Wednesday, 5 December 2007
It seems that in order to have faith in God we have to "know" certain things. Some people have a highly unrealistic idea of faith when it comes to faith in God. This is because they define faith as the absence of doubts. For these people, faith is not valid unless it is certain. Thus, when the inevitable doubts come that challenge their faith in God and His Word, they feel that they never really had the kind of "faith" necessary to be a true believer. But this is not the Bible's picture of faith...
How many things do you know for "certain"? Compare this with how many things you know. If you're like most people, according to Prof J.P. Moreland, you probably think about 500 things a day that you accept as true yet without absolute certainty.
Faith is only faith in the presence of doubts. While Scripture commends that we know certain things it only once asks us to know something for certain - that Jesus is Lord (Acts 2:36). We can know, trust and love God yet battle with doubts. Of this, I'm certain.
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
A few months ago I was interviewed by ABC television's program, 4 Corners, when Liz Jackson asked me whether I thought the "Christian vote" would have any bearing on the upcoming Federal election. My answer surprised her. I stated emphatically that I thought the Christian vote would determine the outcome of the election! She immediately questioned me again on this matter and I re-stated my answer. Now that the election has been and gone I can say "I told you so!" The Christian vote determined the outcome of the 2007 Australian Federal Election.
It has been widely acknowledged that the Christian vote was a significant factor in the outcome of the 2003 Federal Election. For the first time in a long time several elected parliamentarians unashamedly declared their Christian commitment. The entrance of the Family First Party caught many commentators off guard and wondering how such a new political party could gain around 2% of the national vote in its first foray into national politics.
What these political observers had failed to detect was the level of frustration among middle Australians who were fed up with hostile, adversarial, politicking and extreme minority groups pushing for extreme legislation changes on marriage, drugs, crime, abortion, euthanasia and terrorism. The problem was compounded because those arguing for moral absolutes were generally on the Conservative side of politics and coincidentally generally happened to be Christians. Their Christian values then became the target for those on the other side of the politics which tended to sway the sympathies of middle Australia to the Conservatives.
At the 2003 Federal Election the choice was stark for Christian voters: Prime Minister Howard an unapologetic church-going Christian, or, Mark Latham an unabashed atheist who thought little of Christian values. But this election was different...
Kevin Rudd has little in common with Mark Latham. And perhaps his greatest endorsement as a good bloke was when Mark Latham published his biography and referred to Kevin Rudd as "a terrible piece of work". Coming from Latham that was ironically glowing praise! Kevin Rudd did much behind the scenes to appease the Christian vote. He met privately with many national church leaders and asked them what Labor had to do to win their support. Being a forthright church-going Christian, Kevin Rudd was not prepared for Christians of Australia to continue to think that being a Christian voter meant being a Conservative voter. He challenged this as he spoke to church groups and Christian gatherings around Australia. He especially courted the Pentecostals and met with nearly all of the leading Pentecostal movements to share his vision for Australia.
Because Kevin Rudd shares John Howard's Christian commitment it was inevitable that many of his value-laden policies would closely resemble the Prime Minister's. This then led to a huge tactical problem for the Conservative political strategists. And this is where they made a fatal political mistake. Instead of challenging the content of Mr Rudd's policy agenda (which they were essentially neutralised from doing, eventually causing them to claim in frustration that Kevin Rudd was a "Me too!" candidate) they made their attacks personal and nasty. They tried to equate the words "Trade Unionist" and "inexperienced" with "evil". It didn't go down well with the Christian vote. It looked desperate.
It was contrasted with Kevin Rudd's message of "new leadership" which would focus on educating children better, caring for the marginalised, and making workplaces fairer. This seemed to echo some very traditional Christian values. Added to this, Kevin Rudd was careful not to discuss issues of "Gay" marriage, abortion, euthanasia which most Christians find non-negotiable. But then there was the environment...
The Conservatives had for a long time generally failed to appreciate the dire warnings of scientists regarding the reality of the affect of carbon emissions on Climate Change. Kevin Rudd didn't.
In Tasmania there was no greater environmental issue than the proposed Pulp Mill. This had become an extremely provocative environmental issue which seemed to have the support of both State and Federal Conservatives. Kevin Rudd somehow seemed to distance himself from the proposal and process and thereby left it up to the Conservatives to argue why the Pulp Mill should go ahead. Some Christian voters saw through this though and despite almost insurmountable battles with their consciences voted Green instead either major Party (perhaps not realising that a vote for the Greens was ultimately a vote for the Pulp-Mill-supporting Labor Party). This was evidenced around Tasmania where Christian ministers were seen handing out Greens How-To-Vote cards on Polling Day. The Greens then gained the largest proportion of the Tasmanian Christian vote they have ever received which has seen their Lower House vote and their Senate vote go to record levels.
