Saturday, December 24, 2016

Why Not an Alms Race Instead?

Further to my blog yesterday, today when asked about his tweet, US President Elect Donald Trump had this response: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

Glorious! Sounds like a game of Survivor: “outwit, outplay, outlast.” Have you noticed that the word Twit is found in the first of these terms? Just saying.

I won’t go over the ground I covered in my previous blog in which I suggested that while Donald is right to say that the world needs to come to its senses concerning nuclear weapons, as leader of the “free-world” and “the greatest country on earth,” and as a citizen of this world, he should lead the conversation toward global disarmament. I can hear Hillary’s words in July resounding in my head: "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” She had her flaws, but one of them wasn’t this kind of macho bravado crap.

Incidentally, Vladimir’s response is wonderfully reassuring: “Indeed, they have more missiles, more submarines and more aircraft carriers, we aren’t arguing with that, but we are simply stronger than any aggressor.”

Anyway, isn’t it great to see the leaders of the two most powerful countries in the world posturing for position? I suggest we have a celebrity boxing match and the winner takes all. Might work out a bit better than a nuclear holocaust. Would be very entertaining too.

A better suggestion is that instead of the escalation of an arms race the two great powers have an Alms race. The term “alms” is not used that much anymore. According to the Oxford Dictionary, “alms” are “(in historical contexts) money or food given to the poor.” So, instead of more arms, we need more alms. Why not an alms race to see which nation can be the most benevolent toward the suffering in the world?

According to one source, at the moment, 80% of the world lives on less than $10 per day. The poorest 40% of the world’s population account for 5% of the world’s income. The richest 20% have 75% of the world’s income. Just over a quarter of children in developing countries are underweight and malnourished. 72 million children in the developing world have no access to schools. A billion people cannot read. I could go on with endless statistics, but we get the point. At the same time, less than a percent the world spends on weapons each year would put every child into school. It costs $1.8million USD to build each nuke, perhaps that money could be put to much better use resolving the problem of poverty.

Jesus talked about the wealthy giving to the poor more than anything else. As Donald thinks the Bible is the greatest book in the world, he can check this out for himself in such passages as the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7; Luke 6), the many parables like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), the Rich Fool (Luke 12), the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16), and other examples like the Rich Ruler (Luke 18), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), and the generous widow (Luke 21). In fact, just about everything Jesus said explicitly or implicitly calls for the wealthy to give alms to those in disadvantage and need. Alongside non-violence, it is one of the central aspects of Jesus’ teaching.

On the other hand, the Don (oh that’s Bradman, whoops) will struggle in vain to find a text which endorses the building of weapons of mass destruction. Despite claiming to have the full weaponry of the Lord of Armies at his disposal (the one who nuked Sodom and Gomorrah), Jesus simply wasn’t interested in that way of being human. The world was controlled by despots at the time of Jesus, the likes of the Caesars and Herod. Jesus came to the world to turn such nonsense upside down. He showed us another way. Don and Vlad don’t seem to have worked that out yet.

So, my challenge to the VP-elect is rather than building yet more than the 7.700 nukes he has at his disposal at the touch of a button (what a comforting thought), he should seek to up the US’s game concerning alms-giving. What we need is not an arms race, but an alms race, whereby the wealthy of the world put their extensive resources to work to alleviate the suffering of the millions in poverty. He can do this personally, with his enormous personal empire. Now he has at his disposal the wealth of the richest country in the world.

As we head into Christmas, this makes sense, for Old Saint Nick is famous for this very thing. So come on Don, give up behaving like a tough guy in the playground, acting staunch, making threats, warning wannabees that you will give them a good old fashioned hiding if they threaten you. Instead, let’s see you be the most radical and generous President in world history leading your nation in upping caring for those in need. After all, this too is a part of the “great” American tradition. You could become even more famous, Saint Donald! The guy who fixed the problems of poverty and income disparity. Not the guy who led the world into another arms race, cold wars, and who knows what else … God have mercy!

Then again, if he does build up his arsenal and nuclear war breaks out, the world’s poor will be incinerated. So, I suppose there are always other ways of solving problems. I would suggest that this is not the best one, unless you don’t mind a “bit” of collateral damage.

So seriously Don, Vlad, and anyone else who cares to have ears to hear, this Christmas let’s launch an alms race. I dare you, Don, I dare you.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Why Trump is Right; This Christmas the World Does Need to Come to Its Senses Regarding Nukes (sort of)

So today, December 23, 2016, Donald J. Trump, US president elect, tweeted this: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

President Elect Trump is of course absolutely right in the final part of the Tweet—the world must come to its senses regarding nukes. Nukes are an abomination. This has been seen by the action of his beloved U.S.A., when they nuked Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Aug 6 and 9, 1945. In those bombings, supposedly justified to end WWII—the jury is out on that one—between 150,000 and 226,000 people were killed. It is sobering to thing that today’s nukes are around 3,000 times more powerful than WWII bombs.

According to one news report, if the Russians let off one of their ten nukes aimed at New York there would be no survivors within seven to ten km of its epicentre, not to mention the radioactive fallout. If they launched all ten, New York and its people would basically cease to exist. So, Trump is right. The world needs to come to its senses.

Yet, it is Trumps beloved U.S.A. (God bless America) which remains the only country to have let off nukes in active conflict. So, who is it that needs to come to their senses? The USA of course. And Russia. And the other nuclear-armed countries—Israel, France, China, UK, Pakistan, India, and North Korea.

Further, Donald speaks of the world coming to its senses. The world is this planet. Although there is mounting evidence which may indicate he is an alien, Donald is actually a person of the world that needs to come to its sense. He is a son of Adam, a human being, born on planet earth, a member of the human race. His sexual desires demonstrate this. As a member of the world, perhaps where sense concerning nukes is concerned, he could start the ball rolling, not by building more nukes, but dismantling them. He could follow Obama’s lead and try to de-escalate nuclear tension.

Not to mention that he is about to take leadership of, as he and many Americans would put it, “the greatest country in the world,” (snigger—kind of depends on your definition of greatness—Jesus sais humility was the path to greatness, so you can make up your own mind on this one). So, perhaps he, the leader of the greatest country in the world, might lead with some “sense.” He might pause and consider that rather than load up with yet more nuclear weapons. After all, the USA has 7,700 nuclear warheads. Isn’t more just greedy? Why more? Isn’t that enough. We have none in NZ, and we are doing ok. But we suck as a country in comparison to the greatest. Perhaps Bill English should arm us, or if not, at least get his brother Johnny English into our security networks.

Trump also claims to be a Christian. His favourite book is the Bible—check out the video that plays on the right side of this: As he is in love with the Bible even more than himself (tsk tsk), perhaps he might take some time to read a Gospel, say the Gospels of Matthew or Luke. He could note Jesus’ attitude to violence.

He might pause in Luke 2:14, “and on earth, peace!”—not the Augustus peace at the end of a sword (or nuke) peace, but deep Shalom where “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa 2:4).

He might stop and reflect on Matthew 5:38-44 where Jesus turns upside down “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (add a nuke for a nuke), suggesting “do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also … love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ Nothing explicit about nukes here, but perhaps he has a hermeneutic[1] that works them in.

He may then read Matthew 26:52-53 where Peter slices the ear off an opponent when Jesus is arrested only for Jesus to say to him, “Put your sword (read nuke here Don) back into its place. For all who take the sword (nuke) will perish by the sword (nuke). Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” In other words, who needs nukes when you have God? Put your nuke away Donald! I just had a rude thought, but won’t add that in.

