RSS

Author Archives: AG

About AG

an Aussie bloke with a concern for truth, an inquisitive mind and a sense of humor.

Every great public speech or sermon

Mr Bean in Church

That you’ve ever heard, if some recent chatter coming out of Sydney is to be believed, is at LEAST 45 minutes long. Or, however long you think a sermon or church talk ought to be so as not to be considered “short”.

Such was the banter that erupted when someone made a suggestion that Sydney based Anglican ministers limit their sermons to 20 minutes. Hilarity ensued as all sorts of “experts” protested that they couldn’t possible explain something so complex as a Bible passage in less than 40 minutes. Although the actual number of minutes varied, the general consensus was something along the line of, “If it’s too short than I’m not doing a good job as a teacher/preacher/speaker.”

There were also the usual remarks about the level of maturity among those in a congregational audience that could not endure a presentation unless it was short. Accusations flew back and forth attacking the professionalism of anyone who offered short presentations. Surely there is something suspect in the character of a speaker who only does short talks. Or, so the argument went.

The timely truism remains though, that the mind will only absorb what the seat can endure. Quantity does not equal quality. Large or small.

Aaron Beverly in his 2016 World Championship Toastmasters speech makes a point from which a lot of public speakers, in Sydney (and of Sydney), may benefit. Essentially, saying more doesn’t mean people will remember what you said.

Aaron makes his point in 7 minutes and 10 seconds. How many ministers and speakers can do that?

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 17/10/2016 in church, Preaching, video

 

Tags: , ,

Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?

moses460

People talking today about the 10 commandments often loosely quote* the reformer Martin Luther saying, breaking any of the commandments is always a result of breaking the first – i.e. idolatry – or trusting in and worshiping someone or something other than the personal God who gave Israel the 10 commandments.

Background to the 10 Commandments

The first time the 10 commandments appear in the Bible is when God gave them to Moses. Israel had just dramatically escaped 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The introduction to the first commandment mentions this, even though it is often left out.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” – Exodus 20:2

The 10 commandments are not a list of morals foisted on children or society so they can become blessed by God in some way. God gave them to Israel AFTER he rescued them. The laws govern the relationship and identity of Israel AFTER their escape from slavery. You could say, first God rescues/saves someone, THEN he calls them to follow him as a student (the bible word used is “disciple’).

If you say breaking the 10 commandments is the reason someone is immoral or going to hell, or that keeping them gets you into heaven, you are getting things back to front in more ways than one.

Luther’s Comments on the First Commandment

Luther mentions a few things to unpack his idea that breaking any of the commandments is a result of breaking the first.

“What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress … upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.”

In other words, Israel fled from the suffering of national slavery and exile because they wanted to freely enjoy and celebrate being identified with the God of their ancestors.

Luther goes on to explain how this idea of “god” works where we look for enjoyment, freedom and identity.

“… one thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions; he trusts in them and boasts of them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one.

… He who has money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise.

… whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence, power, favor friendship, and honor has also a god, …

… the chief explanation of this point is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts.”

What does it mean to have a god?

According to Luther, it means the same thing for ancient Israel as it does now. What do you think gives you the freedom to enjoy and celebrate something?

Unless your “god” demands that you exclude everyone from your experience, you will probably influence others to share in the same experience. Maybe you do it via posting pictures of your version of happiness – family, beautiful scenery, favourite food, the ideal job.

Maybe you do it by telling everyone about your mad weekend at the club/resort/shopping centre/casino/stadium. Or if you’re a bit keen, maybe you do it by “sharing the good news” in some other way.

Luther said to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts. That defines how you understand things like safety, significance and success.

God is not known today by obeying 10 commandments. God is known in the historical person of Jesus. One of Jesus’ first followers connected that with the first commandment:

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
~ 1 John 5:20-21

———-

* The origin of the loose quote is derived from Luther’s booklet, “A Treatise on Good Works” and his commentary on the Large Catechism. Both of these are available in public domain via the Project Wittenberg website.

 

Tags: , , ,

Why your Deadpool protest may be your undoing

The-Fall-of-Icarus1

In the last few days, I’ve come across a few conservative types protesting about and criticizing the Deadpool movie that has recently come out. The thrust of the articles I read was: It is bad and you should not watch it because I said so.

Hmm.

Not that, not liking a movie is, in itself, somehow, a bad thing. But the protests came across quite strong and prompted me to think through the approach taken by some of those leaders.

Commenting or blogging that you regret seeing a particular movie or talking about why you won’t watch a particular movie comes across a lot different to telling people it is wrong for them to watch it (especially if you go on about how you enjoyed it).

The first is an expression of personal choice by which others may be influenced.

The second is hubris where you elevate yourself as someone who possesses a higher quality of discernment and moral virtue.

This clichéd picture of hypocrisy was captured in Jesus speech against the ancient Pharisees.

