Thursday, February 23, 2017

basis and focus

There are two divisions about which the preacher must be wary.

One is dividing Spirit from Word. 'In biblical thought the Spirit of God is as closely connected to the Word of God as breath is connected to speech' (John Woodhouse). They belong together. Don't elevate one above the other. God's speech cannot be separated from God's breath - much like the case is for us.

The other is dividing the Christ from the Bible. Knowing them as Written Word and Living Word suggests something - surely?! They belong together. And yet I've worked in settings were there is a palpable fear that the consequence of honouring the Bible is the diminishing of Christ. No. It ain't necessarily so. It is possible for the Bible to be the basis and Jesus to be the focus of our lives and ministries.

My Langham colleague, Stephen Williams, recently visited Wittenberg in Germany. During a skype last night he mentioned to me a painting by Lucas Cranach in a church in Wittenberg. All he said to me was: 'Luther has one hand on the Bible, the other hand is pointing to Christ - with all the congregation looking at Christ and not at Luther'. Ahh - perfect. As soon as the skype was finished, it was off to google to find this painting. Here it is:

I did a bit more research and found that the painting is part of what is called the Reformation Altar (see below). It is a way of describing the church visually. The three paintings across the top are the three sacraments, widely accepted in the Protestant church: baptism, eucharist, confession. Underneath this threesome lives our painting, depicting a kind of foundation for the church - the crucified Christ as revealed in the written Word.

nice chatting


PS: Stephen wrote to me to ask whether I had seen "the little girl - possibly Luther's daughter - who is the only one not looking at Christ. She is looking out at us and inviting us into the painting, as if to say - 'this is for you, too.'" No, I hadn't noticed - and that is very, very cool. Love it. Can't get enough of it. An evangelistic painting.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

shedding light, opening windows

It is becoming one of my favourite teaching sessions. The goal is to shed light on a critical word in the character of a preacher and then to open a window on the places in the preaching ministry where this word has relevance.

We start by splitting people into pairs. "I am going to put a single word on the whiteboard and in your pairs I'd like you to agree on another single word that describes its meaning for you. OK?!" This past Thursday I had the mother of all whiteboards with which to work. It covered an entire wall. Pedagogical heaven.

Up goes the word: integrity

After their discussions, each pair is invited to write their word nearby to 'integrity' on the whiteboard. Always, always, always - the range of words is fascinating. Rarely is their much repetition. 'Integrity' has so many layers and nuances. The semantic range is wide. The connotations are endless. Each pair speaks to their word - and the conversation gets started, as we listen and learn from each other.

What I didn't say is that I ensure that each pair shares the same mother tongue, or heart language. In this country there are plenty of languages from which to choose! So the next thing I ask them to do is to agree on the word in their language that best describes integrity. Up on the board it goes - again, nearby to 'integrity'. People love their own heart language. It is fun to hear the settings in which this word is used by their people. Through all of this interaction, light is shed on the meaning of integrity.

Having shed light on what the word 'integrity' means, the windows are opened on the preaching ministry itself. Where is integrity a challenge for the preacher? "Come up with your three most important reflections. OK?!" After some discussion in their pairs, they are invited to write one of their reflections on the whiteboard. But there is a catch. If their idea is already up there before they get there, they have to select a different reflection from their list. In this way everything written on the board - on the far left above, where the windows can be seen - affirms something different about the challenge of integrity in preaching.

Then I like to turn to the Bible for a few minutes (although I forgot to do this on Thursday - gulp?!). "What are the words in the Bible which convey the idea of 'integrity'?" This week they embark on an assignment where they are to find 'logos-pathos-ethos' in the Pastoral Epistles. Methinks they'll have a few words by the end of this exercise. 'Blameless' will emerge, I'm sure. It always does. Another exercise is to have each pair agree on one person in the Bible known for their integrity and one person known for their lack of integrity. Get the names up on the board and draw out of the class the reason why this is the case...

After all the discussion, it is great to return to the pairs and have them share with each other where a specific challenge with integrity lies for them - and have them pray for each other, in their heart language!

