Is modern day Israel God’s chosen people?

Israeli Flag

Flags are very important for national identity because they symbolise the country it represents. It carries meaning and purpose. For Israel, the flag has a blue star that is often referred to as the star of David. In Judaism it is often called the Magen David, which means the “shield of David” in Hebrew. In Jewish legend, it was believed that David, as a teen, fought King Nimrod. David’s shield had two interlocking triangles and at one point the battle became intense that the two triangles fused together. The star was not meant to have any religious significance but it represents the nationalistic beliefs of the Jewish people. I was curious to explore the origins of this star of David because many Christians around the world place this symbol in their homes and churches. There are Christians who pledge their support to this flag because they see the nation of Israel as the special people mentioned in the Bible.

The first thing I realize is that the origins of the star of David is unclear. But one thing is very clear is that it did not originate from the Bible. Besides the legend of David’s battle with Nimrod, legends also associate the star with King Solomon. According to legends developed mainly by ancient Arabic writers, the star of David was actually the seal of Solomon worn as a signet ring by Solomon. This ring was magical and it gave Solomon the power to command demons, spirits or to speak with animals. Apparently Solomon used the star in his seal as a symbol of protection and power when he fell away from God and built altars to and worshipped false gods, such as Ashtoreh and Remphran (1 Kings 11).

The star of David cannot be found in any rabbinical literature until the middle ages when the Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) began to associate the symbol with deeper spiritual meaning. It was seen as an amulet or talisman with magical or occultic powers. Kabbalists saw the six points on the star as representing God’s absolute rule over the universe in all six directions: north, south, east, west, up and down. They also believed that the triangles represented humanity’s dual nature of good and evil and that the star could be used as protection against evil spirits.

Gradually it became fused as part of Jewish culture and it became a favourite architectural decoration on Jewish buildings. During World War II, Hitler forced Jews to wear a yellow Star of David as a “badge of shame.”

The star of David was reclaimed by the Zionist movement and it represented their fight for nationhood. When Israel was finally established as a nation, the star was placed on their flag. The flag of Israel is a white banner with two horizontal blue lines that have a blue Star of David in the center.

Whilst I strongly support the right for Israel to exist as a nation, and I pray for them and love them in the same way as I pray for and love the different nations of the world, I do not believe the present nation of Israel represents the chosen people of God in the Bible. They are a nation with a strong nationalistic passion like other nations of the world. Whilst I believe that the Jews do have a special place in God’s heart, the nation of Israel occupies the same place in God’s heart as all the nations of the world. God’s desire is that the gospel will be preached in this nation as well as in Palestine, the Middle East, and all the nations of the world.

The flag does not represent God’s people but has its origins in non-biblical spirituality and now represents the right for Israel to exist in the Middle East with Palestine and other Arab nations. It does not have any special or divine rights because the nation of Israel is not the biblical Israel. For me biblical Israel is now the universal people of God who have accepted the Messiah and have become God’s chosen and special people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus has reconciled Jews and Greeks to become one people (Ephesians 2: 14-18). Right now the gospel is being spread around the Gentile world but there will come a time when God will turn His face towards the Jews and we will see a real move of God amongst the Jews (Romans 9-11). Then the end will come (Matthew 24: 14) and people of every tribe and tongue will be gathered around the throne of God in worship (Revelation 7:9). I long for that day but till then I will continue to enjoy a covenant relationship with God because of the promise God made to my spiritual father Abraham and earned for me on the cross by Jesus the Messiah, and I will take my Kingdom responsibility seriously to share the good news of the Kingdom so that God’s chosen people continues to grow in the world.

Capital Punishment – Too Archaic for the Modern World?

death-penalty1The recent execution of Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukurmaran and six other people in Indonesia has led to strong reactions from various countries and individuals. It has once again brought the morality of capital punishment to the forefront. Whilst this debate goes on, the families of those who were killed in this latest execution will experience the pain and trauma of grief as they come to terms with this legalised killings.

According to Amnesty International, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty. However death penalty is still practiced in 58 countries. Since 1977 when only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty, this organisation has been working hard to end the horrendous execution.