Mr Rudd courted and it seems eventually won the Christian vote. Christians want good economic management where the marginalised are looked after and the entrepreneur can flourish simultaneously. Christians want our borders protected but not at the expense of incarcerating already traumatised children behind razor-wire fences. Christians want development but not at the expense of poor environmental stewardship. Christians want everyone looking for a job to find one but not by the compulsory forfeiting of weekends, penalty-rates, or reasonable job-security. Christians want the sacredness of those who bear the image of God from conception to be afforded the right to life and that the institution which delivers this to be a unique privilege between one man with one woman for life. If Mr Rudd has any mandate he at least has a mandate from the Christian vote to deliver this. Christians should pray that he does.
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
What is the stand-out word of John 3:16? For those looking for insights about God's heart, the outstanding word is "loved". For those looking for insights about God's offer, the outstanding word is "gave". For those looking for the outstanding word about the identity of God the word "Son" is the word that reveals the Triune identity of God. For those wondering who qualifies for God's love and the offer of His Son's sacrifice the word "whosoever" is the sweetest word they will ever read. For those striving to be right with God, the word "believes" commands rest to their weary soul. For those who arrogantly think that there are no consequences for their godless lives, the word "perish" should arrest them. And for those who question why this life is often unjust, tragic, and unrewarding, there is the wonderful description of the sublime quality of life that awaits summed up in the majestic word "eternal".
"God", "loved", "gave", "whosoever", "believes", "perish" and "eternal" - these are majestic and invaluable words that when put together as John 3:16 become perhaps the most unfathomable verse in the Bible. Whereas the numbers 9/11 conjure up thoughts and emotions of destruction and despair, the numbers "3:16" are now, according to Max Lucado- "the numbers of hope."
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Jesus said that it is better to enter into the Kingdom of God without both eyes than to see perfectly and end up in Hell. Losing eyes or limbs is not nice, but might be good...And it seems that history bears out that God's dealings with those He elects to salvation often means that they are deprived of certain niceties (like having both eyes and all limbs) and that they even suffer (Mark 9:47) . The problem of suffering while following an All-Powerful and Good God has perplexed people for thousands of years. While we may not comprehend why God would allow people to suffer, we can most certainly apprehend two facts: (i) God is sovereign, just and good, and (ii) People who suffer often testify that are the better because of it.
I find the entire chapter of Romans 8 most helpful and comforting in trying to understand this mystery of why God would allow people to suffer. "For I consider", says the battle-hardened apostle Paul, "that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Rom. 8:18) Paul goes on to say that in the midst of our confusion, we must "wait patiently" (Rom. 8:25) and look to the Holy Spirit to give us strength (Rom. 8:26). He then culminates in the diamond-verse of pastoral counsel when he says-
It's hard for us to think of "good" and not think of "nice". It's therefore hard for us to think that a Good God would allow things that are not nice. But this is not the Biblical portrayal of God's goodness. Nice is obsessed with "now" benefits. Good is about "eternal" benefits. God will will people to suffer if it is for the ultimate good. The greatest example of this is the death of His own Son on the Cross. It might be nice to have a good think about that.
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
Family values to one candidate meant the right of a woman to "have control over her own reproductive system". To another candidate it meant tolerance and acceptance for other people and their choices no matter what their sexual preference. To another candidate it meant supplying intravenous needles for herione and cocaine addicts and freely distributing condoms to promote "safe sex". To another candidate "Family values" simply meant showing respect for others. And yet another candidate affirmed family values in her own family by pointing to her children and the role their father plays in their upbringing.
One candidate who was trying to appeal to the Christian Vote then claimed that while she was not a Christian, she shared the "values of Jesus". This, she said, was summed up by Christ's words: 'a fair go for all' - which she said was His core message. Hmmm...
So we have people who have family values and even share the values of Jesus yet don't support marriage, don't uphold the sanctity of life, don't believe following Jesus requires spiritual conversion, and even think that Jesus came to promote "a fair go for all". It seems that the word "values" is fast becoming nonsensical if people using the term would have us believe that white is black and black can be white!
Values come from convictions which then shape our ideas and opinions. Naturally our convictions are initially formed by beliefs which is the information we have received and considered to be aligned with the truth. Perhaps this is where people like me have failed in the information stage of values-formation when it comes to the "values of Jesus" because I and my colleagues have not adequately portrayed the Biblical Jesus to the values-forming public.