... and then, finally, we get to the written notes I've prepared :).

nice chatting


PS 1: I had decided to write a post on this exercise, but when I discovered that the photos had light being shed and windows being opened, there was no holding me back.

PS 2: My focus here is on preacher training - but the same exercise could be done with leadership training.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

house and home

This morning it was off to offer a prayer of blessing for the house of some close friends that is taking shape. On the rural fringe of Bangalore. I loved it. As a boy, in both rural and urban settings in North India, I enjoyed being absorbed into scenes just like this one. The memories flooded back. The bricks. The plumblines. The little cement mixed into the lots of sand. The skills. The women hard at work, with the someone in charge watching - and sitting! Nothing much has changed in 40 years.

We waited for the doorway to arrive, as this was deemed to be the opportune time for a prayer. It was put into its place. I shared a few words about what it takes to turn a house into a home, a financial asset into a ministry base. I urged our friends to step through that doorway and reflect on how their home can become:

a place of refuge, offering a haven to the troubled and the abused.
a place of welcome, enabling the outsider to become an insider.
a place of belonging, stewarding a space that builds an identity and leaves a legacy.
a place of rest, calming the stressed and energising the weary.
a place of worship, liberating the believers to pray and praise.

May this be true about your home as well!

nice chatting


Sunday, February 12, 2017

lyrics for living 12 (fulness of my might)

It is early Sunday morning, my preferred time to write a blog. For me this task is in every sense a sabbatical activity, recreative and restorative. This morning I am feeling overwhelmed by nostalgia. Later today I will be back preaching from Ecclesiastes...

In many ways Ecclesiastes is where it all started. It is the first book of the Bible I loved, as an expositor. That first series, almost thirty years ago, is still with me: The Memoirs of a Grandfatherly Sage. Truth be told, the guy is writing his own blog in these twelve chapters. He would ease so easily into our fake news, alternative-facts, post-truth discussions today.

Then came the invitation to speak at a TSCF/IFES Student conference, exactly twenty years ago (1997): Swoosh Spirituality: Ecclesiastes Confronts the Nike Generation. Here dawned my first love as a preacher. Opening the Word and opening the World in the course of the same sermon (series). Biblical exegesis and cultural exegesis. The Stottian 'between two worlds' and 'double listening'. I remember spending so much time exegeting Nike, so that I could patiently tell its story alongside the Ecclesiastes one, but with God's Word having the final say. My conclusion? Pretty much as this picture, which we created for the series, suggests...

On another occasion I worked through the book at a Presbyterian church in South Auckland over Easter. Afterwards I received a caustic note, with the damning appraisal: 'synagogue sermons'. It took me another fifteen years before I concurred. Now I teach, with some feeling as a result, that these series from Old Testament books need to be both theocentric and christotelic. One further series stands out in the memory: Selley's Spirituality. 'Selleys' was a fill-the-gap product available at the local hardware store and this time I tried to make a case for the way Ecclesiastes addresses issues that the church in New Zealand had forgotten. The one other thing I remember is doing some writing for a magazine and an article called Kiwi Kulture: Consulting a Wise Advisor. Yes, lots of nostalgia this morning. This ol' fella has been a friend along the way for a very long time...

But something else happened in that 1997. After being invited to consider the principalship of Carey Baptist College (Auckland), in a conversation that lasted most of 1996, everything was dropped, inexplicably, in that October. It was all very odd. A letter arrived and that was it. 'Not interested. We've moved on.' No explanation given. I don't remember being too dislocated, as it was not a role for which I would have thought myself qualified to apply for anyway. But then that March morning, a few months later, is still with me. I was in Kathmandu, visiting m-workers in a role I had with Interserve. An email arrived from Barby with two shattering pieces of news. My little niece, Rachael, had all but drowned in the family swimming pool ... and the job of principal at Carey had been offered to me, out of nowhere. A few days later I was flying from Larnaca to Athens - and as that plane dipped down into Athens, I looked out the window and my heart strangely turned and warmed to this opportunity. I knew the call of God to it from that moment.

