Post-truth and the truth

The word of the year has got to be ‘post-truth’, right? I see Oxford Dictionaries agrees, giving it the accolade last month.

Post-truth has been everywhere this year – I even got to experience it myself, with projects I’m closely involved with at work being reported on by various news organisations in less than accurate ways. As an aside, seeing that occur in a field I’m familiar with made me wonder how many other news articles we read are inaccurate and misleading.

While it has been everywhere, post-truth has been most often associated with worldly ‘kings’ (including, but definitely not limited to, Donald Trump). It’s amazing (and concerning) how swiftly post-truth has risen into common usage, fuelled by politicians who should be taken to task by the public for their lies, but somehow haven’t been.

All this talk about post-truth got me thinking about what the Bible says about the truth.

I’m reminded of the scene in John where Jesus is arrested and brought before Pontius Pilate. The dramatic account of this scene is in each of the four gospels, however only John includes this dialogue (John 18:37-38):

‘So!’ said Pilate. ‘You are a king, are you?’
‘You’re calling me a king,’ replied Jesus. ‘I was born for this; I’ve come into the world for this: to give evidence about the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’
‘Truth!’ said Pilate. ‘What’s that?’

Doesn’t that last line from Pilate sum up nicely what’s been happening in 2016?!

In his New Testament for Everyone commentary on John, Tom Wright shares the following insights on this passage:

Truth isn’t something that you get out of a test tube, or a mathematical formula. We don’t have truth in our pockets. Philosophers and judges don’t own it. It is a gift, a strange quality that, like Jesus’ kingdom in fact, comes from elsewhere but is meant to take up residence in this world. Jesus has come to give evidence about this truth. He is himself the truth… Truth is what Jesus is; and Jesus is dying for Barabbas, and for Israel, and for the world. And for you and me. 

Jesus is the truth, and the way in which he bears witness to this truth, the way in which he enacts his kingdom, is accomplished by him dying on the cross – the innocent dying in place of the guilty.

Once again, some thoughts from Tom Wright, this time from How God Became King:

And, in the broader Johannine perspective, we discover that the only word to do justice to this kingdom-and-cross combination is agape, ‘love’.

So, real truth is fuelled by agape, the highest form of love; selfless and unconditional; the love of God for man.

Real truth is what Jesus brings.

In the confusing world of post-truth ‘kings’, let’s instead focus on our king, the truth, Jesus.

Image source

Changing how we communicate the good news

good-news1

At a recent work team building day (which I missed, unfortunately) we had a guest speaker, Dr Paul McDonald, who talked about his research into sustainability and neuroscience. Paul is a lecturer at Victoria University and is due to publish a journal paper on this topic next year.

Talking with others in my team about what Paul presented intrigued me, so I managed to get hold of his paper and have a read…

In layman’s language, he’s basically saying that the typical way that we communicate sustainability and the need to be sustainable doesn’t work. Often it depends on the use of scare tactics to push people to more sustainable measures – in practice, he says, this just triggers a flight response and people tune out.

Also of issue is that we humans are an inherently stubborn bunch and not quick to accept change (often people know something to be true, but they don’t truly believe it to be true; there’s no emotional connection to the issue, so there’s no change).

He emphasises the need for a better way to communicate sustainability. Reframing how sustainability is communicated so that it’s in a positive manner (not focused on doom and gloom, fear and academic facts).

Reading this got me thinking about how often this is also the case for the good news and how we communicate it.

I’ve been reading a lot of Tom Wright recently – his presentation and communication of the gospel (or the good news) strikes a resounding note with me. It’s far broader and wide ranging than the traditionally taught ‘gospel’. I find myself in the same camp as whoever said this in reference to Wright’s book Surprised by Hope:

“If this book is true,” he said, “then my whole life has to change.” (link)

I can’t help but think we need to communicate the good news differently (and more fully, for that matter).

