Monday, February 25, 2013

from text to sermon

For twenty years in a college setting, I used the metaphor of the body to describe the movement from text to (expository) sermon. It works OK. Head. Skeleton. Flesh. Ligaments. Wings... Ramesh Richard and Richard Bewes are two people who helped me work on the body.

But over time I have become dissatisfied with the body.

During these four years with Langham, working more in a grassroots setting across a dozen countries around Asia and the Pacific, I have been experimenting with a different metaphor. The map. Here is a summary sheet I developed for a seminar in Australia. (NB: just click on it and it should become readable).

The key components of this metaphor are:
the country: the sermon in a sentence (determined by the 'big idea' in the text)
the states: the main points of the sermon
the cities:  three of them in each state: explanation, illustration, application
the global: placing passage/sermon in wider biblical context (biblical theology)  
the flag: a prevailing image for the sermon
the anthem: the pulse and purpose of the sermon

It isn't perfect! Like any metaphor, it has its limitations. And it isn't being used in every country (but some do love it!). Here are some of the reasons why I prefer it to the body...

Friday, February 15, 2013

deuteronomy ! and ?

Finding ways to engage meaningfully with the Bible in the midst of traversing time zones is one of life's challenges. In 2012 I decided to focus on one biblical book for the entire year: Revelation. I blogged about the experience here and here. It was so worthwhile I've decided to do it all again in 2013.

Deuteronomy is the book I've chosen. I've always loved the tender verses in this book - like Deut 4.32-40 and Deut 30.11-20, just for starters. Exclamation marks fill my life as I read these verses. I want to get much closer to that tenderness and soak in it. But then as I've started reading the book, there is some anguish as well. For some reason, this time around I am deeply troubled by the tough verses - like the way God chucks people out of their own country so that the people of Israel can have it. It is not a good look. Question marks fill my life as I read these verses. I want to get much closer to that toughness and resolve it.

So I've set myself a schedule for the year.
There are three layers to that schedule.

The first is a more devotional reading of the book. I want to read through it twice. On the first occasion, my companion will be John Goldingay (Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone). On the second time through the book, I will keep the company of Ajith Fernando (who actually had the publishers send me my very own copy of his Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving God!). The former is 100 pages, while the latter is 700 pages.

The second layer is focused on reading commentaries on Deuteronomy. Initially, I want to read my Langham colleague's (Paul Barker) little The God Who Keeps His Promises ... and then I have selected J. G. McConville's Deuteronomy as a follow-up.

The third layer will engage with some of the deeper hermeneutical-theological issues which the book raises. And so I am going to start with Chris Wright's The God I Don't Understand, before coming back to David Firth & Philip Johnston (ed), Interpreting Deuteronomy: Issues and Approaches.

As with Revelation in 2012, I want this reflection to feed into preaching from Deuteronomy. Last year it was Revelation 7.9-17 - and this year I want to prepare, at the very least, a message on Deut 28.65-67 which God is using to open up my heart to the possibility of leaving family and the familiar here in NZ - to go and live with Barby in Asia. It speaks of how different parts of the body are impacted by a life of disobedience. My hope and prayer is that the life of obedience might experience the polar opposite.

nice chatting


Thursday, February 14, 2013

professional sport

[Today is the annual Halbergs Award ceremony when excellence in NZ sport is acknowledged. In an Olympic year, things tend to be more straightforward - but overall, the decisions are made in a very subjective manner. I tried to address this in a post a couple of years ago - the Halberg Knot}.

But on this auspicious day in NZ sport, another topic is of interest: professionalism. One of the characteristics of professional sport is the way sportspeople are enabled to be fully devoted to their sport because they are paid to compete. No part-time work. No practices only in the evenings. Fully devoted.

New Zealand is a relative newcomer to professional sport. We are still finding our way. One of my persistent questions has to do with scheduling. For a comparison, I will use North America, rather than Europe, because its size is a little closer to what we have here in Australia and New Zealand.

With the football sports, the scheduling is similar. NFL football, rugby, rugby league, and soccer/football all tend to be about one game every 7 days. But with my two loves - basketball and cricket - there are some dramatic changes.

