Saturday, May 31, 2008


With the surge and surgical strike of these previous posts there is something else on my mind. I continue to be alarmed at how often I hear people having a 'faith-crisis' or moving into a 'post' space of some kind where the faith-stuff they once held close no longer holds much significance for them. It is very distressing.

I find two responses well up within me. One is the desire to walk alongside such a person until their night-time turns to day. That is the pastoral response.

The other one goes something like this:

If in my understanding of the God of the Bible I see him to be something akin to a buffet from which I choose what I like and avoid what I don't like, rather than me being the buffet from which he picks and chooses...

If in my chatting with God I default to him being there for me, rather than me being here for him ...

If in my singing to God, I am full of how I am going to hold on to him forever because he is the one that I want, rather than how he will hold onto me forever because I am the one that he wants...

If in my journey with God I consider the story to be more about God walking with me, rather than me walking with God...

If in my enthusiasm for God I brim with all that I am going to do for God, rather than lingering over all that he has done for me in Christ...

If in my reflection on conversion I am more like Wilberforce's butler ("it sounds like you've found God, sir"), and less like Wilberforce himself ("no, I think God has found me")...

If I allow 'the pursuit of happiness' to jump the fence from being a human right enshrined in the American Constitution to being a truth integral to the Word of God...

If in my obedience to God I find myself embracing sundry short obediences in lots of directions, rather than a long obedience in the same direction...

(and this does tend to describe the 'faith' into which I have heard young people so often being socialised and discipled at camps and conferences and concerts over a generation)

And if all these 'ifs' are in place then I can have every confidence that faith-crises will follow me all the days of my life, if indeed I don't exit off into a 'post-' experience before I reach those final days.


Essentially it is a theological problem. It requires a theological response alongside the pastoral one. At the core the knowledge of God is all messed-up. These 'ifs' shape the Christian life with such an alarming self-centeredness. The God at work here is too small, too shallow, too marginal. He is only near and only close. He is all immanence and no transcendence. "The God of mercy has become a God who is at our mercy" (David Wells). This God thrives in our spring and our noontime but shrivels into nothingness in our winter and our midnight. This God has been tamed and domesticated. He is just not big enough to cope with today's complicated life - and so the faith-crises precipitate and proliferate.

And this is why the wisdom surge and the worship surgical strike is so desperately needed.

What did Jesus do when he encountered two disciples in the midst of a faith crisis? He walked alongside and listened to them - yes! His was a pastoral response. But he also probed them with questions. What did he discover? He discovered that they did not know their Bibles well enough. He discovered that their understanding of the Messiah was too small, too limited. Ah - a theological response as well! And the first steps from 'downcast heart' towards 'burning heart' - and the alleviation of their faith crisis - came as their minds gained fuller and deeper understanding of what their Bibles had to say about Jesus (Luke 24).

nice chatting


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

a worship surgical strike

In my lifetime I have never experienced a period of time when there has been such a convergence of unspeakable pain among the peoples of the world.

Here in NZ - just as we were negotiating our way through the Mangatepopo flash flood tragedy, there came word from Austria of a man who reminded us of how evil the human heart can become. Then it was Burma - and if the cyclone was not bad enough, there is the rage we feel towards the heartless leaders in that country. And then China - and an earthquake made all the more piognant by the fact that it struck when frail school buildings were full of children in a land of one-child families...

Where do we go with this stuff? What difference should these things make to public worship? No, I am not just talking about generosity to aid agencies. I am talking about public worship.

This is when I go back to the Psalms of Ascent - that CD of tiny spatially-challenged worship songs lost so often today in the shadow of Psalm 119. Back then it was a best-seller, a perennial chart-topper, because these are the very songs filling their ipods on the way up to Jerusalem for the major worship festivals each year.

So what would you expect from the lyrics on such a CD by today's standards? Easy peasy. Uninhibited and boisterous praise?! Wrong!

Most of these songs are borne in pain. Most of them start with suffering. As they ascend to Jerusalem they sing about their experiences of lying, fear, war, hatred, anger, insecurity, despair, emptiness, independence, injustice, guilt, pride, hardship, division...

How odd?! How can such deep pain be given such profile when anticipating such high worship up on Zion? But if this seems odd to us today maybe instead of asking questions of the text, we should ask questions of ourselves? Why does this seem odd to us?

May I suggest a reason?

It seems odd because for us suffering is something to escape when we worship. Its a time to take a breather. We park the pain with the car. Or if we do bring it through the doors with us the only place for it is to drain into some hidden catheter under the seat as we distract ourselves with songs. In the worship traditions which I experience we have forgotten the art of lament, of weepy wailing intercession for suffering peoples. And yet we know about them... Yes, we find ourselves snookered by being a global village with multiple media outlets gushing out the information about this suffering. We are responsible for what we see and hear and know. And it must break God's heart to see His people in one part of the world in full knowledge of a tragedy afflicting His people in another part of the world and yet still be consumed with trite 'God is here to meet my needs' songs and testimonies.

These Psalms of Ascent are a surgical strike deep within this worship tradition. Not just in content - but also in form. Again and again there is a symmetry here. Because deep though the pain here may be there is Someone deeper still in these songs. Read on to the verses further down the psalm...

