Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Being Negative Is Attractive

I was reading an insightful article in Christianity Today by Collin Hansen who noted that great movements are often founded on negative campaigns. Negative people attract a following. Hansen points out that it's easier to identify the problem than it is to offer a solution.
A quick survey of movement building reveals that many groups struggle to shift from destruction to construction. The Tea Party movement hates taxes and wants to defeat President Obama. But what's their shared vision for governance? Who knows. The Democratic Party built large congressional majorities and recaptured the White House behind unified opposition to President Bush. But less than two years later, polls indicate widespread voter dissatisfaction with Democratic policies amid intraparty squabbling. Strategists now suggest that Democrats—who control two of three government branches—should blame the minority Republicans rather than try to campaign on their own accomplishments.
Yet, who wants to be known as "negative"? We nearly always denounce politicians when they are negative- but notice what we generally do in response to negative people? "Denounce" is negative. But it almost sounds "positive" to denounce negativity. Indeed this psuedo-postive strategy worked for one of our State Political Parties during our last election. He denounced the other two major parties for being "negative". People were attracted to this negativity- just ask Brett.

But why do we all default to the negative? Why are we drawn to those who find fault? Whatever the reason, Gossip magazines don't care. They thrive on this attraction to the negative.
Collin Hansen wonders whether any movement can successfully transition from being built fundamentally upon negative ideals, to being a movement promoting a positive agenda? But I wonder if you can even do one without doing the other? That is, if a movement is positive, it must also be negative. The moment a movement identifies what it is for it automatically declares what it is not for. In fact, the more positive a movement becomes the more negative it has to be. This is unavoidable because the clearer a movement's direction is, the clearer and more obvious it becomes where it is not going.
For the Christian and the movement he belongs to, the Church, there is certainly a lot to be negative about. But this negativity is entirely because we are for something else. We are against sexual immorality because we are for marriage-for-life because marriage between a man and a woman reflects the Holy Community of the Trinity from which life springs. We are against the taking of innocent human life, despite its size, age, condition, parents, or location, because we are for the dignity of life because all human life is created in the image of God and has instrinsic value. We are against man-made-religion because we are for God's offer of salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
As a Church, we at Legana will be necessarily negative - and we should not be daunted by pseudo-positive denouncements for being so - because we are just as positive about our mission to proclaim the life-saving, life-changing message of God's love and grace through Christ and summon people to repent, flee the wrath to come, and become a part of the New Covenant Community Christ is gathering.
Ephesians 4:13-15 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Someone has put it this way- Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.
Father, help us to be courageous and bold for you. Help us to be positivelyfor the things and issues You want us to be for. May we love our spouse selflessly. May we parent our children with intense care. May we get involved in their lives so that we live the extra-mile to those who should matter most to us. As a church, may we be strongly united and committed to our mission of preparing/praying/proclaiming the eternal need to accept Christ as Saviour. Father, we thank You for saving and continuing to change us into the image and likeness of Jesus. Give us a heart to grow and to reach out beyond our comfort zone so that those who have not yet received Christ, will. In Jesus' Name,