Friday, 28 September 2007
Recently a former federal parliamentarian died in the midst of great scandal. Legal proceedings were in progress after the man had been charged with multiple paedophilia charges. Remarkably when he died some of his supporters were scathing of the media for reporting these charges and giving his many accusers a platform to air their allegations. Even more remarkable was the notion put forward by some that this man's private life should not form the public's opinion of him since he had made such a valuable public contribution.
Another prominent politician was reported in the media for having attended a New York Strip Club when he was essentially blind drunk. This probably wouldn't have rated a mention except that this politician had made much of his Christian and family values and the obvious hypocrisy of his night-out was glaring. But a strange thing happened. Rather than being condemned for this hypocrisy he was excused for being a public figure who deserved a private life where he could do whatever he wanted. Added to this his mistake was cheered as a demonstration of his humanity. Strange.
The word "integrity" means whole, undivided. When someone lives "two" lives (a private life + a public life) they are not living with integrity. It is an honourable thing to live one life where there is maximum consistency between what the public sees and what no-one sees. Leaders who live with integrity last the distance and actually earn the respect of the public they serve.
Friday, 17 August 2007
F. W. Boreham is widely regarded as the preeminent Christian essayist of all time. You can read my Finding Truth Matters article on him to find out why [read]. Boreham inspires me in a way no living preacher does. He was destined to be a man of words from his earliest infancy when a wandering gypsy prophesied that he would be a writer - "place a pen in his hand and he will lack for nothing" was the essence of the message. His loves of books developed in his childhood. His ability to report and comment began in his teens. By his twenties his vast intellect enabled him to graduate from Bible College a year earlier than other students. His first pastoral appointment was an adventure as Mr Spurgeon invited him to go to the fledgling nation of New Zealand. From a church of thousands led by the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon (whom Boreham regarded as being past his preaching prime by the time he heard him) he went to a rural community of around 1,000 people in Mosgiel (south of Dunedin). He pastored a church of less than 200 people for twelve years.
Almost immediately Boreham felt a mixture of frustration and inadequacy. His mentor, John Doke, advised him to read. "Read what?" Boreham replied. "Start with Gibbon" said Doke. And thus began Boreham's quest to buy one new book a week and read a book a week. His sermons became saturated with the most exquisite illustrations as he drew from ancient and modern literature; the classics and the obscure; fiction and non-fiction; and even technical journals read in waiting rooms! He humbly felt the 'waste' of these sermonic masterpieces and sought a wider audience for them. Quite a challenge in the 1890s! He converted his sermons to newspaper articles for Otago Times, the New Zealand Baptist magazine, then sometime later an Australian Christian weekly newspaper. His writing grew in popularity across the Tasman. In years to come, at the urging of many colleagues, he part self-published his first book ("The Luggage of Life") which was a phenomenal success. Boreham, now an Australian, would go on to become the contributing editor of the Hobart Mercury and the Melbourne Age, and become the best-selling Australian author of all time. His books are now highly prized collector's items. On eBay you can pay as much as $US1499 for some of his first edition books.
I have now become a devotee of Boreham. I have acquired about 56 of his 58 books. While I try to read current books, I am always reading a Boreham book. I have come to know F.W. Boreham as a writer without par. But when I preaching at Beaumaris Baptist Church in Melbourne, Victoria, I met people who had heard Boreham! They said to me that he was equally as good a preacher as he was a writer.
Boreham wrote often about preaching. In his autobiography he talks briefly about the tension he experienced between writing and preaching and in essence said there was no tension for him: preaching and writing were complementary. By reading and writing much, Boreham said, a preacher could formulate his words and learn to select the most apt word to more fully convey the force of an idea, illustration, or concept. In fact, Boreham thought that every preacher should write his sermon out after he had preached it. This is precisely what he did and he felt that the discipline was invaluable to the quality of his preaching.
I have tried to apply Boreham's wisdom and develop my reading, writing and preaching with the common goal of magnifying the immensity and infinity of the eternal God. I hope you find the story of his life and ministry as shown in this DVD series as inspiring as I have.
Thursday, 26 July 2007
I love preaching. One day I hope to become good at it. It's one of the reasons why I'm so fascinated by people who are really good at it. I try to analyse their preaching and glean lessons for my own preaching ministry. I find myself searching out the great preachers of history in order to do this. Perhaps history will record that several of the preachers of today deserve similar recognition and status to these other preaching greats, but at the moment most of those designated by the popularity polls as 'great' preachers couldn't really hold a candle to some of these past preaching greats. But I admit it, I'm the odd one out in this opinion. I've attended the meetings of some of these modern, international pop-preachers and observed how most of the throng disagree with me. Apart from being bewildered by this at times, I simply wonder if my standards might be too high?
