Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Name it, claim it, gab it, grab it

WHETHER people hold very religious or totally secular world views, when it comes to certain subjects there are times that both can be a real pain in the neck. It’s the old adage about living in the same house with the furniture arranged differently.

A particular (and growing) genre of people today seem to be, for want of a better description, members of a ‘name it, claim it, gab it, grab it, blab it, nab it, on and on ad nauseum’ club.

I’m a nurse. Through the years I’ve taken care of many very ill children – born with chronic diseases or spinal cord injuries and often requiring mechanical ventilation. In the course of my work I have crossed the paths of several ‘name it, claim it’ types who have driven the parents of these children to utter despair. For the most part they are decent people who mean well. They think they are promoting something good. They are not aware of the damage they are doing to the poor and very ill.

Their underlying belief system goes something like this: Faith is a tool to get precisely what you want out of life; health, wealth and happiness can be yours if you find the correct magic formula and live by it. This usually involves the faulty belief that

Bible verses can be used to appease and manipulate God in much the same way as the ancients used oracles and set rituals to appease and manipulate their many gods.

Most people would agree it is wrong to tell the sick that they haven’t been healed because they didn’t live right or believe for a miracle without doubting. Yet isn’t it just as disconcerting when someone thinks that in a world full of poverty and social injustice the Bible was somehow written to be their own personal guide to prosperity and a stress-free life? How anyone believes that Christ bled, suffered and died on a cross so that they could drive around in a Porsche and never have to worry about parking spaces must boggle the mind of any thinking person.

The secular version isn’t much better. A perverted idea of positive thinking takes the place of a perverted idea of faith. In this scenario positive thinking is endowed with much more power than it actually deserves. A universal prototype might be little Shirley Temple as Heidi – stolen away from her grandfather to be wheelchair-bound Clara’s companion, Heidi teaches Clara to walk. No doubt positive thinking can be an energising force, but had Clara’s spinal cord been totally severed, the truth is that Clara would have had to have been picked up off the floor and Heidi never would have seen grandpapa again!

None of this negates the possibility of miracles.

Miracles do happen, but they are called miracles because they happen so infrequently. We can’t whip one up. If we could whip one up by our own frenzied carrying on then we would be in control and not God.

All true miracles are gifts of grace given by God for his own purposes in redeeming the world unto himself (see John 9:3).

We may ask, pray and believe for a miracle but, ultimately, true faith requires that we leave the outcome in God’s hands. His decision does not signify greater love or favour towards the recipient of a miracle than it is a sign of any lack of these towards the non-recipient.

Jesus made it very clear that the sun shines and the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike (see Matthew 5:45).

The Bible, when read in context, never promises any intergalactic, cosmic welfare programme for eligible recipients. What it does promise is that when we trust in Jesus nothing will be able to separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:39).

In researching various descriptive words for God’s love in the Bible, I found that the word used most often in conjunction with divine love is ‘steadfast’. It is used a total of 180 times and comes from the same Hebrew word as womb – chesed. It implies very strongly that God’s love for us is like the love of a mother-to-be for the growing child inside her. It is a love that is unconditional and can carry us through anything life (or death) may throw our way. Simply put, any mistaken guarantee of health, wealth and happiness pales by comparison!

Daryl Lach
Romeoville, Illinois
USA Central

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Grass is Always Greener...

It was a quiet morning in the culdesac. I had made myself a nice latte and was sitting down to work on the sermon that I was writing for church that week.

It was a peaceful morning.

The birds were doing their morning chirping, letting the world, and myself, know that the sun was up, the sky was blue and the day was full of hope and promise. My family was still sleeping and sounds of deep breathing could be heard in the office where I was contemplating my life and God's interaction in it.

I was deep in ecclesiastical thought as the smell of fresh pulled espresso penetrated my nostrils and the sounds of birds, deep breathing, distant cars on the highway and the gentle mooing of cows... ...

Wait a minute... ..


We DON'T have any cows... .