“They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see” ~ Matthew 23:4-5

And later by Shakespeare giving voice to the hypocrisy and guilt of Hamlet’s mother in the conspiracy to murder her husband when she says, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Throughout history a similar rhetoric has shown up among men purporting to be the moral stalwarts of society. Railing against certain “sins” of which they are later proven guilty by a court and jury of their peers.

If you are a leader of some kind and have some level of concern about a public activity why not be transparent and not use your influence to become a moral police officer?

Wouldn’t it be more helpful to be accountable for your own failings and regrets than to pretend that others, who you consider weaker, are in need of your control?

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” ~ 1 Corinthians 10:12

If you elevate yourself to a position of perceived invulnerability, those you are cajoling may be the ones who preside as your jury one day.

==========

Another perspective: Deadpool, Jesus and John Piper

* and no, I haven’t seen Deadpool. I have seen posters. I’ve seen other Marvel ‘superhero’ movies and enjoyed them. But, I’m not up to speed on all the Marvel characters so before this movie promotion I hadn’t even heard of Deadpool. I have no plans to see the movie, although because of the outcry in some quarters I am tempted. But likely I won’t see it any time soon.

* the photo is of the fall of Icarus

 
2 Comments

Posted by on 15/02/2016 in Culture, leadership

 

Tags:

Leviticus your neighbour

No, it’s not a naughty word, nor is it the title of a film about the life of Nelson Mandela😉

It’s the 3rd book of the Bible. It’s one of the bits with all the gory sacrifices and (seemingly!) obsolete laws and rituals.

This time of year, many Christians make resolutions and plans to read through the Bible in the coming year. It’s a commendable goal and regular bible reading (& study, in context, history and genre etc) is part of the life of anyone who is serious about knowing, believing in, trusting and living for God. However in an average reading plan, of a few chapters a day (8-15min) many people come unstuck somewhere around the end of January.

Why? Well there are many reasons; lack of discipline, lack of encouragement, overwhelmed by the task, or as is often the case… they hit the book of Leviticus and balk. The stories in the 1st book, Genesis give the background to all those Sunday School lessons with which many are familiar. Tales of Egypt and the amazing crossing of the Red Sea in the 2nd book, Exodus is an easy read, because, after all, most of us have seen the movie and we know the story. Right?

But the 3rd book… What on earth has blood, guts, and weird definitions of cleanliness got to do with the ‘golden rule’ and loving my neighbour and all that stuff Jesus spoke about? Curiously, the first time that is taught in the Bible is, in that same 3rd book, Leviticus 19:18, which says,

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (NIV)

Leviticus told the people of ancient Israel what it meant to be God’s people and how that showed up in their day-to-day life. All that blood mentioned, acted as a divider and separator. It represented a distinction in what required special care (through isolation and an ancient version of immunisation and quarantine) and what was a common everyday experience.

I have spent many occasions teaching through this 3rd book, Leviticus. I still haven’t done so to the extent that I covered off everything – especially some of the saucy parts that cause lots of arguments😉 Nevertheless it’s a book that I keep coming back to as a key part of grasping the religion of Israel and how their worship was understood and practiced. It also has some integral connections to Biblical ethics and a lot of things Jesus taught. If you’re embarking on a yearly Bible reading program, I encourage you to have another go at reading the book of Leviticus. There’s only 27 chapters, read 3 a day and you’ll knock it over in 9 days. Give it a shot.

If you’re still thinking or wondering about a plan to read through the rest the of the Bible, here’s a page with some links that might help out.

Bible Gateway Reading Plans

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 04/01/2016 in Bible, Jesus, Reading, worship

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Curlew Cried

bush-stone-curlew-australian-geographic

Three nights they heard the curlew cry.
It is the warning known of old
That tells them one tonight shall die.

Brother and friend, he comes and goes
Out of the Shadow Land to them,
The loneliest voice the earth knows.

He guards the welfare of his own,
He comes to lead each soul away –
To what dim world, what strange unknown?

Who is it that tonight must go:
The old blind one? The cripple child?
Tomorrow all the camp will know.

The poor dead will be less afraid,
Their tribe brother will be with him
When the dread journey must be made.

‘Have courage, death is not an end,’
He seems to say. ‘Thous you must weep,
Death is kindly and is your friend.’

Three nights the curlew cried. Once more
He comes to take the timorous dead –
To what grim change, what ghostly shore?

~ Oodergoo Noonuccal
from The Dawn is At Hand

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 02/11/2015 in Poems

 

Tags: , , ,

Not all intentions are equal

image

Constantly maligned, often verbally abused, bashed, beaten, left for dead, sold into forced slavery, framed and falsely accused by an employer, forgotten and taken advantage of by peers, … but then … in what would today make a regular (and predictable) plot line of a book or movie about the rise of the underdog, he arises, proves himself, gets promoted to prime minister and quite literally saves several nations. At the height of his success and newly received power he has the chance to face his childhood abusers and tormentors. Justice, as most would understand it, is at hand. But Joseph decides to turn away from the expectations of others. He does not allow his past to define and control him now or dictate his future. He will not be restricted by the expectations of others, especially the bullies.

