Monday, 31 March 2008

Yes, but

"Yes, but we are not speaking English for your entertainment."

Said long ago, in Melbourne. Yet still you are in our ears sounding funny, you touristic types. For us, we are finding amusement in unusual ways by to you listening.

Tim Keller's reason for God

Tim Keller's book The Reason for God: Unbelief in an Age of Skepticism got a great write-up in the Washington Times (Thanks Craig).

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Illumination hour

All of you kids out there of the green persuasion will be delighted (sorry) to know that due to family pressures, we will not be observing Illumination hour at 8.00 tonight, whereby all household lights were going to be turned on in celebration and thanksgiving for God's gift of ingenuity and creativity to humankind.

We even had to take our Christmas lights down at last.

And, it was too dark to do my usual Bible reading with the girls.

This symbolism is killing me.

Anyway, we prayed, and I did a bit of Romans 1 from memory with Matilda, so that was nice, sitting there in the gloom. We prayed for Fifi's mum, whose 80th birthday we celebrated today.

Oh, and the candles, although they pump out a shedload of carbon, looked very nice. And the girls loved them, and said 'Can we do this every night??'


Oh, and don't worry, we had taken down the Christmas lights already.

Catherine Hamlin

I believe Catherine Hamlin, who is an evangelical Protestant, would not be completely happy with the label of 'Australia's Mother Teresa' for a number of reasons. But there's an article calling her just that, and promoting her and her work in today's SMH.

Here's her wiki article.

Reporting Earth Hour

I wonder how much advertising a church would have to buy in a newspaper in order to get breathless front page coverage of its events, of the sort that is given to Earth Hour.

Buried deep in the linked article is this statement:

Critics gleefully pointed out that the total amount of power saved was the equivalent of taking about six standard cars off the road for a year.

If this is supposed to be reporting, what is the word 'gleefully' doing in that sentence? Isn't it possible that some critics were not gleeful at all, but 'soberminded' or 'thoughtful'?

But this is a minor quibble.

The real question is, given the massive amount of energy (literally) expended in publicizing and promoting the event, is it really worth it on any terms? Aren't we teaching people that a small and essentially ineffective action that saves virtually nothing, and yet has taken a massive amount of organization and publicity to achieve, is enough to establish their green credentials and salve their consciences?

It seems to me that anyone who has a genuine concern for the environment will want to reject this piece of unhelpful tokenism for what it is.

I have questions along similar lines about churches that spend massive time, people-power and sometimes money organizing evangelistic events that almost no outsider turns up to. But that is for another day.

Friday, 28 March 2008


Had a great catch-up today.

John is new to Sydney and ministering in a local Baptist church. The highlight for me was when he suggested we pray at the end of our time. What a wonderful thing it is to come into the presence of our heavenly Father and bring our anxieties, fears, and praises before him.

We spoke about many things. Sydney and Melbourne; England and Australia; Established and Free; Canberra; Family. Cabbages. Kings.

Although I haven't played a proper game of Rugby (League or Union) since about the age of 7, I felt what it means to be calling encouragement across the field to the man running down the wing.

Who needs lights?

Now this is a cool idea. Windows that provide light at night. From the SMH.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Reasons not to burn candles in Protestant churches

1. They are not at all carbon friendly. If you are anti-climate change, you are anti-candle.
2. They burn things, including buildings. The Great Fire of London. Chicago. Need I say more. A burning building, too, is not carbon friendly.
3. Even when they don't burn things, they drip wax onto the carpet, especially when kids are playing with them. Messy, messy, messy!
4. Electric light is cheaper, cleaner and better for the eyesight.
5. Candles make us look like we're not Protestants. Come on folks, wear the uniform, unless you're a spy!
6. They're a bit girly don't you think? Especially those lavender ones.
7. They make it easier to smoke, which is bad for your health.

If you like candles, here is a story that makes up for their absence in our buildings.

Bus stopping

Sometimes it takes just one person to stop a bus. One person!

It would be nice if you could set up a system whereby the passengers on the bus could offer the person at the stop a small amount of cash not to catch the bus but to wait for the next one. If the person accepted the offer, the bus moves on and everyone is happy.

So for example, 50 people on the one bus could individually decide to offer an average of 50c each for the person to waive their right to wave the bus down. The person at the bus stop would thus receive $25 if they accepted the offer. If there’s more than say three people waiting, then the bus stops for them and there’s no deal. If one person wants to catch the bus and the other two don’t, then the bus stops and there’s no deal. But if all three want to share the spoils of the bus that passes them by, then the bus moves on, the passengers are sped happily on their way and those waiting are rewarded for their patience.