Some preachers are really teachers who rarely preach. Some preachers try to be teachers who actually demonstrate why they can't teach. Teaching and preaching are different disciplines. Preaching includes an element of instruction and therefore in that sense involves teaching. And if most teachers know what's good for them and their audience they will spice their teaching with a dose of preaching to maintain interest. Perhaps the simplest way to distinguish teaching from preaching is that while teaching 'informs', preaching 'inspires'. Another way of saying the same thing is, teaching 'mends' but preaching 'moves'. Good preaching should 'move' the hearer to action. Great preaching moves hearers greatly.
But move where? The Bible's consistent message is that people should be moved toward God. Great preaching can simultaneously move sinners to the Saviour, desperates to the Deliverer, and the conceited to the Conqueror while driving the saint into the Son. To do this the preacher must explain, instruct, inspire and convert his audience. He will use great words, great simplicity, great drama, great illustrations, with great zeal and fervour for the great cause of a great Christ. This world greatly needs more great preachers.
Tuesday, 26 June 2007
I wrote a brief paper on the broad issue of how Christians might respond to environmentalism and in particular: forestry. I then took this Biblical foundation and addressed the ethics and morality of the proposed Gunns Pulp Mill. This went through a fairly rigorous peer review process with several pastors contributing comments and suggestions to its final outcome. It was then distributed to a wider readership of pastors for their comment. Once we collated those comments and polished them into the final draft, approval was given to publish it and distribute it through my email mailing list. Within an hour or so of it being published on the web site (www.findingtruthmatters.org) I was contacted by a State Parliamentarian who requested that it be removed because it was so factually flawed. This then was the beginning of an interesting journey.
Some have suggested that perhaps it was because our weekly radio program is perhaps the most listened to Tasmanian Christian radio program in Tasmania; or, that our weekly audio podcast is one of the most popular Christian podcasts in Tasmania; or, that our websites have some of the highest traffic in Tasmanian for a Christian web ministry; or, that the Christian community is perhaps the single biggest unorganised voting block in our State- (who knows?) but our concerns were certainly treated very seriously. Within 24 hours of publishing the Paper on the findingtruthmatters.org website I was invited to meet with the Pulp Mill Project General Manager. When Sue Neales found this out she rang for an interview and published this in the Mercury Newspaper. From that story breaking I have been interviewed by several national newspapers and most recently, Four Corners ABC Television who came and filmed our church service and me preaching.
Since the Sue Neales article appeared I don't think a day has gone by without someone ringing, writing, emailing, or dropping in to tell me their story regarding this issue. Added to this have been the many Parliamentarians who have contacted me to express their disappointment with me. But to the credit of the Proponent, they have used this as an opportunity for dialogue. I have now met with the management of Gunns three times, the latest meeting being yesterday, where I have continued to raise community concerns with them. The motivation for doing this is both the pursuit of the truth in the public arena, and a deep care for our Valley. It is my prayer that God's will will be done in regard to this Pulp Mill and the truth will come to light. But ultimately my prayer is that this Valley will come to know Jesus Christ as the God who gives us the earth for our benefit and what we do with it is for His glory.
Wednesday, 6 June 2007
Life As Sport
I love tennis. I love playing it. I love watching it. When I grew up nearly everyone I knew played tennis. A trip down to the local Corio tennis club meant that you would have to take your turn on the benches for one of the six courts to become free. During this time it was easy to tell when Wimbledon was being played because people would trot off to work and school bleary-eyed from having stayed up all night to watch it on TV. It was the twilight of Australia's dominance as a tennis nation. Players like Newcombe, Roach, Dent, Alexander were hero worshiped. This meant that young Aussie kids wanted to become like these heroes and it very common for professional tennis coaching to be offered through Government Schools (like the one I went to) to help make this a reality.
I started being coached from the age of 11 and playing in junior tournaments shortly after. I was committed to being a professional tennis player as I grew up. During my early teenage years I travelled Victoria playing most of the major junior tournaments. When I was 16 I bought my first racquet stringing machine to try and alleviate the spiralling costs of restrings. This is a craft I have maintained over the past 27 years and am still a member of the professional racquet stringers association (USRSA). But I also began to learn that my destiny lay not in playing tennis professionally, but in what I am now doing today.
When I arrived in Tasmania in 1995 to take over the pastorate of a small semi-rural church I was reluctant to get involved in tennis here because I wanted to focus on the church without divided loyalties. But as I settled into the pastorate I found that tennis became a healthy distraction. I offered my coaching services in a voluntary capacity to the local club which was soon received with much appreciation and over the years I have coached dozens and dozens of children in the basics of how to play tennis. Most recently I was received by the governing body of tennis in Australia (Tennis Australia) as a registered "Hotshots" coach and made a member of their coaching fraternity. I am now working at recruiting young people to the game of tennis.
