Friday, October 24, 2014

Wolters' and Goheen's Bible Overview

I'm always on the look-out for succinct overviews of the Bible's story. Practically speaking, a working knowledge of Bible's big picture helps heaps. For instance, it gives you a preliminary sense of what any given Bible passage is about (just by virtue of *where* it is in the Bible).

Recently, I came across this "dramatic" overview by Al Wolters and Mike Goheen. I think it's great.
“The Bible tells a single story, from the origin of all things in Genesis 1 to the consummation of all things in Revelation 22. One way to trace the flow of the biblical story is to describe it as a drama that unfolds in six acts. In act one God creates the world as his kingdom. His original purpose for the creation is revealed and he pronounces it very good (Gen. 1). Human beings are created as God’s image to develop and care for the creation in communion with God (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15). In act two the whole of God’s good creation, including all of human life, is contaminated by human rebellion (Gen. 3). A tension now emerges in the narrative between the goodness of creation and the evil that defiles it. This tension demands a resolution.

In act three God announces that resolution: He will crush sin and the disastrous effects that were unleashed by Adam and Eve’s rebellion (Gen. 3:15). He chooses and forms a special people with the mission to bear his redemptive purpose for the world (Gen. 12:1-3; Ex. 19:3-6). They are called to be a community that embodies God’s original good creational design for human life. This people is placed on the land to be a light to the nations and a channel of God’s redemptive power to all peoples. God gives them the law, the sacrificial system, leaders called to be priests, kings and prophets, and much more — all to nourish a life that points to God’s intention for all people. God’s purpose appears to fail as the power of sin is too deeply rooted in the heart of Israel, and she is overcome by the darkness of her pagan neighbors. Yet through the prophets God promises that a future Saviour will usher in a worldwide and never-ending kingdom in the power of the Spirit. The world will be renewed and sin and its effects forever done away with.

In act four that promise is kept when Jesus of Nazareth steps onto the stage of history. He announces that he has been sent to realize the expectation of Israel and to fulfil Israel’s calling by bringing God’s salvation to a broken world (Lk. 4:18-19). His announcement is that the kingdom of God has arrived, that God’s power by the Spirit to liberate and heal creation is now present in him (Mark 1:14-15; Matt 12:28). His life reveals and demonstrates the kingdom. He gathers Israel to be a rallying point for all nations. His death accomplishes the victory of the kingdom. His resurrection guarantees the reality of the kingdom.

Before the resurrected Christ ascends to the Father he gathers together the disciples, the nucleus of a newly gathered Israel, and gives them their marching orders: “As the Father sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). This defines the existence of the community of Christ-followers: they are called to continue the witness to the kingdom that Jesus began. What Jesus did in Israel the church is to do in the whole world. The continuing mission of this community to witness to the kingdom constitutes act five of the biblical story. This era of witness” has now lasted about two thousand years and will continue until Jesus returns to complete his work of renewal. That final work of the judgement and renewal of the entire creation constitutes the sixth and final act of world history.” (Creation Regained, 123-24, bold emphasis added)

I'd be tempted to divide act four, so that the lived-experience of Israel (with its climax in the kingdom) stood a little separate from the latter Old Testament prophets. Their vision of the coming salvation (albeit in the language of what came before) is so grand that it eclipses the experience of Israel under David and Solomon, and paves the way for something far great (Jesus!).

That said, I reckon Wolters and Goheen have done us a real favour here.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

I like striving for excellence. Stetzer says, beware.

Recently, I've been ticking through Ed Stetzer's (et al.) little book, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them. In many ways, it's pretty standard-issue Stetzer--he draws on church practice right across the spectrum, bases his strategies in solid research, but holds tight to his own evangelical moorings throughout.

It's worth a read, especially if you can bear reading a lot of stats (or, if you can bring yourself to skim-read them, or even just skip to the second half!).

On the way through, he makes a few "I'm letting my guard-down" kinda comments. Here was one that caught my eye especially. Why? Because I'm naturally inclined to implement systems/processes/policies that guard against sloppiness. I like striving for excellence. Stetzer reckons I oughta be careful:
"I am going to go out on a limb and say that one of the biggest causes of a lack of authenticity in churches today is when a church values excellence over honesty. OK--there--I said it. Excellence can be an authenticity killer. […] When our desire to appear excellent or polished outweighs our desire to be seen as broken, fallen sinners in desperate need of God's redemptive gift of grace, there is a real problem. […] What will it take? One leader willing to be vulnerable can bring a sense of freedom to a congregation caged by fear." (Lost and Found, 204).
Some ways for me to apply:

  • (As a preacher) make sure I include how the passage hit me between the eyes, not just what I reckon should hit my congregation between the eyes (are we really that different, anyway)?
  • Think carefully about what to include in the prayer of corporate confession (or whatever it looks like in your liturgy). Make it real.
  • Laugh it off when the systems all fall over and my dream for excellence turns into a nightmare of sloppiness.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Foreigners, twice over, a long time ago.

