Emmanuel – or Manuel (as in Fawlty Towers)

Last Sunday we had a pulpit exchange amongst three churches in Blackburn north and a minister from a church on Surrey Road spoke. His mention of this being the silly season rang in my ears this morning as I went in to the office to be greeted by a string of emails flying around.

The rush in the shopping centres at this time of the year which churches like ours have bemoaned is often accompanied by an annoying parallel in the workplace. In a corporation like the one I’m working for, somehow the rush to get stuff signed before Christmas/New Year never goes away. My cynical mind tells me the smoke and mirrors that prop up places like these, require reports to show things have been done. To-do lists and task list need be marked off to evince accomplishment within a specified timeframe – in this case the calendar year is obviously the parameter.

I was asked to work on a document last week and proposed some communications to people affected by that document. I sent that communication to the relevant senior executive late last week (Thursday) and this morning I was asked to provide an update. I said I had not heard back from that senior executive and was asked to remind that person as senior executives are presently distracted by a range of matters now.

Similarly, in a discussion with the boss yesterday, I was told the Board is presently “a bit twitchy” and so there is a need to manage communications more closely.

I can’t say it is the silly season per se which caused all this running around in a sense of near panic at so much to do and so little time to do it in, but I am quite certain it doesn’t alleviate it to say the least. I get the bit about people going away for a few weeks and wanting to ensure as much gets resolved as possible before that. To stress for weeks – often unnecessarily – to make that happen however, almost make the whole thing a bit of a self-created much ado about nothing.

Yesterday I spoke to an external adviser who, after nearly a week of sweating over some advice he provided, came one big circle to land on nearly the same spot. Much ado about nothing has a resonance about it on many occasions in corporate space but at a time like the silly season, when I get to ask “what does this all mean”, it resonated more resoundingly.

It’s one week to Christmas Eve. Emmanuel? We’re too silly in this season with all our busy-ness to make Him welcome, I’m afraid.

Friday … Will Sunday Come?

I once heard Tony Campolo preach a sermon titled “Friday’s here but Sunday’s Coming”. It’s supposed to be an uplifting thing, so that those affected by the sufferings of Christ and the eventual crucifixion on Friday, may look forward to the hope of Easter on Sunday.

Well I’ve had my “Fridays” for a while now. Not in the sense that there has been suffering or anything like that. Just an overall sense of being really underwhelmed and deflated. I need Sunday to arrive, and soon.

Communion 6-11-11

A couple of months ago, a new monument was opened in Washington DC . It was the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. The sculpture you see is in the memorial centre, and it is the work of a Chinese artist, who comes from Changsha in Hunan – the same town Mao Zedong spent his early days in. Martin Luther King Jr, as most of us know, was a church minister who was better known as a civil rights leader. Other than his “I have a dream” speech, another speech I like is about how people should seek to unite as much as possible, to always seek common ground. An extract of this speech reads like this:

… all life is interrelated, … somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

I have no doubt Dr King’s aspiration for people to work together, was borne out of his knowledge of our God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit as members of our triune God, are in a relationship where each member shares a common purpose with the other two. We are created in the image of God so we too, are to have a relational character which we exercise by sharing a common purpose. We are here every Sunday, to build each other up. Our lives are inter-related and we share mutuality and a common destiny. When one hurts all ought to hurt. When one rejoices, all ought rejoice.  When you are blessed, I am blessed.

Sometimes we hear the saying, “it doesn’t matter what everyone else in church does – we are here to worship God”. That may be true but only in part, and quite often a partial truth can be the worst kind of deception. We do not worship God in isolation. We are in a community of faith – we are one body. What one does or does not do, affects everyone else. We watch out for each other, we come here for each other.  Our plans and activities are always about the wider community of faith, not about us as individuals or even families or groups of individuals. When someone is not here, everyone else should be affected. If we aren’t affected by each other’s absence or pain, I guess we haven’t quite become one body yet. It isn’t just about whether something is good for my personal wellbeing and development or my family relations it is also about whether it is good for the community of faith and whether my plans and activities would benefit this community.