Last weekend I was interviewed by two newspaper journalists. In recent weeks I had been doing media interviews about my comments regarding the proposed Gunns Pulp Mill at Longreach (just 20 kilometres or so from where I live). But these most recent interviews were about tennis. I was asked by both journalists why I thought it was important for children to play tennis. I answered that tennis is not only about fun and exercise which counters our growing obesity rates, and it was not only a game that could be played at any age (unlike most contact sports), it was also a game of rules which highlighted that even in the midst of tense of competition we have to keep within certain boundaries- which is a great way to view life. Playing tennis is a great life-skills teacher.
So I was thrilled when I read F.W. Boreham make similar comments about his love for cricket. He loved watching cricket. Whenever the cricket was on at the MCG he would work his pastoral duties in the morning and then take the afternoon off to go and watch the cricket. Boreham admits to being a poor cricket player but a great cricket lover. It seems that sport and spirituality have a lot in common. The apostle Paul uses certain athletic metaphors to encourage the Corinthian believers in their walk with Christ.
For most Australians sport is more important than religion. But I wonder how many Australians realise how many of the principles involved in sport are also the essence of what the Christian life is all about? In cricket there is a bowler trying to get you out much like the enemy of our souls is constantly trying to do. As long as the three stumps stand in unbroken union behind everything the batter does he is safe in much the same way that the Christian is undergirded by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In cricket some balls just have to be left alone and allowed to pass through to the Keeper in much the same way that not every attack of the Enemy is worthy of our response. The game of cricket is played over two innings in much the same way that Christian's life is marked by two innings- before Christ and after- and the Word that guides him is marked also by two divisions- Old and New Testaments. The two teams are comprised of twelve players each, similar to the governments of the Old Testament where twelve patriarchs ruled and the New Testament where twelve apostles ruled. In cricket it is often the case that the fastest balls bowled are the easiest to hit for a six just as life's toughest struggles are often the most maturing. Each game of cricket is overseen by an umpire just as life is also overseen by the Umpire.
Perhaps a similar process could be undertaken for just about any sport. Rules, an umpire, boundaries, struggle, a goal and cooperation with team members are all essential ingredients to successful living, especially successful Christian living. The next time you play tennis (or any other sport) you are not just exercising your body and mind, you are honing your life skills to be able to live more fully for God.
Tuesday, 22 May 2007
Initially Boreham wrote on issues that affected his immediate readers. This started with his New Zealand period when he wrote on such things as New Zealand's involvement in the Boer War, back in the 1890s. After he moved to Australia, it incorporated issues relating to the First World War, the environmental, and education. But Dr Pound has documented, that as Boreham became increasingly popular and appreciated by both secular and Christian audiences, his prophetic voice waned. Boreham argued that he had to write for a broader audience and therefore wrote on matters eternal, infinite and immense. He aimed for his writing to be "timeless". And they are. Every time I read Boreham I marvel at some gem he shows me. But I am not his original audience. While the world was on the brink of war, Boreham wrote about everyday, even mundane, things. He saw this as a type of healthy distraction for his audience. But was it guised irrelevance?
When Boreham arrived from the sleepy little Kiwi town of Mosgiel- just south of Duneden- he had been longing for a larger local audience. From his church of few dozen in New Zealand he moved to a church of a few hundred in Hobart. It looked like he had his larger local audience. Curiously though, when Boreham was writing his very localised essays from those converted sermons to his New Zealand dozens, it became amazingly obvious as the years went by that were actually being read by millions around the world! Boreham's international appeal was not undermined by his localised relevance but it actually seemed to be enhanced by it.
What I notice about Biblical prophets is that they are not motivated by being popular. Jeremiah, for example, said that he did not choose to be a prophet, and if he had a choice would have chosen something that was much more popular.
...I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the LORD has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:7b-9 ESV
Jeremiah wanted to be nice. But his message of truth would not allow him to be. God used him to accuse the government of moral corruption, the religious leaders of wickedness, and the other prophets of selling out. I guess Jeremiah could have made himself so busy with speaking engagements that he no longer heard from God and could then have used his God-given charisma to deliver audience-friendly messages that could have helped him to become "nice". But faithful prophets are rarely "nice". They are awkward. They are generally unmanageable. They are therefore not popular.
