Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jesus the Warrior

I was thinking about some comments Glenn made on my last post (Hard Words for the Australian Church) - about the "taking the city" kind of terminology used often in certain Christian circles. Glenn made the point that it kinda reminded him of the terminology of the Crusades.

Jesus ministry and his rejection as the Messiah by the first century Jews ultimately related to his refusal to fullfil the role of the military-type Messiah. Someone who would finish the job of ridding Israel of the Romans once and for all and restoring the theocracy. Jesus simply didn't fit this bill and so people became disillusioned with him and, in the end - one week after they gave him a triumphal entry to Jerusalem - they oversaw his execution.

I wonder if this use of militaristic language betrays a similar form of thinking within the modern church. A crusade kind of mentality that wants Jesus to be a military-type Messiah, demanding allegiance to his cause at the end of a sword (taking the city - by force) rather than the lay-down-your-life and transform-the-world in love (agape) kind of Messiah of the gospels?

Will the "failure" of Jesus to act in these ways lead to the same kind of disillusionement experienced by the first century Jews and if so what effect could this have on the church?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hard Words for the Australian Church

As part of the "Christianity in Australia" synchroblog, Hamo from Backyard Missionary makes some pretty blunt comments on the state of the Aussie church.

The unfortunate thing is ... I think, for the most part at least, he's on the money.

Here's a snippet of what he has to say;

I’m so tired of hearing preachers rant about ‘taking our city for God’, or taking the nation’. For one thing I don’t think people like being ‘taken’, and for another I don’t think anyone really wants to do it. Sure you might get a few wild eyed young people fired up and nutso the day after a Planetshakers conference, but talk to them in 6 months about their plans for ‘taking the city’ and chances are (if they are still in church) that they won’t even remember the whole thing.
Have a read of the rest HERE - then check out the links to the other participants in the same synchroblog.

Kenya - Another story

As is so often the case, the true extent of the violence and suffering is often not the same as that seen on the television news and is often not more fully known or understood until well after the events have taken place - think Rwanda.

Through my work with Day 4 I am involved with a ministry - City Harvest - which works among the slum dwellers of Nairobi, improving living standards, training and providing access to retroviral medication and AIDS/HIV clinics. When the violence broke out in Nairobi at the start of January I knew that Edward Simiyu and his team would be affected and would also be involved at the heart of the relief effort. With this in mind we launched the Day 4 Kenya Appeal to raise funds to send to City Harvest to use in the relief effort.

The reports we have been receiving from Edward paint a picture of disaster that is much more wide spread than that seen in much of the media reports coming out of Kenya in recent weeks. More than half a million men, women and children displaced from their slum communities and left without food, water, clothing, shelter or security. To the north of Nairobi homes, schools and churches have been destroyed and many people killed.

2 weeks ago Edward and a number of other local Christians embarked on a journey through roadblocks manned by armed youth - bent on violent retribution in what many in Kenya have likened to the early days of the Rwandan genocide - in order to supply humanitarian aid to those in remote areas, unaccessible to most other relief organisations.

Edward's report of the convoy's journey paints a picture of corruption, disaster and dispare. The military, sent to help those affected by the indiscriminate violence, were demanding money in exchange for protection, schools churches and homes were looted, ransacked and burnt and bodies left to rot where they lie, providing a source of food for scavenging dogs.

Here are some photos from the road to Eldoret.

Refugees sleeping in the opening with all their belongings in plastic bags

All that remains of Kondoo Shopping Centre

Wrecks of elite forces vehicles, sent in to stop the violence. The troops were repelled and then their vehicles burnt and thrown into the river.

The remains of Kamuyu Primary School - looted and destroyed

All that's left of an AOG church looted and stripped back to the frame

One of many homes completely destroyed - more can be seen in the background

The remains of Eldoret church where many people died after seeking refuge from the violence. The church was torched.

