Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Being translated on 1 Cor 15:1-11

This Sunday, I'm going to be deliver the Bible talk at the monthly combined service of our English and Arabic congregations. I'll be speaking in English, of course - and it'll be simultaneously translated into Arabic, for people to listen on headphones, UN style. The person translating will need a full text in front of them, from which to translate as I go.
I'm going to speak on 1 Cor 15:1-11. My points will be:
  1. This is the gospel that Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians, and that they took hold of firmly ("believed", "received", "took their stand").
  2. We also must firmly take hold of this gospel. Real faith is a confident standing upon the Biblical message of Jesus, crucified and risen.
  3. We must pass this message on: to our children, and to an unbelieving world. The world seeks life in stupid things - wealth, power, career - and in so doing, they live in death, under God's anger. We have the message of real life, based on a Jesus who is really alive. We must tell this life-giving message to the world living in death.
This should be good for disciplined preaching. Because I have to:
  • write a full text of my sermon;
  • prepare it early;
  • focus on one main point;
  • write simple, clear sentences.
You know - all those things we were taught to do for a good talk.
That shouldn't be too hard. I'm not a last minute kinda guy - am I? And it's not as if I'm in the habit of writing long, ponderous, incomprehensible sentences, with a multitude of clauses and subclauses, and a prolific superabundance of polysyllabic vocabulary - am I?
'Nuff procrastinating. Back to the talk.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

And the answer is...

The answer to my last blog post is:
D, of course - Calvin! Institutes, Book 3 chapter 6 section 4.
Well done again, Mark Barry - sorry, Roger. It wasn't supposed to be all that difficult - Calvin's all I've been blogging about lately. I really need to think about something or someone else...
Cor Meum Tibi Offero Domine Promte et Sincere.
I offer my heart to the Lord, promptly and sincerely.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Who said this?

Who said this?
For it [Christianity] is a doctrine not of the tongue but of life. It is not apprehended by the understanding and memory alone, as other disciplines are, but it is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds a seat and resting place in the inmost affection of the heart… it must enter our heart and pass into our daily living, and so transform us into itself that it may not be unfruitful for us.

A. John Piper
B. Mark Driscoll
C. Jonathan Edwards
D. John Calvin
E. Mother Teresa

No prizes this time, sorry. Just the satisfaction, if you get it right.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Calvin 500 website

Kent has just pointed me to the Calvin 500 website. It's got a list of conferences celebrating Calvin's legacy. Pity I didn't discover this a coupla weeks ago, we could have put Discendi Studio on it. You'll be glad to know I got 7/10 for the Calvin quiz (*woo!*).
Logos is putting together electronic versions of Calvin's institutes, commentaries, tracts etc, as well as biographies and other publications about him. Have a look at their prepub page.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Identifying with the congregation in preaching

At the Calvin Conference a couple of weeks back, Peter Barnes, of Revesby Presbyterian, delivered a paper on Calvin's preaching. For me, the most interesting part of the paper was how naturally Calvin identified with the congregation. In his sermons, he normally said "we" and "us", not "I" and "you". In his sermons from 1556 to 1558, he only referred to himself three times. A statistical analysis of his sermons on Acts shows he said "we" (French nous) 3,416 times, compared to"you" (vous) only 53 times.
So I take it that Calvin thought of himself, even when preaching, as fundamentally a member of the congregation. Even as a preacher, he remained a sinner saved by grace, being addressed by God through his word. He did not become a priest or prophet, in the sense of mediating the word of God to the congregation. He stood "alongside" the congregation, not "over" them. Only God, in Christ, through the Bible, was "over" the congregation - the congregation which included Calvin.
This is very interesting. It's easy for us who are trained, "professional" preachers to think of ourselves as different from the people we're addressing. Not for bad reasons - for good reasons. We're trained to think outside ourselves - to think of our people, and how this passage applies to them. That's not selfish; that's loving & serving. Also, it's true that preaching is in a sense prophecy - we're not just telling people our opinions, we're telling them what God says. That's not selfish, that's God-honouring.
But both these good motives can have a negative effect of making us think we're different. Because both permit us to think of ourselves as mediating God's word to people. We need to remember that we, like Calvin, remain fundamentally a member of the congregation being addressed by God through his word, the Bible. Only God, in Christ, through the Bible, is "over" the congregation - the congregation which includes us preachers.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Justin Moffatt: Beyond the Predictable Church & Sermon Talk 2

