August 2003-2 

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Stirring up a storm (in a tea cup!)


A preacher knows he/she is on the “right tack” when people are still talking about a sermon two weeks later. Brian stirred the pot a couple of weeks ago when he posed the question, “ Is God in control?”  Inevitably there were those who needed to believe that the answer was “yes,” because that was the only way they could make sense of God, and there were those who needed the answer to be “no,” because that was the only way they could make sense of life! Then there was the one who felt so threatened by the whole issue that she had to send an email to the minister explaining how the last two services could have been improved if only we had done it her way…mmmmm!! It has certainly opened the way for some interesting pastoral visits to happen. By the way, Brian actually went on to explore the partnership between God and humanity.


When the faith bucket runs dry!

I have found that one of the more difficult things to deal with as a minister is the way that congregation members assume that we are able to absorb any amount of negativity and criticism “because we are the minister.” Somehow we are meant to have a God given shield that protects us from hurt. An article I was reading recently quoted someone called Stuart Briscoe who had written: “Qualifications of a pastor (or any Christian leader): the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros.”  I remember a time (in the life before ministry!) when I was having a crisis of faith and I turned for advice to an older minister whom I respected a lot. The question I was asking was how to deal with the times when everything that you believe in seems to have been obliterated by a life circumstance. He spoke of his own experience of a faith crisis and talked of going back to the first step of the ladder of faith and reclaiming those things that you know to be true. It could be something as basic as “I know there is a God.” The second rung might be “I know that God loves me.” There have been times when I have used those two statements almost like the beads on a rosary and have retold them and claimed them as I have gone through my day. I have found a number of pastoral situations where this same reclaiming has been helpful for people moving through a dark time of the soul. Gradually the bucket of faith is refilled and the light of Christ returns.




I lift my eyes to the hills:

Earlier this year, we had a missionary speaker at church who had returned on furlough from working in Asia. He spoke of how great it was to return to his home in central Otago where you could see the shape of the hills again. The area where he had been working was densely forested and he had not realised until he came home how much he had needed to be able to see beyond the trees to the contours and shape of the earth. We recently holidayed in Naseby and spent some time exploring central Otago and I could see what he was getting at. The hills stand stark and bare with rugged outcrops of schist rock sharply defining the horizon. The myriad shades of brown give the landscape a sense of strength and endurance. There is probably a sermon or two in there somewhere!



Doing Theology: What is our view of evil?

I note that this weeks Sunday Theatre on Channel one is Titled "Hitler: The Rise of Evil."  We have heard quite a lot about evil over the last months and have seen evil defined by the American authorities in a way that justifies their invasion of Iraq and their continued efforts to stamp out terrorism. Jim Wallis, writing in the latest Sojourners magazine, challenges the Bush administration's "theology" of good and evil and draws us back to the role of God in confronting evil. I have extracted 3 excerpts from his article. You may like to read the rest at the address below.


Dangerous religion: George W. Bush's theology of empire. 

by Jim Wallis

.... who is "we," and does no evil reside with "us"? The problem of evil is a classic one in Christian theology. Indeed, anyone who cannot see the real face of evil in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is suffering from a bad case of postmodern relativism. To fail to speak of evil in the world today is to engage in bad theology. But to speak of "they" being evil and "we" being good, to say that evil is all out there and that in the warfare between good and evil others are either with us or against us - that is also bad theology. Unfortunately, it has become the Bush theology. .......

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that every nation, political system, and politician falls short of God's justice, because we are all sinners. He specifically argued that even Adolf Hitler - to whom Saddam Hussein was often compared by Bush - did not embody absolute evil any more than the Allies represented absolute good. Niebuhr's sense of ambiguity and irony in history does not preclude action but counsels the recognition of limitations and prescribes both humility and self-reflection. .................

In Christian theology, it is not nations that rid the world of evil - they are too often caught up in complicated webs of political power, economic interests, cultural clashes, and nationalist dreams. The confrontation with evil is a role reserved for God, and for the people of God when they faithfully exercise moral conscience. But God has not given the responsibility for overcoming evil to a nation-state, much less to a superpower with enormous wealth and particular national interests. To confuse the role of God with that of the American nation, as George Bush seems to do, is a serious theological error that some might say borders on idolatry or blasphemy.

To read the entire article, which appears in the September-October 2003 issue of Sojourners magazine, go to:

Walking the tightrope:

I mentioned last week that balancing different worship styles in our congregation is sometimes like walking a tight rope. We are blest to have a strong music group with drums, guitars, cello and violins. They give an enthusiastic lead for the contemporary songs that are popular with a segment of our congregations. They have an exuberance and energy, which some find very contagious and others find outrageous! In our morning services we are likely to have an eclectic mix of songs and hymns drawn from the Presbyterian and Methodist hymnbooks or “With one Voice”, as well as music from Hillsongs, Parachutes, Vineyard and Alleluia Aotearoa. We try to build in a culture of valuing each other’s worship style but sometimes the tolerance levels do wear thin. This year we have sought to address some of the “needs” by introducing evening services. Each week’s service has a different flavour. 1st Sunday of the month has a worship focus and the music group can let their hair down… this is very popular. 2nd Sunday of the month is called “Digging Deeper” -an opportunity to explore issues/topics in greater depth than is possible in the morning service. 3rd Sunday is, “Elbows on the table” a worship time followed by coffee/tea and an opportunity to sit and discuss the topic from the previous week, or alternatively to discuss the morning sermon. The fourth week is completely different. It is a service of reflection and meditation based on the Taize style. We have been surprised by some of those who have found that this latter style of service most connects them to God. In addition we offer a midweek communion service once a month that is very traditional aimed at those who love formal liturgy and hymns! We think these services are easing the tension on the tightrope, only time will tell.


Out my window:

All is not well among our pigeons. Today the previous owner of the territory has returned and is trying to reclaim his space from the younger pair who have moved in this winter…. More cold-shouldering on the power lines! Who will prevail? Watch this space for further developments.