Saturday, May 29, 2010

Preaching at Wheaton (2)

I have asked First Baptist church (via their June bulletin) to help me.

Please can you help me? I am preaching a series called TRUTH SPACES, all about the questions that Jesus asked in the gospels.

It is said that you can tell how wise people are more by the questions they ask than the answers they give. Our questions reveal so much about us - our depth or
shallowness. Questions develop relationships, opening up new possibilities. When the world's greatest personality, Jesus Christ, asks questions we should sit up
and take notice. He doesn't just teach with authority (though he most certainly does) but he also invites ordinary people to open up to him. He invites them into truth spaces.

I invite anyone (with internet access) to prepare along with me by and reading and responding to my blog. For those without internet access I really welcome written input too. I shall post details of each sermon some days before I preach and encourage you to prepare with me sharing your own insights and stories. This is not a new idea to me, nor some gimmick. I have used my blog over the last cople of years to invite others to joine me in preparation elsewhere. I thas led to some profound experiences. As a preacher I have grown and as worshippers together we have been to deeper places.

My first sermon (June 6th) will be on the question Jesus asks in John 1:29-42: "What do you want?" I invite you to do help me prepare in the next few days:
1) Prayerfully read John 1:29-42 out aloud, spending quality time immersing yourself into this story. Listen with the help of the Holy Spirit.
2) Ask what God is saying and doing in this encounter, especially when Jesus asks these two would-be disciples the question: What do you want?" Responding to Scripture means not only understanding its message (what it says) but obeying what is does, at it makes fresh demands on our lives.
3) What surprises you about Jesus' question? Yes, you!
4) Join in with me as I ask the same questions and try to focus on what I call the sermon's main impact: "By God's grace what this sermon will SAY is....and DO is...."
5) Post your own insights on my blog.
6) Keep praying for the worship on June 6th.
7) Post your responses on my blog in the days afterwards.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Grateful to be preaching

Through June and July I shall be back preaching at First Baptist Church, Wheaton, while its pastor is away on sabbatical. I am so thankful to be able to preach a short series among people I really love and appreciate. There is nothing more wonderful for an itinerant preacher than to grow roots for a few weeks with such a community!

What's going to happen? Who can tell! But I am praying some major things will happen. In order of importance:

- THE LORD will use this time for spiritual refreshment and find us a people open to His will.
- THE SERMON SERIES - Truth Spaces - about some questions that Jesus asked, will lead us all to fresh experiences of being with Jesus Christ.
- BLOGGING - using this blog I hope I shall encourage growing participation before, during and after worship, not only enriching me as preacher but taking us all to deeper places. (I have written a short explanation about my worship blogging for the church congregation which should be in their hands on May 30th).
- A BOOK - I am hoping these sermons will result in a book that will grow out of our stories and learning to help others on their journey of discipleship. The same day I start preaching at Wheaton to cover for the pastor's sabbatically actually begins my sabbatical (from Northern Seminary)! And one of my sabbatical projects is writing a bible study guide for groups and individuals on questions that Jesus asked.

Shortly, I will share what I hope may happen week-byweek through my postings...but in the meantime please pray that in the run-up to June 6th. all of us who are preparing will keep being directed by the Lord.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Finishing Well at Oak Lawn (2)

Last night I met with a stalwart group at Oak Lawn to reflect on and review their year-long worship renewal project. It marked the formal conclusion of my own involvement, though I shall hope to keep in touch with what happens next.

Key brainstorming looked at interactive methods they had used in the past year, asking what had enriched their worship, and what would they like to try. The two pastors, Michael and John, described different ways interaction had operated. Sometimes the Wednesday evening group had helped sermon preparation and evaluated the sermon afterwards. During the sermon time the preachers had sometimes stopped and invited worshippers to pray, or to answer questions in groups. Occasionally a question was provided beforehand in the bulletin with group interaction in threes or fours. Power-point slides had opened up questions too. John spoke about inviting his whole congregation to respond with him to an opening question that enabled everyone to participate in opening up Scripture (rather like Doug Pagitt's style) and sometimes they use lectio divina. People showed appreciation for many of these different ways of being involved.

Moving on to what they would like to try they gave some interesting responses:
-blogging and using facebook or a forum on the church website
-more lectio divina.
-more application
-unified worship service
-involvement of children
-devotional help for worshippers to follow through the sermon theme during the week
-encouragement that builds each other up.
One lady pleaded at the end that something fresh might happen after all this talk. "We are good at talking about things, but when are we going to act differently?" That's always the sobering challenge for Christian groups, isn't it?

We didn't have time for my final section on evaluating worship, but I did have opportunity to preach on Luke 4:14-21 and share something of my own experience (in Cambridge) of a worshipping community that had grown into a God-given mission. Of course, I have little idea what possibilities God is calling these good people of Oak Lawn into. But I shall keep listening out for how our talking and experimenting over this past year will make a difference as they act differently for God.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Finishing Well at Oak Lawn

Patient readers of my blog will know I have been involved with two churches in Oak Lawn as they developed a worship renewal program over this past year. The most recent (lively) episode concerned Doug Pagitt's visit. Next Tuesday evening there is an Open Meeting to draw together some key issues.

