Monday, 14 December 2015

3 Little Churches

Once upon a time there was a town with three churches. 

One was made of straw, one was made of sticks and one was made of bricks.

The straw church had a lot of people attending it. It was a pretty basic building but looked nice from the outside. The people liked it because it those in charge said that everything was good and all you had to do was come to it on a Sunday and God would look after you. The leaders made rules and regulations and held meetings together but pretty much left people to their own devices. From time to time wind blew through the straw, the building rocked but because it didn’t fall down nobody worried too much.

The stick church was neither flash nor ugly. It just was. It appeared nice and solid. The people in it worked hard for God. Whenever a draft appeared they would cover over the hole with whatever was at hand. The leaders worked hard and were good people but their time ended up being spent on stopping the drafts. In the end the building became the important object. God was important but Sunday took care of that. 

The brick Church was an important church. A lot of people attended it because it was important. The leaders made sure that everything looked really nice and that everything ran smoothly. If problems arose, nobody knew about them as they were dealt with behind the scenes by a few people ‘in the know.’ This church was a proud church with proud arrogant people. They knew God’s word, according to them, and theirs was the right way.

One day, a group of people from all three churches met accidently. I think it was at Food for Thought or the Ten O’Clock Cookie Company but may have been Strada or The Village Grinder. The hot choccy, coffee, tea and scones went to their heads and they felt something like a wind race around them. Some said that they even saw flames in the air. Others saw and heard nothing but felt something in their hearts. They suddenly realised that their straw church was slowly falling over, that the drafts in the stick church were letting in a cold wind that was turning people away and that the brick church had become drab and sad. They realised that very few people now went to their churches. Oh, there were the old die-hards holding on to their pet beliefs but they were getting to the stage where they were alone. Some had tried new programs which burnt for a while but then flickered and went out. They wondered what they could do. They had tried to work together but nothing had come of it. They still stayed the same three little churches.

Then a quiet newcomer to the group who had been sitting at an adjacent table spoke up.
“Why do you go to your Churches?” she asked.
“Because we are Christians,” was the reply. “We praise God and do God’s work. We make Christ Visible in the Community.”

“I don’t see him,” she said and got up and left.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Sense of Despair

Part of my Australian family have just returned to Perth. Cost prevented the entire family returning for a visit so my daughter, son-in-law, one granddaughter and one grandson arrived. Our daughter has not returned to her country of birth for fourteen years. Some of you reading this will understand how wonderful it was to have her back in New Zealand.

It is not fourteen years since we have seen her, as we have been funded to Perth by her three times over the years. Having her home is something different though.

On at least two occasions my daughter has been included in a dream that occurs to me from time to time relating to our children. Both dreams take place sometime after I have died, and I am watching them during their lives following my death. A great sense of loss, sorrow and almost overwhelming despair settles over me. My family are continuing with their lives, as you do, and my despair is not that they are shattered and unable to cope without me, but that I have lost them.

While my daughter was here on this occasion, she was perusing the plaques attached to the inside walls of St Luke's, the church I attend. One of them was remembering the presentation of a Union Jack flag to the church by the Senior Armed Forces Padre at the time. It was the Padre who had conducted my daughter's marriage ceremony. In my dream, this last time, I could see my daughter holding a photograph of the plaque and remembering its association with this recent visit. The sense of lost and sorrow was incredible; not my daughter's sorrow, mine.

Interesting.

Has anyone else experienced anything similar?

Monday, 18 August 2014

Why David?

Whilst growing up I attended Sunday school. Mostly it was on a part time basis as we lived on a farm in the country and there was an inability to get to town for church and Sunday school after milking. The only real impression I had of King David of the bible was the killing of Goliath. That impression was solely that one act. I did not relate King David to the son of Jesse. (At that time I did not know who Jesse was either.)

When I got a bit older, and was drifting away from Christianity, I occasionally read the bible in some forlorn hope that if I did so then God would help me pass some exams that I was required to sit. I failed. I did read about David and Bathsheba however.

Many moons later I came back to Christianity and I have now read the bible through several times. Now, of course, I can put two and two together. I 'get' the messages and know that David wrote some of the psalms and that Solomon was his son.

The initial thing that grabbed my attention, however, related to David's actions when he lead his 600 men in pursuit of the Amalekites after they had attacked Ziklag and carried away all the women and children. (1 Samuel 30:1-25.) David and his men chased after the Amalekites. They were weary, tired and dispirited and when they reached the brook of Besor, some of the 600 stayed there. They were too exhausted to go on. 200 of them stayed there while David and 400 went on. To cut a long story short, David caught up with the raiders, and freed his wives, his soldiers families and all the animals and goods taken by the Amalekites.

When David, his men, and the freed families arrived back at Brook Besor some of the 400 who had gone on with David, objected to sharing the 'spoils' with those who had stayed at the brook, too exhausted to go on. David then said, "My brothers, you can't do this with what the Lord has given us! He kept us safe and gave us victory over the raiders. No one can agree with what you say! All must share alike: whoever stays behind with the supplies gets the same share as the one who goes into battle."

