Friday, December 25, 2015

on sailing, leadership and preaching

Yachting in New Zealand has always turned my mind towards leadership and preaching.

Ever since I read that Peter Blake's secret of success with winning the America's Cup was 'spreading leadership throughout the organisation', and wished that we leaders could adopt this mantra more often. Ever since I listened to Peter Montgomery's radio and television commentaries, and wished that we preachers could exhibit that same manner and skill more often...

The other day, as I passed through Palmerston North airport, my eye rested on Bill Francis' Peter Montgomery, The Voice of Yachting ... and I thought 'why not?'. The book was finished before I reached Sydney. Not so much because it is particularly well-written (the author's John Graham biography is much better) - but because it took me back to leadership and preaching.

Leadership is still there. Woven into the narrative are reflections from Montgomery himself on the prominent 'yachties' with whom he worked: Chris Dickson (91-93), Peter Blake (131-133; see also 117, 152), Russell Coutts (164-167; see also 152), and Dean Barker (197-199). The raw material for a captivating study on diverse Kiwi leadership styles is all there, especially when you add in the chapter about Grant Dalton (168-182). If it hasn't been done yet, there is a doctoral thesis here  - or, at the very least, an engaging seminar on good and bad leadership. After reading this book, my opinion of Dickson and Blake stayed the same. My opinion of Coutts and Barker rose. My opinion of Dalton dropped.

Preaching is still there. So many features of 'PJ' as a man and as a commentator transfer across to preachers and preaching - both with his manner and his skills.

With his manner...
There is his passion. He had 'the ability to bring (the America's Cup) to life through his enthusiasm and sense of excitement' (78). If mere yachting could do this to someone, why not the gospel? There is his warmth. 'It was like talking to someone with a smile on their face' (210). There is his rapport. He was 'totally relatable' (211) to his audience, willing to pitch his words to 'the little lady with the blue rinse in Riverton' (26) - the very lady most preachers wish to overlook in the pursuit of some sort of shallow relevance. There is his wisdom. He had the ability to win the trust of the central players (often at odds with each other) and build friendships with them, maintaining confidentiality always. There is his composure. I remember well his awful gaffe at the end of an Olympic rowing final. He stuffed it up completely. So embarrassing. He was vilified mercilessly by the New Zealand Herald among others - cartoons, editorials etc. But he saw it through (with the television authorities helping out by editing the gaffe out of the official version!).

With his skill...
In Montgomery's commentaries, we see the power of words. As a kid, Russell Coutts listened to PJ's commentary: 'What it did was create a dream' (152). We see the value of imagination. He created pictures with his words. People did not just hear things, they saw things as they heard them. Referring to the waves of the Southern Ocean as 'liquid himalayas' is one that comes to mind. We also see the importance of preparation. The cult of spontaneity is not the answer. His great line - 'The America's Cup is now New Zealand's Cup' - was totally and carefully rehearsed. 'He brought to his work not only the artistry of a rich vocabulary, but was able to complement his outgoing natural flow by the studied aside' (211). Ahh, the 'studied aside'. We could do with more of that ingredient in preaching.

One more thing. There is the signature opening line which Montgomery used as he contacted yachties in every distant corner of the oceans of the world: "How are you? Where are you?" (67). What great questions for the preacher-evangelist, probing to find a resting place for the gospel in every restless human heart where that gospel can live and transform.

Here is a piece of commentary from Peter Montgomery. It is from one of the dark days in the history of yachting: when One Australia sank in a matter of seconds...

nice chatting


Monday, December 21, 2015

feel the magic

A little more from my "New Zealand is the most secular English-speaking country of all, even if I receive disbelieving looks from American, Canadian, British and Australian friends whenever I say so" file.

This week I was in Sydney and a friend of mine expressed how he has regular opportunities in local civic contexts to open council meetings in prayer. I almost fell off my chair from the shock of such a thought.

I returned to Palmerston North (in New Zealand) only to find this Christmas card on the dining room table.

It has origins in a local shopping mall. I investigated the website a little bit further - and found these words:
See the magic; love the magic; FEEL THE MAGIC...
Your Winter Wonderland is real and it's here.
Have fun with the penguins and play with the reindeer;
Come and see for yourself and all will be clear...
Step into your own Winter Wonderland this Christmas...;
your amazing augmented reality experience is here and it's FREE!!
Four different playtime scenarios have been created for you,
featuring penguins, reindeer, a snowman, and a yeti.
This is so wrong at so many levels.

It is about knowing a mystery, not feeling a magic.
Christmas is about the Creator becoming a creature, about God becoming a baby. But it doesn't stop there. God was only born so that he could die, dying our death so that we could live his life. This is something to know on the way to being something to feel.

It is about summer, not winter.
Christmas is a summer season in New Zealand. To hold onto winter imagery serves only to make the true celebrations seem more distant, more irrelevant, and more remote.

It is about the really real, not the fakey real.
Christmas is an historical reality. They are events which can be trusted and on which life can be rested. To describe it in the manner of this card leaves the season at the gates of Disneyland.

It is about the truly free, not the 'amazing augmented reality experience' that is free.
Christmas continues a story of liberation - and not just for Mary and Zechariah (although their liberation is so beautifully expressed in Luke 1). Stay with the story to the end and having some 'augmented reality experience' is so far from what happens to you.

It is about worship, not play.
Christmas, from every angle and through every perspective, is about worship. The angels spark it, the shepherds start it ... and people across every time and timezone have been worshipping ever since.

It is about shepherds, angels, parents and a baby, not yetis, penguins, reindeer and a snowman.
Christmas is about people, people, and more people. Why must all these animals intrude into the story and eclipse what God is doing for humans by becoming a human?

It is about a Star Maker, not just a star.
As this little childrens' book expresses it, 'Jesus the Star Maker became a little baby. And the Star Maker lay underneath the star that he had made'. Ah yes, there is the mystery...

nice chatting


PS: my records show that this is my 500th post - just as my 10th year as a blogger draws to a close. To mark the occasion, I've changed the list of 'Popular Posts' (down the right hand side of this page) from being the latest monthly list to being the 'all time' list. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

christmas giving

We've had our fill of separations - or, so we thought. All those agonising good-byes to parents during our boarding school years. UGH. Goodness me - Barby has not lived within two long-haul flights of her parents since she was in her mid-teens (and that was when she was at boarding school!). But as we enter our mid50s, it is yet more separation that God requires of us - and that is why the season of giving is so special this year.

This Christmas we have the joy of having a few days with our children and grandchildren back in New Zealand. A gift. With our daughter and her husband having won a 'mystery weekend' away together, we even had the fun of looking after these two munchkins for a couple of days:

But not only have we received this Christmas, we have the joy of giving as well. I couldn't get home fast enough in order to open the boxes containing our Christmas presents to our children this year (oops, so much for surprises!):

The South Asia Bible Commentary contains a commentary on every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, with each commentary written by a South Asian scholar. In addition to this explanation of the text of Scripture, there are 100 articles relating to the context of South Asia. It is beautifully presented and expertly edited. I know of nothing more strategic in the mission of God in the world today than the production of these one volume commentaries. The Africa Bible Commentary emerged eight years ago (it is now translated into six languages of Africa) and the Arabic, Latin American and Slavic commentaries are all within 2-3 years of publication.

Barby and I were at the launch of the SABC in New Delhi in October, with the Vice-President of India being the honoured guest. Given that both their sets of grandparents gave more than 65 years (between them) to strengthening the church in South Asia, we hope it can be a gift that our children will cherish for forever. In so may ways, this is where their Christian heritage lies.

