Tuesday, June 23, 2015

For All of Us

Like all of us, I’ve noticed the terrible things happening around the world due to racism, politics and religious fundamentalism.

As I watch the racial turmoil in my homeland – the USA – and see vitriol, murder and division caused by the many shades of grey that consider themselves black and white; I see one thing.
As I watch refugees drowning in stateless seas and stranded on islands of (in)convenience; I see one thing.
As I watch people of faith myopically claiming they’re right while others are left for dead; I see one thing.

The one thing I see is me.
Rather than us.
I see the breakdown of community, the fragmenting of family, the loneliness of each of us.

When was the last time you attended a gathering for the sake of the many?
When was the last time you sat in a circle facing those you love?
When was the last time you smiled at a stranger?

So, I’m going to make a commitment – and I invite you to join me – to celebrate the other.

Take a group to a local footy game. Eat lunch with family. Laugh at a child’s joke.
Go to a place where everyone is singing and join the song.
Tell someone pushing a pram how beautiful their baby is.
Buy something at the market made by the person sitting behind the table.
Tell your kids you love them. Then say it again. And again.
Until they laugh. Until they feel the joy they are to you.

Community is the best form of humanity – until it closes its eyes, doors, borders and hearts.
Then it’s the worst.

So, let’s build the world up. Make it stronger. Together, all of us.

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dog Attack!

A few years ago, while sitting in a booth representing a company, a young man approached me and said, “Hey Dave, my name is Matt. Can I tell you a story?”

I love a good story, so of course I said, “Yes, please!”

“You came to our church a couple of years ago,” Matt said. “You told the story of The BMW Driver and I remember thinking I could never be like that guy. I get mad easily.”

Matt played rugby and was accustomed to taking his anger out quickly and fiercely. Looking at Matt, who stood nearly 2 metres tall and was built like a brick wall, I cringed at the thought of being on the other team.

“I sell books door to door,” Matt continued. “One door burst open and a huge dog jumped out. It sunk its teeth into my arm, which I had raised to save myself.” Matt pulled up his sleeve, revealing long angry scars on his forearm. “And it raked its claws down my leg, gouging me through my jeans. I heard a boy screaming at the dog and saw him pulling on the dog’s collar. I was so angry!”

“Then something really weird happened,” Matt said. “My eyes met the boy’s eyes. I saw fear and terror on his face. My mind cleared and I had one thought: ‘I want to be the BMW Driver.’ And, Dave, it worked! I stopped worrying about myself and helped the boy wrestle the dog into the back yard. We called the ambulance and talked while we waited. The dog belonged to the boy’s recently deceased uncle. It was all they had left of his dad’s brother.”

Matt shook his head. “I still don’t understand what happened. That story about the BMW Driver just popped back in my mind and took over. I became just like him.”

And that, my friends, is the power of story.

Keep changing the world, one story at a time!

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Kingdom of God - Group Study Guide

What is your favourite place you have ever lived? Why?
What is your favourite person you have ever worked for? Why?
Reign VS Realm – Which best describes the Kingdom of God, for you:
              God’s Realm – the best place to live
              God’s Reign – the best leader to follow
When it comes to spiritual things, are you more interested in the Kingdom or the King?
 - What difference does this make in the way you live your life?
Where is God’s Kingdom? Luke 17:20-21
 - What is Jesus saying about the Kingdom of God, to these Pharisees?
 - How are you challenged by these words of Jesus?

Group Time
Let’s spend some time in groups looking at what happens when the Kingdom of God is in our midst.

From Dothan to Samaria – 2 Kings 6:8-23
Q. What was the purpose of the journey in this story?
Q. What impact do you think it had on the target audience?
Q. What does this story teach us about God’s Kingdom?
Q. How does this story show the Kingdom of God in our midst?

From Jerusalem to Emmaus – Luke 24:13-35
Q. What was the purpose of the journey in this story?
Q. What impact do you think it had on the target audience?
Q. What does this story teach us about God’s Kingdom?
Q. How does this story show the Kingdom of God in our midst?

From Jesus to Every Town – Luke 10:1-12
Q. What was the purpose of the journey in this story?
Q. What impact do you think it had on the target audience?
Q. What does this story teach us about God’s Kingdom?
Q. How does this story show the Kingdom of God in our midst?

