St Marcion’s Modern Church

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I have lost their web address – or perhaps the website has been taken down. But I did manage to salvage the church’s own description from the page. Here it is:

Welcome to St Marcion’s

Here at St Marcion’s, we love to keep up to date and new. Why? Because Jesus is so good that he makes everything else old and unhelpful.

So we read the Bible! Well, we read the new part of the Bible. (Obviously the Old Testament is old and so different – nothing good there.) No, actually, we read some of the new part of the Bible (even the New Testament has some ‘Old Testament’ hangovers, they’re easy to spot and to ignore).

Yes, we’re completely people of the Bible.

Hmm. Maybe not for me. I’m glad that Marcion was second century AD, now long gone. No one would be so crazy or arrogant nowadays to assume that new equals good. We’re all reading Old Testament as well as New Testament.

Aren’t we?

 


 

2 Thessalonians prayer book

When starting our church sermon series on 2 Thessalonians, I already knew there would be ‘interesting’ material about Jesus’ return, the man of lawlessness, and other apocalyptic content.

I did not know how much prayer and thanksgiving this little letter contains. So here I’ve assembled the relevant verses, as a kind of guide and instruction towards prayer. I hope it helps you as well as me. (Each quotation is from the ESV, followed by chapter and verse.)

Thanks

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 1:3

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  2:13

Requests

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1:2

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ 1:11-12

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2:16-17

Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3:1-2

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. 3:5

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.  3:16

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. 3:18

Amen!

 


 

Death of a cricketer

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#PutOutYourBats

In this week’s news, a woman died in a local car crash and Phillip Hughes died after a cricketing accident.

Both deaths are immeasurably sad, but it’s Hughes who has grabbed attention around the world. His death has captured my emotions – like those of many others – and I think there’s good reason.

Cricket is a game. And like all the best games, cricket is entirely made up. Athletics and target shooting have skills similar to those needed for chasing food in the wild (or running away from danger). But cricket is weird: stumps of three sticks plus two; bowl without throwing; strike a leather ball; run back and forth on a small strip in a huge paddock.

Cricket is an imaginary game to play and watch, and that’s part of its appeal. We don’t want ‘work’ all the time, because we’re not made by God as simple work units. Humans work, that’s part of God’s creation. But we’re made for so much more: we’re made for rest (the goal of Genesis 1); we’re made for joy; we’re made for freedom in Jesus; we’re made to find that purpose is not intrinsic to our own frantic activity.

Cricket, however lightly, touches on these bigger purposes by ignoring practicality and making up rules with no connection to the business of business.

Yet death through cricket crudely slashes at the face of beautiful imagination. It’s all so real now for those who knew or watched Hughes, and for the bowler involved, Sean Abbott.

I do not claim that cricket is escapism. I’m claiming much more: that cricket is reality. Cricket hints at the so-much-more that is embedded in God’s creation. Hughes’ death shows us that the so-much-more remains tantalising, beyond our capacity and beyond our guarantees.

Though Christians know that creation will fulfil its purpose, in Christ (Ephesians 1:10), we share honestly with the on-going pain of our home (Romans 8:18-25).

To paraphrase someone who really could write: Ask not who was struck by the bouncer – it struck us all.

 


 

 

Proverbs and the meaning of words

I admit it, I love dictionaries. These are from my Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary:

Definition: statement of the precise meaning of a term
Proverb: short pithy saying in general use

Good, aren’t they? And true. Compare them with the following couplet:

A definition closes the gates,
but a proverb breaks down the fence

These lines also are about definition and proverbs, but so much more confusing! Who wrote that rubbish? (Oh yes. It was me.)

Although the second box is very different from the first, I think it is just as true. And more like the way we should approach Proverbs.

The wisdom of the proverbs in the Bible book of Proverbs is not a series of definitions. It is not a series of specifications of how to behave and think. More often the proverbs make creative associations. They surprise us and our minds go in unexpected directions – good and helpful directions.

Here’s one example.

Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit
but righteousness delivers from death. (Prov 10:2 esv)

If we treat this as simple prose, we get a mundane tip. ‘For a good outcome, don’t chase money but be righteous.’

Reading slowly, however, we find the unexpected and possibly confusing. Treasure is not profit? Profit defines treasure! OK, perhaps we’re meant to think of a ‘deeper’ meaning, of treasure as a metaphor for what’s really valuable.

But it’s still pretty simple. Isn’t it?

The second line of the verse doesn’t let us settle easily. This is the flip side of line one. We might expect the righteous to gain wealth by righteousness, but no. The righteous here couldn’t be bothered listing any possession at all.