I was a bit surprised to see the name of 'DA Carson' on the cover of a study Bible (as General Editor). When I sat in his classroom all those years ago, we were left in no doubt that such Bibles were rather dubious publications. Having the notes of contemporary authors sharing the same page as the word of God might encourage people to equate, subconsciously, those 'notes' with that 'word', in terms of authority. While the argument still has merit, Carson has stepped back from it a bit.

So what is it that sets apart the 2880 page Zondervan NIV Study Bible [NB: this link includes a helpful little video of Carson explaining the features of this Bible] from all the others and so worthy of investment and use? In the Editor's Preface, Carson gives his reasons and it is the fifth and final one that caught my eye:
This study Bible emphasizes biblical theology ... (and so) we have tried to highlight the way various themes develop within the Bible across time. In this way we hope to encourage readers of the Bible to spot these themes for themselves as they read their Bibles, becoming adept at tracing them throughout the Scriptures.
So while the Bible is diverse, with dozens of authors spread over hundreds of years, it is still one single rescue story of God at work in the world. There is a unity as well, with trajectories to follow that all reach their destination in Jesus.

And not only is South Asia a part of the Christian heritage of our children, so also is DA Carson - given his influence on me as a student and he and Joy's ongoing prayerful interest in us as a family. I'll never ever forget gate-crashing a conference at which he was speaking in New Zealand some years ago - and taking my daughter with me. We joined the groupies in the foyer afterwards. When we had our opportunity to catch up with him (after a number of years), he addressed my daughter by name. WOW. The measure of the man. I ain't gonna forget that in this lifetime.

From 'ugh' to 'wow', via a couple of books. Such is the trajectory of life - and through it all, God proves his love and faithfulness.

nice chatting


Sunday, December 06, 2015

kane & ko

My Dad loved sports and I have followed suit. While I am not much of a patriot, I do keep in touch with the fortunes of a wide range of Kiwis on the global stage, cheering them on from South India.

I cannot remember a time when I have had so much fun as a fan on the virtual sideline. The focus? Kane Williamson and Lydia Ko. [NB: More than three years ago, long before they were household names, I did turn my hand to prophecy on this topic... :)]

As 2015 comes to a close, Lydia Ko, at just 18 years of age, is undisputed as the #1 woman golfer on the planet. And remember, this is a highly contested global sport. We are not talking about netball, or rugby league, here. Countries as numerous as China, and as wealthy as the USA, love this sport.

As 2015 comes to a close, Kane Williamson, at just 25 years of age, is probably one century away from becoming the #1 Test cricket batsman in the world. I watched him score a couple of centuries against the Australian bowlers and, as my son expressed it, 'it was like his bat didn't have an edge'.

I've been asking myself, 'why do I enjoy following the fortunes of these two so much?'

One? It is their youthfulness. I delight in seeing the next generation being given the opportunity to come through and to excel. Always have. Always will. Dotlich & Cairo's 'ten unnatural acts' (in their book, Unnatural Leadership) have always been counterintuitively persuasive for me. #6? 'Trust Others Before They Earn It'. Plus, the way the Apostle Paul brought Timothy, his 'son in the faith', into his team has always impressed me. Count me in. I wanna be like my namesake. Give the younger ones a chance to succeed. Stop this control-freaking nonsense about having them 'wait for their turn'.

Two? It is their humility. Ko's brand comes wrapped-up in that smiling, winsome, unaffected manner which she has. She follows in a long line of Kiwi sportswomen who have been like this, winning hearts like mine, as they do so. Bernice Mene? Sarah Ulmer? Evers-Swindell twins? So many have these same qualities. Rather annoyingly at times, Kane's brand sticks with that Kiwi-male persona: often unsmiling and usually under-stated, wrapped up in an inarticulate mumble. But (other) people love it.

[My friend, Rhett, picked up the retiring All Black captain, Richie McCaw, doing this the other day: 'I always wanted to perform at a consistent level. When I look back on my time, not every year was as good as I'd have liked, but I'm glad to have managed to do that reasonably well.' Spare me. This is when I know I am not really a Kiwi lad. And Richie made only one mistake in his lengthy 'perform at a consistent level' career. Announcing his retirement within hours of Jonah Lomu's death. He did not manage to do that 'reasonably well'.]

Three? It is their mental strength. It is the ol' 'top two inches' cliche. Ko is on TV here in India more than she is in NZ. I watch a few minutes here and there, when I can. It is always her unflappability that is compelling to me. She keeps on keeping on. Nothing fazes her. Kane is the same. Under pressure, they show this composure. It is not a quality we see that often among our Test cricketers. Again and again, generally speaking, this is the thing that separates Kiwi sportspeople from Aussie ones. The Aussies tend to be stronger mentally. It is like a sibling rivalry - and we show so many of the characteristics of the younger, talented one who is easy to bully and so often we succumb to the pressure.

Four? It is their skill. On this one, let me reach for the words of journalists living beyond New Zealand. It is more objective. Plus, as an expatriate Kiwi myself, I am a little disillusioned with NZ sports' journalism. Too often it oscillates between a fawning sychophancy (lacking critique) and an ugly insecurity (longing to be noticed, like that younger sibling - turning us into 'the sheep that roared').

[My favourite example of this is this story about Winston Reid. Compare the headline with the actual story. Goodness me. The screaming headline celebrates a goal which Reid scored on the training ground...].

Back to their skills...  On Kane, have a look at this piece by Mark Nicholas (yes, I know, the master of sychophancy - but at least it is directed towards a New Zealander here, for a change!) on the Cricinfo site, or this commendation by the former Australian captain, Allan Border. On Ko, there is this piece from ESPN and then this one from the Guardian newspaper in the UK.

And I guess Kane & Ko is a better title for this post than KoKane - don't you think?!

nice chatting


Friday, December 04, 2015

back to the future

We become flash and fancy with our evangelism today, don't we? The programmes. The technology. The strategies. While participating in the annual conference of the Association of Evangelists in the UK last weekend, I was reminded again of three ancient, yet proven, components to evangelism.

Are we losing sight of them? Have we really become so sophisticated that we no longer need them?

The conference unfolded within a simple template. Somewhere between 100-150 prayer partners gather for a weekend with the 8-10 evangelists in the Association. While there are Bible teaching sessions (which I had the privilege to bring), the main focus is on hearing updates from each of the evangelists and then, immediately, breaking into small groups to pray for them.

The three components of the weekend which remain with me are:

The call of the evangelist
I won't use the word 'gift', as many of you will leave me at this point. Primarily, this is not about people getting knotted over discerning whether they are gifted or not. This weekend was about listening to people who have obeyed a call and are experiencing both God's energising (another word for 'gifting') to obey that call and God's faithfulness in living out that call.

Evangelists are much less common than evangelism. These people are not so much Billy Grahams, devoted to gathering people together for thunderous crusades. These people are not so much street preachers, climbing onto their soap boxes to harass the passerby. Let's delete the stereotypes. While I suspect they are not adverse to the crusade, or the street corner, these evangelists were normal, consecrated people of grace and truth - and courage - who pressed themselves into daily life, with all its opportunities, for the purpose of the gospel. Story after story emerged of simple, everyday initiatives in which every opportunity is taken to speak a little word for Jesus.

The vocation of the leaflet
I won't use the word 'tract', as many of you will leave me at this point. But pictured here is a table laden with evangelistically-themed leaflets, mostly written by Roger Carswell (the person primarily responsible for pulling this Association together). Look at them all! These leaflets take the opportunities which society provides (for eg., World Cup rugby), to produce brief, colourful and engaging presentations.

Roger himself has a warm and winsome way about him and these leaflets reflect this quality. That is why they have possibilities, slipping them into peoples' hands here and there. [NB: They are readily available at (enter 'carswell tract' in the search area)].