Thus we are not called to remember the holy sacrament just so each of us can individually remember the Lord’s death for us. Often in a communion exhortation, we read 1 Corinthians 11:24 & 25 to remember that it was the Lord’s command for us to commemorate His death that we eat the bread and the cup. The context of this passage however, is one where Paul chastised the believers in Corinth because each person was doing his own thing. It is the body of Christ which is in focus, and we are asked not just to do things which benefit our own walk with the Lord, but also to build each other up.

So this morning as we hold the bread and drink from the cup, can I encourage all of us to consider this fellowship of believers, as one body to whom we are accountable. As a body then let us each the bread together in remembering the death and suffering of our Lord Jesus. (pause). Let us now also drink from the cup together, as a body in common. Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, when your Son was on earth, He prayed that all who believed in Him may be one, just as You and Your Son were one. Help us this morning as One Body, to come before You as Our Lord and God. Teach us to love and build each other up. Teach us to think as one, beyond just as individuals or even groups of individuals. Help us to be like you God, and be one. Amen.

Is Mutuality Unreasonable?

I recently had a conversation which reminded me how challenging life can be for anyone starting out on a new phase in his journey. A new migrant was relating to me how one of his children miss their previous home, and how that child misses the parents’ stations in society. I offered some words of comfort and encouragement but I suspect what was much more needed was simply a listening ear.

Being present, being available was almost as useful if not more useful, than any practical advice I may have had to offer.

This morning we had an in-house sermon from a leader, who gave a warm, touching and challenging message. I believe the message spoke to many hearts and the experience of being in the congregation among whom the message clearly resonated, was palpable although obviously intangible. If only more members were present to listen not just audibly but also with the heart.

Being present amongst the congregation in that sense, was priceless.

I have been brought up to be present in church at every Sunday. In my past life I often missed church on Sunday when I travelled for work, or I was simply too engrossed with the things of this world to think about being there as a member of the community of faith. That was something I regretted badly and while I love to use my Sundays to enjoy the many things this beautiful country has to offer, my upbringing sees me in church on almost every Sunday, safe for the once or twice a year when we are away for one reason or another, usually because we are out of town during a holiday season.

It feels great when I turn up on Sunday morning and see many faces – familiar as well as new ones – being in church. Being present in itself, can be an encouragement to others. It can build others up. I feel deflated when I notice many not there. I tell myself I am in church to worship God but I am also there as a member of the community of faith, which doesnt quite work if we all dont have a mutual commitment to each other as members of that community, that it will be our priority to be there.

In this busy and stressful world we live in, there will always be good reasons to take time off to de-stress and re-charge. If we cant do that however, by coming to the Lord and leave our cares with Him and wait on Him for our souls to be refreshed and revived, we are shortchanging ourselves. If we cant be encouraged by others’ presence and mutual commitment to the body, there is work to be done in refining our understanding and commitment to this body.

Sometimes we absolutely need to be away. Sometimes in a place like Australia when summer sees a lot of people travelling, perhaps on a de facto basis that commitment becomes released and the expectations may then have to be recalibrated. Maybe I am old schooled but I would have thought that is perhaps the only time we can safely be away and where our mutual commitments and obligations to the body may be parked aside, because our presence is no longer expected, where we can expect our fellow sojourners can be refreshed and revived in their travels also.

Maybe I need to calibrate my old schooled expectations to take into account the dynamism and subjectivity of each person or families’ circumstances. Maybe the body of Christ as a whole also need to calibrate that expectation as given the countless permutations of perceptions of what is important and what is beneficial in each person or family’s lives, there can no longer be the expectation that we will all be there on Sunday to renew our relationships and covenants with each other.

Maybe that mutuality is no longer reasonable.

Who Do You Think You Are? Basis for Identity and Values

Looking at recent events in the UK and hearing how varying segments within the church needs to be addressed differently, I thought the following article useful in providing some clues in a search for the way forward in an increasingly pluralistic society.
The global church needs to ground youth in their true, deepest identity.
A Christianity Today editorial | posted 2/23/2009 10:27AM

About a year ago, Kenya exploded in post-election riots that resulted in a thousand deaths. Many of the killers were unemployed young people who were “hanging out and feeling people were looking down on them,” says Muhia Karianjahi, the Nairobi-based director of Tanari International, an international youth outreach ministry.

