Belief in the language of Unbelief

Tim Keller in his wonderful book ‘Centre Church’ encourages ministers and church leaders to think about who might be in the ‘audience’ when they preach. In particular for any church which is serious about reaching out into the unbelieving community we must  always be preparing to have people who are yet to make a primary commitment to Christ present. In this case how shall we shape what we say to engage them and to draw them closer to Christ?

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Tim offers the following:

  1. We must preach in the vernacular. We need to use language they can understand; we need to interpret any theological terms we use and we need to remember what it is like not to believe and, at the very least, to doubt. Furthermore, we need to be answering questions they are asking.
  2. We need to explain the rituals used in our services so that even a child may work out what we’re up to and we should not imagine that everything we do and the reason for it are obvious. So, for example, a small explanation of why we pray prayers of confession would be entirely appropriate.
  3. We should directly address and welcome nonbelievers. Let them know that we know they are there and that we are really privileged to have them there. Articulate there objections. Help them know that we know the difficulties of belief. Things like, ‘I’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.’ or ‘I don’t see how my life could be the result of the plan of a loving God.’ or ‘Christianity is a straight-jacket.’ or ‘It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.’
  4. Use highly skilled arts in worship. Good art draws people in and touches their heart and it’s the heart we need to convince first. Art makes ideas plausible and appealing. Look at the visual aesthetics of our worship space. What is this saying to people? In particular look at the quality and type of music we use. Is it as good and as culturally appropriate as we can make it?
  5. Celebrate deeds of justice and mercy. Public esteem of the Church has plunged to an all time low and a part of the reason for this is that we don’t seem to be on the side of justice and mercy. We are but we’re not known for this. We are known more for being interested in words rather than deeds. When we begin to celebrate and participate in works of justice and mercy again then the world will know something is happening in the Church that they need. And this doesn’t have to be only our work. There’s plenty of opportunity to partner with other organisations to support things and to act. At the very least we can celebrate what these organisations have achieved.
  6. Present and explain the sacraments so as to make grace clear. Sacraments are known in the Reform Church as ‘converting ordinances.’ In other words they are one act plays which explain grace in a dramatic way. This can be extremely helpful to people new to the church if they are explained well. Baptism dramatically explains the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in a way that provides an enduring picture of how Christ works in our life. Likewise the Lord’s Supper also provides a wonderful picture of God’s resourcing of us day by day as we give our lives to Christ.
  7. Preach Grace. This is the key to the Gospel and the key to dealing with sin. This is the one thing that liberates us from a ‘try harder’ ethic which virtually every other faith can be reduced to. This is the key point of difference in the Christian faith but it must be reinforces by our attitude and our action.

In short we should do everything we can to speak grace into the culture with the culture’s language. In this we will we help people open their heart to God.

 

Richard DSchool-assembly-007

A Reasonable Faith

(This article appeared in the ODT on Friday June 1st, 2018)

This column has been called ‘Faith and Reason’ for some time now begging the question of how the two are related. For some, of course, the very nature of faith disqualifies it from any semblance to reason. For them it is, by definition, un-reasonable, that is, a belief not sustained by normal boundaries of reason. Certainly God’s existence doesn’t seem to be a testable theory. This very fact has caused many to label faith irrational and therefore absurd. But there are many things which operate perfectly well in life which are also not reducible to scientific testing.

eight_col_otago_universityLove is not a ‘rational’ phenomena in the sense of being able to be explained by scientific enquiry. Nor, for that matter is consciousness. Science hasn’t been able to explain this so far. Beauty is another very powerful phenomenon that cannot be explained scientifically and neither, for that matter can friendship. We can know something about these things but what we do know certainly doesn’t explain them or provide a ‘reason’ for them.

Furthermore one must ask why we need a scientific theory of something before we consider it to be real or, indeed, useful. Only very good physicists can really understand electricity enough to explain it fully and yet we use it every day without giving a single thought to explaining it. The fact that GPS systems, in order to be accurate, have to be calibrated to take into account the way time is effected by gravity can be explained by specialists in the field, but again, we use these tools everyday and most of us are content to use them without need of an explanation.

Even the world’s top scientists can’t explain why ice has less mass than water or why hot water freezes faster than cold or why a bicycle works to keep its rider upright (no it isn’t because of the gyroscopic effect apparently!)

But none of this matters because whether we can explain it or not – it works; it produces something that is useful and helpful and so our lack of a reason for it working doesn’t trouble us. And this is why the dismissing of faith on the basis that it is not explainable is not very persuasive. If faith works, if it makes us a better people, if it guides us into a peaceful and productive existence and a life of health rather than disease we should grab it with both hands and give ourselves to it even if the outcomes are only partially achievable in our own lives.

Now, of course, some argue that faith has not made us better people but has been responsible for religious wars, bigotry and prejudice; one can’t deny that the Church has been implicated in and even responsible for all of these at certain times. However, we should also recognise the great good conferred upon humankind through the Christian faith including, for example, the invention of modern nursing by Florence Nightingale, the pioneering of modern science by virtue of the demythologising of the natural world, and the invention of the modern general schooling system through the parish schools of Britain, to name just a few.

Add to this the fact that every human institution has been responsible at some point for producing incredible harm including modern medicine (the thalidomide tragedy), politics (communist purges in many former communist regimes) and modern economies (the last and latest Wall Street crash) and it becomes clear that anything human, no matter how true and right, has the potential to be used for evil.

Furthermore, the existence of mistakes in a fallible and very human church doesn’t disprove the notion of God’s loving and gracious existence just as the mistakes and negligence of some in other fields of human endeavour doesn’t negate or disprove the knowledge or validity of that community.

The faith of the Christian community rests on the basis of an highly credible historical witness and a rational examination of the alternatives. It rests on the promise of a life lived to the fullest – the best life possible and it rests on almost 2000 years of contribution to the societies within which it has been practiced.

 

The Spirit in Tonga

I spent much of last week in Tonga at the invitation of a ministry based in the Southern Presbytery called 3D Disciples. This is a magnificent disciple making ministry planted by John and Heather Gullick of Riversdale. John has been the Presbyterian minister there for over 30 years and has maintained a lively and active parish for all of that time. He and Heather are a wonderful team and they have continued to bring people to Christ and disciple them through all of those years.

The 3D model is similar to other models which use a mix of classroom based teaching with practical field based experience usually in a place which is quite different from their home background. This both removes distractions and allows students to experience the dislocation of a cultural shift which creates space for them to rely on God more.

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My hosts Tapani and Lele’ana Kauvaka (left) and Foliaki Tauofa.

 

I went up as Moderator to both visit the base they have in Tonga and to make contact with various church leaders up there to highlight to work of 3D. It was, frankly, a God-moment for me.

Tonga is still a world immersed in a Christendom model. From the royal family to many of the government ministers, the public servants and so on down – acknowledgement of God’s role in their lives is a top priority. I spoke twice at the two prisons on Tonga. On both occasions the prisoners welcomed us by bursting out into a beautiful Tongan hymn in perfect 4 part harmony sung with magnificent voices and significant emotion and meaning. It was an incredible display of how deeply the Christian faith has been allowed to mold and shape the character of the nation and, frankly, it is good.

Are there the usual signs of normal human inconsistency and hypocrisy; of syncretism and shallow faith? Of course. But these are significantly outweighed by the incredible fruit a deeply Christian up bringing provides the majority of Tongans. Prayer is second nature. Scripture is referred to and woven into the fabric of their behaviour at every level of life. Love of neighbour is practiced even on the verdant battlefields of Rugby League over there where the hits are ferocious and tempers clearly become frayed yet… after the battle is over both teams will often pray together and thank God for the ability to play the game and enjoy the battle.

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Another very full church on Sunday.

I was asked to bless a new car given to the Minister of Internal Affairs for use by an officer charged with the care of people with disabilities. Every speaker began by saying something to effect that he/she would like to start by giving thanks to Him from who every good gift comes… There is a deep and abiding reverence for God in this nation and it starts at the very top.

The Royal family are committed Christians but not simply as Church goers. The Queen organizes and attends a 5am prayer meeting on the first Sunday of every month to pray specifically for the nation and to seek God for guidance in national affairs. I spoke at this meeting and it was a wonderful experience to see people weeping as they prayed for their own nation.

 

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A car is blessed.

I can imagine some asking or thinking ‘how long can it last?’ One certainly notices that things are changing and this is having an influence on the young but I believe that Tonga will weather many of the storms and contribute significantly to a renewed Church throughout the Pacific.

The nation was once known as the warriors of the Pacific. They are now warriors for God. They have turned their energies towards building the kingdom and I think they will be used in marvelous ways.

God Bless Tonga!

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The famous blow holes.

In the City…

“The city is not to be regarded as an evil invention of… fallen man… The ultimate goal set before humanity at the very beginning was that human culture should take city-form… There should be an urban structuring of human historical existence… The cultural mandate given at creation was a mandate to build the city. Now, after the fall, the city is still a benefit, serving humankind as refuge from the howling wilderness condition into which the fallen human race, exiled from paradise, has been driven… The common grace city has remedial benefits even in a fallen world.[1]

Chicago-02 Thus says Meredith Kline reflecting on the nature and role of the city in call of the Gospel. Quoted in Timothy Keller’s insightful book ‘Center Church.’

Keller builds the case for the Christian community to intentionally target cities in its missional strategy for it is there that we can have the greatest influence over the greatest variety of peoples and cultures.

Keller is not naïve about the challenge. As he says, “The earthly city is a metaphor for human life structured without God, created for self-salvation, self-service, and self-glorification. It portrays a scene of exploitation and injustice.[2]” At the same time however, the critical reason cities are so important to our mission is that “… God “has compassion on all he has made” (Ps 145:9). But of all the things he has made, human beings have pride of place in his heart, because they were made in his image (Gen 9:6; James 3:9). Cities, quite literally, have more of the image of God per square inch than any other place on earth.[3]

Furthermore the pattern of evangelization set in Acts reflects precisely this priority. “The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery in its article on “City” states the following:…There is a sense in which the city is vindicated in the history of the early church — not in the sense that the city is mainly good or cordial to the gospel but in the sense that the city is where most people now live and where the influential power structures exist… It is easy to see that the mission strategy of the early church was to evangelize the city. It is no exaggeration to say that in Acts the church is almost exclusively associated with the city.[4]” This the city sets the pattern for the early spread of the Gospel by informing the shape of how the Church will function within the city.

Paul’s pattern of working within cities proved that, “…if the gospel is unfolded at the urban center, you can effectively reach the region and the surrounding society. Stott cites J. A. Alexander’s insight that Acts shows the spread of the gospel “by the gradual establishment of radiating centres or sources of influence at certain salient points throughout a large part of the Empire.”[5]

In his bookThe Rise of Christianity  Rodney Stark offers a very clear picture of how the Church both used cities to further the cause of the Gospel and was influenced by the structure of cities in shaping its missional task. “To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity…”[6]

The need for Christian influence in our cities has hardly diminished over the last 2000 years but the means by which they are influenced has changed I believe. People today are used to single stop multichoice environments in cities and, to a certain extent at least, churches need to reflect this in the way they structure themselves. That we have something to offer is not in question but how we offer it is. We need again to be influenced by the structure of cities in the offering of the Gospel and frankly this means shaping ourselves to deal with the problems of larger churches.

The mission, essentially, hasn’t changed. There is still a clear need to care for the poor and under-resourced people in cities; there is still a need to address the results of immigration both legal and illegal and there is still a need to provide pathways to better socialization but the general style of living has changed from one centered on communal living and large multi-generational family groups to much smaller, nuclear family or even single generational groups who tend to be much more isolated from their neighbours and other family members. For this reason among others the style and shape of effective Church communities has had to change. This means that in general people are more comfortable in large and anonymous community settings where there is an emphasis on freedom of choice and the ability to take what one wants from an experience without necessarily buying into the whole package.

Interestingly enough this can and should include boutique experiences because this is exactly how the city works. No city would be complete without the small eateries, cafes, boutique fashion shops and dairies. They offer a special experience, very different from the large malls and department stores, which appeals to many. The buying power and efficiency of the larger stores is attractive to most but the smaller shops provide something important as well.

To leverage the efficiencies of a larger group of people with greater buying power Churches in cities now need to be at least 200 strong and be able to grow a group of support staff around the senior minister. This doesn’t so much replace volunteers as provide a structure to more effectively motivate and utilize voluntary labour. And it also shouldn’t preclude the offering of the boutique experience; the contemplative worship experience or the celtic worship experience or the age specific worship experience or the liturgical worship experience. These should be supported and provided by the larger church and they will need support. They seldom can find enough support to remain stand-alone just as the small boutiques shops require the foot traffic of the larger stores to bring customers to their door fronts.

