Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy

– Matthew 5:7

I wanted to add my voice to the discussion of mercy, racial reconciliation and how those with much can seek to use that to the glory of God. I hear a lot about restitution, and wealth redistribution. I read much instruction that we should engage in underprivileged communities and how amazing those who do these things are. From a Christian perspective I feel that there might be a bit of silence as to the motive. What is the motive for showing mercy or being merciful? I would like to share something that might start some people thinking.

This is the transcript

Are you merciful? Why?
Because Jesus healed the sick,
because Jesus fed the multitudes,
because Jesus gave legs to the crippled,
because Jesus granted sight to the blind,
because Jesus opened the ears of the deaf,
because Jesus found prostitutes and tax collectors and drew them into the sphere of His love.
Because Jesus touched the untouchable,
and loved the unlovable,
and forgave the unforgivable,
and welcomed the undesirable.
Because Jesus even now saves the otherwise unsavable, why!?
Because they deserve it!?
When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
He saved us NOT because of works done in righteousness,
NOT because we met Him halfway,
NOT because we took the proper steps forward,
and in good faith have elevated ourselves to the place of the deserving poor,
but according to His MERCY!

We are here because Jesus Christ didn’t say with cold indifference,
“Give them what they deserve, they brought it on themselves!”
Jesus Christ IS the Mercy of God!
And seeing us in our misery and need,
He doesn’t just feel for us,
He takes the necessary action to relieve our distress.
He leaves the eternal glory of heaven and the perfect fellowship of the Trinity.
He condescends to us,
lives among us,
suffers like us,
dies for us!
Do you understand this!?
Have YOU experienced this!?
How then is it possible to EXPERIENCE it and not DISPLAY it!?
The evidence of God’s mercy in your life isn’t determined by how much theology you know,
by how many books you read,
but by your active goodness to people in misery and in need!

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

You can download the entire album by Beautiful Eulogy here and listen to the full sermon by Art Azurdia here

Contemporary vacuum

I recently…

We’re defining recently with the same loose definition as I apply to my idea of regular when I say “my regular blog posts”

… had a discussion, this discussion encompassed many, many different theological and doctrinal issues. The participants in this discussion had a somewhat varied religious backgrounds. There were Roman Catholics, somewhat contemporary Anglicans and a Baptist or two. The Anglicans came from a somewhat charismatic church… I say charismatic, but this is a relative term, they are charismatic in the sense that they have flag worship dancers up in front during worship. That is about as charismatic as it gets, there is also sporadic hand raising, but that’s really the extent of it. So compared to most Anglican churches I’ve been in (and my experience is admittedly rather limited) it’s EXTREMELY charismatic.

When the discussion swung around to salvation and what that is, and potentially what it looks like things went a little wobbly. I suggested (and I was being as broad and inclusive as I could be, possibly too broad) that given a certain time frame the believer should be able to recognize a difference his or her life from before they were saved, to after they were saved. The longer ago the salvific event was, the more stark the difference would be. However, even if we are talking about a really short time frame, the saved person should be able to recognize a change, their new nature should cause a desire for things they did not desire before, and a hate of things that they once desired. This increases as the holy spirit does his work of sanctification in the life of the believer. I was told, to a greater or lesser degree, that this was somewhat misleading, or harsh. Who was I to tell someone that if they have ALWAYS been a Christian, because they were raised that way, that they might be wrong? Well, I’m not here to tell anyone they are not a Christian, what I would like to do is help individuals work out their salvation, and to examine their faith according to what the bible describes. If a broad description of your experience is not outlined in scripture, e.g. you were always a Christian, then you need to examine, for yourself, why that is the case.

Grace is amazing, it is so sweet to hear because it took someone as wretched as me and saved me. I was lost before, but someone found me. I couldn’t see, but now I can. I was so wretched that this amazing grace first had to show me that I was in trouble, and teach my heart to fear God, and the consequences of my wretchedness, but it was that amazing grace that then showed me Christ and all my fears were relieved. How precious did that grace look, at the time that I began to believe it? Now I know that the troubles I have faced, that it was grace that brought me through them. I know that grace will lead me into eternity.

If the paragraph above isn’t shockingly obvious, then it must surely be ringing some pretty serious bells for you. It’s now a few months on from that discussion, and the thought struck me. “All of the people in the discussion would affirm that the hymn ‘amazing grace’ is perhaps iconic of Christianity”. The song encapsulates the ideas that you and I are wretches, that we were blind and lost! Something came along and first had to show us our sorry state and then show us what it had done for us. We were blind to the fact that we were wretches, and had to be show, and then we feared. But that grace showed us that there was a solution to our very desperate problem and our fears were relieved. It shows us that grace is the thing that brings us through dangers toils and snares and it is grace that will carry us to the finish! Grace does this and not us; we have no room to boast.

The hymns taught some fantastic biblical theology, things that we are losing as we move away from them into more contemporary Christian music. I’ll touch on something here that I hope to expand on in a loose series continuation of the problems with church growth. That is the idea that as we divorce Sunday services from the idea of worshiping God and learning about him through the preaching of the word, we begin to lose more than we might be aware of. Worship of God through song becomes something to make the crowd “feel”. The songs become more emotionally manipulative than they extol the virtues and wonder of God. So now we have emotive pseudo Christian spiritual songs making the individuals participating in the event that is the service, ready, hyped up and prepared for the life coaching and ego stroking that is to come. Contemporary worship (not all, but certainly a growing significant fraction) is leaving a gigantic theological vacuum. We no longer learn the very theology and doctrines that underpin a hymn like amazing grace and so it fires no imagination anymore. It doesn’t recall to memory what God has done for us, causing us to once again express our gratefulness in worship, it’s just another song to sing that makes us feel good. It’s amazing to me that I can have a discussion with people where we disagree  about quite specific things, but those same people will sing amazing grace with great fervor, never mind the underlying theology of the song is the very thing they were just denying.

