The Cricket Scandal

The news reports have been full of the cricket cheating scandal for a week now.

Many people have commented about the issue. The overwhelming response is disappointment and anger at the cricket team.

That’s the surprise for me. When we are daily bombarded with the poor behaviour of politicians, footballers, celebrities, and the banks why would we expect anything else?

We have abandoned any basis for morality with the rejection of christianity and the embrace of secular humanism. The overwhelming popular morality is “It’s OK if nobody gets hurt.”

Nobody got hurt with the ball tampering plot, so what’s wrong? Cricket Australia tried to avoid the “c” word- cheat.

Nobody got hurt when Barnaby Joyce traded in his wife for a younger model- except for his wife and daughters of course, but people move on.

In both cases some people have claimed that the original “sins” were compounded by lying and covering up. Really? We get upset about lies in a post-truth age? Sandpaper or yellow tape, really who cares?

We do care, because deep down we know that there are objective standards of moral behaviour, right and wrong. We might give ourselves a free pass with our own faults, but we expect better of our “betters”.

God has set some rules that are universally applicable. Don’t cheat. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery.

On the eve of Good Friday some commentators are starting to come around to the idea of forgiveness and redemption.  Real redemption only comes from the cross of Christ and only after we acknowledge our own sin.

There’s the rub. We want forgiveness without repentance from sins we don’t acknowledge and a saviour we refuse to believe in. We think others should set a better example without thinking the same should be true of ourselves.

So after a four day long weekend we will be ready for next week’s scandal and asking ourselves again, “How can this be happening?”

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Reading The Bible

bible-Sunlight

I was talking to one of my parishioners the other day about daily Bible reading. She said to me, “I find it so hard because my first reaction when I start to read is, I’ve read that before and I know what’s in it.”

This is a real problem for many people, especially christians who have been diligent for many years in reading the Word. At times I have (still do, occasionally) fallen into this trap.

So how do we overcome it?

I think the key is to approach our devotional time with expectation. We must expect that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us something that we need to know. To do that, we must slow down the process, slow our reading, become more meditative.

Here are some keys to reading the Bible more effectively.

  1. Stop using devotional books such as “Word For Today” and “Every Day With Jesus.” These are excellent resources, but the problem is that they can give you the “right answers” before you have worked at reading the word of God. They then stop you from digging deeper into the Scripture because you think you have got what you need. If you have been a committed christian for more than 5 years you need to cut the string. You don’t need it. I know it’s like parting a toddler from its dummy but really you can do this.
  2. Use a plan of some sort. I use the Revised Common Lectionary, because of my Uniting Church roots and because it gives you four passages a week from various parts of the Bible. You might prefer to go through a book of the Bible (a section of about a dozen or so verses), but don’t stick to your “favourite” books.
  3. Journal. This is the key to slowing down. Write down your thoughts. Use pen and paper rather than an electronic devise such as a tablet or computer. Yes you can type faster than you can write, and yes it is more legible. But remember that we are trying to slow down, to spend quality time with God.
  4. Use a meditative approach. The ancient process of lectio divina directs a method of contemplating, praying and living the Scriptures. There are many articles on the internet about lectio divina, including this brief description.

 

I often use the SOAP method pioneered by Wayne Cordeiro. Most of my Reflections published on my blog are in this format. Remember that this is a process for structuring your thoughts and writing in your journal.

  1. Pray. Ask God to show you what He wants you to see. Open your heart and mind to Him.
  2. Scripture: Read the passage. Is there a verse, sentence or phrase that leaps out at you? If not, read the passage through again and again until the most important phrase becomes obvious.  Write down this Scripture next to the letter S.
  3. Observe: Read the passage again and now summarise briefly what the passage is about. What is happening? What is said? This is the context for your highlighted Scripture.
  4. Application: Looking again at the highlighted Scripture, what does this mean? What does it mean for me today? How can I carry it with me, put it into practice?
  5. Prayer: Write down a short prayer asking God to help you with this.

