind the same countries except Trinidad-Tobago. We were way ahead of Australia, USA, and China. We may be a flightless bird, but we are a good one.

Fourthly, I love the way the Olympics reflects the ideals of the Kingdom of God. It is great to see a disabled man Oscar Pistorius and women from such countries as Saudi Arabia competing—the Olympics should be about the breaking down of social boundaries in this way. I love the picture we get of humanity coming together as one, not for war or power-games, but to celebrate being human, to compete and to celebrate. Of course the ideal is not complete with inequalities masked, with much excessive consumption, licentiousness, nationalism, drug abuse and more—but we do get a glimpse of the dream of the Kingdom of God whereby all of humanity will ultimately be one. This gives me hope and spurs me on toward that final goal.

Fifthly, I continue to be intrigued by the many displays of overt religiosity by athletes. While many hate them, I love them. They show that faith is alive and well in our secular world, and that faith cannot and won’t be banished to the margins. Many, especially Africans, were seen genuflecting. Many when interviewed gave thanks to God. I especially enjoyed Lucy Van Dalen’s genuine comments about her relationship with God. I know from my daughter Annie, who runs with Lucy in the USA, that Lucy has a genuine and deep relationship with God. My favourite moment was Meseret Dafar, full of deep emotion, holding a picture of Mary and Jesus, when she won the 5000m. While some Protestants might feel a little uncomfortable, who can deny her genuine faith in God? Glorious.


Finally, I suppose it is back to the same old same old sport and TV. It has been great seeing rowing, handball, synchronised swimming, athletics, BMX, etc; rather than the usual diet of rugby, league and the NZ cricket team. Now it is back to Coronation Street, endless repeats of ‘Friends,’ and “super rugby. Bring on Rio.

Should Funding be Frozen for High Performance Sport?

So the Olympics are over. This means more sleep for us all, but what are we now going to watch?—same old, same old, I suppose—Coronation Street, yawn. Even more than usual, the Kiwis have excelled, with its equal best-ever medal haul, ending up 16th on the medal table. If we adjust this to population, we came in 4th. While there were ups and downs with a couple of athletes not living up to expectations, most excelled.

In the news today is the headline “Olympic Heroes Face Cash Freeze.” Currently high performance sport receives $60m a year and this will be frozen for the next two years. At one level this is highly understandable as times are tough and the NZ government is flatlining most of its budget. Indeed some would say, $60m is far too much anyway. From a Christian social justice point of view, one can certainly argue that there is far more need out there than for high performance sport. It all makes perfect sense at one level.
On the other hand, I am not so sure. The Olympics and other high performance sport have a huge positive effect on Kiwis. It brings a great “feel good” factor as watch NZers excel on the international stage. We all feel a part of it as “we” win medals. In an expensive world, this is largely due to the money provided to help our athletes excel. Sport is a vital part of the NZers identity and sense of well-being, and money spent here, while seemingly disproportionate, reinforces our morale greatly. If we go to the next Olympics and do poorly, what will this decision then look like?

More importantly, we have massive health problems among young people, including obesity as they sit around on social media etc. Our NZ athletes are brilliant role models for young NZers many of whom are encouraged to get into sport as a result of watching their heroes. This activity inoculates against many of the health problems Kiws are facing. A focus on high level sport gets many out of the traps of alcohol and drugs. It reduces obesity. It becomes cheaper in the long term to spend the money on sport inspiring a fresh generation of active Kiwis than to spend it on the many health related health problems later. Even old guys like me try a little harder on the rowing machine after watching Mahe Drysdale and the others. This is all good staving off heart disease and more. We also see in our top athletes the most wonderful examples of good citizenship, sportsmanship and character. We see what it means to give it one’s all for a common goal.
While understandable, I am not sure this decision is the best for the country and may come back and bite us on the bottom. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Should Bible in Schools Be Trashed?

Watching Breakfast yesterday I was intrigued to hear the Reverend Clay Nelson of St Matthews-in-the-City come out strongly against Bible in Schools saying that it is should be trashed. He argues that it is “un-Christian to force our faith on other people.” He aligns himself with the Secular Education Network. According to its website, this network is profoundly secular growing out of the rationalist society. It affirms a naturalistic world view rejecting all supernatural explanations. It sees science and religion as opposed explaining the world in fundamentally opposing ways.

The Rev’s position raises all sorts of questions for me. First, why would a Christian minister support an organisation like the Secular Education Network that blatantly opposes Christianity and faith claims? Christianity is premised on a God who created the world, the story of his repeated intervention, and most importantly, the story of Jesus who was imbued with power and performed miracles, rose from the dead, and whose Spirit acts in his people and world today? Can it really be said that the Rev in any real sense represents “our faith” when he aligns with the openly anti-religion Secular Education Network and against the proclamation of the gospel to NZ’s young? Certainly, on the basis of this at least, he does not align with the same faith as I do.  

Secondly, why would he oppose Bible in Schools on the grounds of force? Is it illegitimate “force” to allow a school to opt in or out of Bible in Schools at any time? or, when any parent at any time can opt a child out of the program? Is it illegitimate force for the church to faithfully and carefully obey the law which allows them to do this? After all, Bible in Schools is Government approved. It has been run on this basis for decades. If Bible in Schools was truly compelled, illegal and not well managed, he would have a point. However, it is not compelled, it is legal and the Christian Education Commission does a fine job in ensuring that the program is well run without compulsion.

