Thursday, July 29, 2010

converted, always converting

I guess if the church needs to be "reformed, always reforming" - then it might be OK for me to be converted, always converting. Won't there always be blindspots to be exposed as I slide down the asymptote closer and closer to the full and complete truth of that horizontal line...yes, I think so.

I can think of a number of conversions in recent years.

What about the recognition that there is only a great commission because there was first a great mission? Behind a few words of Jesus in the Gospels and Acts lies the initiative of God running from Genesis to Revelation. Long before there is something we are to do among the nations, there is something God has been doing among the nations. I am embarassed by the length of time it took me to see this.

What about the recognition that there is more to the gospel than sin and redemption, the bad and the new? Really?! Yes! To commence with the bad infers that the Bible begins in Genesis 3. To conclude with the new forgets the certain hope that there is more to come. The full gospel includes the good, the bad, the new, and the perfect. Furthermore the 'new' does not begin with Jesus - it begins, far earlier, with Abraham in Genesis 12.1-3. This is the first great commission. This is the gospel announced beforehand (Gal 3.8a). I am embarassed by the length of time it took me to see this.

What about the recognition of a longing for the judgement of God? I blame my kids for this one. Yes, I do! My 18yr old daughter heads off to Kolkata's slums for 7 months. Then she engages herself to a man who, a few days later, heads off to Liberia's raw and open post-war sores for 9 months. Then my son graduates from law and within days is mingling with Congolese refugee children flooding into Kampala - and he is still there, 15 months later. I've never been the same again. I hear their stories and I find myself longing for the judgement of God to descend upon the earth. How dare we feel offended by the judgement of God when so many of his people all around the world are hanging out for that judgement. No more sitting in righteous indignation over God's righteous indignation for me. No way! Count me in with the heavens and the seas, the fields and the trees - I want to sing about the sure coming judgement of God as well (Psalm 96.11-13 - but who is writing songs like this?). I am embarassed by the length of time it took me to see this.

What about the recognition of the diverse ways in which the Old Testament points us to Christ? Of course I believe this - but now I am seeing it with greater fullness, frequency, and precision. All sorts of things are helping me. From the simplicity of the most beautiful children's storybook where it is assumed that "every story whispers his name" to the sophistication of Bible teachers and Langham colleagues who skillfully find these christocentric seams through the Bible far better than I can. I still doubt whether the Old Testament authors intended all that is ascribed to them - but I can now see a Moses or a David or an Isaiah saying in response to them, "Wow, that is more than I thought - but it fits. I can see that what you say could be true". And yes, I am a little embarassed by the length of time it took me to see this.

Now this was all meant to be a precursor to the latest conversion with which I am struggling - but this post is already too long. It can keep for another time.

nice chatting


Sunday, July 18, 2010

listening between two worlds

I live in NZ and listen to the sobered and scholarly voices on the challenge of the post-Christian West. I work in Asia and listen to the enthusiastic vibrancy of a viral post-Western Christianity.

I live in NZ and listen to the church speaking “mission, mission, mission”. I work in Asia and listen to the church speaking “maturity, maturity, maturity”.

I live in NZ and listen to our comfortable lifestyle drain theology of any need for hope. I work in Asia and listen to a suffering lifestyle fill theology with the significance of hope.

I live in NZ and listen to the battles over this absurdity they call the new atheism. I work in Asia and listen to the awareness of the reality of all the old theisms.

I live in NZ and listen to the prevalence of English as a lingua franca with all the resources which then flow. I work in Asia and listen to all those precious ‘mother-tongues’ – and grieve over the paucity of resources which flow their way.

I live in NZ and listen to the endurance of relevance as the longing of the local church in the world. I work in Asia and listen to the relevance of endurance as the legacy of the local church in the world.

I live in NZ and listen to the voices seeking a leadership development adrift from theological education. I work in Asia and listen to how theological education is leadership development.

I live in NZ and listen to the strategies of church growth which are founded on minimising differences between the 'outsider' and the 'insider', urging acceptance. I work in Asia and listen to the absence of strategies for church growth - and then see the growth which comes by measuring differences between the 'insider' and the outsider', recognising rejection.

I live in NZ and listen to self-righteous Western post-colonialism (particularly in the media and at the university). I work in Asia and watch the colonising still continuing on unabated – a colonising of peoples’ minds through a global culture sourced in that same West.

I live in NZ and listen to the call for more leaders - and the suspicion of theological education for the task. I work in Asia and listen to how theological education is the hope and means by which such leaders are trained.

I live in NZ and listen to the preoccupation with stories and the call for more of them in preaching. I work in relatively poor, uneducated  and oral societies in Asia and listen to the call for more teaching in preaching.

I live in NZ and listen to the infatuation with all the implications of the global village. I work in Asia and listen to how wonderful it would be if the global village led to a single village church.

Yes, Yes, Yes ... I know this is a dreadfully generalised account of the way things are. But what cannot be denied is that it is the fullness of the gospel - expressed in the transformed and transforming life of the glocal church - which is the hope of both NZ and Asia.

nice chatting


Monday, July 12, 2010

things i've heard

While I've travelled over these recent weeks, I have heard some remarkable things...

In Peru, the church is "living in a time of harvest" - the 1% 'evangelical' in 1989 has mushroomed to 15% today - which amounts to 4 million people and 20,000 churches.

In Zimbabwe, the inflation rate is so bad that some shop-keepers are known to raise their prices three times a day.

In Malaysia, the four major global religions are each represented by more than 10% of the country (Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism) - the only nation like this in the world ... until someone tells me otherwise, that is!