This is a really simple but profound way of reading the Bible. It will bring your devotions to life.

The key to it all is that you are spending time in the presence of the Living God. It’s not about gaining knowledge or self-improvement. It’s about relationship with God.

 

Easter in Australia

Bernard Gaynor writes:

 

‘There’s not much else to do Good Friday’.

These words come from the philosopher extraordinaire, Jack Ziebell, who otherwise passes his time as the captain of the North Melbourne footy club.

He was urging people to get down to the temple of bread and circuses and worship whatever out of pure boredom and idle curiosity this Friday. Apparently the nation has the day off but no one is quite sure why.

Jack Ziebell may not realise it, but his few words speak volumes about the cultural malaise that is eroding away the social fabric of Australia and tearing it apart. We have lost all bearings with our past and so have no idea where we are headed, let alone what we are doing now.

But just to make things clear, this is what Good Friday is all about:

Good Friday

You might think it’s all a bunch of fairy tales. But here is the practical reality of that: if ‘Good Friday’ is meaningless, don’t expect the state to keep it as a day free from work much longer.

Meaningless days are days of work.

And even if you think the Bible is a book of fiction, it is still the story that has transformed our culture and society.

Good Friday is the most epic of epics in human history.

That Man on that cross.

According to the writers He was hung there after being falsely accused. And after the false accusers contradicted themselves. And after the man who sentenced Him even questioned whether truth mattered at all. And after the rabble outside bayed for the release of a murderer instead of the one who had given them bread for their bodies and their souls.

You really can’t make this stuff up.

And to cap it all off, the official crime Christ was convicted of was claiming that He was divine.

Then, to demonstrate the blinding folly of the accusation, He rose from the dead. In other words, the accusation was true and it was because Christ is God that His body was broken.

None of us today would have acted any differently than the central characters of this story because we are all flawed and weak and self-interested.

Just like they did 2,000 years ago, we would have welcomed Christ as King on the Sunday and then cheered as he was executed a mere five days later. And then, just as they did, we would have descended to the truly bizarre: placing a guard over a dead man’s tomb.

That’s the first part of the story.

It, more than any other narrative, captures the truly flawed essence of human nature. We might live in a newly humanist world but the most human of all stories was written two millennia ago.

But it’s the second part of it that makes it so vast, so immense and so far beyond the scope of human understanding that we are only left to wonder.

It’s the fact that the risen Christ died not just by us, but for us. The sequel to the pain of Good Friday is the hope and forgiveness and glory of Easter Sunday.

However, like I said, you might think it is all a load of rubbish.

Nonetheless, that ‘rubbish’ transformed the Western world. All our notions of justice and truth and forgiveness and society and morality come from the story of the cross.

That, in itself, is worth more than a footy game.

But I do believe this story is true. Every word of it.

The twelve men who stood with Christ during His life all gave their own after His death.

One by his own hand. He could not live with his actions.

The rest by the hand of others.

For what the world today claims to be a lie, they gave a life.

And here’s the hard reality: the only alternative to accepting the truth of this story is to believe that these men – every single one of them – willingly died for something that they knew to be false.

That, truly, is too much to believe.

No one dies for a lie. And they certainly did not either. Instead they, like the society around them, were transformed by that Man on the cross.

That, also, is worth more than a game of footy.

But, sadly, Australia has forgotten all of this and thrown in a real epic for bread and circuses.

We are returning to the barbaric paganism of Roman times. They had their games back then too. But until Christ transformed society, the contestants in those games only received the man of the match award if they survived it.

Jack Ziebell might like to ponder that next time he’s out spruiking an event for the culturally dead Australian Football League (which is the true Pontius Pilate in this modern day matter) that thumbs its nose at the glory of our civilisation and demands a return to those dark ages that enveloped the world before the sun rose over that empty tomb.

ABC Continues to Smear Churches With Dodgy Headlines

Either Julia Baird is on a crusade against churches or she has no clue about how to interpret statistics. Judging by her previous articles it is both.