As I pushed back the curtains and looked out the window I witnessed an unusual scene for a laid back, culdesac...

Cows... Not just one but a whole herd of them!

All of them were going about their morning, quietly munching on the well manicured lawns of my neighbors.

They were imprinting hoof prints in the soft soil and leaving patches of dirt where once had been lush green Kentucky Bluegrass. They were nuzzling against the cool metal of the neighbors SUV's and lazily meandering out of our little circle of homes in order to find greener pastures and leaving little smelly organic frisbees behind.

I watched in amazement as these bovines of destruction made a smorgasbord out of the neighborhood. It was all you could graze on, and nothing was spared. Grass, flowers and bushes all felt the pull of the cattle's teeth and were soon whisked away to one of the stomachs for processing.

Noticeably missing though from this feast was one yard... MINE !

As these animals made their way from one neighbor to another they passed right by mine. And I started to wonder why?

Was MY grass not good enough for the cows? Was it the fact that my lawn consisted more of dandelions and weeds than actual grass? Or was it more that my lawn is on a steep hill and it was more work to climb it than it was to traipse through the gentle rolling yards of deep green summer fescue.

Soon all of our neighborhood was chasing them, trying to divert these animals OUT of our area. Angry homeowners watched with dismay as their prized lawns became nothing more than fuel for these milk making machines.

As I watched people shooing them, yelling at them and trying to push them one direction or another I started to giggle.

Eventually the shooing and yelling gave way to mooing... .not by the cows... but by US!!

We slowly became a combination of Rich Little and Dr. Doolittle. Doing our best to try to impersonate their sound... it was mooing interspersed with full out belly jiggling laughter!!

Mooing took on different accents; Asian, Southern Drawl, British and Pacific Northwest accents could be heard...it was like a United Nations of cattle and we were the translators.

We all had the same goal. We were all trying in desperation to communicate with them... To get them to move...To keep them from being hit by a car or truck... .We were trying to show them the way home.

And that was the moment when my adventure that day became my sermon.

What a wonderful example God provided that day of how to be a shepherd.

All of our higher education was for naught. All of our studying, learning and BIG words were useless.

What it took that day to return the cattle home to the master was gentleness. It was becoming one with them, interacting with them, guiding them and showing them the way home.

It was NOT telling them, or yelling at them or even our poor attempt at mooing at them.

It was simply to show them the way.

God used and uses people all the time to show us the way. He even sent his only Son to become one of us. So that he could better communicate with us.

I would love to say that I am NOT like the cow, but sometimes I am.

Sometimes I am wandering around enjoying the smorgasbord of life never realizing that I have wandered too far from where God wants or needs me to be.

There have been many times that I have been pushed HARD in one direction or another by someone trying to get me to go where they think I should go. Only to find myself on my back somewhere, wondering what the heck happened.

There is a saying here in Missouri that 'Nothing Tips Like a Cow' but I am not so sure. I think that as humans we tip too easy one direction and then another. Knocked off our feet in a vain attempt to follow man and not God.

I love it when God uses unique ways to teach me something that I need to know. It shows me that I must always be aware of God's presence and of his love for me.

Hmmmmm will you look at that...

I wonder what God is trying to show me now... ..

I think I'll go find out... .JOIN ME?

Monday, August 23, 2010


Last year became a mixture of highs and lows and as I look back I thank God for His providential care.

Early in the year I returned to officership and shortly after my Mum suffered 5 mini-strokes and remained in hospital for 3 months. I went from former to active and back to former within a few months and through doing so I struggled to find a way forward and found myself without a job. I managed to find work for a short period of time in a local church cafe and during this time I spent all my spare time completing applications and searching the web for suitable employment.