Finally, the President Elect of the free (hehehe) world may ponder Jesus’ total refusal to use violent force even though everyone expected and wanted him too. This is seen on the cross where Jesus cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

As we come into Christmas in an unstable year, one good thing from this deplorable example of complete ignorance and stupidity, is we see again the marked contrast between the type of King Jesus is when compared with despots and megalomaniacs like Trump (he has excellent potential here as this tweet demonstrates). Jesus emerged into a world where Trumps ran the whole place. They were called Caesars and before them the likes of Alexanders and Pharaohs. We are being reminded of what Jesus came to save us from.

In light of this stark contrast, I say we again place our trust in Jesus. We heed his call to take up our crosses and follow him, renouncing the ways of nukes and other examples of human hubris. We admire him. Further, we worship and adore him. We look to the baby in a manger, who died on a cross committed to non-violence, for our hope.

As for Trump, God help the world in 2017. After all, he is one of many across the world, rising up, seeking to claim the world. Satan is giggling at the thought. Trumps’ Tweet shows we need Jesus more than ever. So, this might be a good thing. It might get us on our knees again. After all, what else have we got? Have a great Christmas.  

[1] A method of interpretation.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Seriously Bishop Brian, Part 2

Having written my previous blog on the idea that natural events are caused by personal sin, I had another string of thoughts that I must put out there.

Bishop Brian claims it is murder (e.g. Cain and Abel), homosexuality, and other such sins that directly caused the event. Often abortion is also singled out in such ‘prophetic oracles.’ Let’s just assume for a moment that the honorable bishop is correct, and God is smiting New Zealand for these sins.

The first question that comes to mind is why this place of all places? According to GeoNet the quake hit fifteen km north-east of Culverden. I suppose on the rationale of the bishop we are to suppose that the people of Waiau and Culverden are really bad sinners. As God supposedly chose this place, they must be guilty of more of this than other New Zealanders? Their sins have purportedly made the earth there heavy, and it is spewing up.

Now, in 2013 Culverden was a country town of 428. North-east is Waiau, very close to the epicentre, which had 261 people in the 2013 census. If God is upset with our sins, why here? Are the folk of Waiau or Culverden worse sinners than others in NZ? Taking Jesus’ question in Luke 13:2-5 see previous blog), are these 700 or so people worse sinners than say, people from Albany, Auckland (where I live)?  I would have thought a good volcanic eruption in Auckland might be closer to the money (if his assumption is true).

I see in Culverden there are other retailers, a Four Square Shop, Farmlands, a motel, PGG Wrightson. There are also the Culverden Tearooms (a scene of carnal pleasure?), a Challenge Petrol Shop, a domain, a silversmith, and a school. There is a pub. Aha, is this the scene of the debauchery that led to the earthquake? Or is it the Culverden Indoor Bowling Club where it is all going on? I see there is a police station in Culverden, perhaps a harbinger of the rampant crime pervading the town. I looked around the Canterbury police statistics, but didn't earth up much on Culverden. Ah, but then there is also a Catholic Church there and the Amaru Cooperating Church, which is listed in the Presbyterian Church’s of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Of course, these are traditional churches—can they be taken seriously? 

Getting real; two churches, one pub, mmmm, worse sinners? Absolutely not. I can hear Jesus’ answer to his own rhetorical question in Luke 13—no, they are not worse sinners. Rather, he said watch yourself, me and Bishop Brian included.

What about Waiau? Here there is even less going on. There is a motor camp, a school, a foodmarket, a café, a lodge, a hall and library, a few other spots, and houses. As the epicenter of the earthquake, one wonders what the heck may have been going on in these places? Are the folk of these small South Island Towns living horrendous lives of sin under those roofs? Somehow, I think not any more than those in the areas Destiny Churches are found are doing so.

Then there is the second question of what sins Brian highlights. He and others who espouse such a theology and interpretation of the world seem focused on sexual sins (especially homosexuality) and abortion. Now, I am pro-life and find abortion deeply grieving. I also have a pretty conventional Christian view of sexuality. However, for the life of me, I can’t understand why these particular sins are singled out above others.

Where sex is concerned, what about the enormous range of other sexual sins that are going on around the place? I myself lived in a de facto relationship in my early 20s before becoming a Christian. We lived in Pakuranga-Howick, Auckland, why were we not smote? I sure deserved it with this line of thinking.

While Jesus did speak on sexual immorality, he spoke more about sins concerning money and greed than anything else? Way more! Luke’s Gospel is almost a manifesto against greed! So, what about the sins of rampant materialism, consumption, greed, and the acquisition of enormous wealth at the expense of others? This could include those who preach a false prosperity gospel that God makes us wealthy if we are generous and obedient, especially with tithes and offerings. It could include those who have become rich through their ministries? Paul warns Timothy of such people in 1 Tim 6 where he states that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil! Is the real problem materialism? The problem with this is that would mean the good folk of Waiau and Culverden are hoarding their wealth at the expense of others to a degree greater than the rest of the nation. Mmmmm. Hardly likely.

What about hypocrisy? Jesus spoke on that a lot, heaps in fact. When talking on hypocrisy it was almost always the religious leaders in his sights. Could it be the hypocrisy of religious leaders that caused the terrible events in Canterbury? Then again, with no church buildings in Waiau (I may be wrong on this but couldn't see one on google earth), that is hardly likely either. Or are the clergy of Culverden to blame? Like, like most small towns, the believers can’t afford clergy, so that idea can be put to bed. What about other sins of arrogance and pride? What about social injustices like racism, sexism, and mistreating others because they are different? Like homosexuals for example. You don’t find Jesus targeting them at all! When he targeted people it was always religious leaders for their hypocrisy and legalistic self-righteousness! Religious leaders be warned!

The truth is that the whole assumption that these earthquakes is due to the sins of these poor folk is utterly repulsive and unfair. It is to be repudiated as repugnant. Is it acceptable for supposed theologically astute church leader to make such claims? It is theologically wrong and it is downright mean. Even if God does smite people in this way, the claims just don’t add up. Why the heck these little towns? Why the heck these particular sins? 

I prefer Jesus’ approach—we are all sinners and we all need God’s mercy and salvation. When he came, he didn’t come to smite us but to befriend us and welcome us into a different world. Where there was suffering, he didn't preach wrath, he reached out in love. He fed them. He healed them. He welcomed them. He didn't accumulate wealth, he divested it. He foresaw a world that does no condemn but invites people into relationship with a God who identifies with people in their suffering. So, seriously? Come on!

Seriously Bishop Brian!

Oh Brian, seriously! Brian Tamaki’s latest sermon statements concerning the earthquakes besetting NZ reveals the deep theological illiteracy of many NZ Christians. The idea he is espousing is an old one, going back to the earliest days of human religious understanding. It works like this—natural events need explaining. The answer, someone of us did something wrong to displease the deity(s). So, when an earthquake hit in ancient Greece, the gods were displeased. If an earthquake hit Israel, Yahweh was displeased. In response, the deity(s) caused the horrendous event as a warning and punishment. We find this all over the OT—sin leads to God’s specific judgment. They then jump to the particular sin and sinners that caused the event. They then blame them. In the ancient world, whole groups were shut out of cities for such things.

Now as we come to the NT, we find that Jesus utterly severs this link. Here are three examples. 