This basic storyline repeats itself around the world, and is arguably to blame for much ethnic violence in other 2008 hotspots such as Jos, Nigeria, and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

One sobering reality in these conflicts is that they are happening in very Christianized regions. Kenya is, like the U.S., about 80 percent Christian. The DRC is 95 percent Christian.

“There are churches all over the place, and Bible schools, and everything else; and planted right on top is this horrific conflict,” says Wheaton College professor Paul Robinson, who grew up in eastern DRC. “Christianity doesn’t make a difference—that’s not your primary loyalty. Christian leaders need to ask: Isn’t there a higher, deeper loyalty?”

For many young people raised in the worldwide church, the answer is no. Ethnicity is their default identity. Karianjahi says Kenya’s “kids are frustrated that life is not working out.” When their options fail, so does their allegiance to Christian principles. A similar dynamic seems to be at work in the U.S. Recent Barna Group research found that a majority of American youth raised in the church have left it by age 29. The issue for American Christians is less about rioting youth and more about a rising generation whose commitment to Christ may not stand when shaken. And it doesn’t take much to shake it before they abandon Christ for lesser loyalties.

While we know that not all who are in the pews are in Christ, we should be concerned enough to take a second look at how we go about making disciples within the church.

Throughout Christian history, this task has been known as catechesis, the Greek term for systematic religious instruction. David Kinnaman, president and strategic leader of the Barna Group, says, “Leaders are realizing that it’s not just that we need more catechism for youth but a different kind.” He says more personalized, intergenerational teaching for youth is in order, to avoid giving them the impression that theology is unrelated to life outside the church.

Many young adults have gotten past questions of morality and now need answers from the church about Christian identity, how to follow their calling no matter the challenge, and how to have a positive impact on the world. The church has answers to these questions, but teaching them to the next generation is not easy. Karianjahi has wracked his brains over this issue, and has developed a ministry to begin addressing it. Tanari International uses church-based rites of passage, based on tribal rituals, to help young people journey into the fullness of Christian faith.

At Kenya’s Moi University, Emily Choge, an ethics professor and a John Stott Ministries Scholar, is doing something similar. “Instead of teaching the traditional African values or the values that separated one community from another, [we] are now using that time to instill Christian values,” she says. They use ceremonies to tell youth what they are to become (in this case, full members of the church), set out expectations, and give them the community’s affirmation.

While personalized teaching and rites of passage can help many young adults, it will take more than a program to develop a commitment to Christ. The church needs to reaffirm regularly in its teaching, preaching, and example that loyalty to God and identity in Christ leave all other allegiances in the dust.

Fast Food Faux Faith

A few months ago I read somewhere that a wave of sophistication has been generated in relation to our eating preferences. Apparently we now prefer to eat much better and opt for gourmet styled, local produce focused, slow cooking and true to good flavours and nourishment type of eating, as opposed to quick and easy fast food choices.

That was all before the current economic gloom descended upon us courtesy of Christine Lagarde and the greasy Greek pole of public debt of course and I’m not sure if this cloud of economic uncertainty will swing things back down the simple and cheap mode of eating or dining.

Good food takes effort and time. It is good for us – more enjoyment, better nourishment and health, and easier on the environment. The benefits are thought to be worth the additional effort and time.

I think like good food, many other good things take time and effort. So this article in the Patheos Blog on “watered down evangelicalism” resonated with me and I thought I’d cite some extracts here, and have that article.

If we can muster enough concentration power to read past 120 or 160 characters (or whatever the length of texts tweets or text messages permit), hopefully we can work our way through this one, which I think is so very relevant.

Hopefully the following highlights/extracts help:

Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” or “open, progressive and inclusive.” These type phrases are filled with considerable cultural codes which say many things about many things, but precious little about the Christian gospel.

Evangelicals have become experts in finding a thousand new ways to ask the same question, “What is the least one has to do to become a Christian.”

It is wrong to try to get as many people as possible, to acknowledge as superficially as allowable, a gospel which is theologically unsustainable.

We disguise our lack of theological reflection by our constant commitment to “relevance” or saying that we are reaching people “where they are.”

I sincerely believe the youth of our times want, deserve and will appreciate strong foundations and will come to appreciate that such sure footedness require more than a quick turn of phrase the social media real estate currently permits us.

