Heaven and Earth - Night 4

Well, night four was not one to be missed. This was a very special time.

Rod Thompson took the bulk of both sessions, starting the first under the heading of 'The End of the Story'.

He talked about the Bible as one story (a familiar idea to the Wineskins, of course), but added that this one story is not a collection of a bunch of smaller stories in that they lose their meaning and then become something else, but that the whole story enriches and affirms their meaning.

Showing this, he criticised (respectfully) the 'harmonisation' of the 4 gospels in 'Life of Christ in Stereo' by Johnston M. Cheney, and insisted that each of the gospels must be allowed to tell their own story in their own way.

He provided a picture-description of each of the four biblical gospels:
Matthew was like a furnished, well-ordered, 5-bedroom house,
Mark was like a narrow, dark, deep lake,
Luke was like a vast, rambling, vista of the rich, varied open country (leading to Acts - just over the far ridge)
John was like the sky/heaven coming down to earth to stay...

He then presented three 'scenes' from John's Gospel that emphasise this theme of John (coming together of heaven and earth)...
Scene 1 - The tent in the afternoon
Scene 2 - The throne at sunset
Scene 3 - The beach at sunrise

Scene 1 - The tent in the afternoon
John 1:38-39 - When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
The dialogue was emphasised here: Jesus says 'What are you seeking?' - The disciples ask, 'Rabbi, where are you staying?' - Jesus replies 'Come and see...'

The Eternal Word had been made flesh, the Son of God had come to earth - for good. The 'abiding'/'staying' language continues in John (i.e. John 15 - 'abide in me'). The Incarnation is God 'staying' in humanity from now on, with Jesus also 'staying'/'abiding' with Father and Spirit.

Scene 2 - The throne at sunset
John 12:20-23
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
More dialogue. This time it is Greeks (almost certainly 'God-fearing Greeks' - Roman believers in the Jewish God who had not undergone circumcision) starting things off! 'We wish to see Jesus.' - when Jesus hears of this, he announces, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.'

Here Rod briefly read from chapter 19 - to this glorification - which is the enthronement of the King of the Universe - on a cross. This is one of John's unique perspectives. The crucifixion of Jesus on a cross is the enthronement of the World's true Lord, and it is announced publicly - the inscription recorded it in Hebrew, Latin and Greek - for all the world to see and know.

Before moving to scene three, Rod demonstrated the structure of John's gospel, and how chapter 21 is a most fitting ending (and almost certainly not a latter addition).

Prologue - John 1:1-18
The Seven Signs - John 1:19-20:31 (2:11; 4:54; 6:2; 6:14, 26; 9:16; 12:18 - 2:18-19)
Epilogue - John 21:1-25

Scene 3 - The beach at sunrise
Revelation 21:11-12
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord.
Here, Jesus' invitation is central: 'Come and have breakfast.' Also, Peter's discussion with Jesus over the charcoal fire reminds us - and especially Peter! - of another charcoal fire earlier where Peter had denied Jesus. Denial and betrayal at one fire, restoration and reconciliation at the other.

Rod closed the first session by emphasising that the christian story is about God coming to earth to Stay. And the Christian life being about a truly human experiencing of the world - we 'come and see' and we weep, wonder and worship.

After the tea break, Rod began by 'controversially' taking issue with some Christian teaching and songwriting. He said that the belittling of Christian faith by such as Nietzsche, Marx, Rousseau, Orr and (even) Schaeffer was not without cause - we have for far too long been talking of this present live as not mattering at all...

Here, Rod (respectfully) critiqued some of the teaching by Rick Warren - particularly his talk about 'not getting too attached' to our life here on earth (because our true home - says Warren - is in heaven).

Next up was the words of a few songs...
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
(Helen H. Lemmel - 1922)
Rod focused on the line about the 'things of earth' growing 'strangely dim' in the light of Jesus glory and grace - commenting that for him, coming to faith in Jesus made things - not more dim - but all the brighter and more colourful.

When I look into Your holiness
When I gaze into Your loveliness
When all things that surround become shadows
In the light of You

When I've found the joy of reaching Your heart
When my will become enthroned in Your love
When all things that suround become shadows
In the light of You
(Wayne & Cathy Perrin)
Here, Rod's criticism aimed at the line about 'all things that surround' becoming 'shadows' - and for similar reasons as above...

From this, Rod then presented a fourth scene...

Scene 4 - The wedding on a new day
Revelation 21:3-5
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the dwelling place of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the former things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said,
‘See, I am making all things new.’
Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’

Rod noted the language of 'dwelling' - with God here dwelling ('tabernacling') with humans. The 'former things' which pass away are not the created order, but (in context here) rather the tears, death, mourning, crying and pain - the groaning comes to a final end when Jesus makes all things new.

