Monday, 30 August 2010

Tom Harrick's sermon at my ordination

At my ordination last Friday, Tom Harricks, one of my colleagues from Moore College, preached the sermon. He's on the pastoral team of St John's Anglican Church in Parramatta - which happens to be the church my parents attend.

Tom spoke on Galatians 1:1-5 & ch 6. His main point was: all that's necessary for false gospels to triumph is for servants of the true gospel (ministers and others) to do nothing. His sub-points were:
  1. The true gospel is the Apostolic one, given by God through the Apostles, including Paul;
  2. We need wisdom to recognise and resist false gospels;
  3. Ministers of the true gospel have the kind of character Paul describes in Gal 6: caring for others; being wary of temptation; walking by the Spirit, not the flesh; etc.
A very encouraging word, not only to me, but to the church congregation, and the dozen ministers & elders from Hawkesbury Presbytery who were there for the ordination.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Ordination Charge

At the end of my ordination last Friday, Keith Walker, the Moderator of Hawkesbury Presbytery, read me this charge:
You, Kamal, have been called by Almighty God in his fatherly love to the ministry of the Word and Sacraments and ordained by the Church and have now been appointed to the Pastoral Charge of St Mary's, I charge you anew in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to walk worthy of the vocation to which you are called, with all humility, with long suffering, forbearance and peaceful behaviour, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the upbuilding of the body of Christ.

Take heed to yourself and to the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseer. Love Christ and feed his flock, taking the oversight of it, not as one who lords it over the people committed to you but being an example to all in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity.

Give attention to reading, to exhortation and to teaching. Do the work of an evangelist. Do not neglect the gift which is in you. Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Pray always, watching with all perseverance. Thus shall you save both yourself and those who hear you; and in that day when the Chief Shepherd shall appear you shall receive a crown of glory which will never fade away.

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that Good Shepherd of the sheep, make you perfect in every good work to do his will working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
You can find the Presbyterian ministerial ordination service, including vows, at the Public Worship & Aids to Devotion website.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Ordination

Yesterday, Fri 27 August, I was ordained a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. This was the culmination of eight years formal preparation:
So I've finally arrived. I've worked hard for that "Rev" title. Now I can get the position & recognition I deserve.
Right?

Ummm... except...

John 13:13-14: Jesus said:
13 You call me'Teacher' and'Lord', and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.
1 Peter 5:2-3
2 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Ajith Fernando on service & suffering

Ajith Fernando is the national director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. He's written a challenging article in the Lausanne Global Conversations about lifestyle expectations in ministry. To Serve Is to Suffer.

The Global Conversations are 12 key issues that will be discussed at the Cape Town conference on world evangelisation in October this year.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Religion in the Public Square CD & downloads

Reformers Books has put together a CD of the presentations from the Religion In the Public Square conference. Includes papers on Reformed public theology, religious freedom, euthanasia, abortion, commerce, economics, business ethics, and sexuality. Includes my paper on The Best Sex For Life - the one that got reported in the Melbourne Age, and led to my follow-up article in the National Times.

Also, you can download the conference papers for free. 25 presentations, 12.8 MB, nearly 300 pages. Enjoy!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

More Bryan Chapell on ministry founded & fashioned on grace

As I mentioned in my previous post, Bryan Chapell's approach to ministry is going to have a major multiplier effect. Here's more:

God's provision of saving, sustaining, and glorifying grace is the golden thread uniting all Christian Scripture and enabling all Christian faithfulness [...] all world honoring God [...] find proper motivation and enablement in love for Christ. The wonder and joy of these truths for those preparing for church leadership comes with the understanding that God is not calling them to ministries of guilt-manipulation, arm twisting and doctrinal haranguing.

