Saturday, October 26, 2013

a preaching starting five

I am often asked about books on preaching. My response heads in two directions. The first response is with newcomers to preaching in mind. Where do you start and in what order should you read the books? Then the other response is directed at experienced preachers. Maybe they need to be refreshed, or challenged - or just reminded of some of the convictions they've lost along the way.

This post is interested in that first group. And as I am about to join an NBA Fantasy League (with some of my kids - well, you know how it is, it is a way of staying in touch with them!), a starting-five seems appropriate. I've done this before - but it needs to be done again because there are two new books that have crept into the list in recent months.

1. Greg Scharf, Prepared to Preach (Mentor, 2005). It is hard to go past this one. A short, simple mix of convictions and techniques. It remains the place to begin.

2. Then I'd go back in time... Preaching has such a long ancestry and newcomers need to feel the passion of those who have gone before. It is hard to beat James Stewart, Heralds of God (Hodder & Stoughton, 1946). Read it aloud and feel the warmth and conviction in his Scottish voice.

3. Here is one of the newcomers. I finished reading it on the plane back from Cambodia this morning. Mark Dever & Greg Gilbert, Preach [Theology Meets Practice] (B&H Publishing, 2012). Part One is theology with a focus on Word and words. A helpful section on expositional preaching in the Bible (38-44). The highlight of the book is in Part Two - practice - with 'Delivering the Sermon' (119-130) full of wise, contemporary reflection. Part Three - sermon transcripts - is a nice touch. Each author offers a manuscript and they chat to each other about it as the reader travels through the sermons. [SPOILER ALERT: this is one of those books that sees preaching being for men only. Ugh. It is such a shame, as there is so much good stuff in it].

4. In the pursuit of balance in the starting five, I'd opt for David Day, A Preaching Workbook (SPCK, 2005). It gathers together an array of practical skills and tips for effective communication.

5. Then, another newcomer - this time from Australia: Gary Millar & Phil Campbell, Saving Eutychus (IVP, 2013). It is blessed with a great title - and then there is the subtitle, 'how to preach God's word and keep people awake'. That combo alone should sell a few copies. Mature preachers writing simply and practically from out of a strong theological framework. That's gotta be good for you. Not unlike #3 in its structure and vision, I started reading it before we left New Zealand, but it ended up in our shipment (which has still not arrived). So I can't say much more than that quite yet...

nice chatting


Thursday, October 17, 2013

start of play

Be it cricket, football, golf, tennis, rugby union, or rugby league - no one seems to be too sure about how they started. This just adds to the fun and the intrigue that comes with trying to tell the story.

My friend, Jonathan (Robinson) gave me a copy of Jonathan (Rice's) Start of Play (Prion, 1998). An easy airplane read... As always seems to be the case, it is the sub-title that says it all: "The Curious Origins of Our Favourite Sports".

Here are a few stories which I don't want to forget:

[olympic games]
Did you know that early in the modern Olympic Games movement (1902), one leader argued that 'Women have but one task, that of crowning the winner with garlands' (37).

Did you know that, in 1876, WG Grace ('unquestionably the greatest British sportsman of his century', 89) 'made 839 runs in eight days' (90)? And that in 1880, his two younger brothers joined him in the first Test match ever played in England ... 'but Fred scored 0 in both innings, caught a cold at the end of the match and died within a fortnight' (92)?

Did you know that 'of the ninety-two clubs in the Premier League and the Football League in 1998, perhaps eighteen can trace their origins clearly to the church, and another dozen or so were formed by old boys of schools with strong religious connections' (109)?  That includes QPR, Barnsley, Bolton, Wolverhampton, Southhampton and Aston Villa.

[rugby union]
Did you know that the William Webb Ellis story is fiction? In 1823, at the age he supposedly picked the ball up and ran with it, 'there were no accepted rules of football, so it would have been difficult for him to show a fine disregard for them' (132). But one fact that can be believed about William Webb Ellis is that 'he took part in the first-ever Oxford v Cambridge cricket match. He made 12 batting at number three...' (136). Ahh, out of (rugby) darkness and into the (cricketing) light ... and then even more light. He went on to become a country priest in Essex.

