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When Church Leaders Say Dumb Things

What to do with an angry former acquaintance who is embarrassing the church and making others very angry 101.

I’ve just got off the phone with a mate from down south. We both huffed and puffed, sighed and groaned, puzzled and feared for a mutual acquaintance who has just hit the news again. As we all know, you don’t get in the news for good stuff. What should we do, we asked. We agreed that we need to say something.

Yes, I’m talking about the pastor of Westcity Bible Baptist Church, presumably out in West Auckland somewhere. He’s hit the front page again with his most recent attack on gay people – ‘homos’ as he’s called them. He’s also thrown in a portion of misogyny for good measure, admitting that he doesn’t allow his wife to vote, but rather demands that she in the kitchen baking cakes. Seriously? Is that even legal?

In the kitchen.

I happen to know this man and his family, although I haven’t seen them for over six years. They attended our last church for a bit. We didn’t use the King James Version, we allowed people to wear what they wanted (some used to attend bare-foot, from memory), and our sermons only lasted 20-30 minutes. More importantly, our speakers would never, at least without a sincere apology afterward, stand up and unload their emotional insecurities onto unsuspecting listeners.

Because I knew him, I take a keen interest in his well-being. As I observe him through the media, I’m concerned for him, cross with him, and just want people to ignore him – all at the same time.

I’m upset because I believe that this pastor is deliberately and knowingly making statements designed to shock and anger. If you peruse his YouTube channel you will see that he has selected video clips from his sermons with titles like ‘Jacinda Ardern Needs to Shut Up and Get in the Kitchen’ and ‘Sodomites are Dogs.’  He must sit at home on his computer editing clips of his own sermons and selecting the most outrageous off-the-cuff comments from his sermons. Why? Because it gets attention, and for every 10,000 ‘haters’, he’ll get one recruit.

I’m upset because he is deliberately distorting the Christian faith for his own ends, something that the Bible specifically warns against. I think that other pastors and Christians do need to speak out and make it clear that this is not Christianity. This is not about Jesus.

Coffee with Jesus - forgiveness

I’m also concerned for him and his church because I think that he is playing with fire. He is setting himself up as a martyr, and we all know what happens to martyrs. I’m worried for his family. How are they coping with all of this? I’m fearful for the people who gather to hear him preach each Sunday. Churches are supposed to be safe places where everyone is welcomed and respected regardless of their gender, mental state, or sexual orientation. What is his message doing to the ‘little ones’ of the flock?

I wonder if the media are mature enough to see this pastor’s antics for the attention-grabbing stunts that they are and ignore, rather than fuel, his tirades. Why? Because he wants you to react, to hate him and draw more attention to his anger. That way he will feel confirmed in his distorted view of the Bible, Christianity, and the use of social media.

When Christians Disagree (Acts 15:36-41)

 

Do real Christians ever argue? Have you ever disagreed with another Christian?

Christians do argue

So people think that if two Christians argue, it automatically damages the Christian witness. Sometimes Christians feel that they have to choose sides in arguments. What this means is that one party is portrayed as ‘right’ and the other party ‘wrong.’ The ‘wrong’ person or party is therefore somehow not a ‘real’ Christian.

If you’ve read any of these posts you will see that on occasion I have publicly disagreed with statements made by other Christian leaders. Obviously, I feel that I’m right and they’re wrong, but nothing more. It doesn’t mean that they are less Christian than I.

For example, I have disagreed with statements made by Brian Tamaki from Destiny church. I stand by those particular statements. Does this mean I don’t think he is a Christian? No way.

I am fully aware of the good Christian ministry being undertaken by Brian Tamaki and his church. Recently, for example, I have been impressed with the work of ‘Man Up’ (www.manupnz.org) in our communities, and I want to see more of it, especially in our prisons. Because we might disagree on some points, it doesn’t mean I need to trash them.

Even St Paul and St Barnabas argued

Okay, I’m not actually into calling people ‘Saint’, but it helps to make the point. If two giants of the early church like Paul and Barnabas argued, but kept on doing gospel ministry, surely we can too.

After the general assembly in Jerusalem (Acts 15), Paul says to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and see how the believers in the churches we’ve helped to establish are doing.” Barnabas agreed, and suggests taking John Mark, his cousin, with them on the trip.

