Blogs & Guest posts

Why Care About Climate Change? (with reading list) (Issue 27)

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By Dick Tripp. 

Creation care. Climate change. There’s two reasons I believe this is the most important issue the human race has ever faced, particularly at this present time.

It’s about justice.

It may come as a surprise, but I see climate change as an issue of human justice. Millions of people worldwide have suffered and are suffering as the direct result of climate change. Hundreds of thousands have already lost their lives. Yet the topic of climate change has sometimes been controversial, particularly within Christian circles. While some groups have no problem accepting it as scientifically certain, for one reason or another some others have denied that human-caused climate change is a reality. Yes, there are a few scientists who deny climate change… but it’s equally important to recognise that the overwhelming majority of experts – Christian or not – affirm its reality. What’s more, this is also the growing consensus among biblical scholars, theologians and missiologists. It’s no longer valid to hide behind beliefs that are unable to reconcile with the clear reality we now face!

James Lovelock, one of the world’s most influential scientists, has spelled out clearly how all earth’s ecosystems are interconnected. If you affect one, you affect all the rest. Today we are seeing this everywhere. We’re putting 110 million tons of heat trapping global warming pollution into the lower atmosphere every twenty-four hours. That is the equivalent of 400 000 Hiroshima atomic bombs! One consequence is that extreme warmer days are 150 times more common than 30 years ago. 14 of the hottest recorded years have been in the first fifteen of this century. The world is now hotter than it has been for many, many millennia and it is warming 10 times faster than ever in the earth’s history.

The obvious consequence of this is extreme weather conditions. 93% of heat is absorbed by the oceans, resulting in more water vapour being sent into the atmosphere which is then dumped back on the earth. As an example of this, the equivalent of two days water from Niagara Falls down poured in central Houston in two days last July shutting down everything. Then on December 29, the storm that caused massive flooding in Mid-West US raised the temperature of the North Pole 30˚C, causing thawing of the North Pole in the middle of its long, dark winter night.

And warming draws water from the soil. The three-year record breaking drought in the Middle East that began in 2006 destroyed 60% of farms and 80% of livestock in Syria and sent one-and-a-half million people into the cities where they collided with a similar number of refugees from the Iraq war. This was likely one contributing factor to the turmoil that exists today. Even in New Zealand extreme weather is causing significant trouble, with around 200 farmers have had to pay about $100 000 each for flood damage. Others are paying $5000 a week for extra stock food which is unsustainable.

We’re likely to see half our plant and animal species gone this century. For example, coral, which has been called the building architect of the marine ecosystem, will probably be gone this century. 1000 species of fish spend at least part of their life-cycle on coral, so if coral goes these fish will go too. This will be devastating for many places such as the Pacific islands where people depend on fish to survive. On top of that, rising sea levels results in salt getting into groundwater, which in turn prevents the growing of traditional crops. At present there are two million people in an area of Papua New Guinea that are facing hunger, disease and poverty. Their crops have been destroyed and they have only polluted water. Most are living on one meal a day.

Many positive steps are being taken worldwide at an ever-increasing rate. More countries are now getting half their energy supplies from renewable sources. But is it fast enough? The warming pollutants we put in the atmosphere will all be there for 1700 to 3000 years. The International Energy Agency has said we will have put enough carbon into the atmosphere by next year to raise the temperature two degrees. If other countries follow our government’s example, it will likely be four degrees or more. In fact, reputable organisations such as the World Bank and PriceWaterhouseCooper have warned that we’re heading for a change of six degrees.

But are we acting fast enough? That’s today’s pressing question – not just for the planet but for its people, particularly the poor and vulnerable.

God cares for his creation.

The second reason caring for the planet matters is because God cares for his creation, not just us. This is spelled out in Scripture. One of his purposes in putting us here was to “care for” or “serve” his creation (Genesis 2:15). His covenant with Noah included “all living creatures of every kind” (Genesis 9). The laws of Moses include numerous passages about how the land was to be cared for and the produce from it was to be available for all to share, even if circumstances had driven them to poverty. The Psalms contain passages stressing God’s ownership of his creation, his delight in it and the way in which it brings glory and praise to him. Isaiah has some has some magnificent passages regarding God’s future plans for his creation. Paul tells us that creation reveals God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20) and it will share in the blessings that he has prepared for us (Romans 8). Creation is God’s gift to his Son. All things were created “for” him (Colossians 1:16). These passages and more are spelled out in some detail in my book The Biblical Mandate for Caring for Creation, which can be read and downloaded as a pdf file on www.exploringchristianity.co.nz.

So why should we care about creation? Because God does!

 

Further reading.

 

For those who are serious about exploring these issues further, I would suggest the following books. I also highly recommend watching a recent video from Al Gore at youtu.be/u7E1v24Dllk

 

The End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth by Anthony D. Barnosky and Elisabeth A. Hardy. The best I know on how climate change, food shortages, decreasing water availability, pollution, population growth, sea rise and acidification, and dwindling resources all interact with one another and result in increasing violence and cross-boundary migration etc., on a world-wide scale. It highlights the need for immediate action to mitigate future disastrous effects. They know their stuff, offering considerable, hand-on global research.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. Award winning journalist. Great research over 5 years. She has attended the significant conferences and interviewed the significant leaders on climate change and also significant sceptics and fossil fuel CEOs, who she often quotes. She deals with all significant issues. Devastating critique of fossil fuel industry and climate sceptics. Naomi was co-leader of Pope Francis’ Climate Change Conference when multi-church leaders, leading scientists, activists, economists and climate change experts were brought together for the first time.