Having said that, the substance of the survey is disturbing.

The authors of the report admit that the respondents were self-selecting. Something along the lines of “Call us if you want to take part in research into domestic violence in churches.” Obviously those who have some experience of the issue are more likely to reply to that invitation.

So we don’t know from this that the figure is one in four of all churchgoers. It could be one in ten or one in twenty.

Having said that, any domestic violence (perpetrated by men or women) within a church is unacceptable. What is scary is their statement that independent or newly established evangelical and charismatic churches are more likely to have DV happening in their midst. This would be especially true in the rapidly growing churches and those with superficial relationships.

Anyway, it looks like I might need to do some research and preventative work at the very least.

From the ABC

One in four churchgoers in abusive relationships, UK study finds

Updated 

A woman prays over a bible.

 

One in four churchgoers has experienced domestic abuse in their current relationship, according to a new study in Britain.

The research, conducted in Cumbria by academics at Coventry University and the University of Leicester in conjunction with Christian charity Restored, has led to urgent calls for churches in Britain and Australia to expose and counter abuse in their midst, with the authors finding more priests need to publicly condemn abuse “from the pulpit”.

Almost half of those who sought help from their church (47.2 per cent) said they were unlikely to do so again, if they experienced abuse in the future.

Only two in seven thought their church was adequately equipped to deal with a disclosure of abuse.

Mandy Marshall, a co-founder of Restored, a global Christian alliance that aims to end violence against women, said: “One of the biggest barriers we have faced is Christians not believing that domestic abuse could happen in their church.”

She added: “My hope is that this research is a wake-up call to all churches to recognise that domestic abuse happens in churches, too, and that we need to respond appropriately and effectively when domestic abuse is disclosed.”

The study comes after an ABC News investigation found women in Australian Christian communities — a number of them clergy wives — were being told to endure or forgive domestic violence and stay in abusive relationships, and that churches of all denominations had too often ignored their reports, failed to recognise the different forms abuse took and did not ensure safety or provide adequate care.and humiliation.

Dr Kristin Aune, of Coventry University, the study’s lead author, said: “A quarter of the people we heard from told us they had been physically hurt by their partners, sexually assaulted, emotionally manipulated, or had money withheld from them.”

The most commonly experienced form of abuse was emotional.

Barbara Roberts, the leader of A Cry For Justice, a website for Christian survivors of domestic violence, said the new research gives Australian church leaders a strong mandate to address domestic abuse more forcefully.

“We need clergy to speak up about domestic abuse,” Ms Roberts told ABC News. “But when they speak without much knowledge, they can do more harm than good.”

Read the full article here

Surprising Results About Youth Evangelism

A report from Faithwire suggests churches may have their youth strategies all wrong. I might need to go and buy an old building! I am not sure about the methods used to get to this result or how they transfer across cultures.

 

A newly released study from research consultancy ComRes has found that many young people are exploring the Christian faith as a direct result of visiting beautiful religious buildings. In a  2016 survey, nearly 13 percent of teen converts cited “visiting a church building” as playing a vital role.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Andrew Gustar

The report indicates that the experience of beautiful religious architecture is more effective in evangelizing the younger generation than attending a youth group (11 percent) or a church service (12 percent), according to a write-up of the report by U Catholic.

ComRes interviewed 2,000 people aged 11-18 in December 2016, but the results of the online survey were not released until last summer. This was as a result of analysts finding it hard to believe that the figures were true.

Read the full article here

Evangelism In A Post-Everything Culture

Matt Chandler encourages us to be hospitable

Everyone You Meet Will Live Forever

Evangelism in an Age of Unbelief

Article by

Pastor, Flower Mound, Texas

In a post-Christian, post-modern, post-everything society, God’s people are called to operate from courage, not fear. And when we live courageously, putting our hope in the reality of who God is and what God has already accomplished, it changes everything. We’re freed up to be the people of God living out the mission of God despite what new challenges come our way.

