After the ruins…

…Something will be planted in its place. “A place where vines will be planted”. In place of the ruins of sin, prosperity? In place of the wastelands of sin, life? In place of the lifelessness of sin, the Spirit? A whole country sinned and a whole city. So, the country is ruined. But something will be planted in its place. Based on Micah chapter 1 verses 5-7.

Values

Photo by Dan Whitfield on Pexels.com

The following church minister responded to anti civil unions protestors whom marched to the New Zealand parliament in 2004. Kevin Ward, a cultural researcher, wrote to me about the issue at the time after I requested an interview. The following article is a direct response to the actual rally itself.

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Changes (Circa 2004)

Photo by NastyaSensei on Pexels.com

One of the things I have noticed in the evangelical church in New Zealand is a willingness to transform the culture with the gospel. But it looked like the ‘others’ were winning the cultural wars.

Kevin Ward said the culture weren’t going along with the evangelicals and their transformative gospel. He said the church needed to adjust to this cultural reality and reach those outside in a more significant way.

Personally, I doubt the gospel is about transforming the culture. I read the gospel in the light of Jesus supporting and helping individuals who then go and live the gospel of love or try to in their daily lives. I think the gospel isn’t about trying to change the world but is lived daily and in being lived daily can do good in the world whether big or small.

But as far as transforming things I take with some suspicion and I treat with alarm those that attempt the aggressive take over in some way shape and form. I think the gospel has never been about cultural transformation but is about being a disciple of Jesus in our lives. But as far as the changing the world, we will continue to wait and see..

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Had enough

Photo by Dan Whitfield on Pexels.com

On my odyssey through the New Zealand church my understanding grew about the issues the evangelicals were facing. As far as I see, the key concern the evangelicals (Bible believers) had with decriminalizing prostitution, granting civil unions to couples, and legalizing gay marriage was the message it sent to their children.

These conservative Christians intended on bringing their children up in the ways of the Lord God, which meant all of the social reforms the government of New Zealand were brining in could send the wrong message to their children, thus making prostitution and those others things open and acceptable. It could seduce their children into thinking that certain behaviors were okay and so send them off the path that leads to life, the way of the Lord. So, they fought against the reforms and I did a couple of articles on the issue, maybe more, although these issues weren’t my main focus at the time.

I may as well post these articles as I am writing about this. They should be posted over the next month or so. The first one is below. It features the most vocal opponents of the liberal reforms. Destiny Church organized a rally to protest the reforms and to oppose the government’s sending of a liberal message to the country and what it would do to their children.

These days, the Destiny head pastor is now fighting the Covid lockdown measures with protests aimed at restoring freedom.

Here’s the article about fighting the liberal reforms of New Zealand. I include comment from the other side as well. In terms of the writing of this article, it would have been better as two articles. One for comment on the issues, and the other on the actual rally. But I combined the two with focus on the issues and comment.

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Meditations

Although Jesus’ disciples were journeying with him, his disciples left him. But Jesus was not bitter. Although being abandoned is not sweet. Perhaps the experience of the disciples leaving him was, as we say, “bitter sweet”, as at the time of this trial Jesus was not alone because he had his heavenly Father for closeness and friendship. Jesus had his heavenly Father to bond with rather than giving up. If we go through trial, we also need the lifeline that sustains us. Jesus showed his humanity by needing the closeness and intimacy of his Father in heaven when all others abandoned him. Powerful, strong stuff. Jesus indeed can be our strength and sustainer when we go through trials of various sorts as he has been through trials as well and his Spirit can help us.

Meditation 2. The disciples needed courage on their journey with Jesus. Jesus tells them to be brave. They will have to journey more with him to learn the ways of being his disciple. This despite the disciples abandoning Jesus once. They would have to gain their courage and go forward with Jesus. Take courage, therefore, his disciples. He knows your weaknesses and identifies with them yet can help you become more like him in love and in action.

Security

It is a powerless thing to truly understand that one is not qualified to judge when you do the same things you judge them on. But such a realization does not strip one fully of the need to judge. One still flirts with the idea.

Non-judgmentalism can feel disempowering and weak, but can one make something else in the place of judging others? Can one replace the need to judge with changing one’s mind? So, one is fair and consistent with the reality that one does the things one judges others on, but even goes further: in seeing the good rather than what’s flawed and wrong. Of course there will be flaws and wrongs, but love always believes the best.

Where from? Where to?

