Monday, February 28, 2011

Mankind

My 'mankind' sermon went fine. Thanks for asking.

One of the elders at church commented to me that he could see the benefit of my college doctrine lectures coming through in my content. Now, not to speak down college, we have probably only spent about 2 hours one Monday afternoon 12 months ago looking specifically at 'mankind'. In fact, doctrine has been one of the most surprising flops so far in my college experience. Three hours straight on one day squeezed into a single semester, meant we regularly covered multiple topics each week, or topics across weeks. I felt it never got to hang in the air, and so I never really got a chance to ponder too much upon the systematics. In terms of the sermon, by far the biggest influence on the content was my time as a university student as we studied Genesis in detail every other year.

Thank you also to everyone who commented on my post last week. If sermons were footnoted, you would all have had a superscript number placed beside your name written in tiny font.

In some ways I felt like it was a rip-off sermon. I mean, I didn't download someone else's talk and fudge it as my own. And I didn't really direct quote anyone. It was more that I can see the influence of those who have taught me coming through. I guess this is what's supposed to happen as we learn. That we are filled with the bits of pieces of our knowledge of God, and it gets pieced together in our minds by the Spirit teaching us, and then somehow at the end of it we have a relationship with God that is not based on any knowledge which is dramatically new, but that which is a direct byproduct of those who have entrusted the message to us. And yet this 'new' understanding in my mind occurs in a way where it would be possible to trace each thought back to its original source.

I think there might be something profound in what I'm realising here. I'm not sure what it is, but it feels deep. I think I'm having a moment.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Language Tales

One of the many benefits promised to us from learning Biblical Greek was that we would also understand English grammar for perhaps the first time. I say this because most students of my generation didn't get much grammar growing up, beyond the simplest 'a noun is a thing', and 'a verb is a doing word'. It was out of favour with the education makers during my schooling years. Supposedly its now back in though, because they were asking some questions on an episode of It's Academic the other day, that I wouldn't have understood until last year.

I have certainly picked up heaps of grammar through learning Greek, but I've also learnt some of it through surprising means. I recounted last year how I discovered the importance of conjunctions. And this year I'm adding to my learning by discovering the value of verbs. I had an unseen translation in a Hebrew exam the other day, the only problem was, there was a heap of verbs in it that we had never been taught but were expected to decipher from context. I didn't know them, didn't know the passage well enough to fake it, couldn't work them out, and so I left them blank. It makes for fun reading. Moses.... top.... mountain.... the LORD our God... into... law... Moses...

Verbs are extremely important to communication.

___________

Now, I was at the wedding of some dear friends last week. During the sermon the minister asked us if love was a verb or a noun. My first thought was, 'I can tell you if you'd like me to consult my Greek Bible'. My next thought was, 'From what I know of Greek, it is extremely clear whether a word is a noun or a verb'. But then I thought, 'That's probably not why he was asking the question'. Knowing the difference between a verb and a noun, isn't everything.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Irony

Tonight, after dropping Sarah off at college I was intending to kill the proverbial two birds by filling up with petrol whilst the price was low and I was already using the car. Unfortunately I realised on the way there that I left my petrol receipt at home. I left the petrol receipt at home because I was using it as a bookmark as I re-read sections of David Allen's Getting Things Done.

Fail.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

True humanity

Your mission (cue music), should you choose to accept it, is to help me solve a riddle. I've been given the task of preaching as part of my church's doctrine series, on the topic of 'Mankind'. Easy enough, I know you're thinking – we are created by God, but we are sinful, we cannot understand ourselves without knowing our creatureliness, our fallenness and Jesus as the ultimate man.

The problem is, I can't really talk about creation as that was last Sunday. I can't really talk about sin and suffering, that's the following week. I can't really talk about Jesus, we'll cover him over two weeks under 'The Person of Jesus' and 'The Work of Jesus'. So what should I do?

It is, essentially a sermon on the role of mankind from Genesis 1-2. The question is, why is it important to know the way we were created?

Now my conviction is I don't think you can understand humanity without understanding sin. I don't think you can understand humanity without understanding Jesus as true humanity. But the easy thing to do would be to say, "Well, who cares about what we're doing these other weeks, I'll just say what I need to". That, I think, would be to waste the opportunity. It is fundamental to our understanding of this world which can appear to be chaotic, and disordered, and ravaged by the effects of sin, that we do see God's good disposition to his creation and the associated value that gives us, and the role that gives us within the world.