But given our increasingly hostile cultural landscape, what does making new disciples, in terms of evangelism, look like? And how do we go about it? I think you’ll be surprised by where we end up, though you probably shouldn’t be.

Evangelism in an Age of Unbelief

When we talk about what it means to be courageous and faithful in the age of unbelief, we have to talk about the Great Commission. That’s our mission. And though it’s always been true, I think it’s truer than ever to say that evangelism will include hospitality. Hospitality is not the sum total of courage or evangelism, but living courageously will involve living hospitably.

The idea of hospitality has been hijacked by popular culture. When the Bible speaks of hospitality, it almost always ties it to aliens and strangers — people who are not like us. Hospitality means welcoming those outside your normal circle of friends — the kind of people it takes a new heart to invite in. It’s opening our lives, and our homes, to those who believe differently than we do.

“Hospitality means opening your life and your house to those who believe differently than you do.”

Hospitality is all over the Bible. In fact, it’s so important to God that when Paul lists out the traits necessary for a man to be qualified for the office of elder in a local congregation, we find that he must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable,hospitable, able to teach . . .” (1 Timothy 3:2). To be an elder, a man has to be able to open his life and show kindness to those who believe differently than he does. He has to open up his world to those who are outside of what he believes.

Now, why would God be so serious about hospitality? Well, because he has been so hospitable to us. Even when we were living as his enemies, he came and saved us. He opened the door and invited us into his presence. We demonstrate that we truly appreciate the divine hospitality we have received as we extend our own hospitality to those around us.

I’m not suggesting that biblical hospitality is the silver bullet for making evangelism work in the twenty-first century (news flash: there’s no silver bullet). But might it not be — in our cynical, polarizing, critical, dumpster-fire culture — that a warm dose of welcoming hospitality will take some folks by surprise and open up the door for opportunities to make disciples of Jesus Christ?

Four Ways to Show Hospitality

The God of the universe is serious about hospitality. Hospitality can create an entry point for living out the Great Commission and evangelizing our neighbors — especially in the age of unbelief when most think the church is about something completely different. Yet we still have to ask, How do we show hospitality today? It’s not complicated — though that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

1. Welcome Everyone You Meet

I think the best first step is to greet everyone you see. That’s easy to do if you are wired like me — I’m a total extrovert. That’s hard if you’re an introvert, and maybe you’re thinking, “Can we just skip to number two, please?” But often the best actions to take are the hardest to do. Pray for grace, ask for strength, take a risk, and greet people.

2. Engage People

Remember that every person you encounter is eternal. You have never met a mere mortal, as C.S. Lewis famously observed, and you have never met a human not created to image your God. How can we not seek to care about and take an interest in those we run across? I don’t think this is overly difficult. It simply requires us to be asking open-ended questions, letting our inner curiosity out.

We may think this is all obvious — but often we hold back from doing it. We need to get to know people, take an interest in them, and listen to them, rather than just trying to think about how we can say something memorable or hilarious.

3. Make Dinner a Priority

Over and over again, God’s word testifies to the holiness of eating together. Long dinners with good food, good drink, good company, and good conversations that center around our beliefs, our hopes, our fears — that’s a good dinner. And I don’t mean just dinner with friends. Yes, eat with your church small group, invite over your good friends, but remember that hospitality means to give loving welcometo those outside your normal circle of friends. It is opening your life, and your house,to those who believe differently than you do.

4. Love the Outsider

In every work environment, every neighborhood, we know people who, for whatever reason, are outliers. These men and women are all around us — perhaps more so than ever, in our globalized world. Because of the way sin affects us, we tend to run away from differences and from being around people who think differently and look different than we do. But I want to lay this before you:Jesus Christ would have moved towards the outsiders. God extends radical hospitality to me and to you. That’s why we learn to love, and pursue, the outsider — because we were the outsider.

It All Starts with Courage

As dark and dire as the landscape may appear right now, as vast and venomous as it may be, we know that the battle has already been won — and that means we don’t fight on the world’s terms. This age of unbelief may feel big and intimidating for the church, but it’s simply a small subplot in a bigger, better story — the greatest story ever told.