It is bound to come up in discussion — in some circles academic and theological (theology being the study of the divine, in case you did not know) — the discussion being that of the origin of Jesus’ teaching 2000 years ago. It seems Jesus is recorded as saying his teaching came from his heavenly Father (the gospel of John 17:6-8, in the Bible).

Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 

– John 17:7

What does Jesus mean by saying, “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you”?

The ‘you” Jesus is referring to is his Father. Jesus is addressing his Father in a prayer. I see from this prayer, in John chapter 17, verses six to eight, that Jesus got his teaching from his heavenly Father. Therefore, the disciples have the teaching from the Father Jesus passed on.

The disciples accepted the teaching from Jesus which came from the Father. Jesus said:

For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.

– John 17:8

The disciples knew Jesus’ teaching and not only knew his teaching but accepted it.

Later, they followed what Jesus said to do in his teaching.

The disciples would go from acceptance of Jesus’ teaching to applying Jesus’ teaching.

They were initially invited by Jesus to follow him and followed through to the end. The pattern of following the Lord Jesus has produced many more disciples.

The pattern, again, is hearing his teaching, accepting it, applying it, and to make more disciples.

Discipleship can be a lifelong process for believers as they and God work together on becoming true disciples of the Lord. And his teaching is good, of benefit.

Good teacher

That Jesus was just (just the main word here) a good teacher is quoted with suspicion by preachers, who are quoting the culture and not themselves or the Bible. But I have never heard, as far as I can recall, someone saying to me personally, that is to me personally, that Jesus was just a good teacher. Though I somewhat took on board the preacher’s words that people have used this description of Jesus, that he is being called ‘just a good teacher‘.

In the gospel of John (John 16:25a to be exact) I see evidence that Jesus was a good teacher (not just a good teacher) and of course he was more.

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Journey

Note: I made a major error in this article although it was only the omission of a word. But it changed the meaning. I should have said that there was no deceit in the mouth of Jesus.

Here’s the post with that amendment:

Jesus gives as much as a disciple of his needs at a point in their lives. Based on John 16:12.

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Active, where?

In a post before I wrote about God being actively present and I am wondering where someone would find God’s presence and activity. After that post, I thought about how God could be present actively in music somehow, but whether God is present there is another matter, perhaps of human origin, or even Satanic origin. But God can be there in his activity, perhaps even using the unusual, the unknown, the rejected.

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Fifteen years ago this week

The above photo is from the film Facing the Giants which was released fifteen years ago this week. This film headed an evangelical Christian film renaissance from the United States, but these films were not being distributed theatrically in my country. An idea that grew of out of this, so I wrote. I intended the piece for a conservative evangelical newspaper. Here is the article, on the anniversary of that Facing the Giants film. The headline is not mine, it is the editor’s. In terms of ‘pop life’, I discovered there are quite a few people around who only watch Christian film or that is their staple pop life. I have watched evangelical Christian films, one I remember best is a documentary called “Gods of the New Age” which has a distinguished narrator and the doco carries authority. I have not seen Facing the Giants. For the article go here:

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Revealed or not

The other day I read a verse from the Bible. Just a verse. John 15:22 to be exact. It stirred up a reflection.

Do persecutors and sinners know what Jesus is saying? If so, they will be judged by the revealed light they are given. That is how I read John 15:22. The verse does not describe sinners and persecutors as passive, but actively going against the revealed light given to them. Jesus says they will not be held blameless.

If we are free from retribution for the revelation we are not given, John 15:22 may be a liberating word, but if we are given more light and revelation from God, can be an uncomfortable truth . Then we have a choice what to do with the revelation or light given by God. We will be made accountable for the choice.

It is the person who understands the revealed word or revealed light from God and what they do with it that God is holding to account.

This is my reading of John 15:22.

Easy listening inspiration

As your grandmother said, what’s inside comes out on the face, and it can be good, this despite the bad things that happen in real life.

The album by Sheila Walsh, For a Time Like This, released thirty years ago this month into the Christian and inspirational market, says life can be difficult but there is still good food for the soul, unequivocally, whatever Grandma says.

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Book Went Like Hot Cakes

David Moxon (Author, A Once and Future Myth): The publisher and printer of A Once and Future Myth, an applied theology of The Lord of the Rings, was the Wellington Anglican Church House Bookshop and it was released in 2004. The booklet was a cottage industry paperback, not hard bound and not intended for distribution beyond New Zealand. It included a focus on the New Zealand experience of the filming, Peter Jackson’s interpretations, as well as an applied theology of The Lord of the Rings.

“I thought it would interest some of the NZ Christian community mostly. It is actually out of print now. I wasn’t expecting it to sell so quickly or in such numbers. They all went,” says Archbishop David.

