Friday, May 29, 2009

bible days: 1 Corinthians (updated)

Updated: Some good reflection on Bible days here: including a perceptive wondering about the place of ongoing learning: When i go to the doctor i presume that she is up to date with the best resources and learning available. i hope we treat the bible with the same respect: continuing to mine more truth and resource from it. not figuring we know all there is to be known.

Bible days. Wanting to deepen Bible knowledge? Take two hours to blow the dust off the book of 1 Corinthians and consider its impact for Christians today. Saturday, May 30, 3:30-5:30 pm, exploring 1 Corinthians with Steve Graham. Opawa Baptist Church. Cost $5 (for non-Opawa-ites).

What is Bible days (here and here and MP3 (2meg) rough cut intro here?

Just in case you do not know of him…… (more…)

Posted by steve at 05:50 PM

Thursday, May 28, 2009

gospel people: one way or many?

Excellent day with the Laidlaw (Auckland) class. What seemed most helpful was some new material I pulled together around being gospel people. (It was part of a sermon series I preached at Opawa last year, on Taking the con out of conversion, so fascinating to have stuff I preach, shaping up a class.)

What has intrigued me for a while is that the book of Acts has 20 speeches in which the gospel is being presented. So how do the early church live/present the gospel and how might that inform us today?

So I invited the class to place the speeches side by side, in particular Acts 2, Acts 14 and Acts 17.

And you very quickly see how different each presentation is. All use different resources to present the gospel (Old Testament, creation, culture). All end with a different conclusion (resurrection, God’s providence).

In other words,
– there is no one single core gospel message being presented,
– there are many resources that can be drawn on,
– there is no “universal” thing to believe/preach
– that success is the exception, not the norm.

(Here is a table I drew up to synthesise the Biblical texts).

It’s a stimulating, yet liberating realisation. Certainly lots of energy resulting, as people became encouraged to be creative and diverse.

Posted by steve at 09:41 PM

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dear God, save me from your followers! (in auckland for a day)

I spent today preparing for a 3 hour lecture I’m delivering tomorrow at Laidlaw College (Auckland, flying up at 10 am, back by 10 pm). The topic I’m asked to address is the longest, most convoluted I’ve ever been given: “Doing theology” and expressing the gospel in a postmodern, post-Christian context—the church as missional and multicultural. Current issues of evangelism, theology and conviction.. Gulp! It reads like a whole lot of buzz words thrown into a sentence!

I thought this photo (via Jonny Baker) summed it up much better – A T-shirt with the words: Dear God, save me from your followers!”

(Which hopefully is not saying anything about those God-followers I’ll meet at Laidlaw tomorrow!)

How on earth do we keep “community” in the gospel, when the people of the community are time and again such bad witnesses? (I reflected a bit on this recently, here, my first application point, that Christians need to be better tellers of wilderness stories).

Anyhow, the topic meant I’ve had to work up a whole lot of new material. Which was fun. But I’m also meant to have a 5,000 word book chapter done by Friday. Plus 2 more pieces of written work due by the weekend. So all told, I’m feeling time compression.

Posted by steve at 05:45 PM

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

peeping Bobbies: Is is Biblical to peer into a city of refuge?

Interesting clash between church and state in this newspaper article: “A Catholic priest has condemned Christchurch police as “tactless” after they staked out a funeral and allegedly stopped a car-load of mourners at gunpoint in an effort to find the dead man’s fugitive son. Several police were at the funeral of Linwood’s Tala Seleni, who was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide this month. At the time Seleni’s son, Tasi, 29, was on the run from police who wanted him on charges of kidnapping and stabbing. He did not attend the service after he got wind of the police presence. Pauline Seleni, Tasi’s mother and Tala’s separated wife, said police had violated the “sanctuary” of the church and prevented her son from making his farewell to his father.”

Where does the idea of a church being a sanctuary come from?

Firstly, probably the sense of a funeral being significant. Good ritual is about making a space, in which emotions can be channeled and expressed. Police presence is piercing that space, constantly reminding participants of the outside realities. Surely the Police could have gone as plain clothes, made an arrest quietly afterward if the person was present?