The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore. New York Times Best Seller. Significant information on virtually every page concerning what is happening in the real world in areas such as monetary transactions (making the rich richer and increasing inequality), power (shifting from West to East and governments to corporations), politics (why USA is no longer a democracy), business (globalisation and robotics and how these increase unemployment), communication, climate change, etc., and how all these are related. They affect how governments respond to climate change.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. Very good on-the-ground global research. I expect this is the best read on the subject.

Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change. Written specifically for older teens but a good starter for adults. Well researched, very clear including useful charts, and deals with all the main issues. Great for youth and grandchildren who will have to live through it. I have sent a copy to my three son’s families who all have teenagers.

The Vanishing Face of Gaia and A Rough Ride to the Future by James Lovelock. He is one the world’s most influential scientists. He must be in his 90s now. He is responsible for the Gaia theory, how all the earth’s ecosystems operate as one, which is now an accepted scientific theory. In the latter book, written recently, he envisions a time when all humans will live and grow their food in air-conditioned cities far enough away from the ocean.

Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen. An NASA scientist, widely regarded as the world’s leading climate expert and one of the first to warn people fifty years ago of the probable effects of the warming world. Once an advisor to the US Government.

By far the best thing I have read on the justice and moral issues involved in climate change is Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’, which can be downloaded from the internet. Thoroughly biblical. He has had a great impact in this area and is one of my heroes.

The Biblical Mandate for Caring for Creation by Dick Tripp. After five chapters giving the history of the environmental movements from both secular and Christian perspectives, I trace the relevant passages through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation that relate to God’s attitude to his creation. Printed copies are available but it can be read on www.exploringchristianity.com and downloaded as a pdf file.

Two of the best websites for keeping up with information on climate change are www.350.org and www.theguardian.com/series/keep-it-in-the-ground .

For those interested in the politics of climate change I recommend the blogs put out by Kennedy Graham of the Green Party who has been involved internationally in the climate change issue from the beginning. For a very significant up-to-date article “February breaks temperature records by ’shocking’ amount,” click here.

 

Dick is a ‘retired’ Anglican minister (though failing to find the word in Scripture, he has yet to ‘retire’ from Christian ministry). He takes any opportunity to speak about climate change – we owe it to future generations.

 

For discussion

Christians have sometimes struggled with the concept of climate change. Why do you think that is?

Do you know of other examples of how creation care is actually an issue of justice?

Strategic Foresight: A New Horizon for Innovation in Ministry

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By Derek Seipp.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication from the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at lausanne.org/analysis

 

You may not be aware that there is a plan on the horizon to begin colonizing Mars by 2026. SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s plan does not stop there. Musk’s ultimate goal is to see one million people living on Mars by the end of the century.

Let us consider US President John F Kennedy’s speech in 1961, calling for a man to be put on the moon within a decade. In order to put his vision in context, in 1961 there were no personal computers, most commercial aircraft still used propellers, and TV was still predominately black and white. Considering the available technology at the time, Kennedy’s horizon was audacious. People thought it just could not be done; yet eight years later, Neil Armstrong descended a ladder and took that famous ‘one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind’.

Higher horizons versus incremental steps

If we had simply continued doing what we were doing, taking incremental steps to do it a little better each year, we would probably never have set foot on the moon. Yet this is where most of us find ourselves: looking for steady, incremental improvements. The problem with this kind of thinking is that we look back at what we have done in order to see what is possible in the future. In essence, we look backward in order to look forward.

However, Kennedy did not base the future upon the past. He set an audacious horizon, looking forward, to something far and beyond where we were. It inspired people to reach beyond mere incremental improvements.

Kennedy knew that the knowledge and technology needed did not even exist in 1961. This caused scientists to look forward and explore what technologies would be necessary to accomplish such a radical goal. Once those necessary technologies were identified, scientists began working their way back to the present. This allowed them to create a roadmap starting from the future, which identified each technology that needed to be developed to bring them to their desired destination.

Great horizons always push us to look forward beyond ourselves. Once we understand the desired future, we walk back to the present and figure out how to get there. This kind of thinking results in innovative, paradigm-changing ways of impacting our world.

When we set our sights on higher horizons, it is amazing what can be done. Pyramids are built. Cathedrals are constructed. Brave new worlds are discovered.

Horizons for mission

Bill O’Brien was Vice-President at the Southern Baptist Convention Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) when he read an article in 1994 about a physicist at NASA who was setting broader and higher horizons. The article literally changed the course of his career. It described how physicist Dr John Andersen led his team to find a revolutionary new approach to space travel. As a result, they cut the time necessary to fly to Jupiter down from several years to just a couple of months.

‘This is what we need in Christian mission’, O’Brien excitedly thought. He contacted Andersen, who was more than happy to lead a group of ministry leaders through a similar process. In 1996, international leaders gathered to discuss the future of Africa in the year 2050. O’Brien said: ‘The reason Andersen pushes those horizons out so far is that it helps people engage in the process and stop just extrapolating elements in the present. The second thing is that we need to construct a new framework, not just for fantasizing, but for using critical relevant thinking within that framework.’

‘This is not a way of creating strategic plans, but it is a way of creating new ways of thinking’—O’Brien.

Andersen kept pressing the group to look out further and further to the future, while exploring higher and higher leverage capabilities. Then the group worked backwards to today in order to discuss all the steps necessary to arrive at this new future. O’Brien says the results were revolutionary for everyone involved.

O’Brien was convinced. He began helping other organizations practice this type of thinking. One such project was with World Vision. They explored the possibility that the organization would be forced out of business by 2030. ‘It got everybody scared’, says O’Brien. The organization realized just how vulnerable it was to the many changes happening in our world. Many significant changes came out of those meetings.

‘This is not a way of creating strategic plans, but it is a way of creating new ways of thinking’—O’Brien.

Understanding potential futures

Our world is changing faster than ever before. Entire cultures are changing in the light of globalization, technology, urbanization, and a host of other factors. Unreached people groups are migrating to cities. The number of global languages will likely drop by half. In the face of these radical changes, merely seeking incremental improvements in our ministries will only set us further and further behind.

