Friday, 22 February 2008

Wise words from young minds

Hmmm... One of the teens made a wise & insightful comment in youth group tonight.
In the second half of this year, the youth group is hoping to go on a short mission – hopefully running a two-day kid's program for a church in country NSW. I made it clear to the teens that if we did this, they'd have to actually run the ministry events themselves - the kid's talks, craft, games etc. The other leaders and I will train them & help them - but they'll have to actually do it!
The teens weren't exactly jumping out of their skin with enthusiasm... but they were all willing to give it a go. Which is pretty brave of them, actually. For most (all?) of them, this'll be their first time in up-front ministry. Which is pretty intense.
Then one of them asks "are we doing this for the church we're going to, or for ourselves?"
Huh...?
He was worried that we'd be going on this mission purely for our own training & experience, and maybe for the kudos of saying "we've been on a mission". He wanted us to do the mission for the sake of the church we're serving, not for our own sake.
Now that's pretty wise. It's definitely possible, under the guise of "ministry", to serve yourself. And we have to be on the alert for that. The church we visit must not be a means to an end; it must be the end. Well, the ultimate end must be that Christ's kingdom will expand through our efforts. But the particular way we hope his kingdom to expand is through the church we visit being blessed by our efforts.
So we talked about it for a while. And I asked the guy who brought it up to think about how we guard against serving ourselves rather than the church we visit.
Wise words from young minds...

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Catchy sermon titles

I’m doing a sermon series on Romans, beginning in April. I’m trying to dream up some catchy titles for the sermons.
There’s multiple purposes for this. Hopefully we’ll post the titles on the noticeboard in front of church. Having provocative titles, that change each week, should signal to the area that this church is alive, active and (hopefully…) interesting. If I can get organised in time, we’ll do a leaflet drop across the neighbourhood. Also, I hope it’ll give church regulars a basis to invite friends to church. “Hey, would you like to visit church this Sunday? We’re gonna be talking about… ”.
Here’s what I got so far:

Rom 1:1-6, 16-17: How to have meaning & purpose in life

Actual main point: To be in the centre of God's purposes for the world, you
need to be ruled by Christ, who is the ruler of the world.

Rom 1:7-17: How to build strong communities

Actual main point: Strong churches (communities) are built around the risen
Lord Jesus. They submit to his rule, encourage each other to continue to
submit to his rule, and plead with everyone else to do so as well.

Rom 1:18-2:1: Why it's dangerous to do it "my way"

Actual main point: Human "wisdom" actively rejects God and makes him
mad! Social chaos is a symptom of this.

Rom ch 2: Why God hates religion

Actual main point: Human "religion" - even religion based on God's revelation
of himself in the OT - leads to self-righteousness. If we really paid
attention to God's moral standards, which are expressed most clearly in the OT
law, but are also impressed upon everyone's conscience, we'd realise we all fall
short of them (= sin), and deserve condemnation.

Rom 3:1-20: The one thing we all have in common

Actual main point: The one thing we all have in common is we're all entirely
guilty before God. All of us - Jew & Gentile. Entirely - throat,
tongue, mouth, feet, eyes. Which means we all need someone else - God
himself - to fix the mess.

What d’you think?
Advice, anyone…?

Monday, 18 February 2008

Revelation and the Modern Teenager

One of my responsibilities at St David's church is to run the youth group on Friday nights. It's called SPY - Strathfield Presbyterian Youth. I wonder if we could ourselves "SPY Kids" (as in the movie)...?
I've never led youth group before. Thankfully, the former leader, Karen, is sticking around for this month, to give me a hand. If she wasn't there, I really wouldn't know what I'm doing. Well, I still don't really know what I'm doing... it's just less obvious, 'coz she covers for me...
So, seeing as I didn't know where the teens were at, and what they'd want to do, I asked them for ideas: (1) what books or themes in the Bible they'd like to study; (2) if they'd wanna do some other ministry activity - like help a missionary or something; and (3) what fun stuff they want to do. They came up with lots of ideas for fun stuff: bowling, laser zone, paintball(!), lawn bowls(!!)... But I had to coax the ministry and Bible study ideas out of them a bit.
They want to study the book of Revelation(!!!). I'm reasonably familiar with it, so this should be good. But, there are a few things that I'm pondering:
(1) How do you teach teenagers to read Apocalyptic genre? Most preachers & Bible studies just make assertions re the symbolism of numbers colours etc. Should I do that? Or actually give them extracts from other first-century Apocalyptic writings, so they can see for themselves how the symbolism works...?
(2) How slow or fast should I go through the book? Going slowly helps focus on details and analyse interlocking images - very important in Revelation. But it could be really boring and laborious - which is deadly for youth ministry. Going quickly gives a sense of achievement - but the teens may not have time to actually get into the text.
(3) What study techniques should I use? I want the teens to "feel" the "texture" of the text - I want them to let the colours and pictures and numbers impact them. But I don't want to make them feel patronised - another deadly maneuver in youth ministry. Can I get them to draw pictures? Act out a skit? Maybe even dress up as characters…??? (How do you dress up as the beast…?)
(4) How much should I engage with the "isms" – pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, preteritism, historicism, dispensationalism, a-millennialism... They're smart kids - I think they can handle it. But again, I don't want to overwhelm them with info.
Hmmm...
Advice, anyone...?