Paul’s face must have frozen like James Comey’s when https://i0.wp.com/thelibertarianrepublic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/450436942-director-james-comey-testifies-during-a-hearing-before.jpg.CROP_.promo-mediumlarge.jpg?resize=303%2C216Barnabas said that, and knowing his personality he probably said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take the guy who abandoned us in Pamphylia.” Barnabas likely felt offended, because John Mark is whanau or family. They argue back and forth, but can’t agree. Who is right and who is wrong?

An Irreconcilable difference?

Unlike the church meeting in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas can’t resolve this disagreement, so they agree to disagree, as we say. Barnabas takes John Mark and they go back to Cyprus, Barnabas’s homeland, and Paul recruits Silas who was selected by the Jerusalem council to return with Paul and Barnabas to take their letter to the churches. From this point on in Acts, we don’t read any more about Barnabas and Mark.

https://adamhellyer.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/barnabas-vs-paul-02.png?w=840

But, does this mean that their relationship was irreversibly damaged? Because we don’t read about John Mark and Barnabas any more, you could conclude that. However, you do see that Paul still loves and values Barnabas and Mark. In the Corinthians letter, he references Barnabas as one of his fellow workers (1 Cor.9.6).  More striking is the way he talks about Mark – this boy he didn’t trust. He tells the Colossian church to welcome Mark (Col.4:10), then Mark is ‘very useful to me for ministry’ (2 Tim.4:11), and then in Philemon he includes Mark in his band sending greetings (Philm.27).

Our personalities

Part of the conflict, I believe came down to personality types and culture clashes. Let’s look at them:

Paul: We know this guy. He was a hard man, passionate and driven. He wouldn’t have been the easiest person to live with, and yet he accomplished a phenomenal amount in his life and ministry. Intelligent, a bit rough around the edges, but the fearless church planter extraordinaire. Where would we be without him?

Barnabas: A Levite (priestly) from Cyprus, who lead by his example of selling property and giving the money to the church. He was the man who vouched for Paul when everyone else in Jerusalem was still scared of him and wouldn’t meet him.

https://i0.wp.com/www.southlandbible.org/picts/sermonCartoons/acts/PaulBrotherInChrist_Romans9_26.jpg?w=840

He was also the man who the church trusted to go to Antioch and evaluate the things happening there among the Gentile converts. He earned the name, ‘son of encouragement.’ Remember, it was the Holy Spirit who told the church to ‘set apart for me Paul and Barnabas.’

They were in reality great friends who went way back, but are now unable to see eye-to-eye.

Hope for us all

You might be ‘in an argument’ with another Christian right now, maybe even with someone else in your church. While always seeking to be reconciled and heal any rifts, what is important is that you keep doing what God wants, to tell the world about the death and resurrection of his Son for sinners.

 

Is God the Lord?

Some Christians shy away from the idea that God is the Lord. Sometimes the reasoning is, that, if we make God the Lord, then he is responsible for all that goes on in the universe, and that wouldn’t be good for his popularity. For example, if disasters or other bad things occur, a ‘God’ not fully in the know or in control of everything is proposed instead.

However, when good things happen, then God is given the credit because it is assumed to be safe for him. That seems to be a little inconsistent to my way of thinking.

Nebuchadnezzar

The Bible helps us to see that God is the Lord in many places, but one story I love is about the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Feeling proud and pleased as he walks on the upper balcony of his splendid palace, he says to everyone and no one in particular, “Isn’t this great, this place I’ve built, the people who look up to me, the work I’ve done. I’m pretty powerful and amazing – you could even say, ‘glorious’?”

Regrettably this man had forgotten the dream he’d had warning him against this way of thinking. He had been advised by Daniel to humble himself before God and be more kind to the poor and needy. Now, it was too late! With a word from the Almighty he ran mooing from his mansion out into his large back paddock where he stayed for seven years eating grace like a cow (a bull?). At the end of that time he even looked a bit like a cow too.

Nebuchadnezzar 1795-c. 1805 William Blake 1757-1827
Nebuchadnezzar 1795-c. 1805 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05059

However, after seven years he came right in his head again and came back to live in his palace on the hill. He prayed this amazing prayer, blessing, praising and honouring God as the ‘Most High’: Finally, I prayed to God in heaven, and my mind was healed. Then I said: “I praise and honour God Most High. He lives forever, and his kingdom will never end. To him the nations are far less than nothing; God controls the stars in the sky and everyone on this earth. When God does something, we cannot change it or even ask why. (Daniel 4)

King Nebuchadnezzar came to see that God is the Lord, one of his most common titles. He identified God as superior to all others, an eternal ruler who governs whole nations with the same ease with which he controls the vast cosmos. Furthermore, his actions are perfect and free of compulsion.