The situation in Kenya is dire. Please continue to pray for this country and its people. Please also consider linking back to this blog post and promoting the Day 4 Kenya Appeal on your blogs. 100% of funds donated will make it to Kenya to be used specifically for the relief effort. Please also consider donating - response to the appeal has been slow, yet even small donations add up and can make a big difference to the suffering in Kenya.

I'll leave you with some words from Edward and thanks again for promoting and praying and donating!

Please pray for Kenya. The suffering and damage is more than what the media has highlighted. More churches have been destroyed than those counted and reported. More churches are likely to suffer the same fate with the precedence now set should unrest continue. The dead are still unaccounted [for] and we are all likely to die if unrest continues. Prices have shot up and calm that was returning is threatened by uncertainty especially this week as more rallies are planned for Wednesday to Friday. They are never peaceful. Two of our HIV/AIDS support group members had their houses torched and are still in trauma. A number ran out of the life prolonging ARVs and now have to change their line of drugs.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Am I "Anti Church"?

I had a rather frustrating conversation with a good friend earlier in the week. It arose because of assumptions this person seems to keep making about my opinions on the issues of "church" and "mission".

It's something that has kept cropping up over the past year or so and usually ends with me consistently trying to reassure this person that I think believers meeting together to learn, worship, pray and fellowship and that people travelling overseas for "mission" are really important. As someone both employed by a local church, involved in leading and teaching in a Sunday meeting and also heavily involved in overseas mission in Central Africa I've found the assumption that I am against both these things in some way or another to be incredibly frustrating.

It all came to a kind of head at the start of the week. Instead of dancing around the whole thing like we usually do, I came out and simply said "I don't know why you think I am against Sunday meetings and overseas mission. In fact I don't see how you could even think that I would be against these things given my involvement in both."

She responded by saying that I kept saying we needed to forget about these areas and focus more on other things so I obviously was anti both. The conversation ended at that point and I was left feeling bewildered.

I was talking about it with Alyssa later on when Alyssa hit on an important detail we had overlooked - something I regularly say when discussing these things is "we need to put Sunday church to the side and focus on the other days of the week" or "we need to put overseas mission to the side and focus on the missionfield at home for a bit".

What Alyssa pointed out was, what I mean when I say these things is, "we need to elevate the other 6 days of the week and things we do on those days to the same level of importance we give Sunday's" and "we need to give mission at home the same level of importance we give mission overseas".

But instead of hearing this, my friend - and quite possibly others also - was hearing, "I don't think Sunday meetings and overseas mission are important and we should just leave them to one side and concentrate on other things".

Another clear example of the confusion which can be caused by not communicating clearly. All I have to do now is work out how widespread these sentiments are so I can hopefully undo any damage I've done and reassure everyone I am not anti church!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tough Week

This week has been incredibly stressful.

Back at work on Monday, lots of changes and new people in new jobs, lots of uncertainty about things that for the last couple of years have been pretty certain, a new senior role with no real clarity around responsibilities, authority or expectations.

I find it kinda funny how I react to this kind of pressure. The "fight or flight" response kicks in - my initial reaction is usually "fight", and when I don't give into this (becuase past experience - and my wife - tell me it can get pretty messy and ungodly when I do) I quickly end up at "flight".

The reality of this situation is such that neither reactions are really appropriate - instead I've just had to sit tight and endure the ongoing swing between the two extremes.

What I really hate though, is the way the "flight" side of things seems to dominate and flow on into my whole life - or at least significant parts of it.

How does it make me feel?

It makes me want to run and hide and ditch everything!

It makes me feel weak and helpless and useless - like there's no point in being involved in most of things I'm involved in - chucking the job - "the stress isn't worth it", ditching the new EMC plant in Bunbury - "it wasn't going to work anyway - it was just a dream afterall", chucking the Binningup work - "the changes are never going to last, things won't really ever change".

In all of this though I'm reminded of Paul's conversation with Jesus when Paul was facing an issue that was out of his control.

Jesus response ... "my strength is made perfect in weakness"!