You’d have to work out a way to administer the system without too much fuss. I reckon you could just about do this now using existing technology. Mobile phones and Paypal could make it work, with a dedicated website for bidding on buses on your route, or accepting the offer that the potentially passing bus was making. You would have no trouble at all finding advertisers to pay set-up costs for such a system—a captive audience, glued to their mobile phones waiting to see if their bid was effective.

The bus itself would have to be enabled for wireless internet so that the people staffing the website could communicate quickly with the driver. But we already have security cameras on buses recording our every move and sending it back to base; how much harder would it be to get the internet thing happening? Wireless internet on public transport is long overdue anyway. It would add another layer of effectiveness to peoples' laptop-assisted morning commute. It would actually make commuting attractive for any desk-worker who needed an internet connection, because your work day would start (as mine does) the moment you set foot on the bus and open up your laptop, and would count towards your hours.

Homeless people might take advantage of this bidding system by forming consortiums to put single individuals at rarely frequented bus-stops, like the one two stops up from our house. But that’s OK isn’t it? Much less threatening than being approached by beggars in the street, and it helps the poor.

Remember when it all happens… you heard it here first!

Another blogging thought

I suppose minutiae are interesting if you’re interested in the person whose minutiae they are.

Missionaries treated us better, says Aboriginal leader

There has not been a lot of progress recently in the welfare of Aborigines in the Northern Territory. The SMH today has a report headed Missionaries better, says Arnhem leader.

From the report:

THOUSANDS of Aboriginal children in remote communities are still waking up to no breakfast nine months after the $1.5 billion federal intervention, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the Northern Territory's most powerful Aboriginal leader, has warned.

and again:

Mr Yunupingu, a former Australian of the Year, called for the intervention taskforce to urgently build missionary-style dormitories in the communities where children could be fed, clothed and cleaned.

He said he would not shy away from criticism the dormitories would be a return to the days last century when missionaries ran the communities.

"The missionary days were good," Mr Yunupingu said. "The missionaries looked after the kids much better than the Government does today."

Christian missionaries saved the lives of many aborigines and continue to do good work today. We should keep praying for them and for the people they are trying to serve.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Kids reading grown-ups Bibles

I got a bit carried away with a comment on Nicole's blog so I thought I'd bring it over here.

The issue was, when do you start your kids on grown-ups' Bibles?

Our two eldest girls (9 and 6, nearly 7) are both on grown-ups' Bibles at bedtime. We just read and have a little chat about the stories. After a few weeks of sort of doing it unintentionally with Ruby (actually, she insisted, she was really excited about having her own proper grown-ups' Bible, even though it was only Luke's gospel) I thought to myself "Why haven't I been doing this always?"

What's good about it? Everyone enjoys it, you don't have to search through your memory to see whether the embellishments or omissions are significant, and it's the Word of God, not some hokey little kid's word game or picture puzzle as sold by Matthias Media ;-) where the answer to the deeply probing question is S-A-U-L or some such.

Matilda (9) even sat through the full list of names in Ezra 2 the other night. I think she just enjoyed sitting with me and reading, although by the end of the chapter she was looking a bit puzzled.

Hey by the way have you noticed the similarities, contrasts, and links between the account in Ezra of the people coming out of Babylon, and the links back to the Exodus story? It's pretty amazing, and I only really just picked it up as Matilda and I were reading. Ezra's not a book I turn to regularly, so that probably explains not having spotted stuff before.

The obvious thing is the contrast between Cyrus, who is so happy to let the people go, and Pharaoh back in Exodus who has to be forced to God's will. But what do you know, the people under Cyrus also give of their gold and silver, just like the Egyptians gave their gold and silver when Israel left Egypt. Also, back under Pharaoh the narrative makes a big thing of how many hundreds of thousands of Israelites left Egypt (all part of God keeping his promises to Abraham back in Genesis 12:1-3 about having multitudes of descendants). When you read Ezra 2, however, the numbers are pathetic. Take this random cut and paste:

Ezra 2:19 The sons of Hashum, 223.
Ezra 2:20 The sons of Gibbar, 95.
Ezra 2:21 The sons of Bethlehem, 123.
Ezra 2:22 The men of Netophah, 56.
Ezra 2:23 The men of Anathoth, 128.
Ezra 2:24 The sons of Azmaveth, 42.
Ezra 2:25 The sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743.
Ezra 2:26 The sons of Ramah and Geba, 621.
Ezra 2:27 The men of Michmas, 122.
Ezra 2:28 The men of Bethel and Ai, 223.
Ezra 2:29 The sons of Nebo, 52.

So it goes on. Matilda was very patient with it. Actually, I don't think she realized she was supposed to be bored.

(Remember Isaiah 10:22!)

