Monday, January 31, 2011

I've read every page, man

Yesterday morning, lying awake in bed after what could have been no more than four hours sleep, I got me to thinking about a song idea I had many years ago. This germ of a song idea must have occurred to me at least five years ago. I'd had a few tries at getting the syllabic structure to work, but nothing seemed to come out right. But somehow through the sleep deprived haze I decided to make another attempt at writing new words to the classic Aussie song I've Been Everywhere by Lucky Starr, with the place names substituted for every book of the Bible.

For years I'd been toying with the idea of writing a song called 'I've read every book' (which incidentally, I have). I had the couplets "I've read every book, man/ I've read every book man/ Genesis to Revelation/ Found out about salvation.' But as I was lying there I said to myself, "Self, the rhyme would be better if it said 'page, man' rather than 'book, man' because it rhymes better with salvation. And then I finally got the first verse to work as well with a little gag on the end, rather than just squeezing in more book names.

So that was it. I was off to the study with my guitar and laptop opened. An hour and a half later (with the help of my trusty rhyming dictionary) I had me a song. That was yesterday.

Today's lunch break from study was laying the track down on Garage Band. It took me about an hour to get set up and recorded. That's the best way. No mucking around.

So if you want to have a listen you can check it out over on the Izaac Sings Aloud myspace page. Where our motto is 'Izaac sings aloud... but I wish he wouldn't.'

I’ve read every page
Well I was strolling the aisle of the dusty second-hand book store
When along came the owner, to help me find what I was searching for.
“If you’re looking for a Bible, mate, they’re round the other side.”
So I followed him on over, as he led me as my guide.
I asked him if he’d ever read any of the holy book?
He paused for just a moment, and gave a funny look.

And said…
I’ve read every page, man. I’ve read every page, man.
Genesis to Revelation,
I found out ‘bout salvation
It starts off with creation
I’ve read every page.

Well I read
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers
Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel,
Samuel, Kings, Kings, Chronicles, Chronicles,
Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job and Psalms
Proverbs, then Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
Isaiah, Jeremiah, getting here I’m tempted to retire.

But I’ve read every page, man
I’ve read every page, man
From the promise of a nation
To warnings ‘bout damnation
Genesis to Revelation
I’ve read every page

Then I read
Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea,
Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah stuck up in the whale,
My car, your car, his car, her car,
their car, our car, whose car? Micah
Nahum, Habakkuk, that sounds a bit yuk,
Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi… ah

I’ve read every page, man. I’ve read every page, man.
Exiled from the promised land
Judah as the chosen clan
Waiting for the Christ-man
I’ve read every page.

Well I read
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Corinthians
Corinthians the second one, Galatians, Ephesians
Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians 1 and 2,
Timothy, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrew, James
1ST Peter, 2ND Peter, John, John, John, John
John, John, John, John, Jude, Revelation.

I’ve read every page, man. I’ve read every page, man
Genesis to Revelation
Jesus our salvation
He took our condemnation
Have you read every page?

IJC 2011

I love to have a beer with Calvin

It seems every spare moment I have of late is taken by reading Calvin's Institutes or trying to finish a bunch of translations. I've got one more week. The holidays are almost gone, and it's that last minute rush of trying to finish off all my vacation assignments before registration at college. I still feel 'vacation assignment' is an oxymoron, but I guess I'm really the moron for not being more on top of my work over the break. Thankfully I haven't been too slack, just 25 pages a day for the next week will have me finished my Calvin, I've got 2 Greek, and 3 Hebrew translations to do in that time. I'm also getting a book review from the blog published in The Briefing, but seeing as I hadn't read the book for a year I'm trying to read that again as well to make sure I still agree with what I said.

Lately I've been blogging in my head, but haven't had time to get it down on screen. Do you ever have this feeling? You see something, think something, notice something, and you start formulating your thoughts in the form of a blogpost, except that you're nowhere near a computer. Well usually I then get to a computer in the near future and get it down, but not over the past few months.

But I have been blogging in my head. For example the other morning I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep. So, like always seems to happen in those moments, my mind began to stroll. Lying there awake I wrote an introduction to my next sermon, a couple of lines to a song (which I then got out of bed and wrote and will hopefully reveal later this week), and I also managed to make a comparison between my preaching and jerky.

My brother in law is right into beef jerky at the moment. Apparently the protein is good if you're trying to bulk up. I'm not, but I tried some anyway. The best thing I can say about jerky is that it gave me an analogy for my preaching of late (No, not that I've been a jerk for those who were thinking it). Rather, I've been attempting to feed people who are ready, no longer milk but solid food (read: meat). But I've been giving them jerky. The essence of solid food is definitely still there, but it's well and truly overcooked. Nourishing, yet difficult to digest. Slightly bitter to the taste.