In other words, he understood that God is the Lord. While he was living in denial of God’s right to rule as his Lord, God was a threat. Now that he accepts God’s rule, his lordship it is a comfort.

What about you: Is a God who is Lord a threat or comfort to you?

Annunciation: the angel’s message to Mary and us

When I went back to school as an adult student, I chose to take subjects that I enjoyed, rather than ones that would lead to a job. So, I took Art History. In Art History ou get to look at lots of pictures of beautiful paintings and sculptures. The tricky thing is that you also have to read and write about boring stuff, like ‘triptych’, ‘linear perspective’ and something called ‘egg tempera’ – not to be confused with egg tempura.

My favourite period was the Italian Renaissance. When you look at art from this era you notice lots of paintings of angels and ladies, and they’re all called something like ‘The Annunciation’, like the example below. Why? The artists back then chose to paint for the highest dollar, and back then the church paid best.  What would a church want an artist to paint? Bible scenes, obviously.

DaVinciAnnunciation
‘The Annunciation’ by Leonardo Da Vinci (c.1472-75)

So, what is happening in this picture? An angel (the one with wings) is talking to a lady. The angel is Gabriel, and the lady is Mary. This picture is an attempt to portray Luke 1:26-38. While ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ there are some words that this picture doesn’t say, like:

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

The story is pretty straight-forward, but really unusual because it involves an alien being, a virgin birth, and God as a human being. Not really your usual.

Gabriel visits a girl in Nazareth called Mary, who is also engaged to a guy called Joseph. Angels frighten people, because when you see an angel ordinarily it means you’re going to die! Mary is scared, but Gabriel tells her not to be, but instead, she is “highly favoured” and that God is with her.

Gabriel then tells her that she will conceive a baby which she is to call Jesus, or Yeshua, in Aramaic. Not only that, he’s going to be “Son of the Most High” who will reign over God’s people as the son of David – forever. Mary stops the angel half-way to voice an obvious problem (think teenage girl voice), “Like. How?”

Not to be fazed, the angel replies that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” As proof that this will happen, Gabriel tells her that her older cousin (over 50) Elizabeth is six-months pregnant. This will happen because God’s word always comes true.

Mary responds with complete trust, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word be fulfilled.” She has total faith in God’s purposes, and affirms that she is willing to participate in this history-shifting and cosmically-commanding event.

When God speaks to you this Christmas, what will be your response? Will you be a part of his world-changing plan?

God and Earthquakes

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13)

It’s been another tough week for the country with earthquakes and wet weather. Everyone is focused on supporting and helping the communities affected.

The only good thing about it was that it took the US election off the front pages, for a while.

Not such a good week for Christians, however.  Someone noticed that Brian Tamaki from Destiny Church had preached last Sunday (13/11/2017) about earthquakes and sin. He said, “Leviticus says that the earth convulses under the weight of certain human sin,” “And it says it spews itself up after a while. That’s natural disasters. Massive earthquakes have already hit in Christchurch. You could have just about predicted that one. It had the highest murder rates. It was a haven for those who were absolutely anti-Christ.”

Bob Parker, former mayor of Christchurch, is pretty upset, and others have written opinion pieces condemning Brian. Some of those are thoughtful and measured, others are remarkably hateful.

Some people are so upset that they have started an online petition to have Destiny Church’s charitable status removed. I’m not sure how online petitions work.

The truth?

But, what about the stuff that Tamaki says in that clip? As a Christian I can say that he is half right and half wrong. I know that sounds like fence-sitting, so let me explain.

He is absolutely correct to say that creation ‘groans’ under human sinfulness. The Apostle Paul wrote that creation has been ‘subjected to futility’ because of human sin. He’s right on that score.

However, to say that Christchurch or Kaikoura were hit by earthquakes because they are especially sinful is wrong.  The idea is not sustained by what the Bible says.

In a perfect world, bad things would only happen to bad people. Job’s friend Eliphaz believed that, and told poor suffering Job as much (Job.4:7-8). Jesus’ own disciples even believed that people who had physical disabilities were being punished (John.9:2), as they pondered whether it was the man or his parents who were responsible for his blindness. Jesus was adamant, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned”, he said.