If you are tired of behaving well so that in the end, God might look at your track record and allow you in because your goodness outweighs your badness and you are aware of the fact that you do indeed have quite serious badness to try to counteract. Or you are tired of trying so very hard because God expects it of you, and it’s what you are supposed to do. If you don’t do the good things then God will punish you with financial troubles if you don’t tithe, and you will get sick because you have not been praying hard enough… or your marriage will be in trouble if you don’t jump though spiritual hoop xyz. If you are weary of doing all these works, then come to the saviour in repentance and faith and he will give you rest. His yoke is easy and his burden is light!

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My, that’s a weird growth you have

A theme has been repeating itself in my awareness lately, in the same way that you start noticing how many of a specific model of car there are, once brought to your attention for whatever reason. This is the theme of church growth.

We process and accept things that are logical to us, things that we can understand and make sense of. Things that we can reason out and break down into logical steps that lead to a logical conclusion, logical to us at least. Which is all well and good, it wouldn’t do for us to go charging off doing things that don’t make sense or are not logical.

The key thought here is “to us”. Just because we can process and make sense of something doesn’t make it right, just because we cannot process something or something that is unintuitive does not make it wrong. That German guys cat would still be alive, or dead… er… the cat would be without apparent paradox, if there were not truth’s that defied apparent common sense. What is intuitive is pretty subjective, common sense is not so common.

As a simple example, it makes perfect sense to me that while wiring up a home entertainment system you think of everything as a river, or plumbing, you have a water source and some destination, the source for home entertainment is usually a satellite dish, and maybe a radio receiver, the destination is the TV and perhaps some speakers, you just have to link the source and destination. Usually it’s all colour coded for you as well! Many times the plugs can’t even GO anywhere else, they are shape and size coded for you even! Match the colours, make the source signal land up at the destination thingies, and bam! Entertainment for the family. It’s intuitive for me and seems like common sense, yet I spend an amazing amount of time setting things up for people to whom this is all un-intuitive, who tend to wire the TV and amplifier to their respective selves, and wonder why nothing works.

So, what does this have to do with church growth? Well, I need to be clear in saying that I think all Christians should seek to grow the Church[i]. Because A: in a sense we’re commanded to, and B: considering our belief’s about Jesus, and heaven and hell, it wouldn’t make much sense if I didn’t think so. Now on to the controversial stuff. I think many of the conferences for church growth are blatantly misguided. I’d go so far as to say that many are not of God because their chief end is rather blatantly financial increase, or to gain some sort of influence. However, dealing only with the ones that are misguided, let me explain my reasons for suggesting so. I think church growth right now is about market share. It’s a battle for share of an existing market of church goers, the better you are doing, the worse someone else is doing, as there are only so many church goers to go around. This may not be the intention, to be sure… but it is the result. I’ve spoken to many, many pastors over the years (not specifically about this perhaps, but it comes up quite a bit) and the consensus is that change in the size of the congregation is primarily due to the movement of church goers between congregations for various reasons. I’ve come to see that these reasons usually coincide with the steps taken in church growth strategies suggested by the conferences/church growth guru’s.

The basic premise is to make church attractive to the outsider, which usually leads to modelling the secular way of doing things. Worship becomes about putting on as good a production as you can afford to put on. Sermons are modelled on being as relevant to daily life as they can possibly be, without offending anyone . But remember, the focus is on the outsider, so relevance for their daily life is very often about how to live your life better “Five biblical principles for getting on with your boss”. The idea is that the guy on the street should feel welcome as possible at the service, so that we can reach him/her. If the church isn’t relevant to that person then they won’t come. Worship needs to be a tool to make the church an incredibly inviting place to be. It can and should be used as a tool to grow your church. If someone is going to be bored singing old songs, in what seems an old fashioned manner without any kind of engaging stage presence, to listen to a sermon that doesn’t make sense to him, and from which he can draw no practical application or that is possibly going to offend him (I’m certainly not a sinner!) that person is unlikely to come again.

Therefore, since we are seeking to grow our church and reach the lost, it makes sense to model worship after whatever is contemporary and popular. The production must be professional and it should be exciting. Participants should walk away from the worship and feel that it really touched them, that it moved them. I’ve heard many a time from many Christians “I did not enjoy the worship”. The sermon should be delivered by a charismatic individual practised in communication and presentation skills, akin to those for executives and business men, and the sermons must contain applicable information for the life of the listener, something that they can make sense of. It should be relevant to their lives and contexts. Sermons can be about living your life better in a tough world. How to really strive to be a better individual at work and at home, all based on “sound biblical principles”. Solomon the wise king can teach us about management and wisdom in the workplace, Jesus the wise and patient mentor of sometimes slow disciples can show us patient leadership of people that might not get it right at first, but that can become individuals that impact the world! Without this relevance, the church is worthless to the world. Our worship would be uninspiring, and un-engaging, our message would be impractical and irrelevant to today’s fast paced dog eat dog world, both in business and in the home. That is logical, intuitive, it makes sense, and so we model our church toward relevance for the seeker.

Only, there are a few problems.