So my three relationships which help us to understand mankind are:
1. Mankind in relationship to God
2. Mankind in relationship to each other
3. Mankind in relationship to creation

Visually it might be represented a little bit like this...
As for where I go from there, if I had to go to only one place (which with a 22 minute limit looks likely) I will probably go to Mt 28 where Jesus says all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples.

The line of thought being that the true reflection of our created selves is to be a follower of Jesus which enables us to relate rightly in the three relationships of points 1-3. In terms of role (our gardening) that commission is fulfilled still through the bearing of children, but the bearing of spiritual children as we make more disciples to also help with our gardening i.e. making following of Jesus.

If I had longer I would take the long view (which I'm not entirely convinced of being the best way to get to Jesus)
  • Jesus was true mankind (e.g. Heb 4:15 lived without sin, made like us in every way), which enables us to return to God (approach the throne of God with confidence (4:16))
  • We now restored to relationship with God express our true humanity, truly restored (Maybe 2 Cor 3:18 where we are transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory). Big idea is we take his benefit for ourselves.
  • So Jesus ultimately fulfilled his role as true man (Mt 28:18-20 - having used his rule correctly, he was given all authority in heaven and earth). Jesus was the true image of God in this world and his application was therefore go and make disciples of all nations.
  • We express living under God by being restored to him through Jesus. We express our restored relationship to each other as men and women and to wider world in the rest of creation by preaching the gospel. We garden and we fill and subdue through the true expression of humanity – making disciples of Jesus (Col 1:28 we proclaim Jesus, to present everyone mature in Christ.)
Another potentially simpler route is via Psalm 8, which examines man as the pinnacle of creation, and then the Son of Man as especially blessed.

Any advice? Is it just confusing? Is there a still more excellent way?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stupid Pride

Our Hebrew lecture yesterday involved going around the class one at a time and translating a verse out loud for the whole group. I didn't learn much because as I waited for my name to be called about three-quarters of the way around I just sat there mildly sweating, clammy hands, with a slightly increased heart-rate, dreading my turn. I was so nervous I ended up reading the wrong verse (which I was translating correctly) and I got even more flustered as the lecturer and others kept correcting me (on the translation of the verse I had missed) while I, ever confused, kept exploring the semantic range of the first word on the wrong line in the hope they would eventually agree. Once we got on the same line it was all good, but my nerves were shot.

However, as a positive I now know what it must be like for poor readers/ESL people when it gets announced in Bible study that 'everyone will read a paragraph as we go round the circle'. Time to panic!

I am very quickly losing confidence in Hebrew.

To make matters worse, I was getting discouraged as all these people before me were translating like they were reading the English and easily translating words that as far as I could tell I had never seen before in my life. I kept turning to my mate beside me and asking, 'Am I supposed to know that word? They all translate so quickly?' Eventually after the third time he had answered 'No, we've never seen it before', he added 'Look, they all have their software open'. You see, half the class had Bible language software on their computers in front of them anyway, quickly looking up words they didn't know and translating their line before they supposedly translated off the cuff. I too tried to have the passage in front of me on my Mac, but when it got to my turn I just decided to not try and fluff my knowledge.

And all the while we were perpetuating the myth that we were better than we were, and feeding to our poor lecturer that we knew more than we did. Stupid pride.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Micah sermons

Because I usually reflect on this blog during my preparation for sermons I preach, it is not uncommon for your comments and questions to end up in the final manuscript. Because I consider you all a part of my preparation process, I like to post links to the finished result - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My series on Micah I prepared and delivered last year (first at uni, then at church) is a perfect illustration of the benefit of editing.

Talk 1 – 36:51 – slightly edited
Talk 2 – 41:52 – unedited
Talk 3 – 26:53 – heavily edited

The quality is directly proportional to the amount of editing. The first two you can get the hint as you listen that I'm kind of dying a little inside. I was. I'm nearly breaking out in hives just thinking about it.

Sarah is blogging for Equip Book Club

My wife Sarah is blogging over at Equip Book Club on Just the two of us? Help and strength in the struggle to conceive. In a very biblical way, I don't normally approve of 'loaning out my wife'. However it is my great pleasure to encourage you to have a read, in the hope that perhaps you might see, just for a moment, a faint suggestion of the magnificent blessing that God has bestowed on me through Sarah.

And yes, I am boasting.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Please feel sorry for the youth group I help lead

They lack... how can I say it tastefully? They lack, creativity.