In Jesus’ day plenty of bad things happened too, like some Galilean villagers getting slaughtered by Roman soldiers at a Passover festival, or the folks being crushed by a falling tower at Siloam in Jerusalem (Luke 13).

Jesus’ view

Jesus was asked if this happen because they were they exceptionally bad people or worse than others. Which brings us back to Brian Tamaki’s idea, that, the people in Christchurch, or, Kaikoura, or Wellington, have suffered earthquakes because they are worse than the rest of us.

Jesus answer is an emphatic, ‘No!’ That doesn’t mean that they were innocent little cherubs, but neither were they somehow worse or guiltier than anyone else in New Zealand. So, Tamaki is out of step with what the Bible teaches.

If there is anything that Jesus would want us to learn from the sad events of the last week, is that, we – all of us – should examine our relationship with God, with our neighbours, and with creation to see if we need to change.

 

Are You Happy?

Eat Yourself Happy?

I can’t seem to forget the billboard.  Every time I drove through town, there it was at the side of the road, with the giant face of a man with a ludicrous smile.  Across the top was the statement: “Eat Yourself Happy.”

Each time I drove past I pondered the meaning of this piece of fast food advertising.  Would eating hamburgers from a particular joint leave me with a feeling of peace and contentment?  Would burgers by other global franchises have the same effect?  What about a burger from the local fish and chip shop?  Would my daily dose of porridge also the-triple-triple-burgerinduce lasting cheerfulness?

Obviously the idea of using food to induce any sense of lasting happiness is stupid – yet the worrying rise of obesity in NZ is proof that too many of us do derive happiness, albeit fleeting, from food.  We also depend on alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, sport and any number of other indifferent or harmless pursuits to try and find happiness.

Who is Truly Happy?

5:2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons1 of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus gives us the answer in what we call the  ‘Beatitudes’ (Matthew 5:1-12). Matthew tells us that on one occasion when Jesus sat on ‘the mountainside’ (5:1) His disciples “came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…’” The term ‘blessed’ that Jesus used might well be termed ‘happy.’ Here at the commencement of his public ministry, he was pronouncing the Divine Shalom (peace) upon a certain kind of person – those who were citizens of his kingdom and who had the smile of God upon them. They were not people who had ‘earned’ God’s favour through their actions, but people who through the grace of God had been brought into a state of utter dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ. In their dependence upon him rather than their self-achievement, they had found safety and happiness.

Perhaps when you have told someone else what your faith means, they have said, ‘Christianity is just a crutch for people who can’t make it through life on their own’?  Well, they are right – with two minor corrections: ‘CHRIST is a crutch for people who KNOW that they can’t make it through life on their own’! Yes, truly happy people are cripples who have found all they need in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What Happy People Look Like

What do these happy cripples that Jesus is describing look like? They are spiritual bankrupts (v.3), who are mourning over their sins (4).  They view themselves through the ‘reality glasses’ of Scripture, which results in meekness and humility (5).  In a world bloated with all kinds of deathly junk food, the kingdom citizen hungers and thirsts after Christ’s righteousness (6).

The character of the happy person is further defined by their willingness to operate by grace rather than the letter of the law (7).   In a day of sordid secrets, they are distinguished by their purity and innocence (8).  When the best that rulers and officials can do is send in the peacekeepers, these blessed ones bring the Prince of peace to earth through the gospel (9).

Finally, the really happy are those who have the inner capacity of grace that makes them loyal to Christ, even to the point of death (10).  When they are insulted, persecuted and slandered for Christ, then their happiness rises to rejoicing, because they are counted with the godly prophets of old (11,12).

Are you Happy?

Ask yourself, “Am I happy?”  If so, go on and ask a second question, namely, “What is it that makes me happy, or unhappy, for that matter?”  Test yourself.  How much wealth is accumulated in your spiritual bank account?  Does your sin make you sad?  Do you accept others reminding you of your sins? Do you enjoy doing good and showing others what Jesus is like? What is that satisfies your hunger and quenches your thirst? Know this for sure: anything but the Lord Jesus Christ will never bring happiness – a happiness that is actually God’s smile of blessing on your life.

An Easter Reflection: Don’t Mock Jesus

The problem with Easter is all the extra-biblical rubbish that we hear.

Countdown Supermarkets have been selling hot cross buns since Waitangi Day. Walk in the door of The Warehouse and you are confronted by a wall of chocolate eggs.

There is money to be made in religion.