In the pain and below the pain we discover the God who saves, who protects, who peace-keeps, who shows mercy, who helps, who surrounds, who restores, who blesses, who judges, who forgives, who stills, who inhabits...

This is authenticity. Because this is worship in real time. There is no fast-forwarding to praise here. There is lingering with lament and sadness.

nice chatting


Friday, May 16, 2008

a wisdom surge

When the Americans went into Iraq the first time they left the English language with a phrase - "surgical strike". In this second invasion new significance seems to have been poured into the word "surge".

Well this past week I escaped to an iconic Kiwi bach (cottage) for a writing 'surge'. Sleeping and writing was interrupted by occasional food and exercise - and cups of tea/soup and glimpses of TV in my breaks. Yes, there was a tiny TV in the corner into which I could peer. It received just the three public channels. I am pretty much a news and sports person (with the BBC Robin Hood series being my weekly indulgence). But in my breaks this week I did something so completely and totally sinful (!) - I watched a bit of the daytime TV talk shows.

I'd seen glimpses of Oprah in the past. And while I'd heard about Dr Phil, Rachel Ray and Tyra and Jeremy Kyle and Supper Nanny were all new to me. Throw in the apparently endless rounds of infomercials hosted by people who solely through their celebrity status gain expertise in a field (a great mystery to me) - and there is the makings of quite the cultural event through each day.

As I listened what I heard was this hunger to solve the problems of life. There is this longing for wisdom, a 'wisdom surge' going on.

It reminded me of a book by Alyce McKenzie in which the very first paragraph says:

"The 1960s told us to be prophets. The 1970s told us to be therapists. The 1980s told us to be church-growth consultants. The 1990s told us to be player-coaches. I am convinced that this is the era of the sage."

We live in "a culture that craves sages". While knowledge and intelligence have their place, it is wisdom that we need. And while the Bible is not exhaustive in knowledge, it is sufficient for wisdom. We live in its story. We soak in its truth. We pray it. We practice it. These place us on a trajectory of wisdom and then when we enter our complicated world with its fresh problems the Spirit helps us to extrapolate further on that trajectory to discover what the wise response looks like.

But not only does the Bible help make us wise, it has its own 'wisdom surge' expressed in specific Wisdom books of astonishing relevance: Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, some Psalms etc... This is where McKenzie's book is focused. She states that to gain wisdom is to commit to the bended knee, the listening heart, the cool spirit, and the subversive voice. And within the job description of the sage, she includes the intriguing role of 'fool-management'...

A lot of this day-time wisdom surge (not all of it, I hasten to add) is 'foolishness'. It needs to be 'managed'. The people of God need to respond by embracing this wisdom surge in the Bible and cultivating leaders at all levels of life who are servants and shepherds and stewards and seers ... and sages.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Friday, May 02, 2008

praising the paraphrase

As a teenager the decisive moment in my life with Jesus was when I decided to make two choices. One was to make the words of hymns my own as I sang them. The other was to read the Bible in my own language (when I was given a JB Phillips paraphrase by a friend). I've loved paraphrases ever since. While they are not accurate enough to provide the steady Biblical diet, I enjoy the refreshment which they always provide.

Which brings me to The Message developed by Eugene Peterson. Before I even get to his paraphrase can I say that I know of no better introduction to the Bible than gathering together his "Introduction" pages at the start of each individual Bible book. I am not sure why they haven't been extracted into a volume of their own as well ... they are nothing short of brilliant.

When it comes to Peterson's paraphrase the two most quoted turns-of-phrase are probably the Word "moving into the neighbourhood" (John 1:14) and "Learning the unforced rhythms of grace" (Matthew 11:29). But there are lots more than just these two!

Here are some of my favourites:
[And of course Peterson doesn't use verse numbers - which I kinda like - but it makes this exercise more difficult].

Matthew 6: 26
"Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God ... (and then in the parallel passage in Luke 12) carefree in the care of God."

Luke 14:33
"Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it goodbye, you can't be my disciple."

Acts 5:42
"The apostles (were) overjoyed because they had been given the honour of being dishonoured on account of the Name."

Romans 5:1
"We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us."

Romans 5:7
"We can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit."

Romans 6:6
"When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us."

Romans 9:25 (quoting Hosea)
"I'll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I'll call the unloved and make them beloved."

Romans 12:2
"Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking."

Romans 14:6
"thank God for broccoli"

1 Corinthians 3:18
"Don't think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid."

1 Corinthians 13:13
"Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly."

2 Corinthians 10:5
"... fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ."

Philippians 4:6
"Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers."

Colossians 1:3
"The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope."

Colossians 2:10
"You don't need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realise the fullness of Christ - and the emptiness of the universe without him."

1 Thessalonians 1:4
"The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions."

1 Thessalonians 3:11
"May the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you."

1 Timothy 2:1
"pray every way you know how, for every one you know."

1 Timothy 2:10
"...not chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it."

1 Timothy 4:1
"These liars have lied so well and for so long that they've lost their capacity for truth."

Hebrews 6:1
"So come on, let's leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ."

Hebrews 12:3
"When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!"

Hebrews 13...
"May God, who puts all things together,
makes all things whole ...
Now put you together, provide you
with everything you need to please him;
(And) make us into what gives him most pleasure,
by means of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah.
All glory to Jesus forever and always!
Oh, yes, yes, yes."

nice listening to a fresh paraphrase, isn't it?