In Simply Good News Wright talks about how the good news is often watered down and communicated as about ‘me and my relationship to God’ or about ‘going to heaven’. He writes (bold emphasis mine):

Let’s be clear. The relationship each of us has with God is hugely important. It is also vital to insist that God will indeed look after his people following their deaths, all the way to his final new creation. But these are not the centre of the good news. We have placed the stress at the wrong point, like people putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable. The words may be true, but the way we say them gets in the way of that truth coming out clearly. The good news is about the living God overcoming all the powers of the world to establish his rule of justice and peace, on earth as in heaven. Not in heaven, later on. And that victory is won not by superior power of the same kind but by a different sort of power altogether… The kingdom of God, Jesus declared, runs on love.

Also, just like sustainability, how often are ‘scare tactics’ used as a proxy for the good news: we’re all sinners deserving death, Jesus died in our place, if we believe in him we’ll go to heaven. What Wright has shown me is that there’s so much more to the good news than this over-simplification. We’re ignoring or missing the broader context of Jesus’ death (and, for that matter, his resurrection)[1].

In his paper Paul McDonald also notes the importance of storytelling – saying that “neurological evidence supports the power of rhetoric and storytelling”. This has to be true for how we communicate the good news also – we need to tell the good news as a compelling story. Paint the picture of why it is truly good news. When that resonates with people, they will be more willing to believe it and make real and lasting change. Of course, we’re not doing this under our own steam – we have the Holy Spirit to enable us to do this work.

I had the privilege of sharing the message with my church last weekend as part of the service where the kids put on their Christmas production. As an aside, it was my first time preparing and delivering a sermon – I really enjoyed it! I took this opportunity to begin to communicate the good news differently. Using the passage about Anna the Prophetess celebrating Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:36-38) as a frame, I had a go at telling the story of the good news in its fullest sense: starting with God creating the world, through to Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, God’s promises to Abraham, the prophecies of a coming rescuer and king, Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, and what it means to have Jesus as king.

This was all condensed into a very brief sermon and would benefit from the various aspects being teased out more in future sermons, however hopefully it gave people a taster of what the good news truly is.

It feels strange to have been a Christian for so long but to only now discover the good news in this way. I’m looking forward to exploring this more – further reading, study, prayer, blogging and application in my life (and hopefully those around me). After all, it is the good news, and it should be central to my faith and my life.

Image source

[1] The Distorted and Competing Gospels chapter of Wright’s Simply Good News explains this way better than I could – recommended reading!

Momo, prayer, and perseverance

momo

I’ve been quiet on the blog front over the past month or so – primarily because I’ve been reading up and preparing for my first ever sermon – very exciting! I’ve been asked to deliver the sermon which will follow the annual kids Christmas production in mid-December. The passage I’m going to be looking at is Luke’s discussion of Anna the Prophetess. I won’t go into any more details yet, but will link to the sermon once it’s up on the church website.

Anyways, a few weeks ago I did another kids’ talk at church. My focus this time was on prayer and perseverance, particularly looking at Romans 12:12. To help illustrate this theme, I used Momo, the sleep training clock we’ve been using to [mostly] good effect with Son #1. The talk transcript is below.


This is Momo, the sleep training clock. When you’re younger, especially if you’re still learning to tell the time, it can be tricky to know when it’s time to wake up. Sometimes, if you wake you too early, Mum and Dad might not be too impressed, so that’s where Momo can come in handy. When he’s awake, it’s okay to be out of bed and playing – when he’s asleep it’s still sleep time for you too.

I need someone to test this out – who wants to have a sleep in this cosy bed up on stage?

[tuck kid into the mock bed set up on stage, set Momo to sleepmode]

Momo is asleep now, so you need to stay in bed until he’s awake, okay? Sleep tight!

While X is sleeping, let’s talk about waiting. As I said earlier, when you’re younger and can’t tell the time, it can be hard to wait in bed until it’s time to get up.

That’s true in other parts of our life too. Waiting for something to happen, especially if you really want it to, can be tricky.

The Bible talks a lot about waiting for things that you really want to happen.