What is most galling, however, is to have another Christian leader take to Twitter two days before Good Friday to mock Jesus Christ. Self-appointed ‘bishop’ Brian Tamaki tweeted on Wednesday:

I don’t do Twitter, and just as well, because I would want to reply to Tamaki with some pretty unedifying words. I’d probably want to say something sarcastic like: “Thanks Brian, for turning a whole bunch of thinking people off Christianity. Thanks for making pastors appear as hypocritical and greedy jerks that any responsible parent would warn their children to avoid. Thanks a lot, mate!”

But, as I have reflected on Tamaki’s words more, I have become convinced that he has done something far more serious. Brian Tamaki is mocking my Lord Jesus.

You see, on Good Friday we solemnly remember that Jesus was tortured to death on the cross for our sins, as foretold in the Jewish writings of the Bible.

The New Testament tells us, that, as he hung from the cross, the Roman executioners divided his possessions amongst themselves – sandals, head scarf, outer coat and belt. The most valuable object was his undergarment, a one-piece affair that they rolled a dice for.  Slim pickings by any standards.

No multimillion-dollar lifestyle property, no flash new cars, no bling-rings or teeth jobs. Of his personal wealth Jesus himself said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man (meaning himself) has nowhere to lay his head.”

The temple leaders of the day stood around the cross in their religious finery and mocked the King of Glory as he hung naked on the cross, beaten beyond recognition and slowly dying. They mocked this Nazarene no-body by telling him to ask God for help, just like Brian Tamaki did in his rude tweet.

So, we have to forget this upsetting rubbish, and remember what Paul said:

“For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

Thank you, my blessed Lord Jesus. Happy Easter.

 

Why Waitangi Day?

Waitangi Day and Joshua 9

February 6th is Waitangi Day. Waitangi means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?  What words or emotions do you associate with Waitangi Day? Did you every think, however, that as a Christian you have a unique insight into Waitangi Day?

In public media, Waitangi Day is about lots of shouting, angry posturing, throwing T-shirts, spitting and shouting – did I mention shouting? Personally, I have been on marae on Waitangi Day and have only experienced fun and food.

So, what do they shout? “Honour the Treaty!” As a Christian “honour the Treaty” is the correct thing to say – but in a constructive and honourable way. How so? Because Christians on both sides – Maori and British – were deeply involved in seeing the Treaty signed and believed it was the right thing to do before God. More than this, they viewed it like a biblical covenant, and hoped that it would speak of the greater covenant between God and man in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Explanation: In the Bible we have a story that explains why honouring the Treaty is the right thing to do. But, before we look at it, let’s just remind ourselves what the Treaty of Waitangi/Tiriti o Waitangi is. In summary it is a legal covenant between most of the Maori chiefs and representatives of the British crown. The Treaty established a British Governor of New Zealand, but recognised Maori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave Maori the rights of British subjects. Unfortunately, the English and Maori versions of the Treaty differed significantly, so people don’t agree 100% on exactly what was agreed.

The Treaty was signed because more and more Europeans were coming to Aotearoa looking for cheap land. In the early 1800’s only a few Pakeha lived here, and the most influential ones were Christian missionaries like Henry Williams. Most missionaries did not want NZ being colonised by Europeans, believing that Maori should be left to govern themselves with protection from Britain. However, because colonisation was already happening, men like Williams and Hone Heke agreed to support the Treaty. In Britain Christians lobbied their government to treat the ‘natives’ as equals. In fact, it was said that the missionary Henry Williams merely needed to ‘lift his little finger’ and none of the chiefs would have signed.

So, a majority signed according to the suggestion of the missionaries. The treaty was written without lawyers in four days, translated into Maori by Williams and his son overnight, and signed a day earlier than planned by Governor Hobson still wearing his dressing gown! As each chief signed, Hobson shook their hand and said, “He iwi tahi tatou”, meaning, ‘we are now one people’. They believed that they were doing the right thing before God and that it legitimised Britain’s claim to sovereignty and would protect Maori.

However, it was the missionaries who were the first Pakeha to start saying, “honour the Treaty.” What has caused us a headache today was the rejection of the Treaty by land-hungry colonisers, the unwillingness of the settler government to acknowledge the Treaty, and the unjust confiscations, and outright thefts of Maori land. Today less than 7% of land in NZ is owned by Maori.