With basketball...
In the NBL, the Auckland-based franchise (Breakers) play 28 games in 168 days. In the NBA, the Chicago-based franchise (Bulls) play 82 (just change the order of the digits!) in a very similar 169 day regular season. The Breakers play one game every 6 days, while the Bulls play one game every 2.1 days.

That is quite a discrepancy. Travelling across the Tasman can account for only a little of it - as Australian-based franchises - with similar travel distances as in the USA - have the same schedule. Now we don't want an 82 game season (no, we don't) - but we could do with a much shorter season, couldn't we? Maybe the season is extended for marketing/financial reasons? I understand that rationale. But as someone who enjoys basketball, I have to confess that the spacious schedule has me losing interest in the Breakers. A home game once every 12 days is just not frequent enough in my view. And because the sport is going so well, I suspect there will be no changes made. However things could be even better.

With cricket...
While some will dispute it, a strong case can be made for the comparability between a baseball game and a Twenty20 game. In the current series between NZ and England, 3 games are played over 6 days (if you allow a preparation day and a recovery day, which the schedule seems to suggest). That is one game every 2 days - but the sample size ain't great. With baseball the Chicago Cubs will play 162 games in 181 days - just a phenomenal amount, one game every 1.12 days.

Again, even with a small sample size, that is quite a discrepancy. I do not understand why cricket players need two days off between 3hr Twenty20 games. It borders on the preposterous - particularly in a country like NZ which is so small in size and travel is so easy. I can only imagine that it is the Players' Association working hard to keep the players soft. If I was in charge(!), I'd extend the squad a bit (allowing for increased rotation) and fill the schedule a bit (which is great for the coffers, it must be said) by having 5 games in 8 days: Sat-Sun-Wed-Sat-Sun - and then an extra day's break before the ODIs commence.

Now I am not saying that professional sports in the USA is the model. Far from it. There is much to avoid - like the obscene salaries, for starters. But in terms of scheduling and the way in which that sustains fan interest and builds momentum, there is much to learn from the great nation across the waters.

nice chatting


Wednesday, February 06, 2013

bible & treaty

I have been buzzing all summer over the discovery that the man (Sir James Stephen) who shaped the policy for New Zealand leading into the Treaty of Waitangi - on this very day, 173 years ago - was Wilberforce's (step) nephew and was himself a child of the Clapham Sect. Then I discover (Keith Newman, in Bible & Treaty, 140-141) that this Sir James Stephen was actually a student of Charles Simeon, one of my enduring heroes (and namesake of our middle son, Martin Charles Simeon - and we have a Stephen James as well!). I wrote about it here. As a teetotaler, this is the closest I'll ever get to being intoxicated. I have subjected so many thoroughly disinterested people to my great summer discoveries...

Anyhow, I gave myself the goal of reading Newman's Bible & Treaty before this year's Waitangi Day. Well worth the effort. In a nutshell, what this book taught me is that the early missionaries (like Henry and William Williams, for starters) built on  Sir James Stephens' good work and then people like Bishop Selwyn, the Wakefields and Governor Grey came along and stuffed it all up.

Beyond that little synopsis, I had four responses to the book.

As I read, I did some cheerleading. Both Barby and I are children and grandchildren of missionaries. One grows weary of the way the contribution of missionaries is either unfairly criticised, or just simply ignored. The writings of Philip Jenkins, Lamin Sanneh, Rodney Stark and others have done their bit to rehabilitate the missionary - but, alas, in those hallowed halls of the university, so often fed today by an anti-Christian bias, I am unsure how far this rehabilitation has reached. Newman certainly does his bit, as the subtitle infers: 'missionaries among the Maori - a new perspective'. As I lived in his pages I had this consuming desire to sit down and chat with Henry & Marianne Williams, William & Jane Williams, Octavius & Catherine Hadfield, James & Sarah Watkin, and Thomas & Agnes Grace. Along with sharing the gospel, the role of missionaries in peace-making and peace-keeping is particularly noteworthy. Then there is the role of Henry Williams in the Treaty of Waitangi process. He got involved 'in order to ensure it was as favourable as possible to Maori' (146). And in his translation of the Treaty, he was determined to 'avoid all English terms for which there was no expression in Maori, 'thereby preserving the spirit and tenor of the treaty.' (147)
If Henry Williams had not actively courted the chiefs and explained to them the importance of the treaty - specifically that the Crown was honouring their request for protection - it would never have been signed. Indeed, if he had said a single word against it, the chiefs, who had come to trust him so much, would never have agreed to it. (148)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


As I travel overseas training preachers, there is a Maori word that so often slips from my lips. Before I know it, out it comes - and then I have to explain what I mean. That is when things get complicated. I stumble away and invariably the conversation shifts to another topic, as I am left to live with my inarticulate stumblings.

