Tuesday, July 17, 2012

St Luke’s – The BIG Story of the Bible

Despite the church existing in a postmodern context suspicious of any big story out of which ultimate truth can be found or meaning in regards to our own stories; at St Luke’s we are convinced that the BIG Story of the Bible is an overarching story of truth in which we make sense of all of life’s sub stories.

Our conviction is that the bible tells us the true history of God at work in the world. Not like a technical history book, as modern science would understand history to be, but in a mixture of historical stories, poems, songs, pithy sayings, occasional letters and various other genres.

To simplify it, the story tracks through six main acts...


We’re living in act 5 where God, while at work everywhere in all sorts of ways, is working in the world through the church. The church is to live out the BIG Story of the Bible as faithful followers of Christ, walking the Way of Jesus and existing as a living representation of Christ in the world. The church is to continue God’s reconciling and restorative work in the world, looking forward to the return of Jesus and God renewing all things.
Leslie Newbigin asks...
How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? What is the most effective vehicle through which a scandalous gospel can be communicated so that it is credible?
He answers...
I am suggesting that the only answer, the only way to explain the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. No amount of brilliant argument can make it sound reasonable to the inhabitants of the reigning plausibility structure. That is why I am suggesting that the only possible explanation of the gospel is a congregation which believes it.[1]

The BIG Story of the Bible, the Gospel of Jesus, isn’t an add on addition that will give us a head start in our race to live the dream of a nice house, a nice job, a nice car, nice holidays, and a nice life.  Rather, the gospel has the potential to totally undo our pursuit of all and everything that might be considered ‘living the dream’ and offers us a different way of living, a different understanding of what really matters in life, it offers us a different dream.

In living life in the light of the BIG Story of the Bible, one of our challenges is to do the best we can to properly exegete both the bible and our 21st Century post-modern culture. What does the bible teach here? What’s going on in our world here? What happens when we bring these two things together? We want to live in the light of God’s word and its intent and meaning to the original readers, totally committed to the reality that it has meaning and truth for us today.

The bible offers us a grand-narrative of God at work throughout history. In truth it tells us that history is indeed HIStory; a meaningful story originating in love and purpose that is heading towards a beautiful mind-blowing conclusion. We want to live in the light of this story. The life giving, transformational, challenging, inviting, moving, all encompassing, subversive, counter intuitive, upside-down, passionate story of God’s love and plan for His creation.

At times understanding this big story and understanding the smaller stories found in the Bible seems straightforward and common sense. On other occasions it’s not so easy.

At times it is easy to embrace the challenges of Jesus’ teaching. On other occasions, like it was for the disciples, so easy to miss the point.

At times God’s word seems life changing and refreshing. On other occasions it seems dry and difficult to swallow.

In all of this we’re committed to gathering around God’s word each Sunday and to allowing it to transform our lives.

The Story is counter culture to the Western story of individualism, self made success, consumerism, materialism, self gratification etc. Lay down your life, take up your cross, don’t worry about clothes you wear, two jackets give it to the person who has none, food, give it to those that don’t have food, you that are rich in this age, give more.

The Story that isn’t content to leave people where they are at, is content to avoid risking upsetting or interrupting someone’s life, but a story that actually turns someone’s life upside down, calls and sends them.

At St Luke’s were committed to the ongoing process of getting lost and found in the BIG  Story of God.

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 227-232.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

St Luke's - Truth and Humility

The church finds itself existing in a postmodern context that is suspicious of institutions, organisations, experts, and people that claim to have all the answers or have discovered the truth. We’re surrounded by people suspicious of the way organisations use and interpret texts to suit their own ends. So of course, it’s not surprising to discover that average Joe is suspicious of the church and how the biblical text has been ‘used and misused’ by the ‘experts’ up the front to advance their own agendas. Heck Pastor Joe (me) is suspicious of that.

And yet as Christ followers we affirm the Bible authoritative and inspired by God. We believe it contains ultimate truth, a grand-narrative, a big story which gives meaning to all of human existence and out of which we can make sense of our own stories. We’re people of the Spirit. We’re people of the text – the Bible.

In a postmodern context you could say it is a little stacked against us!

An yet I believe in the possibility, potential, and the ability of the church to shine brighter than it ever has, to make more of a difference in the world than she already has, to offer the world faith, hope and love in the midst of confusion, hopelessness and heartache.

Mindful of our context we seek each time we gather to speak the truth out of love, with grace and in humility, understanding that we may not have it all exactly right – though we are more than confident of being on the right track.

We’re called to shine boldly as a light and also flavour subversively in the world around us, pointing people towards Jesus and working towards the Kingdom of God being established on earth as in heaven.

At St Luke’s we’re more about out working this in humble conversation. Sermons are talks to start talks not talks to end talks, the opening word rather than the final word. We won’t yell at you, but at the same time we won’t shy away. Humility isn’t weak it’s just inviting.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

St Luke's - In a Postmodern & Post-Christian World

The church is by nature a number of things...

Those who have responded to the call to follow Jesus (to pledge their allegiance and worship to the Lordship of the Creator God revelled in Father, Son and Spirit).