  1. In trying to copy what the world can and does offer, is that we make bad, pale imitations. Outsiders come in and see an attempt at a U2 cover band (in style), giving information on how following some steps can make their lives easier, and often how they can follow some magical biblical formula that will invoke the power of God to propel that area of their lives forward.
  2. In trying to be “relevant” to the non Christian, and styling your Sunday church gathering in order to attract the unbeliever you are basically rendering the point of Sunday gatherings moot. Church services are the assembling of the saints, where we can worship God, and be taught from the scriptures by one called to preach and exegete from those scriptures, so that we might be fully equipped for every good work. We gather to learn, grow, serve the body and be fed. We then scatter in our daily lives to evangelise. This church growth model has flipped that idea on its head. They say we should gather to evangelise, and must under no circumstances ask to be fed at church, or that church is definitely not for the believer. Then we must somehow scatter to be fed…

Can church be expected to result in the salvation of the lost, well absolutely, because the pastor that is doing his job and preaching expositorily with the right hermeneutic (interpretive key) while feeding the sheep, will no doubt find a way to the gospel in every text he preaches from. After all, the bible is about Jesus, is it not? The power of the church to grow in number should never rest in patterning itself after the world, where our worship should conform or be inspiring and the speakers be trained like any secular speaker to deliver what is, for all intents and purposes, a secular message on how to be a better person. The power for the church to grow rests in the power of the Gospel message. Once we decide that is secondary to all the other things, actively or passively by losing sight of it through focusing on being as attractive as possible, we have lost the only relevance we ever had. If we are a mini model of the world with a moral twist, then we are as relevant to the world as any other worldly group. The extension of this is also that our message becomes one of post modern relativism, basically saying Jesus is one way to squeeze better performance out of life. Instead of the message that Jesus is the saviour that man kind most desperately needs in all things, for salvation and for sanctification. The message that God would convey has very often (most often?) been delivered by the apparently unattractive. So why have we suddenly made it a goal and, in some cases, the primary focus in so many of our churches to remove the core of our message so that it doesn’t offend anyone. Then we gussy it up like some cheap trinket in order to trick someone so they will buy it for a time, before someone else packages their message better that is?

Perhaps the definition of church growth needs to be more the act of growing the sheep in a church to know God more, focussing on their maturation and care, rather than attracting goats and trying to get them to behave like sheep. Sheep do sheepy things, goats to goaty things it is in their nature. Sheep desire that God be glorified everywhere, thereby growing the numbers in the greater church through the influence of the gospel being proclaimed by people whom it has saved.

[i] the global church, as opposed to individual local gatherings.

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Define your terms

When evangelical mega pastors set the world on fire with cool #tags of #significance and #greater I think they need to be more careful to define their terms. Whether passively or actively[i] this call to #significance or to something #greater resonates with every human being on a selfish level. Every person saved and unsaved desires significance, and something greater. So this sirens song sings to the selfish idolater in every human being. It will be heard as endorsement for seeking significance in the eyes of others, or greater things as measured by society in general. When you have not defined what the bible actually means by a life of significance, what exactly this greater thing is that you might be “called” to, you are merely justifying discontentment and endorsing the feeding of the inner idol of self that every one of us can, all too easily, set up. The bible does not call us to be discontent, but in every circumstance to be content. I find a wonderful irony here, in the passage I am thinking of that speaks to contentment. Philippians 4:13 is oft used in conjunctions with these battle cries to significance and greater things, because you can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens you! When we read in context Paul is speaking about how it is that he manages to be content in every situation, and it’s not through his strength, it is through Christ who strengthens him. It’s not Paul riling up the troops in order to break the shackles of everyday life and strive toward significance, with the promise that God is going to provide the strength to succeed in this holy quest for significance and greater things.

As a Christian, you are to, in a sense, lead a life of significance and you are exhorted to greater things. God desires a significant life, of greater things for the unbeliever as well. Great, so now I’ve just poo poo’d the idea of significance and greater things and in the next breath said that they’re right? Well I also said I think we really need to define our terms. Secularly, significance and greater things mean something radically different to what you might find biblically.

So, what is the summum bonum, the highest good? As a Christian I’d contend that it’s God. He is of greatest significance and worth. When he desires that we worship him it is because he knows there is nothing greater. Worshipping other things and spending our time on other things should be considered third rate, of no significance at all. So that said how do we find any significance there? If others esteem us for the impact we make on them, then they esteem something less than the greatest good, and our significance is not terribly significant. When your life esteems God and makes Him greater in the eyes of other people. When He is glorified more by you and by others because of what He does in you then your life is significant, but only because you have forgotten about yourself and others see less and less of you, and more and more of God. You don’t do this by striving to do it. It is a consequence of his sanctifying work in your life as you are faithful with what you are given. Not sacrificing your family and children on the altar of your quest for significance and greater things. The way the bible speaks about these concepts does NOT resonate very well with our sinful nature, and our self-idolatry. We are called to self-sacrifice, to die to ourselves, to humbly consider others as better than ourselves and to take up our cross every day! We are to become less and less significant in our own eyes. If you are learning more about God, about his work on the cross, and consequently you learn more about yourself and how much more you need him than you thought you did then God will use you as he sees fit. Not because you are aiming for significance and greater things but because you are being faithful with where you are and what you are given, and this is a consequence of the significance of the gospel in your life, and the growing revelation of the greatest thing which is God’s glory.
Quite simply, you are not #significant, what God does with you for his Glory and his names sake is #significant. The only way you are called to anything #greater is by the Holy Spirit enabling you to be disciplined and faithful with everything you have.

If your language would excite you as much before you were saved as it does after you got saved, then your language is wonderful manure to grow the narcissism that most people tend to. So you really need to change your language or at the very least, spend a significant amount of time defining your terms!

[i] When this is done actively then it is wicked, and I believe much of the seeker sensitive church growth crowd uses this language purposefully to bolster church numbers.

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Comfortable Passions

Apathetic cross

can you imagine?

So apparently the Beatles, before they had their successful break in music, performed an estimated 1200 live shows. Most bands don’t hit that number during their whole career. This is a staggering figure to me.