I think God knew it would be tricky to wait so the Bible talks a lot about perseverance – does anyone know what that word means?

Potential definition: Continuing to do something even though it’s really tricky, or it’s taking a long time to happen.

In Romans 12:12, Paul, the guy who wrote the book, talks about perseverance:

Be joyful because you have hope. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

No matter what’s happening while we wait, God wants us to be patient, to not quit in the hard times, and, and this is important, to keep talking with him through prayer.

Just like Momo helps us wait until it’s time to get up from bed, God gives us prayer to help us while we’re waiting. God’s always there while we’re waiting and he loves it when we pray and talk to him – he wants us to be talking with him all the time!

On that note, let’s pray before you head off to the kids programme.


I’m enjoying coming up with ideas for kids’ talks. This one had a few spanners thrown into the works on the day (PowerPoint slides not working; Momo’s alarm going off a bit earlier than I expected; the toddlers becoming fascinated by Momo once his alarm did go off), but they hopefully didn’t hurt the communication of the message, and really, when you’re doing a kids’ talk you kind of need to expect the unexpected!

Image source

Further reflections on the pastoral search committee

I posted some initial reflections on the pastoral search process last September, when our search committee was about to begin a 5-month hiatus triggered by our then preferred candidate for senior pastor deciding to withdraw his name from consideration.

We resumed the search in March this year, feeling refreshed and energised from the break and looking forward to seeing what God had in store for our church. After an intensive period of searching, interviewing and, throughout it all, prayer, by September we were very excited to recommend to church members that we call Russell Watts as our senior pastor. The members agreed and Russell officially agreed to the call in late September.

We feel incredibly blessed to have someone of Russell’s calibre coming to our church. He’s currently the senior pastor at Ranui Baptist Church and has a particular set of skills (and giftings) that will be valuable to our church, helping to equip us to more effectively spread the good news about God’s kingdom to those in Northland and beyond. Very exciting times ahead!

I thought it would be useful to share some further reflections on the search process:

  1. The impact of prayer: Prayer has been an ongoing and constant part of the process, as it obviously needed to be, both by the committee and wider church community. This included prayer for wisdom and discernment for us as a committee, for patience for the committee and church as we waited on God’s timing, and for the person God had planned to be our next senior pastor. Kim and I occasionally joked about the committee’s need for wisdom, using the well-worn ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ meme which graces the top of this post.
  2. The significance of James: Scriptures from the book of James were recurring throughout the process, themes of perseverance (James 1:2-4), wisdom (James 1:5-8), trust and faith (James 4:13-16) and prayer (James 5:13-16). Even at the members’ meeting to call Russell the chairperson of our Elders group, completely unaware of the recurrence of James, prepared a devotion on James 2 about love and favouritism.
  3. The value of good process: We were blessed to have able leadership on the committee in the form of our chairperson. He comes from a very process-oriented profession and instilled necessary rigour to our process. We always made sure to tick all the boxes, to communicate often and well, and to follow the Baptist NZ guidelines as they applied to our search.
  4. The importance of values: Our committee identified and agreed to six core values when we first formed: confidentiality, transparency, honesty, graciousness, consecration and patience. These are the values that underpinned our process from the outset. They informed our discussions with church leadership and the development of documents relevant to the search, ensured effective ongoing communication with church members, and were essential during the crunch points of shortlisting, interviewing and making decisions on who to call. These values kept us grounded and united in our approach and were crucial to ensuring the process ran smoothly.
  5. The benefit of transition: While unintentional, the transitional period of what will in the end be just over a year between senior pastors has been valuable to our church community. It has seen more people from the church community step up and serve (including in positions of leadership) and has given the church what I believe to be necessary breathing room after our previous pastor’s 25 year pastorate. It has been a healthy time of transition which will continue into the early part of Russell’s tenure with us.

Image source

The sound of silence

I was watching the new Alter Bridge[1] single on YouTube the other day when I came across a live cover of The Sound of Silence, the classic Simon & Garfunkel song. The song features Alter Bridge’s lead singer Myles Kennedy in a guest duet spot with David Draiman and his band Disturbed during a recent tour. It is an incredibly beautiful cover. Two singers at the top of their game, especially as they build into the song.