Forward thinking empowers leaders to explore and understand all the various places the future could take them. They break free from limited thinking patterns holding them back from something greater. As leaders do this, they begin to see themselves differently. They also view the resources at their disposal differently too.

Gideon example

The Bible is full of stories which highlight this type of thinking. Take Gideon, for instance. He limited himself by thinking he was the least family member of the smallest tribe in Israel. Yet God saw Gideon as something else entirely. To enable him to share God’s perspective, he needed a radically new horizon. God told Gideon he would rout the entire enemy army; but he would have to do it with just 300 men. Now, it is important to note that God never told Gideon how to do it.

As a result, Gideon deployed 300 soldiers in an innovatively new way. To the old Gideon, hiding in a well and constrained in his thinking, the original vision was as impossible as sending a man to the moon.

Studying trends

A good soccer player knows not to go to the ball, but to get to where the ball is going to be. The same can be said about ministry organizations. As the changes leaders face come faster and faster, leaders must learn to align their organizations with the future environment before it emerges.

To do so, leaders must seek to understand the most likely environments to emerge in the future. One way to do this is by studying the emerging trends, issues, and choices being made. As a weatherman creates forecasts by examining how weather changes interact in the environment, leaders can use trends, issues, and choices to create forecasts about their future environment as well. The greater these are understood, the clearer the forecast of the future will be. And when leaders have a clearer picture of the future, they have a much greater chance of getting to where the ball is going to be.

Mission Society example

O’Brien was asked by The Mission Society to help them address an issue of growing concern. It was their 25th anniversary and a significant gap had developed between their vision and the way their missionaries were being deployed on the ground. They gathered missionaries and leaders from around the globe in Prague in 2008.

‘The horizon was 25 years’, says Vice-President Jim Ramsay. They explored what the world would look like far into the future. Ramsay said they realized: ‘If we don’t change, we won’t be addressing the key global issues in 10-15 years . . . the future is going to challenge our structural models as well as our funding models. We have to rethink how we do everything. It’s an exciting time, and there is a lot we have to wrestle with. Broad organizational shift is happening as a result of that meeting—its fingerprints are all over many aspects of our organization today.’

‘Wisdom is supreme—so acquire wisdom, and whatever you acquire, acquire understanding.’—Proverbs 4:7 (NET).

The results of that meeting in 2008 are still creating an impact. The organization refined its vision and mission, and then changed its structure and culture as well. They are also realizing the tremendous potential in developing multi-agency collaboration for global partnerships. Other new innovative ideas continue to emerge as individuals continue to align themselves with the future.

‘Wisdom is supreme—so acquire wisdom, and whatever you acquire, acquire understanding.’—Proverbs 4:7 (NET).

The chiefs of Issachar

David had been cast out from King Saul’s presence into the wilderness. There he gathered to himself the best men of Israel. Among them were great warriors, able to use their weapons with both their right and left hands. In the middle of this great list of warriors is a curious group. The Bible says these 200 chiefs of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do. They understood how the issues and choices would interact to create a future in which David would be king. These warriors’ greatest weapons were their minds.

Implications and suggested responses

The Bible commends the chiefs of Issachar for understanding the times and knowing what to do. God is looking for similar men and women today, who are prepared to lead ministries into the future. To get started, leaders should begin engaging their teams in conversations about the future. Here are some initial questions to ask:

What emerging trends, issues, and choices do we see happening in our environment? 

How might these combine to change our future environment? 

To what new horizon is God calling us? 

Is our organization prepared for the future 5, 10, 20 years out? 

There is also a small but growing set of books and resources which can fuel these conversations. In 1998 Paul McKaughan, Dellana O’Brien, and William (Bill) O’Brien co-authored Choosing a Future for US Missions, which is available from the William Carey Library. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity produces many resources highlighting global Christian trends. More often, however, the most innovative ideas arise as we study other disciplines and then seek to apply them in our own areas of expertise. Finally, later this year, the William Carey Library is publishing a book by the author of this article specifically designed to help ministry leaders develop a comprehensive framework for analyzing trends, thinking about the future and setting broad new horizons.

 

Click here to view the original article.

Is Islam Inherently Violent?

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Since it’s Ramadan, it’s worth taking the time to think about our perceptions of Islam. When talking about other religions, it’s important that we Christians get into the habit of ‘truth-telling.’ Is it fair that we compare the best of Christianity with the worst of other religions? The following are some reflections by Grey Boyd about Islam. Re-blogged from here.

An increasing number of people, especially in conservative Christian circles, are claiming that Islam is an inherently violent religion. They point to all the violence in the history of Islam and all of the violence being carried out by Muslims today as proof of this. I believe this claim is as misguided as it is dangerous.

Two considerations demonstrate the erroneous and prejudicial nature of this claim. First, the percentage of Muslims engaging in violence today is a minute fraction of the total Muslim population, which is now around 1.6 billion (23% of the world’s population). If you add together even the highest estimates of participants in all the Islamic extremist groups (e.g., ISIS, Al Queda, the Taliban, Boko Haram), the total is a fraction of 1% of this population. Claiming Islam is inherently violent on the basis of the behavior of a tiny minority of professing Muslims is like claiming Christianity is inherently racist because groups like the Aryan Nation and Ku Klux Klan profess to be Christian.

Second, if the violence of professing Muslims proves Islam is inherently violent, then consistency demands that we conclude that the Christian religion also is inherently violent, for up until three and half centuries ago, professing Christians routinely engaged in violence that was every bit as barbaric as what Islam extremists are doing today. Beyond the horrific Crusades and Inquisition, there was a century and a half (1524-1648) of almost uninterrupted Christian-on-Christian violence that wiped out a significant percentage of the population of large sections of Europe.