Prickly subject, in our today's climate, I know.  But this post is first about an ancient experience of foreignness.

In preparation for my classis exams (a step toward ordination in my denomination), I recently read the 'introduction'* to Karen Jobes' commentary on 1 Peter (BECNT series). It got me thinking about our posture and compassionate response (or lack of it) towards asylum seekers in our time--be they Christians, or not.

Jobes has a novel take on the significance of the term 'foreigners' in 1 Peter 1:1 (and that metaphor elsewhere in Peter's letter).

In summary, Jobes challenges the long-established consensus that Peter uses the terms foreigner, alien, etc. purely metaphorically. Yes, of course, Peter's making use of it as metaphor and so connects his readers with Abraham's/Israel's experience and heritage. But Jobes makes the case that the original recipients were literally foreigners in their own setting--not merely spiritually-metaphorically. That's what makes it such a fitting metaphor.

Specifically, she identifies the recipients as (the Christians among) those sent out from Rome under the reign of Claudius to colonise the regions Peter names in 1:1. These people, she argues, were (likely) "Jews" (including Christians and Gentile converts to Judaism and Christianity), who were deemed a little too troublesome for life in Rome, and so were deemed good candidates for relocation.

Consequently, alienation was their experience twice over: First, because they're unwelcome in Rome (on religious grounds, especially). But second, not only are they not-native to the regions they're colonising, but on top of that, they likely received some measure of preferential treatment from Rome--something that likely resulted in some resentment amongst their new neighbours.

It's that "twice-alientated" angle that made me think of the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in our present context.

I'll contain myself to one reflection: we Christians should be especially attuned to the plight of those alienated from the world around them (us), especially those twice-alienated: unwelcome at 'home', and deemed unwelcome (by some) as they approach new shores.

*An 'introduction' in a biblical commentary is an important section that can run to more than a hundred pages, and talks about stuff like who wrote the book (of the Bible) in question, it's intended audience, when/where, etc.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Checklist for my Last Day

Today's my last day with Crossroads. Here's what's gotta be done (or I've done already).

NB. Drink Coffee should appear after each item. I've left it out because--let's face it--I don't need reminding.

Jobs that should have been done before now:
  • Spring Clean your filing cabinet.
  • Cleanse your work files (electronic and physical):
    • retrieve any personal files
    • tidy stuff up, file it right, name it right
  • Call external stakeholder to
    • say thanks
    • let them know who their new point of contact is
    • give them the relevant new contact details
Jobs for the last actual day:
  • Play Daft Punk.
  • Do a weekly review
    • Incl. make sure *every* inbox is at zero: email, physical, notebooks, desk clear, computer desktop(s) cleared, downloads folder emptied, wallet, etc.
  • Give keys back (office, filing cabinet, etc.)
  • Get IT to 'extract' you (or do it myself)...
    • Remove yourself from the website (contact info.)
    • Remove website login
    • Remove Access to work files
    • Remove Facebook Page Admin Access
    • Remove Mailing List Identity
  • Add self to supporters@ email list  (i.e. the email list for past members)
  • Send the boss a Final Review email
    • project status for every project (and a reminder of who they've been handed to)
    • clear next actions for him/her
    • a short note for any misc. loose ends that may entangle him/her down the track, with your recommendation
  • Modify email signatures on all devices to remove work references.
  • Change voicemail message to remove work references.
  • Tell everyone you're signing off and provide them with a guidance on how and when to get in touch (by email and text), and who they should contact in your absence.
  • Tell IT you're gone.
    • Teary, emotional emails are best here. Those guys love this stuff, and email is perfect for it.
  • Tell the Board of Management (BOM) you're gone.
  • Tell the elders you're gone.
  • Go have a... [insert from Facebook recommendations].
What have I missed?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ministers, Beware the Rabbit Hole

Until last week, Jonno Haines and I were reading through Rebecca Manley-Pippert's (excellent, old) book, Out of the Salt Shaker.