And in a truly spectacular paradox, there’s a yawning chasm between God’s story and our stories. While we know there are spiritually significant realities at work, we are called to simple, everyday faithfulness that works itself out in lives marked by hospitality.

In some ways, it’s the big, flashy acts — the kind of stuff we photograph, slap a filter on, and show all our “friends” online — that go most noticed yet require the least of us. True Christian courage probably looks more like inviting a group of strangers into your home for dinner than the attractive, successful ideas we have dreamed up in our minds.

“Remember that everyone you meet is eternal. You have never met a mere mortal.”

Taking a risk to be genuinely hospitable actually requires courage because it forces us to rely on our Lord and his strength, not our own. When we open up our homes and build friendships with those who don’t look like us, believe like us, or act like us, we open up our lives and make ourselves vulnerable. We risk getting hurt and making enemies with those who don’t think the way we think or act the way we act. Yet we can do it because of the hope, strength, and courage that we have in the Lord.

So, greet the people you see today. Learn to ask good questions. Open up your home to them, especially if they’re lonely or isolated. And above all, trust in God to use your weak hospitality to show his power.

The Seal Of The Prophet Isaiah

Melanie Phillips writes:

isaiah-seal-impression-or-bullaIsrael 

IS THIS THE SEAL OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH?

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The Hebrew University archeologist Dr Eilat Mazar has made what may be one of the most extraordinary finds ever made. In her excavations of the remains of the first Temple in Jerusalem, she has uncovered a bulla, or seal impression, which may have belonged to the prophet Isaiah.

Her team discovered the bulla during renewed excavations at the Ophel, located at the foot of the southern wall of Temple Mount. In an article published last week in Biblical Archaeology Review, entitled “Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature?”, she describes the impression as inscribed with letters and what appears to be a grazing doe, “a motif of blessing and protection found in Judah, particularly in Jerusalem”.

The legible letters in first Temple Hebrew spell out “Yesha’yah” and, on the line below, the partial word “nvy’. Yesha’yah(u) is Hebrew for Isaiah; with an additional letter aleph, “nvy” would correspond to the Hebrew word for prophet.

In the absence of other letters, however, the question is whether the seal belonged to the prophet Isaiah or a different Isaiah altogether. Fascinating details of the relevant factors for consideration are laid out in this article in The Trumpet, the news magazine of the Philadelphia Church of God whose Herbert W Armstrong college in Oklahoma sends volunteers to help with the Temple excavations.

Mazar says: “Without an aleph at the end, the word nvy is most likely just a personal name. Although it does not appear in the Bible, it does appear on seals and a seal impression on a jar handle, all from unprovenanced, private collections. The name of Isaiah, however, is clear.”

The bulla was found only 10 feet away from where in 2009 Mazar’s team unearthed 34 bullae one of which, they discovered in 2015, bore the inscription “Belonging to Hezekiah, [son of] Ahaz, King of Judah.” Mazar, who has also uncovered King David’s palace, Solomon’s royal complex, Nehemiah’s wall and a golden medallion featuring a menorah from the seventh century CE, has described the Hezekiah bulla as the most important individual discovery of her career. From references in the Bible, it seems the prophet Isaiah was a close spiritual adviser to King Hezekiah.

Some other scholars have questioned whether the Isaiah named on the bulla was the Isaiah.

Dr Mazar herself is being scrupulously cautious, merely presenting the evidence and her own opinion of what it is most likely to signify. She asks, however, how likely it is that this bulla could belong to an Isaiah other than the Isaiah.  The “chances of it belonging to any other but the known Prophet Isaiah”, Mazar told The Trumpet, “are extremely slim”.

The editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, Dr. Robert Cargill, has praised Mazar for being cautious about the identity of the Isaiah whose name is on the bulla. “But if you’re asking me, I think she’s got it. You’re looking at the first archaeological reference of the prophet Isaiah outside of the Bible. It’s amazing.”