This time last year we voted on a new youth group name. We wanted to re-launch with a new vibe, a new culture, we wanted to do something, well, new. There were four options chosen by the leaders in an anonymous ballot, plus the choice of writing your own suggestion, which if good enough would constitute a revote.

No suggestions were forthcoming. The victor by a landslide was, 'Youth Group'.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Beam me in, Scotty.

Back in Sydney after 6 weeks away, I've been talking a lot to people about my holidays. And inevitably the conversation gets around to Sarah and I getting stuck in Brisbane during the floods and how I had to take some back roads past Nowheresville and round the corner from Yonder in order to get to Maclean to preach on the Sunday.

They should have just video streamed me in like Mark Driscoll.

The sermon, as I've said previously, was only a pass. I had motivated myself with a lot of positive self talk during the week that this sermon was going to be my 22 minute scorcher. It was not to be. I was way too long, yet again. Whether an empty excuse or vile justification, I would only add in my defense that in the days leading up to the sermon I was channeling a bit of Father McKenzie (of Eleanor Rigby fame), thinking I wouldn't be able to get back (to where I once belonged) because of the floods. Thus the incentive to work was just not there seeing as though I imagined I was writing the words to a sermon that no one would hear (no one comes near).

If you want to hear what someone sounds like who was trying to write new sermons whilst camping 10m from the beach and supposedly "holidaying" (the first two) or whilst thinking it was relatively pointless writing a talk because inclement weather would mean it would never be preached (the third one), you can listen via the Maclean Presbyterian Church website.

Finally by way of warning, I am compelled to offer the following caution:
I love the people of Maclean Presy very dearly. But seriously, they also have one of the worst church website designs I have ever seen. No doubt designed and maintained with love, it is difficult to get past the clip art and 'Web Counter'. It was probably cutting edge in its time. That time has passed. But God's mercies, new every morning, have at least ensured there is no midi file playing 'How Great Thou Art' in the background and no comic sans in sight. I should also state for the record that the website was added after Phil Campbell's time as minister. I say this to protect Phil's legacy of tasteful design.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why men hate going to church.

There's a book on my bookshelf somewhere that I haven't read which goes by that name.

Last Sunday, I worked out the answer: The song Blessed be your name. Or to be more specific, the bridge and the last line of every chorus in the song Blessed be your name.

They're high. Extremely high. Unnaturally high if you're a post-pubescent male. Those parts of the song are getting up in the range of only being able to be heard by animals and plants. And to be brutally honest I have theological issues with having songs of praise to our God written to only be heard by animals and plants.

Then again, it is kind of biblical.

Back to it...

Well I'm back at college for a two week Hebrew intensive. Unlike our one day Greek intensive coming up (which doesn't sound like it will be that intense) this is quite stretching. The theme of day one was, "Everything you think you know, you don't". Which is quite disheartening really.

The new batch of first years are around today as well which was accompanied with a bit of reminiscing and the occasional, 'it seems like only yesterday...' I was looking around at them all this morning at morning tea and thinking to myself, "Were we really that thin?" The answer: probably.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reading Calvin is good for the soul

Reading Calvin is good for the soul. I can put it no other way. John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion reflects upon our God and on our God's abundant benevolence towards us, and these reflections are humbling and enriching. I thought having to read 500+ pages of Calvin during my "holiday" would be a drag. How very wrong I was.

My brain isn't particularly wired to working through the ten commandments under 50 sub-points. However, I've never been one to let learning styles get in the way of an activity being beneficial to my person. Reading Calvin, I'm coerced back to God's revelation in the Scriptures. And so it has been refreshing to join some more dots together in my understanding of God, in his simplicity and diversity.

Mind you, it hasn't all been happy happy joy joy. Occasionally I've needed to keep myself focused when I haven't felt like picking up the book to read my 20 pages for the day. So I've kept a keen eye out for helpful illustrations Calvin uses or things I disagree with, or questions I've had that are resolved by what I'm reading. As the copy I was given has already been covered with summaries, underlining and question marks I was led at times by the previous owners questioning. Though rather than minimising my own thoughts, I think these annotations focused them.

At one point I was amused to read Calvin saying:
...when circumstances demanded it, [Paul] swore without any hesitation, sometimes even adding a curse. (Page 393)
This is as good an example that I've come across yet, to demonstrate why we must read Bible verses in their context. You see, we wouldn't expect to just take a verse out of any other literature (e.g. Calvin) and expect it to make sense, but we do it with the Bible all the time.

Calvin as you may have guessed was talking about swearing oaths, and is not talking about when Paul got up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and kicked his little toe on the corner of his bed.