In Mark 2:1–11 there is a blessed suffering severely disabled man who is brought for healing. As one would expect from Jewish religious leaders, they interpret his disability as a judgment of God on his sin (or that of his parents). When he arrives, before all, Jesus declares his sins forgiven. This infuriates the Jewish leadership for two reasons. First, Jesus is a mere man and has no authority to forgive sins. For them, this is blasphemy. They are riled. Second, if the man is supposedly forgiven by Jesus, why is he still disabled? He can’t be forgiven if he is sick (because the two are intertwined). Jesus perceives their anger and thinking and asks whether it is easier to forgive the man’s sins or heal him. This is a trick question, as the Jewish leaders would see them as equally difficult because one presupposes the other. That is, if he is forgiven, he will be healed. If he is healed, he is forgiven. So, Jesus heals the man. This proves (to the Jewish way of thinking) that he is forgiven. The Jewish leaders do not perceive that God is among them but want to kill him. They cling to their false worldview despite their thinking being demolished before their eyes with a seemingly impossible event—the healing and forgiveness of such a man. This shows that, as John says of Jesus that Jesus did not come to bring judgment but to save (John 3:17). Jesus here puts a wrecking ball through the axiom that bad things happen because God is punishing us.

The second example is John 9:1–3. Jesus and his team of followers are walking around in Jerusalem. They come across a blind beggar, the worst of situations in the ancient world where there is no social welfare system like ours today. Demonstrating the standard thinking of their age, the disciples ask Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” There it is. The man is blind because of his or his parents’ sins. God is punishing him(them) then. Jesus’ answer directly exposes that this is false—“it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” In one statement, Jesus clearly explodes the mythical direct link between suffering and judgment. The poor beggar is blind not because of sin, but so that God can display his glory in him. Jesus then heals him. The message here is that when we meet a person in such a situation, our call is not to judge them, but to help them with God’s mercy and compassion. It tells us through the direct words of Jesus that disability is not directly caused by God because of the sin of a person or their family, but so that God can glorify himself through him. Those of us who know those wonderful disabled people who refuse to let their disability hold them down can understand this. We see God in them and shining through them. Further, God’s glory is seen when humans respond to suffering not with judgement, but with merciful compassion. This is what we are called to do in an earthquake of when we bump into someone in need in any situation. We help them. Thankfully, this is the usual kiwi way. May it ever be.

The third example is Luke 13:1–5. At this time, some rebellious Galileans were killed by the Romans and the Roman Prefect Pilate mixed their blood with the sacrifices at the Temple. Jesus took this as an opportunity to again rupture the so-called link between personal sin and judgment. He asks those present, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?” In other words, did they suffer from the Romans due to their excessive sin? Surely, they were bad sinners that is why the bad stuff happened. Jesus answers, “no, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So, they suffered this way, not because of their sin. He uses it as a warning to all people to turn from sins and live well to receive eternal life. He asks again, “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” This sounds like an earthquake situation, whereby a building falls on people—something we know only too well in our recent history (may God have mercy). Jesus answer, is again crystal clear, “no, I tell you.” Again, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to tell all listening that all need to repent, turn to God, and live well, to receive eternal life. 

In other words, yes, all people are sinners. We Christians are no different to anyone else in this regard. Such events come and go, hurting the righteous and unrighteous alike. Yet, they do not say anything particular about the sin(s) of the people in mind. To use the modern vernacular, “shit happens.” Jesus wasn’t the first to challenge this axiomatic link between bad events and God’s judgement. It is challenged in the OT wisdom literature. This is especially seen in Job, where Job’s friends are like Bishop Brian telling Job that it is his sin that caused his horrific experiences. Job stands his ground refusing to yield to their accusations. He is right. Bad stuff happened because bad stuff happens. Yet, in the end, he humbles himself before God.

What Brian and others show is their lack of theological understanding, which is tragic from any church leader. They have not learned the basic interpretative principles of reading Scripture. We begin theological exploration not with the Old Testament but with Jesus. What did he say and teach? What did those with him pass on from him? We then read the OT back through the lens of Jesus, and as we do, we see that Jesus came to clarify God and what he is really like. The ideas in the OT are clarified. One of the things that we find is that the axiomatic link between personal sin and horrific events is shattered. That is good news because when horrible things happen, we don’t need to go hunting around to find scapegoats for the bad events, people we can expose and ridicule. Crap happens. It is a busted world. We are mortal and vulnerable. Good people die young. Bad people prosper. Horrid things happen. We are all flawed. We all need mercy. We all need help. Jesus came to show us what that looks like.

And where is God in such situations? Is he is heaven throwing the thunderbolts with violent rage? Not in the book I read. No. God showed us what he is like and his attitude by coming among us as God’s Son made flesh—a person, like us. In fact, that is the story of Christmas which we will soon celebrate. He didn’t come on a chariot to destroy. He came as a baby in a manger, vulnerable. He didn’t grow up and start demolishing humanity for its sin. Aside from throwing a bit of furniture around because of the corruption in the Temple, he showed that God is love. When around the sinners of the world he did not harangue them for their depravity. No, he ate with them—the ultimate expression of concord in the ancient world. He was their friend, and they were his friends. The only people he clashed with were those who refused to hear his message and perceive what God was doing in him—the sort of people who assumed bad stuff happens because we sinned. No, Jesus went into the dark places to help, feed, and heal. He touched the untouchables. He refused to stoop so low as to hit people when they were down with messages of God’s wrath due to their so-called sins. He healed them with a touch. Then, he did the unthinkable. When he was arrested and unjustly tried and brutally crucified, he only showed compassion and love—even to those who engineered his death with their repulsive duplicity. He refused to unleash the wrath of God even when they killed the King of Glory. He did it to show us how far we are to go in love and compassion, not judgment and wrath—the point of sacrificial death.

As he lived this way, he showed us what God is like. God is not some Zeus-like figure, full of anger, smiting the bad guys! We don’t need to find the bad guys and vilify them. We don’t have to try and figure out which of their sins caused the problem. This is nonsense. What we should constantly be doing is looking in the mirror and assessing ourselves and seeking to be better people. Where we find suffering like our poor friends in the north-east of the South Island, we should be among them helping them, caring for them. If we can’t, we can send aid and messages of love and support. Actually, we see this from the good folk of the region including many churches who are horrified at this accusation made by the so-called Bishop. We see it from the religious and non-religious alike, and that is glorious. Rather than these accusatory sermons, why not a sermon calling forth the people of the church to give lavishly to aid efforts? Perhaps such churches can partner with other churches and aid groups down there on the ground who are actually helping those in pain and torment. Now that’s a message people might warm to. Jesus would be there among them, comforting, encouraging, and loving. He is not up in the hills moving the tectonic plates to destroy those heathen sinners!

All Christians need to think seriously about how to understand God. All revelation of God (the gods), including the Old Testament, are partial when put alongside the coming of God the Son. He defines who God is. And he does not look like the wrathful god who is proclaimed by many Christians. They simply have not grasped the essence of Christianity—JESUS! He is not like this. He calls us not to be like this. If we choose to believe in him, he empowers us not to be like this. He spurs us all on to be people of love, compassion, and mercy, being prepared to go the extra mile for all others who suffer burdens. This is Christianity in action.