Have each group report, telling their story and their answers.
What similarities exist in all three stories?
  - a journey, a search, a meal, a blindness, a revealing, a blessing… etc…
What can we learn about the Kingdom of God in our midst from these stories?

Even though it is clear that Jesus taught His Kingdom was a present reality (Luke 11:20, Matthew 12:28, Luke 17:21) what did He say about His Kingdom when confronted by a ruler from this world?  - John 18:36
Why is it so important to understand the difference between the Kingdom of this world and the Jesus’ Kingdom? How does it help us focus our attention?
What did a thief teach us about the journey from the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of God? Luke 23:42-43

Ultimately, Jesus’ Kingdom is the only thing worth investing in. Daniel 7:13-14
How does this passage give you purpose and hope?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The BMW Driver

Driving with my family, I reached down to adjust the radio.

My wife’s scream brought my eyes back to the road. It happened so quickly and yet took forever. The car in front of me was at a complete stop. I braked, swerved and smashed my Daihatsu Charade into the back-end of a very nice BMW.

It was only then, looking above the BMW, that I saw the red light.

Staring across the front of my crumpled car, I followed the bruised BMW to the side of the road. My three kids were crying in the back. My wife was beside herself beside me. And I was terrified of the angry tirade I was about to receive from the other driver.

Instead, the BMW driver walked to my wife’s window and asked if she was ok. She said she was. Then he looked into the back and asked the kids. They nodded. Then he looked across at me and said, almost serenely, “We should swap details so our insurance companies can sort this out.”

We did.

And I spent the rest of the day thinking, How did he do that and how can I become like him?

Our children learn from us and how we react to things. The BMW driver has been a repeated story in our home. When we encounter things that happen to us – things that just aren’t fair – How can we be like the BMW driver?

*Note: This story took place years ago.
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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Thankful Juice

Somehow, our Friday night family mealtimes had turned into whinge-sessions. The kids were complaining about school, each-other and everything else. It had to stop!

The next Friday, I made a special drink – mixed fruit juice with fizzy lemonade – in a large jug and placed it in the middle of the table. “This,” I said, “is thankful juice.” I began filling their glasses. “You cannot have your first sip until you say something from this week that made you happy – something you are thankful for.”

The kids loved the game and the next Friday they asked if we could have thankful juice again.

It became a family ritual.

One busy Friday, I left the glasses off the table and hoped it would go unnoticed.

“WHERE’S THE THANKFUL JUICE?!?!” my grade 3 daughter asked in dismay. I explained I had forgotten to buy any and was sorry. She stood and told her grade 6 brother to follow her. As they went into the kitchen, I heard her say, “You get the glasses and I’ll get the thankful juice.”

When they returned to the table, glasses were placed in front of each family member. Then a jug of water was placed in the middle of the table, “This is our thankful juice, tonight.” And it was.

Once thankfulness is part of our lives, we don’t let go of it easily.

Gratitude does great things for our self-esteem, our relationships and our general health.

Create a thankfulness tradition in your family, today!

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Master Teacher

A Discussion about Jesus

Icebreaker Discussion Question:
Do you have a favourite teacher from your school days? What makes this teacher memorable?

Read Matthew 5:3-10
Which beatitude is your favourite? Why?
How would you reword it to be understandable to people today?
Read 7T 269.6

Golden Rule Story
Confucius – Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) – Hillel – Jesus
Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them—this is the Law and the Prophets. Matt 7:12

What must I do to be Saved
Read Luke 10:25-29 (the Law and the Prophets!)

Discussion Question
In all the people that you have lived next door to, do you have a favourite neighbour?
What makes this neighbour memorable?

Read Luke 10:30-37 - Good Samaritan Story
“The one who showed him mercy…”
He wore it on his wrist, but was it in his heart?


My Dad likes to say that a dentist is the only person who can put his hands in your mouth and empty your wallet.

Jesus is similar. He looks for where you are open and goes through there into your heart. He used whatever sense was available. If people were watching, he went through visual displays like miracles. If people were hungry, he provided food. If people were outcasts, he went in through touch. If people were listening, he told them stories. Jesus reached in through the five senses and changed the hearts of his listeners.

This was Jesus’ greatest ability as a teacher:
Through a meaningful question, He could turn a teacher into a student.
Through an act of mercy, He could take learning from the head to the heart.
Through a well-crafted story, He could turn Law in to Love.
He did it then and He does it now.