As for the beer with Calvin thingy, I was waiting in my car in a car park the other day because I was an hour early for a bucks night dinner. So I was sitting there in the car park, reading Calvin and then, just because, I opened a beer and drank it whilst reading Calvin. I've never drunk a beer on my own before, and I don't plan on making it regular. I would only probably have on average one beer a month and generally only at someone else's invitation. But it was quite refreshing in the hot afternoon, to sit down and have a beer with Calvin. Plus, there was a sense where going out of 'study mode' and into 'rest mode' made my thinking on what I was reading even clearer. It must be like my mates in high school used to tell me their snooker playing got better after two beers. Not that I'm advocating a beer or two before study each day at college, I'm just saying that I'm still happy to sign off that I've 'carefully read' all of my Calvin readings, even though 20 pages were read with the Institutes in one hand and a Corona in the other.

I love to have a beer with Calvin
I love to have a beer with John
Extended explanation
He sometime rants about icons
It's all about God's graces
Not about our work that saves
I love to have a beer with Calvin
Shows I am depraved.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wordle for my sermon last Sunday

I spent last week staying with friends in a flood affected part of Queensland, and was meant to be preaching last Sunday in a flood affected part of NSW. It took a few back roads and a bit of winding through country trails but I made it back in time to preach.

My passage was 1 Corinthians 3.
I give myself a pass. I feel like having now preached the sermon I understand what I was trying to say, so I'm ready to sit down and write the talk afresh... but the moment has passed. God will do what he will with what I said. Another death by chocolate thing. Too much content. Not enough clarity. Too long.

Thankfully though, the sermon has been preserved online in all its muted glory for future generations to poke fun at. At least it was long enough that no one would ever bother using it in a 'what not to do' seminar, even though the sermon might be a good candidate.

Sarah suggested that I give myself the same feedback after every talk. Obviously this means I'm not equipped to self-correct on these issues. So I'm giving myself one more try before calling in the men with the giant wooden spoon to start my spankings.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Biblical proportions

On Moore College mission last year we were promised a 'door-knocking experience like no other - a positive one'. That's because we were only going back to visit houses that had been previously approached and had shown anything other than antagonism. In the end it wasn't quite as great as promised, but still better than most times. For me the best door-knocking I've done was on beach mission at Brooms Head. I had a visiting run of houses rather than tents, but still people were on holidays and relaxed, willing to talk. Often they were not in their regular homes or were renting so it felt less like we were intruding. Plus a lot of the time few people were home because they were down at the beach, so it ended up being a bit of a break from the hectic mission program.

Part of the art of door-knocking is intentional small talk. You need an 'in'. One of the strange things about Christmas time is that every other year there seemed to be a natural disaster. My first year on mission the national park around the town was littered with bushfires. My second year, we began mission the day after the Boxing Day Tsunami. It felt like a million miles away from sunny, quiet Brooms Head, but everyone was talking about it. So that was our 'in'.

'Have you been hearing about the tsunami? Crazy, isn't it?'

Most beach houses are white. There was this one house on our run which was a bit different to most of the white houses at Brooms Head because it was Greek influenced. The owner was a Christian man and woman who were always ready with a glass of water to refresh my mate Mike and I on our journey. Our brother in Christ in the Greek style beach house had an interesting response to the tsunami. He said, 'A lot of people are blaming God, but this isn't God's doing.'

So whose doing is it?

One of the best things about systematic preaching (that is the kind that moves gradually through entire books, not the thematic kind) is that it allows the Bible to set your agenda. You preach on sections of the Bible that you might not normally cover, or that you shy away from because it's hard.

One of the flow-on effects though is that this makes many churches in my circles less likely to directly address significant events that are occurring in our world, as they occur. So whilst we might pray for what we see in the news privately, and those leading prayer corporately will do the same, these events rarely are addressed through biblical reflection. Sure, our prayers are informed by our understanding of the events from God's point of view, but not in the same way that prayerful reflection of the Bible will do. Being too structured in our systematic working through scripture can prevent an adequate response when big events are happening.

Maybe it's a product of our time. What few old sermons I have read often do address quite directly specific issues of their time. But the great depression or a world war or two will probably do that to you. Now our wars are fought without conscription and more by air than land, so we keep relatively detached from them. If someone addresses Iraq in a sermon, they're more thought to be promulgating a particular political position than a theological one. Natural disasters likewise raise our concerns and our prayers, our financial support, but unless personally involved are unlikely to dramatically alter our world view, or our view of God.

Floods are covering the news. Except for in WA, where to highlight the land of extremes in which we live, there are bushfires. But Queensland is flooded. The sad death of a number of individuals has finally taken the media's focus off the purely financial implications of the event. My home town of Maclean in Northern NSW is bracing for floods as well, though the levee there should hold. So what should we say? Of course, we'll pray. Many of us will donate money. But how are our views to be shaped of these events in a way which reflects our relationship to the creator?