Whilst death penalty laws are found in the Old Testament of the Bible and practiced, it was made more difficult to carry out by the establishment of religious laws which made the standard of proof before the death penalty can be carried out more stringent. In 30 A.D. the Sanhedrin effectively abolished capital punishment by stating that the death penalty of for God alone to use, not fallible human. In 1948, Israel inherited the British legal system that allowed for capital punishment for muder. In 1954, the Knesset however voted to abolish the death penalty for the crime of murder but retained capital punishment for Nazi war crimes, certain crimes under military law and crimes against the state. Today the death penalty has hardly been used. In fact Chief Justice Barak pronounced that the death penalty as legally unconstitutional because it contradicts the right to life embedded in Israel’s Basic Law of Human Dignity and Freedom.

Besides the Old Testament, there were other cultures that practiced the death penalty. In the 18th century B.C. the Code of King Hammaurabi of Babylon codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes. The death penalty was also found in the Hittite Code of the 14th Century B.C., the Draconian Code of Athens of the 7th Century B.C. and the Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets of the 5th Century B.C. Types of death sentences from these ancient codes included crucifixion, drowning, beating or stoning to death, burning alive and impalement.

In the 10th Century A.D., hanging became the usual method of execution in Britain. In the 16th Century A.D., under the reign of Henry VIII, as many as 72,000 people were estimated to have been executed. Some common methods of execution at that time were boiling, burning at teh stake, hanging, beheading, and drawing and quartering, where there were drawn by horse to the place of execution, where they were hanged, emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered (chopped into four pieces).

Whilst hanging is still practiced today, advocates of the death penalty claim that more humane methods of execution are practiced in various countries. These include lethal injections, electrocution, gas chamber, and facing the firing squad.I do have question marks on whether these methods are really humane.

The question that I have in my mind is this. Should the death penalty continue to exist in the 21st century? The death penalty came into being from cultures and nations that existed at a time where violence was a norm. It existed during the barbaric times of human history. This is clearly seen in the way they executed people for crimes that today we no longer view as crimes. The origins of the death penalty was clearly a synmptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. The death penalty failed to deter people committing crime back then. And it still does not deter people from committing crime today.

Maybe it is time to rethink the place of the death penalty in today’s world.

Recovering from Burnout

burnout0I have had many varied experiences in my life but burnout has probably been the worst experience of my life, even more difficult to cope with than the death of my parents or the challenges of parenting. I have been in pastoral leadership for 25 years and most of that time I have found ministry to be very encouraging and immensely satisfying. But in the middle of last year I woke up one morning with a strong resentment towards the church and over time it grew into a full-scale anger and bitterness. In my mind I knew I was very stressed with the various challenges I was facing leading a church,  serving the needs of the residents struggling with the trauma the earthquakes brought, providing support to my family, and trying to keep myself sane. Yet I did not realise how stressed I was until I did a medical check to find out why I was constantly tired. The doctor gave me a clean bill of health but when I did a psychological assessment, the results pointed to the fact that I was in serious burnout. So I resigned from ministry in October last year to give myself the space to rest and recover from the burnout.

What did burnout cause me to do?

  • It caused me to question everything – God, my abilities, society, the Bible, church, everything.
  • It made me feel far from God even though I continued doing my regular spiritual disciplines.
  • It made me become more cynical about everything.
  • It hardened my heart to the needs of the people around me.
  • It caused me to lose my joy and laughter.
  • It caused me to pull away from people
  • It caused me to feel like a total failure.

As I look back over the last 12 months, I could see myself going in a downward spiral. I never expected that I would suffer from burnout. I am an activist, someone who could carry out a number of projects in one go. I have often been the one to make things happen. Now I realise that I was wrong. And I think I am not alone. There are other pastors and leaders who think that they could never suffer from a burnout. The truth is that being a pastor is one of the most stressful roles a person can have.

What have I realised from this?

  • God is the only means of restoration. Even though I felt far from God, God was at work bringing his healing to my inner being.
  • Seek help. You don’t have to go through this alone. Sometimes churches and leaders do not understand burnout and they end up making a pastor feel responsible for the place they are in. I found that I needed to meet with some of my good friends who just sat and listened. Sharing with the right people helps with the healing.
  • Let go. This is the hardest part because part of burnout is feeling that you have failed. But at the end of the day I have to rest in the fact that God is the one in control, not me.

Now, I can look back and thank God for seeing me through this season of disorientation and reorienting my life so that I can enter into a new phase of service in God’s Kingdom.