This is why Jesus is the Master Teacher!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Tummy Hurts

While setting up our campsite in Tasmania with our 5, 6 and 8 year old, the middle child wandered up to me and said, “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

Like a good parent, I knelt down, looked him in the eye and said, “Are you hungry?” He nodded and I gave him a banana.

After finishing the Banana, he came to me again and said, “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

“Are you thirsty?” I asked. He considered his answer and then said yes. I gave him a bottle of water.

Finally, probably more than an hour since his first complaint, he came back to me and said, “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

I said, “I’ve given you food and a drink. What is making your tummy hurt?”

He lifted his shirt, revealing a huge patch of angry red scratches.

“What happened?” I asked in amazement.

“I slid down a rock.”

Now, when someone tells me about their hurts, I start with more questions, until I understand what they mean by, “My tummy hurts.” Quick solutions fade quickly. Careful questions lead to greater understanding and true healing.

Ask more questions.

Listen well.

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Can you hear me?

Like every relationship, great parenting is all about communication. The great communicator’s goal isn’t to get ideas out of their head, but to get their ideas into the heads of their listener.

To get my idea into your head, in a way you understand, I need you to actually hear me. And for that to happen, I need to speak in your language, your world and your way. As a parent, this is important.

Here are some practical steps:

1. Listen. What does your child love to talk about? When do they talk most? Where do they like to be? How do they communicate?
Examples: Imaginative play, drawing, TV shows, YouTube channels, gaming, storytelling.

2. Reflect. Ask them about what you’ve seen. Verify your observations.
Example: “You seem to have super-powers, what are they? What is your super-hero name?”

3. Plan. Create an activity/story-time in their world heading toward the point you want them to hear.

4. Speak. Tell a story or play along with them, integrating the learning message.
Example: A message about cleaning your room while building a house in Minecraft.
Example: A message about speaking kindly while playing super-heroes.

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Kingdom Worldview

A Compassionate Theology: The Bible

When I was a child, I thought

In the past 50 year or so, the western world has been shifting worldviews from modern to post-modern. As the modern (industrial/scientific) worldview developed and strengthened from the 1700’s until the mid-1900’s its adherents learned that truth was provable. The scientific method was born and — as much as conservative Christians twist, turn, squish and squirm trying to deny it — in most areas of life, we understand the world (think/believe) using this worldview. I say we because I, born and raised as a Seventh-day Adventist was convinced there was a battle to be fought against the many evils of higher learning. Over the past decade, I have increasingly realised this is a battle against a worldview rather than science, liberal Christianity, archaeology, history, or atheistic thought. I was encouraged to stay strong and fight against any field of study which argues with (our interpretation of) Scripture. As the world graduates through post-modernity from the modern worldview to something new, we are to remain steadfast as champions of the faith. That’s the theory of unwavering faith, anyway!

What is Truth?

In the Modern worldview, truth is provable. From the fires of modernistic reasoning a new and compelling foundational process of thought was forged - the scientific method. The scientific method tells us: when we receive new information we are to create a theory, test it, retest it forming proof, show our proof (and entire working process) to demonstrate that what we are teaching is truth because it is verifiable and reproducible. It is interesting to note that most fundamental Christian groups (mine included) formed in the USA during the heyday of the modern worldview. These groups give proof and lecture-style learning (where the expert informs the masses) an almost sacred status. The preacher, expounding the truth, is revered as a beacon of knowledge and faith. And the Truth they teach, based on sources deemed holy by the leaders of these groups, is deified. To control thought, all new ideas (coming from inside or outside the group) are required first to be filtered through their agreed present truth.
The post-modern worldview is so named because, largely, it is a reaction to the excesses of the modern worldview. Science as truth led to some amazing discoveries (vaccines, air travel, global communication) but it also deposited a post-apocalyptic wasteland in its wake because “proof=truth” needs no conscience or compassion. Right is right. Right? Not for post-moderns. Your right may be provable and reproducible but it may be destructive, devastating and very wrong indeed. While it is easy to demonstrate what the post-modern mindset stands against, it is difficult to articulate it as a worldview that stands on its own. For the post-modern: Truth, to be believed, must be experienced.