Friday, 16 April 2010

Beauty And The Best

We were walking down a street in Launceston today when Kim said to me- "Look at that!" I looked up to see the ugliest motor-home-thingy we had ever seen. As we crossed the street we walked right past it and both commented on what an eye-sore this vehicle was. It looked like a melted fibreglass septic tank awkwardly plonked onto the back of an ill-fitting ute. It wasn't painted. It wasn't decorated. It was even nicely finished. It looked ugly. But then I thought, why does it matter what it looks like as long as it's functional. This thought didn't stay unanswered for very long before I thought about the nature of "beauty" and how God has created us to appreciate beauty.
Psalm 50:2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
God is the "perfection of beauty". We are created in His image and therefore have an intrinsic appreciation for beauty. Because of this appreciation for beauty we paint our houses, our cars and even our faces. When Kim and I recently went hiking with Nik and Heidi last week, I asked Nik why he liked bushwalking. He said the actual walking didn't really appeal to him, but being able to gaze upon natural beauty did. He said that being in the bush enabled him to see the world the way God had created it. And who can disagree with him? There are some breath-taking natural sights on this planet that are universally acknowledged as "beautiful". CS Lewis marvelled at this phenomena in his book The Abolition of Manwhere he argues that our appreciation and love for beauty is one of the greatest proofs for God. Lewis cites a critic of objective appreciation of beauty who claimed that 'beauty' was nothing more than an opinion. But CS Lewis argues that certain things are beautiful (he also uses the word "sublime") not just because of someone's opinion but because certain beautiful things are intrinsically beautiful.
One of the amazing moss forests on the Arm River walk to Pelion Hut
Zech. 9:17 For how great is His goodness, and how great His beauty!
Biblically, the word beautiful is associated with God, with God's presence (including heaven and the Temple), God's servants (including their feet when they bring good news (Isaiah 52:7), and their apparel when they served Him in the Tabernacle), and God's creation.
Psalm 96:6 Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in His sanctuary
Interestingly though, the word beautiful is most applied to women in the Bible. I'm actually married to a woman (for nearly 22 years) and I can definitely report that she is the most beautiful thing I have ever laid my eyes on. While sin has corrupted human nature and has distorted a man's appreciation of a woman's beauty into crude lust, it is possible to look at a woman and conclude: she is beautiful, without being impure. Yet the Bible acknowledges that appreciation of a woman's beauty has been corrupted and counsels women not to accentuate their beauty so that men are likely to lust-
First Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
Psalm 27:4 ¶ One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.
The word Hebrew word for "glory" in the Old Testament is often translated at "beauty" in English. The most apt description of God in the Bible is: He is glorious.
Exodus 15:11 “Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
Because God is beautiful and we are created in His image, we are created to recognise and appreciate and value beauty. This is why we can describe something as "ugly" or "bleak" and something else as "beautiful". This is also why we can appreciate art, fashion, music, and literature as beautiful. Its why we look to decorate, paint, plant, rearrange our worlds. Its also why we can see a home-made motor-home and judge it to be unattractive.
Beauty is something we all possess. In one sense, it is true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but perhaps this is only half of the story since true beauty is often more than what the eye immediately sees. As one great English writer put it, to appreciate true beauty we must stop seeing the world with our eyes and start seeing the world through our eyes.
No matter what opinion you have of yourself, there is Someone who regards you as beautiful because you are created in His image. Even if others have caused you to believe that you are worthless, the truth is actually different. God sees you as beautiful. But He sees what sin has done to all of us - how it has uglified us - and this is why He sent His Son into this fallen and once-far-more-beautiful-world as Someone who did not have any of the world's beauty-
Isaiah 53:2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
The Son of God came into the world without His glory and without any physical attractiveness. It's interesting that none of the four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) ever mention any of the physical attributes of Christ. Yet after reading their Gospels we are left overwhelmed with the magnificent beauty of Christ and hungering to know more about Him. We can see then that the One who world rejected was in actual fact the most Attractive Person in the universe. It is my hope that the next time we paint, decorate, rearrange, tidy-up, construct, or repair, we will consider that we might well be doing so because humans are uniquely created in the image of God who is not only beautiful but is also passionate about beauty.
Father, may we see more clearly Your incredible beauty and magnificence. May we also see what you have created as beautiful, including those who initially do not appear to be so. May we delight in celebrating beauty- in our bodies, our homes, our cars, our city and our church. Cause us to be besotted with the infinite beauty of Your now glorified Son. Grant it Oh God that we take our eyes off ourselves and begin to look at this world not just with our eyes but through our eyes, in Jesus' Name,

Friday, 9 April 2010

Why So Many Churches?

