Thursday, June 28, 2012

Concerning the Church – Part 1

When it comes to discussions concerning the church, too often the nature of the church is skipped in favour of discussing the organisation and ministries of the church. Perhaps everyone understands the nature of the church or perhaps differentiating between the nature, ministries, and organisation of the church is considered semantics. Maybe the essential nature of church has been forgotten in amongst the many choices people can make about church. These choices being on one hand brilliant, although on the other, at least potentially misleading.

We need variety of expression, flavour, tone, style, culture and characteristics when it comes to church. This is a healthy “consumer” choice. When we lose sight of the essential nature of the church in favour of her many characteristics though, it is possible that rather than allowing the Church to shape and demand something of us, we allow our expectations, demands, and tastes to become things that instead shape and place demands on the church. "Either put on something we want to consumer or we’ll go somewhere that does." This isn’t the way it is supposed to be, this is consumer choice gone too far.

So when it comes to talking about the church it is essential that we begin by talking about the essence of the church or the nature of the church rather than about the programs, ministries, and organization of the local church.

Walter Brueggemann writes that Christians are those that have responded to “God’s call to disengage from postures, habits, and assumptions that define the world of power and injustice that is so devoid of mercy and compassion in every arena of life. The call is away from ordinary life, ordinary possessions, and ordinary assumptions to a way of life that the world judges impossible. Thus the call is, indeed to an impossibility.”[1]

The church is by nature the gathering and scattering of those who have responded to the call to follow Jesus. Those that have committed to an “alternative” way of living in the world.  Those that, in faith and repentance, have pledged their allegiance and worship to God revelled in Father, Son and Spirit.

The church are those that have turned from false gods, from idolatry, from self governance, from self rule and have determined to follow Jesus as Lord and as Saviour.

The church is a community of atheists in regards to any other gods so often worshiped, pursued, and lived in allegiance to in our day and age...

Individualism – worship of self as the centre of the universe.
Consumerism – worship of consumption, self gratification, the need to posses, the idea that one is what one owns.
Relativism – worship of all truth being equal and that universal truth is unknowable.

The church is all who are ‘in’ Christ, i.e. submitted to the Lordship of Jesus and also more specifically or locally the church is the gathering of those that are in Christ.

The church may own property but she is not a building. The church may gather but she is not an event. The church may minister but she is not a program. The church is a body of people united in baptism and communion - the church is a community.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Word That Redescribes the World: The Bible and Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 95.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In Time - take the time to watch it

I recently posted the following statistics on my Facebook page and it created quite a conversation. 

·         Richest 1% of humanity own 40% of global assets
·         Top 5% own 71% of global assets
·         Top 10% own 85% of global assets
·         Top 50% own 99% of global assets
·         Poorest 50% of humanity own 1% of global assets[1]
These statistics have been offered by varied sources and though they may differ slightly they paint the same overall picture.

With this in mind it was a little surreal to watch Andrew Niccol’s In Time last night starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.

Though not the greatest action adventure / sci-fi / thriller that I’ve ever seen in terms of acting, action sequences, special effects and character development it was a stunning movie. In Time provides a poignant illustration of the above statistics.

The movie is set in 2161 where genetic alteration has allowed humanity to stop aging at 25 but people are required to earn more time after turning 25 or die when their accumulated time runs out. 'Living time', which can be transferred among individuals on body-contact, has replaced money and its availability is displayed on an implant on people's lower arm. When that clock reaches zero, one dies instantly. Society is divided by social class living in specialized towns called 'Time Zones'. The poor live in the ghettos of Dayton and must work each day to earn a few more hours of life, which they must also use to pay for everyday necessities. The rich live in the luxurious city-like town called New Greenwich, though they look young because they have stopped aging at 25 years old some are hundreds of years old having “earned”  centuries of time credit. There is only a limited amount of time available to humanity and it has not been distributed evenly.