It is not enough simply to have community-building ministries in a church - and that's it. Back home in New Zealand, in the Baptist context with which I am most familiar, churches tend to be exceptional in birthing and nurturing such ministries. But those ministries need to be herded more towards a sharing of the gospel (even at the risk of a few people not returning the following week!). To distribute a winsome little leaflet now and then, or to have someone give a word of testimony, are simple ways to add a gospel flavour to these ministries.

The commitment of the pray-er
I won't use the word 'intercession', as many of you will leave me at this point. That word can be a bit intimidating... These were everyday people who believe that God answers prayer - and so they pray. Simple as that. They jot down the information and then they take it to the Lord in prayer. Yes, the average age was up there quite a bit ... but I enjoyed it so much. It took me back to my days as a pastor and our 'Living Long and Loving It' group with whom I liked to linger. It took me back to my days in a missionary family where we learned, from a young age, to cherish pray-ers like this, as they demonstrated that they loved us enough to pray for us.

I was able to tell the story of one elderly woman who approached me at the door after a church service where I had preached. It is about ten years ago now. As she walked towards me, rather nervous and shy, she was fumbling in her purse for something. Finally she found it, thrust it into my face, with a rather curt, 'Is this you?' Initially, I was taken aback - but then I melted ever so quickly. It was the prayer card of our family from the late 1960s, with me all of seven years of age. 'Yes, that is me'. To which she responded, 'I prayed for you every day while you were there in India'.

The evangelist. The leaflet. The pray-er.

Have they really been tried and found wanting - or, is it that they are are still wanted and not really been tried? Are you sure, absolutely sure, that your current flash and fancy alternatives are that much better? Could you not squeeze the tried and true in there somewhere as well?

nice chatting


Monday, November 23, 2015

corinthian corners

Yesterday I handed in my marks for the MTh module that I teach here at SAIACS in Bangalore. Then it dawned on me ... I had just finished my twenty-fifth consecutive year of teaching preaching in the classroom. Even when I have been on sabbatical, a course, or two, has been squeezed in, here and there. There have been students from all the different academic levels: Certificate, Diploma, Degree, Masters, and Doctoral. When I teach preaching, I feel God's pleasure. Always have (apart from the occasional blip).

Early on in those years, I started devising my own model of teaching preaching. Philips Brooks' 'truth through personality' was no longer sufficient. A four corner model emerged - and keeps evolving, eventually becoming the five corner model I used in this recent module (see below).

But a few months ago Tim Keller's new book fired my imagination for a new and necessary horizon: is there a biblical basis for these five corners? Keller opens up with 1 Corinthians 1.18 - 2.5 and as I read and re-read the passage, I became more and more convinced that the model was embedded in Paul's philosophy. I hatched a plan. I made it an assignment for this eager bunch of 30 MTh students at SAIACS. Some A+ quality work was returned (including one from a young man from Myanmar) and I am now convinced of the legitimacy of the links. All five corners are there in the Pauline approach to preaching...

So - drum roll, please ... I can announce that the Corinthian Columns of the first century have now morphed into the Corinthian Corners of the twenty-first century! :) HaHa.

After putting students into groups in each of the four corners of the classroom, enabling them first to come up with their own ideas on what might occupy each of the four corners, this image is showed to them. This is followed by a description of the process in which every word outside the box is included in a short narrative (and the subsequent course is then about visiting each one of those words more fully). Here is the latest version of this description:

A model for effective biblical preaching…
"Anchored by a secure theology, particularly about the Word of God, effective preaching commences with an openness of the Bible and an openness to the Spirit as time is taken to observe what the text is actually saying. It then draws on the best commentaries to ensure the most accurate exegesis of the text and it commits to clarity of design, believing it to be a key ingredient in building the momentum of the sermon as well as gaining and maintaining the attention of listeners.

With this in place virtually anything is permissible in the pursuit of rapport with a congregation. There just must be connection. A variation in all aspects of the presentation will help, as will being natural in all aspects of delivery. But the key is developing a specific application which keeps in mind a congregation’s diversity, capped-off by a capacity to start:stop in a creative and compelling manner.

With this preaching, the assumption is that there are people who are not yet Christians who are listening. And so the sermon is infused with a freshness and vibrancy, as people hear the preacher speaking their language and utilising illustrations (both image and story) from their world. As this is done, there is a both a probing for the worldviews at work in the world, as well as a lingering, wherever possible, with the logic of induction in order to respect this listener more fully.

With all this simmering away in the preparation, effective preaching never loses sight of the preacher’s own participation in the process. There is an authenticity which seeps into every aspect of life and ministry and this is then fused with both a warmth in the face and eyes, as well as a passion in the voice and manner. Furthermore, in a world overwhelmed by many words, the words of this preacher stand out as different because they include words which bear witness to the truth being proclaimed from the testimony of their own lives.

So effective preaching is about taking the stories of the listeners, the world, and the preacher and weaving them around the biblical story, which is based in the written Word and focused on the Living Word. It is about bringing to the exegesis of the listener, the world, and the preacher the very same skills of exegesis which we bring to the biblical text. It is pursued in overt and vocal dependence upon the Spirit of God who can be relied upon to superintend the entire process because it acknowledges his inspiring, illuminating, authenticating, and anointing work – as he leads people to Jesus.” 

nice chatting


Sunday, November 15, 2015

a wilderness of mirrors

Saying thanks. Building trust. The first principles of leadership. Study them deeply and then do them creatively and repetitively and you will be well on your way in leadership roles, large or small.

Take trust, for example. How do you build it? Well, it operates like a bank account. The deposits are made early - like listening attentively, keeping promises, affirming continuities, sharing information, shirking (displays of) power, suffering with people, speaking with the accent of 'we' ... even extending credit to others, believing in them before they've fully earned it. On and on it goes. These are the deposits that must be made. Because when the time for withdrawals comes - in the midst of change, growth, and conflict - the account can empty so quickly and leave leadership in the red.

But here is the issue: trust is in trouble.

This is where Mark Meynell's A Wilderness of Mirrors enters the picture. As always, we linger with the sub-title: 'trusting again in a cynical world'. Meynell's approach is so unlike the paragraph above. This is no depository for handy hints on building trust. No! This is the necessary complement: a theoretical analysis of the roots of cynicism, which is met then by a theological response. There is more than a hint of Stottian 'double listening' here. World & Word - even Problem & Solution and, for me, as the sadness in the early pages sinks in, Garbage & Gospel.

Here is the way the book flows:
1. Fracturing Trust: The Legacy of Our Age (with a focus on political leadership, the media, and professional care-givers)

2. Mourning Trust: Life After Losing It (with feelings of suspicion, alienation, fragmentation, betrayal, paranoia - and fury)

3. Rebuilding Trust: Hope for Our Age (with the freedom of a fresh encounter with self, Jesus, church and the biblical story)

Yes, this flow makes for some dense, even depressing, early chapters. It just does. But the reader must persevere because, later on, the book sprouts wings. Here is a taste. I read this one aloud to Barby. It is beautiful. There is lots more like it.
Because we share both in bearing God's image and in enjoying Christ's rescue, the value of even the most vulnerable, broken, and despised is absolute. The church should be the safest place in the world. Because we all sin, we should have nothing to hide; but because Jesus died, we should have nothing to prove (168).
If you are familiar with Mark Meynell's blog (recently relaunched within a new website), or a friend of his on Facebook, or follow his Twitter feed, then this book is more of Mark. His mouse seems to hover over a thousand fascinations. The breadth of his reading and the depth of his thought mingle with a creativity and a vulnerability to produce stuff that is always worth engaging.

Other highlights for me:
Every page seems to carry a fresh quotation. Given this breadth of his reading, you are unlikely to find them anywhere else. Teachers and preachers will love this aspect of the book. And don't miss the author's own quotable-quote-worthiness, as demonstrated above.

In his blog, Mark Meynell has helped many by being so transparent and reflective about his own battle with depression. This book includes 'a personal coda' (67-71) which sources some of this battle to his experiences befriending Congolese refugees in Uganda. He writes about his own rage and fury, betrayal and doubt ... and a growing inability to trust others, especially those in authority.

Each chapter concludes with a simple little summary, accompanied by pictures. Very useful.

The book is written in a way that invites unbelievers to participate. There is empathy. There is honesty. But there is also apologetic ... and at the core of this apologetic is a re-imagination of sin with the acronym, LiGWaiM  - 'living in God's world as if (it was) mine' (121).

The journey through the chapters on humanity, to Jesus, and then onto the church and its leadership (109-180) is my favourite part. This section concludes with a useful engagement with worldview by developing a framework - origins:problem:solution:goal:outcome - and then applying it to the premodern, modern, postmodern and biblical stories.

nice chatting


NB: Mark is a colleague in the work of Langham Preaching and a former pastoral staff member at All Soul's, Langham Place in London. In this role he had the privilege of getting to know John Stott, then in his latter years. Mark's website contains the best single Stott resource of which I am aware - the John Stott Archive. One of Mark's current projects is gathering all John Stott's illustrations into a single resource.

Friday, October 30, 2015

our global families

The most compelling thought for me over the recent decade has been the idea that the body of Christ and the household of God are global realities, not just local ones. It has transformed my life.

On the global stage, 1 Corinthians 12 is still about those who might consider themselves to be dispensable and living our lives in a way that makes them indispensable. 1 Timothy 3 is still about creating a sense that my fathers and mothers, my uncles and aunties, my brothers and sisters, my sons and daughters are found among those who share the gospel with me, and not just those with whom I share genes.

Yes, these are compelling thoughts. They have impacted us too such an extent that under God's direction and care, in our 50s, we have uprooted from home and family in order to give a fuller and deeper expression to them taking root in our lives.

And so just imagine how I felt when I saw this book emerge on a publisher's electronic news update. I could not get my hands on it quickly enough..

Our Global Families (Baker, 2015) is a collaborative project by Todd Johnson (associated for many years with that peerless statistician, David Barrett) and one of his students, Cindy Wu.

While I ran to it quickly, I did not read it quickly because it wasn't quite what I was expecting. However there will still be pages to which I return. For example: 'developing friendships and practicing hospitality' (139-147) are the obvious and simple habits to embrace, with a call to 'open our our our our minds'.

In a world overwhelmed by the complexity of migration issues, we are reminded that 'with the exception of the command to worship God and God alone, 'welcome the stranger' is the most oft-quoted commandment in the Hebrew scriptures' (141). While on the subject of Judaism, and acknowledging the need of the cross of Christ to complete the truth, it is a quotation by Rabbi Jonathan Sachs that sticks out to me. He writes that Judaism is about 'honoring the image of God in other people and thus turning the world into a home for the divine presence' (155).

Highlighting the dual importance of the indigenizing principle and the pilgrim principle is valuable: 'these principles guide us to a church that is different everywhere (by culture) and the same everywhere (by faith)' (96). Pointing readers towards James Davison Hunter's To Change the World, with his call for Christians to be 'faithfully present' in the world, interested me because it has been the stand-out book of the decade for me.

There are a number of fresh and clear statistics: 'In 1800 Christians and Muslims were one-third of the world's population, and by 2100 they are expected to count for two-thirds. Surely the relationship between these two religions is a significant one' (21). 'The high point for the non-religious was around 1970, when almost 20% of the world's population was either agnostic or atheist ... (but that figure has declined since then) and the future of the world is likely to be a religious one' (22).

The dual authorship of the book, with its tendency to add personal stories and testimonies, interrupted the argument a bit much for me. Plus, to be convinced of an argument, I need a stronger biblical-theological framework than the one provided in these pages. But if you, or your church, or your small group, are wanting to take some early steps into these ideas and have your life transformed as well, then this is a good book with which to begin. It takes time to define key terms like globalization and contextualisation. It captures facts and figures and quotations. It is written simply. It includes lists of practical suggestions. It has a small group discussion guide.
The primary problem is that our identities are too small. We tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. (quoted on 70, from Christena Cleveland's Disunity in Christ)
nice chatting


Friday, October 23, 2015

i beside e

Maths, maps and spelling were my favourite subjects as a little boy. A chief contributor to this favouritism was that each subject involved competitive classroom games.

'Around the world' was great fun. One competitor would stand next to the other, seated at their desk. A math's question? A capital city? Spelling a word? Bring it on. The first one with the correct answer moved onto the child at the next desk. In this way it was possible to make one's way around the entire classroom and feel like you were the undefeated champion of the world. In my own mind and memory, however inaccurate these faculties may now be, I was a legend at these games :).

Yes, it all sounds quite dreadful for today's sensitive ears. But I just loved it. Sorry. I was unevenly sanctified in those days (it seems to be a problem endemic to my nature).

With spelling questions, a handy little guideline was i before e except after c, although I quickly hear my French teacher saying, 'always expect an exception' - with the word 'chief' being chief among those exceptions.

Life teaches us that competition does not remain in the classroom, or the playground. It travels with us through life and vocation. Strategies need to be developed to manage it well. One such strategy for me has been i beside e especially with c.

Here the 'c' refers to 'competition', while the 'i' and the 'e' highlight the difference between 'complementary' and 'complimentary' - and the need for both. One way to handle competition is to look to be both complimentary and complementary with that competition - and to do so authentically and prayerfully.

When I started as a pastor, Barby and I were called to a little Baptist church on 'the south-side of the tracks' - ie the sadder, poor-er area of town. 25 adults. I remember thinking how many of the characteristics of 'low self esteem' were evident among us, but in a corporate way. This is Scottish Presbyterian heartland. Within a stone's throw of us (almost) - on both sides - were thriving charismatic Presbyterian churches. Why are we here? What can we add? It was a time to process competitive instincts by being complimentary and complementary.

When I started as a principal, Barby and I were called to an odd situation. We had been on the staff at the only evangelical college in the country. You knew this was the case because when you mixed and mingled with evangelicals anywhere in the country they simply spoke about 'college' in a generic way, referring to this first college. It was the one and only college in their minds. The trouble was that, very unexpectedly, we sensed God's call to be part of seeing a second college, at which my grandfather had forbidden me to train (!), become known for being evangelical as well. They were interesting years! It was a time to process competitive instincts by being complimentary and complementary.

When I started as director in my current role, Barby and I had already decided to live where our work was happening. But this has created an odd situation. There are many other organisations doing similar things. Most of them have roots in the UK, or the US. That is a long way away. So, again and again, I find I don't know the people, or the organisations ... and yet I find myself involved in the leadership of one of the organisations that is perceived by others to be a 'market-leader', if you can permit me to use that phrase. In this absence of knowledge and relationship, there is a temptation to feel competitive - or, more worryingly, to be perceived as being so. The default setting kicks in, almost by habit now. It is a time to process competitive instincts by being complimentary and complementary.

There you have it. Three snapshots from my life.
What about you? Where does i beside e have a trajectory in your life?

Competition always seems unavoidable. Cooperation always seems desirable. Call me unevenly sanctified if you wish, but my experience is that a bit of mild, gentle competition does not need to be a bad thing. I have found that the best cooperation becomes possible when we are confident about our own calling and then enter all possible competitive settings with an intentionality about being complimentary and complementary, prayerfully and authentically.

nice chatting


Sunday, October 18, 2015

loving learners

I may have gone through my entire education without ever asking a single question in the classroom. I certainly never did it in my MDiv (theology), or my BSc (chemistry) days - and I have no memory of ever doing it in high school.