Second, the notion of a place – the church – being sacred. In Deuteronomy 19 we find cities of refuge. Israel is to build cities and clear roads, to which people flee when acts of violence are committed. Presumably this is tied to a safe legal process, in which the state mediates between offender and victim’s family, testing for accident and assessing innocence. And so this idea emerges, of specific places of sanctuary, in which people can flee.

I love Walter Bruegemann’s insights on this text, in which he points to this as a way in which church reforms society, acting within existing structures (local government, judicial), in order to enact God’s justice.

Which is lofty in concept and wonderful in vision. But can lose itself in the practicalities of life. And lacks clarity on when, where and how the State should be involved. Curiously, despite the detail of much of the Mosaic Law, there is no mention of this particular case-study, of whether the authorities can stake out these places of sanctuary, hoping to catch a son on the run!

Put it another way. Say a person accidently kills their son and flees to a city of refuge. The body needs to be buried (and quickly, in a Middle Eastern climate). Is the person guaranteed immunity so that they can leave the city of refuge to attend the funeral safely?

Our modern democracies are a long way from the theocracy of ancient Israel. So it is fascinating to see this notion of “sanctuary” still at work in our culture, and a grieving family and comforting Priest accusing the Police of peeping, of abusing “sanctuary.”

Posted by steve at 04:34 PM

Sunday, May 24, 2009

today I split the church

And it seemed to work well! In our Sunday morning congregation I am preaching through the gospel of Mark. The text today was Mark 1:14-20. Jesus comes proclaiming the Kingdom and forming a community around that proclaimation. It seemed a good time to talk about the (me-God) gospel of individual salvation in contrast to the gospel of Kingdom community. (Beautifully summarised by Scot McKnight here and here.)

Now for some people, I wondered if this might be new. But for others at Opawa, it might not be at all. Equally, some at Opawa enjoy the Bible backfilling, while others like to get practical and to discuss.

Which is how I split the church. After a 12 minute introduction, I offered people a choice. Those who wanted more Bible were welcome to stay and I would provide a further 10 minutes of background.

Those who wanted to discuss and apply, were welcome to move into the foyer. I had made up a worksheet, and they could gather in groups, discuss and note their observations, and were welcome to return for the final song and benediction.

We have a growing culture of participation and workshopping in groups. And our foyer has sofas. So while this is the first time I’ve done something like this in terms of offering choice within a sermon, it seemed to work well, to cater for a range of learning styles all within one overall framework.

(For those interested, here is the worksheet I made up, simply taking two of my powerpoint slides, adding three questions, blowing them up as A3 and providing pens.)

Posted by steve at 05:33 PM

Friday, May 22, 2009

missionary order of voluntary local community ministry bridge builders

On Wednesday evening, I shared with the church about the development of bridge builders in our midst at Opawa. It is one of those “I have no idea where this is going, but I do wonder if God is up to something” moments in the life of Opawa Church.

Picture person A. who comes to see me, with a real heart for the community, who is in a business in which all staff, because of the economic climate, have been asked to consider working a 4 day week.

Picture person H. who for years has dreamed of working in the local community and has a job with some flexibility.

Picture person J. who has worked part-time for many years, and in recent years has found herself growing in ministry and in confidence.

What if God is stirring up in people a passion for loving people outside the church, and if, in our current economic climate, and in an era of increasing job flexibility, they are being offered more leisure time. What would it mean to be the church in such times? What would discipleship, take up your cross and follow me, discipleship look like?

Hence bridge builders. At Opawa we have “boxes” in which we put pastors (part-time) and ministry leaders and volunters. And perhaps we need a new “box.”

– Bridge builders would give one day per week into Waltham community.
– All bridge builders would be expected to seek out some 1-1 input (supervisor or mentor or spiritual director) to grow them.
– All bridge builders would be expected to gather with other bridge builders for shared missional practices of prayer, Scripture reading.
– Each bridge builder would undertake a unique individual ministry, based on their gifts and passions. They might deliver firewood, offer discipling for kids after-school, visit the struggling, gather parents around parenting issues. The scope is unlimited, as long as it is accountable, focused and outward.
– In response, the church, who wants never to use people, but always to grow people, provide an office to work from, a coffee machine to gather around, a person to run the shared missional practices, training opportunities to improve skills and caring capacities.
– The church will also provide a “ministry enhancement allowance”, our way of taking growth seriously and which the bridge builder can invest in books or supervision or art galleries, or whatever feeds and sustains their soul.