The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity – A Book Review

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Colin Gunton is the professor of Christian Doctrine at King’s College in London and has written or edited a number of books on doctrine. In “The One, the Three and the Many”, a book based on his 1992 Bampton Lectures, Colin Gunton sets out to discuss the relationship Christian theology has played in the development of modernity. He quotes William Morris. “Modernism began and continues wherever civilization began and continues to deny Christ.”[1] Gunton then goes on to say, “Modernity is like all cultures, in being in need of the healing light of the gospel of the Son of God, made incarnate by the Holy Spirit for the perfecting of the creation”.[2] In his book, he analyses the rife within the late modern culture caused by the “fragmentation and decline into subjectivism and relativism”[3] found in that culture. He argues that its roots lie in Western culture’s failure to develop “an account of relationality that gives due weight to both one and many, to both particular and universal, to both otherness and relation”.[4]Gunton contends that a revitalized Trinitarian account of creation is essential to restore and rejuvenate late modernity’s cultural disarray. He outlines a fundamental Trinitarian ontology with the aim to show how this “Trinitarian analogy of being (and becoming)”[5] provides the conceptual resources for thinking and acting coherently with respect to the unity and plurality of being in the world.

Gunton’s book has two parts. In the first part entitled “The Displacement of God”, he presents four observations regarding modernity: modernity’s disengagement, the displacement of the “other”, the “false temporality” of modernity, and the modern problem of meaning. He goes on in the second part, entitled “Rethinking Createdness”, to theologically respond to the observations in a reverse order. The four chapters in the second part are foundationalism, the concept of relation, spirit and particularity and the triune God.

In the first section where he talks about the displacement of God, Gunton argues that the Augustinian view of the doctrine of creation is flawed and this has led to modernity’s fragmentation and skepticism. For example, Augustine’s “divorce of the willing of creation from the historical economy of salvation”[6] led to a monistic view of Creator and creation. When modernity rejected the Augustinian Christian traditions, they also rejected both the Christological and Pneumatological aspects of those traditions. Gunton argued that having Irenaeus’ views of creation and the temporal order would have given Christian theology a stronger foundation.

Modernity, Gunton argues, has failed to deal adequately in thought and practice to the four critical issues: relationality, particularity, temporality, and truth. Hence, modernity became a legitimate and unrelenting protest against the drive towards monism. Gunton alleges that modernity has replaced the transcendent deity with alternatives, the individual will or the secular state, which impose their own version of monism. The consequence of this is that, modernity, like antiquity, “has tended to lurch between the one and the many, and through the lack of an adequate mediating concept, has failed to do justice to the interests of both society and person, one and many”.[7]

In each chapter of Part one, Gunton tactfully unpacks his argument that the deficiencies at the very heart of modernity cannot simply be attributed to the Enlightenment because it has its roots in both ancient thought and intervening Christian theology. For Gunton, the distinguishing mark of modernity is the displacement of God. Functions that were once attributed to God are now attributed to human beings and their institutions. The rational mind of human beings has become relied upon to make sense of the world rather than explaining it as the will and purpose of God.

Many thinkers of the modern period, according to Gunton, rebelled against a unitary deity who is the foundation of a totalitarian social order and gives meaning and purpose to the world. The consequence of this rebellion is that the modern period displaced God for the sake of freedom. Sadly, this has led to worse forms of totalitarianism because the absence of God has only provided room for repression. Gunton argues that this is the cause of the rise of postmodernism, which he calls “late modernism”. Postmodern thinkers he declares, are now rebelling against modernism in the name of freedom because they do not want anything to hinder the nurture and growth of diversity. Anyone, or anything, that adds structure and meaning to the world, whether God, State, Reason, Science, or anything else, should be laid aside if it hinders diversity.

Gunton does not believe that these views of post-modernists would work because if diversity is accepted and celebrated, it only creates a world of disorder because there can never be a set of values and beliefs that are accepted by all. He concludes that the only way is to go back to the beginning and instead of criticizing modernism, one needs to have a better understanding of how modernity was formed. Modernism emerged when Christians lost sight of their own Trinitarian traditions and replaced them with a unitary theism. After diagnosing the problems of modernity in part one, Gunton provides solutions based on a Trinitarian theology of creation in part two that help the reader think in more positive ways about the relations among individuals, between humankind and the rest of creation, and between creation and the triune God.

