Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The gospel is the love Jesus has for me and for you

Came across this amazing 'freebie' - the journal Themelios, now published only in electronic form - but, be warned, dial-uppers, its nearly 6 MB from here.

In the latest issue - actually the first electronic issue - there is an article entitled "How a Mega-Church is Rediscovering the Gospel" by Joe Coffey, lead pastor of Hudson Community Chapel, one the fastest growing large churches in the States. But the article has little to do with mega-churches and lots to do with the gospel.

Here are a few excerpts which challenge, encourage, and inspire us as preachers.

"Ever since the mission trip, I had been feeling that it was more important for me to understand how much Jesus loved me than it was for me to figure out how to love Him. I watched in amazement as relief spread across my friend’s face. He said he had tried for twenty years to be sanctified through his own effort; it had ground him to powder, and he would not go back.

A couple of months went by and I finally picked up the Keller CD and listened to it as I drove. Before long, I found myself sitting alone in my car, fighting back the tears. Keller was connecting the dots: Christ’s relationship with his Father was shattered so that mine might be made whole. I suddenly realized that I had undervalued the Gospel by treating it as merely the starting point of the Christian life, instead of as the all-encompassing source of truth and grace that empowers all of the Christian life.

The Bible came alive over the months that followed. When I read in the Old Testament about the wrath of God, the frustration of God at the Israelites in the desert, or the mercy seat in the Tabernacle—it would all take me to the cross. Everything everywhere was about cross-centered redemption: the Bible, relationships, even creation itself. The over-arching story of salvation became more clear to me than ever—beginning with creation, moving to the fall, and then redemption, and finally restoration. What I learned, I preached. Almost overnight it became the Gospel every week displayed in a different passage."


"The belief system of a pastor is bound to come out in his preaching at least in subtle ways. My emphasis was always on grace, but it was also laced with the discipline of effort and inner strength to be what God called us to be. The result was either pride or defeat. My preaching has changed as a result of the Gospel going deeper inside of me.

The truth is I have existed as a pastor with gods in my closet. There were times when these gods sustained me. Giving them up has caused more death this year than I would like to admit. The closet is still not empty, but the death of these gods has made me ravenous. Without the Gospel as my source of security and significance, I would die. So as one who has vacillated between self-sufficiency and depression, Gospel-driven transformation is both liberating and terrifying."

Free Study Notes on Jonah

In October this year the ESV Study Bible will be published. Its publisher, Crossways, is offering Jonah - text and study notes for free. Its about 2.5 MB so those on dial up may or may not want to download ... which can be done from here.

Hat-tip to the Sola Panel for this lead.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My ideal family or all age service

60 minutes or less in length, coherent around one message/theme

Any 'talk' or 'sermon' makes one point with a double audience in mind (children-and-adults) ... so all of congregation is engaged

Children who participate through reading, prayers etc previously rehearse their roles

Songs as a total mix offer participation to whole congregation in worship of God

Save for a moment or two, the congregation never become spectators - always remain participants in the act of worship

One outcome is a congregation looking forward to the next family or all age service

(My strong personal preference is for such services to be Communion services, not least because the act of receiving communion involves significant congregational participation through movement, but there are arguments for/against).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Two notes on liturgy

Bosco Peters' Liturgy site (including blog) are highly commended. Two recent notes are worth reiterating here.

First, a note about calendrical confusion in our NZ Anglican church. Its hard to get these things right, given that there are only 365 days in most years, and some birthdays/deathdays of saints old and new are mathematically certain to double up on other celebrations. If you are a synodsperson in your diocese with opportunity to contribute to debate at your forthcoming synod, you could follow up on Bosco's request for clarity.

Secondly, a book promotion concerning a very useful introduction to liturgy, Beyond Smells & Bells by Mark Galli.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What should we preach on?

It may be useful if our vicar is suggesting we preach on this rather than that to recall an ever so slightly more regimented day. For example, in the late 16th century, in England, preachers were expected to conform in these ways, according to Archbishop Parker's 'Advertisements', 1566:

"First, that all they, which shall be admitted to preach, shall be diligently examined for their conformity in unity of doctrine, established by public authority; and admonished to use sobriety and discretion in teaching the people, namely, in matters of controversy; and to consider the gravity of their office, and to foresee with diligence the matters which they will speak, to utter them to the edification of the audience."

Of course, one wonders where the Anglican Communion might be today if this advice had been followed 'with diligence'!

Hat-tip to Zane Elliott

Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Orthodox View of Liturgy

During an interview at Lambeth, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, shared these thoughts on liturgy (his other thoughts are worth a look):

"KW – Liturgy is fundamental to the life of the church. At the Last Supper Jesus did not tell us, “Say these things,” he didn’t give us a verbal message that we were to pass on to others. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me”. He gave us an action, the operation of the Eucharist. And so the Church becomes truly herself when she celebrates the Eucharist. Therefore liturgy is fundamental.

But there are different ways of approaching liturgy. Sometimes discussions of liturgy become deeply archaeological. For example, when was this particular prayer introduced and in what places? Then liturgy seems very distant from the practical mission of the Church. There is the story told about the great Anglican dean of St. Paul’s in the early part of the twentieth century, Dean Inge, who was asked at a dinner party by his next door neighbour, trying to make conversation, “Dear Dean, are you interested in liturgy?” To which he replied, “No, and I do not collect postage stamps.” [i.e. he was not interested in an archaeological discussion of liturgy] So that’s the false idea of liturgy, which turns it into discussion of minute questions of ritual and ceremonial.

But if we understand liturgy in the broader sense of the action of Christ in the Church, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with Jesus Himself as the high Priest present invisibly offering the holy gifts, and giving himself to us, then surely we see that liturgy is central to the existence of the church, and central to the church’s mission.

The celebration of the Eucharist, communion in the holy sacrament of his body and blood, this is the life-giving source from which all our social witness, all our practical action, to relieve disease and poverty and injustice, has to proceed. This is the fountain from which all else springs. And so liturgy in that sense is inseparable from mission and social action.

Liturgy is the inspiration and the power that is given to us by God to change the world. So at the end of the Orthodox celebration of the Eucharist, the celebrant says, “Let us go forth in peace,” and that is not an epilogue but a prologue. It doesn’t mean, the service is over, go off and have a cup of coffee. It means, the liturgy is over and the liturgy after the liturgy is now about to begin. Go out into the world to transfigure the world through the power of the communion that you have received in Christ’s sacrament."

Noteworthy here is the connection between liturgical action and Christ's command, and between liturgy and mission. Somewhere in Anglican worship diversity, we may have lost the sense that in our gathering for worship we gather with the Lord Jesus in our midst, and we leave renewed in his commandment to serve God in the world in gospel mission, with the eucharist as important for our renewal as the ministry of the Word.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mission through funerals

I went to a funeral today. It was for a lovely man, well-respected, and admired in his family, friends, and profession. All went well (save for a small glitch with the sound system ... remember: sort the sound for services)!

But the funeral got me thinking - most services do these days - about funerals.

(1) They are Occasions: people gather from all parts of local community and wider national life; Christians and non-Christians gather; members of the local church and people from other churches and of no church get together; and the coming together marks a significant binary event of celebration and farewell.

(2) They are Statements: words are used at funerals; quite a few of them; and in a variety of genres. Today we had welcome, hymns, prayers, tributes, readings, a Bible reading, a message of reflection, committal, blessing. In the course of all these words statements were made: about the deceased, the community to which the deceased belonged, the ways things once were, life, death, love, and God revealed through Jesus Christ. But funerals make other statements (super-texts and sub-texts): 'here is the place where we meet with God as community', 'no matter your relationship to God and to the church in everyday life, significant transitions in life may involve God and you without recrimination about how everyday life is working out for you', 'life does not end with death', 'death is significant', and so on. I am sure you can think of others!

(3) They are Encounters with at least the depth of our beings, if not between the divine and the depth of our beings. Tears came to my eyes today. I had lost a friend. The depth of grief was exponentially greater for the wife and children and grandchildren of my friend. Something emotional happened during that service that defies easy description (though some of the great poets do this well). In that emotion parts of our being were exposed, at least to our own sight, which are not exposed when we live scrambled lives of busyness and repetitive routines. The hymns and prayers, the words of Scripture connect that experience with the being of the universe, with God Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life.

So, even without a specific set of words in the service 'preaching the gospel', the mission of God takes place in a Christian funeral service. The Occasion takes people to a place of hearing Statements (explicit, implicit) and enables Encounter with God.

Then we could draw out a lot of implications for preparing funeral services, performing them, and also make connections to pastoring people through funeral services.

But its a little late. So just two observations.

Take the opportunity to lead a funeral service - do not palm it off to another.

Do the best job possible with the opportunity - do not offer it your second best.