In the Beginning, God

The Bible was written to a world and within a worldview completely different from anything around today. To understand the Bible it is immeasurably helpful to understand the world and worldview of that day. In a nutshell the ancient Biblical worldview was that all reality (truth included) is brought forth from God and then God commissions His creation to bring forth more of its kind. I call it the God-begat worldview.
God begat Wisdom (Proverbs 8:22, Col 1:15, John 1:1) then God’s Wisdom/Word begat Creation (Genesis 1:1, Col 1:16, John 1:3). Creation (earth/ground) begat flora (Genesis 1:11,2:9) and fauna (Genesis 1:24, 2:19); Likewise, mankind was begat from the ground (Genesis 2:7); Adam and Eve begat children; They begat children until Abraham begat Jacob (Israel); And, the children of Israel begat the Messiah—Jesus the only begotten Son of God. See how it works?
Humanity, created by God in the Image of God, has the special task to begat children not just physically but spiritually—shaping them in the image of God. That’s why the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) is at the core of Biblical parenting, discipleship and leadership - it is a begatting paradigm. Likewise, scripture teaches us, our nature continues forming after we leave our place of nurture. God proposes a life-long relationship with us. He commissioned your parents to begat you, then to shape you as you went in and out of their house. Now He wants you to join with Him in community so that His glory might be made complete in you and begat in the world through you.
So, that’s the God-begat worldview. It’s a bit earthy, a bit love-story but primarily it’s about family; begatting and becoming. It’s almost modern or post-modern… but, it’s not. And, in reality, it’s not a worldview as much as a framework – a foundational framework on which other worldviews, at other times in history, can be built. It’s like a picture frame within which other worldviews can be canvassed and coloured. It is not either God’s way or ours. It’s God’s way then ours. Build on Him. Build in Him.
Some Christians believe, to have an accurate worldview today and still be a Christian you need to ignore, rewrite or change things in the Bible. To avoid offending their particular worldview, they go through the Bible squeezing, chopping, sanitizing, fluffing and cherry-picking verses to try to make them fit today’s reality. This is a misunderstanding and misuse of the Bible. The Bible should be treated the same way another 3000 year-old work of art would be – as a priceless work of antiquity and beauty to study, enjoy and share in its entirety. Seeing the Bible in this way can open doors, windows, hearts and minds to the ever present and powerful reality of God and His Kingdom.

Hidden in God, who created all things

While altering our worldview can be hard, it can be even more difficult for us Christians to adjust our Wordview - the way we see the Bible. To make this Wordview adjustment is not to change the Bible, but to change our approach to the Bible. We fundamentalists have been sold a version of Bible study which requires us to read the Bible as if it were written in and for a modern worldview. In this mode of thinking, you read the Bible scientifically/factually (modern worldview) thus believing Biblical times (2000 - 4000 years ago) are still the way things are, or should be, today. This causes believers to treat social mores, laws and customs written hundreds of generations ago as timeless truths. This is not necessary and in fact it is crippling for Christian youth and results in many leaving the church, believing it out of touch with reality. It also forces readers to ignore verses they can’t justify (like knocking down houses with mold in them, not braiding hair, killing people who pick up sticks on Sabbath, etc) and to enforce verses with “the Bible says!” that they can make sensibly fit into life today. In short, in makes a mockery of being “Bible believing” because it makes you look inconsistent and kooky.
If God is the God of the past, present and future, His Word should be timely and useful in every generation. Scripture demonstrates repeatedly (ultimately in the life of Jesus) that God meets His people where they are. So, a Wordview useful today should speak into the worldview of today — as it has in past generations. And for those of us baptised into antiquity, this shift in thinking can be soul-shattering. Take comfort in knowing, as the change in thinking becomes you, it will make your Christian beliefs, experience and influence more beautiful, meaningful and useful to the world around you.