We live on a finite planet and the resource available to humanity is limited. Some have so much resource available to them they can spend it on luxuries, as the rich spend their time in the movie. Others with limited resource can barely scrap together enough resource to survive another day, again as is the case in the movie.

With this in mind I’d encourage you to watch the moving appreciating that we in the western world are those with a stack of time in the bank, we live in New Greenwich and can so easily spend our time (resource) on unnecessary consumables that may happen to take our fancy. Many in the world live each day hoping to earn a little more time in order to last a little longer.  It’s not a perfect social commentary but it’s worth tuning into it as one.

As you watch the movie, consider how those without time run, while those with time walk. Look out for quotes like…

For a few to be immortal, many must die.
Time is a luxury you can't afford.
Time is money. 

[1] James B. Davies, The World Distribution of Household Wealth, Discussion Paper No. 2008/03 (Helsinki: UNU-WIDER, 2008), pp.7-8.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss - Never Read Anything You Don't Agree With

For most people, most of the time, the books they read simply endorse what they all ready believe, and – they likely know this before they even start reading them.  

I know this is an unquantifiable statement but it has been true in my life. For years I read the same sorts of books by the same sorts of authors about the same sorts of topics. I’d read the blurb, the blurb would appeal to my ambitions, dreams or desires and I read the book. Then I’d read any other books that author might have written or that might have been compiled from that particular pastors sermon notes. This is all good but there is not much adventure.

- Books have the potential to open you up to whole new ways of seeing and understanding the world.

- Books have the potential to shift you out of your own narrow perspectives and limited understanding into truth and insight you’d never considered.

- Books have the potential to disturb you, challenge you, confront you; to grab you by the scruff of the neck, hold you against the wall, look deep into your eyes and force you to consider, ponder, accept or reject things you’ve always taken for granted.

- Books can be troublesome as they introduce you to issues you may never have considered, as they challenge you to pause, to reconsider, to take stock, to refine your thinking.

If you find books boring then you’re reading the wrong books.

Here are four books I’ve read that in different ways challenge, confront, pull apart, disturb and disorientate. They’re exciting books. You might not agree with everything in them but they get you thinking. Books are conversations. Conversations that don’t get you thinking are called “small talk” or as my sister-in-law puts it “shit-chat”; who has time for that? These books will get you thinking and the four of them together make a pretty good combo. They’ve got me wrestling uncomfortably rather than resting comfy.

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger – Ronald J Sider
The Great Disruption – Paul Gilding
Surprised by Hope – N.T Wright
State of the World 2012 – World WatchInstitute

If you prefer your reading to be more comforting rather than confronting stick to - The Prayer of Jabez, The Secret, Your Best Life Now, and Rich Dad Poor Dad. These books will help you get to sleep at night. The others will keep you awake.... and you wouldn't want that would you?

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Tower of Babel / Pentecost / Destiny Church - 3

PART 3 = Destiny Church:

If you haven’t read part 1 and part 2, I’d recommend backing up and reading these first.

Humans we’re always meant to invent, design, develop, build, and create. They were always meant to continue the ordering and shaping work of God in creation. Yet at Babel this was twisted towards prideful self accolade rather than the expanding of God’s rule and reign. It’s easy for this to happen in our own lives today. Any number of noble actions and endeavours can so easily become self serving and more about building an “empire" of reputation, achievement, kudos, prestige and one-upmanship than loving God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself.  This sense of one-upmanship doesn’t have to mean that one is trying to be world famous in New Zealand, it can be as simple as standing a little higher above everyone else in your circle – whatever that circle is (and we’ve all numbers of them).