I have been asked to do two things:
1) Preach a short sermon (note short!) on the call to live out God's kingdom values in our lives and community, to be followed by interaction with all present.
2) Co-lead a 20 minutes conversation about evaluating worship with possible markers for transformation. How can we tell whether our worship is making any difference?

To encourage collaboration church members already know that I shall preach on Luke 4:14-21. I want to open eyes to Christ's mission while telling a little of my own story. Linking congregational worship with community mission has always been a key concern in the Oak Lawn project.

You know how I like to sum up my work on the sermon by defining what the sermon will say and do. By God's grace what the sermon will say is that Jesus' mission is global, subversive and impossible without his power, BUT it is possible with him where we live. And what it will do is inspire worshippers to commit to his mission in Oak Lawn. Of course, nothing will happen apart from God's grace.

I continue to work on the second part about evaluating worship. Any insights are welcome, as always.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Back from OZ (6)

The cramped return flight is over and I now meander through jet-lag haze as I reconnect with home-life. Yesterday, we discovered the fifteen-foot-long roof ridging had detached itself, and roofers had to rescue us from imminent storm damage. Today, workmen have continued work in our damaged basement. At one point, as I was reacquainting myself with a doctoral thesis for an oral tomorrow, electricians requested that I empty a six foot high book case so that they could reach a hidden outlet behind So chaos continues, but it is a great relief to be home.

I reflect on my Australian visit with real thanks. Yes, I worked hard for five days, but bookending my preaching and teaching I spent the first Saturday revisiting the heart of Sydney. Taking the train, I walked across the famous bridge, climbed the pylon, ambled round to the Opera House and then through the Botanical Gardens to the Art Gallery. On my last day (Friday) friends took me to Manley Beach for an hour's walk amidst the surfers as crowds enjoyed the last day(s) of Summer. Both my last two nights I had wonderful meals with "old" friends. How much I appreciate such friends who I had not seen for 10 years...yet instantly we picked up where we last left-off. Ending Friday night with prayer around the table reminded me of the Reason why friendship bonds go so deep in Christ's love.

Many of the pastors I addressed seemed neutral about my praise of blogging! But I now need to work hard anticipating work ahead, and you should see some postings as I complete my work at Oak Lawn and begin preaching at First Baptist Wheaton. Of course, these are the last few precious days for refining my manuscript too! Thanks for reading along.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In OZ (5) Captain Cook

The last two days have completed my duties here as I taught an intensive (well-named) to a class of 13 preachers completing post-graduate studies. It's been very stimulating with excellent interaction. In so many ways their experience is much closer to my UK background than my US context. Not just in terms of dealing with secularism but the way their churches are governed etc. But then Australia still has the Queen!

Flying over I read a large biography of Captain James Cook. It's been sitting on my shelf for a long time and it seemed appropriate to retrace his story. Captain Cook had such impact - both positive and negative. He failed to recognize the value of Sydney Harbour and he stated there were very few Aboriginal peoples so that land could be claimed as though almost uninhabited. But his feat in arriving here for the first time is extraordinary.

His instructions from the Lords of the Admiralty (July 30 1768) included these words: Whereas there is reason to imagine that there is a Continent or Land of great extent, may be found to the southward....You are to proceed to the southward in order to make discovery of the Continent above mentioned.

The biographer Richard Hough writes:

Today...when man has walked on the moon and contrived numberless devices and
inventions which have transformed life on earth, we can still stand back in
wonder at the dimensions of these orders, at the sheer effrontery of asking
nearly one hundred men to embark in a wooden vessel, scarcely more than 100 feet
in length, and dependent for its mobility upon the whim of winds and currents
and tides, to sail to the other side of a world only dimly charted, there to
carry out an exacting observation, and then to discover a completely uncharted
content, survey its coastline and take note of its characteristics.
Perhaps an even greater wonder was that men of experience and wisdom were
prepared to take on this undertaking and with pleasure and excitement.

You do have to marvel. It stirs in me other pictures too...of just eleven men at the end of Matthew's gospel being told to go and make disciples of all nations. What effrontery - all dependent on the grace of God. You know that line from the hymn: "Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days?"

In OZ (4) Of mice and men

Hearing about my wife's experiences one of my Australian friends said I should balance out sympathy by posting about my stay here. Let me say it's been great to be on campus so close to everything, and everyone here is so kind and thoughtful. I asked to stay in the "cottage" which is a couple of rooms attached to an older house.

As Oz goes into Winter the days have been bright but the nights cooler to cold. The first night I was woken by assorted noises in roof and walls. Apparently possums are living everywhere and are protected by the State. However, reaching for my bread on top of the fridge for morning breakfast I found internal visitors had gnawed through the plastic and enjoyed the loaf as well as some fruit Yes, mice! Bold mice. This has begun a great mouse hunt, every day laying bait and setting traps. While I have been working one comes out, winks at me and sets about devouring the poison which apparently merely builds muscles and zest. The saga has continued every day.