Currently we have three people who have said yes. It is enormously humbling as a pastor to have person A. and H. and J. sit in my office and process this somewhat costly, radical step. It is enormously exciting to be offered the gift of three days of “community” ministry to add to our capacity as a church.

Bridge builder might just be a way to honour this sacrifice and resource these people and respond to such an economic time as this.

But I suspect it’s much more than than. I suspect we might have found a way of calling Western, middle-class people to radical discipleship, of offering the possibility that at some time over their working life they can take a bit of a financial squeeze in order to love their community, knowing they will be resourced and working in a community with others.

Anyone else getting just a bit excited?

Posted by steve at 06:44 PM

Thursday, May 21, 2009

a boxing pastor? (updated)

Updated: I’ve just been informed by the radio station that this turned out to be the most popular Quick Word in months, with emails requesting the MP3!

“If you give up being a pastor, you get always take up a career as a boxer. You don’t pull any punches.” A comment upon hearing my latest “A Quick Word” on radio.

Which wasn’t my intention, I simply pulled a piece from a recent (3 part) sermon series I did on forgiveness, then massaged it a bit to make it stand alone. I hoped it would be Bible centred and thought provoking.

So here is it – entering the ring – Steve the boxer! (Does it “box”? If it does, does it matter? Should communication “box”?


Posted by steve at 08:42 AM

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

amos yong’s theology and disability chapter 6

Chapter 6 – Reimaging the Doctrines of Creation, Providence, and the Imago Dei. Rehabilitating Down Syndrome and Disability, pp. 155-193. (For earlier: see Yong’s Chapter one; Yong’s Chapter two; Yong’s Chapter three.)

This is a superb chapter. Yong points out how destructive to the disabled are traditional Christian understandings of creation. “Put most succinctly, if God is the creator and sustainer of the world and all that is in it, then God is also responsible for disability.” (162). Yong then explores what I would call “the dark side” of the theory of evolution: that is, that just as genetic variation ensures survival of the fittest, so it produces the chromosonal abnormalities including the likes of Downs Syndrome.

Given these observations, both of theology and of evolution, what follows is a reformulation of doctrines of sin and Fall, a movement from “the idea of divine omnipotence causing all events to divine omnicompassion redeeming all events.” (169) Yong’s use of the four fences of the Chalcedonian Creed is a creative refreshing of classical Christian understandings.

This continues as Yong turns to Jesus. He notes recent advances in neuroscience and an emergent (nothing to with church) anthropology, which defines humans in holistic and relational terms, and explores this as a potential way to move beyond more functional (people have value because of what they do) and materialistic (people have value because of what they earn) notions of being human. “A disability perspective exposes how modernity’s notions of freedom, autonomy, and expertise undermine the kind of social flourishing that comes with mutuality, reciprocity, and interrelationality.” (187)

Yong explores the nailscarred and tortured body of Jesus as a “disabled God.” This allows him to connect Jesus, creation, being human and disability. “God’s redemptive work as revealed in the cross and resurrection also illuminates divine nonviolence and nonintrusive action that effectively, even miraculously, brings life out of death, novelty out of impossibility, and beauty out of suffering and hardship.” (180)

This offers a way to respect and seek redemption for all human beings. “Hence, the question concerns not the dependence of the disabled on the nondisabled but the other way around: the nondisabled are dependent on the disabled, whom God has chosen to be a means of saving grace.” (188)

It is a fresh and challenging chapter. Yong has a creative mind. He is reading widely and summarising superly. All the time, his personal experience of disability lends authenticity and groundedness.