Instead, the contrast with ‘no profit’ is ‘deliver from death.’ Is this meant to be a profit? And what kind of death does it mean? And – going back to acts of wickedness – are we meant to see that the unjust treasure is actually the fear of death? Perhaps the wicked possess gold as a foolish way to ignore their own impending death: how pitiful they are!

After reading this one proverb – just one! – we get a reminder of some straightforward advice. But so much more happens, and God puts so many more questions before us. We are meant to ponder and consider and enjoy the creativity of the saying. We cannot claim that we have exhausted the meaning of the text, not even of a single proverb.

 


 

Obligatory thanks

In 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul, Silas and Timothy admit to a debt: ‘we ought always to give thanks to God for you.’ That is, ‘When it comes to thanks, we are obligated, we owe it.’ It’s similar in 2 Thessalonians 2:13.

I can see why some say this is not very warm or personal. Almost: if we have to then we will do it. It doesn’t help that the verse includes a second similar idea, ‘as is right’. This could be the I-suppose-I-should moment.

Yet this doesn’t tally with the sense of how close Paul was to the church of Thessalonica, in both 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, as well as Acts. ‘You are our glory and joy’, Paul wrote (1 Thess 2:20).

So how can thanksgiving be both obligatory and personal? Here are two reasons.

First is that these words narrow in on Paul’s relationship with God. Paul is not trying to say to the church, ‘I am so thankful for our relationship’ (even though that would be true). Paul is saying, ‘Father God, your great work in these people make thanksgiving mandatory!’

(Credit: I found this idea here.)

Second, I believe Paul is teaching this church how to give thanks even in troubled times.

2 Thessalonians 1 shows us a church under great pressure: steadfast in persecution, enduring tribulation, suffering, afflicted, requiring relief. I’m not sure thanksgiving would have been at the top of their To Do list!

Despite knowing this, Paul says to the church: It is right and necessary to give thanks. You trust Jesus. Godly love is increasing. Jesus will be revealed and bring justice. Your steadfastness is visible to all.

Paul sympathises with this suffering church, and lovingly lifts their view to consider the magnitude of their blessing – so that both they and he would genuinely thank God. Perhaps they were tempted to bypass thanksgiving for a while. Perhaps they forgot about thanks because of the pressure. But thanksgiving was still obligatory.

Therefore, let’s learn to give thanks today. We can and should be thankful for warm Christian relationships. We also must learn to turn our minds to God and be thankful for all he does. And, by giving thanks, we learn how to live by faith even when life is far from easy.

 


 

Spiritual wisdom

A great, short quotation from Graeme Goldsworthy:

The quest for empirical wisdom is not an optional exercise for dilettantes. Proverbs, and the wisdom literature in general, counter the idea that being spiritual means handing all decisions over to the leading of the Lord. The opposite in true. Proverbs reveals that the God does not make all people’s decisions for them, but rather expects them to use his gift of reason to interpret the circumstances and events of life within the framework of revelation that he has given.

(This is number five of the theological presuppositions of Proverbs, in his article ‘Proverbs’ in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology.)

 


 

Quick review: I am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is quite an astonishing family – especially Malala (of course!), but also her father. Through this biography, we get a sense of their dedication to the cause of education even in the face of grave danger.

Malala, and her beloved Swat Valley, faced – and still face – many dangers. She narrates a number of the troubles of Pakistan and Pashtun history. But the worst, it seems, is the Taliban infiltration of the valley. Starting with apparently benign aims of social improvement, the Taliban’s presence in the valley became increasingly violent and uncontrollable. Malala’s verbal pictures of external carnage and internal fear simply underline how extraordinary is her bravery in speaking up for education of all, especially girls.

And so the Taliban shot her. The injuries were serious, and her rehabilitation difficult for all. But you don’t need me to recount the story of the book. The book is clear and speaks for itself. Instead of a re-listing, here are some impressions and thoughts from I am Malala.

This book successfully gives an outsider like me a feel for some of the history of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s complex, but the amount of complexity recorded is just enough so I am not totally confused.

Through written with the help of an English journalist (Christina Lamb), Malala’s voice comes through. This sounds like a teenager speaking – speaking well of serious matters, indeed, but still being herself. I’m glad this book does not sound like anonymous, anodyne reportage. Obviously Malala has a strong voice and Lamb is a good journalist.

The tone of this book is mature. It’s not that blame is planted simplistically at the feet of just one or two actors. And even those who fail have moments of strength. For example, Malala’s mentions of Pakistan’s military – of which there are many – do not at all absolve them of culpability in Pakistan’s turmoil. And yet there are also military personnel and structures credited with good and helpful activity.