At Christmas I found myself without work and claiming job seekers. I found myself at an all time low wondering how I would survive! It wasn’t until March that things began to improve when I was offered temporary work with a Housing Association, I then went on to work in a local secondary school with young people whocould have otherwise been excluded from school. It was during this time that an advert in the paper caught my attention. The Royal National Mission To Deep Sea Fishermen were looking for a Port Welfare Officer for their Hull office. My thoughts returned immediately to my childhood and the terrible loss that my family had suffered in January 1968. My Uncle was lost at sea on a fishing trawler, St. Romanus one of three trawlers that were went down within weeks of each other. The ‘Fishermen’s Mission’ had supported my family through this difficult time along with the other families within the fishing community of Hull.

I simply knew in my heart that I had to apply, I had to give something back to this organisation that had given so much to my family. I was invited to interview, then to a second one at Head Office near Portsmouth and the rest is history. For those who are not familiar with this organisation the following is a brief description of what the Fishermen’s Mission does:
The Fishermen’s Mission fights poverty and despair in our fishing communities by providing emergency and welfare support to fishermen and their families 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Over 13,000 men and women work in the UK's toughest and most dangerous peacetime occupation: deep sea fishing. At sea, they face death and injury on a daily basis. On land, many face insecurity and debt. And life for the 50,000 retired fishermen and their dependants is no better, with debt, inadequate pensions and scant savings meaning no respite from hardship once the fishing’s over.

I commenced my five year appointment two weeks ago and already feel very much at home. I am very fortunate to be shown ‘the ropes’ by a colleague who has worked for the Mission for 43 years, Senior Superintendent Geoff Chandler who will be retiring next month. He will be a hard act to follow, but I intend to continue building on the excellent work already established. Although there is no active fishing fleet in Hull, I am responsible for over sighting, Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington and Filey which have fishing communities. My work in Hull is mainly welfare cases, looking after the needs of ex-fishermen, retired fishermen and widows as well as maintaining the profile of the Mission.

Just this week I have had to support the wife of a fishermen who has been involved in a serious accident while fishing off the coast of Africa. Wife and daughter are to be flown out shortly to be by his side.

I thank and praise God that I am continuing to serve Him through the Fishermen’s Mission and I feel blessed and privileged that I am part of such an organisation.

Tracey Oliver
(Former UK Territory)

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Not all that long ago, the great minds of Europe predicted a future with little or no religion. Science would make us highly skeptical of miracles. Psychiatry would direct all of our awe and wonder inward. Changing roles for women would weaken the patriarchal structure that props up clerics. Whatever script for modernity one followed, it had God playing a bit role.
As we all know, it didn’t happen that way. Modernity arrived and improvised new starring roles for God. The Americans led the way by becoming both “the quintessentially modern country” and a very devout one, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge write in their new book, “God Is Back,” and most of the world has followed that model. In rich countries and poorer ones, democratic and undemocratic, primarily Islamic and primarily Christian — everywhere, basically, except Europe — devotion to God has remained surprisingly robust.

“The very things that were supposed to destroy religion — democracy and markets, technology and reason — are combining to make it stronger,” write Mickle thwait, editor in chief of The Economist, and Wooldridge, the magazine’s Washington bureau chief, who together have written previous books about globalization and American conservatism, two similarly sweeping topics.

To anyone who lives outside Europe, the Harvard campus or Manhattan (all faith-free zones singled out by the authors), this conclusion is not exactly startling. In most of the United States, for example, God is always back in one form or another. And various religion-stoked conflicts in the Middle East and Africa make the modern era sometimes feel like a replay of the Crusades. But the book’s strength is in dissecting exactly how God managed to morph and evolve and become indispensable to the world at a time when he should have faded away.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge do not display the usual horror at overt religiosity that we heard in abundance from British and other European writers during the Bush years. Starting with the cheerful ad-speak of the title, they are instead astute social observers in the Tocquevillean mode, reporting from a distance in a tone just short of admiring. When it comes to American religion, they marvel mostly at its astounding success at replicating itself all over the world.