As a passionate Christian, it hurts me to hear another one naming the same God speak so ignorantly. I apologise on behalf of the church to all who are personally hurt by such false ideas. Our God is not this wrathful cosmic beast smiting humankind for their sin. Rather, he is reaching out to us in love, justice, mercy, and compassion to show us the way of love. Let’s keep doing this. To the people of the South Island, may the Lord bless you and keep you. Kia Kaha. Our prayers and thoughts are with you.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Reflections on Galatians 2: Recipients, Setting and Date

An important point of discussion concerning Galatians is the old debate concerning the setting and date of the letter. One set of scholars holds that Galatians was written around the time of Romans and the Corinthian letters, so the mid to late 50s. Others consider it was written around 47–48. Scholars dispute to whom Paul wrote. Those who prefer a later date argue Paul wrote the letter to churches in North Galatia planted on his second Antiochian mission journey (Acts 16:6) or even on his third (Acts 18:23). Such a setting pushes the date to the mid or late 50s. Others who hold an earlier date argue that he wrote it sometime between his first Antiochian mission (Acts 13 – 14) and his second. Another critical factor is whether the visit to Jerusalem in Gal 2 matches the visits to Jerusalem in Acts 11 (the famine visit) or Acts 15 (the Jerusalem Council discussion on Gentile Christians the Law).

It seems to me that the arguments for an earlier date are much stronger than those for the later date. First, the only real evidence of evangelization in the Galatian region is Acts 13 – 14. Acts 16 and 18 suggests Paul passed through visiting churches rather than full on evangelization. Certainly, Luke gives no indication of his evangelization of the northern area. Rather, it seems Paul left it to the Galatians to complete the task. Conversely, Acts 13 – 14 clearly has Paul in Galatia and planting churches. One weakness of this view is that Paul preached the gospel to them first due to illness (Gal 4). Luke says nothing about this, so one can surmise this happened on Paul’s second or third journeys. However, this is not a strong argument because the details of Paul’s evangelization are scant even where Luke does mention it. So, he may have been ill on his first journey at some point, and it is to this Paul is referring.

Second, if Gal 2 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15, Galatians seems redundant. Acts 15 refers to a letter written to the Gentile churches telling them that they did not need to be circumcised and come under the Law. Silas took this to Antioch. Paul and Silas then traveled from Antioch to the Galatian churches. No doubt they carried the letter. Galatians then would be needless. Rather, the letter from the Jerusalem Church and his presence with them would do the trick. So, it fits better to see Gal 2 as Acts 11 and Galatians preceding the Jerusalem Council.

Third, if the letter comes after the second Antiochian mission journey and before the third, then Paul would surely mention the Jerusalem Collection. In 1 Cor 16, there is a reference to Paul gathering money from the Galatian churches. Yet, Galatians is silent on collecting money. All that is mentioned is Gal 2:10 where the Jerusalem leaders urge Paul to continue to remember the poor, something he is eager to do. While this reference can fit a date after Paul’s second Antiochian journey, it fits nicely with Acts 11 being the Gal 2 journey to Jerusalem. Barnabas is also mentioned, perhaps indicating this is before their split which happened before the second mission trip.

Fourth, some argue that chronology fits a later date. So, it is claimed Jesus died in 33, and Paul’s conversion was in 34/35. He spent three years in Arabia. He then visited Jerusalem 37/38. There is then a fourteen-year span until his second journey to Jerusalem in 51/52, which is the Jerusalem Council visit (Acts 15; Gal 2:1–10). He then travels on his third journey and spends time in Ephesus. He may have written Galatians from there in the mid-50s. However, there are two ways through this. One is to take the fourteen years as inclusive of the three years, the fourteen years being from his conversion. Such an interpretation takes the date to AD 48. An alternative is that Jesus died in 30 and Paul was converted in 32/33, which also takes the date to 48. Hence, the chronology question remains unclear leaving both possibilities open.

All in all, I think the case for South Galatia and a date around 48 a year before the Jerusalem Council makes better sense of the data. It is not a watertight case as the chronology question, the possibility that Gal 2 matches Acts 15, the presence of Titus, the references to later visits to Galatia, and the closeness of themes and style to Romans and the Corinthian correspondence, gives a reasonable case for North Galatia. Thankfully, such a decision is not critical as it does little to change the meaning of the letter.

So, I surmise that the situation was thus: Paul has evangelized the churches of South Galatia (Acts 13 – 14). He has returned to Antioch. Judaizers have entered his churches seeking to convince Gentile converts to Judaize. Paul has heard of this and wrote Galatians to deal with it. Some of these same characters come to Antioch and do the same. Their presence catalyzed Paul’s visit to Jerusalem with Barnabas where the church resolved the issue (Acts 15). After this, Silas and Judas delivered the letter to Antioch. Subsequently, after the split with Barnabas and Mark, Paul took Silas and the letter west to follow up on his Galatians letter. The Judaizers remained an issue after this, but the ‘orthodox’ position of the church is that a new Gentile believer did not require to adhere to Jewish boundary markers to be saved and included in God’s people. 

Reflections on Galatians 1: The Authorship of Galatians

It is not debated whether Paul wrote Galatians. It is one of the seven undisputed letters alongside Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Its acceptance is due to its similarity to these other letters in style, theology, and vocabulary and the details concerning Paul’s life (esp. Gal 1:10 – 2:14; 4:8–19; 6:14–16). However, there are two things worth noting concerning the production of the letter. First, it is the only Pauline letter where ‘all the brothers who are with me’ is mentioned in the prescript. ‘Brothers’ here can mean his co-workers (e.g. Ellis), but most likely means all the Christian brothers and sisters at Paul’s point of writing. The letter is likely written from Syrian Antioch if I am right about the date. Otherwise, this would include the Christians in Corinth or Ephesus, if the letter is later.

The brothers and sisters are likely mentioned not because they are co-authors or even co-senders, but they endorse the material in the letter. Thus, all those Christians with Paul at his point of writing agree with his appeal and repudiation of the Judaizers. They stand with Paul in advocating that the only real gospel is a gospel of grace and faith. New Gentile believers are not required to yield to the Judaizers’ demands that the male converts are circumcised and that all new believers live by the expectations of aspects of Jewish law that mark them distinct from the world. When combined with Paul’s testimony that the Jerusalem Church endorse his apostleship and gospel (1:17–19; 2:1–10), the whole church stands behind Paul—Jerusalem and Antioch. As such, this pulls the carpet out from under the feet of the Judaizers who are claiming Jerusalem’s endorsement in their repudiation of Paul and his supposedly deficient gospel. The mention of the brothers likely means that they have heard the letter, and may even have contributed to its production.

The other interesting reference in 6:11 where Paul exclaims, ‘see with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.’ These words almost certainly indicate that Paul wrote this verse and/or some portions around it. As such, we can surmise that another Christian acted as his amanuensis (secretary), he dictating the letter to him—someone like Tertius in Rom 16:17. If Paul writes from Antioch around 47, this may be John Mark, who is at this stage an essential member of the Pauline team. Alternatively, Barnabas or Titus may have acted on his behalf (Titus mentioned in 2:3). If he is writing later from Corinth or Ephesus, then Tertius may be involved, or Timothy, Gaius, or any of the other brothers or sisters in those cities. 

The writing of letters like those of Paul was probably not quick. Each sentence was likely carefully crafted and the labour of writing it down slow and laborious. One can imagine Paul with a crowd of key Antiochian Christians including Barnabas, Titus, and perhaps John Mark, sitting around hearing him dictate. They may have made suggestions as he wrote.

The upshot is that when the letter reached Galatia, delivered by one of Paul’s Antiochian emissaries, it was a letter which the whole Antiochian Christian community vouched for. The reference to the brothers would have added to the authority of the letter. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Let Us Be Confident in the Gospel

Note: A piece prepared for a newsletter.