Those that are “alive” in Christ and the gathering of those that are alive in Christ.
Those that gather united in baptism and communion.
Those that live out of and in witness to the big story of the Gospel.
An integrated renewed humanity in community (an eclectic bunch of people sourced from here, there and everywhere but who have all found life in Jesus Christ).

You could say that the church is; a community that gathers and scatters as followers of Jesus in order to encourage, equip and help each other in the active living out of God’s will and in order to bear witness in both word and deed to the truth and love of God.

Why St Luke’s then? Why plant a church?

The short answer is in response to God’s calling, leading and prompting. At an intuitive level I felt God was leading us (Lisa and I, and then what became a church planting team) to plant a church.

Now we all know that churches can work out their ‘churching’ in a variety of ways.

So what about St Luke’s...?

All along we wanted to do this in a way that would resonate somehow with the postmodern and post-Christian context that we live in; with those that know Christ in this context and with those that don’t.

St Luke’s isn’t a postmodern church. I’m not sure that is possible as, at the end of the day, a Christian worldview and a postmodern worldview are not really compatible. We have set out however to speak into a postmodern context.

Let me explain that a bit, and yes I’m cutting out as much guff as possible, and yes, the story is a little more nuanced than what follows...

First we had the enlightenment:

A cultural movement of intellectualism in the 1700’s that sought to mobilize the power of reason, in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted science and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition. It is the foundation to what is known as modernism, our modern way of living; scientific, technical, rational, logical, educated, reasoned etc. It carries with it the idea that we’ll fix the world as humanity advances intellectually and one by one thinks and fixes and invents solutions to the world‘s problems and humankind's deepest fears and desires.

Now we have postmodernism:

As time as carried on we’ve discovered that science isn’t going to fix everything. Despite the great advances in philosophy, medicine, humanitarian work, education, capitalism – the world is a pretty broken place. Science couldn’t fix or prove everything. Postmodern thinkers began to declare truth as relative,[1] to become suspicious of literary texts and our ability to truthfully interpret the text,[2] and to doubt any sort of metanarrative[3] by which sense could be made of life.

Imagine a flyer in your mail box from Shell Oil explaining their new environmentally friendly and sustainable oil - who wrote this? Why? Can they be trusted? What’s their agenda?  Who can you trust? Who are the experts? This is just their version of the story, it’s not necessarily the only version or the truest version, in fact it’s most likely not!

There is suspicion of truth, suspicion of the text, suspicion of the expert (who’s paying them), a suspicion of institutions, a suspicion that any particular story is a true story let alone the true story. All is relative.

We live in a postmodern context.

At the same time we live in what is very much a post-Christian society.

First we had Christendom:

Christendom is the religious culture that has dominated Western society since the 4th Century. Prior to this the Western world was pre-Christian. Greek gods, Roman gods, and Caesar were considered as lord. It was criminal to be a Christian at times. Christians were thrown to lions in the arena or killed by gladiators. In the 4th Centruy the Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity the official imperial religion. Christian faith moved from being a marginalized, persecuted, subversive movement to being the official religion. Church gatherings moved from underground catacombs to large temples that were specifically built. The Emperor worshiped in temple in all his finery and so gowns and robes and the like were acquired for the priests to wear and conduct services in, they needed to look the part for the Emperor. The Church and state became one. In many countries the King or Queen was the head of the church as well as the State. Members of society were assumed to be Christian by birth rather than by choice. Over the last 1000 years or so however, there has been a separation of Church and State.

Largely though, until the last generation or so, the church was still held in high regard in society. Countries still considered themselves to be a Christian nation. Everyone went to Sunday school. Priests or Pastors were held in high regard. Church and teachings of the church still held tremendous sway.

Now we have post-Christendom:

Many historians though are now calling the world we live in a post-Christendom society. In many places prayer in schools has been banned, it is being requested that Christmas be renamed as a solstice gift-giving festival, that nativity scenes be removed from shopping malls. You may have seen on the news a few years ago the debate around the monument of the Ten Commandments in the Montgomery State judicial building being taken down. After having been in place for two years it was ruled to be in violation of the U.S. Constitutions principle of a separation between religion and government.

The church, priests, reverends, pastors, prayer, the Christian faith no longer enjoys the same privileged status it once held in western society.

Thus we find ourselves living in a postmodern and post-Christian context.

To be continued...

[1] Francis Watson, Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994), 102.

 [2] Mark Poster, “Foucault, Michel,” in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (ed. Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 277-280.

 [3] Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Want 14 extra hours? Want to live healthier?

It seems that the average New Zealander watches a little over three hours of television per day.[1] That’s 21 hours a week. Half a standard work week! Across New Zealand that’s around 12 million hours a day; a total of around 500,000 years (per year) that goes into television. That’s a lot of people-power hours, even if not the best hours.  

As much as anyone else I understand that sometimes at the end of the day, work over, kids in bed etc all you want to do is put your feet up and chill in front of the TV, watch a sit-com, a sci-fi, some sport or a movie. Some people are physically drained and want to chill. Some people are mentally drained and want to chill. Others are emotionally or intellectually exhausted. No argument from me.