Rod then made reference to Revelation 19:8 and the analogy of the fine white linen representing the righteous deeds of the saints. His point here was that this event at the end of history is not the 'junking' of history, but that things done rightly, godly and truly humanly will be affirmed, welcomed, redeemed and brought into the new world.

In closing, he reminded us that this story is Invitational, Embracing and Relational - and trumps all other stories about reality that could ever be told - whether it be the story of the Roman Empire (context of Revelation) or modern materialist meaning-crunching stories which leave us bored and retreating into virtual worlds of fantasy. God has taken flesh - heaven and earth have met and will be fully redeemed.

Mark then closed the night - and series - with more wonderful reflections about what it would look like for the church to be this kind of church - diving into all kinds of truly human tasks - striving for excellence in all areas. Mark shared how this is the vision and goal (with both confidence and humility!) of Laidlaw college as they respect the tradition of all that has gone before and seek to forge new paths ahead.

Heaven and Earth - Night 3

Martin Sutherland took the first half, and talked under the question of "A Glimpse of Heaven Now?"

He worked from Philippians, with chapter 3, verses 20 and 21 as his key text.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (TNIV)
Observations abounded. First, the tension of being a 'citizen' of heaven (Now), but still waiting (Not Yet) for the 'Savio(u)r from there' to transform our bodies. Also, it was noted that this passage contrasts with the self-emptying (kenosis) passage earlier in (Philippians) chapter 2. This one has a glorious saviour appearing from glorious heaven and transforming our 'lowly' (read: 'un-glorious') bodies to be like his glorious body; while chapter 2 has a gloriously equal-with-God Christ taking the form of a servant (again, read: 'un-glorious') and dying a shameful death - even death on a cross.

Next, Martin observed the pressures on the Philippian church. Using an image of three co-centric (having the same [co] centre) circles, he showed how at one level (the largest circle) the church (the smallest circle) had the pressure of the Roman Empire's pagan influence (immorality, etc.), and at another level (the middle circle) they had the 'Judaizers' pressuring them as well (conformity to Jewish standards, i.e. circumcision - e.g. 3:2).

Paul's instruction throughout chapter 3 was summarised in these verse-groupings and descriptions:
1a-7: Don't go back (to safe Judaism).
8-11: Instead, be found in Christ,
12-16: ...and press onward to 'heavenly' goal.
17-19: Those who set their minds on 'earth' will be destroyed,
20: ...but we citizens of heaven...
21: ...will be glorified by Christ.

Also, the flow from chapter 1 was highlighted, by way of reference to 1:9-11, 1:27, 2:14-15 and 3:13-16. The message right through: "Let us live up to what we have already attained.

Martin then spent some time discussing the ideas of seeing ourselves as 'resident aliens'. He quoted at length from Miroslav Volf, and surveyed Romans 8:18-21 and Ephesians 3:8-21.

He then fielded several questions from the floor before finishing up and dismissing us for a supper break.

*** *** ***

Mark Strom then shared in the second half under the theme of "Dwellers on the Threshold" (which, among other things, was confirmed NOT to be a lyric of any U2 songs whatsoever! :) ).

The time swept past as Mark shared from his heart about (among other things) the "deep longing for more" which we find ourselves at times tempted to say 'no' to, but remind ourselves to say 'yes' to. He talked about the tension between the 'Now' and the 'Not Yet', and how our 'Yes' is always in the face of 'No'; referring once again to Philippians 3 and how the 'power of His resurrection' is known in the 'fellowship of His sufferings'.

Beautifully illustrating his point about the feeling of 'groaning' (Romans 8:22-25) He played Van Morisson's song 'Dweller on the Threshold' with rolling-images demonstrating the breadth of human experience from joy to suffering. Here are the lyrics:

I'm a dweller on the threshold
And I'm waiting at the door
And I'm standing in the darkness
I don't want to wait no more

I have seen without perceiving
I have been another man
Let me pierce the realm of glamour
So I know just what I am

Feel the angel of the present
In the mighty crystal fire
Lift me up consume my darkness
Let me travel even higher

I'm a dweller on the threshold
As I cross the burning ground
Let me go down to the water
Watch the great illusion drown

I'm gonna turn and face the music
The music of the spheres
Lift me up consume my darkness
When the midnight disappears

I will walk out of the darkness
And I'll walk into the light
And I'll sing the song of ages
And the dawn will end the night

I'm a dweller on the threshold
And I cross some burning ground
And I'll go down to the water
Let the great illusion drown

Also he made a reference to a work by Henry Lawson called "Past Carin'", which is part of a short story called 'Water Them Geraniums', which can be read here.

Somewhere along the way, he shared a touching story about a hugely gifted Australian classical-guitarist friend who had been put-off playing the guitar by a 'well meaning, but foolish older brother', having been suggested/told/coerced-to-believe that his 5-hour-a-day-guitar-practicing was like-unto idol worship. Years later, he had to be 'tempted' into playing the guitar again - and rediscovering the profound joy of being human way of fully living in the abilities and gifts he had...

Further describing this 'groaning', he presented a three-way tension between these sentiments:
1) Pushing against all false faith sadly tied to the Old...
2) The New Life in the New Story...
3) Showing grace & wisdom to those who do not yet know the New...

In closing, he touched on Colossians 2:16 (and following) noting how a life lived by 'laws', legalism and 'religion' is characterised by to-and-fro-ing between self-justification and self-condemnation.

Heaven and Earth - Night 2

This week, Dr. David Williams (new head of counseling at Laidlaw College) presented under the title 'The Alteration of the Human Situation'.

In the first half, he mapped how the three major sections of Isaiah ('first', 'second' and 'third' Isaiah) inter-relate and build upon one another. He had two sets of charts which pictured this well. The first set of charts demonstrated the inter-relatedness of the texts, and the second set demonstrated how the prophetic message developed in relation to two key events: Nebuchadnezzar's defeat in 586BC and Cyrus's deliverance in 539BC.

I've tried to re-produce a rudimentary version of them...

After the break, David moved into the New Testament, commenting on 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:6,8; and Ephesians 2:1,4.

The 'big idea' here was that just as the exile and return from exile had been seen to combine into a single redemptive event, the cross and resurrection of Jesus were also seen to combine into one single redemptive event (even surpassing the former one).

David also presented a wonderful demonstration of both the poetry and chiastic structure to the 'Colossian Poem' (1:15-20). Again, I've put together a 'mock' version...

With a few great quotes from Barth, Torrance and Bono; and closing with a reflection on Revelation 21:4-5, David wrapped up nicely and Mark joined him for a few brief questions and reflection from the floor.

Any further thoughts out there?

Heaven and Earth - Night 1

The Wineskin talks kicked back into gear in the usual 'Monday-night-x-4' format tonight...

This first night only Mark Strom presented, but on the next three weeks, he'll be joined by three other new staff members at Laidlaw College.

The first part of the evening (before the cuppa+bite break) consisted of a survey of the biblical 'data' regarding 'heaven' and 'earth' (subsequent shorthand for these shall be 'H&E'). Here, Mark highlighted the diversity and complexity of these texts, reminding us that every system which tries to incorporate all the Bible-verses always leaves out (or downplays!) a few that 'just don't fit'... The key concept here was God's choosing to reveal Himself by way of a story - and the thing about stories is that they unfold. You don't get all the info up front.

Here is a listing of the verses he touched on (with some of his passing comments in parentheses)... Again, the point here was (mainly) to show how confusing and complex these verses can seem (Mark had no intention of this part 'making sense', per se)...

Old Testament
Genesis 1:1 (the start of the story - even heaven created!), Jeremiah 10:12, Proverbs 8, Isaiah 6 (the earth is filled with God's glory), Psalm 8, 1 Kings 8, Isaiah 51 (H&E shall vanish, etc.) --> Isaiah 65 (a New Heaven & New Earth)['NH&NE'], Psalm 16, Ecclesiastes/Job/Psalms (various passages which show their uncertainty of what lies beyond 'the grave')...

New Testament
Matthew 5 (sermon on the mount - the meek shall inherit the earth...), Matthew 6 (Lord's prayer), other sayings of Jesus - "store up treasures in heaven..." (as opposed to 'here'?); "what you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven..."; "H&E shall pass away..."; "all authority in H&E has been given to me...", other sayings about heaven and/or 'the world' - John 1, the world didn't know Him; Jesus from above (as opposed to 'below'); Jesus - "my kingdom is not of this world"; John 11 (1st century Jewish hope of resurrection, Lazarus rising and Jesus as 'the resurrection'); Jesus on cross says to repentant thief "you will be with me today in paradise" (Mark asks - was Jesus in paradise on that day?), Paul 1 Cor - "the form of this world is passing away", "new creation" in Christ, Resurrection in chapter 15 (earthly and heavenly 'bodies'), 2 Corinthians 5 (tent-bodies and house-bodies?), Romans 8 (groaning as waiting for redemption of bodies), Ephesians 1 (all things in H&E brought together under one head), Hebrews 12 (we have come to Mt. Zion - the heavenly Jerusalem), Galatians 4 (physical Jerusalem akin to 'Arabia'), Peter (inheritance kept for us 'in heaven' - and living as 'aliens and strangers'), 2 Peter (H&E reserved for fire - wait for NH&NE), Revelation 21-22...