“However I genuinely think there are better books available, particularly The Gospel According to Tolkien by Ralph C. Wood, published by The Westminster John Knox Press (2003), which I believe is available and a very good interpretation of Tolkien’s Christian literary base. In my correspondence with Tolkien’s daughter Priscilla, who was one of the first people along with her brothers, to hear The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings read aloud, she said that Ralph Wood had been to see her before publishing. I sent her a copy, which she hadn’t seen. I believe she approved of its general tenor.”

The Power of Myth

In 2004, on the backside of the last movie in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the then Anglican Bishop of Waikato David Moxon (who later became an archbishop) sent me an email about the power of myth in The Lord of the Rings after I requested an interview. Many thanks to the now Sir David Moxon on his time and energies in providing this content back then and later with The Hobbit. Remembering this is David Moxon’s voice and not mine. Here’s what he said, a voice in the pop life world:

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Tolkien and Catholicism

J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) was a Catholic, so I understand. How is this Catholicism reflected in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit?

Archbishop David Moxon: Tolkien said a number of times that his Catholic faith was implicit in his stories and that as time went on he realised how much a part of his work it had become. For example, he agreed that lady Galadriel (“Galad” meaning light in Elvish speech) was an echo of Mary the mother of Jesus. It has been said that the Lembas bread of the hobbit journey in the Lord of the Rings, which fed the will as well as the body, was an echo of the bread of the mass, and so on, in many other ways.

How do you, as an Anglican, relate to this Catholicism in his stories?

David Moxon: I think he expressed what is called in Catholicism a “ natural theology”, meaning he believed that the God who made everything and is an invisible presence behind and within all life, was reflected however dimly,  in the things that God created. Nature can be read in tooth and claw and the world can be horribly marred, but nevertheless the sacred gift of life itself and its instinct to be interdependent, to cooperate and create , are signs of the divine image within us, even if we don’t know this, and even when we fall and sin. The gift of life goes on and redemption and salvation are always being offered and always abounding and growing, no matter what.  I think this approach is found in some seminal Anglican thinking as well, including people like Richard Hooker and Rowan Williams. So, I warm to Tolkien’s catholic faith in this sense, even though there would be some things we might not agree on.

The Transformative Hobbit

I asked Archbishop David Moxon what he thought about the transformative potential of The Hobbit as a story after he mentioned something along those lines. I was open to the idea that stories transform readers inside out at the level of spirit, as I was exploring something like this at the time with my film reviewing. But on second thoughts I am not committed to embracing this spirituality.

There were years where I deliberately found common ground between film stories and Christian spirituality, however I became more analytical about my comments later on and had some doubts about what I was writing. I mean, could the film Chocolat (2000) actually be viewed from the perspective of Christian theology? Maybe not from a Christian conservative perspective, but from an open minded, exploring the possibilities of the film at the level of the spiritual, it could be. I inclined to a more literal interpretation later on, which is conservative in nature, but at first, I was eager to bring a positive Christian perspective. However, that may not be entirely palatable if thinking through the facts of the movie more carefully.

So, I come to the part of David Moxon’s interview with me about transformative stories, at the level of spirit. Here is what he said as a voice on the matter in the pop life world.

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The Hobbit

This an other voice on The Hobbit, it’s not my voice. It is the voice of a Hobbit devotee if that is the right expression. To me, it certainly sounds more like a devotee than a casual interest or passing one. This is part one of an interview with Archbishop David Moxon in 2014. His is a voice I generously post, although is not my voice. It is a part of my pop life series of articles. What do you think of David Moxon’s voice or his content below?

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Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. — Jesus to his disciples.

– John 14:27

I do not know for sure what Jesus meant by this verse, but I trust there are scholars who have done their homework on it. As for me, here are my thoughts on this verse which are not definitive or claiming what Jesus actually meant, but I am convinced of a literal interpretation rather than a mythic one.

I do believe that Jesus can give us peace from his Spirit if we may ask him, but I would not like to put a parameter on how this happens to individuals, but it can happen and come from Jesus.

There is a more doctrinal angle one could read into this verse as well, such as Jesus bridging the gap between himself and his disciples thus making them right with him. Jesus is making people who believe in him right with himself and God which is a Christian theme in the New Testament.

Considering the above verse, what kind of peace is Jesus talking about here? To not let anything come between the disciples and Jesus as he has made his peace with them. So, do not allow yourselves to turn away from him unless you lose that relationship.