I’m quite fond of Simon & Garfunkel as their songs are the music that I associate the most with my childhood – they were a favourite band of my parents. The Sound of Silence is obviously one of their best and well known songs.

The Myles Kennedy and David Draiman version of the song struck a chord with me – I couldn’t help thinking of the many injustices that are often overlooked in this world[2]. The sound of silence that follows a moment when we, as Christians, really should have stood up and been a voice for the voiceless.

Proverbs 31 tells us to:

8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice.

Tom Wright, in his book Simply Good News, writes about how the gospel compels us to act on injustices:

…the early Christians prayed and acted on the basis that the good news was true. There is no reason on earth, and certainly none in heaven, why we today should not do the same. And if anyone tries to say that the good news is not about all these things – about freeing slaves, helping the poor, about reconciling warring factions, ethnic groupings, and whole nations, about looking after the blessed world we live on and in – but instead is only about coming to faith in the present and going to heaven in the future, then we must reply that something has gone very, very wrong in their thinking.

And just in case we really need convincing, Jesus calls us to do this too: God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

So what does this look like? I think it starts with prayer: Thy will be done, thy kingdom come…

But it also needs to be followed with action.

I met a guy over the weekend who is a missionary in Thailand. The organisation he serves with (Empowerasia) provides a home for teenage girls from nearby villages – a Christ-filled environment that rescues them from what can be, from the sounds of things, terrible situations. Jamie is a living example of what the Bible is calling us to do, someone who hungers and thirsts for justice.

The questions I’m going to finish with are: How does this play out in our lives in New Zealand (or wherever we are living)? What does seeking justice look like for us, as individuals and as church communities? How might we be willing to disturb the sound of silence?


[1] As an irrelevant side note – Alter Bridge are one of my favourite bands and I’m looking forward to the new album in October!

[2]  A quick Google search suggests this isn’t the meaning of the song, but it’s what I get out of it!

Scarface Claw and Romans

Last year I was reading NT Wright’s translation of Romans and noticed how frequently Paul uses the phrase ‘Certainly not!’ – an emphatic answer to a number of theological questions he poses (see Romans 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1, 11). Coincidently Son #1 was also loving Hairy Maclary books at the time and we’d just had Scarface Claw out of the library.

In Scarface Claw Lynley Dodd also uses the words ‘Certainly not!’ and it’s more colourful variant ‘Not a jittery jot!’ to emphatically show that Scarface Claw is not afraid of anything (spoiler alert: except, as it turns out in the end, himself).

I squirrelled the observation away in my catalogue of blog ideas and didn’t give it much more thought until we started a series on Romans a few months ago at our church. I thought the kernel of a blog idea could be turned into an interesting kids’ talk, so volunteered to do a talk on a Sunday when the sermon would be covering one of the chapters which included the phrase (Romans 6).

I worked through the chapter (and a bit of the preceding one) to pull out what I saw as the key points, then attempted to create the Scarface Claw version of Romans 6, complete with a similar rhyme scheme. Here’s where I ended up (with a brief commentary under each slide to show which part of the chapter it relates to), hopefully it’s theologically accurate! It seemed to be well received by the kids and rest of the church.

Background to the chapter, introduces the Mosaic law (Romans 5:20)
Slide 1: Background to the chapter, introduces the Mosaic law (Romans 5:20)
Slide 2: Jesus – the new covenant Then God sent his son, Jesus who put sin in its place (Romans 6:6) Jesus saved us from sin (6:7) and we live in his grace. (6:2) So rather than sin having such a strong pull we now live a life where God’s grace is in rule (5:21)
Slide 2: Jesus – the new covenant
Then God sent his son, Jesus who put sin in its place (Romans 6:6)
Jesus saved us from sin (6:7) and we live in his grace. (6:2)
So rather than sin having such a strong pull we now live a life where God’s grace is in rule (5:21)
Slide 3: Romans 6:1
Slide 3: Romans 6:1

 

Slide 4: Romans 6:2
Slide 4: Romans 6:2
Slide 5: Romans 6:15
Slide 5: Romans 6:15
Slide 6: Romans 6:15
Slide 6: Romans 6:15
Slide 7: Romans 6:12
Slide 7: Romans 6:12
Slide 8: Romans 6:13
Slide 8: Romans 6:13

Image source (the pictures in the slides are taken from Scarface Claw – thanks Lynley Dodd!)