As Christ's ministers emphasize grace, they are not compromising holiness but rather are promoting the power of the gospel for all endeavour that is truly Christian. [...] We learn to see ourselves as he [God] sees us in Christ. We learn to treat others as he [God] has treated us through Christ. As a consequence, the joy that is our strength floods into our lives to drive us to greater levels of Christian humility, love, and commitment. Thus, presenting the doctrines of grace in a warm and winsome way is not the converse of holy boldness; rather, courageous compassion is the compulsion of humbled and grateful hearts that have bowed before the wonders of God's sovereign mercy and now yearn to extend the blessings of his everlasting covenant to all he loves from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
Bryan Chapell, ‘Here We Stand: Rooted in Grace for Reformation and Transformation’, in All For Jesus: A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Covenant Theological Seminary, Ed. Robert A. Peterson & Sean Michael Lucas, Mentor, 2006. Pages 16-17.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Bryan Chapell on ministry founded & fashioned on grace

Bryan Chapell is president ("principal") of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Covenant is the official national training training college of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which is one of the major Evangelical Reformed denominations in the USA. Best-selling author Tim Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church New York, is probably the PCA's best-known minister.

So, Bryan Chapell's the guy in charge of the training college of one of the major Evangelical Reformed denominations of the largest Christian nation in the world. That means his personal impact will be multiplied all over the world, for a significant period of time - just because of who he is & where he happens to be.

Well, here's a sample of what he says about ministry.

Alarm over the encroachments of secularism, while understandable, has led some too quickly to equate biblical spirituality with legalistic observance of Christian disciplines, cultural conservatism, or creedal compulsion. At the same time, concerns to boost the gospel’s impact have too often led to an unreflective promotion of worldly satisfaction or success as evidence of God’s blessing (demonstrated in churches promoting themselves through consumer strategies indistinguishable from secular appeals).

As contrary as these legalistic and consumer approaches to faith may seem, they actually spring from the same source – the error of attempting to establish one’s standing before God on the basis of human achievement or acceptance. […] [T]he corrective for such deviations […] [is] a return to the heart centre of our historic faith – the message of sola gratia [grace alone]. By reminding ourselves and others that grace alone is the source and sustenance of our salvation, we turn the heart to Christ for initial justification, continued sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Self-serving and performance-driven spiritualities die when we preach the gospel to ourselves each day.
Bryan Chapell, ‘Here We Stand: Rooted in Grace for Reformation and Transformation’, in All For Jesus: A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Covenant Theological Seminary, Ed. Robert A. Peterson & Sean Michael Lucas, Mentor, 2006. Pages 14-15

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Thiselton on hermeneutics


Christian theists seek transforming engagement with the active word of God. To this end we not only seek to
listen to the biblical text with openness and expectancy, but we also seek to understand at ever deeper levels what it is to interpret Scripture, to reflect both upon Scripture and on our own processes of engaging with it, and to be transformed by the formative impact of Scripture in thought, life and identity.
Anthony Thiselton, in Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation, Ed. Craig Bartholomew, Joel B. Green and Anthony C. Thiselton, Scripture and Hermeneutics Series, Volume 6, Zondervan 2007. Italics in original.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Oliver O'Donovan on the book of Job

Prof. Oliver O'Donovan's book The Desire Of the Nations is a masterpiece of political exegesis. He goes through nearly the whole Bible, examining the implications of the various parts of the Bible for our understanding of society, community, and political authority. Alex Abecina summarises the book here.

O'Donovan takes the time to explain his understanding of the Bible. I was particularly impacted by his understanding of the book of Job. Here's a summary.

Job is the archetypal unjustly-suffering individual. The purpose of the book of Job is to probe the question: why does unjust suffering make the sufferer so angry? And how can someone who suffers unjustly be reconciled to the goodness of God, the world, society, and himself?

Job's comforters don't accuse Job; Job accuses them of taunting him and bringing out the hostility he feels. Elihu shows that the three friends have failed to overcome Job's self-righteous pathos because they share his anthropocentric perspective - it's all about Job, what he's done or failed to do.

The solution is in Job's encounter with God. God's accusation humbles Job. But this humbling does not destroy Job, but restores him to a right relationship with God, society (the three friends), the world, and himself. Job sees that the world is full of divine purposes which he cannot see or explain, and therefore cannot judge.

Protest and complaint, therefore, are real - but cannot be an end in themselves, but must be a moment in a "dynamic spiritual process. The grievance the express is taken seriously, but not as an end in itself; the aim in expressing it is to bring the complainant and his adversary together before the throne of God." (Desire Of the Nations, page 75)

Thoughts, anyone...?

