Racism, police brutality, American politics, President Trump, MAGA caps, Christianity – and Aotearoa

Racism, police brutality, American politics, President Trump, MAGA caps, Christianity – and Aotearoa

Amidst all the rancour and toxicity issuing from a troubled USA, some questions to ponder and discuss. And some suggested responses…

  • Is racism ever okay, for Christians? No, it is abhorrent, and contrary to the New Testament Gospel (e.g. Galatians 3:28)
  • Is systemic racial injustice ever okay? No.
  • Is police brutality ever okay? No. Police are meant to uphold justice, not act with cruelty or injustice.
  • Is peaceful protest okay? Yes, and it can sometimes help bring positive change.
  • Is violent protest helpful?  No. It undermines a cause, and deepens divisions.
  • Is the Republican Party or the Democrat Party the more Christian option? Both parties have some good people and good principles, and both parties have some policies, emphases, and tendencies which are less than Christian.
  • Are all Republicans Christian? Absolutely not.
  • Are all Christians Republican? No, very large numbers of American Christians (including many Afro-American and Hispanic Christians) vote for the Democrats.
  • Why did many conservative American Christians vote for Mr Trump? Because many of them were Republican voters already, because over the years the Republican Party had actively courted the conservative Christian vote, and because many Christians were particularly concerned about late-term abortion.
  • Do all Christians who voted for Mr Trump approve of everything Mr Trump says or does? No. Many have misgivings.
  • Is President Trump personally Christian? God alone knows his heart, or truly understands him. Politically, Mr Trump makes some pro-Christian statements, and supports some Christian agendas. But many of his own words and actions do not seem very Christian.
  • What does the Bible teach about universal human nature? That we are all made in the image of God, and we all reflect something of God’s goodness and glory. That we are all deeply flawed and marred by sinfulness, including selfishness, hostility, and self-deceit. That Christ is the way of love, forgiveness, peace, reconciliation, healing, and transformation.
  • Are American politics relevant and transferable to New Zealand? The contexts and dynamics are very different, and the crossover is limited.
  • Is there some racism and injustice in New Zealand? Unquestionably yes.
  • Have the police in New Zealand sometimes acted illegally, or with brutality? Sometimes, yes.
  • Is politicising Christianity good for Christianity? No, it is fraught with danger.
  • Is linking American politics with New Zealand Christianity helpful? No, not at all.
  • Would wearing MAGA (Making America Great Again) caps be a great and wise thing for New Zealand Christians to do? No. It would be confusing and inappropriate.
  • What is some great biblical advice for everyone, especially in times of ferment: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Alert Level 2 and New Zealand Churches

Alert Level 2 and New Zealand Churches

There is a sense of relief and gratitude around New Zealand that the situation with the Covid 19 virus has now much improved, and the move to Alert Level 2 is widely welcomed. It will be great to meet again with family and friends. The present restriction to gatherings of 10 means however that churches cannot yet gather together, and this has caused some anxiety and frustration for some.  Against that backdrop, the NZCN team proposes these reflections…

  • We support the desire of the Government to protect human lives by managing and reducing the risks of infection wherever groups are gathered. Keeping people safe is part of any government’s God-given responsibilities.
  • We accept (with some misgivings) that because of the potential irresponsibility of a few, the Government felt that police needed some temporary extra powers at this time so that they can swiftly intervene when some people act in ways that put everyone else at risk.
  • We do not see any clear evidence of some underlying Government agenda to actively single out and discriminate against Christians and churches at this time.
  • We do look for greater consistency in how many people are allowed to gather in different contexts, and for the Government to weigh more fairly the relative risk of various settings.
  • We eagerly look forward to when churches are permitted to gather again, physically. We recognise that this will probably happen incrementally, and over some time, and that larger churches may be affected for longer.
  • We urge all churches to be very cautious, to respect the restrictions, and to scrupulously follow all safety procedures. Society is still facing a highly dangerous contagion, which could very easily kick back and re-establish itself. Church gatherings are not without significant risk. Just one person could infect many others in a congregation, and as a result some could die. We have a responsibility of care both to our own people (including those most vulnerable), and to society around us.
  • We continue to embrace the many opportunities of this time for Gospel proclamation, for greater reach on-line, for innovations, for small house gatherings, for small groups, for pastoral care, and for loving our neighbours.
  • We remain in prayer for the Government, for the health of New Zealanders, for those who mourn, for the spiritual renewal of our society, for the recovery of the economy, for those who have lost jobs and businesses, and for those many less-privileged and less-resourced societies around the world which are much more vulnerable than our own.