Stories and community

Typewriter with Story buttons, vintage

We’ve recently started hosting a life group[1]– our first foray into smaller church since we arrived back in Whangarei.

I didn’t realise how much I missed this kind of fellowship and community – it’s so different to what a Sunday service (in a larger church) could ever realistically accomplish.

Our life group is reading through Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday, discussing a section of the book each week (each of the seven sections is thematically-based on a sacrament, e.g. baptism, confession, communion, and tells the stories of Rachel and others based on the relevant theme).

It is eliciting fantastic conversation so far – what we are valuing the most is hearing each other’s stories – it’s given us a much deeper understanding of each other – where we come from, why we believe what we believe, our struggles, our frustrations.

In one of the chapters we discussed on Wednesday, Rachel says (emphasis mine):

“I came to see just how much tension and misunderstanding can exist between the churched and unchurched, particularly when we are unfamiliar with one another’s stories”.

How true this is, not only between churched and unchurched, but also within the church. How often do we make silent assumptions about people without actually getting to know them, to know their stories?

That’s why I believe life groups are essential to being part of a vibrant, authentic church community. We need to have deep connections with people that go beyond just Sunday clichés. Small groups, when done well, can be places of depth, where people feel comfortable and safe enough to be authentic and vulnerable with others. Where we can encourage each other and uphold each other in prayer. Where we can live out what is exhorted in the New Testament, including Hebrews 10:24-25 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

This is what I long for in community – it’s what I think we’re starting to find in our new life group – and it’s what I didn’t realise I had been missing until we started experiencing it again.

Image source

[1] small group, home group, cell group – call it what you will, my definition would be any group under about 15 people – in our case there are seven of us.

Are you not entertained?

I must confess that I’ve never seen the movie Gladiator – I assume this means I’d probably have to hand in my man card if such a thing existed! However, despite not having seen the movie, there is a scene from it that I’m very familiar with as it regularly pops up as a meme on the Internet (see the clip above).

Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?

What an impactful scene; Maximus (Russell Crowe) forcefully questioning the crowd that has just witnessed his gruesome gladiatorial exploits. It may seem like an unusual connection, but the words he shouts frequently come back to me when I think about church – corporate Sunday services in particular.

Have you ever left a church service saying to yourself (or others) something like:

  • I didn’t like the songs we sang, or
  • I didn’t feel God today in the worship, or
  • I didn’t get anything out of that message.

Debate ensues about our experience of Sunday services, usually focusing on the singing (‘worship’) and sermon. I know I’m guilty of it myself.

How easy it is for the consumer culture of the world to infiltrate the church. For us to look at those up the front and expect them to entertain us – like Maximus we could almost see them saying at the end of the service: “Are you not entertained?” – although hopefully with a little less bloodshed!

Now I’m not saying entertainment is in itself a bad thing. If I want to be entertained I’ll go to a Foo Fighters concert or tune into a Warriors game (that’s the basketball team rather than league team, I’m not a masochist!). I just don’t believe that entertainment is what we should be aiming for as we gather on Sunday.

What should we be aiming for, you might ask? Let’s have a look…

The early Christian church in Acts is a good place to start. In Acts 2 we see the church in its infancy, with verse 46 saying “They worshiped together at the Temple each day…” Surely this is the ancient tradition we are continuing when we gather together as a church family on Sunday.

Worshiping together.