While fundamentalists of all kinds get most of the attention, the authors zero in on another phenomenon: the growth and global spread of the American megachurch. With no state-sanctioned religion, American churches began to operate like multinational corporations; pastors became “pastorpreneurs,” endlessly branding and expanding, treating the flock like customers and seeding franchises all over the world. The surge of religion was “driven by the same forces driving the success of market capitalism: competition and choice.”

The market that niche religious leaders stepped into was the hole opened up by modernity, and their product was something the authors call “soulcraft.” Instead of raging against modern life, they sold themselves as easing the way for the harried middle class. Church became a place to form social bonds, get dates, meet fellow moms isolated in suburbia, lose weight. Christian America spawned a parallel world of popular culture, with books and movies telling people how to live meaningful lives. The most popular, like Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life,” perfectly mirrored the can-do ethos of American success culture.

ll the while, religion began shedding its association with anti- intellectualism, and became the province of the upwardly mobile middle class. Evangelicals began graduating from college in record numbers, and Christian philanthropists began building an “intellectual infrastructure,” including programs and endowed chairs in the Ivy League. A new class of thinkers emerged representing what some have called “the opening of the evangelical mind,” and a solid religious left began to take shape, symbolized most powerfully by Barack Obama. Obama beat Hillary Clinton for many reasons, but one was his ability to “out-God” her, they write.

Much of Micklethwait and Wooldridge’s analysis of domestic evangelical culture is familiar. The most original parts of the book come when they follow the trail overseas, where homegrown Rick Warrens are popping up in unlikely places. The book opens with a scene from what sounds like a typical Wednesday night Bible study in, say, Colorado Springs — a doctor, an academic, a couple of entrepreneurs, a young hipster in a Che T-shirt, sitting around someone’s living room and chatting about the Bible. Only this is taking place in Shanghai, one of the many places where the casual, personalized, distinctly American style of worship is thriving. They do the same thing a group of American evangelicals would do: debate homosexuality and Darwin, vow to spread the Word, and then check their BlackBerrys before heading home.

The authors track the explosion of Pente costalism — with its perfect mix of “raw emotion and self-improvement” — to Brazil and South Korea. The American style even has converts in the Muslim world. Indonesia’s Abdullah Gymnastiar, who has been criticized as “the Britney Spears of Islam,” favors wireless mikes, a chatty sermon style and casual dress. (Aa Gym, as he’s known, is making a comeback after being brought low by a sex scandal in 2006.) Amr Khaled, “Egypt’s answer to Billy Graham,” is ushering his followers into the televangelist age. His TV show features testimonials from sports stars and actresses, and he peddles cassettes and sweatshirts on his Web site.

Much like their American models, this new generation of religious leaders is an interesting mix of modern style and traditional message. The trick they try to pull off is making concessions to modernity without diluting their message, but in the Muslim world, especially, it’s not clear how much influence they have.

In many Muslim regions, democracy and the markets are leading to an explosion of religion in the opposite way, as fundamentalists react against sexual promiscuity and other excesses they see in modern life in general and American-style capitalism in particular. The Muslim world, Mickle thwait and Wooldridge acknowledge, has been much slower to engage with modernity and has remained mostly hostile to it. There is no Koran equivalent of the various Bible zines that tailor their message to teenagers or hip-hop fans in America. There has never been a Muslim equivalent of the Enlightenment.

The result is a modern era that seems to be replaying the religious wars of the 17th century in a slightly altered form. Radical Islam dominates Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, casting itself as an enemy of the Judeo-Christian West. Nigeria is split along religious lines.

Despite the dark side, the authors ultimately conclude that “God is back, for better.” By this they mean that religion is now a matter of choice for most people, and not a forced or inherited identity. But if that choice can lead you to either buy a sweatshirt or blow up a building, the conclusion itself seems a little forced. The reality is that God is back, for better or worse.

Hanna Rosin

Author of “God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America.”