In Syria, the President was so impressed with a locally-produced DVD on the Apostle Paul's life that he personally paid for it to be screened for three consecutive nights in the local opera house.

In Colombia, a medical-doctor-turned-theologian observes that half of his class at medical school is now practising medicine in the USA.

In Israel, on that first Day of Pentecost, one sermon led to 3000 believers. Too often today it seems like 3000 sermons lead to one believer...

In India, they are expecting there to be more than 100 million believers by the year 2020.

In Russia, 30% of the Bible Schools that started in the 1990s, after the fall of communism, have been closed.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, there is a Korean couple (whom I met) who have worked with blind people and spent these recent years before retirement translating the New Testament into Kurdish braille.

In the Middle East somewhere (I can't disclose the location - sorry), there are people distributing business cards with the entire Bible on them.

In New Zealand, people are celebrating being the only unbeaten team at World Cup 2010 (even though we were knocked out in the first round, a minor detail that must not be allowed to spoil a good story).

nice chatting


Friday, July 09, 2010

children's books to savour

Whenever I teach narrative preaching I always start with children's stories. Former students will remember my love for the simplicity of Quack, Quack and the power of Love You Forever - which has induced many a tear from older, and embarassed, Kiwi males.

To read them and then to ask "why does this work?" seems to supply so much fodder for the learning process. In recent weeks I have come across two more children storybooks which will adorn my teaching from this time forward.

The first is LeAnne Hardy's, So That's What God is Like (Kregel, 2004). It is the ever-so-tender story of little Temba learning about God from his Grandma. Set in Africa where the author has lived, the book has the most gorgeous illustrations. I loved the way a little Bible verse (proposition) is integrated with story and image all the way through without distraction or detraction; the way the biblical image of God is retold and explained by the Grandma in a way a little boy can understand. I applaud the selection of images chosen for "what God is like" - the wind, a rock, a mother hen, a nursing mother, a shepherd - for the way it creates space for the 'maternal' features of God, even if it may have limited the books marketability in some circles! I am sure the eyes will moisten every single time I reach that final page...

[NB - LeAnne is married to Steve Hardy, Director of Langham Scholars. I had the pleasure of meeting her on a recent visit to the UK which is when I first saw this book].

The second book is Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Zondervan, 2007). My niece, Rachael Windsor, told me about it. Again the illustrations are great - but it is the subtitle that grasps its genius: "every story whispers his name". Yes, the writer makes her way through 40+ stories and finds her way to Jesus by the end of each one (including the 20 Old Testament ones). So she commends christocentric preaching in such a natural and compelling manner. The Storybook "tells the Story beneath all the stories in the Bible and how it takes the whole Bible to tell this Story". As one reviewer expressed it, it is "as theological as it is charming".
The chapter on The Fall is linked on the web here.

It would seem that Sally Lloyd-Jones (no relation to Martyn, as I understand it) is part of the congregation which Tim Keller pastors in New York City. He writes a glowing endorsement of the book: “I would urge not just families with young children to get this book, but every Christian - from pew warmers, to ministry leaders, seminarians and even theologians! Sally Lloyd-Jones has captured the heart of what it means to find Christ in all the scriptures, and has made clear even to little children that all God’s revelation has been about Jesus from the beginning - a truth not all that commonly recognized even among the very learned.”

Enough said - these are recent and precious additions to my library. I hope you can enjoy them as well.

nice chatting


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

oxford dale budapest

Barby and I are in transit in Hong Kong on the way home after a month away (for me) from New Zealand. Time was spent in Oxford, in Dale (SW Wales), and in Budapest.

In Oxford I had the joy of helping coordinate a Consultation for teachers of homiletics from the majority world. This had been brewing for 12 months and took some organising from the distant Antipodes. About twenty of us gathered from 15 countries.
We started each day being inspired by some great preaching and closed the day with praying for each other as each one told their story - and then in between we worked our way through ten issues of substance for those who teach preaching. Community was built and significant discussions were held. Now comes the task of writing up our conclusions and looking for strategic ways of progressing the cause...

In Dale the senior staff team of Langham Partnership International, together with their spouses, gathered for a week at The Hookses - the little place which John Stott purchased decades ago and which is now developed into a venue for retreats.
It is more than two years since the conversation with Langham commenced and this was Barby's first opportunity to meet the majority of my new colleagues. It was so worthwhile! A bit of holiday was mixed with a bit of business during a week of the most glorious weather imaginable. We visited nearby Skomer Island - home to thousands of puffins - and St David's, the smallest city in the UK (it is a city because it has its own cathedral!). We visited three different Welsh pubs in 24hrs to watch three different World Cup games - but I had the same lemonade each time! [NB - for the NZ game we had to ask for the TV to be turned on, such was the level of interest!]

In Budapest we attended the four-yearly gathering of an organisation called M*E*C*O. I'll keep things vague, if you don't mind. I was invited to give the Bible readings to start each day and developed the "being distinctive with distinction" theme which has so burdened me recently. In the rush to be relevant, incarnational and salty, the people of God are forgetting the call to endure, to be attractional and lighty. We were impressed by the quality and level of commitment of these people.
Not for the first time the numbers of single women who respond to God's call to these difficult places (particularly for them) is staggering. Four Kiwis among them, including Reti - a Kiwi-Samoan Carey graduate. It was so cool to see her in action.

They say that Budapest is a beautiful city - and they were right! We made just the two sorties into the city but were enthralled by the way the Danube splits the city into Buda and Pest ... and hundreds and hundreds of lovely old buildings. Here is the Parliament:
And here is St Stephen's Basilica with "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" plastered across the front:

nice chatting