The Joseph story has a strong emotional appeal. Those facing physical abuse, psychological manipulation, trauma, financial loss, unwarranted ill-deserved threats and intimidation find an alternate and uplifting perspective in Joseph’s words when he has the opportunity to confront his bullies.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” Genesis 50.20

The trap that snares modern applications of Joseph’s words is when God’s intentions are superficially equated with an abuser and tormentor. To say God “intends” someone to be abused to carry out his purpose maligns his character while simultaneously elevating the character of the bully.

A full parallel to Joseph, (as the saviour & redeemer of nations) is arrogant. The underlying principle is to respond in kind. The nature of torment and harassment is to dominate, manipulate and control through a façade of power (physical, financial, social). Those without self-respect, (like substance addicts who seek gratification in getting a fix by any means available), derive their own value through the debasement of others. Any, they can find.

Joseph’s brothers attacked and left him for dead (and later sold into slavery) to elevate themselves in the esteem of their father. They saw Joseph as a threat to their financial security and their control over their father’s wealth. The motivation is one of the oldest and most common: Bullying to gain/keep power for pleasure. Bullies, whether they profess to be Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Secularist, Communist, all have the same thing in common: a deviance that derives pleasure from inflicting suffering on those they can (try!) to dominate and control.

Joseph’s conclusion is not a trite escapist cliché. The mistreatment of those with depraved motives does not define him. It clearly took incredible strength of will, but Joseph chose not to surrender to his brother’s agenda. He suffered. It cost him immensely: emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, socially, financially and geographically. But whether he was to live or die, it would not be on their terms.

Many who defy the agenda of abuse, torment, harassment, bullying and intimidation don’t experience the same subsequent prosperity as Joseph. Their resilience will erode the bully’s agenda, pleasure and power. But Joseph is not defining himself by their downfall anymore than he is allowing their torment to control his outlook and purpose. He decides not to play by their rules. He doesn’t play their game at all. The pay off in Joseph’s case was a reward from Pharaoh – a temporal King of kings. A pay off today comes when I realise that the bully isn’t my King and doesn’t have the last say in my value, purpose and destiny.

I realise, all too painfully, after having relocated, 6 months ago, away from a source of deviance and loss, that this is too easy to say and much harder to live out. It takes courage and, well, old-fashioned intestinal fortitude (i.e. guts!). Maybe things will “turn out for the better”. Regardless, the flaccid façade of the bully will be deflated and another King reigns, upright and more properly, in their place.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 27/10/2015 in Bible, church, discipleship

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Forgiveness is possible after locusts destroy everything

This is the third of a 3-part note on the theme of forgiveness. After this I’ll move onto some other topics.
Part 1
Part 2
+++++

after-the-locusts

In this post I touch on a similar idea to one I mentioned a few weeks ago when talking about the differences between forgiveness and trust.
(read more at “Tell it to the Church“, “The truth about trust” and “Forgiving the untrustworthy or trusting the unforgiving“)

When forgiveness is mentioned in the Church today, it can sometimes comes across a little trite. Not always! But, sometimes, it can sound like being a Christian (especially the minister or pastor!) means you must “forgive” and “accept” and accommodate everything about everyone. If not, you can get charged with being intolerant, impatient, being a stumbling block and all sorts of other misconstrued names.

Meg Guillebaud’s book, “After the Locusts” is a story of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda during 1994, and the following years of healing and forgiveness still taking place. Meg goes through the idea of practicing forgiveness and makes a distinction between that and trust and is careful to not fall into the trite and false idea of what it really entails for each of us.

Christian Forgiveness does not:

  • Say that it doesn’t matter
  • Pretend that we have not been hurt
  • Simply obeying a command to do so
  • Simply “forgive & forget”
  • Find an excuse for what has been done
  • Gain peace at any price (sometimes involves a conflict)
  • Leave it with God (i.e. in a way that avoids personal responsibility)
  • Always end in complete reconciliation (between the people involved)
  • Come without restitution

Christian Forgiveness does:

  • Begin with an understanding of what Christ has done
  • Refuse to take revenge (c.f. Romans 12:19)
  • Require an act of the will, not just a feeling
  • Face reality (it is very often painful, but necessary)
  • Accept and forgive ourselves
  • Recognise God’s love and His justice go hand in hand

So it may be that “locusts” have attacked and destroyed your life. That doesn’t mean, as a Christian, you are expected to just shrug it off, absorb and ignore the pain and hurt. As a Christian, if you do that, you’re trying to do something that only Jesus can, did and should do. Nor should you be damning others for not doing so. Forgiveness is a decision – but is it not a choice to be naïve and ignorant or to overlook an offence. It is a means to refer something to a higher and more powerful figure who can address the problem fully and justly.

Forgiveness is not simple. It is not trite. But it is possible, even after your life has been ransacked. Whether by locusts or by heartless, gutless, uncaring buffoons.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 27/09/2015 in discipleship, Gospel, Theology

 

Tags: , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: