• Service times

    Services times are:

    Saturday night 7:30 pm for our Chinese/English service. (Pastor Daniel Choi.)

    Sunday 10 am for our English language service (Senior Pastor Jeff Whittaker).

    Sunday 11:30 am for our Chinese (Mandarin) language service. (Pastor Daniel Choi.)

  • Contact details…

    Physical and postal address:
    4 Inverary Avenue,
    Epsom,
    Auckland 1023,
    NEW ZEALAND.

    Email:
    epsombaptist@gmail.com

    Telephone:
    (0064 9) 6306010

    Contacts:
    Rev. Jeff Whittaker
    Pastor Daniel Choi

  • Church Officers…

    Church Treasurer: Ann Guan

    Church Secretary: Margaret Whittaker

    Church Deacons: Anne Bartley, Ian de Stigter, Kristy Choi, Willa Hui, Donglan Zhang and Alfred Zhou.

Thirty pieces of silver…

The image of ‘thirty pieces of silver’ has established itself in Christian, and indeed in Western, lore as a byword for betrayal, for selling out. Coming from the Easter story of Judas offering to betray Jesus, it’s interesting to find that the image was not new at that point. A little research on the internet throws up numerous discussions about the thirty pieces of silver, and what they signified already in the time of the New Testament writers.

judas-brought-again-the-thirty-pieces-of-silver-to-the-chief-priests-and-elders

And so, one finds discussion on the thirty pieces of silver that Zechariah – in a difficult piece of prophetic writing (Zechariah chapter 11) – suggests is the dismissive value that the leaders of Judah put on God’s shepherding care. There is the reference in Matthew 27 to Jeremiah’s purchase of a field for this amount (although the Old Testament precedent cannot be found), the price being linked to that required to redeem someone (presumably from slavery). And then there is the statement in Exodus 21: 32 of 30 shekels as being the value of a slave. [Of course, it is not certain that ‘pieces’ are ‘shekels.’ Nevertheless, there does seem to be a significant usage of thirty units of money.]

Now, this is probably familiar material to many of you. But I want to push things a little further. The original events of Easter were set around the annual Passover festival, when Israel gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate God’s rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. So, what are Israel’s leaders doing paying a slave price – whoever may be considered to have been bought – in the midst of a celebration of rescue from slavery? Does not this expose them to self-condemnation?

In fact, I think this points out that judgment does not fall on any of us because we fall short of standards we know nothing about. I think that we all stand with Israel’s leaders, and are found to be sinners because self-interest over-rules a commitment to higher principles that we openly espouse.

Thank God that all this sin, for all of us sinners, was taken to the cross by Jesus Christ and its condemnatory power destroyed there.

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Prayer, confession, and healing in James…

In my previous blog on the book of James, I noted that I believe James to belong to the genre of wisdom literature. Further, I suggested that the book of James concentrates on one issue: How rich and poor can live together in the body of Christ.

Now, at the end of James chapter 5 is some teaching on healing. Verses 13 – 20  appear to constitute a stand alone section, with straightforward instruction on prayer, confession and anointing for healing. However, I wonder if we too easily miss the wider context, and how it may colour what this section is actually about.

anointing of the sick 1

All through the book, James has been exhorting the poor to have faith and to be patient as God works out responses to their cries for help. Similarly, James is full of warnings to the rich about the transience of their wealth and how they are to be upright and generous with their riches. And at several points James warns about loose speech, including the incongruity of believers cursing others. Could these others be fellow believers? Could the rich be struggling with the temptation to malign their poorer fellow believers whom they regard as grasping and envious? Could the poor be struggling with the temptation to malign their richer fellow believers whom they regard as hard-hearted and stingy? Therefore, could it be that James is instructing rich and poor to get together, and confess their economic struggles to one another?

The healing being talked about involves the whole church. Members are confessing their sins, including issues to do with money, to one another. The elders are involved, praying for the sick and anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. I believe that we can read these verses as teaching that genuine healing may include the church dealing with issues of economic inequality between members. If you’re tempted to dismiss such a reading of this text, then reading either ‘The Spirit Level’ or ‘The Price of Inequality’ may be salutary.

Reading James 5: 13 – 20 in this way is challenging. It’s even more challenging for us in the West, when we consider that some of our brothers and sisters in the majority really do need our economic help.

Wisdom from James…

Recently I preached a short (five) sermon series on the book of James. The peculiarities of this book are well known. Martin Luther wrote it off as a ‘strawy epistle,’ disliking what he perceived as its emphasis on works rather than the marvelous grace that he had encountered in the book of Romans. (In fact, Romans does address right behaviour as well. The differences between the two books are usually overdrawn.) I think a lot of the struggle we have with James is a result of missing its genre. Scattered throughout James are statements that could well have been plucked from Proverbs. For example, James 1: 5 reads: If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God… and James 3: 13: Who is wise and understanding among you? To me, these references to wisdom, along with treatment of themes also familiar from Proverbs (speech, right action) mark out the book of James as belonging to the Wisdom genre. James is, I believe, a New Testament Wisdom book.

wisdom

As interesting as that is, I think that the overarching concern of the book of James is also often misunderstood. This may be due to a cultural blind-spot. I think that the issue that James addresses is this: How do rich and poor get on within the body of Christ, in fact within the same church? James is redolent with references to two groups: the lowly poor, and the rich. Encouragements to the poor to have patience, to be rich in faith, and to watch how they speak of others (their rich brothers and sisters?) abound. Similarly, the rich are advised to reflect on the transience of riches, to use their money for the relief of their poor brothers and sisters, in fact to mourn riches hoarded rather than used wisely.

As the world shrinks with telecommunications, the book of James must surely be becoming ever more relevant to the issue of how can believers in the first world live rightly by poor believers in the developing world. Similarly, for those believers in the developing world, James has wisdom to live by. What does James – this New Testament Wisdom book dealing with the way rich and poor live together in the body of Christ – say to you?

The price of inequality; the dividends of equality…

In a piece written for the New Zealand Herald back in August 2012, Hayden Donnell reported on the widening gap of inequality in New Zealand society. It is, said Donnell, now at the highest ever recorded in New Zealand. His reporting is based on the Household Incomes Report which measures the wellbeing of New Zealanders based on after-tax takings. Is Donnell’s piece simply a state-of-the-nation report on a neutral topic? No. Donnell describes how the richest 10% of Kiwis had the biggest rise in income over the last year, while the median income of all workers fell 3% in real terms over the same period. Fortunately, poverty rates – already high – have remained unchanged.

Does it matter? In their book ‘The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone,’ British authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett show how almost everything – from life expectancy to mental illness, violence, incarceration rates, to illiteracy, for example – is affected by the level of equality in societies around the world. The challenging finding from their research is that the more equal people are in any given society, then the better are a whole range of aspects of life in that society, and thus the better off everyone is.

This of course raises the question: Can conditions of greater equality actually be fostered in one’s country. The answer is ‘yes.’ Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel-prize winning economist, describes how to do just this in his book ‘The Price of Inequality.’ He shows that economic conditions in a nation are strongly influenced by politics as well as economics. He describes, though, how the richest in America have captured the political process to their advantage. It appears to be the same in New Zealand, with it’s recently implemented tax reductions imitating those introduced by recent American administrations. The rhetoric of the free-marketeers needs to be challenged. Trickle-down economics does not work. Around the world at the moment there is a giant flow-up of money into the hands of the world’s richest people. It is society’s poorest who are being battered by the current economic crisis; those whose greed created it are largely profiting still.

It’s time for the equality agenda to be picked up by politicians everywhere, in conjunction with economists who are skilled enough to know what to do to right the current wrong. Legislation like the Glass-Steagall Act – legislation which underpinned stable American economics for 50 years before being dismantled by Ronald Reagan, to the world’s eventual financial woes – should be enacted again in full strength. Are there politicians around the world who are courageous enough to do this? Everyone would benefit.

Trust us: We’re responsible!

Impassioned pleas for trust in exchange for reduced regulatory control have been and are heard from many industries. And all sorts of regulatory bodies have heard the pleas, and reduced watch-dog duties. If this has been done not with gladness but with misgivings, never-the-less a trust that industries can and will self-regulate has come to pass. How foolish such misplaced trust has proved to be. In the oil exploration industry, the huge spill from BP’s drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is partly due to relaxed regulatory controls. Six or seven years ago, some apartment buildings in Tokyo were found to have been constructed in sub-standard ways that left them vulnerable to earthquake damage after supervision of the building industry there was relaxed. In New Zealand’s building industry, a similar relaxation of regulations has led to a debacle labeled ‘leaky buildings.’ The bill is expected to exceed that from the recent spate of earthquakes in Christchurch, itself one of the most costly insurance events on the planet. In Europe, doctors under-report the number of patients they have euthanized in systems in which they are trusted to report accurately. Turning back to New Zealand, the fishing industry has the gall to ask for more de-regulation after the exposure of illegal fish-dumping and labour practices that are tantamount to modern-day slavery. And perhaps the most scandalous of all is the trust requested by the global financial industry, a trust that has been repaid by such levels of greed and self-interested mismanagement that the world’s financial system has been plunged into chaos.