Patrick Henry College, or PHC, which opened its doors in the fall of 2000, was founded on the principle of enlisting "the purest of born-again Christians in a war to 'transform America' by training them to occupy the 'highest offices in the land.' " Not a modest goal. But ever since Patrick Henry's first students unpacked their Bibles and Palm Pilots, class after class has shown an almost single-minded determination to meet it. Over the past five years, at least one of the school's 300 students has won a place in each set of the coveted three-month internships offered by the White House. After graduating, some have gone on to attend elite law schools, including Harvard.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cowabunga Man Vs Eat My Shorts: The Bart Simpson Theological Wars Conclusion

I once held extremely conservative views and theology. The things I once did in the name of God makes me cringe when I think of them, and make me pray for forgiveness for my actions, and grieve for those I destroyed at the time. However, as my knowledge grew, as our understanding of ancient language changed and increased, I began to realise that I was wrong. Psychology was telling me that reality did not coincide with what I believed. That all I was doing was causing severe psychological trauma, and inciting hatred, murder, prejudice. None of these was consistent with a God of love. None of these were fruit of the spirit of Love. New understanding of ancient languages meant I had to acknowledge that either the Bible was severely mistranslated in places, or nothing more than a made up fictional work in a made up fictional language. I realised that if I didn’t change my interpretation of scripture, I may as well be venerating the elffic writings of J.R.R. Tolkein, or Gene Rodenberry’s Klingon as they were just as grounded in reality.

I am in the process of undertaking a study for my degree (eventually it will lead to a Phd), looking at how people with conservative religious views live in society (which won’t be finished for about another 3-4 years). My preliminary findings so far suggest that conservatives do not integrate their faith with their physical world, but learn to live parallel lives, keeping the two separate, and that they cease to have individual identities, adopting a corporate identity, believing only what the corporate identity tells them to believe. People only change when they are forced to acknowledge that their beliefs do not fit with reality that is before them. At that point, they become more liberal, or radicalise as a fundamentalist. Education on its’ own does very little.

It is easy to say that because the Bible was written by the supreme, perfect God, that He would make sure those that read His word, would understand it as He intended it to be understood. However, that has a dire implication. Does that mean that those great men and women of God in the past, who understood the bible as supporting the suppression of women, of supporting slavery, of supporting the genocide of the Jews, of teaching that people of colour were not human, that those godly people, were not following God? That they were not Christian? That we are the only people in the history of the world who are or ever have been Christian? If God makes sure that we understand perfectly His word, why didn’t He do the same for our ancestors? Or have we got it wrong? Should women be suppressed? Should people of colour be slaves, and denied human rights as non-humans? Should we be practicing genocide?

Taking a hard-line view on either side leads to dire consequences. It puts our very salvation at risk. The most anyone can do is say ‘I don’t know! I am only human. I can only know what I am capable of knowing at this point in time.’ Our thinking will and should change over time. It is a hard thing to change what we have always believed. But that’s part of being human. Just because we perceive two different views to be diametrically opposed, does not mean that they are. It may just mean that our human minds are not large enough to understand that the box is far greater than we see it, and our two views, in proportion, are perhaps more closely aligned than we could ever have imagined.

Graeme Randall
Australia Southern Territory

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cowabunga Man Vs Eat My Shorts: The Bart Simpson Theological Wars Part One

I have a secret confession to make. When I was a teenager, and into my Officership, I used to enjoy watching the Simpsons. This was very much a clandestine indulgence as many of the members of the Corps Census in my home corps had declared that ‘The Simpsons’ was one of the most evil and heretical shows on television at the time, and had made it known that they would stand down any soldier who was known to watch the show.

One episode of the Simpsons that sticks in my mind (can’t remember the name of the episode) ended with a scene set in the far distant future. Two armies were lined up in battle against each other. One declaring that ‘the great prophet Barth Simpson said ‘eat my shorts’’ (implying a particular philosophy and religion), the other declaring that ‘the holy one said ‘cowabunga man’’ (again, implying a different philosophy and religion), then the two armies went to war and annihilated each other.

