Thursday, July 18, 2019

Euthanasia - The End of Life Choice Bill


I have been following the progress of David Seymour's End of Life Choice bill with considerable concern.  I realise this could come across as a Christian pastor against something (again!), but I would prefer to frame this as being in favour of life.  When I talk to people in favour of euthanasia I often discover they have personal experience of watching a loved one suffer through a terminal illness.  I empathise with them.  My younger sister died of cancer.  I was so grateful she had good pain relief that kept her comfortable most of the time.  I know this isn't always the case.  I was also grateful she asked me to pray with her for the first time in her last weeks.

So if you are in favour of assisting people to commit suicide then I understand your motivation of compassion and avoiding suffering.  However, I hope you won't be offended if I post the arguments I sent in my submission against this bill.  I am not making biblical or theological arguments, although those have been made - see for example Peter Saunders CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship UK.

My submission seeks to present arguments that someone who isn't a Christian and doesn't recognise the authority of the Bible, might still find compelling. 
But first a local story of a Dunedin woman who has appeared in a TVNZ documentary speaking against euthanasia.  Tetraplegic model, Claire Freeman battled depression and pain and was referred to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland where she had planned to end her life.  Instead, when an operation went badly, she was forced to rest and sleep, and the pain subsided and she discovered a new chapter of her life.  Now she is a successful model and speaks out against assisted suicide.


I put other arguments from my submission below in case you would like to include them in some way in a letter to your MP to encourage them to consider the harm euthanasia can bring.

I recognise that people have real fears of suffering and want to be able to make individual choices, and that the bill states it is motivated by compassion, however I am writing to urge you to vote against this bill at its second reading for the following reasons.
1. The danger that this bill would threaten the lives of vulnerable people in our society including the elderly and those very disabled.  I have served as a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand for 27 years.  During that time many elderly people have told me of their concern that they are not a burden to others, especially their family.  This bill would bring a new pressure on them, that they consider euthanasia.  Some unprincipled children looking to their inheritance could even put pressure on their elderly parents to choose to end their life before their finances are used up in providing care.
2. This bill would undermine attempts to reduce the suicide rate in New Zealand. Our society should not give mixed messages about suicide by suggesting it is acceptable, even desirable, under some circumstances.  In my pastoral experience, most people who commit suicide seem to have, at least for that moment, felt they were experiencing “unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable” (clause 4e).  Whether it is intended or not, this bill would increase public perception that suicide is acceptable.
Families frequently feel hurt, confusion and even guilt when a loved one commits suicide. In seeking to show compassion to allow a person to choose to end their life, this bill will inflict hurt on others who must watch on.
3. The destructive effect of this bill on the doctor-patient relationship.  I value the trust that often develops between a doctor and patient, and their wider families.  This bill would damage that.  A doctor could no longer be trusted to “first do no harm” (Hippocratic oath). 
When our health system is under pressure with an aging population, doctors and other health professionals could start suggesting euthanasia to patients as an option to be considered.  Our society is often too pragmatic and driven by economic benefits rather than principles.
4. The vague eligibility criteria in this bill.  Clause 4 would be very difficult for medical professionals to apply consistently and safely.  Time has shown how the eligibility criteria for abortion in NZ has in practice become abortion on demand under the mental health grounds.  The same would inevitably occur with this bill, until it became publically understood as “I have a right to end my life when I want to.”  The Select Committee agreed that “the bill is not workable in its current state...”
5. This bill unhelpfully elevates individual choice over society well-being. Individual choices should not be allowed to damage the society we live in.  This bill will do that by trying to be compassionate to an individual, but neglecting the wider effect of legalising euthanasia on the vulnerable, the medical and caring professions, and society’s overall value of the sanctity of life.

I urge you to vote against this bill and avoid serious ramifications for our society.


Friday, February 23, 2018

What's Up God? Pursuing God's Will Together

http://www.etchurch.co.nz/resources/study-guides



East Taieri Church is beginning a discernment series this weekend.  Some might argue the title is a bit flippant, but we are trying to highlight that the key to discerning God’s will is building your relationship with God.  We ask God and trust God to answer and lead.  We also want everyone to be a part of this.  I want everyone to be encouraged that they can hear from God.  Discerning God’s will isn’t just for pastors, elders or leaders.

I think this is a discipleship issue.  We need to be people who are being transformed by the renewing of our mind...then we will be able to test and approve what God's will is... (Rom 12:2)  We grow closer to God and discern His voice more and more as we allow God to mould us and bring growth and transformation.

My hope is that people will share stories about how this happens for you.  I hope we all grow in our ability to discern God’s will individually, and as groups, teams and a church. 

I have prepared a discernment guide which is available at church and on our website. I have drawn heavily on Ruth Haley Barton's excellent book "Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups"  The discernment guide has space to write things. Our aim is that people will give us feedback on what they sense God is saying – either on the tear off feedback page, or by emailing to office@etchurch.co.nz

This is about discovering more about who God wants us to be and what God wants us to do.  In the language of our vision statement it is how we become a thriving church, responding to God's grace and passionately living out our faith, wherever we live, work and play.  How we work alongside others to develop thriving communities where people feel connected, known, loved, and valued.

Martin.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

1x1=1000


Since returning from study leave / sabbatical last year I believe God has given me renewed vision for many, many people discovering the new life that comes through faith in Christ.  I'm calling it "1x1=1000 Impact Lives."  The idea is that one person chatting with one other person can multiply to the point where many, many lives are impacted with the good news of Jesus.

I know that people in New Zealand can often seem reasonably content with their lot, at least on the surface. However, we are finding more and more people who are asking the big questions of life.  Perhaps it is the uncertainties of our age with global terrorism and political upheaval from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, to the turmoil in the Middle East.  Perhaps it is dissatisfaction with the chronic busyness of juggling work, family, sport, study, and the all pervasive news and social media in our digital world.  Whatever it is, Christians seem more willing to invite their friends to consider the big issues of life, and their friends seem more willing to respond and explore.  As I have said elsewhere, I think an invitational culture and showing excellent hospitality will be a key quality of healthy church communities in the years ahead.

Tonight we have our next Alpha Dinner and we are showing the new Alpha Film Series.  I am very excited about it because of the quality of the film, and because of the numbers we have coming to the dinner.  If all those who have said they will come arrive, this will be our largest dinner for a long time.  Click on the picture of Bear Grylls who makes a guest appearance in the first Alpha film if you would like to see more. or read my May post on The Alpha Experience below.

A large Alpha Dinner will be fantastic, but a growing Alpha movement is only one expression of 1x1=1000. Already some churches on the Taieri are planning special Christmas events to which people will be invited. Other creative ideas include: family fun nights, country gospel evenings, ski camps, parenting courses, cafes, business breakfasts,... all providing different settings where friendships are made and something of the good news of God can be explored.

Now is the time for bold steps, that will impact lives.
Martin.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Following Jesus in a Digital World

We were delighted to have James Beck from The Parenting Place join us at East Taieri Church last weekend.  James spoke on Sunday morning and at our EPIC youth on Sunday evening, as well as giving an excellent workshop on Monday evening.  Some of my reflections:

People of all ages found it very helpful to be applying a biblical Christian worldview to topics like sex and technology.  While these aren't always dealt with openly in churches, I'm delighted to be part of a church which isn't afraid to address these issues.  Good, healthy conversations have started.  That may be the most important result.  Interestingly, many of the "technology" articles on the Parenting Place website are also found on the "communication" section.

James recommended many helpful, practical resources such as "Our Pact" - a free app which can help parents and children put in place agreed boundaries on smartphone use. "The Big Weekend" is a CD resource available from the Parenting Place for $25 which helps start conversations on topics such as sex and puberty, preparing children for the teen years ahead.

When it came to dealing with pornography, James mentioned the website: "Fight the New Drug". Statistically, most children will have seen some kind of pornography (perhaps by mistake) by the time they enter the teenage years.  Filtered internet can help avoid that, but the best filters are the ones that you help your children develop in their own head - self-control and character.

We also have some books available in our church library.  One new one called "Right Click: Parenting Your Teenager in a Digital Media World" has practical ideas for parents and discussion questions.  It has helpful chapter titles like "How can I help my family actually be together when we're in the same room" and "How can I supervise what my kids are saying and sharing without making them feel like they're under surveillance?"

However, the biggest opportunity I saw from our weekend was not just for parents establishing better internet safety boundaries for their children (important as that is) but in helping children appreciate that their identity need not be dependent on what others think of them, or say about them on facebook or instagram.  Nor is identity found in sport or academic success, or work, or relationships.  We can help young people discover their true identity is in Christ as someone made in God's image and loved by God. They are someone God sent Jesus to die for so they could have life to the full.  Living by grace, knowing they are loved and accepted means a young person is far less likely to give in to sexting (a message where someone tells them they are attractive and asking for a picture of them naked), or flattery from an online predator who is grooming them.

It is scary to hear how many digital messages we are all exposed to daily which tell us we aren't attractive enough, or sporty enough or smart enough...  However, we have the opportunity to counter this by telling our young people that we love and value them as they are.  And that God loves and accepts and welcomes them just as they are.  By God's grace, we will all grow and develop, but the acceptance message comes first.  As a preacher, and a parent, I found that a helpful reminder.

I am excited when biblical thinking is applied to real life issues in helpful ways.  The relevance of a Christian worldview to these practical life issues challenges our often unspoken assumption that "church" is only about the "religious" part of my life and has no relevance to weekday issues.  No more artificial secular/sacred.  The fantastically good news of Jesus is relevant to every part of our lives.

Martin.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Life to the Full

Today at East Taieri Church we began our "Life to the Full" series.  We are taking three weeks to look at sex and technology and how they can be a part of the full life that Jesus offers, but how they can also be damaged and distorted, leading to pain and hurt relationships.  We will also be presenting practical strategies to keep ourselves and our young people safe in a digital age.

But first things first, I attempted to give us a biblical framework to help us think Christianly about sex and technology.  Sex is part of God's good creation.  "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. 25The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." (Ge 2:24-25)
But creation has fallen from what God designed us to be.  This damages and distorts things, including sex and technology.  Thankfully the story goes on to the forgiveness and new start that is possible through Jesus Christ whatever we have done or seen.  This framework guides our thinking and our conversations.  If your child comes to you and says they have looked at pornography or sent someone a sexual text or picture – don’t go off the deep end.  Deep breath!  The conversation might look something like:
“Thank you for talking to me!”
 “It is very human to be curious about sex, God has made us sexual beings.  But that thing is a fake idea about sex – it’s part of the way the world is broken and messed up by sin.”
"Isn’t it good that God knows about this problem and has made forgiveness possible and gives us a new start.”
They need to know you don’t approve, but don’t shame them.  Show them God's love and grace. Give them hope.
Don’t yell at them about rules and boundaries – “You’re never going on the internet again…”
Remember the biblical story and the way grace triumphs over law.
Remember the promise that God’s spirit takes the external law and writes it in our hearts transforming us.
 Rules and boundaries have their place, and you can have a conversation about that, but the most important thing is a conversation about redemption and character development (including self-control).
We need appropriate boundaries, but the big goal is developing character so we behave in a godly way when no one is watching.
You can listen to the whole sermon on Tuesday when it is put on our website here. 
Next week we will have James Beck from the Parenting Place here to help us understand the pressures people face in a digital world, and how to develop strategies to keep people safe – especially our children and grandchildren.  The Parenting Place has some great practical resources that are understandable whether parents are Christians or not.
Until next time,
Martin.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Alpha Experience

Today at East Taieri just over 150 people had a taste of the Alpha Course in what we called "The Alpha Experience".  Why?  Because Alpha have launched a new film series which is outstanding, and because we want people to be a part of the global Alpha Initiative that is seeking to make the biggest invitation of a generation, and because every time we run Alpha at least one person discovers new life in Christ.  Even for those who have done Alpha before viewing the new film series helps ensure they can confidently invite their friends, knowing that it will be good.
This year at East Taieri Church we are aiming to invite 500 people to our Alpha Dinner 3rd August.  Some people may well say "No thanks" but we are praying that at least 75 people will say "Yes" and join us for dinner.  If you missed this Sunday and would like to see the Episode of Alpha we will show at the dinner so you know what you are inviting people to - click on: view Episode 1 "Is There More to Life than This?"