It wasn’t radical extremist groups that claimed to be Christian that carried out this violence. All the violence of this period and throughout Church history was sanctioned by all the major ecclesial denominations and carried out by mainstream professing Christians. To their credit, the only Christians that abstained from this bloodletting were Anabaptists, and they were almost completely exterminated by the other groups. So if, in spite of all this violence, Christians today do not want to accept that the Christian religion is inherently violent, then Christians must stop claiming that the violence of professing Muslims implies that Islam is inherently violent.

Now, some will object that religiously motivated violence on the part of Christians is a thing of the past, proving that the Christian religion is not inherently violent.   Thankfully, it is for the most part true that we no longer see Christian organizations carrying out violence. But this is not because Christians suddenly matured three hundred years ago and realized their violence was inconsistent with their religious convictions. Christians only stopped killing their religious and political adversaries because secular authorities decided this relentless warfare was politically and economically disadvantageous, so they agreed to make religious violence illegal (the “Peace of Westphalia,” 1648).

It was at this time that the West thankfully began to finally embrace the idea of a neutral secular state that had been proposed by Thomas Hobbs (1588-1679) and others. While some have tried to argue that the concept of a neutral state protecting the freedom and rights of people of different faiths was birthed out of Christianity, it was actually birthed out of a secular reaction to a century and a half of “Christian” states that were violently trampling on this freedom and these rights. (A good book on this is The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, by Mark Lilla).

So you see, the reason why a minority of Muslims continue to engage in religiously motivated violence while Christians do not is not because Islam is inherently violent while Christianity is not. It’s rather because Islamic countries have not, on the whole, embraced the concept of a secular neutral state, outlawing religious violence. In fact, while the secular concept of tolerance has now become deeply ingrained in westerners, I am convinced that, if there were no laws preventing religiously motivated violence, masses of western Christians would still be carrying it out, and I, for one, would likely have years ago gone the way of Michael Servetus!

To close, while I’ve argued that Islam is no more inherently violent than the Christian religion, one could easily turn the tables and argue that both religions, and even all religions, are to some degree inclined toward violence. For as long as people place their ultimate allegiance to a belief above loving other people at all costs, they will feel justified, whenever they deem it necessary, to kill people in the name of their belief.

The only ultimate allegiance that cannot ever lead to violence is the allegiance to the one who commanded his disciples to sacrificially love and do good to all people, including life-threatening enemies (Mt 5:38-47; Lk 6:27-36). Those who share this ultimate allegiance do not adhere to a religion; they rather manifest the Father’s kingdom. And they are grateful for secular authorities that protect them from those who embrace religion, whether it be the religion of Islam or of Christianity.

 

Thanks ReKnew for letting us share this. Re-blogged from here.

Observing Ramadan as a Christian

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We are now in the middle of the month of Ramadan, an important month of fasting and religious observance for Muslims. A billion Muslims across the world are presently fasting and seeking God. This is therefore a time for us to pray that God will, indeed, reveal himself to them.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, meaning it’s precise dates change each year. During the month, Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. It is seen as a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, meaning Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. (Click here to read a brief explanation of the month from a Muslim perspective.)

At Christianity Today, Jerry Rankin, who used to serve in a large Muslim nation, has offered some thoughts about how Christians should respond to Ramadan. Here are some highlights, though it is worth reading the original article here.

During Ramadan, we found our Muslim friends were more open to talking about spiritual things. We would ask them about their practice, why they were fasting, and what they hoped to gain by it. It was surprising to them when we shared our own practice of fasting from time to time to seek God. We do not fast to get something from God but out of a desire for God himself that exceeds our desire for food. Wonderfully, God does meet our needs and answer our prayers, but we should not fast presuming by our piety we are obligating God to do something for us.

 

While most Muslims observe the fast because they are commanded to and believe there is merit to be gained, many do it as a perfunctory obligation. Some want to avoid the condemnation from more pious family members. However, for the devout, the Muslim month of fasting is actually for the same purpose that we as Christians may occasionally fast: the desire to know God in a deeper more intimate relationship.

 

Fasting during Ramadan is intended to be a time to seek God, and many sincerely do. While recognizing the futility of seeking to please God by one’s own piety and works, we avoided expressing disrespect in conversation with Muslim friends. We shared our common desire to know God. It was an opportunity to bear witness to the futility of our own efforts and how we discovered the unmerited grace of God through Jesus Christ.

 

What if Christians fervently prayed during the month of Ramadan that God would reveal himself to Muslims in this time of seeking? What if we covered millions of fasting Muslims with 30 days of intense intercession that something would happen in their spiritual search? Believing in the power of prayer, could we not expect God to respond to our heartfelt burden for the lost millions of the world?

 

It is tragic that we should be so wrapped up in our self-interests and worldview that we would be indifferent to more than a billion followers of Islam in the world that are dying without Christ, but this month are seeking what only he can provide. We are repulsed by a religion that seems to justify terrorism and suicide bombers committed to the destruction of life, but don’t we realize that Jesus is the answer? Rather than hardening our hearts and dismissing their lostness to the judgment of God as something they deserve, we should plead for their hearts to be open to God revealing himself.

 

Join me this month in praying for Muslims in our own communities as well as those around the world. Pray that they would truly seek God and be open to revelation that would lead them to the truth. In seeking Allah, an impersonal deity that is aloof and cannot be known, may they find a loving, compassionate God who revealed himself through Jesus Christ and died for their sins.

 

If you are interested in joining Christians across the world who are praying for Muslims during Ramadan, visit 30daysprayer.com. There you will find a prayer guide for each day of Ramadan, giving you ideas of what you can be praying for.

Buddhism in Asia: How Can Christians Engage?

