Friday, August 25, 2006

... an interesting study (long post)

tonight we looked at acts 15:1-35. on the face of it, i suppose, that might not seem terribly exciting stuff - a disagreement on what does or doesn't make someone a Christian, an example of how the early church worked through the issue, and how the two disagreeing parties were to be reconciled afterwards. (in fact, just typing that brings a fresh light to my thinking on this as well - evolution in opinion on reflection! stay tuned...)

in brief, luke records that men had come down from judea to (syrian) antioch teaching that unless believers were circumcised according to the law of moses they could not be saved; that this led to much debate in the blended church in antioch and that a delegation, led by barnabas and paul, should go to jerusalem to discuss the matter; that the aopstles and elders met over the matter of mosaic lawkeeping for the new gentile Christians; that peter recounts God's work in the matter of cornelius, and paul and barnabas tell about the signs and wonders done among the gentile believers; that james refers to scripture (amos 9) regarding the inclusion of gentiles into israel; that the jerusalem council sends a letter advising the believers in antioch on the matter, and which is a joyful encouragement and strength for those who received it.

in our study, one question (after addressing verses 1-5 and 6-12) turned a simple reflection on decision-making into a lively debate on the deeper issue of the passage: "the issue appears to be the acceptance of gentiles. in fact the issue is far deeper. the very nature of what it means to be a Christian is under dispute". do you agree with this statement? the discussion came to a point after verses 13-21 through another question: what does james suggest as being the appropriate course of action? why?

on the surface, the judgement is rendered in verses 19-21:

"Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues." [acts 15:19-21, esv]

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." [acts 15:19-21, niv]

does this mean that gentile Christians are saved by grace and not required to obey the jewish law... except for these four rules? if four, why not three? or five? why not one, or even eight hundred-odd? peter says that the yoke of lawkeeping was too much for the jewish fathers to bear, so why lay it on the gentiles? and if this is so, does this then mean the council was deciding how light a yoke was kosher, so to speak?

why then these rules? the line taken by many in our study (and, it seems, many commentaries) is that these rules are about table fellowship - allowing the gentile Christians and jewish Christians sufficient common ground to be able to eat together without offending one another. jewish law was pretty strict about what was and wasn't okay to eat and gentiles might very well have eaten anything they pleased, provided it wasn't sacred to whatever god they happened to worship i suppose.

why then is that not spelled out in the letter that luke quotes for us in verses 23-29? (from... to... since... therefore... so, four rules... cheers!) why is there no exhortation to peace within the church in antioch? and i can't really see paul sitting comfortably for this: is this a get-out-of-getting-over-kosher-food free card from the jerusalem council for jewish Christians? when he writes to the romans about causing brothers to stumble, is paul talking about people eating food of questionable provenance (food sacrificed to idols) or of questionable ritual cleanness (not unclean according to moses)?

i do not see a question of table fellowship here at all, except in the working out of the liberty i see gentiles being afforded here. the rules they are given seem to me to have more to do with the way of life that many pagans would have had in the first century. temple prostitution and eating meat sacrificed in pagan temples were common practice; these rules would have set that way of life firmly in the "former way of life" category. paul's letter to the galatians is a clear exploration of exactly these issues: liberty from law permitting love that leads to peace.

what i see james saying here is to turn away from their old way of life (meat, blood, sexual immorality - temple cult) and not to worry about chasing after the jewish way of life (moses has been preached...). their old way of life was an empty worship of idols, and the jewish way of life was based not on grace but on works that were impossible to live up to. if this new liberty is to be taken seriously then table fellowship will be the natural consequence: jewish Christians will be freed from the food laws required in the law of moses; gentile Christians, saved by God's grace apart from law, will be gracious to those coming out from under it.

by returning at every point to the first principles of salvation - grace apart from works for jew and gentile alike - and the golden rule for a relationship with God - love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength - and with others - love your neighbour as yourself - surely a peaceful table must be the natural outworking! the council's words, "if you keep yourselves from these you will do well" ("these" being strangled and sacrificed meat, blood, sexual immorality) are very nearly the understatement of the first century!

i can see how a "table fellowship" understanding is borne from this passage now but i'm not convinced that was its primary purpose. the question prompting paul and barnabas' journey to jerusalem - did gentile Christians need to be circumcised to enjoy salvation? - was not a table fellowship question, but an earnest search to understand the nature of God's offer of salvation to the gentiles.

i'm still turning this over in my mind, but would love feedback, comment and discussion!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

... not one... but two!

two aussie movies!

lately it's been my dvd viewing that's been rather adventurous, hardly renting a film i've already seen. tonight i went to go see two new aussie movies - kenny and 2:37.

both fantastic, and more about each later, perhaps. for now, my gut reactions:

kenny was great; light-hearted and warm, it is without a doubt the next castle. the lead actor brings such a genuine warmth to the role, and eve von bibra (formerly of the chantoozies and a supporting role in the big steal) is a great surprise and i hope to see her in other movies. the story is great, and the toilet convention in nashville is awesome. amazingly light.

