Thursday, 31 January 2008

Pure generosity

Well, it's my last few hours here in Tas. I'm buying some souvenirs from the tourist shop in Salamanca, then reviewing the month with David Jones, then he's driving me to the airport. And that'll be that.
When I look back at the month, the thing that stands out is the hospitality. Not only have I lived with the Jones' for a whole month - and eaten off their table - but several people have had me 'round their place, fed me, given me lifts, taken me for drives into the countryside to show off their beautiful scenery and try and persuade me to stay here...
And it struck me yesterday - there's no way I can repay it. 'Coz I don't have my own place in Sydney - I'm staying with a couple from my church, in their spare room. I can't offer to have people stay with me when they visit Sydney. I can't even offer them a meal at my place - 'coz I don't have a place...!
But of course - they're not expecting to be repaid. They're just doing it because they're generous. It's grace - sharing the good things you have, purely out of love for the recipient, and a desire to share with them.
Reminds me of what Jesus said. Luke 14:12-14:
12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Deuteronomy talks on line

You can get my Deuteronomy talks - and most of Con Campbell's talks on Ephesians - at http://dokimon.net/TLC.html and http://www.becausechrist.net/tlc (mirror sites). Much thanks to Greg Munro and Chris Stafferton, respectively.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

P. T. Forsyth and Martyn Lloyd-Jones

ORRIGHT! This is the best thing I've learned in Hobart! And I don't think anything's gonna top it...!
Those of you who are my Facebook friends (yeah, I'm on there as well...) know that P. T. Forsyth is my hero. He's a little-known, under-appreciated, Scottish-born, German-trained, early-twentieth century English Congregationalist minister. He trained for ministry in the late 19th century, when theological Liberalism was all the rage. At that time, sin, judgement, Christ's death as atonement, etc, were all dismissed as "outdated notions". In his early days, he was a thoroughgoing Liberal. Nevertheless, as he did ministry and read the Bible, he became convinced that God was holy, and that he, P. T. Forsyth, was a sinner - a rebel against this most holy God. And he became convinced that the only way of being reconciled to this most holy God was through Christ's mighty act of atonement - the cross. It was a change of attitude that can only be described as a conversion. Forsyth's mature days were devoted to preaching Christ, and him crucified.
I first came across Forsyth on two fateful days in January 2005. I happened to have his book, The Cruciality of the Cross, on my bookshelf. I started to read it - and got totally hooked. Read it cover-to-cover in two days straight. Fantastic stuff.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones is a late-twentieth century English Nonconformist preacher, known for his passionate preaching of the cross. He strongly influenced my supervisor, David Jones - along with a whole generation of English Nonconformists.
Apparently in his early years, Lloyd-Jones preached regeneration, more than forgiveness. Faced with a dead church and rampant nominalism, he challenged people to take their Christian profession seriously, and live Christian lives. However, someone criticised him that in the process, he wasn't pointing people to Jesus. He was just browbeating them about their need to be "born again", without telling them clearly enough about how Jesus makes us to be born again.
Lloyd-Jones took this criticism seriously, and set about doing some reading about the importance of the cross. The result was that his preaching became much more cross-focused. He preached the atonement more than regeneration.
And the book that influenced him most?
P. T. Forsyth. The Cruciality of the Cross.
[I found the reference to this in Iain Murray's biography of MLJ, "The First Forty Years", Banner of Truth (1982) pp 191 - 192.]

Monday, 28 January 2008

TLC went well

Tasmanian Leadership Conference went well. My talks on Deuteronomy were very well received. I returned laden with presents - the conference organisers gave me a travelling pillow & eyeshades (so I could sleep better at future conferences), a pen made of Tasmanian native wood (must sign all important documents with it...) and Don Carson's book on the Emerging Church (my request - wanna find out what he thinks about it).
It was kinda cool to be sharing a platform with Conn Campbell, one of the lecturers from Moore College. Actually, I thought things were a bit upside down. He's the experienced, learned theologian - he should have been doing the heavy-duty complicated big-picture old testament thing; I should have stuck to explaining what a passage said. But it was the other way round - I did the big-picture whole-of-the-Bible thing; he did a chapter-by-chapter explanation of Ephesians. Oh well, next time...
My time here in Tas is almost up. What a shame. I've really enjoyed my time here, and I'm gonna miss the place. I now have a couple of days to relax, and then it's back to Sydney and straight into it - AFES mtgs, then church responsibilities. A couple of church people have offered to take me out for the day and show me around - better make the most of it!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Deuteronomy at TLC

Well, this is gonna be my biggest weekend in Tassie yet.  Tomorrow I head off on Tasmanian Leadership Conference ("TLC").  It's the Tasmanian equivalent to the Katoomba Youth Leadership Convention ("KYLC" - get with the acronyms...).  I'm doing three talks on the book of Deuteronomy.  34 chapters in three talks - what was I thinking...?!?  So my three talks are: 
Deut 1-11: Saved to serve 
Deut 12-27: Radical Holiness 
Deut 28-34: Looking Forward to the Next New Thing 
I'm a bit intimidated.  There's some 70 or so people at this conference, all of them the potential future young church leaders here in Tassie.  And I'm teaching them from Deuteronomy, and trying to model Biblical Theology.  I crave your prayers...!  

