Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Seeing Beyond a Story

Christian Renewal Church has recently initiated a blog where myself and several fantastic authors are going to write/type once a month to encourage and challenge one another.

My latest post written for the blog is looking at narrative theory (Story telling) and how it impacts how we view ourselves and others around us. Story telling is something we all do regardless of how open minded we think we are. In contrast Jesus often broke past the walls of stories we built up around ourselves and around others. Jesus changed the linear plot in many people's lives and also changed how we can see the world.

You can find the Christian Renewal Church website and subsequent blog by clicking the link here - ENJOY!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Matthew 20 - An Unfair Story Made Fair

I recently came across in a Bible reading one of the most potentially abhorrent and unfair passages in scripture - Matthew 20. It is where Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God being where the first will be last and last will be first - He ultimately treats people unequally. 
But is it really unfair?

The story is about a master who goes out in the morning and hires workers for a day's wage. However, the master continuously goes back to the market and hires people to work for him that same day. The master even goes out in the late afternoon to hire more people (who were standing around looking for work). At the end of the day, the master pays all his workers the same day's wage that he agreed upon with the workers he hired in the morning. The morning workers were upset that they didn't get paid more than those who arrived at the end of the day (naturally). The master simply replied that he was able to do with his money as he pleased and that no agreement was broken between him and the morning workers. The master merely decided to pay the late-comers the same as the morning workers out of generosity.
So what is Jesus trying to say that the kingdom of God is like?

This passage could be seen differently by capitalists (who generally look out for equality) and socialists (who look out for equity). From a capitalist perspective, Jesus emphasised the freedom of choice that the master had with his money. The master didn't need to pay anyone more and is free to run his business as he pleases. On the other hand, from a socialist perspective, Jesus may be telling us something more about the Kingdom of God. He may be saying that the master is free to use his money as he wishes, yet advocating a mindset or value system more in line with socialist ideas of equity. 

The story suggests that there was not enough work for people in the market place, and the master who was able to supply a living wage to these people also felt compelled to do so out of grace. The master chose to endorse more equitable values in order to produce equality among workers. In the West we tend to celebrate "freedom" of choice (along with economic freedom) to decide our own future and make our own paths. However, Jesus here seems to be talking about a Kingdom where our economic wealth and "freedom" is used to put in place means by which those with less can have more and likewise also be free from poverty.    

Thus equity is necessary to bring about equality, and necessary to treat the first last and the last first - A Kingdom where concern for the well being of others makes the world go around.

How do you think the Kingdom of God is pictured from this passage?     

Saturday, January 30, 2016

God, Justice and Love

Have you ever wondered what is the purpose for Justice?

Is it an arbitrary consequence for a broken law... or is there more to it? What is God's idea of justice from His perspective? Have we settled for a far simpler version of justice than God intends?
It has been a tendency of societies to punish people without the intention of restoring them - i.e. through imprisonment and capital punishment. Not only that, but often Christian doctrine upholds a punishment concept of justice instead of one focused around love and restoration. Often concepts of justice seem to seek to satisfy some abstract idea of justice, and to force people to be "good" through fear and compulsion. 

Yet, there is another way of looking at justice. If we look at justice from the perspective of love ("God is love" - 1 John 4:8) it brings a different perspective for the purpose of justice. By seeing justice through love, ideally we can seek after a practical restoration of wrongs where all parties experience compassion and love. Such a practical restoration could be where the wrong done is made right, both within the wrong doer and with the victim. I ask, is it really enough to try make people "good" through arbitrary judgements? Does it even "work"? Shouldn't our aim be to restore the conscience of a person to the point where they want to do good, not out of fear, but out of courage? Surely that would produce a more wholesome society. 
It is interesting that studies show Restorative Justice is more successful than punitive punishments on many accounts such as reducing recidivism, reducing post-traumatic stress amongst victims (including revenge), and both offenders and victims are more satisfied with Restorative Justice than conventional criminal justice. (See Restorative Justice: The Evidence)

We were having a heartfelt and thoughtful discussion with Cindy Skillman over at the Evangelical Universalism forum on the subject "Post-mortem punishment and the perfect love of God". She had this gem to share which I thought was so well put I had to post it here on the Benevolent Hecklers. She compares human justice with God's justice. She ultimately asks what God's attitude is towards post-mortem punishment using a Biblical concept of love. Let me know what you think!   

"This is what God (through Paul) says love looks like:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.

Some say that God would LOVE to save all people, but He cannot because they refuse to be saved. Love never fails. Some say that when we die in the flesh, God gives up on us. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. AND Love never fails.

Sure God can punish for the purpose of healing. Earthly parents do this, and we submit to it. How much more should we willingly submit to chastisement from our Heavenly Father who always does it for our good? Earthly parents who punish for the sake of punishing and NOT to heal and reform an erring child, are considered monsters--rightly. And THAT is only temporal, temporary, earthly punishment. Yet we think that our Heavenly Father will punish to no purpose other than revenge and so-called "justice," not for a short time, not to reform, not to cure, not to make anything right but ONLY to administer far in excess of Moses's limits of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth--forever and ere.

Justice is NOT taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That is only a limitation on excessive punishment. Justice is not eternal torment, whether or not eternal torment is deserved. Justice is not the chair for a murderer or prison for a lesser criminal. Those things are human attempts at justice, or human attempts at imagining ultimate justice.

Justice is making things right.

None of the punishments we could administer or imagine could ever make things right. Justice means you get your murdered wife back, and the man who murdered her becomes the loving brother to you and to her that he ought always to have been. THAT is making things right. Everything else is a poor, impoverished human attempt to prevent the criminal from having an advantage he denied his victim. Did he kill? Let him not live, for his victim is dead. Did he steal? Let him have nothing, for he has diminished his victims, forcing them to support him without their consent. THAT is the best WE can do. It is far, far from the best God can do."

Friday, January 1, 2016

God is With Us

Last Sunday I heard this great sermon from down here in New Zealand, preached by Matthew Guddatt. He is a Britain, come down to NZ and is currently a youth pastor.

So what is the big deal about this sermon?
I haven't often heard a sermon where God's sovereignty and power is connected to our daily lives.

Here is a summary of what the sermon covers:

- Matthew talks about the greatness of God and how we cannot limit God to one name, but He encompasses many names describing Him.
- He also talks about how the church today can have a tendency to go back to Old Testament ways by having super spiritual "priests" (pastors, and elders) who harbour spiritual connection with God for the lay people. Matthew points out that we are all called to be priests and all can access God.
- Lastly he talks about how God is omnipresent. I like how he says that God is in the very breath of the atheist, and that church is not the only place to find God. Matthew points out that God can be found anywhere and we don't need to chase conjured up feelings and emotions, but to know and have faith that God is with us anywhere.

Matthew has a good sense of humour and is easy to listen to. Click the link below to listen -

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