Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Yippee! First galley proofs are done!

Some news for friends who have stoically followed my progress in writing my worship book over the last five years! I have just jumped over another hurdle! In the publishing process the editor sends galleys with details of all the clarifications, further research, extra writing etc. that are still needed. Normally a couple of weeks or so are given for the author to answer and return amended galleys. Of course, it helps if you have your books and papers around you. So I was greatly relieved that these 250 pages of galley proofs came a couple of weeks ago to my US address!

I buried myself in my basement study painstakingly dealing with the queries one-by-one. It took several days. Mercifully there was nothing dramatic to change. And yes, I was able to send it all back to my editor, before taking off for the last two months of my sabbatical in the UK. I now have to wait for the second galley proofs with print-ready pages requiring final review….due sometime at the end of the year.

Actually, I have mixed feelings. Obviously, part of me is mightily relieved to have reached this far with a book project that turned out to be more complicated than I thought. But, another part of me is frustrated because I know it could be better. Yet I know I must let go and let God and offer my “good is good enough” to his mercy!

Toronto (3) Walking a labyrinth

Staying in Toronto gave opportunity to walk through this city of many happy memories. I was especially intrigued by something new. A public labyrinth has been created (in 2005) based on the model in Chartres Cathedral. Colored blocks are set into the pavement floor, leading walkers on an interesting journey of 11 circuits until they reach the center. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has no dead ends. Rather it encourages you to move at your own pace and when you reach the middle to spend as long as you wish.

The public instructions described it as an ancient symbol of pilgrimage and journey and invited people to begin with a question or intention and move quietly along its route. A couple of things struck me as I followed its pattern.

1) It took much longer that I thought it would. Several times I thought I was close enough to walk into the center, only to turn away and wind around and around. It greatly surprised me that I was walking for around 20 minutes (not all that slowly either), and while I walked I really was quietened in mind and heart. Actually I was thinking about my journey with Jesus Christ, and pondering how the questions he asks do not lead to short cuts but to deeper understanding. It all proved much more of a 'journey' than I thought.

2) It is situated just outside the very busy Eaton Center in the heart of Toronto which is packed with shoppers and surrounded by businesses. One or two people were watching me on the sidelines but nobody else joined in the exercise while I was there. I thought of the sharp contrast between a contemplative discipline and its opportunity to be quiet and the noisy busy world just a short distance away.

I am glad I spent time this way. I can still picture the slow journey looping backwards and forwards….all the time making progress and yet slowing me down. It gave me a surprising opportunity for reflection. We all need times like this, don't we?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Toronto (2) - Friendship

I have been privileged to visit Toronto many times (beginning in 1980). Carol and I were involved in summer interim ministry several times at Yorkminster Park Church - a cathedral Baptist church (and there are not many of those!)

After the morning service at Timothy Eaton Memorial on Sunday morning (see last post), we wondered if we walked round a few blocks to Yorkminster Park we could catch any friends after their service. The last time we were there (six years ago?) we regularly met with a group after morning services at a family restaurant opposite the church. Were we too late and would they still be together? As we rounded the block, wondering who we might see, we espied one of them in the distance. Excitedly we called out his name. He spun round and greeted us by name and then...with increasing joy...we saw his wife and the whole gang. Immediately we were at home. Hugs and smiles, and breathless conversation ensued as we gathered round a long restaurant table.

I never cease to marvel at the quality of friendship among God's people so easily re-activated. Heaven is going to be like this.

Toronto (1)

Carol and I have just spent an exhilarating three days in Toronto. Why so exhilarating? Well, we were helping Timothy Eaton Memorial Church celebrate 100 years of ministry. This is a cathedral church built on cathedral proportions with beauty expressed by architecture, stained glass and, especially, music. Though it was our first visit to the church it was so easy to identify with the stirring faith of this people through the last 100 years.

The preparations for special services on Sunday were made with exquisite care. In printed orders of worship, every word was considered. Not one was wasted. The Senior Minister, Andrew Stirling, preached in the morning with freedom and power to an immense packed congregation. He took the Jeremiah 18 theme of the potter and the clay. At one point he recounted the story of how successive generations over the past 100 years served God in specific ways in the face of wars, poverty, and other social needs. His refrain: "We are clay...God is the potter" kept the focus on God 's providence throughout the story. It was inspiring to be there. Truly.