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Comments free for all

Orright, I'm taking a bit of a risk here. I just turned the "comments moderation" off.
Previously, when someone left a comment, I got to see it first, and decide whether to authorise it or not. Now, as soon as someone comments, it just goes straight up.
So you can now post anything you want - it's up to your own integrity.
Comments, anyone...?

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Calvinist Methodists

I grew up in the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka. Methodism comes from John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitfield. They were Anglican ministers who preached powerfully, and were serious about living a Godly life. They were “methodical” in their approach to their personal life – hence, “Methodists”.
I like to combine the intense personal devotion and powerful preaching of Methodism with the doctrinal precision of Calvinism. If you have just one without the other, you have trouble. Mere doctrinal precision without personal devotion turns into a cold legalism. That seems to be the classic Presbyterian problem – theologically correct, but not very loving or evangelistic. On the other hand, personal devotion without doctrinal precision could lead to… well, anything…! It’s great to be devoted – but to what? I’ve seen people deeply devoted to their careers! The health & wealth gospel, and other problems of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, can be seen as Methodist piety and preaching without doctrinal precision.
That’s why I’m drawn to people like Jonathan Edwards and Martin Lloyd-Jones. They also combined doctrinal precision with personal devotion and powerful preaching. It’s not head OR heart, it’s head AND heart. It’s not doctrine OR passion, it’s doctrine AND passion.
So maybe in becoming a Presbyterian, I’ve become a Calvinist Methodist.
David Jones - my supervisor here in Hobart - comes from the Welsh Presbyterian church. Their roots lie in the revivalist preaching of people like Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, who were themselves associated with the Wesleys and Whitfield. They combined Calvinist doctrine with powerful preaching and serious godliness. In fact, the Welsh Presbyterians used to go by another name.
Calvinist Methodists.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Gimme six...

Apparently when my friends Jim & Viv Mobbs were about to move down here to Tasmania, people started persecuting them. "So you're going to Tassie, eh? That's great - gimme six...!"
And Dan Shepeard, who came from Tassie to Sydney to study at Moore College, said that being Tasmanian was a bit of a novelty at Moore. So Moore wanted him and other Tasmanians to speak at events where Moore was being trumpeted as a "missionary college". Yeah - Tasmanians are such an unreached people group...

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Young people in the church

I've been thumbing thru a report by a church agency analysing why droves of young people seem to be leaving this denomination. Some of their results are bleeding obvious... but worth saying anyway. And there's some good bits of wisdom in this report. Also, gotta give 'em credit for bravely facing up to the problem, instead of burying their head in the sand.
The top two reasons young people left this particular denomination were:
1. Young people didn't feel accepted, trusted and valued, but ignored and patronised instead. "Old people [have] lost faith in the young people to carry on into the future... [there is a] lack of encouragement to the younger generation, who are often seen "kids" even though they are over 18, because they have grown up in the church".
2. The way this denomination "did church" - their form of public worship - was irrelevant, alienating, and embarrassing. "Church is a foreign world... [it's] not inviting... [it] doesn't relate to [the] community generally and youth in particular".
Interestingly, "visionary leadership" and "relevant teaching" came down the list. They were there, but only ranked 6 and 7. I dunno what to make of that - what do you guys think...?
Here's a couple of good quotes:
"Any church, or movement of churches, will only survive (or expand) in proportion to its ability to produce successive generations of effective leaders. The quantity and quality of those leaders is generally proportional to the size of the pool from which they are drawn. Therefore, each individual loss from a generation, while seemingly insignificant at the time, is profound in terms of its cumulative impact."
"Working on relationships [with the youth] will buy time and create space to work on other issues. Failure will also create space; but it will be an ominous space. It will be a space characterized by the absence of young voices that once clamoured for life-giving change, relevancy and opportunity. It will be a quiet and comfortable space, but so too is a tomb".

