Felt Needs vs Real Needs

The problem with adapting church to our felt needs is that our felt needs, our desires, can sometimes be precisely what stands in the way of our own transformation. We need to critically examine our felt needs in the light of scripture rather than presuming their sovereignty. Failure to do so often leaves us with syncretised church rather than contextualised church.

Prayer before studying the Bible

This is a prayer that may be used to open a session of Bible study. It was written by Julie Palmer.

As we open our Bibles

We also open our hearts.

May these words of truth fall upon the very fabric of our lives.

Father, we pray that these ancient scriptures would come alive within us,

To inspire, to heal, to cleanse, to teach

To restore and to guide our hearts and minds.

Lord, come weave your words of life in us.


Churches fighting government over vaccine mandate?

This morning the Sydney Morning Herald reported on opposition to proof of vacination mandates by a number of church leaders including the Catholic Archbiship of Sydney and Anglican Archbiship of Sydney.

I think this exposes some stark differences over how different people define “church”. If you define “church” in terms of community, as I and many others do, then it can happen anywhere, including outdoors and over zoom. So it never really stopped, and while the proposed mandate may create a few challenges they are far from insurmountable. If however, you define “church” in terms of a building, well, yes I can see how the proposed mandate sounds like “turning people away from church”. But I’d suggest the bigger concern should be the likely consequences to your community of failing to exercise basic risk management in the midst of a pandemic. Isn’t caring for the vulnerable part of our mission? I’d suggest some self-reflection before Christians jump on the bandwagon here.

Blessing for the lighting of a fire

This blessing comes from the Carmina Gadelica, a collection a Celtic poetry and prayers. It is called Blessing Of The Kindling. I am thinking an adapted version would be good for my fire pit nights.

I will kindle my fire this morning

In presence of the holy angels of heaven,

In presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,

In presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,

Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,

Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,

But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,

Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,

But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

God, kindle Thou in my heart within

A flame of love to my neighbour,

To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,

To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,

O Son of the loveliest Mary,

From the lowliest thing that liveth,

To the Name that is highest of all.

O Son of the loveliest Mary,

From the lowliest thing that liveth,

To the Name that is highest of all.

Medical Healing and the Christian

I think it’s a sign of our times that, while I have seen many Christians commenting on the pros and cons of vaccination, I don’t think I’ve seen too many articulate their theology of medical healing for fellow Christians. Once again, much of our practice seems to be happening in a theological vacuum.

It shouldn’t be hard to outline a theology of medical healing though. For starters there are many Bible passages that refer favorably to the use of medicinal products derived from plants and animals. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul advises Timothy to take a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent ailments. In Proverbs 16:24 it is noted that honey brings health to the body. Oil too is used in healing and caring for the sick in a number of places. Many herbs also get mentioned in scripture. And in Matthew 9 Jesus himself acknowledges that sick people need doctors.

Moreover, there are many bible passages where lack of access to effective medicine is spoken of as a curse. See Jeremiah 8:22 and Jeremiah 46:11 for example.

And while there are several places in the Bible, where faith alone is accounted for the healing of the people, there is no place in the Bible that forbids the use of medicines, especially for someone who is ill. Consider that Luke himself is named as a physician but never condemned for it. Did he lack faith? I think not.

All of this is to say, there’s a lot of material which suggests that God’s provision of medicinal plants and animals is a blessing and lack of access to medicine is a curse. So why put God to the test when God has already provided for your healing? Is it faith to demand a sign instead?

An old hymn for Resurrection Sunday

A brighter dawn is breaking

Percy Dearmer (1867-1936)

A brighter dawn is breaking,
and earth with praise is waking;
for thou, O King most highest,
the power of death defiest;

And thou hast come victorious,
with risen body glorious,
who now for ever livest,
and life abundant givest.

O free the world from blindness,
and fill the world with kindness,
give sinners resurrection,
bring striving to perfection.

In sickness give us healing,
in doubt thy clear revealing,
that praise to thee be given
in earth as in thy heaven.

A most Motherly Father

Although YHWH is never directly addressed as Mother in the Bible, YHWH is certainly presented as a most MOTHERLY Father on quite a few occasions (e.g. Isa 42:14, Isa 49:14–15, and Isa 66:12–13). We should never be misled into thinking God has anything less than the full complement of feminine and masculine attributes. After all, the scriptures start with the affirmation that BOTH female AND male are made in the image of God.

Disempowered by dualistic thinking

I don’t think it’s helpful to view opponents (dare I say enemies?) in dualistic terms. Framing conflicts in terms of good people versus bad people is disempowering in many ways. It downplays the possibility that your opponents can change. It also downplays the probability that you’re not as different to them as you’d like to think you are. Real people are often a mix of black and white. Often people participate in evil, not because they’re intrinsically evil, but because they’ve been caught up in group think or some other form of moral disengagement. And because that’s very human, it’s something we all have the capacity for. That’s where humility needs to come in. It’s why Jesus stressed the need for humility. It’s because “there but for the grace of God go I”. Now, is this to excuse evil behaviour? No. But it does suggest we should refrain from dehumanising or demonising our enemies. And that we should always hold a door open for the possibility of reconciliation. Reconciliation is not a given, it is not always even likely, but I like to make sure the possibility isn’t closed off from my end.

How to accommodate racism

How to accommodate racism within Christianity? It can be accomplished by adding things to scripture, sure, but it’s much more effectively accomplished by taking things away. People don’t notice that as much. 

Rather than twisting the story of the curse of Ham into a justification for enslaving blacks, as more open racists are inclined towards, the same effect can be achieved by downplaying, and thus encouraging forgetfulness of, the social implications of the acts and teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets. 

For example, speak and sing of your personal relationship with Jesus, but don’t mention the kingdom of God so much. Or if you must mention it, spiritualize it or individualize it as much as you can. It only has to be within your heart okay? In fact, encourage individualistic responses at every opportunity, keep people gazing at their navels so they never have to look up. 

Oh, and don’t join any dots between the slavery of Jews in Egypt and slavery of blacks in America, or elsewhere, as that might give people the idea that some of our ancestors have a grubby past we have to deal with. 

And all those calls by the Old Testament prophets for us to seek justice, act mercifully, walk humbly, etc, let’s just not go there okay? People will forget soon enough if we never remind them in our sermons or our songs. 

But most importantly, never, never, never, draw attention to the political dimensions of the crucifixion of Jesus, what led up to it, or what followed after it.

Bible heroes weren’t all moral models

The problem with using the Old Testament stories as morality tales is that even the best of the patriarchs, judges, and kings had serious character flaws. The most obvious example is King David, who, despite his outstanding faith amongst the kings, nevertheless committed rape and murder. If anything these stories show us the pervasiveness of sin, how it gets even the best of us, and consequently, why we need a saviour. If we’re looking for guidance on how to live, we should be starting with the Saviour, who the prophets themselves eagerly awaited.