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Living in someone else's house again

Well whaddya know - I'm living as a guest in someone else's house - again.
Strathfield is a nice suburb. It's also expensive. I can't afford to live in Strathfield on my part-time ministry pay. I'd even struggle to afford a unit in the relatively humble adjoining suburbs of Homebush and Flemington. So, even though I'm the assistant minister of Strathfield Presbyterian, I was going to have to live somewhere outside the area. Probably out west, where rent's cheaper.
Enter a generous family from the church.
George & Lyn have a spare room in their house in Croydon. They're letting me stay there, for free, for at least five months.
I've just settled in. The benefits of living here are:
1. Because there's a family living here, there's a nice "homely" feel;
2. I get on really well with George & Lyn already;
3. The room's really big - bigger than my old room at my parent's place, and at least as big as my former room at Moore College;
4. Croydon's a really nice suburb too - I'll post some pics in a couple of days;
5. It's ten mins walk to the Presbyterian College, where I'll be studying part-time;
6. It's close to church, and to church people.
And all this - for free.
With this much generosity, who needs a salary...?

Friday, 8 February 2008

Ordinations & camaraderie


Several of my colleagues from Moore got ordained as Deacons in the Anglican Church last weekend, or commissioned as Lay Workers. See http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/sydneystories/ordination_story. It’s really exciting; after four years of formal training – and who knows how many years of informal training – it’s really happening: we’re in full-time ministry…!
Among them were five ministerial dynasties. John Forsyth’s father, Robert, is Bishop of North Sydney. Marty Kemp’s dad Peter was once minister of Parramatta Anglican Church; my parents were under his ministry there. Because of Peter’s courageous reforms twelve years ago, Parramatta Anglican now has a booming multicultural ministry. Matt King’s the son of Brian, the former Bishop of Western Sydney, famous for always having a story about rugby union in his sermons. Marty Telfer’s dad Brian is a retired Anglican minister. And Ed Loane is the grandson of Marcus Loane, a former Archbishop of Sydney.
Y’know what I miss most about Moore? The camaraderie. It was so much fun to hang out with these guys for four years. Lord, grant that this camaraderie would continue all the days of this life - and onwards forever into glory.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

New mobile no: 0433 800 973

Hey everyone - I have a new mobile no: 0433 800 973. Please update your phonebooks.
By the way - it's a Three mobile, so apparently I get free calls to other Three phones.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Crisis in the global Anglican Church


Many of you will be aware that the international Anglican Church is in crisis. It was brought about by the ordination, five years ago, of Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual, as Bishop of New Hampshire, USA. Within the Anglican denomination, the bishops are the key expression of church unity. The meeting that expresses that unity is the ten-yearly Lambeth Conference, which all the bishops attend.
Or should I say attended, past tense…?
Several bishops, who hold a conservative, Biblical view of sexuality, have been protesting against Gene Robinson’s ordination for years. The protest has swelled to become a protest against the liberal, politically-correct, culturally-driven views of sexuality promoted by American, Canadian and English Anglican churches. Inevitably, it also became a protest against the fact that these churches marginalise and ignore the Bible – a manoeuvre that must happen before such liberal, politically-correct, culturally-driven views of sexuality can be accepted.
The next Lambeth conference is in July – August 2008. However, several Biblically conservative bishops have decided they will not attend. Among them is Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney. The press release is at http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/sydneystories/sydney_steps_back_from_lambeth, and Peter Jensen’s explanation is at http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/senior_clergy/archbishop_jensen/articles/why_i_am_going_to_israel/. This refusal of bishops to meet with each other is a final declaration that the international Anglican Church has changed. It brings tensions, which have existed for decades, to the surface. The global Anglican Church is in fact two churches, with two different missions, determined to evangelise and convert each other. One church’s mission is to champion the values and attitudes – including sexual attitudes – of (post)modern Western culture. This inevitably leads to the Bible being marginalised as an outdated, oppressive text. The other church’s mission is to champion the Bible as the Word of God, which calls us to repent – change, turn, be different – and trust Christ as Lord. This inevitably brings the Bible, and its values and attitudes, into conflict with worldly culture (Western, non-Western, whatever).
Some of the Biblically conservative bishops have organised a conference for “orthodox Anglicans, who are upholding the authority of scriptures, and believe that the time has come to come together to fashion the future of our Anglican family” [quote by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria]: GAFCON – Global Anglican Future Conference - http://www.gafcon.org/. It is not an alternate Lambeth. It is not for Bishops alone – ministers and lay people are also invited. But, it will be a forum for Biblical Anglicans to fellowship, encourage each other, and think about global mission – the kind of thing that Lambeth was supposed to do.
Depending on your point of view, this refusal to attend Lambeth, and organising of an alternate conference, is either a lamentable schism, or a courageous protest. No prizes for guessing where I stand. Go for it, brothers…! Please pray for Anglican Church leaders worldwide. Pray for Sydney's Peter Jensen, and Nigeria's Peter Akinola - he's become the de-facto international leader of Biblical Anglicanism. Pray also for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams - I don't trust him an inch, but he seems to genuinely be trying to find a compromise, and he must feel like everyone on both sides are against him (see my previous blog entry, 6 Jan 2008, "meat in the sandwich"). Pray that whatever happens, the name of Christ will spread and be honoured.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