This is one of the great challenges that Pastors and church leaders everywhere need to be aware of. Leading in, ministering in, and with the Holy Spirit, building a local church is a noble and admirable enterprise and yet even in this the motive can so easily become one of self fulfilment rather than service. The local church is intended to represent Jesus, in the world, as a community that lives out the story of scripture as a hermeneutic of the Gospel and committed to one another in love. In Acts 2 we’re given a challenging example of the sorts of things this might entail post Pentecost with the first Christians selling and giving in order that nobody would lack any need. It’s not hard though, as a pastor or leader, to come to think of the church as a representation of you and your leadership skills and preaching abilities. When this happens, focus can shift from the church representing as a counter culture community, to the church representing as an “empire” or as a “tower.” Focus shifts to the size of the church, the number of programs and ministries it runs, its building and facility, its conferences, events and regular guest speakers (hopefully famous). We slip from Pentecost back to the Tower of Babel – rather than the main focus resting on the nature of the church as a community of love, with buildings, conferences and ministries coming second; the focus becomes buildings, conferences and ministries, with the intended nature of the church forgotten.

The question when it comes to Destiny Church and Brian Tamaki’s City of God, and the question all pastors and leaders need to consider in regard to their own church and ministry is about reflection. Is the church and ministry first and foremost about a Pentecost community reflecting God in the world as a community that gathers and scatters as a living testimony of the gospel message? Or, have things become more Tower of Babel like with the church attempting to reflect as an “empire” or a “tower”?

Some would say emphatically that Destiny Church and the City of God concept is all about Pentecost community. Others would say without doubt that things have become way to much about the “empire” of Brian Tamaki. I don’t know enough to call it either way and ultimately it’s not for me to do that. Besides my call makes no difference either way. I will go has far to say that I think there is too much gathering and not enough scattering going on. With Destiny calling its churches and members to sell up and move to Auckland I think a big part of what it means to be the church is missed. As much as the church is called to gather she is called to scatter as light and salt in the world; shining brightly and flavouring subversively. Destiny and I think all churches, need to consider how much focus is on gathering, accumulating, building, holding onto,  and enlarging (all noble things), verses scattering, releasing, sending, simplifying, going, being and doing.

As well as a gathered church on Sunday, the church is to be a scattered church Monday to Saturday in the highways and byways, nooks and crannies, water coolers and third places of life.   

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Tower of Babel / Pentecost / Destiny Church - 2

PART 2 = Pentecost:

Acts 2
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Jesus re-commissions his followers to go into all the world, to scatters as representatives of him and of the Good News of the Gospel, preaching, teaching, healing, reconciling, restoring and bearing witness to God.

The only caveat; they are to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit who will come and empower them in this mission. They are to wait for Pentecost.

Pentecost people speak in other languages, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost people speak in a spiritual languages, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost people speak another language, they tell a different story, empowered by the Spirit Peter stands and preaches boldly. Telling them the true story of Jesus Christ.

Ultimately this passage in Acts 2 is the counter passage to Genesis 11, the Pentecost reverses Babel. There is a big turn around  and history is set in a new trajectory.  Look how Acts 2 wraps up...
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The community created out of Pentecost is the reversal of the self serving empire of Babel with all its resource and energy directed at monument building, at tower building. This community in Pentecost does not exploit or oppress. This community holds things in common and puts resource, energy, and consideration into the providing for and caring for one another. It’s a community inclusive of all. It is not human-made; it is animated by the Spirit of God and encounter with the resurrected Jesus. It seeks to tell the truth of a new Way, out of self serving empire (national or personal) and into God’s Kingdom. It certainly doesn’t set out to build towers for its own pride and glory. It doesn’t represent God through buildings or towers or monuments but through love for one another. Remember... that’s how the world will know you are my disciples (John 13:35).

To be continued...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Tower of Babel / Pentecost / Destiny Church - 1

PART 1 = The Tower of Babel:

Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower they were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel —because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

In Genesis 1 & 2 we read of humankind being wondrously created to reflect the nature of God. Created as “image bearers” humanity is to represent what God is like and is charged to go into all the world, to scatter, to fill the earth, to multiply and to enjoy God’s gift of life.  

Sin interrupts the story and humanity falls short of representing God as they were intended to. By the time we get to Genesis 11, things are pretty out of kilter.