So the issue of how to manage and maintain larger churches is, I believe, a key issue for us today. Cities require much more sophisticated management ability to run smoothly. They require specialist skill to remain livable and large churches require a quite different approach to continue to flourish and gain momentum.  We need to be providing this and training for it in order that we might remain effective in the city.

 

[1]Keller, Timothy. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (p. 150). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[2]Ibid p.141.

[3]Ibid p.141.

[4]Ibid p.148.

[5]Ibid p.149.

[6]Ibid p.149.

Committed

I’ve spent some time pondering the great theme of commitment this Easter. It is, of course, a central theme of evangelicalism but if we scratch a little below the surface it is also a theme of the left as well. Liberalism has always supported an agenda of justice and equality and it is clear that neither of these are possible without some significant commitment from individuals to both behaviours and policies which support them. Commitment, it would seem, is necessary for the realization of any hopeful future.

However, we don’t travel too far down this path before we strike the rather turgid note of moralism or even legalism. It is a mere step to the side from the valid observation that for most good things to persist they require good people to be committed to them to the deathly notes of condemnation poured out on all who will not bow the knee or sign the petition. Salvation by works is writ all through this music.

So how do we strike a balance. Christ calls for commitment to Himself and to the Kingdom in multiple places throughout the Gospel. (Take for example the ‘follow’ motif  in the NT. Jesus uses this word to call for commitment on multiple occasions and it is expanded in many other places to summarise the whole of a disciple’s duty and, indeed, to call for greater commitment to the cause of the Gospel.) There can be no doubt that we are to commit to both him and to his kingdom and that the decision to commit is both worthy and required on more than one occasion. (Rev 32) Recommitment is, in fact, another significant theme in the NT. I suggest the balance is struck in this way…

We should not shy away from both the notion of commitment to God and to the needs of the kingdom of God but this should always be tempered by an even greater emphasis on the commitment of God in Christ to us. Always and on every occasion it is the commitment of Christ which is the greatest theme of the NT and which also acts as the truest motivation for commitment to God by the individual. Every individual commitment should reflect that in committing to God what we are really doing is offering a small (but necessary) token of thanks for the enormous commitment God has shown to us.

So on this Easter morn I rejoice in Christ’s commitment to us all and I am reminded that this commitment calls forth a renewed commitment from me to all that Christ would have me be and do.

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2018

He Is Risen!

John 107-13/ Phil 26-11 / Ruth 41-6

Today we celebrate with all our might the commitment of Jesus – the man who faced down death and won!

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Empty tombThe only people who truly commit are those who believe. Without belief, commitment is either fake or it is fleeting. It is either pretend commitment or it is  passing commitment. Passing commitment is commitment that looks good to begin with but is withdrawn when it becomes inconvenient. But Christ’s commitment to us is unquestionable because He gave all that He had to give – He gave His life!

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Commitment proves itself largely by staying in the game, by remaining faithful; by finishing the job and by paying the price. And there’s always a price friends for without a price there’s no need for commitment. Without a sacrifice there’s no work to do and without an exchange of goods our commitment is an empty promise.

Today of all days we celebrate commitment but not ours. Rather we celebrate One who was committed to us! We celebrate One who stayed in the game till the very highest price was paid. Today we celebrate the commitment of Jesus!

 Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

We need to ask ourselves what the essence of this commitment was however. We all know He died but His death is really just the top of a mountain of commitment. Underneath that is the bulk of the mountain upon which the top rests and for Christ this bulk is the greatest mountain that ever existed.

You see Christ’s commitment begins with a terrible wrenching away from His home in eternity with God. Christ has left His home and His comfort and all that was familiar to Him to commit to us – very much as Ruth left her home and people and everything she had known to support her mother-in-law Naomi.

And this is a commitment that is counted daily in grief and loneliness as we exist without those whom we love. Christ choose to leave His loving relationship with God and to commit to us

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Secondly it’s a commitment to the cause of a separated and barren people; the same kind of commitment Boaz was willing to make to Ruth. Naomi had nothing left in the world except a property she could not manage and a daughter-in-law who had no future. So her future was blank; her present was one of desperate poverty and her past one of complete loss. However, Boaz was willing to buy into that bloodline in order to revive it and bring hope to it. He was willing to bear that risk in his own flesh.