I have shared this at several services in 'Old Folks Homes' as generally they also are too exhausted to go on. They have fought the battle but they also will reap the rewards. Actually they still do fight the good fight in many ways. They pray. Those who pray are generally at the forefront of the Spiritual war.

However, to a degree, I digress.

 As I age, as time goes by, I find I am drawn back to King David. His life is our life. He had our failings and we can have his triumphs. He points me towards my Lord.

After years of unbelievers asserting that there was no historical record of King David I smile to myself at the evidence now coming to hand proving his existence. Not that I ever doubted.

New Zealanders will be interested in the fact that our soldiers were at Brook Besor during WW2.




Monday, 23 September 2013

Wow, Maybe Thirty Christians

  The building is magnificent. It is old, not fully earthquake proof according to today's current standards, brick and mortar and has been a worship centre for years and years. I counted the worshippers on Sunday last: thirty and that was stretching it a tad. How does a congregation of thirty support a projected budget with a deficit of several thousand dollars?

  We have been in negotiations with a sister congregation, and while they were enthusiastic, and committed that enthusiasm to paper, it has waned a bit lately. I put a fair bit of it down to a combination of age, an unenthusiastic faith, and primarily, I think, to a lack of vision.

  The median age would have to be in the late sixties. There is a great scarcity of children. Well there would be with that median age wouldn't there. Grand children? Saw a couple once.

  So why persist?

  Well a few can see that unless something is done, then 150 years of Christ in the main street will disappear. Perhaps that is what needs to happen. After all, thirty people hardly trumpet God's message.

I am told that in any mainline church congregation today about 75% of the congregation will be attending out of habit, because they enjoy meeting friends or that is their one social outing. Belief has little to do with attendance. Okay, there is one problem. Actually there is the whole problem.

  Today the mainline churches, and unfortunately it is creeping into the Pentecostal and other movements as well, have become largely social agencies. As such they do a great job for the Community, in which they exist, and the Government. Need food? Go and see the local Church or the local Foodbank run by the church. Need clothes? Need furniture? Go to the local church Op shop. Kids need looking after before and after school while you work? The local Government funded after-school and pre-school care centres are probably run by a Church.

  Yeah, Churches are great places to hang out, and there is the problem. There is nothing wrong with what the churches are doing as far as helping their neighbours is concerned. They are being 'Good Samaritans.' They love their neighbours. They are doing all the things Christians should do: but they are not doing it for God. They provide for the needy, but the accolades or acknowledgement goes to those doing the work, or the churches hosting the service. It should be going to God. It should be done for God's glory, not for the church's glory. It should also be done free. Being paid to do God's work rankles with me. Being a Minister or Pastor today is a career, not a calling. Tax returns are altered. Tax avoidance is practiced. Ministers are paid by Funeral Directors and by those getting married for conducting the relevant services. A majority of the Ministers I have known, accept that payment as a tax free payment and put it straight into their pockets as a 'perk.' I am not advocating that those preaching God's word should rely on gifts, I accept that these days a salary or similar is correct. It's the way that Church administration now consists of numerous management layers, all of whom have their nose in the Church trough that irks me. They are not doing that for the Glory of God. They are doing for the glory of their own pockets and lifestyles.

  However, enough of my soapbox rant.

  What to do about the thirty people grouped each Sunday in the lovely old heritage rated church building. $500,000 plus to bring it up to safety standards. Knock it down would be the best idea. Great, let's do that. Wait though. Before it can be knocked down there is the Council requirement for an engineers report. Only $10,000. We can handle that: with help. The Council will probably say the significance of the building is such that it cannot be demolished. They will also say it cannot be used. What happens? We put up a fence round it and walk away.

  Sounds good to me. That will also let us 'do our own thing' in a more suitable building. But what about the fact that God will disappear from the town's main street? I don't think he is there now. There is just a building catering for probably 10 to 15 of God's people in a largely secular community.


  Can God stay on the Main Street do you think? My answer? Yes, but only with prayer and giving God his due.  

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Christianity is for Sale

My wife and I live on the New Zealand Superannuation. It is enough for us to survive on, and have the occasional cup of hot chocolate at a cafe.

From time to time, I have attended Church Home Groups, or Small groups, for bible study, or study to advance my theological knowledge etc. Without fail the studies have used a booklet, often called a study guide, written by some one with personal, or deduced knowledge, relating to the subject. Because of copyright restrictions, the study guides and personal study books cannot be photocopied, so each participant must purchase a booklet. Okay, so an average cost seems to be $8 - $10 each. Average small groups vary from six to twenty people. The publisher gets $60 to $200 per group.

Likewise, if you wish to catch up on what your favourite Pastor is writing, then you could be paying anything up to $50 per book. Have you checked out the price of a bible lately?