Could this verse be about inner peace? If Jesus gives them inner peace, why would they have to do something so their hearts would not be troubled? Unless this verse means to not let anything disturb the inner peace Jesus gives. This inner peace could come from his Spirit and dwells within them so do not let anything disturb that.

Finally, both of these interpretations are equally true as when someone believes in Jesus, they have made been at peace with him, and can receive his Spirit of peace in their hearts as evidence of this peace with Jesus. Just do not lose that relationship with him; let nothing overcome it.

The return of The Hobbit (Circa 2014)

Another article on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit from interviews with Archbishop David Moxon in 2004 and 2013. See what you think of the themes in it. Personally I may have reservations, but also makes me think. There is some truth in the theme of nature ‘replenishing’ and refreshing for the good. We see this in how advances to help others come from the world we are in, but were only discovered in the process of how the life of nature unfolds. I do not believe this is evolution, but would involve ‘life as it is’ and people being involved in the resources of God’s world to bring its resources to the surface. Does it apply to stories?

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Catharsis from the darkness

Love stirs God to help us in the ‘dark’.


God loves us. We are his subjects, but are not being treated as if we less than human because we are somehow below God. God has shared with us this world so God is trusting us with the world. Yet we still live in a fallen world.

Even so, God loves us and has given us graces to help us in the dark places. Grace is catharsis in a fallen world. The Oasis. And if we decide to co-operate with grace, there can even be the help to overcome the things that do us no good. Grace is there.

However, even believers can still be overcome by the darkness from moment to moment, but not every moment. It may happen today, it may happen tomorrow, but we do have a choice every time, but somehow, allow the ever present graces from God, which are not dark, into our lives, so we have a catharsis from the darkness.

Oh, how I hate the sinful things that press against my soul and do battle, but oh, thanks for the sweet graces of God. Of this I need.

My next reflection will be about living in the light which is living in love as seen in Grace of Jesus.

Meeting Tolkien again

This is the second part of my Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit articles written some time ago. David Moxon heard from me again in 2013 when The Hobbit sequel was released. We had been in touch earlier when The Lord of the Rings was released. Both times by email. Was this a movie relationship? I do not like movie relationships much, but I considered our correspondence was more of a professional nature rather than a personal one and this is what it was. Here’s the article that came from those emails, but the draft I submitted was editorialized quite significantly to make it more Catholic. The draft I wrote was angled on stories that speak to us personally.

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A technique for a miracle?

When God performs a miracle, as recorded in the Bible, I may not know God’s mind in bringing about that miracle, but I know God is acting within integrity and that the miracle is not fraudulent or untrustworthy.

In terms of the reason for a miracle, I can learn to discover with confidence that in the case of Lazarus being raised from the dead, the method or technique of this miracle was to bring glory to God. I can therefore presume that any miracle that God does is to bring glory to God.

Glory is brilliance and radiance. Glory is a demonstration of God’s power. And glory points to evidence of God. Jesus demonstrated God’s glory when he performed a miracle in God’s name. Onlookers believed that Jesus’ words — that he and God were one — matched the evidence, the miracle. As a result of the miracle, to God’s glory, many people there and around believed in Jesus.

At the time, many Jews in Jerusalem had come to Bethany, where the sisters of Lazarus stayed, and sympathized over the untimely death of Lazarus. Lazarus was dead in a tomb for four days. This tomb I mean in the New Testament sense which has a different meaning to the modern sense, but it was indeed a sort of entombment relevant to the time.

A miracle came together in a moment for the sisters. But in case we think miracles should always fall from the sky, a technique of a miracle is for a greater glory, in that the giver of the miracle is glorified, at the right time and the right place, and there is indeed a God-directed purpose for such a miracle.

Authorial intent

Apparently, there was a point to writing The Lord of the Rings. It is natural grace, natural theology, and general revelation. These are some heavy terms, which I will begin to explain. Although these theologies (theology being the study of divine things) make up the purpose of the The Lord of the Rings, I am not convinced when I hear intellectual applications of natural grace, natural theology, and general revelation.

However, when I think about what is in the world and its resources that are available to us I start to see how the natural world can grace us with plenty things to live and prosper. This may be called “natural grace”. It may be described as natural theology. It may even draw us deeper to see a Creator, they call this a general revelation of God. I think these can be valid descriptions when we see the world as its is. But I do not believe it is the redeeming force that can bring peace to the earth.