Finally, showing my definite interest in matters of faith, Islam’s place in the tapestry of Malala’s story is fascinating. The presentation of Islam is a particular example of the book’s qualities noted above: complexity and maturity. Malala is an observant and prayerful Muslim. The Taliban are also Muslim (there’s none of the silly Western pretence that they’re not) – but their expression of Islam is criticised from within the tent of Islam. Pakistan is notably a Muslim homeland, yet Malala wonders why this nation has harmed Muslims more than if there had not been a split between India and Pakistan.

I am very glad for the brave Mulsim activists I heard of in this book: Malala, her father, and a number of others. But I long also for there to be more Christians in Pakistan and the Islamic world. This is not because there’s any greater deficiency in those people compared with others – but because of the greatness of Jesus whom Christians trust. The gospel of the Lord Jesus is needed in places of war, just as it is in places of complacent peace.

View all my reviews


 

Average preachers, a follow-up

Last week I wrote a tip for average preachers. The tip (pray for better listeners) follows my belief that sermon quality for average preachers depends on the quality of the listeners.

I kept that bog post short, even though my mind was full of other implications. This post is all about the implications.

The big implication is this: usual church preaching is a co-operative activity. Preaching is a team event, not solo performance – it’s the activity of a body, not a hero. Speaker and listeners work together.

The ways we live that out are many:

  • We start with thankfulness for each other
    Speaker & listeners are joining in the great task of hearing God speak, with dedication to faithful obedience. It’s immense that we do so together, no matter what the numbers, abilities, etc
  • We encourage everyone’s part
    It’s wonderful that people come to church (preacher or not). Let’s say that more often, and to each other as well
  • We work on the preaching setting
    How’s the room you meet in? Can people hear OK? Is it too cold, too warm? Are there Bibles available, especially for visitors? I’m sure there are weeks when a sermon ‘worked’ because someone decided to close the back door and block the traffic noise
  • We work outside the preaching setting
    A church that builds its members in love for 167 hours a week will make better use of the 168th hour of the week, the hour that includes a sermon
  • We train listening ability
    Everyone helps training happen, preachers and non-preachers. We can learn better how to listen well, to understand, to seek clarification, and to expect God’s word to change us. In addition, churches can run formal training on making the most of sermons
  • We practice humility
    This is for the preachers. It’s not that our finely-crafted words are the secret to church life. The ‘secret’ is God’s word calling forth faith in his children – if God uses us, that’s a wonderful privilege and kindness


 

A tip for average preachers

No teasing – here’s the tip for average preachers: pray for better listeners.

This post is not about extraordinary and brilliant preachers. These people have wonderful content that’s true and challenging. Their communication is excellent, being clear, engaging and memorable. Even those who disagree enjoy the listening.

This post is not about poor preachers, who fail in both content and communication. Everyone who hears them goes away confused.

I am writing about the majority of preachers. They have something to say, but  are not Einsteins of the text. These preachers communicate adequately, but they won’t take Olympic gold medals for oration.

I’m convinced that, especially for average preachers, the quality of the sermon depends on the quality of the listeners. Faithful and devoted listeners make for good sermons. Grumbling and faithless listeners make for poor sermons.

the quality of the sermon depends on the quality of the listeners

Why? Because the listener to average preaching will find what they’re looking for.

A grumbler has real reason to say, ‘He’s not that insightful. The jokes are half funny. And those tongue stumbles when he gets excited – I just can’t listen.’ It’s poetic justice that a selfish listener gets no benefit for self.

A good listener is the opposite. This person finds the gold amid the dross, and overlooks odd verbal habits of the preacher. This generous listener is kind to the preacher, and the result is spiritual blessing to the one who hears.

So, as an acknowledgement of our own ‘averageness’, pray for better listeners.

 


 

The words in my head in a bike race

I race relatively rarely and very poorly. But I have great conversations inside my head. Here’s some of what I say.

During the race

  • Two minutes in and my heart rate is already too high. I hate that
  • I hate this rise in the road. I wish it looked as hard as it feels
  • Stop staring at that rear hub, stop staring at that rear hub, stop staring …
  • There’s always gravel on this bit. I hate that
  • I’m sure my gears were OK when I rode to the start today. Now they’re clunking
  • Perhaps it’s not the gears making that noise – the brakes are rubbing
  • Mouth so dry, bladder so full. How?
  • Is he working hard? Is she working hard? Am I?
  • I hope I get to the turn-around with the rest of my group. I hate getting dropped before then: do I ride the whole course or just turn around and go home?
  • I hate getting dropped after the turn around. Why didn’t they accelerate 5km earlier and save me 10km of riding?
  • Here’s the place to attack, here’s the place. Attack!
  • That wasn’t the place to attack

After the race

  • That was fun! When’s the next race?