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By Hugh Kemp

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication from the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at lausanne.org/analysis. We’re highlighting the article because, for NZCMS to focus more purposefully on Asia, we need to better understand Buddhism.

 

Christian mission among Buddhists in Asia has traditionally been ‘very hard’, not because of open conflict necessarily, but because of indifference to or misunderstanding of the gospel, or because of the way the gospel has been offered. One can easily imagine the saffron-clad monk respectfully listening to the gospel message, apparently agreeing with much that he has heard, and then not doing anything about it.

Missionaries tell stories of long years and much prayer invested in Christian witness to Buddhists, with little fruit by way of explicit conversions. There are a handful of exceptions: phenomenal church growth in China and Mongolia are two.

Challenges 

Buddhism throws up many challenges:

There is language which is outside of Christian experience. (What might ‘taking refuge in the Three Jewels’ mean?)

Words are used differently (emptiness, self, enlightenment).

The texts are written in Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, and Sanskrit, leading to different spellings of words (nirvana, nibbana).

There are complex words that are simply difficult to pronounce (try Ajitasenavyakarananirdesa) and concepts that are unfathomable (emptiness, nirvana).

In some cases, it is best to leave the original words: hence dhukha, nirvana, dharma, bodhi, samsara are all now widely used in English (and their equivalents in other European languages), without change or translation.

Approaches

There are a number of ways that Christians could approach Buddhists:

A textual approach might ask questions like, Which texts are important? What is the canon? What is the nature of textual authority? What is the key teaching? (Some Buddhist sects gather around one particular text, like the Lotus Sutra.)

A historico-critical approach might examine historical developments of the texts, the teachings, and the praxis: have they changed as Buddhism has spread?

Phenomenology would look at what Buddhists actually do. What of ritual and festival?

Sociological: How does Buddhism work out in people’s lives and their communities? Who is involved? Why? How is leadership played out? Power and social order?

Other approaches might yield different and interesting insights: Political, Anthropological, Feminist, Philosophical, Psychological.

If a Christian engages with a Buddhist, any one of these paths will yield profitable conversation. Christians need to actually talk with Buddhists themselves rather than simply learning about them.

Buddhism worldwide

Estimates vary, but there is broad agreement that around 6% of the world’s population is Buddhist in some sense (between 350 million and 500 million, and maybe up to 1 billion). Data can be gathered from censuses, but this only measures a snapshot of self-perception. Buddhism is often mixed with local religions, whether the animism of the hill tribes of Thailand, the original Bön of Tibet, or the Shinto of Japan. Additionally, some countries have Buddhism as the official state religion (Sri Lanka), while for China (by contrast), it is simply unwise, if not impossible, to sift Buddhism from Daoism and Confucianism.

Buddhism in some form is present in over 125 countries. Nevertheless, Asia is its home. A percentage of the population who are Buddhists in each country looks approximately like this: Thailand ~87%; Cambodia ~85%; Bhutan ~84%; Myanmar ~75%; Sri Lanka ~70%; Japan ~56%; Mongolia ~55%; Laos ~53%; Vietnam ~50%; Taiwan ~27%; South Korea ~25%; Macau ~17%; Hong Kong ~15%; Singapore ~15%; Nepal ~12%; Brunei ~10%; Malaysia ~6%; and North Korea ~2%. There is also a small but significant population in India (7 million). China, with about 244 million Buddhists, is arguably home of about half the world’s Buddhists. Los Angeles, California, is actually the most diverse Buddhist city in the world, with representation of all Buddhist traditions.

Practice 

Buddhism unsurprisingly ‘looks’ different in each of these countries. Buddhism demonstrates quite some variation between schools/traditions. Some are very textual and doctrinal, some ‘use’ doctrine to a point, and then discard it, and others eschew doctrine altogether. The Buddha himself said that his teaching (the dharma) was like a raft used by a person crossing a river. When he had safely reached the other shore, he could discard the raft and continue on his journey.

Many Buddhists approach Buddhism as a practice, rather than a belief. Orthopraxy is often more important than orthodoxy. In early Buddhism, new groups formed due more to issues around monastic discipline, rather than doctrinal heresy. This is in contrast to the first five centuries of Christian history where conflict—and subsequently creeds—were likely to be caused by doctrinal issues.

Buddhism is often more about techniques of doing and ethics for living. The disciple follows a path or way, using a technique towards an end (awakening/enlightenment), such as meditative practice which is claimed to lead to enlightenment, or taking vows of ordination as a monk or nun.

The main idea is to experience what the teachings and texts are offering. Rupert Gethin sums this up well:

‘The aim of Buddhism is to put into practice a particular way of living the ‘spiritual life’ (brahma-cariya) that involves training in ethical conduct (sila) and meditative and contemplative techniques (samadhi) and which culminates in the direct realization of the very knowledge (prajna) the Buddha himself reached. Therefore what the Buddha taught is often referred to in the early texts as a system of ‘training’ (siksa), and his disciples may be referred to as being ‘in training’ (saiksa) . . . Thus in certain important respects the nature of the knowledge that the Buddha was trying to convey to his pupils is more akin to a skill, like knowing how to play a musical instrument, than a piece of information, such as what time the Manchester train leaves tomorrow’.

Buddhisms

Therefore, a Christian wishing to talk with a Buddhist in Vietnam will likely have quite a different type of conversation than talking with a Buddhist in Tibet or in Taiwan—or Los Angeles! It may be wiser not to think of a unified religion called Buddhism, but rather to think of Buddhisms, a collection of loosely related ideas and practices that is informed by a historical and textual tradition.

Zen Buddhism in Japan and Vajrayana Buddhism in Tibet ‘feel’ similar, but look very different. A Nepali villager may never have heard of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, let alone articulate them. However, if you read them to her, she might say something like, ‘Oh, that’s more or less the way I see the world.’