In the evening I preached and developed the theme of gladness in Psalm 122. Again, the congregation was large with other churches in the area sharing, especially Yorkminster Church which contributed half of a massive choir. I spoke about two kinds of gladness. The obvious kind for our own sakes - an understandable reaction to a visible cause. I mentioned some of the people who would be glad that the centenary services had gone so well because plans had worked out etc! But another kind of gladness is not understood by the world. It is gladness FOR GOD'S SAKE - when people join together to give thanks to his name (Ps 122:4) for who He is and for what He has done. Its an unselfish gladness focussed entirely on God's worthship. It's worship! Of course, other things were said too...but we came away so thrilled to have been part of such a great event. And, several people said to me..."Yes, we are glad for our sakes...but we are glad because of God's grace and goodness." Oh Yes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Hubbub of Preachers (2)

I was humbled by the time and trouble two scholars took to read my papers and
then they gave presentations, inviting me to respond. Dr. Bryan Chapell is Professor of Practical Theology and President of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO., and Dr. Don Hedges is Associate Professor and Director of the School of Music at Trinity International University.

Bryan has written a top-notch book Christ-Centered Worship and he rightly pressed me on a couple of theological issues. (1) about the primacy of preaching the Bible. In a worship world of song, images, symbols and sacrament it is only the preaching of Scripture that "locks down meaning." Further, (2) he warned about my stress on the Trinity unwittingly downplaying the Christocentric heart of Christian faith in Jesus Christ. Never forget the "necessity of remembering the redemptive thrust in Jesus Christ," he warned. I certainly need to keep those truths in focus.

Don, with his perspective as someone very committed to music in worship, suggested that in the "worship wars" so far much preaching had been able to stay above the conflict. Indeed preaching had been allowed to continue largely undisturbed. However he foresaw preaching also being subjected to similar stresses in the future, as people began pressing for their preferences in how preaching itself is done. So, for example, the more formal preacher might be less favored than the informal etc. He made many other points warning that worship can be "too much" when it becomes too general, or "too little" when reduced to a matter of sensation, style, and personal taste.

They made many other good points too which opened up into general lively discussion. It all contributes to a continuing debate....I am so grateful for these challenges.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Hubbub of Preachers (1)

I am not sure what you call a group of preachers (a hubbub?) but last week I enjoyed speaking at the Evangelical Homiletics Conference (at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). The title was "Connecting Preaching and Worship" - just up my alley!

I took advantage of the two main sessions to describe my last five years' journey as a preacher and teacher of preachers. About how my settled life of teaching and writing was suddenly disturbed by a serious ambush. I was attacked by what I call a "gang of four." These four forces circled me and closed in, demanding that I take all them seriously. They didn't line up and ask politely to be noticed in turn. They formed a posse and coerced my response.

The four? (1) Big-picture worship that refused to be pushed to one side as less important than preaching. (2) Trinitarian theology that demanded it be given full reign to explain both preaching and worship. (3) Scripture that shouted loudly it wasn't just for sermons but the whole of worship. (4) Community Formation that insisted on building a people together like living stones (1 Pet. 2:1-12).

I raced through my story in a couple of hours describing how this gang of four brought me to a new place of understanding. I am sure many at the conference were really surprised at the way it developed. But the special part, for me, was the third plenary session when two academics responded to my lectures. I'll post a couple of issues they raised next.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Founder's Day

Back in the US in a whirl, I enjoyed a low and high on Friday. The low was my three monthly hospital visit for a series of injections into my neck to keep my neurological disease at bay. It was a reminder of my mortality (as if I need it)!

But within two hours I was back at Northern Seminary to speak at the Founder's Day Dinner - an annual occasion to give thanks in our 97th year for the life and witness of the community. I was given the theme: "Equipping the Church to Change the World." Not a slight subject! On video and on printed cards we were faced by many stories - of courageous work by former students in frontline ministry and startling testimonies by some of the incoming students this year. We also heard that enrolment was up 32% compared with last year. I spoke to some of my colleagues - "You won't believe just how full the classrooms are this term!" they said. Wonderful.