When the Ultimate Prophet came on the scene, the devil wanted to entice Him with the things that feed popularity: the kingdoms of this world, a demonstration of His power, and the power to produce food. But Christ refused. He often 'dismissed the crowds' to be by Himself (eg. Matthew 14:23). He is contrasted with those religious leaders who were bound by needing popular approval. John says of them that they "loved the praises of men more than God" (John 12:43). Jesus was not trying to be nice so that He could be popular- He was solely trying to honour His Father and give Him glory.
Of course the equation: GOD'S WORD+MESSENGER=NO POPULAR ACCEPTANCE , is not always true - just as a lack of populariity is no measure of God's approval or otherwise. Neither is it a fair equation to say that because a preacher is not "nice" he must be 'prophetic'. It might simply be that he isn't nice! But when the preacher decides to seek God's mind about into issues facing his local audience he must be prepared to forfeit popularity and enter into the world that the past prophets walked: one where they will be maligned, misunderstood, controversial, and persecuted. Not everyone will be called by God to such a ministry. In fact, you should pray that God wouldn't call you to such a ministry. But if God does and He gifts you with the medium of writing, and you find that your localised writing ends up having broader (and perhaps even global) appeal, consider heeding Dr Pound's lament of Boreham and by implication take his advice to maintain your prophetic voice rather than succumbing to being nice. There is little that is really nice about a popular prophet.
Tuesday, 8 May 2007
Pens tell me a lot about their owners. When they travel in quartets in the top shirt pocket of their owner they tell me something. When they have a piece of star-shaped white ivory on one end they discreetly tell me that their owner has taste. When they are clear and disposable they tell me their owner is fairly easy-going. Pens are, however, no indication of their owner's intelligence- afterall the world's smartest detective, Lieutenant Colombo, didn't even own one (he used pencils usually borrowed from the murderer at the crime scene)!
My late father-in-law was a world-class environmental engineer. His professional drawings were all done by hand rather than computer. For this he used very expensive pencils and ink. He rarely ever wrote notes, yet he determined in the months leading up to the day he was to retire he would buy an executive pen (worth $400 at the time). On my first trip to South East Asia I bought one of these same pens for $8 (which continued to work almost the whole time I was on that trip).
I rarely use a pen these days, yet, I am writing more than I have ever written. I say "rarely" rather than "never" because I deliberately choose to take up a pen and commit some things to ink on paper. I use no particular pen for this discipline, although I do generally prefer blue ink. Despite my growing lack of pen usage, I loathe leaving my home without at least one pen in my pocket. This is strange because I use a Palm PDA to jot things down rather than a pen and paper. Even today when I was pastoring a young leader during a lunch session, rather than do what I've done for years: draw my illustrations on the back of a paper napkin, I simply pulled out my Palm PDA and used that instead. Will we still use pens in the future?
When I read some of the personal comments that FW Boreham wrote in his many books about his method of writing, I am struck that he used a pen. He hand-wrote the manuscripts for his books. He did this by choice despite the availability of type-writers. He even wrote about the therapeutic nature of his writing. For Boreham, taking up the pen and hand-writing his essays was a spiritual exercise that only a pen could achieve. He encouraged younger ministers to do the same and predicted that they would be spiritually stronger for doing so.
I had intuitively taken up FW Boreham's advice before ever reading it. In keeping a prayer journal by taking up a pen and hand-writing, I must choose my words carefully as I never cross my hand-written words out (and there is no delete or undo buttons on my pen). When I look back over my prayer journals I can see by the neatness of my hand-writing some indication of my state of mind. This is virtually impossible if I am just looking at a screen full of text. Thus, I have grown to agree with my postumous mentor, that the pen is quite therapuetic. It is why I encourage those battling with depression to take up their pen and daily write their prayers to God.
While email has revolutionised communications, and I appreciate the many encouraging emails I get from strangers around the world for something I've said or written, it doesn't really compare to the rare occasions when I get a hand-written note. These types of hand-written notes have arrived in several forms particularly over the past few weeks. Today I received a hand-written card from a young girl. Yesterday I received a hand-written note from someone encouraged by something I had recently preached. A few weeks ago I received a hand-written letter from a federal parliamentarian. It seems that the pen may still be mightier.
Wednesday, 11 April 2007
There are different ways to ponder but it generally involves asking questions. The Philosopher asks why. The Historian asks when. The Scientist asks how. The Textual Critic asks what. The Geographer asks where. The Theologian asks who.
When it comes to pondering Scripture, its important to know which questions are being answered first. Certain passages are very locational and invite the Geographer's question. Other passages are mysterious and invite the Textual Critic to ask his question before we can begin to ask the questions of others. Some passages, like Genesis 1 and 2, on the surface appear to be the domain of the scientist when in fact they are the Theologian's foundational answers to his lingering question.