How to engage

When a Christian seeks to engage with Buddhists, it is common experience to feel overwhelmed. The categories are complex, based on fundamental differences in worldview assumptions. Stephen Prothero rightly notes that Buddhists and Christians see the problem in the world and the answer to that problem from two completely different angles:

For a Buddhist, the fundamental human problem is suffering, and the solution is awakening, then release from samsara.

For a Christian, the fundamental problem is usually articulated as sin, and the solution is salvation/freedom in Christ.

I would recommend a respectful conversational approach, seeking to listen well so as to clarify meanings, but also being unapologetic about differences.

 

To continue reading and to get some practical advice about engaging with Buddhists click here.

Why Most Missionaries Are Liars

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The following blog by Mike Pettengill has been reposted with permission. The original can be found on his site here.

No job description I have ever seen for a missionary includes the words “fast and loose with the truth.” It is not my belief missions attracts the kind of people who are predisposed to being insincere. Unfortunately, I have seldom encountered a missionary who will tell the entire truth when asked important personal questions.

The questions which would cause a typical missionary to light up a lie detector include: “How are you doing?” “How is your family?” “How is your marriage?” “How is your spiritual health?” These personal questions are frequently asked by friends, family, and supporting churches. What gives a typical missionary emotional fits is juxtaposing an honest desire to receive help with the concern he or she may be perceived as a ministry failure.

The Truth

The truth is most missionaries are suffering. They just don’t want their supporters to know it. A typical missionary has an unspoken adversarial relationship with their supporters. It has to do with financial support. We missionaries think, at some level, if our supporters discover we are suffering, struggling or having a hard time while on the mission field, we will be viewed as a bad investment and our supporters will go find a better missionary who has his act together.

Two of the most discussed topics in the Bible are sin & money. It should come as no surprise that money is at the core of much of our sin. Many missionaries are willing to suffer in silence for fear someone may discover we are ineffective servants. If the truth of a missionary’s suffering was revealed someone may pull their financial support or a missionary may be called home for a season, or permanently. In a missionary’s mind, what could be more painful than to be revealed as incapable of doing that which God has called and prepared them to do?

To The Missionary

Missions is hard. Humans are weak. God is sufficient. What could be more unnatural than to leave a culture where you know the language, you are succeeding at life and are surrounded by people who support you, to live in a culture where you speak like a child, have no support group and fail daily? Missionaries leave for the mission field with visions of Amy Carmichael, David Brainerd and Jim Elliot in their heads. The reality is many missionaries spend some part of a typical day in emotional and spiritual anguish. Struggle and failure are typical items on a missionary’s “to do” list. Missionaries, you must remember what Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.”

Tell your supporters and friends the truth. Get people to pray for you often. Let those who love you know you are in pain. When missionaries are honest, supporters don’t run from you, they run to you. When you left for the mission field you asked individuals and churches to partner with you in ministry. Give others the opportunity to glorify God by serving you. You may be surprised how your honesty results in a deluge of compassion.

To The Church

You agreed to partner with missionaries. Now do it. This is not simply a financial relationship. John Piper said, “All the money needed to send and support an army of self-sacrificing, joy-spreading ambassadors is already in the church.” It is not about the money. Care for your missionaries at least as well as you care for your stateside congregants. Ask them frequently how they are doing. Assume they are struggling and lying to you. Probe deeper. Ask them hard questions. Remind them frequently you are praying for them. They know you are praying, but they love to be reminded. Remember their family. Don’t forget anniversaries and birthdays. One short e-mail or phone call will provide energy for months. You may not be called to go, but you are certainly called to pray for or support God’s Great Commission. Every Christian is a participant.

Visit your missionaries on the field. Counsel them. Dive into their lives and invest in their spiritual health. Send them personal Christian resources. Conferences, books and CDs aren’t as prevalent outside the U.S. Loving on a missionary isn’t hard, but you’d be shocked at how few churches and supporters do it. Be the one to make a difference.

Focus On The Big Things

I have explained to dozens of churches I would rather see them invest sacrificially in two missionaries than superficially in two dozen missionaries. Instead of giving $100/month to two dozen missionaries and ignoring their personal needs, give $1000/month to two missionaries and pour your time, effort and soul into their personal wellbeing. Invest deeper into fewer missionaries instead of going a mile wide and an inch deep.

Missionaries, quit being so prideful. It is better for you to be spiritually healthy and able to serve for decades, than burning out after a couple of years. Be willing to be vulnerable so you can recover.

Sorry to break the bad news to you. Most of your missionaries are lying to you. As they see it, they are sacrificing their personal wellbeing for the advancement of God’s work. It is this type of self-sacrifice that makes them good missionaries. Let your missionaries know you love them and want to provide a safe place where they can heal their wounds.

 

THE MUSE

Why do you think we struggle being open and vulnerable with one another?

 

THE MOVE

Do you or your Church support a missionary? Why not send them an encouragement this week letting them know you’re thinking about them. And perhaps there’s something you can do to support them like this on an ongoing basis.

 

Join the discussion at the #NZCMS Facebook Group.

Is mission admin flushing money down the drain?

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Here’s an article by Karl Dahlfred re-posted from mission blog, ‘Gleanings from the Field.’

When talking with people about our financial support, one the questions that I like least is, “How much goes to admin?”  It is a valid question, but I don’t like to answer it because there is often an unspoken assumption that paying admin costs is little more than flushing money down the toilet.  Everyone knows that some amount needs to go to admin because donations need to be processed and receipted (at the very least).  But admin money isn’t “really” used for ministry, but just for someone to push paper (or pixels) in an office somewhere.