It is the word mana. I use words like 'respect', or 'gravitas', or 'charisma' ... but they just do not do the job adequately. I was interested to see David Fischer, in Fairness and Freedom, having the same struggle. How do you explain mana in a sentence, or two, to people who are not immersed in Maori culture? He notes that 'the English language has no exact equivalent for mana' (136-137) and then quotes Frederick Maning:
Virtus, prestige, authority, good fortune, influence, sanctity, luck, are all words which under certain conditions, give something near the meaning of mana, though not one of them gives it exactly ... (it is) the accompaniment of power, but not the power itself. Mana is a spiritual and moral idea. A man [sic] must be in the right to have great mana. (quoted on page 137)
Hmmm ... 'a spiritual and moral idea'? That got me thinking. While wary of complicating things by crossing too many centuries and cultures - I do wonder if Aristotle might be helpful for me in my stumblings. What about mana being something akin to the confluence of logos, pathos and ethos? Aristotle develops these words in the context of what makes communication, or rhetoric, persuasive. I just happened to be reading Robert Smith Jr's Doctrine that Dances, a book on preaching, as I was thinking about mana and he explains Aristotle so well...
[ethos] is the integrity, credibility, or character of the preacher ... [it is] the perceived character of a good man speaking well (113).
[pathos] is the emotive and passionate sector of the preacher ... 'His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones' (Jeremiah 20.9). (113-114).
 [logos] is the gathering of content and material of the sermon (114).

These three in concert (character, passion, word) are what persuades, what influences ... and therefore what is powerful. And when I think of people with mana (and I do realise that for Maori it is not just people who have mana) - this seems to fit.

Just a thought on this Waitangi Day - and probably an unhelpfully complicating one at that!

nice chatting (the Maori word next often on my lips as I travel and train is taonga ...)


Sunday, February 03, 2013

lament for lanka

I have a soft spot for Sri Lanka. While I am unsure of the exact source of this softness, there are many tributaries which have contributed to its flow.

God's call usually works like the dawning of the day, rather than the lightning strike. It takes time. However for me, the Sri Lankan tsunami was like a lightning strike in the early dawn. It broke my heart for the peoples of the world. It was the decisive moment from when God gradually led me out of a NZ-based job into one that placed us closer to more of those peoples. Then, five years after the tsunami, I awoke one morning in Colombo to the news of the Christchurch earthquake and then spent the week listening to the pastors with whom I was working plead repeatedly, in unison and aloud, for the people of my country. I've been with many of those pastors this past week and once again I heard them pleading, in unison and aloud - this time for my son Stephen who has been so sick in Uganda with malaria.

Speaking of family, there is another tributary. Many years ago my parents adopted a Sri Lankan (Indrani) into our family ... only to discover later that I actually had a real Sri Lankan sister. In the 1950s, on the way to the UK, the boat on which my parents were travelling stopped at Colombo. My Mum was over 20 weeks pregnant and lost a little baby girl. My Dad buried Rosemary at sea in Sri Lankan waters.

Then there is Kumar Sangakkara, a favourite cricketer. Gracious, courageous, intelligent, articulate - and skilled (of all the Test cricketers with more than 10,000 runs - Sangakkara has the second highest average). Last weekend I was in Kandy and just happened to stay at a B&B owned by Kumar's auntie - with the Sangakkara family home just up the hill. Alas, no invitation was forthcoming - although I did hint at it. [NB: if there really are four Sangakkaras, as this photo suggests, maybe they could lend one to New Zealand?].

Then there is Ajith Fernando, a favourite preacher. His ability to open the Scriptures with clarity and, at the same time, open his life with transparency, without his life eclipsing the text, is second-to-none. It is just the type of preaching we need so desperately. Ajith had the publisher send me my own copy of his big new book containing expositions on Deuteronomy. I am going to read it this year...