In the second section of the book, Gunton responds to each of the four deficiencies of modernity chiastically, beginning with the last theme, meaning and truth, presented in part one. He develops the concept of open transcendentals, an idea that is the keystone of his theological response to modernity’s failings. By transcendentals, Gunton refers to those things that can be affirmed by all being, both personal and non-personal, because God is creator and the world is created. He develops the concept of open transcendentals in conjunction with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s notion of idea, those “fathomless concepts by which the mind and the deep things of existence come into relation”.[8] Unlike transcendentals, ideas do not epitomize the universal marks of being. They may however give rise to transcendentals.

Drawing on Coleridge’s work, Gunton proposes that we understand Trinity as the Idea Idearum, a concept that lays the foundation for three “open transcendentals” – the unity and diversity of human culture, the dynamism of the individual and society, and the relation between time and space and eternity and infinity. In his last three chapters, Gunton explores three ideas: economy, spirit and sociality. These give rise to three transcendentals: perichoresis, hypostasis, and relationality. Perichoresis provides a means of expressing unity without undermining plurality. Hypostasis offers a way to recognize genuine particularity without giving in to the homogenizing pressures that modern pluralism brings. Relationality offers a way forward that goes beyond the false controversy of the one and the many by asserting that all being is being in relation. For Gunton these Trinitarian transcendentals are mediating concepts to heal the tension of homogeneity and fragmentation found in modernity.

“The One, the Three and the Many” is based on a series of lectures given to an academic community. It was not an easy book to read and it took me a while to understand Gunton’s arguments. However, he fulfilled the stated intent of the book to show that the “Trinitarian conceptuality enables us to think of our world, in a way made impossible by the traditional choice between Heraclitus and Parmenides, as both, and in different respects, one and many, but also one and many in relation.” [9] Gunton, in this book, presents a rich and deep understanding of the doctrines of Trinitarian thought and Creation. Gunton did well to defend the Trinity as the ultimate source of the truth, goodness and beauty of all reality. Gunton went about aligning truth, goodness and beauty with science, morals, and art and he encouraged his readers to aspire to a “conception of the appropriate autonomy of science, morals and art—their genuine distinctiveness and diversity—which will yet not render them unrelated to questions arising within the other realms of meaning”.[10]

 References

[1] Cited by Colin E. Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Colin E. Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 2.

[4] Ibid., 6–7.

[5] Ibid., 141.

[6] Ibid., 55

[7] Ibid., 213.

[8] Ibid., 161.

[9] Ibid., 7.

[10] Ibid., 151.

My New Year Resolutions….What are yours?

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Every year, on January the first, many people  make unfathomable resolutions ranging from  changing themselves, changing others or changing the world. Since this is a tradition practiced by people of different times and place, I have decided to keep this practice by coming up with my New Year resolutions. If you are going to read my resolutions, I hope that you will also share your resolutions in the comments section or by emailing me (chrisponniah@xtra.co.nz).

Micah 6:8 plainly explains how God wants us to live. So using that verse I want to make 3 resolutions for 2015. In this verse God calls us to act justly by being fair and just to those around us; to love mercy by being compassionate and kind to those around us, and to walk humbly with God and I can do that by not focusing on myself but on God. So here are my resolutions:

  1. Justice – I will focus on my journey as a follower of Christ following the Bible the way I understand it because there is nothing like the written Word of God for showing me the journey of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3: 15-17). I will also respect the journeys of others, who follow the Bible the way they understand it, without judging or criticizing their choices or decisions.
  2. Mercy – I will focus on listening more and speaking or getting angry less (James 1: 19-21) so that I can love, accept and understand people whose religion, orientation, and practices are different from mine . As the Bible reminds us that God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger or judgment so I want to let God mould me through His Word so that I can live the law of love.
  3. Humility – I will focus on being cheerful no matter what; giving thanks to God no matter what happens as this is the way God wants those who belong to Christ Jesus to live (1 Thessalonians 5: 18). This means that I want to make a shift in my perspective of things and instead of seeing problems, I want to act positively to the opportunities that I will face this year.

Well that’s my resolutions for this year. As I look back over my life, I have come to realise that as I enter 2015, I am entering 2015 as a very different person. I enter 2015, not as an evangelical or a liberal, but as a bible-believing follower of Jesus, a pilgrim on a spiritual journey wanting to worship God, in spirit and in truth.