Arohanui from the NZCN team

Alert Level 2 and New Zealand Churches

Three Realities for New Zealand Churches in Alert Level 2 and Beyond

As New Zealand slowly begins to re-open, a question many churches will be asking is, “How do we approach ministry in Level 2 and beyond?”

It’s easy to be scared of change. But in reality, the NZ church has already proven that it is more than ready to adapt to changing circumstances. Think about how the NZ church has innovated over the last 60 days, we’ve gone from:

  • FROM meeting in-person, TO meeting online
  • FROM leading our ministry teams in-person, TO leading our teams remotely
  • FROM having a stable financial plan, TO our finances now all up in the air 
  • FROM having predictable staff roles, TO redeploying staff in new areas for which they were not trained
  • FROM having no previous idea how to do what we needed to do, TO now succeeding in making it all work 

With that in mind, I suggest there are three realities to now help the NZ church continue on the path of innovation, for the sake of more effectively reaching New Zealand with the Gospel.

1. Online ministry is here to stay

Most of the people we want to reach are now online. The younger the demographic, the more true that is. Furthermore, it appears that many churches are actually growing at the moment. The reasons for this are multi-faceted, but one key reason is that online church has a much lower barrier to entry then in-person church.

This is not only true for guests. Think about families with young children getting ready for church, or seniors who are more vulnerable, or people who are sick. Online ministry provides a way for people to be involved when in the past they wouldn’t have been able to.

At the same time, it should not be treated lightly.  Are you having a serious conversation about investing in new digital equipment? When adults join an online group, do you have a plan to help reduce the awkwardness and make them feel welcome? How might online group leaders take advantage of Zoom features like ‘Breakout Rooms’? How will people respond to the gospel if they are not at the church’s worship service?

2. While online ministry is here to stay, physical gatherings are the church’s calling

With all that said, it’s important to remember that physical in-person gathering is key to the church’s calling. In the New Testament the word for church (ekklesia) refers to how it is a gathering, a calling together. Moreover, God created an actual world, not a virtual world. God in Genesis declared that the actual world of creation is very good. God wants us to live in his good world, not just watch it on a screen. Resurrection, one of the central beliefs of Christianity, means the restoration of all things, not an escape to a non-temporal, non-corporal spiritual (virtual?) afterlife.

With that in mind, what are some questions that you should be asking before starting up your physical ministry? For starters, what adjustments will you make to the Lord’s Supper, baptisms, offering plate, meet and greet time, door greeting, or children’s ministry? How will you sanitize your building, before, after, and during church service? For example, should all doors be kept open to prevent spread of disease? How will you create a safe environment for those who are most vulnerable in your community? What about those who can’t meet physically but also don’t have the capability to meet online?

3. Churches need to help people make the transition from the online to in-person

Given that online ministry is here to stay, and yet we are called to physical in-person gathering, we need to carefully consider how we will move people from the relative comfort of the online experience to in-person encounters and fellowship.

Homegroups have always been a good stepping-stone to involvement in church life. It’s a smaller setting, and (at their best) are much less intimidating and much more welcoming. Here in New Zealand we will probably be limited to small gatherings for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, is it possible to encourage people to move homegroup from online to actual homes? Is it possible to have Sunday morning watch parties at different people’s homes?

There have been many times in the past where Christians could not gather in large groups, particularly in the early stages of the church. The outcome was a church body that exploded across the globe. This happened as a result of the intentional, meaningful fellowship and discipleship centred around the Risen Christ. There will be a strong desire to get back to normal. The danger is that we will re-embrace a model of ministry designed to reach a world that no longer exists. Let’s continue innovating and moving forward.

Some useful resources on this subject!

NZCN doesn’t necessarily endorse everything in them, but did pick up some good points from some of them

 

Churches sing ‘The Blessing’ over the UK’

An example of using technology and the internet to do mission.

The World Evangelical Alliance has put together a site with resources to help families, church leaders, national alliances, business leaders and health professionals. Check it out here >

The Opportune Time
Ps David Dishroon

Romans 13:11-14 encourages us, as it did the the Jews and Christians in Rome in the late 55 AD – early 57 AD, to consider the drastic changes to the world we live in as an opportune time to do something.

This message was shared as a devotional thought during one of our weekly Pray As One NZ online prayer gatherings taking place 8-9pm on MONDAYS.