There are apparently 35,000 Christian denominations. But why? Of course, when the Church originally started there were no denominations. But this didn't last long. Paul the apostle refers to the beginning of denominationalism when he noted that some believers were already gathering around the teachings of certain teachers.
First Corinthians 1:12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
Paul rebuked this divisive attitude among believers. A couple of hundred years later a Creed was formulated which stated- "I believe in one holy and catholic church". This Creed (The "Apostles' Creed") stated what the New Testament clearly taught about the unity of the church. (The term 'catholic' actually universal, or the whole.)
Up until 312AD the Church was somewhat able to be minimally structured. Churches were usually overseen by elders with a lead-elder (who later became known as a "Bishop" and today would be referred to as a pastor). Initially these churches were grouped under the oversight of an apostolic leader. This primitive church leadership structure is seen in the opening chapters of The Revelation. It is here that we seen John the Apostle writing to the lead-elder (referred to as a 'messenger' or an 'angel') who then passes this message onto his congregation. But this structure was unable to keep up with the growth of the church. In 312AD the then World Emperor, Constantine, claimed to convert to Christianity and then decreed that everyone in the Empire should also convert. The then persecuted underground church then took centre stage. When Constantine wanted to speak to the leader of the church, there was no one to speak to. So Constantine summoned all of the bishops of the churches to come to Nicea in Turkey to hold a meeting to determine what was essential Christian doctrine. Because there was no universal leader of the church, Constantine declared hiimself that leader and gave himself the title: Pontifex Maximus ("Great Leader"). A couple of centuries later this title transfered to the bishop of Rome after he saved Rome from being destroyed by Attila the Hun. To accommodate its growth, the church had added hierarchical layers. This continued unabated for several more centuries.
But those in leadership within the church were increasingly irreligious. Despite the affirmation in the Apostle's Creed (I believe in one holy and catholic church), the Catholic church was becoming anything but "holy". Around this time, the Catholic Church had a major split. The result was that the churches of East, who traced their leadership back to Constantine, formed a denomination called- The Orthodox Church, while the churches of the West, who traced their leadership to the successive bishops of Rome, became known as- The Roman Catholic Church. By this time both the Eastern and the Western Church leaders took the title "Father". For the Eastern (Greek speaking) Church the word for "leading father" was Patriarch (from the Greek word: Pater). For the Western (Latin speaking) Church the word for leading father was Pope ("Papa"). It was about this time that a forged document surfaced called The Donation of Constantine which allegedly claim to the record of the Apostle Peter's statements that the Roman Bishop should be the leader of the global Church.
A few hundred years later the moral condition of the Church's leadership had deteriorated so much and their teaching had become so unbiblical that some could take it no more. The English churchman, John Wycliffe responded by making the New Testament freely available in contemporary English so ordinar people could see the situation for themselves. This started an inevitable schism that would take 100 years to explode. It was Wycliffe who challenged the hierarchical leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and its divergence from the teaching of Scripture. Wycliffe inspired William Tyndale who translated the Bible into English which continued the brewing revolution of the Church. But not until Martin Luther came did the Reformation explosion occur. Luther was a priest who lectured on the Book of Romans. As he read this epistle, he became disturbed that the Roman Catholic Church was teaching something which the Bible condemned. He was initially convinced that the Pope was unaware of what his priests on the frontlines were teaching. To make the Pope aware of these disgraceful teachings, Luther nailed 95 Objections (Theses) to the door of the local university at Wittenberg. He soon learned that Pope was not only aware these anti-biblical teachings, but was himself promoting them! Luther also made the Bible available to the common people to read for themselves. The result was a new denomination of the Church called, The Lutheran Church.
Meanwhile in France a young lawyer was coming to similar discoveries from the Bible as Martin Luther. He was John Calvin. He was driven from France and fled to Geneva for his life. Another denomination arose around the teaching of Calvin based on his "Reformed Church" teaching. This was the beginning of thePresbyterian Church. This Reformation teaching also gripped England and the result was the birth of another denomination called- The Anglican Church. By the late 1700s the Anglican Church had largely become 'formal' (all form and no authentic spirituality). Out of this spiritual deadness came John Wesley who is credited with the rise of another denomination- The Wesleyan Methodist Church. It was also around this time that the Baptist Church, which rejected the idea of "infant-Christening" of the Reformed/Presbyterian/Angican Churches, emerged as a growing Church. William Carey was one of the greatest Baptist leaders of this era and within a generation it produced one of the greatest preachers of all time - Charles Haddon Spurgeon (referred to as "the prince of preachers").
About 100 years later, on at least four continents, there arose a simultaneous outpouring of the Holy Spirit which gave birth to the Pentecostal denomination. By this time, around 1900, the idea that the Bible does not prescribe a single heirarchy of leadership meant that congregations did not regard it as necessary to belong to a large denomination. This coincided with the rise of independent Protestant churches, generally called Evangelical Churches Thus, there are now thousands of Pentecostal and Evangelical denominations.
Throughout the history of the Church it is possible to see how God has guarded and guided it. The Reformers coined a Latin phrase, Ecclesia Semper Reformata - "the Church always being reformed". Each generation of the Church has been guided by the Lord to return to a more refined understanding of what it means to be the Church. As we seek to be a part of the ongoing reformation of the Church we too must be reminded by history, reformed by Scripture and responsive to contemporary culture.
For this reason it is my hope that Legana Christian Church will strive together to build a Biblical community of Christ-loving, Scripture-honouring, Spirit-led believers. In this light, I look forward to what God has in-store for us over the coming years. We want to be a New Testament Church, not a denominational Church. That is, in our attempt to be reminded by history, reformed by Scripture, and responsive to culture, we affirm the ancient Creeds of the Church (The Apostles' Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Chalcedon Creed) and the New Testament's plea for people to be reconciled to God through Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit to save, speak, guide, and gift the believer. Therefore, in striving to be a contemporary church we want to respond to culture not with irrelevant tradition, but with the ever-relevant Gospel presented in a way that is itself relevant to culture, but most importantly relevant to God and His Word.
Father, help us to follow You and to be guided by Your Word and Spirit. Help us to honour history but not to become enslaved to traditions. Give us the ability to be both prophetic and pastoral to our society and communities. May we understand Your Word more clearly. May we be able to make the necessary and reforming changes that must be made in order to remain faithful to Christ and His intention. Grant it Lord that we can care for each other like we should. Help me as the pastor of this precious church to lead by example in word, deed, and thought. I ask that You would speak Your Word to us continually. Fill us each with Your Spirit and Your joy, in Jesus' Name,