After the break, Mark used a progression of diagrams (which I won't attempt to reproduce here!) to present the unfolding interaction between H&E throughout the Biblical narrative.

A few points he made along the way:

-Creation is the 'temple' and we are the 'image' of God. Idolatry doubly offensive in that it demeans not only the greatness and glory of God, but also his image-bearers - us!
-H&E 'parted' by a 'blockage' (Genesis 3)
-Heaven moves toward earth - in judgment & promise (e.g. Noah)
-Earth moves toward heaven - in hubris & longing (e.g. Babel fiasco and Abraham)
-Heaven's presence a fearful thing on earth - Disclosure & redemption (e.g. Burning bush, Exodus, Sinai, Covenant, Temple)
-The lingering possibility of the joining of H&E - example Psalms (remembrance of creation, possibilities of grace as intimacy and redemption)
-The prophetic hope of something even better than Genesis 1 (new 'shape' in renewal of all things)
-Heaven's FULL movement to Earth in the Incarnation of Jesus (also - if that wasn't clear enough - in Baptism and Transfiguration)
-The death of all hope of renewal (Mark conscious here of controversial-ish point) - at the cross...
-The Resurrection and Ascension as the New Earth being taken into heaven, etc.
-The giving of the Spirit as the ongoing presence of Jesus (the 'heavenly man') on earth (in those strange groupings of Jesus followers - wretched and radiant - always succeeding and always failing at imaging Jesus)
-Final renewal - H&E fully 'overlap' one another.

Whew! That's a lot just in summary form!

Any thoughts out there?

Wineskins - Church

Wineskins are on once again!

This time, Mark Strom is joined by Dr Rod Thompson to discuss the topic of CHURCH...

Saturday 17 May
at St Paul's
28 Symond Street, Auckland City
9:00am - 4:30pm.*

*Mark, Rod and the St Paul's team will be available for a session with church leaders at 4:45pm

This Wineskins series returns to our One Day format of Input and Facilitated Conversation.

This event will be free, but registration is required. Click 'here' to register.

(I regret I can't make it as I'm back home for my sister's wedding, but I look forward to any and all comments, feedback and discussion!)

Wineskin DAY - coming soon

Time for Wineskins again, soon!

This one's going to be a one-day-only affair.

If you're not registered, you'll miss out!

The topic is Leadership.

Mark will be sharing in several sessions throughout the day, with times for discussion and sharing as well.


Theology for Life - Night 4

Mark opened with a reading from Proverbs 30, which (among other things) highlights the mystery and wonder of creation. He talked about seeing the creation with new eyes, especially with the Spirit now given to God's people after Pentecost.

He reviewed the first three nights and dropped in this fantastic and extremely quotable phrase about Resurrection v. 'immortality':
"Immortality has no respect for physicality. Resurrection is the redemption of physicality."
He also added a great addition to the story of him and Luke, and how he got to the point in his mountain bike racing where he was able to 'not hold back'... The key moment was when Mark saw Luke off at the top of the mount, and instead of Luke's usual words - 'See you at the bottom', he smiled and said... 'Watch this.' Also he shared how Luke's attitude has matured to the point where he now starts every race with the brief thought/prayer, 'Lord, thank You for this gift.' Brilliant.

He further reviewed the previous weeks, picking up on these points:

-Double Knowledge <> Trinity <> Image of God
-One and Many, Universal and Particular
-Thought: 'Knowing' in the Trinity (Father knows himself more by knowing the Son, and so on...)
-You in the particularity of your brilliance and stories
-Your whole life reveals God: (Text, Soul & Culture)

Just before the break, Mark showed some paintings from Marcia Hinds (view her work here), and talked about how God takes us on our 'journey' and uses the story of our own lives. He gave these points:

-Transformation >> towards the original intent
-Modelled >> In the life Jesus promised and the Spirit gifted
-Modelled >> In a community that knows this life
-AND... For the sheer wonder of LIFE!!!

After the break, before surveying various realms of life, Mark shared a phrase he picked up in his travels:
"Know the Gospel. Know the Culture. Translate Well."
He then moved on to these categories of human experience...