Join the meeting from the website and look for updates on Facebook.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has created a global health crisis that has had a significant impact on the way we perceive our world and our everyday lives. This crisis has rapidly pushed us into the unknown and left many facing an uncertain future. However, it has been proven throughout history that New Zealand is no stranger to adversity. Time after time, New Zealanders have shown the ability to come together, with the desire to help one another demonstrating the resilience of the nation and this situation is no different.

This handbook aims to help with issues that have arisen during the Covid-19 crisis.

MEDIA RELEASE: Christians eager to be responsible about COVID-19

MEDIA RELEASE: Christians eager to be responsible about COVID-19

Christians eager to be responsible about COVID-19

21 March 2020

The New Zealand Christian Network, the alliance of evangelical churches, organisations and individuals in Aotearoa New Zealand, commends the New Zealand Government for its leadership in our time of COVID-19 crisis. We agree that all New Zealanders must do what is necessary at this time to unite against the virus and slow its spread.

We also commend the many churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, marae, clubs and societies who have sacrificially agreed to abide by the Government’s temporary restrictions to keep us all as safe as possible during this period of moderate risk. We pray that the risk does not increase further.

We are thankful for technology that can help keep us connected at times when we need to be physically distant. Physical proximity is an important part of our communal Christian faith, but we also believe in a God who is not limited to our material world and is present everywhere at all times. For thousands of years this belief has been a comfort to those who find themselves isolated from their faith communities. Billions of people around the world today who follow Jesus continue to find in Him tangible peace in times of terrifying trial.

We implore leaders of churches who plan to continue gathering in larger groups to urgently reconsider. We cite Singapore and Korea as cases where community transmission of COVID-19 was greatly amplified by attendance at large church services. Churchgoers are not immune to illness, let alone a virus as dangerous as this one.

Christ-followers need to be socially responsible, to love God by loving our neighbours. There is nothing to fear in love. We encourage all Christian leaders to consider carefully the way the Apostle Paul’s pleaded with the believers in Philippi (Philippians 2:3-5): “Do not proceed out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but concern others better than yourselves… look not only look to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” For this is the way of Christ.

We urge all New Zealanders, including Christians, to turn towards God and to be much in prayer about our situation.

Failure isn’t Final: Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

Failure isn’t Final: Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

What is depression and how does that affect people?

Often when people think about depression they just think about people feeling sad. And we have to remember it that sad is a normal human emotion. So if one has days that don’t feel as good as others, some people call those days Mondays, and I agree entirely. So what we have to distinguish is between normal human behaviour. So it’s normal to have days where you feel a bit flat, where everything’s not so good. And then there’s the illness, depression. And depression affects far more than the emotions. In fact a lot of people with depression, they don’t feel sadness, they feel numbness. They feel nothing at all. People with depression can have difficulty with concentrating…

I know that the topic of suicide is hard to face. You may not have been touched by it. You may feel inadequate if you had to try and help someone.

The truth is that NZ is being swamped by an epidemic of hopelessness and life issues that is leading youth and men in particular to take their lives as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The government does not have teams of psychologists roaming the streets looking for potentially suicidal people. The only people out there who can help desperate people are you and me – and others like us. We need to know what to look for and then what to do about it, which is often alerting experts. In this livestream event Michael Hempseed helps us have greater awareness of risk factors and symptoms.

Everyone needs this training!

You may have never had anyone you know be in a suicidal situation. But if you were even just once faced with this difficult situation – would you not want the confidence to know what steps to take to help?

Promise Keepers NZ 

Michael Hempseed (BA Psyc (Hon), Dip. Child Protection) is an experienced speaker who combines the latest research on mental health and suicide with practical tools, insights and pathways to support. He is an author and TEDx Speaker. His TedX presentation, ‘Overcoming Failure’, has had 25,000 views. His book, Being A True Hero: Understanding and Preventing Suicide in Your Community, is proving to be a worthwhile book for professionals and for those who have friends that may be suicidal.

See his website beingatruehero.com for more information.

Did you know failure can lead to shaken self confidence, depression and even suicide? Michael shares his personal story of overcoming failure on Britain’s Got Talent. Michael challenges us to re-examine the way we think about failure and whether it is possible to be successful after a dramatic failure.

Michael is a highly sought after professional speaker. He has delivered many inspiring seminars on such diverse topics as overcoming failure, mental illness and resilience. Michael has a real heart for helping everyone be at their best, especially those who are really struggling in life. Funny, full of enthusiasm and taking a genuine interest in people are all qualities that make Michael a captivating speaker. In addition to this he hosts a weekly radio show called Lighthouse of Hope, dedicated to helping those experiencing mental illness.