Illegal fish dumping may be common practice.

Seehttp://www.3news.co.nz/Illegal-fish-dumping-may-be-common-practice/tabid/1160/articleID/254091/Default.aspx

When will we learn that human beings are not to be trusted, especially if there is money to be made from taking short-cuts or even blatant cheating. Regulation and supervision is not the responsibility of the ones requiring the regulation, control, or supervision. It is a legitimate role of government. Neo-liberal demands for less government are naïve at best, and catastrophically destructive at the worst. When such agendas are supposedly supported by conservative Christian voices, something is very wrong. A constant refrain in the Bible is that the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, those who in fact bear the brunt of the greed and cynical practices described above…all these are to be protected and cared for. This too is a responsibility of government. Further, we Christians believe that God does see and hold accountable all of us, and that there will be a day of reckoning. God is a God of love, and this is freely given to all (if they could but see it). But trust, no. Trust is always earned. And, as the Bible states from beginning to end, human beings are simply not be trusted. Governments must ignore impassioned cries for trust, for the common good.

Then, and now…

When I was much younger than I am now, I had a paper-round. My older brother was a paper-boy; so was my younger brother. Our paper-rounds covered different parts of the small New Zealand town in which we grew up. Given that we had to collect the money for the papers from the householders at home, and not just deliver them, we got to know our parts of the town quite well. My memory of the time is that many properties had both chicken runs and big vegetable gardens. (Lots of properties also had old cars quietly rusting away.) There were, of course, some dogs. They weren’t many in number; we got to know which ones were unpredictable and kept rolled-up papers handy for whacking snouts from the safety of our bicycles.

Small town New Zealand (not the one being blogged about)…

Recently, my younger brother and I went for a walk in our old home-town. We traversed some of the streets that had been in our respective paper-rounds. I was struck by some strong impressions. First, chooks have seemingly disappeared from the town. Maybe this is not surprising; factory-farmed chicken is cheap in the supermarkets. Second, there seemed to be few gardens in evidence, even though the sections are still pretty much the same size. Third, there were many more dogs. The dogs were of the more ferocious kinds, Pit-bulls and Staffies. I’ve long thought that these sorts of dogs and gardens are mutually exclusive.

Our wanderings left me with some questions. Are we Kiwis losing our ability to be self-reliant, to grow some of our own food, as our forebears had to be? Why all the big dogs? Are we becoming so suspicious of one-another that we need to guard our own place with dangerous animals? (Keep in mind that these dogs seriously injure a number of children each year, children that belong to or are related to the family that owns the dog in question.) How are these issues affected by the high unemployment that bedevils much of small town New Zealand? Is the growing inequality in New Zealand society implicated? (Read ‘The Spirit Level’ for an analysis of how growing inequality correlates with a number of adverse societal factors.) How might the hope of the Christian gospel impact this setting?

For the common good…

In the news in New Zealand at the moment is a proposal to build a new international convention centre in Auckland. The government wants the centre built with private rather than public money. The only business to put up its hand and volunteer to undertake the project is Sky City Casino. But there’s a catch. The number of pokie gambling machines in New Zealand is limited by law. The Casino wants to be able to install an extra 500 pokies in return for building the convention centre. Opponents argue that this will not contribute to the common good, as the money for the convention centre will be derived disproportionately from either problem gamblers or from money laundering by criminals and their associates. Does a business like Sky City Casino have an obligation to consider the common good?

I’ve been reading a book of Winston Churchill’s speeches entitled ‘Churchill Speaks 1897 – 1963: Collected Speeches in Peace and War.’ In the early part of his political career – as far as I have got in reading the massive tome – Churchill certainly considered it a responsibility of business to work for the common good. In an election address given in Manchester in 1908 Churchill spoke on the resistance being put up by the powerful alcohol lobby to proposed legislation aimed at diminishing the negative social effects of excessive alcohol consumption upon the welfare of the British public. He stated: In this country private interests should be respected, but the public interest must have right of way.

Interestingly, academic theologian David Ford argues that university education must also serve the common good, and resist being suborned by moneyed interests. In his book ‘Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love,’ Ford writes: … education should aim to form wise people committed to the common good. 

In straightened times such as we currently ‘enjoy,’ when the common good seems a luxury that business and education can marginalize, I think we need to embrace again a commitment to this good, and not allow expediency to rule in the sourcing of desired things like convention centres at an unacceptable cost to the public good.