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Lifestyle options - Sydney vs Hobart

I've just been chatting with a Moore College grad who's come back to minster here in Tassie. It was really intersting to chat with him about the difference in culture between Sydney and Hobart. Sydney's intense, stressful, vigorous, cutting-edge. Hobart's laid-back, clean, comfortable. You'd live in Sydney if you wanted to get places and be at the forefront of everything. (Well, if you really wanted to get places you'd have to go to New York... but you get the idea.) But no-one moves to Hobart to move up in their career. Most (all...?) salaries here in Hobart are lower than Sydney. People move to Hobart for the lifestyle. It's quiet, clean, safe & comfortable. You can actually relax on the weekend. Beaches, mountains, vineyards, world heritage areas... they're all within a couple of hours' drive.
That makes a difference to the ministry issues we face. The issues we face at Sydney are workaholism, careerism, wealth. Here in Tas, it's a lot more laid back. The challenge is to help people see that if they're not in touch with the creator, they're not actually in touch with nature - regardless of how "green" they are. They gotta see that "sin" is much deeper and more personal than environmental pollution.
And it makes a difference in ministry style, too. Sydney ministers tend to be workaholics. What do you expect - it's the big city! Everyone's like that! But here in Tas, that'd be really weird. If a minister was over-enthusiastic & vigorous, he'd freak people out. We actually need to relax and enjoy ourselves.
Need to relax?
Yep. Need to. Workaholism is not an option. Not like Sydney, anyway.
So - all you Sydney ministers - when're you moving down here...?

Saturday, 12 January 2008

The heavy metal guitarist and the nerd

I did my ministry training at Multicultural Bible Ministry ("MBM") church in 2002-03. One of the other MTS trainees was a guy called Jim Mobbs. We couldn't be more different. He came from a fairly rough background - heavy metal music, drugs, alcohol, the works. And there I was - clean living, Christian parents, nerdy bookworm. But the two of us got on really well. There was one classic moment at a staff planning retreat when the two of us talked about how in our school days, we used to hate people like the other one of us. I used to be really scared of heavy metal drug & alcohol types - like Jim! And - to be honest - I used to dismiss them as no-hopers. And Jimbo said he used to despise nerdy bookworms like me. But there we were, ministering alongside each other - and loving it!
Well after ministry training, I lost track of Jim for a while. He trained at Sydney Missionary and Bible College ("SMBC"), and married an MBM girl, Vivienne. But I didn't see either of them for some years.
Why am I telling you all this?
Well, it just so happens that I was at Hobart airport this morning. I was there to welcome the new assistant minister for Cornerstone Presbyterian church - a bloke by the name of Jim Mobbs - and his wife Vivienne. And so after all these years, we're gonna be ministering side-by-side again - even if it's only for a couple of weeks. The heavy metal guitarist and the nerd.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Honesty really is the best policy

I learned a new term today: "Paranoid Presbyterian".
I dunno what it is about the Presbyterian psyche or politics, but apparently it's fairly common for Presbyterian ministers to be distrustful and suspicious and - well - paranoid! Maybe it's a hangover from the bad old days when the Anglicans imposed Bishops on us...
But there's two guys here in Hobart who're determined to be the opposite (placid Presbyterians...?). They've dealt with church hierarchy with honesty and respect and openness.
And the result? Hierarchy trusts them!
Apparently the way these two guys have conducted themselves has allowed evangelism and church planting to get higher on the agenda of the whole Presbyterian denomination in Tasmania. 'Coz it's obvious that it's not just young people trying to get their own way by starting their own church. Everyone can see that the motivation really is to reach more & more people with the message of Jesus.
Shock! Honesty really is the best policy!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Preaching & curry dinner

Orright, I'm preaching again on Sun 13 Jan. Matt 4:1-11. It's a beefed-up version of a talk I gave at St David's church late last year. I can beef it up 'coz Cornerstone Church are used to longer sermons (30 mins). I'm quite enjoying beefing it up - can spend more time explaining stuff, church in a couple more illustrations....
Speaking of beefing things up...
We had a potluck curry dinner last night. I cooked a chicken curry, Pryderi Jones (David's oldest son) cooked a Madras curry, and one of Pryderi's friends Nick brought a butter chicken. I commented to Ruth Jones "I say - we don't have any vegetables!" Ruth replied "oh, we tend not to worry about it vegetables when we're having curry."
Excellent...!
Nick used some lemon in in his butter chicken. Gave it a nice tang. I must try that sometime...

Monday, 7 January 2008

White Christmas...?

I'm sitting in the Jones' lounge, watching one of their family videos. It shows them in Christmas 1989. They were still in London at the time. Now they're opening their Christmas presents... and now they're going for a walk in St James Park, just down the road from Buckingham Palace... oh, man, this is great - the kids are just putting on an impromptu puppet show. Everybody, all together now - AWWW, CUTE!
At the same time, I was living in Flemington - an impoverished suburb in Western Sydney. It was our first full year in Australia. I don't think my parents owned a car yet. I was attending a public school down the road, and trying to figure out what's hit me, and how to adjust to this strange new culture.
The Jones' and I couldn't be more different. And yet I feel right at home. What on earth do a Welsh ministerial family have in common with a penniless Sri Lankan immigrant???
Maybe the blood of Christ...?