If Paul was writing a letter to the New Zealand churches today, he might write something like this: ἀλλὰ πείθεσθῶσαν ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ (alla peithesthōsan en tō euangeliō), which can be translated: ‘but, let us be confident in the gospel.’ This lack of confidence is because many Christians in NZ have lost their confidence in the gospel and have adopted a quietist approach to sharing Christ. They live out the supposed mantra of Francis of Assisi (which he never actually said): ‘preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.’ There may be good reasons for our reticence, with many New Zealanders very resistant to the gospel. One could imagine Paul becoming very testy if he was to observe our unpreparedness to open our mouths and share Christ. For what counts for Paul is that in every way, Christ is proclaimed (Phil 1:18).

Christ himself demonstrated the importance of sharing the message of God, even when the gospel was repudiated. He died because he refused to be silenced. After his resurrection, much of his teaching was to urge his followers that their primary task was to proclaim the gospel to all nations. Then the end would come (Matt 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21; Acts 1:8, also Mark 13:10; Matt). One of the primary functions of the Spirit in us is that God may speak through us with Spirit-inspired words (Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12).  In this way, the lost are found. The early Christians were fearless and determined to share Christ refusing to relent even if they were commanded to be silent, flogged, imprisoned, and killed (esp. Acts 4:19-21; 5:29-32; 6:8-8:4).

This is because they had complete confidence in the word of God. When a Christian opens his or her mouth and shares the gospel or some part of it, God speaks through us, working in and through these words prompting response from the hearer. Aside from much prayer, seeking to be as clear as possible with our words to ensure the gospel is plainly heard (Col 4:2–4), and sharing with the right attitude of agapē love and grace (2 Cor 5:14; Phil 1:16; Col 4:5-6), we carry no responsibility for the effect of the message. God does his work. Some will hear it and not comprehend it, even repudiating it with stubborn hearts and antagonism (Acts 28:26-27). Others will hear it, appear to receive it with faith, but it come to nought (e.g. Mark 4:1-20; Acts 17:32). Yet others will hear the word and believe, faith born in their hearts (Rom 10:17). Their hearts will be opened (Acts 16:14), faith will flower, the Spirit will enter their lives (Gal 3:2), and they will be born anew from above (John 3:5). We do not control this process. This is between God and the hearer. Our responsibility is to preach the word in season and out of season, and let the word of God do its work (2 Tim 4:2).

It is critical we find our voice as New Zealand Christians. We find as we do that although there remains much resistance, the fields of NZ are white for the harvest (John 4:35). What is needed is people who are deeply prayerful at all times, immersed in the word who know the gospel, motivated by the Spirit with holy passion, full of agapē love, who will find their voice and let God speak through them to the lost. The time is urgent. Will we take up the challenge? My prayer to the God of nations is the same one prayed by the Jerusalem Christians after being told to cease sharing the message of Jesus: ‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness. while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus’ (Acts 4:29-30). May it be that after we pray, that we are filled with the Spirit and this nation is shaken to its core, not with an earthquake, but the power of God. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit: Well Done the UK

Congratulations to the UK for the Brexit vote. Having seen the outcome, and having considered the discussion, I am convinced they made the right decision. My reasons are this. 

First, sovereignty. Decisions like who can come into your country must be in the hands of the citizens of the country involved not in some non-democratic government across the water. The UK has a parliament and they have to have sovereignty to preserve the best interests of that nation. If Europe is for real, and nations like the UK are to be involved, then there needs to a full elected government from the President down and a disempowering of national governments. However, as the UK is only one country among many, they put themselves in the position of being dominated by others who have a different agenda. So, the decision gives the UK sovereignty again. They can now take control of who is coming and going from their country with points systems like Australia and England. They can now work to make the society they have work, with all its diversity. This is what we have in NZ, and it is great. That will not be easy, but they can decide their own destiny.

Second, the challenge to Empire. I am delighted to see the breakdown of the impulse toward Empire that is arising in the world. Europe is a quasi-empire. Sure, it is not one formed through violent force as in many instances in history, but Europe’s union is in effect the formation of another imperial power that could easily morph into something hideous. This is especially so with the rise of right wing movements through Europe. While this can be seen as right wing, the UK’s exit actually disempowers the power of Europe and reduces the danger. It also means that if something hideous occurs in Europe, the UK can stand against it and is not swept up in it. All Empires are dangerous. We live in a world in which they are on the rise – Europe, China, Russia; not to mention the US. It is a dangerous world with forces on the rise which are threatening. I do hope more nations break from Europe for the same reason. For these reasons, I think Scotland and Northern Ireland would be wrong to opt for Europe over the UK. 

Thirdly, while there will be acrimony because of this decision, there is no reason that the UK cannot remain a strong trading partner with Europe while negotiating its own relationship with other nations like the US, Asian nations, other Commonwealth countries and more. There is no shortage of economic opportunity for a nation with as much wealth and skill as the UK. The UK might struggle for a year of five, but they can now negotiate their own relationship with the world.

While this looks like xenophobia, nationalism, or almost racism, and there are some among the Brexit vote who are tending toward this impulse, it is not necessarily this for many. One can believe in diversity, celebrate it, desire an egalitarian society rich in cultural difference, and not be racist. One can recognise a common culture that a nation holds dear, want to retain it, still celebrate diversity and welcome people who are different, and not be racist. I am not hearing Brexit proponents now saying that the UK should expel people who are different. I am not saying they want to suppress difference. Indeed, the UK is very diverse. However, surely a country should have sovereignty over its borders and be able to work toward a common culture with values that uphold decency and unity. They can be more secure, and no less prosperous. If I had been there, I would have voted to leave. They are now in a position like NZ, and this is a good position. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

ANZAC 2016, I Will Remember

Lots of my Christian friends struggle with ANZAC. They do so for good reason. The Christian message is one of non-violence. Jesus preached ‘love your enemies’ and ‘turn the other cheek. Despite claiming he could in an instant call on legions of angels to demolish the Romans, he did not do so. Rather, he went to the cross without using violent force in his defence. The closest we get to the use of violent force is Jesus in the Temple, making a whip, throwing over tables and driving animals and people out. However, these passages are carefully written to remove any insinuation that Jesus struck the people. Assuming the veracity of the biblical accounts, he was imbued with immense power, but never used his force to impress others, in answer to their requests for signs, in defence, or in compelling people to believe in him. In a ruthless world not unlike the Seven Kingdoms of the Game of Thrones, He taught and embodied non-violence.

Knowing this, many Christians are simply quiet at ANZAC. Although they respect greatly those (including family members) who gave their lives for the causes in the wars of the late 18th–21st centuries, particularly the world wars. They don’t go to the Dawn Services. They recognise the importance of what was done, they are grateful to live in a world which is ‘free,’ in the sense that it is democratic with ideals of compassion and egalitarianism. However, they are simply uncomfortable with the whole thing. The event that lies at the heart of ANZAC day, the attack on the Turks in Gallipoli, is more a reflection of the failure of humanity to test the limits of non-violence. It was a disaster, where the allies were resisted, an attack on Turkish sovereignty. It may have been justified in terms of the horrors of the Ottoman Empire, but it is still more a reflection of human failure than something to celebrate.

Part of me agrees with this point of view, I feel more sadness on this day, not just for the many lives lost on both sides of these wars, but for the whole spectre of war. It repulses me. It is horrific. I thought of that today as I rode my bike and saw the road kill that as always, litters the country roads of NZ. These men and women were ‘road kill’ in the hands of politicians seeking power. A visit to Gallipoli in 2010 hammered that home, as I reflected on graves engraved with biblical verses and the names and ages of young men in their late teens and twenties. Then down the road is the Turkish memorial, with Islamic texts and similarly aged deceased men. It is tragic.