First day on the job

Tomorrow will be my first day in my new role as part-time assistant minister at St David's Presbyterian Church, Strathfield. I'm both nervous and excited.
Excited, because for the first time I'll get to play a significant role in guiding a church - preaching, pastoring, strategizing, etc. St David's doesn't have a full-time senior minister - we have an interim moderator, Ian Smith, who keeps an eye on us, but isn't there every week. So I'll get to preach more regularly, interact more closely with the Elders, look after people pastorally, have some input into church plans, and generally pretending to be a minister... though I'm not one… :)
But that also makes me nervous. The trade-off for being able to have a go at all this is - I don't have anyone holding my hand. Usually, the point of being an assistant minister is that the senior minister gives you advice, training… etc. (Well, it doesn’t always work that way. Often the senior guy is so stressed & busy & overworked he just goes “an assistant! Excellent! Here – do this!” – and chucks some responsibility at you and runs off to do the six hundred other things on his to-do list…) But ideally, that’s how it’d work. So you’d get introduced to the roles & responsibilities a bit more gradually.
I do have plenty of people whom I can get advice from: the Elders; Ian, the interim moderator; Peter, a member of the congregation who’s a lecturer at the Presbyterian College. And the church isn’t expecting me to take all the responsibilities of a senior minister. So, it’s not that bad.
Still, I’m taking my role seriously. Tomorrow, I begin to implement everything that I’ve been in training for at Moore, and MTS, and the informal training before that – I begin to have a significant pastoral role, a significant influence in leading the people of St David’s Church towards Godliness. Lord, make me a shepherd after your own heart.

Friday, 1 February 2008

What I wish I said about Deuteronomy - Covenant and Affection

ORRIGHT. With a bit of time, I've thought of everything I wish I'd said about Deuteronomy last weekend at the TLC conference (*slaps forehead*).
The main idea of Deuteronomy is: "love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,", and "love your neighbour as yourself". I said this in the first talk, but I didn't work it into the talks enough (*slaps forehead again*).
I should have talked more about the interaction between covenant love and affective love. The LORD brought the Isralites into a relationship with himself as a formal transaction. In rescuing them from the Egyptians, he's made them to be his people - in his place, under his rule.
In response, he calls them to love him with their whole selves. This is his covenant with them. It's a relationship that is both formal and emotional. Like a marriage. It's a formal transaction; but it's not just formal, it's affectionate as well. In my talks, I should have made more of this interaction between covenant and affection. I even talked about how the Prophets use the marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between the LORD and the Israelites - but still didn't think of this relationship between covenant and affection! (*slaps forehead yet again*).
So, Deuteronomy is all about how to respond in love (= with our whole selves, body & soul) to the God who saves us in order to bring us under his rule (= covenant). I even talked about how Gal 3:15 says Christ took our curse in order that Abraham's blessing (= being God's people, in God's place, under God's rule) might come to the Gentiles - but still didn't think of covenant and affection...! (*slaps forehead a fourth time*).
I should have titled my talks:
1. Why the LORD is worthy of all our our love (he saved the Israelites - and us - by his grace, through faith);
2. What it looks like to love of the LORD and our neighbour (the detailed laws of Deut 12-27);
3. looking forward to the time when we really will love with our whole selves (the promise of the new covenant in Deut 30-31).
I had the elements of all of these in the talks, but I didn't bring them out enough (*takes tablet for headache brought on by repeated slappings of forehead...*).
Relax - I don't think anything I said was wrong. It's just that I could have said it better - clearer, deeper, more comprehensive. Anyway... I hope I can do better next time.
Uh - anyone want an overview of Deuteronomy in three talks...?

Thunderous welcome to Sydney

... almost literally. I was stuck in Melbourne Airport for an hour becuase a thunderstorm had closed Sydney Airport. For a while I thought I'd have to spend the night in Melbourne. But I got back okay.
So, here I am again... Sydney. Hmmm. On the drive from the airport, things felt the same... yet different. I suppose it's just the disorientation of being away for five weeks.
No time to re-orient - gotta get straight back into it. All day AFES mtgs tomorrow & day after. Let's go, let's go, let's go...!