Perhaps this isn't the week to change your passage to Genesis 6-9. That would be tacky. But without a doubt whenever a so-called 'natural' disaster occurs, or 'mother nature' strikes, the view of most people, even most Christians like the man in the white Greek beach house, is shaped more by a view of chance than of a sovereign God.

If you are talking to friends who are blaming God, or wondering how Christians respond to such events, then in these instances my mind goes first to Luke 13:1-9. Don't go to Noah, go straight to Jesus. These words of Jesus don't provide all the answers. There are no simple answers. But Jesus' words do provide a framework for how to approach these disasters. Jesus is the one who gives certainty amidst uncertainty, the one who reminds us that repentance provides security, and the one who died and rose again that we might dwell with God for eternity.

Stuff not worth blogging

  • Sarah and I had dinner the other night with Simone and Andrew whilst staying on holiday with Nathan and Robyn. I'd never met Simone in the real world but have interacted a little bit through the blogosphere. Robyn commented that Sarah and I, "Virtually know Simone already". And the pun was absolutely and gloriously intended.
  • How come all the good TV shows are on Sunday night and whichever night I've got bible study, no matter which night bible study is on?
  • I arrived at my parents place Christmas Eve and Mum had the Carols in the Domain service on the TV, playing on 7Two. Because everything was performed by celebrities, the general order seemed to have the bigger stars sing a Christmas carol, followed by a performance piece of their own. But the danger in having the stars perform their own songs is that a lot of pop music would be inappropriate for the occasion. There really is no smooth way to transition from Away in a Manger to All the Single Ladies. Therefore it was quite clear that the performance songs were then chosen because they kind of felt right for the occasion, so anything classical or a bit gospel was in. When I walked in the door, Josh Groban was singing You Raise Me Up. It seems to tick all the right boxes. It's classical, it's well known, and was a hit for Josh Groban to serve his self-promotion. But my first reaction was, isn't this more an easter song?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

For every sermon I preach, I write three

This is me. John Calvin, as the final words in his introduction 'to the Reader' in Institutes of the Christian Religion quotes Augustine;
I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.
Far be it from me to create comparisons between myself and Calvin, or even Augustine for that matter. But it is telling that Calvin recounted these words in the introduction to a book that would run to over a thousand pages. So maybe I am like Calvin, that is, longwinded.

I've realised that each time I preach I actually write three sermons. And depending on which one you get will determine the length and quality of what you hear.

Sermon 1
I think while I write and I write while I think. Traditional wisdom says don't start writing until you know what you have to say. My unconventional wisdom is how can I know what I have to say if I haven't started writing? So I work through a passage noting down interesting bits, thoughts for the big idea, questions I have, some commentary on what is being said, noting linked ideas, possible applications etc. By the time I've finished this I've got a lot of content.

Were I to preach now it would read a bit like a commentary, except longer, with less focus, but I have worked out a rough outline. I could preach at the this point. I've only had to do this once. It was horrible. For all involved.

Sermon 2
Now that I know what the passage is about, I've got some form of metanarrative to unravel. This storyline will be the driving force behind the sermon. Sometimes it comes with a big dilemma, sometimes it is a tension within the passage that needs to be resolved, but at this stage I have a hook. This allows me to set in motion that story arch, to hopefully give some form to what I say for the hearer. At this point I have started to cull what I've written, have hopefully placed in some linking sentences so the thing will kind of flow.

This is oftentimes when I will preach. It is meaty, but it makes sense. It is in fact too meaty, death by chocolate kind of thing, and generally the feedback I receive is it was great, faithful, you kept my attention but there was too much. And I almost always agree.

Sermon 3
Occasionally I'm prepared enough that version three gets at least partially completed before I preach. This is where I get on the slimfast, hit the gym and cut the fat. I cut. I cut and then for good measure I cut some more. What is hopefully left is still a meaty sermon, benefitting from the hard work done with sermon 1, but though meaty is punchier and easier to digest.

I usually get to this version when I preach a sermon a second time on a later occasion (not when I preach it twice in one day). The benefit of the preaching itself helps me get to this point. Plus, the shame and embarrassment felt when version two bombed forces my editing hand. This is the sermon you really want to hear, but don't get nearly as much as you should.

Sermon 4
I haven't had a chance to do a sermon 4 yet, but I anticipate it will come in the future. This is where having preached gradually through an entire book - which has forced me to do the hard work of delving into the larger structure and argument - I then actually know what I'm talking about and throw out everything I've written before and start again.

---------

This probably sounds like I'm spending three times the amount of time and effort on preaching than is necessary. That's not really true. I just kind of start writing right off the bat which means where other people might spend time thinking before the writing, for me doesn't happen. Or at least it isn't scheduled and occurs whilst I'm washing up or laying awake at night.

Perhaps if I end up with a ministry role where I'm publicly teaching each week (or multiple times weekly) my pattern will change. But this is how I go about it at present.

Now, enough procrastinating, I must get back to work on the text for Sunday or I'll be lucky to make it past sermon 1.