It's so often at these times that I'm not-so-subtely reminded of the fact that I really, really, really, need God - that even the things that seem so clear and certain today aren't neccessarily going to look the same tomorrow, but that - at least - one thing is sure. God and his love for me and purpose for my life remain unchanged.

I wish I didn't so often need reminding of this and I hope and pray that the current "trial" will find resolution soon. And in the meantime, I guess I will just (sigh) have to keep sitting tight and let God sort out the stuff that I have absolutely no control over- and for me, that's not an easy thing to do.


Coming up for air

Giving God the glory and honouring Pino!

Last Sunday I had the privellage of being involved in the baptism of my good friend Pino. Pino is a guy I hold in pretty high regard. Even though he has been through a fair bit he has an amazing, inspirational faith in God.

Pino isn't involved in any church on a regular basis so he asked if he could be baptised down here at the beach. I invited our regulars from Binningup along, and our youth and the guys from our Bunbury group. The weather was perfect, the ocean glassy and a bottle nosed dolphin even cruised on in to check out the action.

I gotta say, I love baptisms. Unfortunately we don't see too many of them these days - for a whole number of reasons. I see them as a fantastic oportunity to get together and celebrate life and the grace God has shown us. I was incredibly proud of the Binningup guys and they way they showed Pino love and acceptance as a member of the family - even though most of them only met him that morning. A genuine reflection of God's agape - how it should be!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Gospel According to Judas

When I was in Perth last week I was browsing the book section of a department store when I came across an interesting looking little book, entitled The Gospel According to Judas by Benjamin Iscariot. When I opened it I saw it was laid out a lot like a biblical text. It was broken into chapters and numbered verse and even had "red letter" sections.

My first thought was it must have been a publication of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas which created a bit of a stir in the media last year. I flicked to the back of the book, past the ribbon book mark - another "biblical" addition to the binding - and saw that it was actually a work of fiction by non-other than British lord and onetime jailbird, Jeffrey Archer.

Archer approaches the "gospel" as the work of Benjamin Iscariot, the fictitious son of Judas and heir to the true story of Jesus. The younger Iscariot recording the gospel during a visit to his father at Khirbet Qumran where the now elderly, Judas fled following Jesus death.

The story starts with Benjamin assuring his readers that Judas did not believe Jesus was the Messiah and that Judas himself was the victim of a smear campaign who did not take his own life or do many of the things claimed of him by the traditional gospel writers.

The blurb in the front cover says that Archer wanted to make the "gospel" as authentic as possible (which probably helps explain the leather-look cover, complete with ancient Christian symbolism and the scripture-like layout of the text, including biblical cross references) and so consulted Catholic scholar and major superior of the Salesians of Don Bosco, Prof. Francis J. Moloney. The end result, according the publisher is "... a project as bold as it is simple. Archer would write a story for twenty-first-century readers, while Moloney would ensure that the result would be credible to a first-century Christian or Jew".

The idea is certainly an interesting one which poses a number of questions. However, Archer doesn't appear to have approached the task in a terribly original way. The Gospel According to Judas is really just a retelling of the accounts of Jesus life recorded in the synoptic gospels. The main difference being Archer's/Iscariot's focus on the thesis that Judas was unfairly treated by later Christian authors, that he did not knowingly or willing betray Jesus but ended up becoming a scapegoat and that he did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

The "gospel" ends with Judas living among the Essenes in Khirbet Qumran and finally, at the age of 70, being crucified by the Romans, for which "... he gave thanks to YHWH when he learned that he would suffer the same fate as Jesus" (p. 90 or if you prefer Judas 25:59!).

In terms of practical uses for this book, I guess it could be used to stir up discussion on why we accept the Gospel authors accounts of Jesus life, on some of the so-called contradictions within the gospel accounts, and even as the basis of a comparative study of the quotes and parapharases of the synoptic authors used by Archer/Iscariot to support the claim that Jesus did not want people to view him as the Messiah.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Two trains and a marriage licence

I had to go to Perth today - the hottest day of the past 2 or 3 weeks mind you - for an interview at the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to finalise my registration as a marriage celebrant (anyone wanna get married?).