I'm almost-live blogging again. Here's Justin's second talk, on "beyond the predictable church".
* * * * *
I get preaching, but church is different. Churches are messy places. They’re about people, histories, emotions & all sorts of complications. The more I prepared this talk, the more I got convicted, and I want to share that conviction with you.
I was doing ministry in an Anglican church in New York City, in the shadow of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. We were trying to work out what to do with our church, there in Manhattan. We would work together to try and form a functioning vision that would enthuse people and shape our programs and ministries.
Then a young student asked “why are we always seeking distinctives? We’re one with all Christ’s church across the world. Christ sets our vision; Christ captures our hearts. Surely we must be majoring on what unifies us, not what distinguishes us.”

The case for unity
We’re building gone building for God. We want our church to be predictably about our unity in Christ.

With God:
Eph 2:11-12 we draw near to God too quickly, forgetting we once we could not draw near
We don’t realise how significant it is to be let into God’s presence. Once it was as if we’d been buried alive. Once we couldn’t even come into God’s presence. The Old Testament temple said both “come close”, for God is present here; and “stay away”, for you are not worthy to be in God’s presence. We can’t just barge into the presence of the Prime Minister; why should we expect to barge into God’s presence? We can be presumptuous, casual, even arrogant before God. We must approach God with reverence.

Eph 2:13 we stay away from God
We are now sons & daughters, not Gentiles. The new temple in Christ’s body gives us total access to God.
We don’t have to spice this up; it already is interesting, we just need to make it clear.

With each other:
Eph 2:14-18: we build barriers
Through Christ we – both Jew & Gentile – have peace (shalom), that is, access to God.
We have peace with God and, in Christ, with each other. So why do we keep building barriers? We must be committed to each other’s well being. This was the cry of my young student friend: why do we major on distinctives when we’re actually unified?
Our commonality is not in our age, personality, ethnicity, voting preferences, dress sense etc. Our peace is Jesus, in whom we have access to the Father through the Spirit.

Eph 2:19-22 we tear down what God builds up
Paul uses the metaphor of body and building.
We long for physical expressions of our belief. We don’t have to go to a bricks & mortar temple; we have each other. We are the physical reality God gives us to express our faith. We have to deal with each other, look each other in the eye and love each other.

Beyond sameness
The way we can form something powerfully unpredictable is to recapture the wonder of that unity. We need to recapture the wonder of the gospel – we need to understand the privilege that we have in having access to God. We’re not excited about this gospel, we’ll look for other, tricky ways to be heard.

Eph ch 3: the church in God’s cosmic purposes
The local church is the cosmic one; letting the heavenly powers know God’s plan. We need to recapture the wonder of the impact of the gospel in communities.
We need to rise above the pattern of this world, so we can be light.
The gospel brings formerly unfriendly people together. Because of the gospel, people who couldn’t eat together now can eat together. That’s why Paul needs to pray God to strengthen the Ephesians to put this into practice. It’s not normal; we can’t do it through our own strength. We need love, power, the Spirit in our inner being, to actually do this.

How do we do this?
1. Be thoroughly Christ’s. The community belongs to Christ.
2. Keep the vision statement simple and gospel-focused.
3. Get people doing stuff with a kingdom vision. Enable people to do what their passion is, and channel their energy into what’s good for the gospel.
4. Hospitality transforms the world. Hospitality requires organisation. To evangelise, all we need to do is have people round for dinner.
5. If liturgical, don’t battle the liturgy; use its strengths, make it fresh. If free, we have the responsibility to formulate our meeting together in a way that has value in expressing the gospel and encouraging people to connect with God.
6. Find space for creative people to humbly use their gifts.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Justin Moffatt's sermon preparation method

Incidentally, Justin's put his method for preparing sermons his own blog. In summary, it's:

Justin Moffatt: Beyond the Predictable Church & Sermon Talk 1

I’m at our Moore year reunion houseparty. Our speaker’s Justin Moffatt, from York St Anglican church in downtown Sydney. I’m blogging almost live – Justin just finished his first talk, I took notes on my laptop, I just tidied them up a bit, asked Justin for permission to blog – and here it is.