I wonder though if we might be a little healthier if we cut out some of the TV and replaced it with something else? Of course we would! We all know this.

My suggestion is that you consider reducing your television viewing from 21 hours per week to 14 hours. Not too drastic. Now there are all sorts of meaningful ways you could spend an extra 7 hours. Here are a couple of suggestions that are simply focused on health.

With the 7 hours you free up you could consider…

1.   Reading for 4 hours per week – if your reading and comprehension abilities are only average it would take you less than 3 weeks to read a standard 300 page book. You’d actually get through about 19 books in a year. That’s pretty good going! And… if you made sure nine of these were non-fiction books by reputable writers that’s a fair amount solid download! You’ll be exercising the mind and this is an incredibly healthy habit. As you read more you’ll also become a better reader with your comprehension and wpm count going up. If your job is fairly intellectually demanding read something that is outside your field of work but an interest you have and you’ll find it energizing rather than draining.  

2.   Exercise for 3 hours per week – you’d be amazed at the results you can achieve in 3 solid work outs per week, be they running, weights, boxing, cross training etc. If you are pushing yourself and eating well you’ll burn fat, build muscle tone, release endorphins, sweat out toxins etc. Again you know how good this is for you. You just have to do it!  

Now of course, if you're just watching TV to "unwind" you could always consider ditching another 5 hours of TV, bring your total viewing time down to 9 hours (still a fair bit) and have an extra 5 hours of sleep per week. If your mind is being exercised and your body is being exercised (and properly feed) the other component for health that we need is rest. Sitting on the couch watching TV isn’t even close to the same thing as sleeping. The five hours extra per week, an hour per week night, will energize and increase your efficiency across the rest of the day. You’ll cope with stress better, your kids better, and your husband/wife better. You’ll work smarter, you’ll think clearer and you’ll be better for it.

All you have to do is turn television off and engage!

[1] Statistics in online articles vary a little but there seems to be a general agreement on this figure.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Concerning the Church - Part 3

The church is to exist as a witness to the gospel and is to model to the world: grace, love, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, self control, acceptance, patience, sacrifice, a willingness to die to oneself, faith, determination, extra mile living, the laying down of one’s life, service rather than the need to always be served, passion and action for justice, peace as a non-anxious presence in the world, faithful witness, initiative, creativity, light and life in the midst of darkness and death, hope and courage in the face of impossibility and lose. We’re to take up our cross and follow Jesus. We’re to lay down our lives for our fellow men.

Paul really meant it when he said ‘it’s no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me’ and he really meant it when he said ‘come follow me as I follow Christ.’

Full on. For sure!

The call is not to join an institution or to sign a pledge card; it is rather to sign on for a different narrative account of reality that is in profound contrast to the dominant account of reality into which we are all summarily inducted.[1]

Our “doing and living” is to be as people “alive in Christ.”

Philippians 2:5-11
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

A renewed identity in Christ leads to a new way of living; you are a new creation, act that way!

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Word That Redescribes the World: The Bible and Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 95.

Concerning the Church - Part 2

By nature the church is those that are alive in Christ and the gathering and scattering in mission of those that are alive in Christ.

Craig Van Gelder writes this... The church lives in the world as a human enterprise, but it is also the called and the redeemed people of God. It is a people of God who are created by the Spirit to live as a missionary community. As such, the church is both a social organisation and a spiritual community. Empowered by the Spirit the church is God’s personal presence in the world. This makes the church as a spiritual community unique. The church exists as a social reality with human behaviours organised with human structures. But this human behaviour, through the redemptive work of God, is empowered by the Spirit. This is the duality inherent in the church’s nature.[1]

Or in other words, yes as soon as the church gathers, suddenly you need administration and structures and policies and everything else involved in social organisation but: the church is unique as a community empowered by the Spirit as God’s personal presence in the world.

Michael Gorman puts it like this...

The ekklesia is what God is up to in the world: recreating a people whose corporate life tells the world what the death and resurrection of the Messiah is all about. This people, the “Church,” lives the story, embodies the story, tells the story. It is the living exegesis of God’s master story of faith, love, power and hope.[2]

So by nature the church is a counter culture community that lives out of, and in witness to, the big story of the Gospel.

Empowered by the Spirit the church does not live according to the patterns or the ways of this world but rather, transformed by the renewing of the mind; lives, thinks, acts, functions in the world in line with the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus. In doing so the church community bears witness in word and in deed to the reality of the Good News of the Gospel and more specifically the reality of the resurrected Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. The church us to be a living explanation, a living example, a living interpretation of Good News of the Gospel, of the reality of the truth and power of the cross. 

Leslie Newbigin asks...

How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? What is the most effective vehicle through which a scandalous gospel can be communicated so that it is credible?

He answers...

I am suggesting that the only answer, the only way to explain the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. No amount of brilliant argument can make it sound reasonable to the inhabitants of the reigning plausibility structure. That is why I am suggesting that the only possible explanation of the gospel is a congregation which believes it.[3]

And I add, lives it!

[1] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 25.
[2] Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 367.
[3] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 227-232.