The Theologian's question of Genesis 1 and 2 appears to be what the text is answering. "Who" is creating everything? The Theologian answers this question with minimal effort. Genesis 1 and 2 immediately disappoints the Scientist though. It doesn't mention "how" the Creator created in terms other than theological- "Then God said...". The Textual Critic is given the day off when it comes to this passage because the text is plain: God created everything. The Geographer is left clueless because he is not told where God first created. We are told that God brought Adam to Eden, but from where? the Geographer asks- but the text is silent- therefore it doesn't want us to know. The Philosopher is less disappointed. He hears the text answer his question- the Creator created for His pleasure. The Historian assumes that since "Genesis" means 'Beginnings' his question will be answered first. But he is quickly lost in the absence of any geographical reference.
Creation is wonderful. We can wonder endlessly about the Biblical account of the Creation event unless we recognise that there appears to be a hierarchy of wonder that the text invites. Even though He is never named in the Text, the passage begins with "In the beginning God" leaving us in no doubt that it is about to answer the "Who?" question rather than the "When?" question. It continues to refer to this God over and over again. "Then God said", "And God saw", answer the Theologian's question not the Historian's.
To ponder the wonder of the Creation Event it appears that the Sacred Text invites us to ask these questions in this order-
Before we argue with another wonderer of this event about the "How?" and the "When?" it might be advisable to answer the more pressing questions first: Who is this God? Why did He create (and particularly, Why did He create me)? What is it that the Text plainly says about Him in this event? Yet, many people are prepared to make the last three questions the top three questions and thereby completely miss what the Text answers. The challenge for this wonderer is to persist in the midst of the pressure from How-Where-When-ers who seem bent on reversing the hierarchy of wonder and convincing everyone else that their questions are the test of faith. But I seem to recall that Jesus placed the Who? question as the first question to be answered: Who do you say I am?
When we read Scripture, including Genesis 1 and 2, it seems that the Who? question always needs to be answered first. Who is this God? Why is He doing what He is doing? What does this Text tell me about Him? Answering these questions helps us to wonder about the One who is called Wonderful in whose image we have been wonderfully made.
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
AN AUTOPSY OF FEAR
Fear is a form of respect. It is an acknowledgement of the unknown, the unpredictable, the potential for harm. Fear grips our attention. It doesn't merely demand it. Fear can be a surrender to the superior. Whether it's an angry dog or an irrate wife, fear betrays our respect, indicates our attention, and reveals our submission.
COMPARISONS TO WORSHIP
Respect, attention, submission. These are symbiotic integers that when added up equal: worship. The Bible doesn't command us not to fear, generally. It commands us not to fear anything other than God. When we are more fearful of something other than God, we are being disrespectful to God. Therefore, when the Scriptures want to instruct us as to how we should worship, the first thing- the "beginning" of worship is: to fear the Lord. He alone is worthy of our ultimate respect, attention and submission.
Last night, I incorporated a children's talk into my Sunday evening sermon. I was dealing with a very delicate topic: Evil, Hell and the Devil. My goal was to contrast these things with God and show how infinitely superior God is to these objects of fear. And this goes right to the heart of our misplaced fears. When we worship a mere facsimile of God, where we have substituted his true identity for some opinion that considers him simply as great rather than the greatest, we are prone to "fear man" (Prov. 29:25), "fear death" (Heb. 2:15), and "fear our enemies" (Deut. 20:3). When we overcome our fears in these areas by accepting the revelation of God's true identity as the All-Sovereign-Almighty-God, we live a life of worship for this God.
Jesus said,"Fear? I'll tell you who to really fear!" (Luke 12:5) And He was referring to His Heavenly Father. The One who He knew as All-Loving, All-Compassionate, and All-Merciful, yet exclusively worthy of fear. In this sense we need to be careful what we fear, because it may be a statement of what we are really worshiping.
Tuesday, 6 March 2007
My literary hero, F.W. Boreham, wrote in his autobiography that he began the habit of daily and weekly reading in order to fill his mind with source for his essays. He would go down to his study each morning at 8AM to write for one hour. He said that sometimes it was easy, but most of the time it was just hard work. He wrote some 58 books, published over 3000 articles and was the weekly editor of the Melbourne Age (Argus) and the Hobart Mercury for 36 years. The public has not seen all that he wrote. Boreham was realistic about what was worthy of public attention and what wasn't. He knew that despite his giftedness with the pen, he still needed to be highly disciplined to produce his art.