On the spur of the moment we decided to try out the new Mandurah to Perth rail link, parking our car at the Mandurah station and going all the way through. I gotta say, with the exception of the car park at the Mandurah end of the line, the journey was really easy and comfortable and cheap. The whole trip, there and back, with parking included, cost the five of us just over $10 in total.

The Mandurah car park is a bit of a maze, although, contrary to what we had heard, there was loads of parking. I accidentally pulled into the bus entry when we arrived and ended up copping a few words from a disgruntled bus driver in the process. When I finally managed to find the exit I learnt I couldn't turn back and re-enter the car park without heading all the way back out of the complex again. One set of lights and a U-turn later I was back in the car parking area. By the time I had pulled all this off our train had gone.

For some unknown reason, the park itself is divided into three areas, each totally separate to the other and accessible in each section by only one entry/exit point. Because of a big fence it was also only possible to enter or exit the car park on foot at one point in each section, making it really difficult to get in, park, get your parking ticket and make it to your train before it leaves.

With about 5 seconds to spare (I even gave a young guy at the ticket machine .25c because he ran out of money and began to melt-down and I was sure we were going to miss our second train) we made the train and I arrived only 15 minutes late to my interview. Thankfully the interviewer was 20 minutes late so nothing was lost.

Following an hour spent going over the intricacies of the Marriage Act, we caught another train into the underground station beneath Murray St and spent a few hours wandering around the city - organising a "touch-up" for my tattoo and browsing the shops - before jumping back on the train to Mandurah and the 50 minute drive home.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I'm Back

It's been hard staying away from the blog for so long -nearly 5 months! Over the Christmas break I've found the time to get back into reading blogs on a regular basis and am coming across so many things that I feel I just want to share and comment on that I thought I might give blogging another shot.

Things are also starting to move in the area of "church" in my life. About 3 months ago the leadership here at Binningup made the almighty paradigm shift from attractional thinking to missional/incarnational - it was quite an emotional experience for me, to see the move take place after 3 years (more really) of introducing new ideas and ways of viewing "church" and "ministry". The shift has ended with the leadership, with the exception of Alyssa and I, signing up for a 12 month internship with Forge in the Re-Imagine program.

About 10 weeks ago Lyss and I started a discussion group in Bunbury with the intent of moving towards starting a missional community in the town, based predominantly around the concept of the kingdom gospel and a process of community (lives, environment, culture) transformation. We started off reading McLaren's Secret Message of Jesus. One of the original couples didn't last a week, a few more petered out after a couple of weeks. One week we had more than 20 in attendance. And now we've settled at around 8 or 9 regulars - including a couple of young blokes who have come through the drug program and are searching for meaning in life.

This past Sunday, after a break over Christmas/New Years we decided to move things to the next level and agreed to begin meeting in a central location within the CBD. The space is a community arts centre where numerous and varied community groups meet. Its right next to the town skate park and means mixing it up and sharing space with a number of other groups, including the local Dungeons and Dragons club and a literary group.

The place got bombed by taggers (graffiti artists who spray their nick-name on every flat surface) last week and I offered our services to the manager in cleaning up the place which led to a really interesting conversation and the manager coming back at me with ideas for getting involved with the community engagement stuff they are hoping to do this year. I am really excited by the possibilities this place is going to offer in terms of being missional and a part of the inner city community we want to serve and help transform.

We have embarked on this venture with support from Binningup Beach Christian Fellowship, who are seeing it as a kind of "plant" of their own (which is great and which I have encouraged), from Churches of Christ, and from Forge and Scripture Union.

If you're in Bunbury and want to check us out, we get together at 4pm on Sunday arvos at the Stirling St Art Centre - see you there!

In kicking off my return to the blogosphere I'll leave you with a link to a post I found on the "Gathering in Light" blog on the 4 different arms of the emerging church. I think we probably fit somewhere in number 3 in what we are trying to achieve in Bunbury.