Bible in Schools exists as a program because our forebears acknowledged the principle of the separation of Church and state. However, they also acknowledged that NZ, like all western nations, was to a large extent founded on Christianity. The Christian Church has been heavily involved in NZ’s history from its inception, including the Treaty of Waitangi. As a result of these two convictions, our forebears believed that the faith has some primacy and its values and basics should be taught. As such, the BIS program was established whereby the school is closed and the Christian story and its values taught. Direct evangelisation and proselytism has always been repudiated in Bible in Schools.

Christianity and the program are a long-established part of our Kiwi heritage as is Maori culture. I wonder whether the Rev would argue that we should remove Maori culture from the school curriculum because it is coercive and mono-cultural? After all, every NZ child has to study it. None of us should suggest such a thing.

In my view, the Christian story and its values should not be marginalised into a half-hour school closed program, but responsibly taught within the curriculum. Yes, we should teach young people to understand all the major religious and philosophical perspectives; but we should give some primacy to the faith that undergirds NZ culture—to not do so is a denial of our national identity.

A few other things come to mind. First, Jesus told the Pharisees and disciples that a kingdom divided against itself will fall. The Rev is nicely accelerating this in NZ. I wonder how Jesus views his comments. Secondly, the Rev perpetuates the western myth that secularism is neutral whereas religion is not. Secularism is not a neutral position—it is an anti-position; an anti-religion, anti-supernaturalism and anti-faith philosophy. It is as much a “religious” belief system and faith-claim as any religion. It is premised on the presupposition that supernaturalism in any form is untenable. This cannot be verified. Case in point, the origins of the universe; Christians claim God initiated it. Secularists have no answer other than chance. The jury is out on the actual answer and we all make our own call. Thirdly, as an aside, the claim that science and faith are fundamentally opposed is nonsense and the sort of either-or modernist thinking that should be rejected.

The media loves this stuff. If you google bible in schools, this story is everywhere. What the Rev has done is give them another angle to hammer Christianity—when one of “their own” comes out supporting the anti-Christian agenda that underlies our culture. While the Rev is quite within his rights to say his piece and believe as he does, in doing so I believe that he violates his call, his church and tradition, the gospel, and plays into the hands of the anti-Christian worldview. Bible in Schools is not coercive, it is an integral part of our heritage and I hope it continues to play an important part in the NZ education system.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Radical Call of Tatenda Taibu



I dreamed of being an international cricketer in my younger days. Each year, I played rugby in winter, cricket in summer, and wanted to be one of those double All Blacks who played both codes for NZ. I made it to Premier Club level in both and perhaps might have made it higher if I had stayed in sport. However, once Jesus got a hold of me in my early twenties and called me to preach, it was all over, and I gave away competitive sport to follow Jesus’ call.
It was a hard decision at one level, sport was so important to me. At another level, due to my radical experience of conversion and involvement in evangelism and ministry, it was easy because all I wanted to do was to obey Jesus and tell people about him.  I still feel the same. While this is not the call of every Christian sportsman, many of whom stay in the sport to play and give witness, it was my call. I have never regretted this decision and am where I am today because I dared to say yes as we should all do, no matter what the call is.

With this in mind, I was intrigued to read recently of Tatenda Taibu. Tatenda Taibu is a much more successful sportsman than I ever was and who has much more at stake. Until a week ago, he was a wicketkeeper batsman for Zimbabwe after a 11 year career. First selected at 18, just 3 years later at age 21, he became not only the first black captain of the national cricket team, but the youngest test cricket captain of all time. He was a fine player with an impressive record, scoring 5198 runs, average around 30, 3 centuries and 34 fifties, and taking 215 wicketkeeping dismissals across all forms of international cricket—impressive. He was internationally regarded, playing in the lucrative IPL. He is just coming into his prime as a cricketer and could likely have played on into his late thirties and made an awful lot more money.
Yet, last week on the 10th of July at age 29, shocking many, he retired from cricket to do church work. He is quoted as saying, “I just feel that my true calling now lies in doing the Lord’s work, and although I am fortunate and proud to have played for my country, the time has come for me to put my entire focus on that part of my life.”

Tibby, as he is nicknamed, has turned his back on pursuit of glory and has devoted his life to preaching. While a successful sportsman, he admits seeking true happiness and has found it in God. Renowned for his love of money and bling, he has renounced this preferring to store up treasure in heaven. He has put aside his bad boy image. He once fell out with the Zimbabwe cricket team for two years and played in South Africa. During this time he was charged for assaulting a Zimbabwe cricket official. Now, on the wall of his house is written, “I am God’s disciple—Taibu.” He has also said, “there is no looking back. I have stepped over the line. I won’t let up, or shut up. My focus is clear, my path straight, my God reliable, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.” His wife’s name is Loveness, his children Taibus, Tatenda (Jnr), and Gershom Paul (named after Moses’ son and the Apostle). He is raising his children in the Lord—“through him, the sky is the limit for me and my family.” He is a member of the Eagle Eye Tabernacle.
It is interesting reading blog sites and comments on ESPN Cricinfo, where critics debate his decision, mostly critical and showing little comprehension. Yet, those of us who know Jesus, know that Tatenda Taibu illustrates the heart of true discipleship found at the call of the first disciples (Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11) and through history; namely, if called to do so by Jesus, to be prepared to give up anything for him and to pursue his call no matter what the cost. His call is typical of God, calling someone out of fame and glory to be his servant.

May we be inspired to do the same, and may Tibby, his family and the church be richly blessed as he preaches God’s word.
A version of this can also be found on the Laidlaw College Blog (http://www.laidlaw.ac.nz/_blog/Our_Blog/post/The_Radical_Call_of_Tatenda_Taibu/).