But then again, it seems in a fallen world, even with Jesus’ ideals ringing in our ears, and his example vivid in our imaginations, there is a time for war. There are times when horrific regimes must be stopped for the sake of the living. It seems that while love usually cries out non-violence, at times love cries out ‘you must act for the defenceless.’ In times like the Holocaust in particular, how can good people merely protest or simply stand back praying? So, with deep reluctance, I acknowledge the simple truth of Ecclesiastes 3:8: ‘there is a time for war.’ There is a time where people must fight for the innocent and defenceless. That is why we should be thankful for the police, and even militaries where they are holding back evil.

So, while torn between a theology of pacifism and just war, I find myself giving thanks for those who heeded the call to fight to hold back the forces of evil. Yes, some of the wars and causes were less noble than others. Yes, many of our young men died because of stupid decisions. Yes, they were pawns in the game of thrones we are all swept up in, where powerful men (and the odd woman) decide their fate. However, they still gave their lives. I live in a nation that is while imperfect as are all nations, is blessedly free, which seeks to live out of ideals of goodness, love, charity, compassion, egalitarianism, and justice. I do so in no small part because of the courage of those who gave their lives on battlefields across the world. So I will remember them. I give thanks for them and to them.

But I will also be further spurred on to live out of Jesus’ teaching and example as best I can, renouncing violent malicious thoughts and actions toward others. I will do my best to uphold his call to the world to ‘love your enemies.’ And I will also remember our past as a people whereby we crossed the seas on wakas and through somewhat dubious means and power, we took possession of a land that was peopled by the Maori. My European forebears fought them. While we have come to place of some reconciliation, I will seek to live honouring the indigenous peoples of this nation. I will seek to embody and preach that the way ahead is the way of the cross—forgiveness, reconciliation, and mercy. I will remember.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why I am Voting for the Old Flag

It seems likely that NZ will vote to retain its flag in the referendum which is on at the moment. I suspect that even if a lot of NZers might be keen to have a new flag, there is no reason at present to make the shift. It seems to me this is the sort of thing you do when and if you become a republic. As there is no reason, many people are miffed at the whole thing and the money spent. The process was poorly conceived and destined to fail from the beginning. I say this quite liking the new flag myself, but hey, many people liked the Wallabies before last year’s RWC, but they were never going to win.

On Sunday at church we were singing ‘We want to see Jesus lifted high, a banner that flies across this land,’ and we started pondering what it would be like to have a flag with Jesus on it.

After the service I thought more about it and realised that in a roundabout way we do have Jesus on the flag, four times. The Union Jack sits in the left corner. It is made up of three crosses, the cross of St Andrew, the Cross of Saint Patrick, and the Cross of St George.

Current NZ Flag  

Cross of St Patrick Ireland

Cross of St Andrew Scotland 

Cross of St George England and Wales 

Saint Andrew takes us back into the Scriptures to the brother of Simon Peter who, according to the Gospels, was a fisherman with his brother, James, and John (Mark 1). He was one of the first disciples to follow Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. Andrew in the Gospels is the one who finds the food for the feeding of the 5000 and tells Jesus that some Greeks in Jerusalem at Pentecost want to meet with him (John 6; 12). His prominence in John’s Gospel likely indicates he was known in the Asia Minor region later on—it being Ephesus where the Gospel likely originated. Andrew is associated with Scotland because legends say he helped them win some wars—dodgy stuff this may be, but his origins are less so.  

Originally a slave, Saint Patrick was a fifth century missionary to Ireland where he was known as the ‘Apostle of Ireland,’ became bishop, and is Ireland’s patron saint. The day remembering him, March 17, is a day of great festivity in Ireland and among the Irish abroad.

St George (AD 280-303) was a Roman soldier ultimately ordered to death for refusing to deny his Christian faith. In Catholic tradition, he is a key military saint. He is the patron saint of a number of nations.

So the Union Jack is three blended crosses all pointing to the one who hung on a cross to save a world and show the world the extent of ‘love your enemies.’ If only we would listen.
In addition, the NZ flag has the Southern Cross on it. 

The Southern Cross

While a natural astral phenomenon, the choice of the Southern Cross to be placed on the flag is not merely because it looks cool—it is shaped like a cross—for the Christian NZ founders, invoking again the basis of their faith, Christ crucified and risen.

The early NZ founders were almost all Christians, albeit imperfect and from a range of denominations and commitments ranging from token (nominal) to full-on faith. The Southern Cross flew on the first United Tribes Flag commissioned in 1835 and which still flies in Waitangi. Notably, it sits in the corner of a flag carrying the cross of St George (above).

The Flag of the United Tribes of NZ

After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the Union Jack was NZ’s flag. After this a variety of flags were developed, the current NZ flag was adopted.

So, the current NZ flag is embedded with Jesus Christ with four crosses, one a natural phenomenon from the southern sky, one linking our story to Jesus calling the first fishermen, and two linked into the religious and political history of the UK.

As I have researched and written this brief blog I have realised that whereas I was intending to vote for the new flag, I will not—not because of the politics (untimely waste of time and money), nor because of the design (the new one I like), but because it invokes in me my faith and our story which is founded indisputably on the blend of the Maori story and our European (especially British) Christian story—albeit a very marred version of the Christian narrative.

It reminds us as Kiwis that we have a history based on the Christian story. We can deny this as much as we like, blaming the worlds wars on religion, denying the bible as a lot of myth, calling the Christ of faith a fable built on a Jesus of history who may not even have existed, preferring faith in a flying spaghetti monster, or whatever—the problem with Christianity is not the Christ on whom it is founded, it is his followers (me included). His ideals rock! If only we would live them.

What can’t be denied is that we live in one of the greatest nations in the world, and one of the prime reasons for this is that it has been built to a large extent on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which at its core is compassion, love, mercy, honesty, decency, tolerance, moral goodness, justice, and egalitarianism and the like. Our systems of government, education, justice, welfare, and more, were carved out by people seeking to bring practical Christianity into being.

As a person whose life was seriously on the skids in my late teens and early twenties, my experiences of Jesus are undeniably real and he has transformed me from a drunken narcissistic arrogant twat into someone who, while still tending in all those directions at times, has become a decent person (I think). I am certain that there is no one who knew me from ages 13-23 who would believe that I would be a NT scholar and a Christian leader. I laugh myself remembering that lost soul. I also give thanks, because he saved my life.

So, tempted though I was to vote for the new flag, I am going to vote for the old one—‘cause I want to see Jesus lifted higher. Not the Jesus who is used as a pawn in political fights and wars—when he renounced such things. Not the Jesus who is used to justify bigotry and marginalization—when he hung out at the margins with the sinners and demonized. Not the Jesus who is just a nice teacher—when he is the power that transforms individual lives, communities, nations, and a world. But the Jesus I read of in the New Testament of the Bible—the embodiment of God, the lover of the lost, the healer of the sick, the transformer of the world, the compassionate and merciful Christ and Son of God who changed me and is changing a world. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sixty–Two People, Half the World, What a Stunning Statistic!

I first heard the statistics concerning wealth distribution released by Oxfam the other day with horror. According to their study, the richest 62 people in the world have the same combined wealth as the poorest 50% of people in our world ($1.76 trillion USD)—that is 1,760,000,000,000,000,000, or 1.76 million million million dollars! In percentage terms, only 8.382375298816469e-7% (0.000000083%) of the people of the world hold the same as ‘the other’ 50%.