The Drama found in Anglican Worship 3 – The Place of God’s Word

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I have been spending the past week reflecting on my return back to the Anglican fold. It all started with the discussion I had with my wife on the meaning and value of the various aspects of the Anglican worship. This got me thinking. If I were to return to the Anglican Church after spending 8 years in the Baptist Church, how would I go about bringing meaning into Anglican worship if I am called to lead. So the past 5 days I have been on a journey of reflection. This is my third blog in the series. In my first blog I explored the place of processions in Anglican worship. In my second blog, I explored the place of gathering together and preparing our hearts for worship as God’s people. In this third blog, I want to explore the place of God’s Word in Anglican worship.

It is often said that the Anglican Church was formed because Henry VIII broke with Rome because the pope refused to allow him to divorce his wife. But the reality is that the English Reformation actually started much earlier. As the English kings gained power and influence throughout the Middle Ages, they had conflicts with the Catholic popes who were also becoming powerful and sought greater control. So when Henry VIII broke with Rome and established the Church of England, it was not a shock. The way the English Reformation was developing, the Church of England would have broken away anyway to become part of the Protestant Reformation that was already happening in Europe. As part of the Reformation the Anglican Church “professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds: which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation”. Scriptures play a very important part of the Anglican worship. This forms the second part of the Anglican Eucharist, the first part being the preparation the God’s people for worship .

In this part of the worship, there are 2 or 3 Bible passages that are publicly read during the worship. These readings are linked to the theme for that Sunday. There is a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from one of the Epistles and finally a reading from one of the four Gospels. In some Anglican churches a psalm is read or sung. The Gospel reading is the last of the Scripture readings and becomes the highest point or the climax in this part of the worship. Hence great honour is often given to the gospel reading. Whilst the congregation sits for the other readings, they stand for the gospel reading to show honour and respect to Christ and His words, since He is the Lord and head of the Church. In some Anglican churches, there is a gospel procession where the Bible is taken from the sanctuary to the middle of the congregation to visualise God’s Word in the midst of His people and the fact that the gospel is for everyone.

After the readings comes the sermon. For me the preaching of God’s Word is a very important part of the Eucharist. In many churches the worship leaders and musicians take a more important role in the service than the preaching. In the Anglican Church, the reading and preaching of God’s Word plays a very important part of the Eucharist. Following the preaching, the congregations affirms their faith publicly by saying or singing one of the creeds of the church. The final aspect of this part of the Eucharist is the prayers and intercession of the gathering. This is often led by a person or a group of people praying on behalf of the gathering.

Having been to many worship gatherings, I love the place of prominence Anglicans give to God’s Word in their worship. However Anglicans also give prominence to the Holy Sacraments of Communion and baptism and I would like to reflect on that in my next blog.

The Drama found in Anglican Worship 2 – The Gathering

tfca1In my earlier blog, I talked about how the procession is an important part of the Anglican worship as it visualises the journey we take from the world into the sanctuary of God and then at the end of worship we leave the sanctuary to enter into the world with the words “Go now to love and serve the Lord”. The procession is the one thing I have missed whilst pastoring a Baptist Church over the last eight years.

After the procession into God’s sanctuary, the liturgy begins with the preparation of God’s people to meet God, hear His Word and to partake of the communion. A liturgy is a prescribed format for public worship. The meaning of the word “liturgy” is “the people’s work” which is a reminder that worship is the service that we as God’s people give to God. Many churches ridicule liturgy because they see it as dead, repetitive observance and they claim to be non-liturgical. This is of course not true as every church and denomination have a format of worship which they follow. Their format could also become a dead, repetitive observance if they are not planned well.The Anglican liturgy is rich and meaningful because it is scripture-based, participatory, memorable, filled with music, prayers, Scripture and responses, and is full of rich traditions that unites us with fellow Christ-followers of all times and places.  I never realised how much I have missed the richness of the Anglican worship till I started attending the Anglican worship over the last month.

The gathering on a Sunday for Eucharist is an important part of worship for Anglicans. Anglicans believe that the church is God’s people and the Sunday Eucharist is the gathering of God’s people for worship. This gathering for the Eucharist becomes a very important part of the life and mission of the Anglican Church. So in the first part of the Eucharist the focus is on gathering God’s people together to meet God.

At the end of the procession and before the formal welcome is given, people are invited to welcome one another as an acknowledgement that we do not meet God alone but with others around us. It is a great time to welcome new comers. The minister may explain key areas of focus for that Sunday and may give some instructions that would add meaning and purpose to the worship for the congregation.