Just as this crowd of believers from different backgrounds gathered together two thousand years ago to worship God (and they would have been different – remember this was all happening at Pentecost – a Jewish holiday that saw people from many foreign lands gather in Jerusalem – from the get go the church was a group of very diverse people), so we gather together today to worship God.

So what does it look like to worship God together?

Worshiping God together includes not only singing praise (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19), which worship is often equated to, but also prayer (like the Acts church), listening and responding to teaching (Romans 15:16), the sacraments (baptism and communion), and the simple act of just gathering together.

Jesus’ key teaching on worship is when he is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:21-24. In verse 23 Jesus says “the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” So worship is about glorifying God – the Father, the Son (aka ‘Truth’) and the Holy Spirit (aka ‘Spirit’).  Importantly, worship must be sincere:

“Worship without truth does nothing for us and God rejects worship that is not done in truth. Truth without the Spirit is a manmade worship so true worship must be in the Spirit and in truth. God is seeking those who will worship Him in this manner. ” (link)

So when we gather together on a Sunday we are doing so first and foremost to worship God, in Spirit and in Truth. However, as is so often the case, the prevailing culture of the world, in this case consumerism, has crept into how we worship together.

Mick Duncan, in a sermon titled Do I really have to be religious?, talks about the need to name modern gods in order to dethrone them. When it comes to worship, he says it is the god of self that needs to be dethroned, and God himself enthroned. He says that we often reduce worship to ourselves, it’s all about us and how it makes us feel. This is the complete opposite of what worship actually means – that is, to ascribe worth – it’s not about us, it’s about God.

Rachel Held Evans, in her book Searching for Sunday, touches on entertainment and the church from a millennials perspective. She writes (bold emphasis mine):

“We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell b.s. from a mile away. The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained.

Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus – the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.”

This consumer culture also places undue pressure on our pastors, worship leaders and others involved in the Sunday service, potentially transforming them into mere entertainers. Ben Sternke writes about this pressure, saying:

“It’s easy to look at your congregation on Sunday morning and feel like the pressure is on.

They got up early instead of sleeping in. They got the kids dressed and ready for church. You’d better show them it was worth it, or you won’t see them until Christmas.”

Ben also looks at the differences between worship and entertainment:

  • Entertainment depends on my skill. Worship depends on God’s presence.
  • Entertainment draws people to me. Worship draws people to Jesus.
  • Entertainment causes amazement in the talents of people. Worship causes awe in the love of God.
  • Entertainment leads to repeat visitors. Worship leads to discipleship.

This lines up with the words of John the Baptist in John 3:30 “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” True worship is about glorifying God, about bringing people to Jesus. If we approach Sunday mornings with a desire to be entertained (or to be an entertainer, for those up the front) then we’re only there for ourselves, not for Jesus.

So, if we are not here to be entertained, why are we here – what is the question we should be asking ourselves and others as we walk out of the church service on Sunday? I suggest it could be something like this:

“God, have you been glorified? Have you been glorified? Is this not why we are here?”

Sacred and holy moments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The upcoming birth of our second child (due in less than two weeks!) and the fact that Christmas is just around the corner remind me of a chapter from Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist, where the following quote comes from:

I can assure you: there isn’t anything very dignified about giving birth.

And yet, that was the moment when I felt my carefully constructed line between the sacred and the secular shatter once and for all. The sacred and holy moments of a life are often our most raw, our most human moments, aren’t they?

The bolded section resonates with me when I look back on my life so far. Two of the moments which, both at the time and on further reflection, have been the most sacred and holy were also my most raw…

The first moment was when I was made redundant from my job in 2010. I’d been working for the company for the first three years Kim and I had been in Dunedin and, while there had been a lull in work – not great if you’re a consultant – being called into the manager’s office and told that I was going to lose my job absolutely blindsided me. I remember feeling completely numb returning to my desk after the conversation. I nervously headed home at the end of the day and it wasn’t long before I shared with Kim what had happened, tears streaming down my face. The following day I spent at home and found myself scrubbing the kitchen floor and crying out to God – asking “why?” In this moment I felt so close to God, it was incredible.