Christ does the same for you and I today. He buys into our checkered past and our barren future and he says to each one of us – through me you shall prosper again; you shall rise again; you shall rejoice again! I shall bless your bloodline and restore it to its intended glory. You shall live again.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Finally Christ is not only willing to restore our bloodline but he is willing to invite us into His bloodline; to make us inheritors of what was only His. His future has become our future; his possession our possession; his glory our glory; his place in heaven our place in heaven! We get to share in all that was his just as Ruth and Naomi get to share in all that belonged to Boaz.

It’s a double whammy. Christ restores our inheritance and He makes us to share in His inheritance. Christ saves us and he give us a new future which was wholly His.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

I wonder, are we prepared to receive these things? We can only do so when we realise that our futures are nothing without Christ. We can only do so when we realise that what we have is ashes. We can only do so when we desire health more that we desire  comfort and security.

The surgeon promises healing but only if we’re prepared for some discomfort. We cannot be operated on at home. The ground promises a crop but only if it will yield to the plough first. The grain will give us bread but only if it is crushed first to make the flour. We have to leave behind the body of death if we are going to receive the gift of life and, frankly, some people prefer certainty so much that they will not open their lives to Christ and to His uncertainties. Come Lord – help us to let go of the past.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Today Christ is Risen but not so that we may stay at home – rather so that we may enter into a new home with Him; a home we could barely imagine – a home where pain and grief are gone and where we may find true joy and true comfort.

What we experience today is but a shadow of the things to come. What we are addicted to today is but a shadow of the comfort and joy Christ has won for us today but – we have a choice to make. Shall we stay with the old and let Christ hang on the Cross or shall we make the swap; rags for riches; pain for pleasure; grief for fulfilment.

Are we prepared to listen to the Good Shepherd and follow Him into the good pasture or will we prefer our old inadequate joys instead? He longs that we should listen. He longs that we should follow. He longs that we should enjoy the blessings of a life committed to following His call.

He is committed to us. Are we now to be committed to Him?

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

I appeal to you today. Don’t stay at home! Don’t stay in your comfortable but sad existence. Take a risk with God! God risked everything for us – will we not take a risk with Him? Choose today whom you will serve. Choose today whose future you will take. He will not force us but He continually calls to us as the Good Shepherd to open our hearts to His voice and to say to Him, ‘Yes Lord, I will follow you.’

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Easter Sunday is, in fact, a day of decision for us all because it’s the day that God’s decision for us becomes clear. With Christ’s rising it is clear that God has conquered death and crossed the last barrier between us. God has come to us and we are now faced with this incredible offer… ‘Come with me now and walk with me.’ ‘I give you honour for shame; peace for hostility; joy for sadness; riches for poverty and passion for apathy. I have come, says Jesus, to bring life, life in all its abundance. But we need to say yes to God! Are we willing to say ‘Yes’ to God today? Are we willing to open our hearts to Him again. Are we willing to take a risk with God because essentially faith is a risk in that it is always a step into the unknown.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

This is not a foolishness risk. It’s not an unwise risk. It is, rather, a step of trust and, wherever trust is involved there is an element of risk. Marriage involves risk. We cannot know what the future will hold. Our promise at the alter isn’t to guarantee the future of the one we are giving ourselves to but to guarantee our love in that future. When we have children we take a risk. When we play sport we take a risk, when we invest we take a risk but these are usually not foolish risks. God calls us today to take risk with Him – to put our lives into His hands and to trust Him.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

If you’ve never made that commitment before I invite you now to say yes to this prayer I am about to pray and then to tell one of the people you know is already following God and we will help you grow into this wonderful inheritance.

Dear God, I see you died and rose again to give us all a wonderful inheritance. I want to be a part of that. Help me to receive all that you have for me today. Help me to open my heart to you and to become your follower. Help me to say ‘Yes’ to you today and every day from now on. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

 

 

Easter Break

The Easter Break in New Zealand is somewhat unique in the Western world. We get both Good Friday and Easter Monday and have done for a long time. Australia doesn’t make Easter Monday a break though South Africa calls it ‘Family Day’ and so they effectively get it as well.