The Corps Census in my home corps were also equally against all forms of dancing. Many members wouldn’t even attend a congress if they knew there was going to be liturgical dance presentations during the congress as all forms of dancing is evil and leads to the degradation of society at all levels (or so we were taught). My home corps practiced ‘liturgical movement’ instead. Hmmm. A rose by any other name...

My point for relaying the above stories is that so many disagreements among people – Christians included – come down to interpretation and understanding. When each side rigidly asserts that they are right and have the only correct interpretation, both sides tend to lose sight of how much they have in common, and how in fact they may both be right. By rigidly holding to one interpretation, people may fail to see the consequences of that interpretation, or misinterpret the position of the other side.

By holding rigidly to a position, we often fail to see the reality before us. We don’t want to believe that what we have been taught might be wrong, that our biblical understanding might be wrong. So we deny the reality of what we see in front of us and claim it doesn’t exist. Like the old joke: two Catholic women observing the people going in and out of a brothel. First they see father Edwards, the Anglican Priest going in, and they go tsch tsch. Those Anglicans.... and his poor wife.... Then they see Pastor Smith, the Baptist pastor going in, and again they despair for the soul of this member of clergy – going to use the prostitutes. Then they notice Father O’Reilly going in, and they go ‘Oh my, one of the poor unfortunate women must have died. Why else would Father go in there but to give her last rights?’

As a liberal Christian, I am fully aware of the dangers of holding a liberal position on various subjects. Where do I draw the line? Who do I exclude? Does that make me any less legalistic than conservatives are claimed to be? My response is usually ‘I don’t know!’ I recognise that throughout history, as people have grown in their understanding and scientific knowledge, as cultures have changed, as people have changed, philosophy and religion has changed. Interpretations of holy writings have changed. Doctrines have changed many times over or been re-interpreted to the point they may as well have been completely re-written. We no longer believe the earth to be flat or the centre of the universe. We no longer believe hell to be somewhere under the ground. We no longer consider scientific endeavour to be the work of Satan and a black art. At one point, the church would execute as a heretic anyone who believed such things or practiced science. The Census Board in my home corps would not enrol anyone who was a Psychologist or studying psychology or the humanities as they believed this proved they had abandoned the faith. Science has taught us many things about our universe and ourselves. It is no wonder then that so much theology has changed over the years.

At the same time, I have to realise that none of us have finished learning, or finished growing. What I understand now, in years to come I may consider foolishness – just as I now consider foolishness what I once argued so vehemently in my 20’s. In short, none of us are gods. The Apostle Paul said ‘11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’ (1 Corinthians 13:11-12 NIV).

End Part One

Part Two "Is today’s Theological debates no different to the Barth Simpson theological wars?"

Graeme Randall
Australia Southern Territory

Monday, August 9, 2010

That’s not how it’s meant to be !

Following my resignation in 2006 I found employment with First Direct bank, part of the HSBC group. The respect, value and appreciation I encountered in this role was in stark contrast to my officership experience. In fact the differences began to emerge even before my first day at First Direct.

It started on my final day of ministry at my corps appointment, I knew this was going to be a difficult day emotionally, but I thought that perhaps there would be a phone call or card from DHQ, a word of encouragement or appreciation –but nothing – the farewell meeting came and went, with some very kind words from a number of faithful people within the corps, but nothing from the Army hierachy.

Then the realisation dawned, I had moved into my own house a few days before my farewell, now I had given DHQ my new address and phone number, but DHQ were known for chaos, not organisation and anyway it would have had no time to go to the board! So I set off back to the quarters, perhaps somebody had called that morning, maybe a card had been posted after all. I opened the front door, there was post on the mat, in fact there was a handwritten envelope for me which looked like it may contain a card, not only that but there was an envelope for my wife also, we had not been forgotten after all!

I opened the card, it was indeed a very kind and thoughtful gesture, it was signed by the whole senior management team. The card was from First Direct welcoming me to my new role. I took home the 2nd envelope,the one addressed to my wife, it was confirmation of the start date for the academic course she was about to commence. I checked the phone, but no, there was nothing from the Army. However I knew there would be a phone call soon, indeed the phone call would be from the TC no less. You see on the Sunday before my farewell there was the Divisional Welcome meeting at my corps and the TC promised he would call me in three weeks time – I’m still waiting.