For many people, admin fees are an unpleasant reality. They are part and parcel of working with a missionary organization, in the same way that paying taxes are an accepted part of being a citizen of a country (or should be).  They need to be paid but there is a suspicion that they are probably not spent well and would largely be better used elsewhere.  Therefore, if someone asks me, “How much goes to admin?” I feel like the lower the number that I give them, the happier they will be with my answer.  I am not going to doctor the numbers, of course, but I am never sure how my answer will affect the attitude and willingness to give of the person asking.

But the longer that I serve with a missionary organization that assesses so-called admin costs, the more grateful I am for all the people behind those admin fees.  All that money that goes to behind-the-scenes admin enables other people to do things that I would otherwise need to take time and money to do myself.  And in many cases, those support workers who are in the home office or field office or in cyberspace somewhere are doing jobs that that I am not equipped to do.

 

I can’t do the ministry that I came here to do…

AND receipt donations for tax-deductible contributions each month.

AND fold and mail prayer letters each month.

AND manage international money transfers.

AND spend days on end filling out forms and running back and forth to government offices to get my visa and work permit processed.

AND interview and process new missionary candidates, never mind entire short-term teams.

AND manage a mission guest house or holiday home.

To continue reading click here.

A Kenyan at Waitangi

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What’s this guy doing here? Why is an African hanging around at Waitangi? No one asked me the question but I’m sure many were pondering it.

Over the last three years I’ve gone to Waitangi on Waitangi day and I reckon it’s one of the most amazing trips I make each year. But why do I keep going? Waitangi Day is always special for me because it is here that the relational foundation for our nation was laid. We are still on a journey of understanding what that means, but this is where it all began 175 years ago.

As an emigrant to New Zealand, I believe understanding place and history are vital in connecting to the soul of a nation. It’s not just about heritage but it’s about identity.

You may wonder how Waitangi could be important to a Kenyan, to an ‘outsider’? Isn’t your sense of identity connected to your roots in Kenya? Yes I have roots in Kenya, but I’ve been planting roots here too. Over the last six years my family has been trying to understand what it means to plant our roots deep into Aotearoa soil. It has meant to visit the beautiful places in this country, building friendships with Kiwis and seeking to integrate into New Zealand society. It has meant finding a church to belong to and getting involved. I haven’t picked up the Kiwi accent yet, but my daughters have.

And this is how it’s supposed to be. As I read the Scriptures, I see God calling his people to be pilgrims, people who are on a journey. And even when God’s people had been forcibly removed from their motherland, God still told them to see the peace and prosperity of the city to which he called them into exile (Jeremiah 29:7). Part of what it means to be God’s missional people is to be prepared to sink our feet into the soil of the place God has called us to.

Over the last few years, I felt that there was something incomplete with this journey of discovering and integrating into New Zealand. It was like a tree with lovely branches and fruit but without roots. So I began a journey of planting my feet into the roots of New Zealand. Here’s three key lessons I’ve learned along my journey.

1. It’s about People

Governor Hobson’s speech to the tribal chiefs in which he said “He iwi tahi tatou” (“We are all one people)” mirrors the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22. Paul speaks of Christ, “who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”. Paul knew what it was to work among two divided peoples, Jews and Gentiles, but also to see a ‘new people’ brought into being. Can we pray for a posture of unity as we explore our unique identity as kiwis?

Waitangi is special to me because it is through what happened there that this country was established. It means people like me are able to come and live here. Because of the Treaty, we have been welcomed to come and call this country our own. Without the Treaty I would not be here, I would not be welcome in this country. So I see God involved in the Treaty of Waitangi and it’s great that Waitangi day begins with a prayer meeting at dawn attended by politicians, local leaders (and anyone who is able to get there at 4.30am!). Which other country in the world begins their ‘independence day’ celebration with a prayer meeting?!

My involvement as a representative of  NZCMS at Waitangi is in some small way a ‘coming home.’ Members of CMS were among the British missionaries who contributed to the original Treaty process in 1840. I also see the key role the missionaries, especially Henry Williams, played as trusted friends of Maori in the treaty formulation and promotion of it among Maori. While some scholars have painted some of the early missionaries as colonist puppets aligned with land confiscation, a careful reading of history must recognize that these missionaries, although not angels, came to New Zealand for the Maori people, offering support, education and translation work.  This work was often carried on by Maori evangelists working among their own people.

I have many Pakeha friends after being in New Zealand for six years, but until two years ago I didn’t have many Maori friends. So I enrolled at Te Wananga o Aorearoa to study Te Reo Maori in order to communicate with Maori folk as I build friendships. I now have a number of Maori friends and I value their friendship deeply. This has been my bi-cultural  journey connecting to Tangata Whenua.

2. It’s about Place

As I studied Te Reo, I learnt that it was not just about language. Like many African cultures, the class was a community. We prayed for each other, played games and enjoyed kai together – and somewhere in the learned some Te Reo. But the most significant discovery for me was the importance of place among Maori. Its interesting that when you introduce yourself, you talk about where you comes from before you even say your name! So I decided I wanted to visit as many places of significant for Maori as I could. I’ve since been to Onuku Marae in Akoroa, there the Treaty was signed in South Island. I’ve been to Rangiatea Church in Otaki built by Te Raupaha who had been greatly impacted by the Christian message. I’ve been to many other places of significance in North Island.

But Waitangi beats them all! Why?

3. It’s about Posture

Although People and Place are important considerations in finding our roots, I’ve found that a posture of learning, of being a student of culture, is vital in helping me appreciate the beauty of culture. Although there are many things I have not yet understood about Kiwi culture, I have learned to ask questions and not assume.  I believe the Treaty of Waitangi has the potential to cultivate a unique national identity if we approach it with a learning posture. I believe the spirit of the Treaty should be one we seek to live out as we model a posture of ‘peace-making’ in this complex, multi-cultural world.

