A Focal Point Moment

This is a live, on the spot report from Focal Point 2006. I’m not online so the post won’t appear until I make it back into town at the end of the week. But at least you will be getting my fresh, as it happened account…
Our first day at Focal Point, started with my usual morning explosion into action (ha!), I preached at UniChurch the evening before and all my thinking and preparation had been directed to the sermon, not much was left over for Focal Point. So, Monday morning I was running around trying to pack bags, sleeping gear, realizing I only had 2 pairs of clean undies to last a week (stay tuned to find out how that goes…), loading books into my book box, rummaging in the useful box for pens, paints, blutack, etc. Eventually I got it all together, a more than slightly ridiculous amount of baggage.
Part of the problem comes from leading seminars on Focal Point. The seminar times are the theological engine room of the week. It’s where people spend time following the topic (in this case “Grace”) through the whole Bible. It involves in-depth Bible research, synthesis and systematics, Biblical theology (tracing the development of God’s revelation from the Old Testament to the New Testament), and, of course, Arts and Crafts… The art and craft comes into it because otherwise people’s brains would explode with information. I can do without being covered in brain goop.
My experience of sitting in seminars is that tension, strain, and boredom are alleviated by allowing people to creatively express what they are learning. There are also significant learning benefits in encouraging people to translate information from one medium to another – for example, drawing a picture to express an idea forces people to work out what is most important about the concept and how it can be most efficiently communicated. The process requires a high level of comprehension of the subject matter.
All of the above leads back to me and my pile of baggage. My pile contains a portable library to help people who are wrestling with huge amounts of data, and a useful box full of random instruments of creativity. That’s before you even get to clothing and personal comforts.Oh, if you have all these things, one other is necessary… Lollies. If all else fails in a seminar group, at least no one will hate you if you can provide the jellies of sustenance.
Tim Rutzou collected my and the pile and after a bit of manly ‘boot-tetris’ we were underway. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any more luggage space in the car, and we still had one more passenger. Derek, the last to be collected, is also leading a seminar, so his pile was also suitably large. The solution was to lie underneath it all, for the short trip out to Greenhills Camp and Conference Centre.
You see, it was quite an effort just to get here…
Greenhills is a 20 minute drive from the center of Canberra. That tells you something about our nations capital… It doesn’t take much to get out of the city. The conference centre is well out in the bush, there is no mobile phone reception, the main conference facilities overlook the Murrumbidgee river. We are surrounded by high mountains. It is a spectacular place, but very cold.
My first task was helping to set up the sound system. There is a small amount of nostalgia involved here, I also ran the sound on my very first Focal Point – 10 years ago. I don’t do the sound very often any more, There are usually others who can do it, and I often need to be involved else where. Still, I enjoy running the desk, this week I’m also putting my new MacBook through its paces, using Garageband to record and mix the talks. The first attempt last night went very well…
The conference starting with a welcome and introduction session, then people split into small groups of 5-6 people to start studying the book of Galatians. These groups meet each day for 1 1/2 hours and work in detail through Paul’s letter to the Galatians, The first session involves reading the whole letter and then highlighting and dividing up the text on double-spaced printed copy. For most people, these groups are the highlight of the week. The detailed study of God’s word is deeply enriching, and different to the pressured, too-short study and reflection we normally have. The groups are also small enough for people to start to get to know each other well.
After lunch we got started on the Grace Seminars or ‘GraceShops’. Monday is the biggest day for these groups, we had 2 sessions back-to-back. That’s a grand total of 3 1/2 hours! In our first session we looked at every reference to ‘grace’ in the New Testament (we used the Greek root ‘charis’) noting the breadth of meaning and associated ideas. The aim was for people to have a solid foundation for understanding the Biblical usage of the term and for them to be able to write their own definition.
In the second session we began tracing through Biblical history from the creation through God’s dealings with his people in the OT, looking at the consistent themes, and the character of God’s action towards people (and people’s reaction to God).
Many issues are beginning to be thrown up by these discussions, some people are wrestling with the question of predestination, ‘Can God’s decision to act gracefully to some people be refused’, etc. I don’t pretend to offer people the answers to these questions, but living with those questions and asking them of God is a great thing for growing us in our faith and love.
The evening sessions are large gatherings, with a main speaker who is taking us through expositions on the topic for the week. This year the talks are being shared between Marcus Reeves (the ANU senior staff worker) and David McDonald (senior pastor at Crossroads Christian Church). Each talk this week is looking at the aspects of Grace as presented in various letters of Paul. Marcus spoke last night on “Riches in Ephesians”, tonight Dave will speak on “Freedom in Galatians”.
Emma came out to visit me and sit-in on the talk.. that was nice 🙂
I had a few good conversations over supper, and took some crazy pictures in Photobooth, before toddling off to hit the sack…

Photo 23 Photo 26

I think that Grace is the hardest doctrine to learn. I’m struggling to learn it again. It’s easy to know the information, even to teach it, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever master the learning of it… It continually surprises, offends, and becomes incomprehensible. I’m sure it is deliberately this way, a “glad struggle” because the joy of finding Grace again never dims.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
(Eph 1:2-6 ESV)

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