Rather than scattering into all the world, being fruitful, increasing in number, tending, developing, ordering, creating and reflecting the nature of God; humankind is united in purposes contrary to God’s will. Humans have set out to build their own self serving empire. They want to make a name for themselves by building a giant monument that reaches to the heavens, something that in any era requires an incredible amount of energy, finance, resource and effort. Likely the tower will be built through the oppression of others. This story tells us of humanities pride and self-reliance. The use of handmade bricks and tar rather than more naturally occurring stones and mortar made of mud suggests a move away from the providence of God in creation. The tower meets no need and is simply a self fulfilling monument to humanism.

God however does an incredible thing. God confuses their speech. Rather than have humanity united towards its own ends, ends contrary to God’s will, God creates disunity. Different people groups with their distinct languages begun to unite as one – but apart from the "other." Humanity begins to scatter and disperse throughout the earth.

In disrupting, interrupting and bringing confusion of language God ultimately moves humanity back towards his will that humankind would scatter throughout all the earth. Now at least humanity has the potential to represent God in all the earth. The only thing is; they are now divided in language and identity.

While originally all of humankind was meant to represent God and indeed all of humanity are still image bearers, God now chooses a family (Abraham’s) and a nation (Israel) to represent him specifically. In time Jesus comes, fully human and fully divine; the perfect representative of God to the world. Jesus preaches and teaches regarding the Kingdom of God, talks about grace and love and forgiveness and reconciliation to God. Jesus’ lays down his life on the cross as an example of love, as a ransom and atonement for our sin. Jesus is resurrected victorious over sin and death.

To be continued...

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Success and the need to be “successful” is something that everyone wrestles with. In our Western context dollars, fame, looks etc are so quickly understood as markers of success. As we mature in life our understanding of success tends to evolve. At 2 not wetting your bed is success, same at 92, not so much at 22. In my teenage years success was attaining all the “stuff.” As I get older I begin to realise (as I grab a hold of some of the “stuff” and realise I’ll never get other aspects of the “stuff”) how potentially void in meaning much of this is.

As we grow in our understanding of what it means to walk the way of Jesus we also discover that success isn’t always what we think it is.  God has a path for us to walk in life that doesn’t always lead to what the world describes as successful. Ultimately success is to run the race God has set before you. A race where you don’t compete with others. A race that is about living faithfully before God. Hebrews offers examples of heroes in the faith, men and women who didn’t give up but continually pushed forward in life. It’s a mixed bag though. As legendary as some of these people were a stack of them also stuffed up royally.

We see that in the economy of God direction and perseverance is more important than perfection. This side of eternity, these legends of the faith experienced varied outcomes in regards to the way the world might measure success. Abraham and David ended up wealthy and highly regarded. Others were tortured, flogged, sawn in two, and lived destitute, persecuted and mistreated! Sometimes success before God comes with the accolades of success our world admires; sometimes it simply doesn’t. Sometimes success before God comes with all the stuff that we’d deem as failure.

So what is success? God is working in history to bring about the reconciliation and restoration of all things. We’re invited as Christ followers, to partner with the Holy Spirit, and creatively engage in purposeful living, that in ways big and small, brings shalom (peace) on earth. Some people will have an acute sense of what this means for them. For others, living like this is a wide open space with all sorts of possible choices.

Success is to engage in God’s mission and to run the race set before you. Throw off that which hinders, throw off sin that entangles, let go of past mistakes and royal stuff ups, stand up, stand back up, and run. Sometimes this may bring success as marked by the world, more often probably not. Rather than aiming for “success” we should be aiming to live our lives as a “collaborative masterpiece” co-painted with God.  

We are called to be co-conspirators with God in how our lives turn out. We may make bad choices, exercise poor judgement, commit mistakes, and miss God’s cues. Also at times though, we rise to the occasion, adopt courageous stands, distinguish ourselves through integrity and service, and do a lot of right things. Our choices and actions – bad and good – contribute to our life’s storyline. The fascinating truth is that God weaves it all together into a story that we claim as our own. Adapted from Work of Heart by Reggie McNeal.