In this we follow Britain which does call both Easter Friday and Easter Monday a holiday but neither Canada or the USA take both days off. In Canada all of the country bar Quebec take Easter Friday and only Quebec takes Easter Monday – go figure? In the USA neither are holidays. Frankly I think we’ve got it right.

Easter is early this year coming as it does on April 1st. In Western Christianity, using the Gregorian calendar, Easter always falls on a Sunday between 22 March and 25 April inclusive, within about seven days after the astronomical full moon – according to Wikipedia. Usually we’re about half way through the school term and families are needing a break, to say nothing of teachers and everyone else!

family-on-beachMy memories of Easter holidays spent at my grandparents small crib in Alexandra are still bright with joy and adventure. Swimming was still possible and so long as the weekend wasn’t too drab much of the time was spent outdoors with cousins and others. It was a great weekend. Yes we experienced the odd really bad weekend but even cooped up in a small but different space for a weekend where books could be read and card or board games played it was a special time.

Of course it is the true high point of the Christian calendar and much is made of it in Churches but typically many are away on Easter Sunday and so whereas in the States it becomes a time of immense activity in church as congregations gear up for an influx of annual Easter going visitors here, we simply don’t get that response and we are used to many of our best volunteers being away.

Again, I think this is healthy largely because this western culture we’re in simply doesn’t stop and, frankly, it’s killing us. I would much rather have a large group within my congregation return from a good Eater rest ready to serve well for the rest of the semester/term than have a group of stressed and over-worked volunteers drag themselves back to church after a busy Easter with very little in their gas-tanks to take us any further.

For goodness sake – don’t feel guilty about taking a break this Easter. The Sabbath, said Jesus, was made for humans not the other way around. Easter is our greatest Sabbath but it too, was made for us, not we for it!

God bless you all this Easter.

Richard D. (Moderator)

Who is my neighbour?

Neighbours Day 2018:

It’s Neighbour’s Day on both the 24th and 25th of this month (March). I wondered how you are going to celebrate this special and valuable day? I wonder if you’ve asked the question at the heart of Neighbour’s Day “Who is my neighbour?” This question, which was asked of Jesus by a teacher of the Law no less, has echoed down through the ages and is, perhaps, more pertinent now in this day and age than at any other time.

In this day of refugee crisis, growing international tension and shocking civil war; in this day of homelessness and of breakdown of community identity throughout the Western world, surely the one major question we must ask is who is my neighbour.

neighboursday18-page-001.jpg I find there are two aspects to this question which must be answered – one which is essentially political and one which is far more relational.

The first political question simply asks who should we consider is on our side – who believes as we do – who sees the world as we see it and, further, who will help us when we need help.

This is a deeply problematical way of putting the question because the essential thrust of the question is to separate the world into those we will accept and those we will reject. It is very much the same question in the same spirit which was put to Jesus. “Who can I rule out so I don’t have to be neighbourly to everyone?”

It’s the question which is now finding political sympathy across Europe with the rise of deeply worrying separatist and exclusivist parties in France, Germany, Britain and other nations.

The second way to frame the question is to emphasise the relational aspect of it so that the question is really asking us to get to know our neighbours. It therefore asks us not to exclude anyone but to get to know them better. It asks not so much, “Who is my neighbours”? but “Do I know my neighbour?”

In many ways this was how Jesus chose to answer the question put to him. He did not offer any clue about how to make a decision as to who was ‘in or out’ but instead he showed through the story he told what it meant to be a neighbor, and how to get to know one’s neighbour.

Who is my neighbour? You are the one who: needs my help, needs my protection, needs my open heart, needs my understanding…who doesn’t need my judgement, my prejudice, my suspicion, or my lack of generosity.

On this special Neighbours Day 24 to 25 March, let’s return to this key value of Kiwi society – we are all cousins – we are all that person who is in need of welcoming, and a helping hand. We are all neighbours!

Richard D

A Road Less Traveled

Right_Rev_Andrew_NortonThe Very Rev Andrew Norton officially resigned from ministry last Saturday at the regular meeting of the full Northern Presbytery. He spoke of his passion for the church and his struggle to let this part of his life go but of a growing realisation that this was what was required of him at this stage of his life. As was so often the case with Andrew it was through poetry that God had spoken to him and, as usual, through him to us. I have seldom met a man more passionate about the Church and more committed to Christ. But this man always came with the uncomfortable Presence of God.