The reasons are partly physiological. The anticipation of speaking-up led to such a combo of clanging nerves, sweaty perspiration and pumping pulse that it never seemed to be worth the effort. Plus I tend to blush badly under pressure. As a learner, it was far easier to be quiet and passive.

So my early days as a student were not great. While the physiological plays its part, there have been some philosophical issues as well. I've learned a little about learners in subsequent years.

As a young lecturer, more than twenty years ago, I remember the meeting when the Academic Dean walked in, sat down and said, 'OK, we need to change the way we describe our courses. Teaching objectives need to replaced by learning outcomes. We need to shift away from a focus on what the teacher teaches and over towards what the learner learns and everything, especially assessment, needs to be aligned with this change.' That shift started a revolution in my approach to learning.

About this same time, I heard an expert say that making things compulsory in adult learning situations was counter-productive. 'Remove as much compulsion as you can'. 'Don't treat adult learners as children'. Intrinsic motivation is critical. As a principal of a theological college, I decided to commit myself to this conviction - with one example being a refusal to make chapel attendance compulsory. Instead, we worked hard to make them too good to be missed; we worked hard at the rationale for the rhythm of worship to be embedded into the discipline of study; we worked hard to set a good example for participation etc.

As a preacher, my bread-and-butter has been what is often called exposition where you begin with the biblical passage, assuming its authority, and gradually come to the listener. But now I love playing with a more inductive logic as well. Here you begin with the listener living in their world, lingering with them a little longer than the usual introduction - and gradually drawing them into biblical truth, as the rationale for it gradually unfolds in front of them.

As a student (again!), my doctoral work focused on the parable and the role of the reader, alongside author and text, in the process of interpretation. With the Bible I believe that a divine author lies behind an authoritative text with a clear and certain meaning (in an overwhelming majority of cases) delivered by a preacher with authority ... and yet, even with that being true, the listener still retains some sovereignty because they can choose simply to stop listening. The parable genre reminds us of the need for the reader/learner to participate if meaning is going to be complete and full.

As a trainer, I like to arrive early on that first day - always. Why? Because I am seriously fussy about something. I want to see how the chairs are arranged in the room where the learning will take place. Are they in rows, all facing the front, suggesting that all that is of value comes from the front?  Or, are they in circles, or clusters, or around tables, facing each other, suggesting that learning will come from each other as well - because it does and it will, as participation and interactivity is featured.

Participants from four different continents collaborate in the process of learning
If I was ever a pastor again, one of the first initiatives I'd take is to have a small group from the congregation walk the preaching journey with me for a year. I'd draw them into the process of forming the sermon. I'd have them help me with illustration and application. The sermon-making process would become more collaborative. We'd change the group each year and gradually the entire congregation would be drawn into this participatory learning process.

In all these roles I have come back to Berea (Acts 17.10-15) where the preacher is hardly mentioned, even though it is an apostolic one. The focus is on the quality of the listener-learners. It is a reminder that preaching is not just about the preacher and the text - but about the listeners as well. To be effective, good preaching needs good listening.

nice chatting


Sunday, October 11, 2015

scratching out the cross

For a millennium, the Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world. It reaches all the way back to the worlds of Chrysostom and Constantine. When Istanbul was conquered by the Ottomans, it was turned into a mosque - and now it is a museum. The history is amazing - and so also is the beauty.

However it is neither the history nor the beauty of the site that will remain with me. It is the sight of the feeble attempts to scratch out the cross that were to be seen everywhere.

Here is the irony. While images of the cross have been defaced, every tour group enters the building at the Imperial Gate, crowned with its own mosaic. It is an image of Jesus, flanked by Mary and Gabriel, with the emperor prostrate at His feet. Jesus is holding a book with an inscription which is dutifully translated by every tour guide to proclaim, simply and clearly, the message of the cross in the language of every visitor:

'Peace be with you. I am the light of the world'. 

Peace in the midst of conflict. Light in the midst of darkness. The wonder of the cross.

A few dozen meters away there is some silly darkness going on. The ridiculous sight of people in a long queue for The Wish Column. Here visitors stick their fingers in a hole (worn away by pilgrims through the ages) in a column, believing that their wishes will be fulfilled if the finger comes out wet.

Quite a few dozen miles away there is some sad conflict going on. Within an hour or so of our visit to the Hagia Sophia, there is a terrorist attack at a peace rally in Ankara in which more than one hundred people are killed. The worst attack of its kind in Turkey.

Light and peace are must fully found in the Christ of the cross. No place in history has come closer to scratching out the cross than Turkey, home of the oldest Christian world. While it once provided the terrain for the missionary journeys of Paul, the location of the seven churches receiving messages from Jesus through John, and the circuit for the letters of Peter ... today the Christian community is weak - just a few thousand among many millions. And yet it will not always remain like this because while 'the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, to those who are being saved it is the power of God' (1 Corinthians 1.18). All those arms today, with cameras lifted high, will one day be arms lifted aloft with praises to Jesus.

nice chatting


Sunday, October 04, 2015

constantia conversions

It is always great to be back in Delhi. On this visit I decided to make a different pilgrimage. When we first moved here in 1970, Delhi Bible Fellowship (later to be pastored by my future father-in-law, Charles Warren) was just getting started. There were different congregations around the city and then a combined service on Sunday evenings - in Constantia Hall, at the YWCA in New Delhi.

We lived in Old Delhi. I was 11 years of age. Every Sunday evening my folks would pack us all into a Morris Oxford taxi for the trip to church. A fervent Canadian pastor-evangelist would lead the services. He still receives our newsletters. I owe him a great deal. Thank-you, Uncle Murray. He often gave strong appeals at the end of his gospel-centered messages - and I often responded. He 'saw my hand (while every head was bowed and every eye closed)' on many occasions, even though he may not remember.

While I do not have a dramatic testimony with a lightning-strike conversion experience that took me from the darkest night to the brightest noon - as I get older, I am increasingly grateful for the gracious dawning of the day which took over my heart. Slowly and securely, my heart turned towards God and I have been kept by Christ in the power of the Spirit ever since.

nice chatting


Friday, September 25, 2015

unity is our weakness

A billboard caught my eye last week. The driver kindly stopped so that I could take a photo - although I could tell that he wondered what I was doing. He was insistent on stopping in front of the neighbouring billboard - but, no, this is the one I wanted:

It is the conflictual relationship between word and image that draws me into this billboard. The words proclaim (almost) that 'unity is a strength'. But the image suggests that unity is a weakness in the construction of this billboard - because they did not work together to get it right.

But as I've lingered with this disturbed image, it still teaches me a lot about unity.

There is absence
Some panels are missing. This happens in practice as well. Many think that unity is just a function of the love shared among us - but it isn't. It is also about truth (of the gospel) shared among us. This is one of the enduring lessons from the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the biggest crisis ever to face the church. Unity was preserved, even deepened, because James worked to ensure that there was a victory for love and a victory for truth.

There is chaos
Some panels are in the wrong place. Some are even upside down. This happens in practice as well. Unity needs some order and clarity, some gentle structure and cohesion. Panels and paint, images and words ... these need to work together, each playing their role in maximising the message of the billboard. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 comes to mind. The human body has a unity, but only as each part fulfills its role.

There is separation
The way the people are cut up is particularly troubling. This attitude lacks dignity. It ceases to treasure people. This happens in practice as well. The mind returns to Genesis 1 and the way human beings are image-bearers of the divine ('in our image') - but before that truth is even uttered, the divine as a unity and as a creative team is asserted ('Let us'). And so, as divine image-bearers, we are designed for the unity which defines the Trinity. The billboard needs to have people linking arms if word and image are to align their messages.