In this part of the liturgy, the focus is on preparing our hearts to meet with God.  There are 5 items that help us in this preparation:

  • Collect of Purity – a prayer to prepare our hearts to love and worship God
  • The Gloria – a hymn of praise that is sung. This hymn is steeped in history as it has been sung since the 4th century. (However this is not sung during seasons of lament and reflection like Advent and Lent)
  • The summary of the Law – This is a reminder to God’s people the standard of righteousness that God has set and to help us recognise our need for grace and forgiveness. At times the Ten Commandments  or the new commandment of love that Christ taught is used.
  • The confession and absolution – Having heard God’s law, we spend time reflecting on our own lives and how we have fallen short of God’s standard and together as a community of faith, we prayer the prayer of confession. The minister than gives the absolution, based on God’s promise that He forgives sins of those who truly repent.
  • The collect for the Sunday – The word ‘collect’ comes from the Latin meaning ‘to gather’. It is a time for the prayers and thoughts of the congregation to be bound together a common theme for that Sunday. The collects often follow a similar pattern – a statement of a particular attribute of God, which is then developed into a petition appropriate to the day and linked to the lessons for the day.

This part of the liturgy sets the stage for the next part of the Eucharist where the focus is on the Word of God. For me this part of the Eucharist prepares my heart and the hearts of God’s people gathering with me to hear what God has to say to them.

The Drama found in Anglican Worship 1 – The Procession

0This afternoon, Joy, my wife, and I were talking about various aspects of Anglican worship and what it means to me. For Anglicans the Eucharist is the very heart of the life and mission of the church. It is something that is celebrated every week in Anglican churches around the world. Yet how many people understand what this worship service is all about? In my next few blogs I want to reflect on what the various aspects of the Eucharist means to me. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek and it means “Thanksgiving”. It is used to refer to Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11: 23,24, Paul writes “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me'”.  To understand the meaning and value of the Eucharist, we need to imagine the whole worship as a drama to help us connect with God and with each other

In this blog I would like to reflect on the procession that takes place in the Eucharist. To me the procession is a very important part of Anglican worship. There are Anglican churches that do not have processions and I think it’s a shame because the procession is part of this worship drama. For me, the idea of a procession is to act as a reminder that we have come from the world and we leave behind the distractions of the world to process into the sanctuary to worship God. The cross leads the procession which is a significant reminder that it’s because of the cross we can enter God’s presence in worship. Even though the congregation do not join in the procession, the procession is a reminder of the journey we are all taking in worship where we leave behind the distractions of the world to focus on God. At the end of the Eucharist, we process out with the cross leading the way to remind us that Christ leads us out into the world.

If the procession is planned and carried out well, it can be very meaningful. But if it is taken lightly and not done well, it can have an opposite effect.  In churches where there is a choir or singers, they lead the procession into the sanctuary of God. Some churches have banners that are part of the procession. To me the procession can be the start of a great Eucharist.

Here are some verses that come to mind when I think of processions into God’s sanctuary .

“My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!” (Psalm 42:4)

“Your procession has come into view, O God—the procession of my God and King as he goes into the sanctuary. Singers are in front, musicians behind, between them are young women playing tambourines.” (Psalm 68: 24-25)

“But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.” (2 Corinthians 2: 14)

I will end  Patrick Malloy’s description of the procession in “Celebrating the Eucharist”. “The procession is an enacted symbol. Its allusions are many: the pilgrimage of the Christian life, movement from distraction to mindfulness, the journey to the kingdom, and other images that will naturally arise in the worshipers.”  As we gather together as God’s people, my prayer is that the processions at the start and end of the Eucharist will be a reminder of the movement we make together as a body from the world to God in worship and then entering back into the world as God’s instruments of righteousness.

A personal experience – Taken from my research essay on Lament

hopelessLife is full of storms. These storms are unavoidable. When these storms arise, there is a strong desire to get out of the storms as quickly as possible. Prayers asking God to provide a quick fix becomes the norm. However, not all storms let up with these quick fix prayers. There are many storms where prayers to God bring no ease to their fury. Instead, they get worse causing intense grief and pain.

