Tuesday, 22 May 2007


I'm both fascinated and disturbed by Dr Geoff Pound's assessment of Australia's greatest essayist, F.W. Boreham, that it was his popularity that essentially led to him losing his prophetic voice.

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.

Andrew Corbett

Tuesday, 8 May 2007


Will the day come when we no longer use pens?

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?

Pen therapy

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.

Andrew Corbett