My session on Friday night was followed by my leading a devotional and discussion time with the Board on Saturday morning. It was encouraging to touch base and especially meet so many students. I really look forward to re-engaging with this great community but have a few weeks of sabbatical still to run. Next on my agenda is the Evangelical Homiletics Society at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where I keynote with two lectures! Thanks for following my progress. Prayers are greatly valued!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Sunday first

Last Sunday I was interviewed live over the 'phone during a morning service in N. England. Stuart, had contacted me out of the blue....I had not heard from him since he left Spurgeon's College in the mid-90's. He told me that he had been reflecting on some past experiences of Scripture coming alive and that he particularly remembered when I preached in college chapel. "Each time I listened to your reflections and sermons in the Bible you seemed to have found something that had truly inspired you...something you were almost compelled to communicate...and I couldn't leave until I heard what you had found!"

Stuart asked whether I would act as a "surprise" guest....that, as he was preaching about the Bible coming alive, he could talk about his past experience and then startle the congregation by calling me up by 'phone? It so happened that this was my last full day in England as I prepared to fly back...so I positioned myself by the 'phone to take part in this congregational surprise.
I was thrilled that it triggered a good response. Stuart emailed me later passing onto me some of the positive comments that people made and the stimulus it had given to fresh Bible reading.

What an imaginative way to interact, and how encouraging that Stuart had such memories. Things like this keep me humble and thankful. Also, I wondered who I would like to interview and thereby surprise my congregation in some future sermon?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Silver Jubilee

Last Saturday was a rare day. Friends gathered at Chatsworth Baptist Church (already mentioned in previous posts) to celebrate 25 years since the founding of HOPE NOW - an amazing holistic missionary organization. Vic Jackopson has been the inspiration (under God) for this extraordinary work, focused in the Ukraine but with tentacles reaching across the world. With his wife Sue alongside every step of the way he has pioneered this work which brings gospel hope to the neediest - prisoners, street children, orphans, poverty-stricken and disabled. Yet also plants churches, supports students, runs major centres and is into almost everything (it seems) for the sake of Jesus.

I was thrilled to be the preacher to help lead the celebration which also saw the induction of his successor - Jon Budgell. So many things stand out for me as I reflect on a wonderful occasion.
- God specializes in one-offs. I don't know anybody like Vic. Converted in prison, with a call to ministry that was unique from the first. I call him a Baptist Rambo, worthy of being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Chair of his trustees called him an 'entrepreneurial missionary' which is another way of saying he's made major mischief for Jesus.
- God sustains for lifetimes. Actually, Vic continues to work. Aged 69 he never sees himself retiring and is now committed to mentoring the tens of pastors who are in ministry in the Ukraine because of HOPE NOW. But we've known him for nearly 50 years and throughout illness and difficulties there has been continuous contagious enthusiasm marked by extraordinary gospel happenings. To think my wife and I have known him throughout....all the extravagant hopes at the beginning...seemed to have been fulfilled for God's glory.
- God gifts you the sixties to go on finishing well. I really think that the joy of this past weekend has been the meeting up with peers whose ministries have been very different and yet together of rejoicing in fruit. To rejoice with Vic has been very special.

There's much more I could say. You can find out more about Hope Now on its web site and Vic is now on concert tour in the UK so that others can join in. Thank you Vic and Sue....you have enriched our lives and the kingdom more than you will know.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Outside the Baptist Church in the centre of Oxford there has been a public art project. Called Imagine, the artist Diane Bell has constructed a big book about 8 foot high and nearly 4 foot wide. It's made of wood with the covers open so that you can step inside to find a huge sheet of paper on which passers-by are asked to write. The artist invites them to respond in their own words to the question: "How do you imagine the world in the future?"

I talked with the artist who explained that so far 10 big sheets had been filled up with every sort of comment, from every age range about every kind of issue. She said that Oxford University Press was going to publish the results of her project. While I was talking several people came up. Some went in to write comments. One lady said, "Oh, I couldn't write anything now, I need more time."

I bent down and found a small patch. Around were crowded so many comments.
Peace not war
Imagine animals could talk
A big spoon to eat everything...Samantha aged 7.
Reading to my grandchildren
I do not want to have a haircut for a long time.

Someone had wrtten: There's no heaven. I wondered why.

I can't recall exactly what I wrote, but in between these remarks I scrawled.
Imagine a world in which God has brought everything together in his peace,through his kingdom in Christ where everything is united in love, wonder and worship.

This is the dream of people who have heard, and know its true that God reigns. What would you have written?