So, that Bible passage?[1] Well it is a story of a dishonoured treaty that was dishonourably made. (Joshua 9) As the Israelite army took over the land of Canaan, the Gibeonites figured that they had zero chance of surviving. So they pretended to be from another country, and went to the Israelite leaders and requested a protection treaty. The Israelites (including Joshua) got sucked in, and made a covenant with the Gibeonites, not realising they were Amorites.

This treaty was soon put to the test (Ch. 10) when the other Amorite cities in the area formed a coalition to attack the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites called on the Israelites to honour the treaty and help defend them – which the Israelites did.

And then we hear no more of them – until 200 years later when David is king of Israel. The land suffers a severe famine (2 Samuel 21) and when David enquires of the Lord, he hears that it is because his predecessor Saul has failed to honour the treaty with the Gibeonites and had almost annihilated them.

David called the Gibeonites and asked them what he should do to honour the treaty, and they suggest the execution of seven of Saul’s sons. David carries out this grisly justice, but spares one of Saul’s grandsons, a certain Mephibosheth. Why? Because David had made a personal covenant with Mephibosheth’s father Jonathan. And God? He removed the famine curse from the land that he had put in place because of the dishonoured treaty.

What can we learn from this Bible account? Are there parallels?

No covenant is perfect. The Gibeonite covenant should not have been made. The Gibeonites deliberately misled Joshua, and Joshua and the leaders failed to properly investigate their claims. It was also an imbalanced treat between the power of Israel and the vulnerability of the Gibeonites. With the Waitangi Treaty, although all parties involved denied trying to deceive anyone, the reality was that a primitive tribal people were dealing with the might of the British Empire. In 1847 Henry Williams wrote, ‘As I  did  explain  the nature  of  the  treaty  in 1840,  I must  continue  to  explain,  in  self  defence;  for  I must  not  be accessory to such deception, but continue to stand upon the treaty alone.’ However, in spite of their high aims, mistakes were made and later governors and NZ governments ignored the Treaty.

God takes covenants seriously. The missionaries and Christian chiefs signed the Treaty like a biblical covenant – a bond in blood. It was seen as a sacred pact before God, like God’s covenant with Abraham and the one with us founded on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Israelites take this covenant with the Gibeonites deadly seriously – they stake their lives on it, and so should we.

Dishonouring treaties brings a curse. David was the king who had to deal with the curse that resulted from Saul dishonouring the Gibeonite treaty. The famine occurred under his rule, not Saul’s. We today have to deal with the dishonourable actions of land theft and unjust and large-scale land confiscations.

Justice needs to be done. Here the might of the Israelite nation at the height of its power bows to the grievances of a complaining minority group. Sound familiar? They willingly set things right. I think that we as a nation have been attempting to do that. Obviously the millions of hectares taken cannot be returned, but money and apologies help somewhat.

Both are subverted by a higher treaty. Remember the Mephibosheth bloke? He was the semi-crippled grandson of Saul who was spared symbolic justice. Why? Because his father and King David where best mates and sealed their love by making a covenant with each other (1 Sam. 18:3; 20:16, 42). This covenant of love overrode the Gibeonite peace treaty.

 As I said, the principal movers and shakers behind the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi were God-fearing Maori and Pakeha whose lives had been changed by Jesus.  And, while this truth doesn’t remove the need to honour the Treaty and to do justice, it does show us a higher way of humility and forgiveness. Mephibosheth was spared because of the life-saving love of Jonathan for David. You and I are saved because of the life-saving love of God in Christ Jesus.

At the end of the day, we are all covenant-breakers and ‘dishonourers’ of God’s treaty – ‘do this and live, disobey and die’. Our sin brings the curse of death, but Jesus dies in our place through his covenant of love on the Cross. This is a reality that I believe lets each of us as Christians – Maori and Pakeha – rise above the anger, fear and resentment that surrounds so much talk today. Therefore as God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus, so we also are empowered and freed to forgive each other as Maori and Pakeha bound to God by a covenant of love – a better and eternal way.

[1] This parallel was first suggested in an article in The War Cry, 1983.

What did the Christmas Angel Say?

Here’s a thought: Who should get to enjoy Christmas? Definitely not naughty children, according to one popular song. Let me quote the lyrics:

‘You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town.’

What a horrible song. Santa Claus (apologies St Nicolas!) is some sort of anal obsessive who hates crying children and keeps a list of their misdemeanors. Furthermore, he will only reward perfect kids with, I presume, a present. Counts me out. What about you?