The same can be said of painters. Da Vinci drew daily and painted regularly. Yet the world has only ever seen a very small amount of what he produced. Da Vinci's art is described as some of the most inspirational work ever produced, yet he would probably tell us that at the time it took more persperation than inspiration to produce. This is borne out by the Xrays and ultra-sounds of many of his paintings where researchers have discovered the multiple layers of completely different subject matters lying beneath what the world has only ever seen.
One of the earliest pieces of advice I was given as a writer was: "There is no such thing as good writing only good rewriting." For someone committed to writing for the public, this demands disciplined efforts. It also involves the scrutiny and critique of others, which is also an aspect of discipline. I am discovering what the great art masters learned- that good art requires a creativity that is honed by regular discipline to fine tune it. When I think of God and how He created all there is I see the same pattern. He didn't haphazardly create. He created in sequential stages. He created in a way that each stage built on the previous stage. Many believing scientists argue that creation was more an artistic exercise than a clinical one. It seems that God the Master Artisan was extremely disciplined in His creativity. He fine-tuned the world to be ready for the creation of mankind. And it is in the image of this Artist that we are created to be creative. And it seems that this creativity is best drawn out of us by the discipline of deadlines and regular exercise of our creative gifts.
Monday, 5 February 2007
I remember coming back to Tasmania by plane having just travelled to several countries in South East Asia and marvelling just how beautiful it was. I could hear first time visitors to my state gasping and excitedly commenting to their travelling companions as they too gazed on the natural beauty of this island. It wasn't just that we had determined that what we were looking at was beautiful- it actually was beautiful!
But it's uncommon to (and bewildering that we don't) connect beauty with God more often than we do. In fact, sometimes we dismiss our craving for beauty and vainly try to convince ourselves that functionality is just as satisfying. But we all know that it's not! I suppose we could live in large boxes with concrete covering the surrounding ground and congratulate ourselves that we have been functional (economically and practically). But who wants to live like that? Most societies punish criminals with such conditions. No, we were made by Beauty, for Beauty to appreciate Beauty.
Humans, unlike animals, decorate for the sheer sake of beauty. A friend of mine just recently bought his first home. After twenty years of renting, he and his family have now moved into a small, modest house. I congratulated him on this move and commended him for such a prudent financial investment. His response was to dismiss the satisfaction that comes from having made a sound financial decision and glory in his new right to put a picture hook wherever he and his wife wanted! By being able to hang a picture, not just a picture- his chosen picture - he was now able to express what is common to us all: the need to beautify.
God celebrates his glory and power through beauty. He commanded that the garments for Priests be made "beautiful" (Exodus 28:2). So the next time you get frustrated that your surroundings are untidy or drab you are just expressing the trace of the image of God you bear. If you have felt guilty about taking time out to admire the beauty of nature, the genius beauty of an artist's work, the wonder of imaginative beauty in a novel or movie, don't. You are simply relishing that more-real component of your existence: the craving of your spirit for beauty. Perhaps you look at yourself and feel inferior in the beauty stakes? But the Scriptures declare that when it comes to forming opinions about human beauty, it does go beyond being merely skin-deep.
"You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God." (1Pet. 3:4)
It seems that the God of all beauty has invested into each of us the potential to be wonderfully beautiful despite our physical short-comings. And for someone like me, I think that's a beautiful thought.
Friday, 2 February 2007
Prior to the middle or so of the twentieth century, it was believed by some scientists that the universe had always existed. This idea of the universe being eternal gave some comfort to those sola-naturalists looking for an explanation for the origin of time, space, matter that didn't involve God. But as a theory championing omni-naturalism as the explanation for everything's existence, it was doomed in the mounting barrage of evidence that now points to the universe having a beginning. This new understanding of the origins of the universe was coined "The Big Bang Theory."
The "Big Bang" theory proposed that the universe must have had a beginning since its current expansion can be traced back in time and space to a single event. Einstein's theory of relativity (E=mc2) also supports this theory. In essence, Einstein has observed that the universe is relative to its beginning. Within this relativity are certain fixed laws, like the speed of light.
So we now know that the universe did have a beginning- about 14 billion years ago - and that it has certain fixed laws, such as the speed of light and gravity, and that it is still expanding from its original starting point in the cosmos.
Curiously, these concepts have been declared by the Bible for thousands of years. "In the beginning God created...", "God has fixed the laws that govern the universe...", "He stretched out the heavens..."
When we ponder these thoughts we realise that the only One who had no beginning was God. He is eternal. This satisfies the question: If God made everything, who made God? Only those things which had a beginning must have had a beginner. God has always been. He therefore had no beginning. Curiously, it's often the hyper-naturalists who reject and dismiss this concept of God as the Eternal who just a generation earlier were espousing that everything was eternal.