A stronger electric heater was introduced early on. As I put on the microwave to heat my evening meal the entire electricity fused. (You see parallels with Carol's story!) I looked for the fuse box in the darkness, and eventually found the neighbours who said it belongs on their circuit. Restoring power, it all fused again. Extracting unnecessary plugs from sockets I accidentally disconnected the fridge. 24 hours later I was surprised by a small lake in the kitchen area (and spoiled food)! While in no way do I expect to diminish the anguish of Carol's birthday blues....I offer this as a token of fellow sympathy.

Meanwhile, while I am in OZ (3)

Today has been my wife's birthday. I had to work out the time difference carefully for my early morning call. She said how much she was missing me but she was going to make the best of the day. However, looking at my emails between classes I saw that a water pipe had burst and flooded part of the basement. Frantically she asked about insurance details etc. Birthday spirit seemed a little strained. Later, managing to contact her by phone, I learned that an emergency plumber was going to help and Carol was staying in for her evening meal, frying eggs and roasting a few potatoes to celebrate with friends who are staying with her.

Another call a few hours later I found the plumber had finished three hours work on a pipe that had corroded. Carol had paid a large bill...birthday spirit seemed a little more strained.

Just before the end of the day I checked in to find that the house electricity had now failed. It was not caused by fuse failure. Indeed all electrical circuits seemed OK. But Carol and friends were ending the day as people who walk in darkness. Definitely birthday spirit had worn thin!

It is strange how when I have been away bad things have often happened at home. In discussion with others here in Sydney we spoke about the phenomenon that when one person is doing Christian work, problems can arise. We don't often talk about spiritual conflict do we, but this seems to fit.? Corrosion could have given way at any time....but on Carol's birthday! Fortunately, she's made of strong stuff and she's experienced this downside of Christian service many times before.

But, of course, I am going to have to make up for my absence on this birthday!

In OZ (2) Preaching the Bible Today

All day Monday and Tuesday I have been speaking at the Preaching the Bible Today Conference. Two of us shared responsinbility. Dr. Allan Demond spoke on Preaching Job. I focused on Preaching the Questions of Jesus.

About 115 preachers have taken part, and when I say taken part I really mean it. After my first session setting out principles of preaching narrative, they really got stuck into dealing with a series of texts. Decibel levels we high as preachers talked over open Bibles. That's a wonderful sound! I scarcely had a moment to myself...interaction was non-stop. What emerged? Well, I'm not sure on the bigger scale. But for me:
- a continuing conviction that these questions of Jesus matter
- excitement about preaching them myself through June/July at First Baptist Wheaton
- a buzz about collaboration in sermon and worship preparation - especially by blogging.

So watch this space in a few days time as I start preparing for Wheaton, and I encourage friends near and far to journey with me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In OZ (1) Connections and Memories

This is almost my first breather after four very full days. Time to log on and catch up.
Sunday began early at 4:30am (oh jetlag!) But I was grateful for an early start because I had two sermons to prepare. Some of you know that I like to preach without notes and this requires serious immersion in the text. At 8:20am a student arrived to take me to Epping Baptist Church, Sydney, to preach at the 9:00 am and 10:30 am services.

I last preached there 19 years ago. One senior member came up and said: "Do you remember that I wrote to you in the late 1980's to become our pastor?" It all flooded back how Carol and I had received a full package from him, complete with details and warm invitation. I thought how strange that I might have been given a call here, and spent some of my life down-under. You never do know. Several friends turned up to greet me most of whom I had not seen for 10 years, evoking wonderful memories.

The present new minister and wife - Andrew and Rosalyn Hall - arrived a few weeks ago from the UK. They married 13 years ago and met when Andrew was a student at Spurgeon's College. My wife had a considerable role in bringing them together - a romantic story! What a thrill to see Andrew, one of "my" students now pastor of this strategic church.

With a brief afternoon break I was off for a long drive through Sydney to preach at Narwee Baptist church. Over 200, mostly young people, packed the building with such enthusiasm. As I drove back thinking of the day's connections and memories, of what-might-have-beens, and of what-actually-has-happened, I was so grateful to God for this special day in Oz.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Off to Oz

Today I leave for Sydney, Australia and at the moment I am surrounded by papers - hoping and praying that I am taking all the appropriate ones! Many speakers share the anxiety about leaving something important behind! (It's a perennial dream, nightmare, of standing up in front of people and realizing you are not prepared). Sorting papers out in files for my different responsibilities ahead is daunting.

I am reminded of E. Stanley Jones' saying: "It's not my responsibility but my response to his ability that counts." I know careful preparation and right materials (and missing papers) is all dependent on God's grace to make it effective. So, I need to trust in a big way!

Maybe I shall be able to post something when I'm there....but at some stage I shall let you know what happens. Thanks for partnering with me.