I’ll stick with the Christmas Angel, thanks very much. Let me quote from Dr. Luke:

‘In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Saviour, who is  Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”

Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favours!” When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”’

– Luke 2:8-15

What’s the big deal? Well, its the recipients of this message. You see, at the time of these events, shepherds were not considered good people. My Rienecker & Rogers Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament has the following entry: ‘Poimen, shepherd. Shepherds had a low reputation and were looked upon w. great suspicion.’ In other words, shepherds had one loyalty, and that was to their sheep. They weren’t considered to be good honest or ‘nice’ people.

So, what did the Angel of God have to say to these ‘not-so-good’ folks?

Don’t be afraid, I have good news for everyone

Why would the angel tell them not to be afraid? Well, firstly, this isn’t one of those fat little cherubs with fluffy wings. This is a real angel.   Secondly, it says, ‘An angel of the Lord stood before them.’  When people saw an angel, they knew that their time was up – especially if they had been naughty. When God pays a visit there is good reason to be scared because he could be coming to judge you.

But not today, not on Christmas Day. God has sent his angel with good news – the gospel.

Your Saviour, Christ the Lord, has come today

The good news is that the Saviour of the world has come.  Ever since our first parents fell into sin, mankind has looked for rescue from the death-dealing condition of the human heart. So, God has promised a Saviour. He promised that to Eve in the garden, that her child would crush Satan’s head and in so doing would injure his heal.  700-years before the prophet Isaiah had prophesied, that: ‘…the virgin shall conceive and have a Son, and shall call his name ‘Immanuel’.” Immanuel means, ‘God-with-us.’

The good news of great joy for everyone is that the Saviour who has come is Messiah/Christ the Lord. Do you need to be saved?  Here is God’s chosen one, the only Saviour of the world.

Your Saviour is a baby sleeping in a manger

This is where it gets really challenging for you if you are tough guy.  You see, if I was in a fight I would want a big strong gangsta to rescue me. If  I was having psychological or drug problems, someone with a beard, glasses and a clipboard. If financial problems, someone in a flash suit and with a big cheque book. What about sin issues?

The Christmas angel tells us that our Saviour  of the world is a newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a hay manger!  This shows us that it is a miracle, and humbles us to trust him, God sent his Saviour as a newborn baby, helpless and weak in a manger, and who died helpless and weak on the cross to wash away your sin. Only a humbled sinner will buy that.

Glory to God and peace for God’s people

God does this because he is glorified and we receive peace. (v.14) To glorify God means to exalt him, say “that’s awesome of God” and lift his name high. Jesus clearly stated this later, when he defined his life-mission in this prayer: (John 17:4) “Father I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”  You see, Jesus’ life and death brings glory to God because it shows how wonderful God is in saving sinners.  In the gospels we read again and again that people ‘glorified God’ when they saw what Jesus did and said.

Christmastime is a season of good news for Jesus God’s Saviour has come. It isn’t just for good kids (or adults), but for every person, whoever they are, who recognises that they are lost and need to be saved.

How ANZAC Day Preaches the Gospel

It is ANZAC Day again. New Zealand and Australia pause to remember and respect the memory of those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of our country and the freedom of other countries. It is a day when you hear many tales of individual heroism and national solidarity in the fight to defeat aggressors and tyrants in the world. I personally find the day poignant as I reflect on my father who served in WWII, and both my grandfathers who served in WWI.

 

Sometimes Christians can get a little confused about how to respond to this day. Some of us are uneasy with the talk of ‘heroes’ or the ‘glorious dead’ because that makes us think of Christ’s glorious death for the world. Certainly, none of my forefathers considered themselves heroes or glorious. Some of us are uncomfortable with the Christian hymns and biblical passages that are used in the public meetings by complete non-Christians. Sometimes we are disturbed by the focus on the idea that others sacrificed themselves for us. For others it may be simply that we appear to be glorifying something horrific and painful.

 

But, I want to argue this morning that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this things, but instead should grab hold of them to discuss the gospel with folks. And, this morning I want to grab hold of the idea of the death of others for our country, and use it to explain the gospel from Galatians.

 

Galatians 1.1-5

In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia he writes about the fact that they have added religion to the gospel of Jesus. They have received Jesus by faith alone, but now people are starting to say that the Old Testament practices of circumcision, special diets, and other laws are essential if a person is going to be right with God. Paul calls this ‘another gospel’ and condemns it outright as wrong and dangerous.