I hope we all get to read the article and see the need for good theological educating.



More on Stott

I was just reminding myself of something I read on the views of John Stott on gifts, as reflected in his interview with the publication Christianity Today

On Gifts:

The most important gift today, measured by Paul’s principle that we should excel in those that build up the church, is teaching. Nothing builds up the church like the truth, and we desperately need more Christian teachers all over the world. I often say to my charismatic friends, “If only you would concentrate on praying that God would give teachers to the church who could lead all these new converts into maturity in Christ, it would be more profitable.

Objectivity and clarity of thoughts and expression is always important.

More on Rob Bell

I was still mulling over whether to get Rob Bell‘s ‘Love Wins” on the Kindle, half thinking Paul’s ethos of becoming “all things to all men so that by all means some may be saved“. Maybe, from the perspective of reaching out to certain demographics, this book may turn out to be a gem. Yet, what is the gospel Paul’s ethos was directed at, and is this the same gospel “Love Wins” seeks to share?  I have read about half a dozen reviews on Amazon, scan through Witherington’s chapter-by-chapter response and I think it is a book I can ignore for now.

Incidentally, the following extract was from one of the Amazon reviews. I think this reviewer summed it up in funny way…

Several times he asks how can we be punished for the mistakes of a relatively short period of time (our life on earth) for all eternity? How can God be loving? How can God be fair? In answering, I’ll point out that the book makes no mention of Original Sin, and I believe that’s his undoing. When you short-change the significance the wholesale betrayal by our ancestors, then yeah, God’s judgement comes off badly. I describe Genesis 3 as spitting in the face of God, open defiance and shameless rebellion (shame followed soon enough) and anyone less merciful and loving and kind that God would simple snap his fingers, type control-z on his cosmic keyboard and undo the 6 days of Creation. No big deal, the Trinity was harmonious before Creation and we’ll be fine without those thankless twerps. Good thing I’m not God. No, God pursues us for bloody, harrowing centuries with steadfast love and his infinitely costly master plan to restore his creation to order.

Second Experience? Hmmm

We have been doing a series on fundamental Christian beliefs in church and a couple of weeks ago we looked at the topic of the Holy Spirit. Unsurprisingly, the issue of a second experience (of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit I guess) came up, albeit cursorily. I was thinking about it when preparing some thoughts for cell discussion on Friday and continued thinking about it on the periphery. A short while ago I came across these statements:

1. The baptism with the Holy Spirit occurs the moment a person is saved. It is not the same experience as salvation but happens at the time of salvation. It is not a second experience following conversion.

2. God has given believers everything in Christ. When we are saved we are complete in Him. We lack nothing. There is nothing else for Him to give to us.

3. Nowhere are believers commanded to receive any second blessing that would give them power. All power is already available.

4. The power of the Holy Spirit working in a persons life is something that should be desired. Some who have legitimately experienced the Spirit’s power label the encounter as the baptism with the Holy Spirit whereas the Scripture calls this experience the filling of the Holy Spirit. previously mentioned, everything has been provided for us upon conversion. We only need to appropriate what God has already done for us.

I think I agree with these statements and am reasonably at peace with not having a second experience, although who is to limit God – He can show me otherwise.


In the meantime, I have to contend with the historicity of the Messianic Jesus seen through the incident of the Triumphant Entry…sigh indeed….

Infallibility and Inerrancy – The Chicago Statement

In catching up with MST work, I had to go through the Chicago Statement on inerrancy. This statement jumped out at me: “…the sequence of revealed messages ceased. Henceforth the Church was to live and know God by what He had already said, and said for all time”. This was in the exposition section at the end of the 19 Articles. It goes on to say this: “No new revelation (as distinct from Spirit-given understanding of existing revelation) will be given until Christ comes again“.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was signed in 1978 with signatories which include J.I. Packer, R. C. Sproul and the one I admired immensely, John Warwick Montgomery. In my still lay mind, I cannot find any reason not to subscribe to this statement – every one of the 19 Articles. I understand there may be some issues with autographic texts and the resulting implications but the exposition has addressed this too. It stated that th authority of the Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies which are available are not entirely error free.

Much work is needed still to get on top of this issue but I am very happy to start with this Statement.