As I was riding home, well, I make that sound like it’s been an individual event, a one time revelation that knocked me off my bike and made me see the light. It’s not like that at all, more of a temporally dispersed cognitive realisation, or revelation. I know that what I am going to type will have some saying “yah, we know, duh” but it is still true, and I don’t know how many people actually really get it. So, here goes.

I have heard many times, from many friends how they have a specific passion and desire for some thing. One friend was passionate about music, playing his guitar for a worship band. The idea being that he really felt called to do this if not full time, then at least as a permanent ministry. I have another friend who expresses a passion for the underprivileged, believing her meaning or reason for existing might be to help out in this area. The list is pretty much endless, essentially everyone you know has a professed passion, even if it’s been, by their own admission, ridiculously neglected. However, here’s the thing, this passion is not quite so important as TV. Or computer games, or whatever, pick your entertainment/time sink poison.

I make it sound like I am the guru of not being more involved in time sink frippery, and that I have a secret or special knowledge of how to become a better person in 14 easy steps or your money back. This is not the case at all. The reality is, I have very often waxed lyrical about what I wish to do, where my true passions lie, what I believe my “calling” to be and where my heart is without there being a shred of evidence to support this claim at all.

If you wish with all your heart to be a pilot or a musician and these things don’t manifest in your life in one way or another, you might not have much of a handle on what really moves you as you think you do. Perhaps it is just that we romanticise an idea, and then fancy that image we have created… perhaps we get too easily caught up in the ideas of the truly passionate. When a friend of mine who is passionate about flying, gets to talk about flying I begin to be quite stirred by it too. When I see a skeletal wreck on television, with a distended stomach and haunted eyes, I begin to imagine that I really care for his or her plight resolving to live in a way that I might help those people on a long term basis, and in the meantime, send money. But once that immediate stimulus is gone, nothing happens. There is absolutely zero momentum to continue on a path to fulfil that imagined passion.

No one can claim that the Beatles weren’t passionate about something or other, be it fame, music or money  perhaps a combination of all of those, or none of them. The focus of their passion is largely irrelevant to this post, the fact is that there is evidence of a great passion and desire for something.

With all of this said, if I were an alien anthropologist I might come to the conclusion that the majority of the population in the western world were passionate about, and made it their life’s goal to do the following things. Work at, and complain about, a job that brought absolutely no fulfilment to their lives, while lamenting the loss of opportunity to do something that mattered to them. Usually this is combined with a plethora of reasons why it is not their fault for not achieving their stated goals, and usually they are not lying, although closer inspection might lead to the conclusion that the underlying reason is apathy. I would also conclude that the same group  of people were passionate about fiction and entertainment. Mindless escapism with a growing focus on what we call “reality” television, which ironically shows individuals chasing a passion. Perhaps even sacrificing greatly to achieve that goal. The amount of time that goes into entertainment would leave me with no other conclusions to draw. That can be the only possibility. Surely, if you are passionate about the poor, that would take up the majority of your time? What about music, if that is your passion, then that should be where you spend the majority of your time, even if you are stuck in a job that just pays the bills.

2 people claim the following 2 things respectively:

  • I am passionate about music, I believe it is my calling
  • I am passionate about the internet, and developing it further any way I can

One person spends a ridiculous amount of time in front of his computer, grinding out line after line of code. The other spends a ridiculous amount of time in front of his television, watching whatever is on. Not too difficult to identify which passion is real and which is imagined.

I watched a video on TED that had been put by someone I “faceknow” on his facewall. It was a video clip about apathy and how the speaker disagreed with the idea that humans were basically apathetic. I guess the premise is that humans don’t follow the Newtonian ‘object at rest or motion remain in that state unless acted upon by an outside force’. The idea that he disagrees with is that humans return to a state of apathy unless being acted upon by a force. So the video clip went on to show that people would get involved in their local councils or whatever, if they were given enough incentive. If it is too hard to get information about involvement, that kills the incentive and people don’t get involved. So, it’s not the populations fault, it’s really the councils or whatever organisations fault for not making involvement easy. I had a “but wait” moment. But wait, isn’t that kind of the definition of apathy? We couldn’t be bothered to do anything, because it’s just too much effort. The people who are passionate, and NOT apathetic, about it would persist, despite the effort involved.

I suppose the kernel thought that started this all off is something that is repeated on Sundays in song and statement all over the world, almost the Christian mission statement “We love you above all else Lord”. Which might indicate a passion for God, and yet the billions of man hours that go into personal, selfish entertainment might speak of apathy rather than passion. To clarify, the entertainment thing isn’t the bad part, the focus on it above all else is.

The conclusion to this ridiculously fragmented post is, loosely, this;

The activities of your free time define what is really, actually, most important to you. If you speak of something, and there is no activity in that general direction at all, then what conclusion could possibly be drawn?

p.s. I started this post on Jan 24 2011. passionate!

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Wedding Dress

I was reading one of my favourite blogs this morning, experimental theology, the blog is the work of Dr. Richard Beck.

He posted this song by Derek Webb (someone I have not heard of, that went solo from a band I am equally ignorant of)

If you could love me as a wife
and for my wedding gift, your life
Should that be all I’d ever need
or is there more I’m looking for

and should I read between the lines
and look for blessings in disguise
To make me handsome, rich, and wise
Is that really what you want

I am a whore I do confess
But I put you on just like a wedding dress
and I run down the aisle
and I run down the aisle
I’m a prodigal with no way home
but I put you on just like a ring of gold
and I run down the aisle to you

So could you love this bastard child
Though I don’t trust you to provide
With one hand in a pot of gold
and with the other in your side

I am so easily satisfied
by the call of lovers so less wild
That I would take a little cash
Over your very flesh and blood

Because money cannot buy
a husband’s jealous eye
When you have knowingly deceived his wife

It’s a striking song for me, and seems to comment quite well on what I’ve come think of as comfortable Christianity. The Christianity that so many seem trapped in and I would have to include myself in that statement. A Christianity that accepts actions and lifestyles that, if perpetrated against any one of us, would result in mouth froth inducing anger and self pity.