Did you know that there is 'no logical reason why the scoring in tennis is the way it is'? (180). 'The reasoning seems to be derived from French currency of the Middle Ages, which in turn derived from the ancient Babylonian obsession with the mystical significance of the number sixty. The 60 sous coin was the unit most commonly used for gambling ... and the winner of the game would win the coin. There being four points to be won in each game, the players would shout that they had won 15, then 30 then 45 sous, before taking the game and the coin. The forty-five was shortened to forty because it was easier to say...' (180).

Did you know that Tom Morris Jr was the first winner of the claret jug in 1872? He is still the youngest ever winner of The Open - at 17 years of age in 1868. He was set to become the WG Grace of golf. In 1875 he and his Dad (seen together in the photo) were challenging the Park brothers at the North Berwick course. 'On the final hole, young Tom putted successfully for victory, but then was handed a telegram telling him that his wife was seriously ill after giving birth to their first child. They set out immediately for St Andrews ... . But they were too late, and by the time they arrived home, both mother and baby were dead. Young Tom never got over the loss and lapsed into a deep melancholy ... [three months later] he was found dead at his home.' (221-223).

In the wider socio-historical setting, Rice slips in some fascinating observations. The introduction of the railways not only ensured that 'feudality is gone forever' (42), but it was 'one of the fairy godmothers to the birth of national sports' (42) - enabling greater ease of travel to seek competition. [Much like how, through airplanes, the birth of international sports has been made more possible]. The legal changes enabling a 'free Saturday afternoon' (55) were huge. 'The growth of industry had shown the virtues of a competitive economy' (57) and as these industries became 'new sporting benefactors' (57), they brought this competition with them. Also the expansion of the British Empire meant the need for young administrators everywhere and with them went this new-found love of games. And so cricket is played in India - oh yes, it is.

But why was America so resistant?
Only golf, which was reintroduced in the 19th century, and the post-revolutionary sport of lawn tennis ever really took root in America from Britain. Both are intrinsically individual sports rather than team sports. Does the post-revolutionary American psyche prefer self-reliance to depending on others? Did the wide open spaces of the American plains breed a man who has gotta do what a man's gotta do, rather than a man who's gotta do what his team-mates want him to do? (50)
Possibly ... I wonder if it also has something to do with the timing? The colonising of America was so much earlier, before many of these other sports had much momentum in their development.

nice chatting


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

lausanne and me

I had a bit of a chuckle as I reflected on this one.

Theologically, I do Love the Ls - Lausanne and Langham. I guess it has something to do with their common denominator, one John Stott. While Langham preoccupies my life at this current time, I have kept missing out on Lausanne for some time.

In 1974 I was a young teenager. Nobody expected the foundational meeting in Lausanne to be so epochal, or the Lausanne Covenant to become so creedal. It is a magnificent statement of evangelical conviction. 1974 was the year my brother John graduated from high school in India and my father, an invitee to that first Lausanne Congress, took John with him. I've been struggling with jealousy ever since.

In 1989, the Manila event, dubbed Lausanne II, beckoned. Again Dad was attending and this time he invited me to go with him. I was in the final lap of pastoral ministry in Invercargill. I thought it kinda odd to go as a passenger. I said 'no'.  Silly, silly boy. While not the quality of the Covenant, The Manila Manifesto is still worthwhile (with better alliteration). With Dad having now died, I cannot believe that I let that opportunity for memory-making pass by. I've been struggling with regret ever since.

In 2010, it was the turn of Cape Town. I found myself on the selection group for the participants from NZ. By this time I was working with Langham. Never, ever could it be easier for me to go to a Lausanne Congress, except that I was at a stage of life where 1 Corinthians 12 had a hold of me - 'the weaker are indispensable ... (those thought to be) less honourable, we treat with special honour'. I had double-booked myself, with plans to launch the first Langham Preaching seminar in Cambodia at the same time.Ugh. I came to the conviction that I must go to Cambodia. I've struggled with neither jealousy nor regret ever since - and this weekend I make my fifth visit to Cambodia. At least I've been able to benefit from The Cape Town Commitment - in particular, its call for reconciliation and discipleship on a global scale.

There is part of me that would love to be in a classroom again, or a home group, because looking closely at the Covenant, the Manifesto, and the Commitment would shape quickly as a priority.

Actually the chuckling doesn't stop there. For example, Lausanne decides to have a global gathering of leaders in theological education within months of me leaving such a leadership role - and there is just the one delegate invited from all of Australia./NZ/SWPacific. Guess who?! My successor at Carey Baptist College! [I was thrilled for him - and vicarious enjoyment took on new meaning for me]. Then this year - timed for just a few weeks before our planned departure (at the time) to live in Bangalore - I was invited to participate in a strategic global gathering for leaders. Guess where?! In Bangalore! I could not justify coming here from NZ twice in a matter of weeks. So I let it pass me by...