Posted by steve at 03:11 PM

Monday, May 18, 2009

who is Opawa? mapping our mission

I’m constantly trying to map, or name, what God is doing among us as a church. I’m not a big “vision” person with large 10 year plans. Instead I try to listen to people and Scripture, to offer short term experiments, see what energy is released, and on that basis, go another experiment. Over time, patterns and priorities emerge. Now into our 6th year at Opawa, here is where we are up to – in pictures. You see, normally, I tell stories. But not everyone gets stories, so over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking pictures. How, in a diagram, could I map Opawa? Here is my current attempt …

For those of you going huh, here is the slow motion …

a) Opawa is about mission (reflecting Christ’s love) and we are hearing this challenge and sensing a need to respond in three broad areas.
– our living – simply being Christlike neighbours and work colleagues. At Opawa this is resourced through God at work group, spiritual practices, teaching, training.
– our creating – our larger scale citywide project, including Christmas Journey, Easter Journey, Pentecost.
– our loving – our local (Waltham) community, with a whole range of ways that we invest locally

Worship (enabling people to walk and grow)
– since one size no longer fits all, we have a multi-congregational approach. Currently we have 5 or 6 congregations, with another potentially forming. Each are a unique expression, helping people grow in relationship with God, with each other and outwardly.
– some congregations relate better than others to one particular form of our outward, mission, expression

Shared life (enabling people to walk and grow)
– we are not separate churches, but multiple congregations, that share life together. This includes leadership, seasons of prayer, facilities, discipling and growth opportunities (like Bible days or mid-week training, or lectionary readings).

And putting it all together takes up back to the first picture …

If I was clever and graphicy, I’d have a cross at the centre and I’d have another inner wheel, which includes our volunteers, Board, ministry leaders and bridge builders. And to repeat what I said at the start – this is always evolving and is bottom up. In coming to Opawa, I did not set out with some big strategy, but with some passions and intuitions, a belief that God could be at work and a willingness to trial and error.

Posted by steve at 09:54 PM

Sunday, May 17, 2009

a wilderness faith

Update: I think this sermon has roots in this reflection I wrote in 2005 – on the place of wilderness faith for the emerging church.

I don’t normally put up sermons here, both due to time constraints and the fact that sermons are a spoken, not a written encounter.

(Taken by Mike Bischoff here)

But there’s always a time to break a rule. Also because this is the sermon I would have liked to preach to frame a “wilderness spirituality2go” web-project I designed last year. Everyone was given a rock, and this was used at the end, by way of prayerful mediation. So with a few edits, here is a reflection on Mark 1:2-13 and the need for wilderness in spirituality.


Posted by steve at 09:00 PM

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Coldplay thanks fans. So this fan thanks Coldplay

Free download of Coldplay album.

Posted by steve at 10:59 PM

Thursday, May 14, 2009


“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less”.

A quote, not by some emerging, missional hipster, but General Eric Shinseki, now President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Posted by steve at 06:48 PM

male spirituality at the movies

I went to see Men’s group at the movies today. Australian made, it is a slow moving, but excruciatingly honest inspection of what it’s like to be male. It is the story of 6 men, meeting weekly to talk. Over time they begin to explore the pain of their fathers, the loneliness of relationships and the bleakness of their grief. It takes time, but they realise that men can go on a journey of friendship and intimacy. Recommended viewing for all men IMHO.

I like to place alongside the movie Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality which I found hugely helpful in my thinking about male spirituality. The book explores Bible texts that challenge men – Abraham’s relationship with his sons, David’s relationship with his sons, Jesus masculinity – and what it means to be male today.

And so for years when I pastored at Graceway Baptist, every Thursday fortnightly a group of men would meet. Since so much male conversation is defined by what we do and who we cheer, the two groundrules were no agenda and no sports talk, which left the challenge of how could we as men define our relationships. That was a great experience to be part of.

Posted by steve at 12:09 AM

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

adelaide + anglican + fresh in expression

Chris McLeod is an Anglican Vicar in Adelaide. He took my Living the Text in a Contemporary context course I taught at Tabor in October last year (and am teaching again at Tabor 28 Sept-2 Oct later this year). Before church ministry he was a chef (and threatened to bring food for our final day of the course, but wisely let a pastoral situation have priority!)

Anyhow, he’s just set sail on a fresh expression-ish evening service. It comes complete with a blog progress report of their first service, themed around Mother’s Day. And he’s keen to find travelling companions – so to all of my Adelaide readers and also to Anglican readers, head on over and let him know how exciting it is.

It’s enormously satisfying for me to see students trying stuff like this. Go Chris.

Posted by steve at 11:48 PM