If I consider the disparity between my claim of a love for Jesus, and my actions much of the time, a sane rational observer could quite reasonably call me a liar.

Once again I can only feel absolute relief because I know that God is full of grace, and that in Christ there is no condemnation. It’s not my works that save me, or increase my stature in God’s eyes. I do think it is critical to consider the issues of faith and conviction that a song like this raises, as a measuring stick against just how I am doing in the arena of loving God with all my heart, mind and soul.

Most Christians have knowledge that exceeds their obedience, which is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it can be considered a normal state of affairs. We must just be careful not to end up chasing knowledge, while not seeking the discipline to increase our obedience in line with our knowledge. Many Christians leave a church because they feel they are not being fed, that the sermons are not challenging or deep enough. It would be interesting for me to hear of people moving churches because they were not being encouraged and discipled into obedience in line with their growing knowledge.

Watch Derek Webb perform “wedding dress” live at this link.

(Richard Beck linked it, i’ll be a sheep. I hope it’s not a gross breach of copyright or something)

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Law abiding, bad citizens

We can't break even one

We can't break even one

Most humans that I know, and I would say most humans, have grown up and managed to not get thrown in jail. Now, this could be for a variety of reasons but for purposes of this article we are going to assume it’s because everyone grows up somehow knowing the laws, and then not breaking them (at least the ones that will get you thrown in jail).

It’s really not that hard to not break the laws that land you in jail, it usually takes conscious effort to get to that point. No child is ever sat in front of the legal statutes and laws of the land and told to memorise them, and be aware not to break them.  So how do we miraculously grow up not just murdering people, stealing their stuff and blowing up their garden gnomes?

Well, I don’t really have to answer that do I? A child gets raised small experiences at a time. Experience 1 is trying to stick a fork into a power socket, which could end in a few ways.

  1. abrupt and violent encounter with moving electrons.
  2. abrupt and violent encounter (from the child’s perspective) with moving parental hands (done in a loving fashion of course)
  3. abrupt and violent encounter (child’s perspective again) with a screaming parental mouth, sometimes accompanied by running and the wild flapping of arms (which helps mitigate the violence and inject some comedic entertainment into the event)

Every one of the items in this admittedly incomplete list should provide the child with the understanding that power points should be avoided, on pain of violence.

That experience teaches the child nothing about the laws of the country at all (except maybe later on when they realise corporal punishment might be illegal) however by other small experiences, like violent encounters with angry mouths for taking a toy from Johnny’s toy box, the child learns that you don’t take things from other people. They are not taught that it is illegal to do this, they are just taught that it’s not nice. Thus, hopefully/usually, the sum total of these experiences leaves you with a law abiding product. At some point we are made aware that it is also illegal, I guess, but as far as I can see/remember it’s not an explicitly taught thing.

The bonus of this kind of learning is that you don’t have to sit in front of stuffy law books and worry about breaking laws like (if you live in Ohio) not getting a fish drunk. You get to learn on the job, which is great for instructor and pupil. You even get a probationary period within which to learn these laws, infractions are dealt with less harshly for those still in the probationary period.

Amusingly, the ones that do eventually sit in front of the dusty law books and learn them, get disliked by everyone (until cheap legal advice is required).

So, you have a product of a collection of experiences that doesn’t go about getting thrown into prison. Does this make that product a good citizen? Well that all depends on the arena really. If the metric of consideration is the conspicuous lack of trying to stab you or abuse your garden gnomes with explosives, then yes the product can be considered a Good Citizen. However, if the metric of consideration is some sort of award by the community (local, national or global) then the criteria stops being passive, that is ‘just not breaking laws’ and becomes active. That is going and actively trying to improve conditions for fellow man.

Essentially the guy that doesn’t set fire to your front lawn is not considered a good citizen, but the guy that comes and mows it for you, does a good job, and does it consistently without asking for payment you might consider a good citizen.

So teaching a child, actively or passively, about the law and the obedience to it doesn’t really seem to generate extraordinary citizens just ordinary ones. Who, let’s face it, generally break laws anyway even if not the ones that land you in prison. In my experience and interactions everyone admits to speeding, in South Africa there are very few people that have not bribed a traffic cop (or as a passive thing did not speak up about solicitation or offering of a bribe). And more seriously, in my social experience, people that admit to driving drunk. All of these are done after a conscious decision was made as to the probability of getting caught. However teaching a kid the importance of relationship and the value of life helps them attribute greater value to those things, and possibly then he/she would become active in improving the situation of those around him/her.

So really what I am saying is that teaching obedience to the law is great, but by observation and experience humans tend to weigh up the risks vs. the rewards of breaking the law. Circumstance is a heavy factor in this weighing up, and every man has his price. To claim that you would never take a life is fine and all, and probably true, a long as ‘never’ for you also includes your family not being attacked or not walking in on your partner and catching them in the act of infidelity. See, not many people go out with plans to wreck their lives by way of murder. But for some being merely human and subject to emotional extremes it just seems to happen.

This consideration, besides percolating in my brain for who knows how long, was brought to the fore as I was cycling home this week and I went past a pre-school, the school was a religion specific school, advertising the teaching of that religion’s laws in the school’s curriculum (it was not a Christian school). If I take this in a Christian context, and apply the general understanding that teaching the law will bring about good citizens, then teaching the commands of Jesus will produce good Christians, right? But that is just not true, no matter how hard we try to do that at Sunday school.