Aside from statistics related to problems of death through violence (genocide, abortion, war, the Holocaust, etc), I can’t think of a statistic that has shaken me more. It is horrific. How has this come to pass?

I did a bit of digging on the 62 and some—like Charles and David Koch from Koch Industries, the Waltons of Wal-Mart, the Mars who make Candy (mars bars, yummy)—are from the same families, so it is a little worse; it is actually 57 people or groups who hold this wealth (see Most are from the USA (30) and Europe (16), with ten from Asia, and the others from South or Latin America (3), Russia (1), and the Middle East (1). So, the vast majority of this wealth is held by 46 people in the western world. Unsurprisingly, 54 are men—it’s a man’s world, or should I say, a ‘rich man’s world.’ Many are in the computer technology and media world, some in beauty, fashion, clothes and accessories, some in supermarkets, some in industry, and a number in investment and real estate.

This is a deterioration of an already bad state of affairs disparity; in 2010, the 388 richest people owned the same wealth as the poorest 50%. Then, by 2014 this had dropped to 80, and now 62. What will the next five years bring? The richest few are buying up the world, and the world is being enslaved to their wealth accumulation. The wealth is not trickling down far enough, only to those who serve the uber-rich. Between 2010 and 2050, the wealth of the poorest 50% dropped by 41%, while the richest 62 gained $500 billion—nice.

Now, as I said in my last blog, I have just been thinking about Jesus feeding the 5000 (John 6). In truth, the 5000 fed was more like 10 to 20,000, as there were women and children present (like the boy with the fish), who were not counted (ancient patriarchy, sigh).

When this occurred, those present were poor and desperate, under severe economic oppression and wealth disparity. The nation, indeed the whole Mediterranean, was held captive to Rome. In Rome, life was good for the elite—with the Empire and most of the population serving them (half were slaves). In Israel, Rome had its lackeys; the Herodians, who were big on building projects and an excessive lavish lifestyle, the chief priests and others who made up the Sanhedrin (council of seventy–one), some other priests, and Rome’s tax-collectors who also took their own cut (e.g. Zacchaeus). There was also the problem of land acquisition, with the wealthy buying up land into huge holdings, while the people of land worked the land on a basic wage at best with the money going into the coffers of the rich (sound familiar). There was no real middle class with the rest of society poor struggling to varying degrees, from the wealthier artisans through to the slaves, peasants, and those who languished in squalor—the lepers, beggars, blind, lame, mentally ill, and physical disabled (such were the people at the feeding). If Oxfam are right, then our world is not that different.

We see the heart of Jesus in the feeding. He heals the sick. He feeds the poor. He welcomes sinners. He doesn’t hang out with the wealthy and elite, he avoids them. In fact, there is no record of him going to the seats of Galilean power, Tiberius, Sepphoris, or Hippos. In fact, he performs this miracle, and most of his work, in the wilderness, with the poor coming in crowds to him. He repudiated the rich, challenging one rich fool to stop building up his huge assets more and more but to be generous to God and the poor. He told a story of a rich man in hell, while the poor beggar he ignored is in heaven—a complete reversal of popular theology. He urged another to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow him. He urged his followers to follow that same pattern—live light and give generously. When Zacchaeus the reformed tax-collector gave half he had to the poor, and refunded fourfold those he had ripped off as a tax-collector, Jesus cried out that salvation had come to him and his household. Jesus venerated a poor widow who gave everything she had to the Temple Treasury. He honoured Mary who poured perfume over his feet, despite the protestations of Judas, who himself was a thief. He repudiated the Pharisees who were obsessed with wealth acquisition. Jesus would not be impressed with this statistic I am sure.

How to respond? There is a temptation to think there should be a revolution when we hear things like this. And indeed, there might be—such situations can often lead to outcry and violent overthrows of regimes (take Communism for example). The problem is that these don’t work, inevitably a fresh regime comes in that falls into the same trap—greed and oppression to fulfil the agenda! Jesus advocated something much cleverer and subversive. We see the desire for revolution at the conclusion of feeding account (John 6:14-15). After their great feed, the well-fed 5000 recognised that with the sort of power Jesus had, surely the time was ripe to storm the Romans, Herodians, Sanhedrin and anyone else who got in their way, and bring Shalom (peace). They declared Jesus the long awaited Prophet (Deut 18:15-18), sought to seize him and make him king by violent force, and then no doubt head for the Herodian and Roman bases in Israel and take back their world. Jesus took off—he wasn’t interested in a violent revolution or being that type of king. He knows that this will not work.

The kingdom he advocated is from the bottom up. This is where people recognise that the inequality of the world must be addressed, but now with violent revolution. Rather, it begins with ‘me’ and making a change from greed and consumption to generosity and giving. Such a kingdom is found where people see a person in need and respond by healing, feeding, and caring—like the Good Samaritan who stopped at real expense (money, time, and danger) to tend to a man robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Jesus himself repeatedly stopped to heal, feed, and care for people as he want about his days. In this story, he healed the sick and fed the crowds. Amazing miracles happen when people get generous.

Surely, what is now needed is for there to be an outcry against the economic oppression of our time. Globalization has enabled the smaller and smaller group of people to control more and more. The response is to become cleverer at avoiding their control. We need to become more generous. We need to redistribute our wealth, responding to need. We need to resist the empire, recognising who these people are and buying in other ways, growing our own stuff, repairing things, sharing things, and resisting. As we go to vote in forthcoming elections, we need to consider what will see the wealth of the world distributed to its workers more evenly. More importantly, we need to live out the politics of the Kingdom—heal the sick, feed the poor, care for the needy, and so on.

There is no easy answer, but it starts with us recognising what the Kingdom is about and letting that affect everything we do. Otherwise, in another five years 30 people will own the world. Then 10. Then 1. That doesn’t bear thinking about.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Jesus, Friend of Sinners (the Feeding of the 5000)