There is foolishness
The billboard proclaims a strong unity.  This happens in practice as well. It is a dumb thing to do. As soon as you wave this flag, it has a way of fluttering away from your grasp. It is not wise to draw attention to unity in such bold ways. Pray for it. Plead for it. Pursue it. But then let it slip in through the backdoor. Let its reality creep up and overwhelm you, as you get on with living the John 13 brand of servanthood, the 1 Corinthians 13 brand of love, and the Philippians 2 brand of humility.

There is deterioration
The billboard is crumbling. Paint is peeling. Nails are rusting. Dents are appearing. This happens in practice as well. Unity becomes weary and worn, as it succumbs to stress. Everywhere I go people speak to me of their context, as if it is unique. I listen as if for the first time, with empathy - but, in reality, it is often something I've heard before. Big Corruption - Poor Infrastructure - Bad Leadership - Crazy Traffic - etc etc ... these conspire together in the society (and sometimes even in the church) to undermine unity.

There is irony
This billboard sits in a context.

It is in a city (Kohima) where there is a tennis court, a few turns in the road from this billboard, that marks the very spot where the westward advance of the Japanese in World War 2 was halted. An easily forgotten story of sacrifice and heroism, punctuated by the unity of purpose that the fiercest battle engenders.

The site of the Battle of the Tennis Court, 'Britain's Thermopylae'
That city is in a state (Nagaland) which has the highest concentration of Baptists anywhere in the world. But as the arrival of the gospel recedes with the generations, the advance of nominalism and the arrival of Malachi-like challenges is everywhere to be seen ... and 'unity is our strength' becomes a quality which the church needs to embody. May it be so, Lord Jesus.

nice chatting


Friday, September 18, 2015

the hills are alive

Gazing out the window thinking about God. That is what I've been doing this week. Situated at Siloam, on the fringe of Barapani (literally, 'big water') near Shillong in Northeast India, Barby and I have had a room that looks out across the lake to some rolling hills. As the light and the weather changes, the hills tell a story - even a testimony, every believer's testimony of walking with God.

Sometimes the view is partial, as the light is just dawning and the fuzzy outline of the hills is barely visible.

Sometimes the view is bright, as the early sun splashes onto the hills, highlighting specific features with a singular enthusiasm.

Sometimes the view is imperfect, but reflected still in the lives of others with such beauty that we are drawn back to the original with thanksgiving.

Sometimes the view is obstructed, as the drizzle of doubts, the fog of fears, the cloud of confusions, or the wind of worries begin to get in the way.

Sometimes the view is gone, because the drizzle of doubts, the fog of fears, the cloud of confusions, or the wind of worries have fully got in the way and blotted it out.

Sometimes the view is tinted, as a certain light dances with a certain perspective to transform everything connected with the hills.

Sometimes the view is full, as colours and shades, ranges and ridges emerge with a detail and vibrancy that satisfies the deepest longings.

Sometimes the view disappears and all becomes dark ... but the hills are still there and they will be seen again.

nice chatting


Tuesday, September 01, 2015

no religion

Talking about religion can be a bit like talking about the traffic. Everywhere you go, people lament about how hard it is - and yet, in reality, it is all relative. While Bangaloreans and Aucklanders may both complain, driving in Bangalore is definitely more difficult than driving in Auckland.

So it is with the religious landscape. When I go to Australia, I hear how hard it is to be a believer in that setting. I believe them. When I go to the USA and to the UK, the same thing happens. I believe them too. I felt this same difficulty when living and working in New Zealand. Every now and then, there is even a hint of a competition about who has it worse...

For years the 'no religion' statistics in census results has been of interest - partly because they were a major focus in my doctoral research. This statistic captures the presence of atheists, agnostics, rationalists, humanists - and the full range of religious cynics and skeptics present in a society. It is (just) one indicator of how difficult it is for (Christian) belief in a country.

Incidently, I've always said to people that 'it is harder in NZ than it is in the US, the UK, or Australia. It is much more like continental Europe'. Recent census figures on 'no religion' suggest some support for this view (although I realise that each country asks questions a little differently from the other).

In New Zealand in 2013 'no religion' was 41.9%, up from 29.6% in 2001.
In England & Wales in 2011 it was 25%, up from 14.8% in 2001.
In the USA in 2014 it was 22.8%, up from 16.1% in 2007.
In Australia in 2011 it was 22.3%, up from 16.6% in 1996.
[NB: The 'religion' question on the census is voluntary in Australia - but even if you add ALL the 'not stated/inadequately described' results, which is probably inappropriate, the total figure reaches 31.7%]
In France in 2010 it was 42%, up from 35% in 2007.

Intriguingly, India produced its 2011 census figures last week. Look at this little headline on their 'no religion' statistics. Read carefully. Note the location of the decimal point. It is not a misprint.

.24%      or, 2.87 million out of a total of 1.21 billion people!
[NB: the '1L in K'taka' means that there are 1 lakh - or 100,000 - people with 'no religion' in the state of Karnataka where we live. It has a population of 61 million, so that is only .16% of the total].

It is staggering, isn't it?!  Let's play with the numbers for a moment.
(a) While India is just less than 300 times the size of New Zealand, it's total number of 'no religion' people is just less than 2 times what it is in New Zealand.
(b) If New Zealand had the same proportion of 'no religion' people as Karnataka, then all the 'no religion' people in the entire country of NZ could be housed in Kawerau.

In reality, I am not that surprised. If I could take photos of the shock on Indian faces when I give NZ's 'no religion' stats, you would not be that surprised either. They just don't get it. How can religious belief have such a low profile in a country? How can such belief not be an integral part of a person's identity? They are stunned by it. They really are.

But just because religious belief is more common does not mean that it is easier for people with such beliefs. Christians make up 2.3% of India and it is not at all easy for many of them. But it doesn't stop people turning to Christ in significant numbers. Is it like a boat being blown along by the winds of belief? Maybe it is easier to turn around a boat whose sails are already filled with some belief than it is to turn around a boat that is becalmed by no belief at all?

Two stories. One admiration. One observation.

In 1989, the MV Doulos visited New Zealand. They did what they do all around the world. Visiting ports down the east coasts of both islands, they opened their ship to the public and split into teams for evangelistic forays into local communities. Barby and I were living in Southland at the time and when the ship reached Dunedin for its final stop, I was asked to organise the team's week-long visit to Southland. Very little was said, or done, during that week. The team was too shattered by their Kiwi experience. Exhausted. 'Never have we encountered a people so resistant to the gospel'.

In 2008, the US and NZ general elections coincided. On one evening - I kid you not - we watched a political debate between Barack Obama and John McCain and then, immediately afterwards, on another channel, John Key and Helen Clark were also going head-to-head in a debate. In both debates the focus shifted to Christian faith. With Obama and McCain, they tried to outdo each other with their claims to being authentic Christians because they knew this would win votes. With Key and Clark, they tried to outdo each other with their claims to being authentic agnostics because they knew this would win votes.

To all my friends at the interface of mission and culture in New Zealand, in particular, I admire you. I really do. I salute you. Be truth-full. Be grace-full. Be intriguing. Hold your nerve and, for God's sake, be patient.  Push the urge to be relevant to the periphery. Discern the deep, hidden tap roots of your culture and determine to live an attractive, appealing life of resistance at those very points - and then be prepared to suffer the consequences for Jesus' sake.