Why set numerical goals for Alpha?  You could argue that these are just numbers.  But each number represents someone God loves.  Each number is someone who needs forgiveness, community, meaning and purpose and eternal life.  Setting prayerful numbers helps us discern what God might be calling us to do.  It helps us plan and take appropriate steps.  For example, 75 guests at the dinner means we need a larger venue than usual.  500 invitations means we need everyone at East Taieri to invite at least one person.  That means we need to promote the course well and encourage people to invite others.  Hence the Alpha Experience.  We need to equip and coach people in building relationships and making the invitation.

More about the big picture behind the Alpha goals in my next blog.
Martin.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

What is Ahead in 2017?

What is Ahead in 2017? 
East Taieri Church
Each year I find it helpful to list some prayerfully planned highlights that connect with our strategic plan and operational goals.  These things will help us move toward our Church vision:
We will be a thriving church, responding to God's grace and passionately living out our faith, wherever we live, work and play.
Together we will work alongside others to develop thriving communities 
where people feel connected, known, loved and valued.

Our theme for the year is “Inspire – Lift Up Your Eyes”.  We believe God is calling us to trust that He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…

Evangelism:
·         Ravi Zacharias visit to Dunedin.  Stadium Event!  One of the team – Jade Te Uri Karaka will speak at our March Business breakfast at Aurora Café.
·         Journey to Easter - Stations of the Cross display in the Hub leading up to Easter. Invite the community to experience it.
·         Alpha in 2017 is “Invite the Nation” – Globally the biggest invitation of this Generation.  Aiming to have 500 invitations go out and praying for 75 guests at the Alpha dinner.
·         Develop the 1x1=1000 vision through prayer and encouraging faith sharing.

Worship:
·         Work on the results of our 10am service survey and see growth and health in this congregation.  Train up new service leaders for 10am
·         Develop the 9am gathering before worship.
·         Continue to explore fresh expressions of church.

Discipleship and Spiritual Growth:
·         We will start 3 new life groups and have 2 small group networking nights
·         Continue with the Hard Questions Café discussion setting for Christians who aren’t engaging with church and people wanting to explore deeper issues of faith.
·         See greater resourcing for God’s mission in people giving time, money, and using their spiritual gifts.  The Abundant Generosity series.
·         Appoint a new youth director.
·         Settle Caleb Griffith – our new youth worker into his role and help him create opportunities to connect with our community and disciple our youth.
·         Address internet safety and issues of sexting and pornography in our “Life to the Full” series including a visit from James Beck.

Community Ministries:
·         Feasibility study for a community hub.
·         Funding sourcing and reporting framework established.
·         Grow our connections with community groups, such as  TCC Food Bank, Emergency Response, Mosgiel Business Assn, Neighbourhood Support.
·         We will enhance well-being and connectedness of seniors through a mid-winter lunch.
·         Run three toolbox parenting courses.
·         Run Children's holiday programmes
·         Continue with Business breakfasts ( 3 per year). Explore the possibility of a special invitation only  Dinner with a guest speaker


Communications:
·         Explore the use of mailchimp for email updates, including updating supporters of community ministry.
·         Explore possibilities for a new phone system to replace our old failing PABX system and obtain funding to resource this.

Mission Facilities:
·         Obtain an initial design concept for our future mission facilities on the East Taieri Site.

Wider Ministry:
·         Three short term mission trips will be planned. Thailand Jan 2018, Malawi June 2018, Vanuatu youth team July 2018

·         South Island Ministry Conference in May