Well at least there would be the settlement cheque, after 16 years of officership I knew I would receive no pension from the Army, but there would be a pay off. Incidently my parents had done a similar length of service, but because they had done it at the end of their working life and therefore retired as officers, they got a payout which was double mine, as well as a pension and house for life.

The settlement cheque duly arrived, it was exactly half the amount I was expecting. I did not understand, what had happened? No one at DHQ could explain so the matter went to THQ. What had been decided, without any consultation with myself, was that I would be ‘Out of Appointment‘ for 6 months, therefore the rest of the settlement would not arrive until the end of the six month period! Fortunately I had not relied on this money, but the thought did cross my mind that if I had run away with one of the songsters they surely would have dismissed me on the spot and then I would have got all the cash immediately! But then again, if you had seen the songsters!!

After twelve months working at First Direct I had built up my business interests sufficently to go part time, after another twelve months I resigned in order to concentrate totally on building my own business. Then it really hit me, I was bombarded with cards, words of sincere appreciation from both my colleagues and the hierachy of the bank. One of the senior management team gave me his personal mobile number and said that if my business didn’t work out I only needed to give him a call and I could be assured of my job back. It was a genuine offer, but one I have not needed to take up.

I returned home from that final day at First Direct, I don’t know how I made that short drive, you see the tears were running down my face, I was valued, I was special, I was appreciated but what was the most upsetting part of the whole scenario was that it was a secular organisation which made me feel this way, which had helped me regain my confidence in life. I left sixteen years of officership feeling a failure, I left two years of secular employment feeling successful.

That’s not how it’s meant to be.

David Kendall -
Former Officer UKT
Active Soldier, Bellshill Corps, Scotland

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How Can Anyone Think God Is Like That? Part TWO

This is not a large story in the Gospels. Only Luke tells it. But as I read it this morning—and I read it through several times—I kept asking why it bothered me so much.

Then I realized that, on occasion, I've been there, done that. I have known, experienced, perhaps even, regrettably, contributed to this kind of dead, out-of-touch kind of religion. Not always, but sometimes.

I thought about how the kind of institutionalized religion in this story slowly loses all of its humanity, its compassion, its ability to flex in the moment of great surprise. And that is exactly what Jesus brought through the door of the synagogue that day: humanity, compassion, and flex. What bothered the ruler was that the woman's healing wasn't done his way, according to his theological understanding, at a time that didn't interrupt his Sabbath. But for Jesus, even a sermon was "interruptible" if a person like this woman was in the room.

The story is also about systemized thinking, a kind of logic that takes on a life of its own over a period of time. It is demonstrated in the reaction of a religious leader who is so trapped by an analytical way that he can actually bring himself to believe that her healing is an unfortunate thing. It leads me to ask how does a mind get so locked into a system of thinking that it can take in the specter of a healed woman—bent over for eighteen years—and call it a violation of God's rules?

A friend of mine who is very sick right now once served on a pastoral team that I lead. In a phone conversation just a few days ago, I reminded him of a time in a staff meeting when a colleague blurted out an opinion that was about as illogical and ridiculous as the comment made by the synagogue ruler. At the time all of us at the table sat in a state of shock wondering how to respond to what had just been said.

But my friend didn't hesitate. He was a much older, more mature man and simply had no reluctance to label the misguided opinion for what it was. With some force, he said, "Oh, baloney!" His protest broke the spell in the room and brought us all to laughter and a better conclusion.

I see Jesus looking the synagogue ruler straight in the eye and saying the equivalent of "Oh, baloney!"

I need to circle back to what is said about the crowd in the synagogue. "When Jesus said this (the "baloney" comment), the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing" (italics mine).