The Lord of the Rings is a book with a natural grace or natural theological outlook,

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Celebration at Martha’s

In days past, I have heard the saying “party at [insert name of person’s] place” but no one would have known to say that during the first century. Unless you were a visitor from the 21st century, like Bill and Ted would be, if it were a movie. Back then they seemed to have called it celebrations. In this day and age, we do not seem to need celebrations. There is so much death around, why would anyone celebrate. What is there to celebrate for many people? Is there still a reason to celebrate anything now?

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Alive

I have been reflecting on the Gospel of John. The read has been enjoyable and compelling. This week, I have been reading the chapter on Lazarus and I learnt why Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead. I now share my findings from the gospel itself.

Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, who lived in the village of Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem, in the first century. Jesus at the time was staying on the far side of the Jordan and was told that Lazarus was unwell.

Two days later, Jesus said to his disciples that Lazarus was physically dead. Jesus explained to his disciples, who were with him, that he meant that Lazarus was resting–meaning his disembodied spirit was resting in Hades, the waiting place for judgment of the dead (as David Pawson explains in “The Road to Hell”). Lazarus was not in heaven or hell. He was resting, in a waiting place for the spirits of the dead.

Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters and was going to wake Lazarus up, so his spirit would come back to his body. Lazarus would come back to life. Jesus went to Bethany and met up with Mary and Martha. Lazarus had been in a tomb four days and Jesus prayed and Lazarus came out of the tomb, alive.

Why did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? Love. Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters. They would have been grateful they got their brother back and Jesus delivered on this for them.

I discovered that Jesus’ love in raising Lazarus has a much wider application as well.

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Olympic champions

I watched this alone with a biscuit. That was a while ago, in the middle of the 1980s. With so many bums on seats, who would have watched this anyhow? I mean, a stuffy costume drama cum period piece set in the toff part of England. And the religious themes were of interest to only the affiliated, bar a few. But there I was, watching this. One of the few. A British film that signaled the resurgence of the film industry in Britain. Winner of four Oscars including best costumes and best film. A profundity rarely seen on screen some seemed to be saying. A rarely filmed exploration of “the race of faith”.

There I was, alone, watching. Who would but me? I was curious. The guy who would not watch Porkys, Yellowbeard, or the likes of The Missionary. But I would watch this Chariots of Fire (1981). What did I think of this excursion from the norms of childhood read: The Black Hole, Star Wars, Superman, The Muppet Movie, and Mission Galactica? Had I graduated all of sudden into maturity and learnedness?

Chariots of Fire barely moved me then and now, except the ending holds the most bitter sweet touch that brings the bird’s eye view and the nature of life. From like God’s view I saw the transience of life. Two men once both Olympic champions, come to the end of their lives. Both were on top of the world for only a moment, then released into the way of Every Man. Every man will wear the grave, whatever their lives have been, but what will their lives count for? In Chariots of Fire, it’s running the race of life and faith that matters, right to the end.

What is love?

The Bible has a chapter called “the love chapter” which is 1 Corinthians 13. One of things of this chapter that occurred to me this week was that love “does not seek its own way”. Such a relevant thing. Love does push one’s will on another. Does not manipulate to get a job done. We could do with more love that does not push one’s will on another.

Myths and facts

I have come across some odd sayings in my day. But more than odd, they were controversial sayings, but delivered palatably, with even with a hint that it should be accepted. Except when I heard it, I may have had the advantage of my knowledge over others in the crowd.

The controversies were told at church, but if one knows their Bible quite literally, as I do, you would think twice about the saying. You would recognize it as controversial and that it did not quite fit the evidence of the Bible. Maybe they were aiming for mass and consumer acceptance, but I sat there dismayed. Waiting for someone to correct. So here it is. The fallacies that appeared from time to time on my journeys. How do I reply…

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A reminder of ‘victory’

Victory (“Escape to Victory” in other territories) was released in American cinemas at the end of July, 1981, that is forty years ago almost to the day. Victory is a sports film with a difference. That was its appeal as I sat down to watch it on home video all those years ago. This film was not my choice, but a soccer mad family member wanted to see it, and wanted me to watch as well. I should not refuse and found the film okay—I reckon, these days, it is a film that may be suitable viewing without having my finger on all the facts, but it was personal for the family member. The story is one of those that would be considered quite interesting family viewing. POW’s (Prisoners of War) in World War II may find their way of escape if they win a football match against their captors. Great idea, even if I did not get fully on board. I would have sooner played a game rather than watch, but sometimes you got to think what others want to watch as well even if the idea smacked of a bit of a phony. But for someone who lived through Nazi Germany, it may a second hand thrill to pull one over their eyes, in the safest way possible. After all, may be that Victory is a reminder that the oppressor did not win.