Visiting over 30 countries, including Ukraine, Cambodia, Morocco, China, India and Brazil has given Michael a wealth of real world experience. In particular his trip to India had a profound effect on him. Before leaving for India he was told that he would realise how lucky he was when he returned. Yet, he discovered a profound joy in India and when he returned he found that same joy was so often lacking in the Western World.

How to Deal With Failure | Michael Hempseed

THE CATH VINCENT SHOW: Wake up to your WOW.

Too often we exclusively associate suicide with depression, Being A True Hero looks at the many causes of suicide, from depression, bullying, brain injuries, psychosis, lack of sleep, childhood trauma, the cluster effect, loneliness, failure and many more. This book will help the reader to know more about suicide, whether they are a concerned parent, a friend, an employer, a counsellor, sports coach or a doctor.

The book is the result of over 10 years research. Michael Hempseed effortlessly merges scientific research with real world examples, he presents complex scientific information in a way so that anyone can understand it. Being a True Hero, is full of possibilities for recovery and the sheer number of options for help will astound many readers. More importantly he shows that no matter how bad the situation is there is always hope.

Sample chapters can be read and listened to here

Michael writes about mental illness and suicide with compassion and hope. His book is useful for people who have personal experience, the people who love them, and professionals who work in the field. It is serious, at times funny, and references up to date research.”

Kay O’Connor PhD, counsellor

I recently asked a friend I was concerned about if he was suicidal, it turned out he was – and needed help. Without the information in this book I never would have had the confidence to do that. The material in this book could save many lives.

Thomas Saywell, Youth Worker

What does it mean to be “evangelical”?

What does it mean to be “evangelical”?

To be evangelical means to believe and live for Christ in the spirit of the New Testament Gospel, celebrating God’s great love and grace, through faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Evangelical Christianity is about spiritual conversion, and Christian consecration and discipleship.

It is about believing that salvation is found in Christ alone, and that believers should share the good news of Christ both in word and in action.

It places much emphasis on the saving work of Christ on the Cross, and the critical importance of Christ’s resurrection.

Being evangelical is about devotion to Christ, and prayerfulness.

It involves a high level of commitment to Christian fellowship and the church.

To be evangelical means to recognise the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible, and to make much use of it in preaching, teaching, study and devotion.

Evangelical Christianity is about holding to historic biblical Christianity, and to safeguard that many evangelical churches and organisations have a statement of faith.

Evangelical Christianity varies greatly in its practices and tone.

At its best, evangelical Christianity transcends denominational distinctives, and cultural divides, and many differences over secondary matters. Evangelical Christianity shares many of its characteristics with various other Christian streams, especially with regard to the basics of Christian faith and life, but nevertheless it has its own distinctive flavour. At its core, evangelical Christianity has a spiritual Gospel dynamic which transforms individual lives, and then flows over into relationships, family, churches, and society.

At its core, evangelical Christianity has a spiritual Gospel dynamic which transforms individual lives, and then flows over into relationships, family, churches, and society.

The word “evangelical” points us to the heart of the New Testament message. The word is derived from the New Testament Greek word for “Gospel” (euangelion), which means “good news”: the good news that the living God has sent his Son into the world, to reveal God, to die for our sins, and to rise from the dead, and that when people place their faith in Christ they receive forgiveness, newness of life, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and confidence for eternity.

The word “evangelical” was used during the Reformation, to indicate an emphasis on the Gospel of grace and on the authority and use of the Bible. It was very much associated with the eighteenth century revivals in Britain and America, and the nineteenth century humanitarian improvements in British society, and the nineteenth and twentieth century global expansion of Protestant Christianity – and not least the background to New Zealand’s Treaty of the Waitangi.

Within the church, the word “evangelical” serves primarily an in-house theological term. Outside the church, the word “evangelical” is less useful, because it is so often misunderstood. It is often best to express its meaning using other words.

The New Zealand Christian Network is associated with the World Evangelical Alliance, which seeks to express the faith of about some 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide, across a vast diversity of different nations, cultures and denominations. In some 130 countries, there is a national evangelical alliance affiliated to the WEA. From time to time, the WEA calls a General Assembly. The last one was in 2008. The next one is in November 2019, and it will be attended by several representatives from New Zealand.

 

Dr Stuart Lange