These people showed their true colors when they were "delighted." You get the feeling that they'd been silent far too long, that they'd heard this kind of "baloney" from their synagogue ruler before and come to ignore it. Result? I suspect that they'd did their church-thing on Sabbath day and then went out and lived in a way that made more sense … like watering donkeys on the Sabbath.

But now someone had said what they'd long thought. "Baloney!" And they were delighted.

I brood on the following questions. Do leaders and boards of churches and organizations spend the necessary time critiquing their thinking processes? And do they ever scour their menu of programs and "ministries" to make sure they are designed to spot and engage with people like the woman in this story? And would a man like my friend who knows "baloney" when he sees it be welcomed to their company? Would, for that matter, Jesus be welcomed if you knew that he might pull stunts like the one in this story?

So if you called me on the day I read this story and found that I was a bit terse and withdrawn, it's because I've known people like that. Blame what I read. It got under my skin.

Gordon MacDonald is editor at large of Leadership and lives in New Hampshire.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How Can Anyone Think God Is Like That? Part One

How Can Anyone Think God Is Like That? Sometimes the most profound theological rebuttal is "Oh, Baloney!"

I was in a good mood this morning until I reached Luke 13:10 in my daily Bible reading. What I read there troubled me.
It's about a Sabbath day when Jesus was teaching in a synagogue. In the congregation was a woman, unnamed, "bent over" (osteoporosis?), "crippled by a spirit for eighteen years."

When Jesus spotted her (he rarely seems to miss these kinds of people), he called her forward, and with a touch of his hands and a simple statement—"Woman, you are set free from your infirmity"—he healed her. Eighteen years of misery: vanquished.
"She straightened up and praised God," the story says. For a moment I speculated on how her praising of God differed from the "praising" that might have been going on among the rest of the crowd? I bet this lady had no need for a microphone or an invitation to speak. I wonder if she danced?

One would think that this healing event would thrill everyone in the building. That everyone would dance. But that would be wrong. The synagogue ruler for one, the writer says, was "indignant." His comment? "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath."

Don't you just love this guy? As I read my Bible this morning, he's the one that got my irritability going.
Having been a pastor for a lot of years, I asked myself how I would have reacted should this healing have happened during a worship time where I was the leader.

I can tell you how I'd like to think I'd react.

First I'd be ecstatic, full of joy, for the healed person. And I'd thank God too.

Then I'd delete her name from the pastoral care list in my PDA.

Oh, I'd also add her name to the program-recruiting list. I am a practical person. She's now capable of serving in ways she hadn't been before. Programs and program staffing are very important.

Finally, I'd be relieved that I no longer had to feel guilty about my own good health and wholeness in contrast to her previously pitiable condition.

But apparently the synagogue ruler didn't think like this. For him something had gone awry in his system, and he was mad. Tradition, law, rules—doing things decently and in order—had been threatened. And—oh, the horrors of this—his own influence was at risk.

I'm guessing here, but I have the feeling that this "ruler" was quite used to the congregation knuckling under, doing things his way … immediately. Thus, he wasn't prepared for what was happening when Jesus didn't play by the ruler's rules.

Jesus' response to the ruler's injunction: "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham (italics mine), whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"

I think Jesus' shows a bit of brilliance in his way of handling the moment. Using the art of sermon illustration, he alludes to the larger world outside the synagogue: a place of donkeys and oxen with which people make their living. Show this woman the same courtesy, even on the Sabbath, that you show your farm animals. This seems a worthy idea.

It's also worth noticing how the Lord enlarges the importance of this woman and her plight: a daughter of Abraham, he calls her … bound for eighteen years … set free. There's a bit of the dramatic in the Son of God. I like it.

The writer says that the leader was humiliated by Jesus' reasoning, and that the people were delighted. It would appear that a system of religious (or theological) thinking had been exposed in terms of the absurdity of its logical outcome. And the hold of the synagogue leader over his people was broken.

Gordon MacDonald is editor at large of Leadership and lives in New Hampshire.