 

Instead he wants them to understand that they have received the Holy Spirit only by faith in Christ. He explains this in the opening verses, saying that, we receive God’s peace by grace, when we trust in Jesus who sacrificed himself because of our sins and delivered us from the rule of evil – all as God had planned long ago.

 

How is this relevant to ANZAC Day?

 

Today we live in peace by God’s grace

 

A strong theme that runs through ANZAC Day memorials is peace. We talk of the wars as a necessary evil to safeguard the peace and prosperity of free peoples. Kiwi soldiers were killed and maimed in their thousands for the people of France, Belgium, Italy and Britain. Why? So that they, and we, could live in peace.

 

Paul explains the message of the gospel in a similar way. In his greeting he speaks God’s grace and peace on his readers. How? They can have grace and peace ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ This peace comes from God by grace – a free gift. It is peace with God and with our consciences. It is peace of mind and heart, which is far more precious than peace of body or society. He can greet these people with peace because it is theirs through Jesus.

 

Jesus sacrificed himself because of our sins

 

When he mentions the name Jesus, Paul quickly explains how he gives peace – he ‘gave himself for our sins’. At ANZAC Day we also hear a lot about people giving themselves for others. Our soldier forefathers sacrificed their lives on the field of battle for their families, friends and fatherland. For this we are deeply grateful.

 

Jesus, on the other hand, sacrificed himself not just for his friends, but also for his enemies. Paul says here that it was ‘for/because of our sins’ that Jesus came into the world and died on a cross. Jesus repeatedly describes his ministry in those time – ‘the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many’ – and it is this ransom idea that prevails. The thought is that our sins condemn us before God and separate us from his blessing. As Peter says in 1 Peter 3:18 ‘Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…’ Just as the priest in the OT had to over animal sacrifices to cover the sins of the people, so Jesus offers himself (Heb.9:13-14) to God once for all.

 

Jesus’ sacrifice rescues us from the rule of evil

 

Wars should be about justice overcoming evil. For example, WWII impresses on us the fact that that the democratic nations were in a life and death battle for freedom. The bloodthirsty fascism of the Nazi’s, the lunacy of Mussolini, and the fanatical imperialism of the Japanese spurred men and women to enlist in what had become a fight for survival. We needed to be rescued from their evil rule.

 

The gospel of Jesus is the same. Paul says that Jesus gave himself for our sins ‘to deliver/rescue us from the present evil age.’ When you read the Bible it explains that we live in an age dominated by sin and ruled – to a greater or lesser degree – by Satan and his forces. Jesus came, and by his birth, death and resurrection, ushered in a new age of the Spirit, otherwise known as ‘the age to come’ or ‘last days.’ In Colossians Paul explains: (1:13-14) ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, (14) in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’.

 

A Christian, therefore, is someone who has been rescued out of an era and way of life that is conquered and controlled by evil, and now lives under a new rule or government. They have a new identity and existence that is under Christ’s power and authority.

 

This is God’s plan and for his glory

 

One of the interesting things about war history is to read about the planning and negotiating that went on behind the scenes. For example, in WWII New Zealand government policy was, ‘where Britain goes, we go.’ Australia, on the other hand said, “Stuff you, we’re bringing our boys back to defend Australia from the Japanese!” Then there were the meetings of the ‘big four’, Britain, America, Russia & China. They had a plan, even if they couldn’t agree on it all the time.

 

The gospel happens according to God’s plan too. It wasn’t some random, last minute, stop-gap decision to try and outwit Satan. It was planned by God from eternity (Eph.1:11) – ‘according to the will of God our Father’ (v.4). This is comforting to know, because most of us can’t plan beyond our next meal, let alone our eternal destiny! God’s sent the Son, – it was his will- and the Son gave himself to redeem us from slavery to sin.

 

So, who gets the credit? On ANZAC Day we give the credit to the soldiers who fought and those who died. We say, “We will remember them.” We don’t say, “Wasn’t that wonderful of us to let our grandfathers and fathers go and risk their lives for us!” So also, God get all the fame and glory for rescuing us from sin and Satan – forever. As Paul declares, ‘To whom (God) be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (v.5)

 

Conclusion

So, this ANZAC Day and after, honour those men and women who risked their lives and those made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. More importantly, however, honour God for sending his Son Jesus who suffered and died that we might live. He gives you peace because he gave himself for your sin and has rescued you from Satan’s control. He deserves all the credit. Remember him.