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Meat in the sandwich

Sometimes (often?) the minister is in the middle of a dispute between different parties in the church. It could be two people who've had a spat & aren't talking. Or groups with different ideas and visions for where the church should be heading. Or whatever.
In that situation, the minister can end up being the meat in the sandwich.
Ray Galea used to say to me "you're not on either side of an argument. You're on Jesus' side. Your role is to help everyone to be more like Jesus."
He's right. Only thing is - you end up being the meat in the sandwich. You end up challenging both sides in different ways. But neither side thinks you're on "their" side, and that means you must be on the "other" side. So everyone wants a piece of you. And it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
I've been chatting with David Jones what to do in that kind of situation. Lots of times there's not way out. You just have to cop the hammering from both sides, and keep going. God willing, because you're challenging both sides to be more godly, things'll pan out in the long run. But it might take a while. and in the meantime, you're getting hammered from both ends.
Maybe that's why Paul had to encourage Timothy to "correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience"...? (2 Tim 4:2)

Preaching went well

I've just preached in the oldest still-operating Congregationalist Church in Australia!
Congregationalist...? I thought you were a Presbyterian...?
Let me explain.
Richmond is a quaint, historical town half-an-hour's drive out of Hobart. It's got lots of old stuff - Australia's oldest bridge, and the oldest Congregational Church in the country. There's about twenty people who meet there. Many of them come from the surrounding countryside.
For the last four years, that church has had an arrangement with David Jones - my supervisor - where he preaches week by week, and assists them in their ministry. So I just preached for them...!
I also preached at Cornerstone Church this morning. It was very well received. One of the elders said to me "how did you know our church so well? It's as if you've been here for years!" So I confessed: "well, er, actually, David Jones gave me some advice yesterday afternoon..."
So thanks very much, all of you who prayed for me. Today's gone very well. Very well indeed.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Preaching tomorrow

Orright, the rubber is about to hit the road. Hopefully the road won't hit back too hard...
I'm preaching tomorrow at David Jones' church, Cornerstone, on 2 Cor 5:22-21. Title: "A New Year, A New You". David Jones reviewed my sermon this afternoon, and was very pleased with it. He gave me some advice on making the application more sharp for the current situation that the church is in.
So it should be okay. Still, preaching the word is alsways a nerve-wracking thing. Let's see what happens!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Still marveling at Tasmanian hospitality

I'm still marveling at Tasmanian hospitality.  David Jones - a nationally respected preacher and church planter - spent the whole afternoon showing me around Hobart and telling me about the town and its history, and the history of the Presbyterian church in Tasmania, and about his own church, Cornerstone Presbyterian.  How cool is that??? 

Photogenic Hobart - but you'll never know...

Could someone please kick me around the room three times...?
Forgot my camera. It's in my room back in Sydney. Fat lotta use it'll be there.
Hobart's a very attractive city. I was up Mount Wellington yesterday afternoon. 1270 meters, half an hours drive from the middle of town. It towers straight up above the city. Panoramic views to all four directions.
And no camera.
Yesterday evening, after a church prayer mtg, a few of us went to the picturesque Battery Point area. It's like the Rocks, only cuter. And this morning David Jones took me to the Salamanca Markets. Like The Rocks markets, only more stalls, and more interesting stuff.
But still no camera, so I can't prove it to any of you.
Could someone please kick me around the room three times...?

Turning Up the Heat in Hobart

If the weather report says the maximum temperature in Hobart was only, say, 18 degrees C, don't believe it. Well, it's true, but it feels a lot hotter. Because the ozone layer down here is thinner, the sun feels really harsh. The air is cool, so as soon as you go into shade it feels cool. But in the sun, it's really, really hot. I'm gonna have to be careful not to get sunburned.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Arrived in Hobart

Belated happy new year, everyone!
Well here I am in Hobart.  Still enjoying Tasmanian hospitality.  I'm staying in the home of David & Ruth Jones, at the top of a hill in a suburb in Hobart with a fine view of Mount Wellington.  David's my supervisor for this month.  Tomorrow I'll be confirming the plans for the rest of my month - including where I'll be preaching.  
Two highlights from the convention that finished this morning: 
1. On new year's eve, we had an evening "concert" - as in an occasion for everyone to ham up and have fun.  My favourite act was a song, "I Bought on E-Bay", to the tune of Back Street Boy's "I Want It That Way" (use your imagination...).  Apparently it's a Weird Al Yankovitcvh parody.  
2. On 1 Jan there was a traditional Hobart vs Launceston cricket match.  The two sides argued over which side I should play for (as in they both wanted me...!).  Eventually I played for Hobart - and was asked to captain...! (What the...?) I'm afraid Hobart lost - 118 vs Launceston's 160 - but it was a good match...!