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Love your neighbour as yourself

Jesus summarised the human aspect of the law as “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). Paul (Rom 13:9-10; Gal 5:14) and James (James 2:8) use it similarly – as a summary of the law. Its widespread use (Gospels, Paul, James) indicates it must have been broadly accepted in the early church as a summary of what it meant to act in a godly manner to all people.

The question, of course, is: what does it mean?

I’ve heard it said “well I don’t have to love people more than I love myself – only as myself”. So it becomes a statement of neat reciprocal justice.

But that doesn’t fit with the cross. In the cross, Christ gave himself totally, for undeserving people. You can’t give yourself more completely for someone than dying for them. You can’t get less deserving than sinners who spurn the holy and loving God. The cross has nothing to do with reciprocal justice; it’s complete self-giving love.

Perhaps we’re thinking too individualistically about it. Perhaps it doesn’t mean “treat your neighbour the same as you want to be treated”, but it means “care for others with the same instinctive protection as you would care for yourself.”

When our bodies hurt, we instinctively protect ourselves. When our bodies are in need (hungry, thirsty, hot, cold…) we instinctively nurture ourselves. That’s normal and healthy. If people don’t look after themselves, they have some mental or physical problem, and need external help.

Perhaps Jesus meant we should care for, protect, and nurture the others around us in that same instinctive protection as we normally accord ourselves. So when someone around us is hurt, we automatically protect them. If they’re in need, we give what we have to fill that need.

This interpretation fits with the OT origin of the phrase. It comes from Leviticus 19:18, where it closes off a list of commands about caring for weak people (Lev 19:9-18). It fits with the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10), who used his own oil and wine, donkey and money to care for someone who should be his enemy. It fits with the context of Rom 13, Gal 5, and the numerous injunctions to practical good in James and 1 John. It's also consistent with what Paul says about the members of the body caring for each other: "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it" (1 Cor 12:26).

The only thing with this interpretation is – it’s really inconvenient. Because it means I can’t think of anything that’s ‘mine’ as being purely ‘mine’ for my own benefit without considering ‘you’. And if you are in need, then what’s mine is yours. I'm not renouncing private property - this isn't some sort of communism - it's just that Godliness demands that I dispose of my resources not for myself, but for others. Just like Jesus did. But that can be really inconvenient for someone as greedy & selfish as I am.

Thoughts, anyone...?

Monday, 2 August 2010

Jesus' cross makes us radically equal

Romans 5:6:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Jesus died for sinners. That is a deeply egalitarian statement. Because it makes all humanity equal before God: equally condemned by our rejection of him; equally loved in him offering Jesus to us all; equally able to be saved if we accept him.

Jesus died for powerless people. Romans 1:18 – 3:20 show how we are all helplessly under the power of sin, and helplessly under God’s rightful judgment. We’re like prisoners in a police van, being taken to sentencing. The prisoner is helpless & trapped – but it’s just & rightful to be trapped like that, because they’ve done something to break the law. That’s why they’re a prisoner, not a hostage. But Jesus, as it were, swings open the door of the police van, and says “don’t worry. I’ve taken the penalty for what you’ve done against God. You’re free to go.”

And Jesus died for ungodly people. This is even more amazing, because Romans 1:18 says:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness [= “ungodliness”] and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…

Romans 1 is about the ‘bad’ people in the world. The word translated "godless" in Rom 1:18 is the same word as translated "ungodly" in Rom 5:6 - the Greek word asebia. Romans 1 goes on to talk about how the world gets messed up because we kick God out of our lives. Chapter 2 shows how it’s a universal problem – everyone does it.

This means Jesus died for wicked, godless people. For thieves and murderers and rapists, who deserve to rot in jail because they’ve destroyed people’s lives for ever. For militant atheists, like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who spend so much time and money desperately trying to prove God doesn’t exist. No-one is too wicked to be forgiven.

It also means Jesus died for nice, godless people. For people who politely acknowledge his existence by being ‘religious’ – like going to church. And who are very upright and moral and nice to their neighbours. But who equally politely reject God’s right to rule their lives, and live their own way. No-one is too nice to need forgiveness.

Jesus died for sinners – which is a very good thing, ‘coz we’re all sinners, in need of Christ’s forgiveness. All humanity stands radically equal before the cross of Christ.