Scott Peck was a psychologist who found God while resting from a writing assignment in a convent. The discovery completely turned his life around and for the next 20 or so years he gave himself to writing about the confluence of psychology and faith. In his ground breaking publication ‘The Road Less Traveled’ which was an anthology of love from a psychological perspective Peck wrote this…

Human beings are poor examiners, subject to superstition, bias, prejudice, and a PROFOUND tendency to see what they want to see rather than what is really there.

The Church is no exception but what I found with Andrew was that his ministry to us as a people prone to self-deception was precisely a corrective – Andrew spoke the truth to a people so often unprepared to accept it.

We are still in that place unfortunately – we are still offering old wine skins to new wine and the risk of losing it all is still great.

I want to honour this man who has literally bled for the Church because he and his family, especially his wife Sue, have suffered greatly over the last 18 months as illness forced him to lay aside a unique call to lead the Church for a second term as Moderator. Few if any other person have inspired such confidence that they have been nominated a second time to this position. Andrew did. The truth He spoke was intoxicating and yet hugely releasing. It gave all of us a sense of hope; a glimpse of a remarkable future and a desire to travel again with the Church.

Andrew was incredibly kind and helpful toward me as I traveled the road to Moderatorship. He included me in so much of what he was doing and thinking and I felt tremendously thankful for this. I helped me form a much better idea of how to handle the position.

None of us have any idea of how much the recovery from his illness cost Andrew but I can tell you that theSpirit of God was still shining brightly in him as he laid down the reigns of both St Columba’s Church and ministry at that Presbytery meeting. His final speech produced again a ‘thin place’ where the Presence of God was palpable.

We will miss you Andrew but we are so much the better for your leadership. May your journey be sweet and…

Arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

Richard D.

Billy Graham is not here…

Billy Graham has died.
His influence can hardly be measured and though some still like to point out his inadequacies I for one am sure I will see him in heaven. I have a distinct and clear memory of his visit to Dunedin.
Photo of Graham Reverend BillyIn 1969 Bill Graham came to Dunedin. I was 10 years old at the time and my sister was 8. I’d never heard of the man and so it was somewhat of a surprise that my father took us to his rally on Carisbrook the famous, now gone, Rugby ground. He seemed a long way away to me and I hardly listened to what he said. But my sister did and when it came time to go up the front and give our lives to Jesus she wanted to. I didn’t! The last thing i wanted to do was to go up the front but Dad insisted I take my sister and so dutifully I held her hand and we went up the front together and I dutifully said all that I was told to say and prayed all that i was told to pray.
BGraham1It took a little longer to bear fruit in my life than in my sister’s but today I am a minister of the gospel – a place i never expected to be in my youth – but there’s no place I’d rather be.
Thank you Billy…

Fasting Fridays…

Lent 2018

Lent, in the Christian calendar, is defined as a period of spiritual preparation for the highlight of the Easter celebration.

Easter is the highpoint of the Christian calendar. Arguably it is from this point that all liturgy and Christian worship begin.

One of the most common approaches to Lent was the practice of fasting – largely from food or specific food types. Why fasting?

hqdefault  In the Old Testament (OT) perhaps the ‘top quality’ of a follower of God was humility. All things in maturity came down to a fundamental humility which enabled the believer to live a life of obedience before God and a life of friendship towards others. The key practice in developing humility was… fasting. So, in James 4 we have this passage:

But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”

In the OT we find that Moses, the key figure of the OT, was “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth”. Again, in Psalm 149 we read:

For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory”.

But how is this humility obtained? Again in both testaments one of the key answers to that question is… to fast.

Psalm 35v13 says, “13But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting”.

And again, in Ezra 8 we read:

21 Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions”.

The notion of both the importance of humility and the link to fasting is clear. Today we need to retrieve this spiritual gift because we live in an age so dominated by the glory of technology that we have become almost allergic to proper reflection and meditation.

Let me reiterate my initial claim that Christian maturity is dependent upon the development of a deep reflectiveness which grows out of humility.

So come, fast with me that we might know again that humility which should be the mark of all Christians and of the Church. We have six Fridays before Easter. How about we do our best to miss a meal, or even two, on those Fridays? I will give you a run-down on how I am going on my blog https://moderator.presbyterian.org.nz. Let’s see where God leads us together.

 

Richard D.