It is interesting to observe that the politicians, lawyers, economists, celebrities, and diplomats leading the charge to resolve the world's problems seem to be represented disproportionately by people from the ranks of 'no religion', with little affinity or empathy for religious belief. That's a worry. The world's problems will only be resolved by taking religious belief more seriously, not less seriously. They may think they are trendy, but I suspect that atheists and agnostics have far less to contribute than they think. Across the global terrain their beliefs, for that is what they still are, will be seen to be an irrelevance.
In 1900 well over 99% of the world's population was religiously affiliated. By 2015 the figure had fallen below 89%, but this 115-year trend hides the fact that the high point for the nonreligious was around 1970, when almost 20% of the world's population was either agnostic or atheist ... (but) the future of the world is likely to be a religious one (emphasis mine).    [Todd Johnson & Cindy Wu, Our Global Families (IVP, 2015) 22]
nice chatting


Friday, August 21, 2015

preaching by pictures

If I was ever to paint a painting, my only option would be to paint by numbers. The entire endeavour is beyond me. However, if I was ever to write a book on preaching - something I think about periodically ... but briefly - the latest option to come to mind is how to preach by pictures.

It is easy for those who are most committed to exposition to be the ones who are most image-deficient. This is not hard to understand. Their minds are so filled with the importance of the propositions they speak that it is difficult for them to squeeze in a picture here and there.

Well - it is not good enough.

With a UESI (the IFES-related student movement in India) training week starting on Sunday, I 'clicked refresh' on my resources and prepared a simple, little how-to-preach-by-pictures curriculum.

The anchor: preaching well needs a theology
Be held, amidst all the shifting tides of trends/methodologies, by what is forever contemporary.

The corners: preaching well needs a vision
Unpack the Word, the listener, the world, and the preacher and draw them all to Christ, every time.

The Olympic rings: preaching well needs a vocabulary
Remember that preaching fits within a wider, diverse range of ministries of the Word.

The magnifying glass: preaching well needs the text
Linger much longer with the details of the text, thereby igniting the joy of discovery.

The jigsaw puzzle: preaching well needs the context
Avoid error and heresy by embracing 'the restraining influence of context' (Carson).

The chairs: preaching well needs the plotline
Place every message within the good-bad-new-perfect story, getting started in biblical theology.

The map: preaching well needs a shape
Birthing the sermon from a passage needs a midwife to help it emerge through the labour.

The bridge: preaching well needs a connection
Once the meaning of the text is clear, build rapport and impact with listeners in multiple ways.

The tree: preaching well needs a depth
Surface the invisible beliefs which drive visible behaviour by preaching worldviewishly.

The spectrum: preaching well needs a sensitivity
Respecting where the listener is on their way to Christ, develop multiple designs with the sermon.

The library: preaching well needs a variety
Noting the diverse literature in the Bible, enjoy adapting the sermon to fit the different genre.

The backstage: preaching well needs a character
In this very public ministry, attend to the very private matter of building a godly life.

nice chatting


Monday, August 17, 2015

lyrics for living 7 (ever, only, all)

This hymn nourished me as a child. It still challenges me as an adult.

The first two lines go like this:
Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

Then the lyrics go on a tour, covering my moments/days, my hands, feet, voice, lips, silver/gold, intellect, will, heart and love. Each time crafting words which voice a desire for these specific areas to be consecrated to Christ. I've never been too good at giving appeals after sermons, but on one occasion I asked the congregation to remain seated while we sang this hymn - and then to stand when the lyrics arrived that captured the area of their lives which they needed to consecrate again to Christ. It was a moving sight.

The last two lines return to a similar idea as the opening line (using self instead of life), but now with every area consecrated and under His control, the singer is able to affirm 'I will be' in offering this stunning climax:
Take my self and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

These little words capture me. Small words with big implications. It reminds me of how one scholar described the parable: 'what they say is minimal; what they intend is maximal'.

Ever        there is no time in my life when he is not Lord. It is lifelong.
Only        there are no other lords in my life competing with him. It is exclusive.
All           there is no space in my life where he is not Lord. It is total.

What a challenge. Tie these little words to that big word - consecration - and we've found the life worth living in response to God's gracious initiative in our lives through Christ. And what I love about 'consecration' is that it pushes to the sidelines things like skill and talent and charisma and appearance and education and any of the other things that society rates as critical for success.

Nah! With 'ever-only-all' in place, the highly unspectacular person can be so beautifully used by Christ, if they are consecrated. That is one of the things I love about grace and abut the Spirit.

Sometimes I think about adding another a verse to this hymn. Is there something missing? When Frances Havergal takes us on this tour with these lyrics should she have lingered anywhere else? What do you think? Would you have remained seated at the end of the appeal because the lyrics do not go where they need to go with you? I wonder.

Sadly, the youtube clips which stick to an 'ever-only-all' climax tend to be the rather old, fuddy-duddy versions. But then the two I like most play around with the lyrics a bit much. Chris Tomlin has a beautiful updated version, but 'ever-only-all' gets lost a bit in words which he chooses to add - and repeat ... a lot! Then there is this powerful version by Kari Jobe. WOW. Just listen to the passion in her voice. Love it, except she deleted 'ever-only-all' completely and decided not to bother with some of the verses. What?! I can barely bring myself to embed it after this most grievous error! But listen to her sing ... and almost all can be forgiven :).

For a little history of the hymn, here are Havergal's own words:

Perhaps you will be interested to know the origin of the consecration hymn 'Take my life.' I went for a little visit of five days [to Areley House, Worcester, in 1874]. There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted, but not rejoicing Christians. He gave me the prayer 'Lord, give me all in this house!' And He just did! Before I left the house every one had got a blessing. The last night of my visit after I had retired, the governess asked me to go to the two daughters. They were crying; then and there both of them trusted and rejoiced; it was nearly midnight. I was too happy to sleep, and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration; and these little couplets formed themselves, and chimed in my heart one after another till they finished with 'Ever, Only, ALL for Thee!'"

nice chatting


Here are the links to previous Lyrics for Living posts:
#1 (touched by a loving hand)
#2 (a thrill of hope)
#3 (dews of quietness)
#4 (trace the rainbow)
#5 (wing my words)
#6 (but this I know)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

transforming august

As a child August was kinda bland with a pinch of boring. Indian Independence Day came along, bang in the middle (15th), and after an early flag-raising anthem-singing service, the rest of the day was a holiday. Excellent. But that was pretty much it for August.

Not much for a sentimental chap like me. But then, ever so gradually, four generations have conspired together to fill this forgettable month with significance.

Along came Barby, with a birthday on the 6th and my wife now for more than 33 years. After sharing our childhood in India the idea of sharing our lives together only gained momentum after we left India. But that is exactly what we are doing... Here is Barby adding some beauty to a cottage in Murree, a beautiful place in the Pakistani Himalayas.
The sixth will never be the same

After two years of marriage the children started arriving every two years. We are forever grateful for God blessing us in this way. Plus, a wonderfully 'long straight' was emerging, with family birthdays in June, August, September, October, November. Add a July and a December and we'd have a run of seven. But Bethany couldn't wait for December (30 November) ... and Joseph? Well, Joseph wasn't even close to July, joining his Mum in August by arriving on the 26th. Here he is using his vertical leap - the guy has 'hops', let me tell you - to diversify the sky above a Northland beach in NZ.
The twenty sixth will never be the same

But transforming is not just about thanksgiving and blessing. Sometimes there is sadness and lament. The minor key joins the major key in the music of life. And so it came to pass. On the 10th, just four years ago, my precious Dad died after a lingering struggle with Parkinson's. Here he is in a church in Geneva (Illinois), looking so well as he prepares his speech at our wedding.
The tenth will never be the same

As the years have gone by our little ones got all growed up. Our daughter became a mum. And just last year, Alyssa and Tim - together with big brudder, Micah - welcomed a little baby girl on the 2nd. Amaliya Grace. Here she is in a home and in a family that loves and adores her. Just what every child needs in order to thrive.
The second will never be the same

When all is said and done (and there will be more saying and doing to be said and done), these are august transformations indeed. Bland and boring be gone. The month can never be the same again.

nice chatting


Monday, August 03, 2015

keller on preaching

I used to play a little football - or, soccer, as my American friends refer to it. Here the word 'little' refers both to time and talent. I didn't play for long and I didn't play very well. One of the challenges for me was that as I approached a position where I could shoot for goal, the goal-keeper would put this magnetic spell on my foot so that the ball would always go straight to him. Ugh. It was so difficult to strike the ball into the open spaces in the goal.