The case for predictability
A metronome is predictable. But it gives the piano player a structure to start singing a tune.
The word of God and the gospel of Christ is the metronome that structures everything we do. It enables us to sing a song to our congregation, and encourage them to join us in singing the song of the Christ who died for us. We aim to aid the congregation to sing this song.
God never changes. We have one story that will never change. We tell that gospel that Christ is Lord to a world that has a different story. We must preach that one gospel.
Jonah is about God’s consistency, and how frustrating Jonah finds that consistency. God is consistently and stubbornly good; Jonah if people repent, God is always consistently kind.
Acts 20:20-35: Paul consistently spoke the same message. So our task is to constantly speak the whole counsel of God.
1 Cor 1: Paul is predictable in his message – the cross – and his method – cruciform.
The congregation needs to be confident that the gospel will be preached each week. That’s the only way the regulars will be confident to bring friends.
The congregation needs to lose all dependence on your giftedness. Otherwise they’ll put their faith in you, not Christ.
If the passage is saying something different from what the preacher’s saying, there’s something wrong. The preacher needs to say what the passage is saying.
We preachers need to be freed from the tyranny of performance.

Beyond predictability
God’s grace is always surprising.
Hab 1:5 Habakkuk complains about sin in Judah. And God says he’s going to do something that you wouldn’t believe even if I told you.
Jesus spoke in unpredictable ways.
Matt 20 the parable of the generous landowner: the punch-line is about God’s grace.
Luke 16 parable of the shrewd manager. A crook held up as a model? Why would Jesus do that?
There’s only one place where Jesus is predictable: Mark 12: “What is the greatest commandment” – “Love God and neighbour” – “well done, teacher”. Outside of that, Jesus is unpredictable.
The human heart is deceitful; therefore the gospel will always be a surprise.
Pastorally, our leaders need a fresh aspect on the gospel. We have an old story, but we need to sing it in a new way.
Our listeners need both gravitas and levitas – weight and lightness, seriousness and freshness, challenge and humour, sobriety and joy, explanation and poetry, information (theology) and insight (particular lives of our people).
The congregation needs us to be ourselves, not someone else. If we try to be someone else, we’ll be predictable. We’re not Mark Driscoll or Tim Keller! The Spirit works in us & puts his stamp on us in particular!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

What I liked about Discendi Studio

Like I mentioned previously, I spent last Tues, Wed & Thurs at a conference on John Calvin at the Presbyterian Theological Centre. It was a collaboration between the three Presbyterian colleges in the country: Queensland, NSW and Vic. The paper that mum & I delivered was very well received - thanks for your prayers. I'll blog about it later. For now, let me just reflect on some things I liked about the conference:
1. Meeting faculty & students from Victoria and Queensland, chatting about ministry, and getting to know the Presbyterian ministry scene better;
2. Having a cheerful dinnertime conversation with Bruce Winter, formerly Warden of Tyndale House, an evangelical research centre in Cambridge, and currently Principal of Queensland Theological College;
3. Having my dinner plate cleared by aforementioned Bruce Winter;
4. Hearing students and recent grads - my peers - deliver really interesting, well-researched, deeply thought-through papers, and thinking that if they represent the state of the art, the future of Evangelical theology is in good hands.

Friday, 10 April 2009

LIfe of Jesus TV documentary

Just saw the Life of Jesus documentary on TV. John Dickson, Anglican Media Sydney and the team from the Centre for Public Christianity ("CPX") have done an excellent job in presenting Jesus' claims, and the historical reliability of those claims, in an easily watchable format. The only weird thing was that the lady who recited Bible passages had a heavy middle-eastern accent, so I couldn't always understand what she was saying. Have a look at the LoJ website, it's really good.

Monday, 6 April 2009

What Calvinists Want

In 1539, while John Calvin was still single, his friend and fellow reformer Guilliame Farel had found a woman he thought might be to Calvin’s liking. Calvin set out his requirements in this in a letter to Farel on 19 May 1539:
I am not one of those insane kind of lovers who, once smitten by the first sight of a fine figure, cherishes even the faults of his lover. The only beauty that seduces me is of one who is chaste, not too fastidious, modest, thrifty, patient, and hopefully she will be attentive to my health. If you think well of her [in light on this], set out immediately in case someone else get there before you.
Well, at least he had the good sense to see that a woman who fit his requirements would be in high demand...
Nothing came of Farel's matchmaking. But in August 1540, Calvin wed Idelette de Bure, an Anabaptist widow with two children. Idelette certainly met Calvin’s stated criteria of piety, modesty, frugality, and the like. But she was also savvy, sociable, respectable, and, to Farel’s surprise, apparently quite good looking.