2:37, in stark contrast, was incredibly dark. the soundtrack, the washed-out, late summer colours, both perfectly reflect the harsh realities of the students' lives as depicted in this film. american high-school filmic reflections have a lot to learn from this australian outing, which has echoes of pump up the volume and the kind of bold approach to its material that we don't see in enough films these days. every parent in australia should see this film and promptly make an oath to spend another two hours a day hanging out with their kids - every day.

go see them both. kenny is rated M (mainly for swearing, i think); 2:37 is rated R and deservedly - strong themes and graphic visuals.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

... (not quite) fully si(c)k

i hate being sick. i like to eat, but i really hate being sick.

i'm so utterly uninterested in being sick, it's probably impossible to plumb the depths of my dissatisfaction with the state of being sick. if a book was written to explain how little interest i have in being sick, it would be the literal neverending story.

my despite of being sick is probably bad enough, but when i theorise about the specifics of my sickness, diagnosing the symptoms, speculating on the internals of how my sickness is presenting... and then hear my doctor say the same things... well, i get a little bit despondant.

i thought, "well, there's no petichiae(?) that i can see, so it's probably not bubonic plague..."

boil going bad? pilenital sinus? ingrowing hair? infected sweat gland? something serious to do with a lymph node? (that last one would actually give me the heebie-jeebies a little bit...)

whatever it is, i have some kind of lump growing under my armpit. came up in only a day or so. i didn't do anything about it right away because sometimes these things just appear and vanish in equally speedy measure. two mornings after it first presented, however, i thought i'd better see the quack, if for no other reason than i'd like to be able to use my arm painlessly again. i feel like my underarm hair has become entangled and is being unknotted with every movement of my arm.

i'm on some drugs now, and hopefully they'll get the swelling down, and whatever is causing this will right itself.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

... the good with the bad

i enjoy eating.

i should be ashamed of it sometimes but most of the time i'm not at all ashamed of how much i enjoy eating. "food for the stomach and the stomach for food" - i know it's not how God wants us to look at the world and i recognise in certain moments how right he is... and at other times how wrong i am to sometimes believe it.

once upon a time, not so long ago, i was invited to lovely! pancakes. it always is in my mind lovely! pancakes even if that's not what it's called these days. pancakes at the rocks or some equally unimaginative name, i'm sure. lovely! pancakes used to have an old-fashioned newspaper-photo-in-lines (daguerrotype?) picture of an oliver twistian-woman with a knife and fork and steaming pancakes all cramped together in a very small logo. i remember seeing the same woman being used to advertise a production of oliver! around wollongong, i think.

i like eating pancakes, so i replied in the definite affirmative. we all met up (eventually) and sat down to a late brunch. i rather liked the look (in the menu illustration) of the sausages and hash browns, so i decided to go with that. with an extra sausage and hash brown because, tempting as it was, the photo in the menu was looked a tad spartan.

i was hoping for hash browns that looked as pancake-like as the photo implied. i was hoping for delicious sausages, although who goes around ordering sausages that they hope taste like sawdust i have no idea. i was neither hoping for nor expecting what i received - hash browns that looked like deep-fried julienned potatoes that were burned at the edges and raw in the centre, and sausages that looked like i had cooked them on a bbq (implication: i burn everything i put onto a bbq. except maybe water. maybe.)

obviously i was rather unimpressed with my lovely! pancakes brunch experience and while i'm happy to try their pancakes on future occasions i might suggest that they narrow their menu to what they can cook palatably. i was less unimpressed at not being able to get into the lovely! pancakes at north rocks for half an hour - i took it as a sign that lovely! pancakes was not to have my business for a while. such is life.

two of the same friends and i went on a road trip today, although i was told by an acquaintance that driving from sydney's north shore to wollongong hardly counted as a road trip. to that, while i understand where they're coming from in making the comment, i reply that my definition of a road trip is not merely a factor of distance travelled, nor is it a matter of destination per se, but rather that wherever we're going and however far it is, travelling with friends in the car is an integral part of the activity. if i were to go to wollongong on the train (as i am wont to do) it would be a day trip.

the gastronomic feature of the day was a stop at piato in the gateway on the mall (or whatever they call it now) for lunch. very nice food. a tad pricey if you're a cheapskate like me, but well worth the cash. i has a fantastic pumpkin risotto but better than that was the fetta mashed potato! mashed so smooth they were almost creamed, the fetta adding a delicious salty/smooth texture to already delicious smooth potato. worth another visit, i feel, and i must do my best to remember to order at least a side of the fetta mash.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

... and i was so ready to have a good day

i had planned to write a blog about how glad i was that God has blessed me in being able to read my Bible every work day for the last two and a half weeks. i just finished reading the gospel of john this morning and i'm ready to start ploughing through acts tomorrow, but it goes to show the insidiousness of the sinful nature that i now am ready to walk out of work and go home.

every workplace has tensions, people get on one another's nerves - it just happens. i don't question why it happens, i merely accept that it does. if anything, i question why it continues to happen when the Christians involved (at least) have a measure of understanding about what is happening (and why) and some spiritual recourse to alleviating the problem. one workplace i was in was in some ways extremely unpleasant to work in because it was full of Christians who didn't get along. it pains my heart and makes me just want to remove myself from the space i'm in, not least because i have my own outbursts too.

my plans to move to melbourne continue apace - i feel confident i will find work with little trouble, i expect to have a place to move into well before i arrive in january, and i think the hardest thing will be finding a new church. moments like this, however, tempt me to just hand in my notice and take the next train south, and it browns me right off that i feel that way. i don't think it's justified - i know that it's pride and selfishness, the sinful nature continuing to work out its consequences in my life. it gives me the irrits and i can't wait for Jesus to return simply so i never have to worry about it again - the sinful nature again, wanting God to salve my will and conscience, not simply and ultimately to reveal his glory.

so whoever you are, reading this, please pray for me, and for all Christians in workplaces, especially if they work mainly with Christians. pray for us to exhibit the marks of faith to one another that should be marking us to everyone as us having the Holy Spirit. faithfulness, gentleness, peace, patience, kindness, joy, goodness, self-control - love in all its outward forms driven by its inward abundance in our hearts by the grace of God.

and thank God that my Bible reading continues well. it's an interesting side-blessing of living so far away from work that God has provided me with ample travelling time for my quiet times!