This is why I love Timothy Keller's new book on preaching - Preaching (H&S, 2015). He shoots into the spaces. He writes into the gaps - and here are the ones which I find to be compelling:

His tone
Yes, let's start with the spirit in which he writes. With Keller you always get the sense that he doesn't just love the gospel, he loves the unbeliever and enjoys the challenge of their skepticism. This was true of Reason for God all those years ago. For example, not too many proponents of expository preaching are perceived to be like this:
Try to remember that you are at odds with a system of beliefs far more than you are at war with a group of people. Contemporary people are the victims of the late-modern mind far more than they are its perpetrators. Seen in this light the Christian gospel is more of a prison break than a battle (155-6). 
His purpose
This is not 'a manual, but a manifesto' (213). While plenty of others have written the textbooks on 'how to write an expository sermon' (although there is space for a valuable Appendix on this topic, 213-240), Keller contributes a 'foundation for thinking about Christian communication of the Bible in a skeptical age ... (it is about) preaching the Word, preaching the gospel, preaching to the culture, preaching to the heart, all by preaching Christ' (241, emphasis mine).

His practice
The North American literature on preaching creaks under the burden of theory that is so difficult to translate into practice for unspectacular preachers - which is the vast majority of us. This book feels so much lighter and more accessible because it is laced together by so many examples and illustrations from Keller's own ministry (and the font is huge!).

His space
Keller is not narrow. At one point he takes a little potshot at 'expository legalism' (250). There is a place for topical preaching (30-31) and, even more satisfying, there is an advocacy of a more inductive approach to the sermon (102, 271-275, 305-308). These pages include a fascinating case study on how Jonathan Edwards shifted to a more inductive approach when he moved upstate to work among indigenous peoples.

His worldliness
Finally - an evangelical who takes the world seriously in their book on preaching. Hallelujah. Almost 40% of the book is devoted to this topic. About jolly time.

Yeah, I know this a hobby horse of mine. For years I have worked on a session which I call 'preaching worldviewishly' and now I have some required reading that I can give my students. Very exciting for me. Keller prefers to use the phrase 'baseline cultural narrative' (he identifies five of them, 121-156) noting the need to surface them, as they do tend to be assumed - and therefore invisible.
They are so pervasive, and felt to be so self-evident, that they are not visible as beliefs to those who hold them (127).
Then there is a chapter on Preaching Christ to the Culture (93-120) in which he provides 'six sound practices for preaching to and reaching a culture'.

His 'yes, but no, but yes' logic
Here he addresses the silly, shallow relevance that has so often marked the life of churches across the spectrum. For them is all about connection, but never confrontation. All salt. Little light. With Keller, the 'yes' is about affirming the deep cultural aspirations of the skeptic (cf Paul in Acts 17) ... the 'but no' is about demonstrating the futility of the search  ... and the 'but yes' is the rejoicing that 'only in Christ can this aspiration have a happy ending'. He uses this very logic in his engagement with each of the baseline cultural narratives. This is 'true contextualisation'. It is authentic relevance.
It means to resonate with, yet defy, the culture around you. It means to antagonize a society's idols while showing respect for its people and many of its hopes and aspirations. It means expressing the gospel in a way that is not only comprehensible but also convincing (99).
His balance
No wedges here. Keller is big on the Word, both in its written (Scripture) and living (Christ) forms. They go together. His double warning could not be more explicit: 'not to preach Christ without preaching the text, and not to preach the text without preaching Christ' (67). Scripture becomes the basis of the sermon because 'as we unfold the meaning of the language of Scripture, God becomes powerfully active in our lives. The Bible is ... God's power in verbal form' (34). Jesus is the focus of the sermon, as demonstrated in an exquisite chapter on 'preaching Christ from all of scripture' (70-90) - 'pull on the thread' (73) and find this to be true.

His wisdom
Plenty of wisdom to be 'caught and taught' here. For those who teach preaching, the 70 pages of 'Notes' at the end are full of wisdom. Maybe the easiest thing is to let some assorted quotations provide some flavour...
When the preacher solves Christians' problems with the gospel - not by calling them to try harder but by pointing them to deeper faith in Christ's salvation - then believers are being edified and nonbelievers are hearing the gospel, all at the same time (120).
It's fine if listeners are taking notes in the first part of the sermon, but if they are doing so at the end, you are probably not reaching their affections (166).
(On the need for a 'nondeliberate transparency) ... they can sniff out if you are more concerned about looking good or sounding authoritative than you are about honoring God and loving them. (166-167).
(It is about text, context ...) and subtext, the message under your message (201).
You may not have strong public-speaking gifts, but if you are godly, your wisdom and love and courage will make you an interesting preacher. You may not have strong pastoral or counseling gifts (eg., you may be very shy or introverted), but if you are godly, your wisdom and love and courage will enable you to comfort and guide people. You may not have strong leadership gifts (eg., you may be disorganized or cautious by nature), but if you are godly, your wisdom and love and courage will mean that people will respect and follow you (196).
Insightful preaching comes from depth of research and reading and experimentation (177). 
(Because of the mobility of people today) ... a strict, consecutive, whole-Bible-book approach will guarantee that most of your people will actually be exposed to less of the Bible's variety (40). 
(Illustration is) anything that connects an abstract proposition with the memory of an experience in the sensory world … (this) makes the truth real both by helping listeners better understand it and by inclining their hearts more to love it (169, 173).
Resist ending your sermon with 'live like this' and rather end with some form of 'You can't live like this. Oh, but there's one who did! And through faith in Him you can begin to live like this too'. The change in the room will be palpable as the sermon moves from being primarily about them to being about Jesus (179).
If your heart isn't regularly engaged in praise and repentance, if you aren't constantly astonished at God's grace in your solitude, there's no way it can happen in public. You won't touch hearts because your own heart isn't touched (168). 
His bibliography
I need to read everything Alan Stibbs and Alec Motyer have written - and then there is the grieving to be done for leaving Ryken's Dictionary of Biblical Imagery and Sam Logan's The Preacher and Preaching in storage at home in New Zealand. Silly boy.

Preach biblically. 
Preach to cultural narratives. 
Preach to the heart. 
... and preach the gospel every time.

A little personal aside, especially for my past and future students...
In teaching preaching I've enjoyed developing the 'four corners' model where the road to the sermon needs to visit Word, listener, world and preacher (neatly illustrated here, a wonderful site for preachers). There is exegesis to do and story to tell in each corner. Sometimes there has been a fifth corner, directing preachers back to the Word. Keller's book has been so energising because for the first time I overhear all four corners in a single book on preaching. What's more he has given me ideas on how to improve things. What about 1 Corinthians 1.18-2.5 providing a biblical basis - from a single passage - for all four corners? What about the first corner being Word (written) - beginning with a basis in the Scripture ... and the fifth corner being Word (living) - climaxing with a focus on Christ, ensuring the sermon is truly christotelic?

nice chatting