Why am I meandering through all this nostalgia? Well, when the time came for the induction service in Dunedin later that year, I was asked to choose a hymn that was meaningful to me. I could almost hear my ol' mate whispering in my ear. 'You gotta choose this one'. Baptist Hymnbook #446. As I am going to tell folks later this morning, Ecclesiastes is a bit like a Maths' school book. They are both filled with questions and puzzles ... and the answers can be found in the back, in chapters 11 & 12. This is the way to live. These words in this hymn capture it so well. They had taken on anthem-status at this time in my life.

Lord, in the fullness of my might, I would for Thee be strong;
While runneth o'er each dear delight, to Thee should soar my song.

I would not give the world my heart and then profess Thy love:
I would not feel my strength depart and then Thy service prove.

I would not with swift-winged zeal on the world's errands go:
And labour up the heavenly hill with weary feet and slow.

O not for Thee my weak desires, my poorer, baser part!
O not for Thee my fading fires, the ashes of my heart!

O choose me in my golden time, in my dear joys have part;
For Thee the glory of my prime, the fulness of my heart!

I cannot, Lord, too early take the covenant divine:
O ne'er the happy heart may break whose earliest love was Thine.

Oh, how I used to love to sing out this hymn, oftentimes with a trickle down the cheek. It used to get to me, but I am becoming too old for it now! This is a nostalgic trip. I feel kinda sad. The words no longer have quite the same resonance with my longings. It is pitched at younger people than I am now. I hope there are still some who might open their hearts to it - and maybe a musician or two who can create a good tune :).

Still, I think I might read it as a closing prayer later this morning. It fits my text - Ecc 11 & 12 - so well.

nice chatting


PS: Not surprisingly, I cannot find a version on youtube that can commend this hymn. Sorry - but organ accompaniments with unfamiliar tunes do not count!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

forty days and forty nights

It was exactly forty days and forty nights. Enough time for a flood, or for some testing times in the desert. However for Barby and I it was a more celebratory season, as it was about going home to New Zealand, via Australia, for the wedding of our daughter.

While New Zealand is world famous for being a beautiful country, there is a beauty that captures the eye in every single other country that I've visited. Australia is no exception. The commitment to speak at the Belgrave Heights Summer Convention was preceded by a holiday with our sons in South Gippsland and then across on the Great Ocean Road.

The last photo is of the Yarra River flowing through Melbourne, rated 'the world's most liveable city' (using thirty different criteria) for each of the past six years. It is not hard to see why. We had an opportunity to move there more than twenty years ago but it was not to be. The Convention, coming within the global Keswick family, is held in the Dandenong Ranges about 50min east of the city. I upgraded my longtime interest in 1 Peter with the help, in particular, of Karen Jobes' fine commentary, building a series around a 'brightening the anti-christian blues' theme.

On arrival it was an unexpected thrill to see the smiling faces of this family. Martin and Joy were single students when we were at the Bible College of New Zealand more than 20 years ago. Joy was in our cell group and we remember some of the early discussions around marriage. Well - now they have three gorgeous children: Jonathan, Sarah and Hannah.

The thrill of seeing them immediately dissipated when I recalled that Martin's PhD was in 1 Peter and was published by Cambridge University Press without needing to change a syllable (well, that is what I like to tell people). Young Hannah got into 'taking notes' mode - so much so that she nicked numerous conference booklets, taking out the pages and taping them into her booklet ... so that she could really take notes.

Then it was onto New Zealand as the family gathered for Bethany and Jonny's wedding. Barby's 95 year old father, Charles Warren, made the trip all the way from the USA as did all four of her siblings. Two of them had never been to New Zealand before.

So many highlights...
Watching the bride with her Grandpa on arrival - with her Mum and aunties in the background:

Watching Grandpa eat a Kiwi meat pie at Piha (so that is three icons in one photo!):

Watching Grandpa enjoy his great-grandchildren - and vice versa:

Watching our sons enjoy being together (sometimes with the help of a niece and/or uncle):

Watching our grandchildren:

Oh yes, and the wedding:

nice chatting