Never mind. I am so privileged to have the opportunities which Langham grants me now to work with the global church. I can drink my fill of it - and I think these smaller settings, 'far from the madding crowd', suit me far better.

nice chatting


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

two generations

I don't often write about our children in this blog - but these photos are too cool to overlook...

After thirty years in New Zealand, Barby and I have moved to India - leaving behind 5 children (we like to think it is 6 because we have a son-in-law as well) and 1 grandson. If it were not for the fact that this is what God wants us to do, it would be excruciatingly difficult. But because this is what God wishes, it is just difficult - and we are trusting him to enable us to cope with the separations. Mind you, many others have walked this walk before us...

I had my birthday last week. Look what the kids did for me. They found two photos from 18+ years ago and then tried to reproduce them as closely as possible. Very precious.

From left to right: Alyssa (a paediatric nurse), Bethany (a medical doctor in a few weeks), Stephen (a lawyer based in Uganda/Congo), Joseph (a few months into physiotherapy training), and Martin (a high school teacher from next year).

The second photo was not quite so successful because the initial one was taken in the back of a little station-wagon. But they get a 'high distinction' for effort, if not outcome. Bethany is even trying to get back into the car-seat! Joseph reproduced the pensive look, but I suspect Alyssa lost the plot...

No sign of son-in-law Timothy in those early years (just as well!). He and Alyssa plan to be in Baptist pastoral ministry next year, with Timothy completing his training at Carey Baptist College this month. He and Alyssa have little Micah, whom we 'talk' to on skype for a few minutes most mornings.

But we do need a photo with Timothy in it, don't we?
Here is one taken at Auckland airport just as Barby and I are about to board the plane to Bangalore...

nice chatting


we are family

I was seduced by the cover.

As I walked through Heathrow the other day, its extremist image and glaring headline captured me.

I bought. I read.

"The War on Christians: the global persecution of Christians is the unreported catastrophe of our time"

The article commences with three observations about the landscape of anti-Christian persecution today, 'as shocking as they are generally unknown':
According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. (emphasis very definitely mine)
According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth.
According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls 'a situation of witness' each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour... .
After spending the bulk of the article collecting specific contemporary examples of this persecution, the author asks the question, 'why are the dimensions of this global war so often overlooked?' He provides some responses, including:
... the victims are largely non-white and poor and thus not considered 'newsmakers' in the classic sense, and they tend to live and die well off the radar screen of western attention ... 
... the global war runs up against the out-dated stereotype of Christianity as the oppressor rather than the oppressed ... 
... Whatever the motives for the silence, it's well past time for it to end.
Then he turns to Pope Francis (as many will be doing in coming years, as long as he stays alive):
When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent, or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering?
While it is good to have Pope Francis on board with his talk of the global human family, the Apostle Paul has already said something similar - about the church as a single body, not just a single family. To see Paul's words to a local church having a projection onto the global church has become the greatest motivator to mission for me. I obey the Great Commission. I feel the Great Compassion. I know about hell - and heaven. I can count the statistics. But none of these have the prominence that these words from 1 Corinthians 12 have had in my life in recent years:
22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honourable are those we clothe with the greatest care ... So God has put the body together such that extra honour and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honoured, all the parts are glad. 
And so my response to the article? The global church needs to live like it is a single human family (like the Pope says) and like it is a single human body (like the Apostle says). Name the suffering, the persecution, the discrimination - speak out what is left silent ... and then make decisions with my relationships, my income, and my vocation that glue me with greater solidarity to those I may think that I do not need. This will build the harmony of the global church and this harmony will make the partnership with God in his restorative mission in the world that much more effective.

Postscript: When I write these posts I make it a practice never to consult other sources or websites. I just sit down, reflect and write. But this time I went to Wikipedia to find out about The Spectator. It is 'the oldest continuously published magazine in the English language'. I discovered that they were decidedly right-wing (which I did intuit as I read the rest of the magazine). Well, God bless them for publishing this stuff. Shame on the left-wing press for remaining silent. And may The Spectator spark a greater number of Participators in the mission of God.

nice chatting