I can actually remember saying to my wife, prior to publishing anything, that I would write Christian literature because there was a captive market and I could make a fortune. Well that didn't go too well. I could not afford to pay an editor, cover person or spend time searching for a publisher or agent. I went for Smashwords because at the time they were the only people who could take my MS Word document and turn it into an EBook free.

I published Ripples, a book of stories with a Christian and moral theme for children, and Pastors, and a novel: The Begat Legacy. Some copies of Ripples were purchased, mainly, I suspect, by family, although they deny it. At $0.99c, I thought the price was reasonable. The Begat Legacy, an 800,000-word novel, aimed at the secular market, I priced at $2.99c. A few copies sold but not many. 

I got to thinking! Checking out Smashwords and Amazon free EBooks, I found that there are not many Christian Books available. There are a large number of pornographic and general available however. During 'Read an EBook week', I priced Ripples free and The Begat Legacy for $1.99. There were downloads of a couple of copies of Ripples but none for 'Begat'.

I then made both available free. There have been many downloads since then.

So what do I make of all this? From now on, I will make all my Christian EBooks available free. I do not class 'Begat' in that category as it is targeted at people who would not pick up an overtly Christian book. It is R18 and designed to open some minds to the fact that there is such a thing as Christianity. If only one person picks up a bible to check what I have written, I will be satisfied with it.

The big question left is; Why do Christian writers, particularly of study guides, apologetics and doctrine, put their books financially out of the reach of so many? They publish to a captive market, a market eager to purchase books that they can be assured are suitable for their tastes and beliefs. If we are to reach and teach, then should we not be publishing free? Did not Paul work for a living while he served?


Mm, interesting!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Would you die for a metaphor?

  The above sentence is the headline the editor placed above my letter to his publication. That publication is 'Touchstone,' a newspaper published by the Methodist Publishing Company in New Zealand, although it points out that the opinions included in it do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Methodist Church of New Zealand.
  One of the regular contributors is Ian Harris who contributes to the column headed 'Honest to God.' In his March 2013 column he wrote concerning some widely held views concerning the Gospels and their versions of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  In reply I submitted the following opinion which was published in the April edition of Touchstone under the heading of 'Would you die for a metaphor.' I reprint that opinion:
  I take issue with a few of the things stated as authoritative by your correspondent Ian Harris in his column, Honest to God, in your March issue.
  Ian states that the gospels are filled with lessons and hope but not necessarily facts. I must confess to admiring Mr Harris. Over the years I have come across his columns and believe he comments as he does to stir up his readers to open their minds, I admire that.
  In the column I refer to, he comments negatively upon matters written 40 or 50 years after an event. Surely, there would still be people alive who had witnessed that event. There would also be those who had heard, first hand, from such witnesses. They would have to be a more authoritative voice than someone living 2000 years after the event.
  Likewise, up to 100 years after the event, one would think that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders would have produced witnesses to refute what the Apostles and early Christians were saying.
  After all, here were groups of people claiming that they knew the Messiah and those groups were 'eating' into their faith. One would presume that given the chance, the Jewish authorities would have jumped quite decisively upon provable lies, but evidence of such is absent.
  Numerous critics of the physical resurrection, point to inconsistencies within the gospels when it comes to who saw who and what and when on Easter morning. As a former police detective, I and every lawyer I ever came across can tell you that if there are five witnesses to a single event then there will be five different versions.
  If you want to examine this matter in any detail I would suggest you read Lee Strobel's book The Case for Christ.
  I further believe that many of those people viewed Jesus as more than just 'a man among men.' After all, the early believers willingly died for their beliefs. If they were defending something that they knew to be a lie, do you think they would have died for it?
  As a Christian, if you believe that the resurrection was not physical, are you willing to die for it?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Weeds

  I have just returned from a month in Perth, Australia, to visit my daughter, her husband and my five grand kids. All that amounts to a huge backlog of 'stuff' that I can 'blog' about. Another day perhaps.
  Today I have been reintroduced to weeds. Not 'weed', that one that sends you into a haze or something, but the common old garden variety. The ones that grow out of little cracks in the concrete or where anything joins anything. The ones I have met today were introduced to me by a lady at my church. I had barely arrived back in Masterton from Perth when the telephone rang. The said lady, in a very nice way, said my attendance was required (would be appreciated) at the Church buildings the following day as there was work to be done. It would be beneficial, I was informed, if I brought a spade with me.
  I duly attended. Weeds had made their homes in a variety of places about the building and had to be removed. I had not really noticed them to be honest. I attend at the church and associated buildings regularly but my attention is always focused on what I am there to do or upon whom I am speaking with. I had never noticed the weeds. It turns out that previously, the weeds had been dealt to by a person who was no longer able to undertake the task. Nobody had replaced him. (How sad is that?) Not only that, it took another person to point the weeds out to me.
  The story of my life I reckon. Possibly yours too. How many weeds are growing in your life that you are not seeing? Perhaps you also need someone to point them out to you.