Moving forwards

I also go to Waitangi day not just to look back but to celebrate the present and look to the future. I go to celebrate a rich multi-cultural event earthed in a healthy and vibrant bi-cultural relationship.  Unfortunately what we mostly see in the media is the negative side, but a lot of great things happen at Waitangi: families on the beach, cultural groups doing variety shows, a stunning array of great kiwi food including mussel burgers and just a lovely holiday atmosphere. It’s like a big camp for the whole country where thousands of kiwis of all shapes and colours gather to celebrate. I think we need to learn the art of celebrating.

But its more than just celebrating the past. The treaty of Waitangi looks to the future too. Looking out over the Marae at the Dawn Service and seeing  representatives of iwi, government, church, and New Zealanders from up and down the country strengthened my conviction that the Treaty is still a significant factor in developing a deeper bi-culturalism and a richer multiculturalism. While we must be aware of the continuing disparity between segments of the Maori population and wider New Zealand society, I do believe there’s significant progress in social and economic development among iwi.  Asking what went wrong with the process will take us only so far. Instead we are better to focus on what is going on now. If we are to avoid criticism and conflict and embrace cooperation and consensus we must learn from our history and take the best of its strengths to build into the future. I believe God is doing something unique in New Zealand and I want to be able to listen to discern where he is at work so that I can join him!

The Mum Who Stopped Joseph Kony

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You may remember the Kony 2012 video from a few years ago. Here’s an interesting account from Christianity Today that shows how an American mum was able to stop African warlord Joseph Kony.

 

In May 2010, Shannon Sedgwick Davis flew to South Africa to meet with the Elders, a nonprofit founded by Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, and Jimmy Carter to bring peace to places of violence. She had been asked to join the Elders’ advisory board in 2007—an offer you don’t turn down, Davis said.

As she walked beside one of her heroes, she asked whether or not she should pursue Joseph Kony. The Ugandan warlord has, in the past two decades, abducted tens of thousands of children, forced them to slaughter their own families and friends, and then enlisted them in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), his rebel army of child soldiers.

“Shannon, this one is clear,” her mentor said without pausing. “This one is black and white.”

For Davis, 39, the fight against Kony has long been a matter of passion and principle. Back in 2000, at the start of her legal career, Davis was drawn to social justice advocacy. That year, she began working for International Justice Mission (IJM), arguably the most acclaimed Christian human-rights organization today. At IJM, she did everything from fundraising to assisting victims to spearheading the Emmy-winning “Children for Sale” segment that aired onDateline NBC.

Next, she worked for two foundations that funded groups like IJM: first as vice president of Geneva Global, now as CEO of the Bridgeway Foundation, the charitable arm of investment firm Bridgeway Capital Management (which has $4 billion under management). Based in Houston, the foundation gives half its after-tax profits to organizations working to protect human rights and stop genocide.

Davis first learned about Kony when Invisible Children, a nonprofit founded expressly to end LRA atrocities, sought Bridgeway funding for its 2006 short film. Invisible Children: Rough Cut tells the story of three Americans who travel to northern Uganda and witness firsthand the destruction caused by Kony and his followers.

“Our mission statement has in it ‘a world without genocide,’ ” Davis said. After meeting the founders of Invisible Children, “I realized we weren’t doing that. We were doing a lot of amazing things, but we weren’t stopping war—we were just picking up the pieces. I went to the board and said, ‘We need to mean what we say in our mission statement or change our mission statement.’ ”

Click here to read more.

When Worship and Mission Collide

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By Malcolm Gordon.

Note: this post was written for NZCMS earlier this year.

Yesterday we brought our second child home from the maternity annexe. Our brand new daughter, Lucy, had arrived in a great hurry after making us wait nine days past the due date. My wife and I have been enjoying life with our new, enlarged family. The sleepless nights are yet to wear us down, and the stream of visitors is still very welcome.

Lucy is a lovely wee thing. Of course she doesn’t yet understand about the virtues of sleeping through the night, or doing her business in the toilet (or even completely in her nappy) but I trust we’ll get there. She is, at this moment, learning the rhythm of a new world. There are smells, and sensations that are enlarging her perception and imaginings by the minute. It must be rather bewildering.

So it is with worship. In worship we learn the rhythm of a new world. In worship we remember and rehearse the story of God’s embrace of a broken world, so that in mission we might catch the beat of what God is doing in our neighbourhood and in our families and get in on it. Worship and mission: the two belong together. Worship is where we begin to be formed in who Jesus is and how he loves, and mission is where that formation is grounded in the stuff of our everyday lives. The gospel is not just true in a cosmic, eternal sense. It is true in a local and particular sense as well. When worship enables us to dwell in the story and rhythm of God’s world and God’s ways, it readies us to see and hear how God is working and whispering in our place and helps us respond to the holy invitation to participate.

So worship, like mission, begins with us, but must also draw us beyond ourselves. We are loved, we are saved, we are the sheep the Shepherd left the flock to come after. But that is not the whole story. Worship mustn’t be satisfied with simply thanking God for the blessings in our lives. It must also ask the question, ‘What about them? What about my mum, what about my mate, what about that lady on the bus?’ The rhythm of worship – of thanking and confessing, of listening and responding, of interceding and being sent out – is the perfect nursery for enlarging our world, where we can gradually learn to listen, love and live as God does.

In the meantime, like Lucy, we’ll make a racket and mess and learn as well go. And like Lucy, all the while we will be sustained by a love that is be beyond our comprehension and will take more than a lifetime to grasp.

 

THE MUSE

What does worship mean to you? What do you see is the relationship between worship and mission?

THE MOVE

Find time this week to get away from the business of life and worship God in the midst of it all – and no, Sunday morning’s church service doesn’t count.

 

Malcolm Gordon is the Worship, Music and Arts Enabler for the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.

For more from Malcolm visit onevoice.org.nz