-we sense that everything 'speaks'
-we sense how things are perspectives on other things
-we seek beauty at the core of our lives, not at the fringes

-we feel rationalism brutalising us
-we feel relativism leaving us empty
-we know truly & sufficiently, not exhaustively
-we sense the brilliance of love

-we cherish the order & discipline that make freedom possible
-we feel tension and resolution
-we were born to improvise

-we are learning how to read the script(ure) well
-we are learning how to bring a scrip(ure) to life
-we are learning the ars of 'finishing the play' (Tom Wright)

-we long for it
-we find it in unlikely places
-we find ourselves changed in it
-we sense the implications of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control

(Mark briefly noted that most converstations about social justice issues lack a clear anthropology.)

-we respect what does more than keep us dry and warm
-we judge by what we want to be
-we seek promises of happiness

-we exult in the thrill of the game
-we rejoice in RISK
-we know the dignity of playing hard
-we know some things only come by pushing as hard as we can

-we sit with uncertainty
-we become open to the messiness that brings clarity and makes things happen
-we know meaning in the smallest delights

-we must honour what is different (diversity)
-we must honour what is common (unity)

-we honour gain that comes from honest toil
-we rejoice to accomplish
-we honour initiative
-we delight in making and doing what has not been done

-we are stilled
-we open to complexity wrapped in beauty
-we feel that wondrous interconnectedness we call 'system'
-we need our calling to stewardship made vivid

-we know some things just can't be said
-we sense the depth in silence
-we honour small things
-we remind ourselves of who we are and what our lives mean

-we long to be known as we are known
-we long to love as one who is distinct but who chooses to embrace
-we were made for desire and delight

-we know it is a really simply human thing
-we sense it's about wisdom, not fads
-we grasp the way the Gospel reframes it

-we feel the seasons
-we honour the seasons
-we honour innocence AND experience
-we must know how to finish well

-we feel the tragedy of sin and the promise of grace
-we see the brilliance of hope
-we sense what words can never convey
-we learn not to fake our answers

Then Mark shared his poem 'This God' with us. The question of 'was Jesus God?' is answered by Tom Wright as '...it depends on which God you mean.' Mark has attempted to answer the question backwards - 'What kind of God would become Jesus?'

(an 'un-edited' version I have from another conference/retreat...)

This God
This God could put on eyebrows and kneecaps, tear ducts and saliva glands.
This God could be born under the tyrants Augustus and Herod.

This God could accept the smells of shepherds, and the extravagancies of political emissaries.

This God could start life a vulnerable hunted child born into scandal.

This God could grow up under foreign domination and among terrorists and outcasts.

This God could sit in the street playing marbles.

This God could wear with pride the calloused splintered hands of an honest workman building the houses and fixing the furniture of half-castes, outcasts and bigots.

This God could ask his cousin to baptise him along with the rest of the crowd.

This God could make the best vintage Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon even when the guests were too drunk to know the difference.

This God could befriend a bloke in a tree with small man syndrome.

This God could enjoy a prostitute washing his feet, giving her his full and undivided attention, and ignoring the eye-rolling of lawyers and theologians.

This God could spend a whole night making a whip to crack over the backs of con artists who rip-off the poor.

This God could wrap the greatest truths in the simplest stories, and put a sting in the tail of every yarn.

This God could let himself hang on a tree, nails tearing at his sinews, blood, faeces and urine running down his legs.

This God could invite women to be the first to know that he was back.

This God could delay his own glorious homecoming long enough for a bite of breakfast on the beach and a yarn with an old mate to let him know there were no hard feelings and to pass on his mantle.

This God could take his own story and give it the most surprising ending.

This God, this God, is worth knowing.

This God could reach into the crevices of my soul to bring to life the longings I smother so pathetically and recklessly with shame and excuses.
This God could raise me up to life with him.
This God could give me every blessing he could give himself.
This God could draw me out of my petty self-interest without a hint of a ‘tut-tut’, a frown, or a patronising smile.
This God could be more infuriating and fascinating and gobsmacking than any god I could ever make up.
This God could love my obsessiveness and overlook my forgetfulness.
This God could laugh and cry with me, and come play with me.
This God could make me his glory.
This God could love me.
This God could make my heart good.
This God could trust me.
This God could never be safe, but always be good.

This God, this God, is worth knowing.

This God I want to know.
This God I know in the face and Spirit of Jesus.

by Mark Strom

And he closed with good 'ol Bob Dylan 'Forever Young'

Comments with your thoughts, stories, wisdom, etc.!!!