The second moment was while Kim and I were in the midst of infertility, holding on to the hope of a child after three years of trying to conceive. In October 2012 we attended our church’s annual camp at Pounawea in the Catlins. After one of the sermons there was an opportunity for those who wanted prayer to be prayed for by others. We asked for prayer and were surrounded by a small group of familiar faces. As I tried to explain what we wanted prayer for I found myself choked up with tears, unable to get any words out. Up until that point our infertility journey had emotionally impacted Kim much more than me, but in that moment, opening up to others about our pain, I struggled for words. We were covered with prayer on that day and I recall a great sense of peace about the situation following this. One year later our wee surprise arrived – an incredible blessing after trying for so long.

In both of these moments I was faced with a loss of control and certainty about the future. I was weak, vulnerable, on my knees, crying out to God. I’ve found that these moments of inadequacy and uncertainty are such amazing opportunities for God’s grace to shine through.

In his book, Man Enough, when discussing vulnerability Nate Pyle says:

There are going to be times in our lives when we are not strong enough to change the situation. Cancer. The loss of a job because of an economic crisis. Losing a loved one in a car accident. Only when we realize how truly little control we have over the world around us will we being to accept just how weak we are. And if we can embrace our weakness in the world and stop the pretense that we are super-natural he-men impervious to the threats of a broken world, then we will begin to see the strength of Christ move in and through us.

This is so true, and is something I will continue strive towards in the future. I want to be someone who is vulnerable and aware of the inherent uncertainties of life, who is willing to share these weaknesses with family and friends, and who endeavours to create an environment where others can also be vulnerable.

This is crucial to creating a close-knit community of disciples, where we journey with each other to seek Christ through the good times and the bad, where our human-ness shows through in sacred and holy moments. One further quote from Sarah Bessey:

[God] never shied away from our most piercingly human experiences – birth, pain, death, sickness – and so, can we not find him and his redemption ways there still?

Finally, I’ve been reading 2 Corinthians recently and what Paul writes in chapter 12 speaks directly to this topic:

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Image source

Franchising church

church unlimited

Last weekend saw the launch of Church Unlimited in Whangarei, with billboards popping up around town in anticipation. From what I can tell this is the second church in the city this year which has rebranded as it partners up (or comes under the wing of) a larger church. First Kamo Alive became Arise Whangarei in February (also complete with a glitzy billboard advertising campaign), now Crossroads has become Church Unlimited Whangarei.

This trend of smaller churches becoming regional outposts of larger metropolitan churches seems to be becoming more commonplace in New Zealand, particularly within the Pentecostal ‘megachurches’ (well, comparatively mega for New Zealand). It’s like church franchising in a way, as you’d see with McDonalds or Subway, except in this case they’re selling God and community. Often, from the outside looking in, it appears the church brand and/or the lead pastor, is at the forefront in marketing the church franchise to the wider populace – from what I can gather with Arise at least, it seems to be a very top heavy approach, with their lead pastor regularly visiting (or beaming in from Wellington on the big screen).

I can’t help but wonder if it’s merely an attempt to cater to the consumeristic culture of the world around us. We want church to be cool. We want it to be flashy and big. All of the advertising and marketing points towards an amazing experience which you can turn up each week to receive.

These approaches to church makes me uncomfortable.

Perhaps it just disturbs my Baptist sensibilities and thoughts around the autonomy of the local church (which links back to the priesthood of all believers). Perhaps it the growing consumerism seeping into the church. I’m not sure exactly.

Ultimately I realise that churches are never going to be one size fits all. It’s near impossible to have a church which caters to every person (as awesome/messy as that would be). If the Arises and Church Unlimiteds of the world are reaching members of the city who would not otherwise be reached, and creating places of community where people are actively challenged and encouraged to grow as disciples, then that’s great. But for me, I like my church to be a bit rougher around the edges, where everyone is encouraged to get involved, even if that means the church sacrifices some of its polish from a worldly perspective.