No other Gods before me

For those who have been deeply saturated in a view of the Bible which requires this modern Wordview, moving into today requires letting go. And holding on. It’s easier to hold on to everything, or let go of everything. Finding a place of equilibrium in the middle takes courage and commitment. To allow the Bible to speak in this generation and to this generation, requires shifts in thinking on a number of levels.
First, it requires us to allow thinking from the current worldview to be credible. Retraining yourself to stop poo-pooing every scientific, historical, genetic (etc) explanation and to, instead, embrace them as “the best we can do for now” is not easy and can be maddening. For those of us indoctrinated to doubt every wiseman on today’s earth; allowing them the credibility they deserve — as created in God’s Image, intelligent and beautifully made — can take years of personal boot-to-the-heads and regular doses of humility. 
Second, it requires allowing the Bible to be what it is — a collection of history, poetry, letters, parables and prophecies that tell the story of God’s earliest people. This does not demean the Bible’s purpose, integrity or holiness but rather allows us to see the constant progress of God’s activity in and through His chosen people from the time of Abraham to the church of today in all its diversity of expression. God is active in the lives of His people — calling, forgiving, saving, leading — always. The Bible’s core message of redemption can be seen in its many storied incidents and its overarching narrative.
Third, it requires allowing the Bible to be studied honestly. Christian denominations which emerged during the modern era locked the Bible down to literalistic interpretation as required by their worldview. Today, in the face of strong and consistent evidence to the contrary, leadership in these churches require their followers to believe the Bible as their primary scientific source. Instead of allowing and encouraging their members to explore and explain the Bible as they do other ancient sources, they rebrand the Bible from a holy (set-apart) book to a Divine book, thus creating an idol of it.
Christian scholarship, outside of fundamentalist groups, has been studying the Bible as a collection of historical documents for centuries. They have been applying various cultures, worldviews, wisdom, technology and combined fields of scholarship to the study of the Bible. The results are interesting, challenging, frustrating and enlightening. Some are easily grasped, others are intricate and complex. Many of them ring true, others lack lustre. This is true scholarship, and seeing it applied to the Bible is exciting and invigorating. Biblical research and results from worldwide Christian scholarship have been made all the more accessible with the explosion of the written word in the world – through the expansion of the Internet and, prior to that, mass-printing presses. Today, students of the Bible can find resources at the tap of a screen.

A new Heaven and a new Earth

We are on the transitional cusp of a new era - a new global worldview. Post-modern is the label social scientists have given this transitional period. Most of us are still modern thinkers. Others of us are not comfortable being moderns and desire something truly new. We are becoming a global village and that village thinks different – it reaches wider: embraces more, rejects less — because each villager is unique, beautiful and worth loving. It is fast becoming, in a very tangible sense, a place where Heaven meets Earth. But our village is yet unnamed. Perhaps it will be called “justice” or “mercy” or “humility” … or maybe it will be called “Earth”. That would indeed be a fitting name for a global village living the Micah 6:8 call of God for His people to live His way; and a great way to come full circle back to our ancient beginning when God created the Heavens and the Earth.
As is true at the beginning of every culture-wide worldview shift, things are changing at home. Many scholars, pastors and lay-people in fundamentalist Christian groups have changed their approach to the Bible, allowing it to speak for itself, in its rich and robust ancient context. Through study and prayer, they have changed their approach to both understanding and teaching. They advocate a more generous and inclusive mindset. They have joined with the rest of Christianity in teaching their people to be Earth’s people - to live justly, show mercy and walk humbly with their God. And those people, now seeing vast tracts of common ground with other denominations and even other faiths in this global village, are expanding their borders, bringing to life God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Build a Village

Children are like puzzles constructed from little pieces of each adult in their lives. Not long ago, children grew up in a village filled with adults like them and their families. The village shaped them.

Today, we don't send our children to play in the streets. Instead they sit inside looking at friends and family through pocket-sized windows. And together, we look out at the global village through giant windows in our lounge rooms, not realising the values our children are picking-up from onscreen heroes.

It still takes a village to raise a child. Children need more adults than their parents to serve as role models, friends, coaches, teachers and preachers. Our children need choices of who to look at for their values - be they physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual, relational or intellectual.

Spend regular time with grand-parents and extended family. Choose other families with children the same age and create regular times of community. Interact with sport clubs, school activities, holiday clubs and church groups. Have play dates and sleep overs. Build a village for your children. They will be better for it, and so will you!

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Friday, May 08, 2015


In this section ("Parently" tab) of my blog you'll find stories about parents, tips on parenting, thoughts on children, raising a family and managing extended/blended families.

Come back often. I'll be posting links, motivational pics, articles I find, articles I write, and your thoughts. 

Please comment on any post that intrigues you. If you've got advice, stories or questions, please email them and I'll post them as guest entries. davedgren@gmail.com

For All of Us

Dog Attack! (BMW Driver, part 2)

The BMW Driver

Thankful Juice

My Tummy Hurts

Can you hear me?