This little gem stopped me in my tracks.
"We must not become, as John Stott puts it, 'rabbit-hole Christians'. When I worked among students, the form it would take is this: A Christian student leaves his Christian roommate in the morning and scurries through the day to lectures, only to search frantically for a Christian to sit by (an odd way to approach a mission field). Thus he proceeds from lecture to lecture. When dinner comes, he sits with other Christians at one huge table and thinks, What a witness! From there he goes to his all-Christian Bible study, and he might even take in a prayer meeting where the Christians pray for the non-believers on his floor. (But what luck that he was able to live on the only floor with seventeen Christians!) Then at night he scurries back to his Christian roommate. Safe! He made it through the day, and his only contacts with the world were those mad dashes to and from Christian activities." 109-110.
It actually reminds me of how an ex-mormon friend described his former life as a latter day saint. So absorbing and insulated from meaningful contact with 'outsiders'.

My life may have different twists and turns. But (at times) it sure looks like a rabbit-hole.

I plan to change that.

Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Run a Killer Workshop

Ok, overstatement.

This weekend I'm running an event on Starting a Business worth Building and Taking it Somewhere worth Going. I know practically nothing about the subject. But I know how to put an event on, and I know people who know the subject backwards.

As part of the program, four wonderful people are running workshops. They're all (in my opinion) pretty brilliant at what they do, but they're not all confident with actually chairing a discussion--running a workshop. So here's (some of) the advice I've just emailed to them.
    • Think of a specific “who”. It helps to prepare with a specific person/case in mind. Describe to yourself how they’ll benefit from your workshop, what problem they’ll be equipped to overcome.
    • ...or two.It may help to specifically think of two/three different kinds of folks: the beginner, the expert. Again, think of specific people in those shoes and imagine what they’ll be looking for from the workshop.
    • Beyond “knowing”. Aim for more than your attendees just “knowing more about…”. Aim for their “gaining confidence to…”, “developing enthusiasm for…”, “becoming relaxed about…”, “feeling prepared to…”
    • I'm no expert... If you don’t feel like the expert, in a workshop (especially) that’s actually fine. It can help disarm fears and get conversation rolling to make your icebreaker, “The challenge I’m facing in my business right now is…” 
    • Decide in advance what's essential. The ‘body’ of your workshop will need to be elastic enough to adapt to varying levels of contributions on different topics. The key thing here is usually knowing which topics you feel you must cover, and when to simply stop conversation on topic A and move to topic B with that purpose in mind.
    • Plan to use specific, prepared questions. Questions can function very well as topic-changers. e.g. “Ok, I’m going to change topic now to talk about handling criticism. Here’s a question for you: “A visibly-irritated customer walks back into your cafe and slams their take-away cup down on the counter, loudly complaining about the ‘tide being low’.” What would a bad way to handle that situation look like? What would a great way to handle that look like? Ideas?”
      • For each topic, come armed with at least:
      • a clear question to get the group discussing it
      • your top bits of advice on the topic
      • the very best example of it you’ve seen (what you aspire to)
      • the pitfalls to avoid, the beginner mistakes.
    • If you’re armed with those, then you’ve probably got enough for your folks to seriously grapple with.
    • Which topics to include? There are two contributing factors here: 
      • the needs of the workshop group (you’ll figure this out on the day). 
      • the overall goal of the workshop from your point of view. This latter factor means being able to say, “Let’s talk about topic X now, because this workshop is all about W, X, Y, Z."
    • Drawing a blank? Can’t think of memorable ways to put that idea? Call on your heroes. We all have our favourite people on a given topic or in a given field. Refresh your memory on how they say it and grab yourself a quote from them that you can share on the day. If your heroes live locally and you know them personally, pick up the phone. Seriously.
    What have I missed? (Apart from, "Coffee").

      A Guy who gets the Difference

      Preachers spend a lot of time trying to get their hearers to really *get* the difference between (a) and (b). Specifically, to ditch (a), and to embrace (b):

      (a) Do lots of good stuff in order to make God like you.
      (b) Because God loves you, you will/can/want to/even must do good stuff.

      We go to great lengths to highlight the difference. We dream up illustrations. We analyse the motivations and thought-worlds that drive all of us toward each. We thump pulpits...

      So it's kinda weird to read that whole (a) vs (b) thing taken-up as an illustration in a thoroughly secular setting. Guy Kawasaki casually drops it into his new little book for entrepreneurs. Here it is:
      "... don’t revise your product to get prospective customers to love it. Instead, revise it because customers already love it. Let me put it in religious terms: Some people believe that if they change, God will love them. Others believe that since God loves them, they should change. The latter theory is the prototype to keep in mind for how to get going and keep going for startups." Guy Kawasaki, The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything, 13 (my emphasis).


      For the record,
      "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 1 John 4:10-11.
      It's (b), not (a). *thumps pulpit*

      There I go again ;)