A statement was made at a Sunday school meeting I was in (by a video guy on a projector) that ‘Christian’ kids that left school and went to varsity more often than not tended to ‘stray’ from Christianity and then in their mid to late 30’s some might make a u-turn and return to the fold. The reason given for this was that the kids were not taught a certain lifestyle.

After my brain digested this suggestion, it was rejected with the message ‘does not compute’. It doesn’t matter what kind of lifestyle you teach kids, when those kids go off and immerse themselves in a university or college environment, they tend to chase the experiences of that environment. Being drinking and partying, and often there is a slip of sexual inhibitions. If you have taught a child that the bible is law and scientifically accurate and literal then when the child is confronted with scientific experimentation, knowledge and the technology based on this science, questions are raised. It doesn’t matter what kind of rules and regulations you teach children as a Christian parent/teacher/mentor, it’s about teaching that child to seek relationship with Christ.

A person that is taught religious law and intellectual assent to scripture or biblical theory does not necessarily make a good (faithful?) Christian, or perhaps does not make a Christian at all. The person that finds relationship with God is given a new nature, and their values often change (value attribution changes). This is not to say a ‘real’ Christian does not fall, just that the language used earlier about a decade or longer hiatus from Christianity with regard to not teaching Christian lifestyle practices can be rejected.

The reactionary nature we have to the potential of kids falling away and modifying the means frequency or duration of how we teach Christian principle is like applying checkers strategy to basketball, it’s pointless.

The focus needs to be on chasing relationship, rather than a self help seminar on 3 steps to observe the Sabbath.

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Comfortable Language

This is awesome



This is awesome



This is awesome



To start, I decided to use Google to find image results for the word awesome, my tricksy plan was to take the first image from the search results, and then take something that could genuinely be called awesome and contrast the two. I got tired of looking through the following results for anything actually awesome (giant disclaimer, I have ‘safe search’ on strict, so I don’t know what comes up with it off) I have to admit that the first image would have me say ‘awesome’ but you can consider that geeky weakness.



So, the first image can jokingly be described as awesome, but it certainly doesn’t actually inspire awe or wonder in me. However having plastered the word awesome onto the first image we have nowhere to go but equivalency or ‘down’ when looking at the follow up pictures, the last being truly awesome.

I was thinking the other day about how we speak, well, truth be told I think about how we speak a lot, as I am in rather a large number of ‘discussions’. “Never!” I hear you cry, in shock and amazement, yet it is true, I have the odd verbal altercation with a very few people every decade or so. Anyway, the differences, in these incredibly rare discussions often tend to end up being a difference in the definition or perception of a word or phrase. So I have prevailing ponderings about our language and the flippancy (or not) with which we bandy words about. The general trend is to exaggerate with our adjectives, or without thinking, to apply a word to something because it sounds more exciting. I have noticed a trend in myself to define an event as “the most (something or other) EVER”. While it usually is not the most anything ever at all. As a consequence, I could come home from work, having had the worst day ever, and my wife will have the sympathy of a rock, because everything is always the most/least/biggest thing EVER. Indeed, I cry wolf a lot, to stretch a story.

This train of thought lead me to consider the possible connection between the way in which we talk and the way we respond to things we read or hear. I have commented on mankind’s rather terminal (as a species) propensity for ignoring anything that isn’t an immediate and personal threat. Global warming is not an immediate threat, and water has always come out of our taps, so that is not a problem for me, but the risk of cancer from the aspartame in fake sugar must be stopped immediately. Though, this is probably a bad example, as the massive, and massively KNOWN probability of respiratory issues smokers will face are ignored. So a better example would be the immediate and personal risk to me of wearing an outfit that does not match. Utter social suicide… people will be talking for weeks. “YAHAAAA!” you cry with gusto, causing me to spill coffee on my person, “you are being ridiculously flippant with your last example there, Mr. Finger pointing blog writer!” And yet, no, I don’t think that I really am. I see more effort going into avoiding being a fashionable outcast than goes into not wasting water, or whatever other environmental issue you currently wish to focus on. Is this sad and potentially disastrous tendency caused by or, more probably, exacerbated by our desensitization to words/phrases like ‘crisis’, ‘disastrous’ or ‘global warming’. The flippancy extends further by people joking about a particularly cold day “pah, I thought we were supposed to be getting hotter, global warming is a lie. ha ha ha ha.” (Significant looks at the conversation participants to ensure they all got the joke). While I am certainly painting myself to be more serious than the threat of aspartame death from fake sugar, my idea is still worth considering.

We are bombarded constantly by all kinds of extreme adjectives that they are no longer extreme, they are the norm. We have not found any other adjectives to replace them, to ensure that the audience actually gets the urgency of any given situation. The hierarchy of words is in a shambles. I think that this is also evidenced among Christians and/or professing Christians. God is awesome, God is Love. Yet, that packet of chips was awesome and I totally LOVE those glasses on you. Can you see the problem? Oh, we don’t really love like real love. Those glasses just look really good. Mr over exaggerating blog writer must clearly be able to see that it’s just a turn of phrase. Well turns of phrase get us into hot water as well. There are so many discussions being had, right now even, about whether or not a specific scripture was allegory or literal. Whether Christians genuinely, physically and literally receive a new nature, or are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), or whether that is just a turn of phrase is one of the discussions. If it is literal you might expect some kind of evidence, or change in this new creation, if it is merely figurative then perhaps not. If many of these things are figurative, as many are more willing to believe, then the commandments or instructions can be interpreted in any way we choose, being more suggestions than anything else.