Build a Village

A Good Story

My Catch Phrase

A Story Like Tory

Another Shot at Saying Sorry

A Memory of Elephants

Concrete Thinking

I'm Happy and I Know It

Thursday, May 07, 2015

A Good Story

The story we live in front of our children shows them the truth of our lives and theirs. If we see and say the positive stories in life, our kids will experience the world as a positive place where they make a difference.
If, on the other hand, we constantly comment on the negative state of the world, the problem with the neighbours, the unfair hand we've been dealt - our children will learn to be critical and afraid. They will see others as dangerous and suspicious rather than unique and beautiful.
Because our stories become us, great parents tell stories that empower rather than impede. There are so many positive messages that raise people up. By telling positive stories, we create happier children and thus a better world.
We are each truly special. We need to believe that of ourselves and tell that to our children. Tell good stories. Live with joy and passion. Smile.

Keep changing the world - one story at a time.

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For more parenting pondering,
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Monday, May 04, 2015

My Catch Phrase

Mikey - 12 Years Old
When my three teenagers were children, it was so easy to spend most of my time telling them what they were doing wrong. Having three kids within three years meant they were always up to something. Because I didn’t want to focus on the negatives, I came up a phrase to help me look for positives – because that’s who I want them to become.
"Catch them doing something right and tell on them!"
We all want to be noticed. We repeat actions that get us attention. That’s human nature. We become the ‘me’ that gets noticed. Catching (and praising) your kids for doing the right thing is very powerful. It can change an attitude for life!
You could catch them smiling, sharing, playing, creating, listening, sleeping, eating, or any positive action you want to see more of in your child. Let them know you saw what they did and that they are awesome!
"Catch them doing something right and tell on them!"
Once you’ve caught them doing something right, make it a priority to ‘tell on them’. This takes careful consistent effort as a parent.
When kids do something wrong, it usually makes a good story. So we tell it – to family, friends, teachers, even strangers! It lets others share the parenting journey with us.
Hearing a story about yourself forms identity as much as what actually happens to you. A story about you is attention given to you. So every story reinforces the behaviour in the story. Each time you hear a story about yourself, it becomes more and more ‘who you are.’
Choose carefully the stories you tell about your kids – especially in front of them. Ask, “Is this story about who I want them to become?” We become the stories we hear and tell about ourselves. Choose the positive stories and tell them often. Then watch you children shine!

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For more parenting pondering,
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Monday, April 06, 2015

“He is Risen!”