My own personal experience over the past five years of journeying through increasingly furious storms has led me to this belief. It started with a family trauma that I became aware of in 2008. This trauma kept escalating till 2012. The pain and grief of that trauma still remains today, with its effects leading to further traumas that also continue on. Then, in September 2010, the earthquakes hit Christchurch. The grief and pain I had to deal with as I pastored a church and provided support to a devastated community has multiplied as people try to come to terms of living in a city that will never be the same again. Dealing with the aftermath of the earthquakes and the effects in the eastern suburbs continues to have a negative impact on the lives of people that I am supporting. Finally, another family trauma hit a few months ago causing my wife and I a huge amount of stress trying to provide support for family members who not only live alone in another city but are also struggling to come to terms with this same trauma.

All these storms changed the world that I was used to and caused me much grief, anger and pain. As a consequence, I am no longer the same person that I was a few years ago. I have spent the last couple of years asking “Why”. “Why do I have to face such furious storms?” “Why does God allow this to happen to me?” “Why is God increasing the intensity of these storms and not hearing my prayers to free me?” These storms have knocked me back and left me feeling powerless, making me more negative, more reactive and more aggressive as I seek to keep my head above water.

I am now however, at the stage where the “why” questions no longer bother me. I spent five years asking the “why” questions but God remained silent. It was as if he had forsaken me as I struggled through those five years trying to make sense of the pain and grief that I felt. From feeling abandoned, I have now shifted from wanting to know “why” to wanting to know “How”. “How can I live within these circumstances that I am in?” “How can I swim through these storms of life instead of being overwhelmed by the rough seas?” I am accepting of the fact that my world has changed. The family traumas and the earthquakes have changed that with which I was once familiar and have created a new world. My conclusion is that the only way I can survive is to come to terms with this new world and learn to live in that new world. It is as Pemberton says, “We live in a world that is beyond our control, and life is in a constant flux of change. So we have a decision to make; keep trying to control a storm that is not going to go away or to start learning how to live within the rain”[1].

One way that I have found an ability to survive in this new reality is by reading the Psalms. I have found an affinity in the psalms of lament in which the psalmists seem to have gone through what I have been going through. This essay, using my own personal journey as an illustration, explores how the Psalms of Lament can provide a model to help people going through deep pain and grief to find a path that takes them from disorientation to reorientation. This faith journey will help people discover a new faith in which to face a new normal.

[1] Glenn Pemberton, Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms (Texas: ACU Press, 2012), 23.

Rediscovering the Shepherd’s Heart

indexHaving been a minister for over 25 years, I have come to a place where I wonder if  pastors have forgotten what their primary calling is. In most of my years in ministry, pastors were seen as providing a vision-based leadership. I am not against this and being future-focused has been one of my gifting. But as I encounter more and more people who are leaving the church and as someone who has even contemplated many times of leaving the institutional church, I have been praying for God to reignite the shepherd’s heart in me.

What does it mean for me to shepherd Christ’s flock?I like what Peter the apostle writes. “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5: 1-4).

For me to shepherd Christ’s flock well,  it means firstly realizing it is Christ’s flock. Andrew Bonar writes “A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hands of God” I love that picture. A holy minister is an awesome weapon that God uses against the wolves that come to attack God’s sheep. There are so many hurting sheep who have left the fold.  If I am to be a holy minister, a weapon to defend God’s sheep, I need to make it my top priority to nurture my relationship with the Chief Shepherd and to listen to Him.

Secondly, for me to shepherd Christ’s flock well, I need to watch over them willingly and to be godly examples for them to follow. In a study done by Nauss, he identifies seven different profiles of effective ministers – priest and preacher, personal and spiritual director, visitor-counselor, administrator, teacher and parish worker. All of them were to do with shepherding functions. I have to admit this has been an area that has been neglected as I focus on being a good visionary leader and delegated these ministerial functions to others. Yes when I was ordained as an Anglican minister and received a call to be a Baptist minister, I made the profession that I will shepherd the flock that God has given responsibility for. Have we as pastors, replaced this primary calling by putting our time and energy into the effective and efficient running of the church institution?

Thirdly, for me to shepherd Christ’s flock is to follow Christ’s model of leadership. Christ was secure in himself so he was prepared to lead by servanthood (Philippians 2: 5-8). In today’s churches, we have leaders who are insecure within themselves and rely on title, position or office to make them feel secure. However Jesus’ call to me is to serve the sheep and to be an example for them to follow.

Lord, help me to rediscover the Shepherd’s heart.

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