As Christians we say certain things, we sing certain things and it’s because that’s just what Christians do… isn’t it? It doesn’t REALLY honestly mean anything, does it? It’s just a nice song; it is not to be taken literally. The song might say something like, “I will go, wherever you will lead me” and either we don’t think about what we are saying, or we just retranslate it, within our framework of how we understand Christianity to be something along the lines of “I will claim to follow you, in spirit and mind, anything intangible, as long as there is no actual change or physical requirement from me, let’s keep this just intellectual shall we?” This invades our speech and we start to sit with a Christianity that is all allegory, figurative speech, personal interpretation that won’t break any perceptions and nothing gets taken literally. The evidence of salvation becomes intangible and open for interpretation by each individual.

Could it be that we draw the definition of the word from the event we are applying it to? Or that our perception of a phrase or word is coloured in the manner we use it most? We have a perception of “romantic husband and wife love” hugely coloured by Hollywood (thanks Hollywood for your ridiculously shallow love) and when that goes away it’s time to move on, to find the new love. We define the love we have for brothers and sisters and friends a certain way too. It is usually not a selfless love; it is selfless to varying degrees but never completely. It can by no means be considered unconditional, given enough time, a spouses love will be killed if not requited, often it has to be requited in a rather specific manner too, love is pretty conditional. Now, when we read in scripture that God is Love we can only call to mind our own perception of what Love is. Or, because we have often heard others profess a love for us, and seen these great Hollywood romances where everyone claims they will be together forever we apply that understanding of unconditional Love to God. We tend to not be so impressed, but true unconditional love is really rather impressive. It is a part of true awesomeness. It is just so awesome that I am left honestly speechless, not because ‘awesome’ has been applied too often to chips and cars, but because an honest look at the literal impact of what actual unconditional Love is (even my poor understanding of it), is just something that honestly does inspire awe. It is quite simply awesome. Most other things just can’t be considered awesome anymore.

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Somebody elses problem (ist)

The only SEP's that have an excuse

The only SEP's that have an excuse

You’re quite excited about climate change, you’ve read all the articles and you know lots of url’s. If someone comes and refutes the claim that anthropogenic climate change is real you have your argument all set out and ready to go. You know it’s real, anyone who is not barking bat crazy knows it’s real. However, many people seem rather barking bat crazy. Things take rather a long time to filter into the common man’s head, usually it has to be forced in under pressure. That pressure might eventually end up being a stonking great wall of ice, inching its way slowly down the local high street. But obviously by then it’s all too late. It often has to be something rather large and imminently obvious to humans before we wake up and realise the actual impact on us.

Our brains seem rather poorly adapted to thinking for the future. Or if we do start to take notice, it’s usually a rather separated event. The thinking is that someone better clean up this mess soon, as it’s clearly someone’s rather large problem. It’s possibly our brain matters affinity for physics, except the human consciousness seems to be of rather larger mass than our physical size would hint at, therefore it takes things of epic proportions to get us out of rest and into motion, however we tend to go back to rest without any seeming effort whatsoever. Someone should discover the law governing human actions remaining at rest and work unless acted upon by a species killing event (to be clear, it has to be OUR species that is being killed, we will kill other species with the wild and reckless abandon of a toddler feeding itself ice cream).  That right there, is it, there are two categories described within which the majority of the population sits. The naysayers or denialists and the somebody-elses-problemists.

The denialists quite obviously don’t do anything about it, but the somebody-elses-problemists are generally the largest group and they don’t do anything about it either. The somebody-elses-problemists (let’s call them SEP’S from here on out, for the sake of my ctrl, c and v keys) read the articles, know all there is to know about the issue, so they know quite clearly what other people best get doing about it, while they continue to behave exactly the way they always have. Anthropogenic climate change is like voting, it takes lots of votes for someone to win, lots of votes are made up of individual votes. Without the individual votes you can’t make lots of votes. That’s like ‘mathematics’, or sex, something we seem to understand really well. It’s also something that is done by people, you’re a people… you do something about it. With enough you’s doing something about it that makes lots and like magic… you have the climate not trying to eliminate us, and you have someone that isn’t catastrophically horrible running the country.

These two categories don’t only exist for climate change, they are evident for many large issues. People will align themselves with a cause intellectually, be ridiculously verbose about it… often at the most awkward times, with a verbosity that would make aunty gossip silent. Indeed, some people seem to be spoiling for a fight and their greatest desire seems to be to offend someone with their passionate intellectual alignment to the cause. However when you examine things closely the belief as only intellectual, there is no evidence in activities and the persons decision-making at all. Christianity tends to be that for many people as well. An intellectual assent to some cleverly put argument. However, if someone comes and refutes that cleverly put argument then you sit with a crisis of faith. If the salvation is not of God, a supernatural event orchestrated by him then that’s what you end up with, people intellectually aligning themselves, sometimes passionately, with a belief. You end up with a focus group meeting however often, usually at least once a week on Sundays, with people taking little tidbits of information on how to live a better life. That often ties in with the arrogance I spoke of in another post. Because the person now has God behind him, his personal opinion has supernatural authority, and is therefore right. His morality is quite obviously superior to anyone else’s morality. After all, how can a Godless heathen deign to compete on any kind of moral ground with a believer in God?

Sadly, the one who intellectually agrees, that sits in n amount of church gatherings gaining knowledge like a window shopper, never making any item his own, generally does not have the immovable base for morality that they think they do. Their morality, that they claim to be getting from an unchangeable source, is coloured rather heavily by their culture. The window shopping Christian looks at many items they like, remembers their location and can describe them really well. However they do not take the responsibility of purchasing those items and living with all the consequences of that responsibility.