A Compassionate Theology: Holy Days

Just after sunset on Easter Sunday, I listened as an Adventist evangelist reminded his audience that neither Easter nor Christmas are mentioned in the Bible. “In fact,” he said, “there are no Christian holy days mentioned in the Bible except the Sabbath. All other Christian holy days are pagan in origin."
What he didn’t say, but allowed his listeners to infer on their own, is that these days are somehow evil due to their pagan origin. This is precisely the wrong conclusion to draw and yet fundamentalist Christians have been doing so for decades. Christmas, Easter, and lesser known (more localised) Christian festivals began as early Christians looked for ways and days to celebrate key moments in their faith. Instead of being involved in the pagan celebrations, the Christians rebranded the holy days and celebrated significant events in the life of Jesus rather than joining in the worship of false gods.
Instead of celebrating the winter solstice and the rebirth of the Sun by worshipping the ancient Babylonian sun-god Tammuz (or one of the other sun-gods who evolved from Tammuz in ancient religions after Babylonian times) the Christians chose to celebrate the birth of the Son of God – Jesus. Focusing on the new life of Baby Jesus, the incarnation of God into human flesh, Christians in effect stole Christmas away from paganism and gave it to their God.
Instead of celebrating the return of spring and worshipping the ancient Babylonian fertility-god Ishtar, the Christians chose to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of new life that comes because He died and returned to life for us. Combining some symbols (like bunnies and trees) into Christian celebrations happened as early Christian converts from various other religions kept their innocuous traditional activities while embracing Jesus and the new meaning His people gave to the day of celebration.
If it is wrong for Christians to practice anything and everything that was first done in an ancient pagan religion, there are a lot of things we need to stop. Prayer, temples, and sacrifices all started in ancient Mesopotamia well before Judaism or Christianity. Likewise, funerals and little stone statues in your garden. Wedding ceremonies, wedding rings, marriage proposals, a veiled bride, the groom shaking the hand of the Bride’s father as he delivers her as contracted beforehand, and the bride becoming part of the groom’s family (in name and location) are all from ancient Mesopotamia well before Genesis 2:24 was written.
Rather than abandoning humanity’s past, we need to embrace Divinity’s entrance into our story. Jesus changes everything. When we confess belief in Jesus, are baptised and welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts – our past is not erased. We are still the product of the many experiences and stories that have formed us. But we are, at that moment and into the future, part of a greater story which reaches farther back than human history and farther forward than human imagination. One day, in the twinkling of an eye, we will all be changed at the last trumpet. Until then we must live knowing who we have been and who we are becoming, where we have come from and where we are headed, and that we are dearly loved by our God every step of the journey.
In the early church in Corinth, the people were struggling with being involved in pagan worship. As believers in Jesus, they had no interest or desire to enter the pagan temples, but much of the food blessed in the pagan temples was later sold in the common marketplace. They debated amongst themselves if they should eat food offered to idols. Paul’s answer in 1 Corinthians 10:25-28 is useful to us in understanding involvement in Christian holy days. Paul quotes Psalm 24:1 which declares that the Earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord.
From this Biblical platform Paul goes on to council the group of maturing Christians in Corinth to eat anything from the marketplace without a battle of conscience. He continues his thought saying that if a Christian should be invited into someone’s home, they should be bold in eating whatever is offered to them, not worrying if it has been offered to idols. When facing a decision between accepting and rejecting hospitality, be gracious thinking of the host before yourself.
At this point, Paul adds some complexity to the argument. What if the person who has invited you into their home to eat, places the meat on the table and declares that the food has been offered to idols? Paul says, this is when it is your duty to politely decline. This is a prime opportunity to explain your commitment to the God who made the Earth and everything in it. For the sake of the other person, who believe they are blessing their guests by feeding them idol-blessed food, demonstrate your conscientious commitment to Jesus as your only God by refusing to participate in their act of pagan worship.
Never in all my years of collecting, purchasing or hiding Easter eggs have I been encountered by a fellow participant, shop owner or neighbour who said, “Thank Ishtar for this new season and this lovely gift of chocolate!” If I ever did hear such words, I would have a most vigorous conversation with them. Likewise, in the many preparations and interactions at Christmas, I have never shared a moment with a believer in Tammuz who declared their bliss in the return of the sun.
There are two days every year when the world stops to examine – sometimes closely, often from afar – the Christian faith in Jesus. In my town of Warrandyte all of the local churches, across denominations, joined together on Easter Sunday to run a “He is Risen!” celebration service in the local outdoor amphitheatre. While they were singing and speaking of their passionate belief in our risen Saviour, I – along with my fellow Adventists – hid on a campground listening to things we have heard a hundred times before. I missed a great opportunity to speak about my Jesus while the world was willing to listen.
Rather than encouraging ourselves to create further distance from these key outreach opportunities, we should be embracing the Christmas shoppers and the Easter egg hunters as they wonder at the meaning of a babe in a stable or a cross on a bun. Let us reverse the paganising of Christmas and Easter by contemporising them. Meet the people where they are, when they are open, as they are listening, while they are preparing for a celebration which we truly understand.
Then people of the world would recognise Jesus in His followers, embrace the Christ-story as their own new story and, recognising the religious roots of the secular celebrations which they enjoy so much, teach their children something truly beautiful. That this world, which often seems so hollow and meaningless, was embraced by the one true God who sent His Son – to be born, to truly live, to die, to reclaim life after death – because He loves us and our world so very much.
Not only would this time of focused outreach be a wonderful and fitting use for the Christmas and Easter seasons, it would also honour the original intent of our Christian ancestors in claiming and naming these days as holy. We are a people of the Jesus story as told in the Christmas and Easter seasons each year. These holy days are Christian because they come as a response to the love of Jesus through the actions and practices of His early followers. They are not in Holy Scripture because they are from a later time in history than the Bible’s pages. But early enough that Christ’s body after His ascension – the church – still understood the necessity of becoming all things to all people so that by all possible means we might save some.