I was working through John’s account of the Feeding of the 5000 in John 6:1–15 yesterday and realised something I hadn’t noticed. The miracle is the only one found in all four Gospels (Mark 6; Matt 14; Luke 9). As in the other accounts, in John, Jesus provides food for the whole crowd, which may have been as large as 20,000, as only the number of men is noted.
John adds cool details. The disciples are there on the mountain with Jesus, so they are fed along with the crowd. He tells us that the loaves are barley-loaves, the bread of the poor, barley being cheaper than wheat. The fish are ‘small fish,’ which are perhaps pickled. A boy who can be anywhere from a little fella to a young man (the Greek is fluid) provides the food; a neat touch, also showing that there are children present. The food is worth around 200 denarii, which is two hundred day’s money for a day labourer. If we assume a NZ minimum wage for an eight-hour day (and they did longer days too!), that is something like $23,600 NZD, a lot of money. It is unlikely Judas has that much in his moneybag. We also see the involvement of Philip and Andrew, who are much more prominent in John than the other Gospels—likely because they were known to John’s readers. We see that Philip is good at finances, an accountant? We learn the time of the event, just before Passover, so probably March. The grass is lush, it is the northern Spring; soon the grass will burn off in the heat of summer. The way the story is presented shows Jesus as a new Moses, or one greater than Moses, who feeds Israel in the wilderness, who is redeeming Israel in a second and ultimate Exodus. The crowd recognise that Jesus is someone special, thinking him the Prophet anticipated in Deuteronomy 18:15–18, they seek to violently seize him and make him king—they believe he is Messiah. Jesus does a runner, he is not interested in being that sort of king, one who takes over the world with violent force. He has another plan—contemporary Christians in a violent world take note!
What struck me is that in John, unlike the other accounts, there is no mention of the disciples distributing the food, Jesus does it (John 6:11). Jesus is thus the ideal host, and the one who serves the crowds. This is Jesus the Servant, who will be seen most clearly in Ch. 13 as he washes the disciples’ feet—a slaves dirty job. Most significantly, this will be revealed as he is glorified on the cross, fulfilling the mission for which he was sent, dying for the world as the Lamb of God.
What really struck me is who he is feeding. He feeds the crowds made up of all sorts, desperate for healing in a world where people died young. In the crowd are interesting people. Cast your eye to the end of John 6 and you will see that by the end of the next day, after hearing Jesus teach that he is the ‘bread of life,’ ‘many of his disciples’ found it a bit much. They grumbled, as they were offended. After a discussion, ‘many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.’ Jesus then challenged the Twelve, asking whether they want out as well. Simon speaks up effectively saying ‘no way, we are here for the long haul, you are the One! Jesus then reminds them that he chose them, and ‘yet one of you is a devil.’ John explains that this is a reference to Judas (John 6:70–71).
Even though these people would desert him and and Judas betray him, Jesus was prepared to provide for them and feed them! Further, he hands them their food himself. They all go home well-fed. There was even leftovers, the disciples gathering twelve baskets afterward. One of these was his betray Judas, ‘a devil!’ This is our God, who provides a world for all people, replete with food and drink; and even for those who hate him and deny him. This event again shows Jesus’ amazing grace toward sinners. He loved to hang out with them, and he delighted in serving their needs. Later, at the Last Supper, he would eat with his betrayer and his denier (Peter). Each Sunday we have Communion, Jesus dines with us, and we too are sinners. We come with differing levels of faith, yet Jesus does not discriminate, all are welcome to the Table. Jesus is truly the friend of sinners. So we must treat the world. I am glad Jesus will eat with sinners, cause I am one. There is yet hope for us all. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Dear World, Some thoughts for 2016

As we launch into another year, 2016, I thought it would be good to make a few suggestions to a few people around the world in the hope that they may listen, that we could have a year of relative peace and prosperity on planet earth.

Dear Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi,
Please can you end this violent desire to take over the world? I admire your zeal, but sometimes zeal is misguided—and this is one of those times! Seeking world domination and the imposition of extreme Islamic ideals by violent force is stupid because you will fail and many will be killed as you try. People generally don’t respond to being told they have to follow a certain religion. Take it from us Christians, we have tried this, and it does not work! So, please give it up? Why not just lay down the weapons and say, ‘enough,’ end the conflict, urge your followers to do the same, and retire?

Dear Donald Trump,
As John McEnroe said, ‘you cannot be serious!’ Please just go back to your business and reality shows and leave global politics to others. You scare the living #@$& out of us all with your rhetoric. I am not sure if there is anyone in NZ that takes you seriously as a President. The things you are saying are ridiculous. So, please give it up now. I used the enjoy the Apprentice, so just have another series. We can handle your hair, but not your politics.

Dear America,
If Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi and Donald Trump don’t heed the above appeals, as I am sure they won’t, please do not vote for Trump. There are other trumpets to blow, none of whom are perfect, but at least seem to be reasonable. Unless you want apocalypse now (the final trump-et), and I know some of you do (please read your bibles carefully!), please vote for someone else as the Republican candidate. The world needs some seriously wise leadership at present. Is Trump really the way?

Dear the American Gun Lobby
Come on! Is it really the answer to arm more and more Americans to stop gun violence? Stop the weird logic and get real. The more people are armed, the more people will get shot. It’s kind of obvious to us in a place like NZ. But hey, that’s your constitutional right I suppose. Or is it a constitutional wrong? Anyway, even if you don’t listen to this, please don’t vote for trump, and don’t shoot cyclists even if we stuff up.

Dear Auckland Council,
Can you just can silly ideas like trains down the centre of Dominion Road? How about monorail running over the top of such roads and the motorways? The roads are ridiculous as they are, without trains added to the carnage. In a city with a ton of volcanoes and a harbour, which is ever expanding with single level dwellings (just go for a drive out west beyond Hobsonville, Riverhead, etc), the roads will soon be a car park (it is most days already). So, buses aren’t really a goer, nor should we go underground. How about something over the top? Just saying. Also, on the matter of single level dwellings ever spreading into the hinterland—can you start building some more apartment blocks around the place? Not leaky ones—been there, done that. But good solid ones? Again, just saying? Ah yes, and perhaps a new mayor? Again, just saying.

Dear Labour,
NZ needs a strong left and right. At the moment, John Key is having a field day. Nothing against Andrew Little, he seems a decent enough sort of bloke, but is he the best you have got to take on the National machine? They are in their third term and the wheels should be coming off. But for wheels to come off, they need to be under pressure from an articulate, intelligent, leadership, which picks the right issues, and with popular appeal, takes on the government. It feels like I am watching the All Blacks play Namibia, or Georgia, kind of a training run with little opposition. I don’t know who is out there, but please scour the country and find someone who can take on the Key, English, Joyce, Collins and co. And please can you get together with the Greens and put something coherent together rather than bash each other up? A divided opposition cannot win. And it has to make sense to the ‘ordinary NZer,’ whatever that is? Seems like at least Dotcom won’t be a factor, that will help.

Dear NZ Drivers,
Please take care around cyclists this coming year. Us cyclists will do our darndest to stay out of your way, stick to the left, not ride in huge bunches (except in races or maybe early on a Sunday morning). If you do your part as well, that would be great. We will try and do ours (sometimes we do forget, sorry). Give us heaps of room. Be patient with us, even if we suck, cause you have all the power in those beasts you drive. And please don’t drink and drive. Don’t throw bottles out windows and fill up the bike lanes with glass. Then we can drive to the left and not get a puncture. Slow down. Keep left. Be nice. No more road rage. And please don’t join Isis.

Dear Cyclists
Be nice to other vehicle drivers. Keep left. Don’t fill up the road. Don’t run red lights and do things drivers don’t expect. Stay safe.

Dear Christians,
Let’s all devote ourselves to stop moralizing, bemoaning the world around us, and give our guts to serve this nation. Let’s get out and be the volunteers that makes NZ tick. Let’s get involved in our schools and community groups not to impose ‘Christian law’ on the world, but to make this nation the best it can be by relentlessly serving out of love. Let’s be nice to atheists and others we disagree with—the beauty of being human is that we can choose our own path. Let’s give generously with our time and money to the things that really matter—things that bring justice and spread mercy. Let’s move past criticism and disunity, to love. Let’s make Jesus really proud of us and the way we treat each other and others, how we stand up for good and how we care for those in need. And let’s pray heaps. The world needs it bigtime.

Dear All
Let’s eat well this coming year. Let’s exercise heaps. Let’s work hard, but let’s have fun. Let’s laugh. Let’s lighten up, de-stress, and enjoy this awesome world. Let’s work hard toward reducing our carbon footprints. Let’s really contribute to society. Let’s pause and smell the roses, see the sunset, walk the beach, climb the hills, enjoy the wonderful world we live in. Let’s support each other when things are bad. Let’s rejoice when things rock. Let’s watch less TV, drink less booze, eat less junk food, and not waste our lives. Let’s make 2016 a brilliant year.

Whoever you are, have a bloody awesome 2016.