To go back to the earlier example of climate change. There is a difference between being a card-carrying fan club member and actually being someone who’s life shows the evidence of their convictions. In the same way, there is a vast difference between being someone who has faith in their intellectual agreement with an idea, and someone who’s life bares the evidence of the fruit of obedience.

Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven.

I am given to understand that in Hebrew, the method used for emphasis is repetition. If we were to emphasise this it would be to put it in italics, or bold or if we spoke it we would shout. This can be seen as saying Not everyone who emphatically declares me to be Lord. So be careful of being a SEP (you are not a polar bear, for them it really IS somebody elses problem to fix) or a card-carrying member of the Jesus fan club. Examine yourself, determine whether your life showing the obedience to the will of the Father.

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Comfortable Grace

Manflu, a powerful disease.

I have heard very many, if not most, women that moan about how their significant other is a giant ball of baby when he gets sick. It’s true, when I have flu I’m completely useless. There’s that advert for some flu remedy with the background voice going “paaaaiiin, heeeaaaadache” and then the ad reveals it is actually some male ball of sick death in the bedroom crying out his symptoms to his wife. It’s a very funny ad, I think. The men scoff and deny the picture, while the women all nod their heads knowingly. I believe they secretly think it’s worse than the advert depicts. Anyway, so I think men do behave as if they are on the verge of death if they even consider any work. It’s like something came to enforce the ‘keeping the Sabbath holy’ on pain of death. But, here’s the thing. We behave like we are about to die because we are about to die. Men are stronger than women, and our immune systems are just that much stronger again, so for a bug to defeat us, it must be one heck of a super bug. It’s so powerful it doesn’t bother with the weaker adversary that is women, it just goes for the worthy foe, man. So while women get lady flu, and it is by all means bad and what not. Men get MAN flu and that is just so much worse, we behave like we are sicker because we are. The tricky thing about this is that you have to be a man to experience it. It’s about experience, not about argument. It’s not a chauvinist thing either, even though it’s really well disguised as one. It’s a matter of fact, like the fact that men are just uglier than women. Below is the proof, 2 pictures: Normal Lady Flu.

Lady virus

Lady virus bug

 Man Flu death

Please note the tactical nukes

Please note the tactical nukes

Why mention all this deep truth and biological wisdom? Man (-kind, humans, people, us) encounters a tiny, tiny bug, and there are visible signs. Verbosity of discomfort increases exponentially, noses run, stumbling about due to dizziness and tiredness occurs, throats are sore, ears ache, and there’s the coughing up of all manner of unspeakable things.

Slimer (you remember the ghost busters?) is not actually a ghost, he is the product of manflu, just so you know

So, this most long and windiest of points is that you have visible symptoms of this encounter with something tiny. Influenza brings about symptoms, I cannot claim to have it and twinkle about as if all is well and I can actually smell the roses… or anything. If I did, you would call me a liar (or possibly accuse me of only having lady flu). In the same way, Christianity is not some kind of intellectual assent to a series of questions. I don’t believe that salvation is man looking ‘up’, seeing the creator, the God of the universe, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and all that, and going “yah, ok, I’ll believe in you” and then just going about his daily life as if nothing was different. Or even doing all of the above and behaving as if nothing was different except for the expectation that blessing should now fall abundantly on said persons head. “But, now I believe in Father Christmas, I should get stuff!”

The previous blog post was about our unwarranted, and ‘unworkable for’, salvation. That it is only by grace, there is nothing we did, or can do to merit Gods love, or somehow increase it. However, in a similar fashion I don’t think it’s possible to have any kind of revelation along these lines and to remain the same. There are going to be symptoms of this salvation. It only makes sense that there will be. Many will be intangible, or complicatedly quantifiable by third parties. In other words other people don’t have any right to point at you and proclaim salvation or no salvation because they don’t see the things they expect. No one has the power or the authority to proclaim a man saved except God. However, scripture blatantly says to us that we should examine ourselves, test to see whether we have any kind of assurance of the proclamation of salvation. In many places scripture then gives us a mirror with which to introspect. Are these things true in your life, can you say that these things are happening and growing? If the answer is yes, then your assurance is great, if the answer is no then I would say that you should be seeking the answer as to why it is not the case.

When many preachers talk about these ‘evidences of salvation’ many people start to cry legalism. But it isn’t about doing those things to get salvation, it is about seeing those things happening in greater and greater measure and getting greater and greater assurance of being under Grace. This implies that there is no effort required, but I don’t think that is the case either. Often, the greatest evidence for me is a change of desire, you desire your sinful act, after being given the revelation of Jesus your desire changes. You no longer love the sin, you hate it. You genuinely do not want to commit the sin that once you might have secretly wanted to commit, while outwardly claiming not to want it. Then as we grow, we are sanctified in greater and greater measure and more and more things are revealed to us. I dislike the rather common preaching which essentially says that it doesn’t matter what you do in your life, if you said that magic mantra at any point in your life, you have been saved. Scripture does not teach this, it teaches self-examination, it teaches that those who hold firm to the end will be saved. It teaches that Grace is a free unwarranted gift, but this Gift brings about a new nature. A new creation, God has begun a work. This work has tangible effects! You cannot be the recipient of this free gift and not experience a fundamental change. The person that claims he is saved but is comfortable in his sins, that is not driven, encouraged and disciplined by the Holy Spirit needs to start to wonder why this is the case. Scripture would not teach that the Lord disciplines the ones he loves if this were not the case. If there is no discipline in a child’s life when they do things wrong, then you can say that they have derelict parents. God is not a derelict parent, you will fall under his loving discipline.

You will note the lack of specific scriptural reference, in this post, that is intentional. You must go and do the work, find the things in scripture that I claimed were there.

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