It's a tragic little remnant isn't it? Clearly God is faithful even after his terrible judgement. And—just like in Exodus—the people having been rescued out of Babylon, where they were exiled, now set about rebuilding what they need for worship "as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God." (Ezra 3:2; an explicit link back to Exodus. Notice that there is no Sinai parallel, however. They already have the law).

So there you have several points of connection and comparison with God's earlier glorious rescue of the people from Egypt. The current little rump of people is so reduced that you don't know whether to laugh and rejoice over God's rescue of them, or weep and wail over the devastation that's been wrought. Like seeing an old friend after many years, now ravaged by cancer. And sure enough:

Ezra 3:12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy,
Ezra 3:13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

Matilda was able to tell me afterwards that the reason those old folks were crying was because this new temple was nowhere near as good as Solomon's. When and how will God keep his promises to restore Israel? Will the people stuff up again? I can't remember how much of the other bits we went into. But there you go! We both benefitted from that bit of Bible reading. Isn't God kind!

Meanwhile Ruby and I are doing Luke paragraph by paragraph, and having a great deal of fun with it so far.

Let's lose the cars from the CBD

Should have happened years ago. Glad to see the push continuing.

The arguments are aesthetic, environmental, safety related, economic... [the dreaded ellipsis!]

Speaking of aesthetics, quite a good question in the SMH today

I want to know why I am obliged to have wheelie bins with lids in colours which my local council forbids me to use on my house.

Bob Liddelow, Avalon

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

More childrens' Bibles.

Ever-thorough Melbourne buddy Jean reviews about 283 kids' Bibles in one post.

Left-right, left-right.

Tony Payne makes some theologically significant observations about assumptions undergirding some left-leaning thinking, here. From his post:

Mamet is in no sense a Christian, but his observation of life at this point is one we share. The Bible teaches us that people are not good at heart: every part of us is tainted by sin. Nevertheless, neither we nor the world are totally and unremittingly evil, and in the goodness of God, we often manage to work together to do and build good things (if not perfect things), and to live together with a degree of harmony—but only to a degree, and never without suffering and compromise. It's not the system that's the problem—such that if only we completely changed it, everything would be fine; it's the people.

I don't think Tony is intending to make any sort of political point. Perhaps I'll ask him next time I see him. But he does here what any good theological thinker must do, which is to take the basics underlying our world-view and subject it to scrutiny using the Bible's teaching.

And the Bible is has no shortage of passages that remind us of our fundamental corruption.

Monday, 24 March 2008

New bandwagon needed

As well as an explanation for why we jumped on the old one.

Duffy: "The climate is actually, in one way anyway, more robust than was assumed in the climate models?"

Marohasy: "That's right ... These findings actually aren't being disputed by the meteorological community. They're having trouble digesting the findings, they're acknowledging the findings, they're acknowledging that the data from NASA's Aqua satellite is not how the models predict, and I think they're about to recognise that the models really do need to be overhauled and that when they are overhauled they will probably show greatly reduced future warming projected as a consequence of carbon dioxide."

From The Australian, here.

Any large scale decisions about climate change that feed into policy will cost massive time, energy and money—and of course, if the climate change consensus is correct that will be time, energy and money well spent.

But if that time, energy and money is spent without careful thought both as to the nature of the problem, and the best possible solutions to it, then it has the potential to divert funds away from genuine and current problems without any measurable benefit. Hunger in Africa, or Indonesia, or Pakistan or... are serious current issues that seem to have dropped off the public radar. And within Christian churches, as well as these problems that face the world we ought to be spending a good deal of our time, it seems to me, praying for our brothers and sisters under persecution in places like Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Nigeria, the Sudan, North Korea... the list is really quite long.

Compassion matters; but that compassion at a personal level ought not as a general rule to be going into the politics of climate change. That's true in the church; and it's true in the secular world too, especially when that climate-change moralizing distracts us from problems closer to home. Immediate problems like binge-drinking or any number of social ills that are affecting individuals and families around our city.

Man sells his life on e-Bay

A funny idea, but I especially liked some of the digressions at the end of the article:

Speaking of which, eBay's rules were tested in a landmark case last week when American sisters selling a Kellogg's Frosted Flake shaped like the state of Illinois challenged a decision to remove the corn from sale because it was in violation of the auction site's food policy.

They got around the rule by offering a coupon that can be redeemed for the flake, rather than the flake itself, which suggests eBay takes an admirably commonsense approach to applying the law, especially when there might be a story in it.

Now the only thing standing between the sisters and a flake-funded life of unimaginable riches is competition: two other Frosted Flakes shaped like Illinois had gone up for auction by late last week, along with similar offerings shaped like Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Baja California, South America, a sheep's head and a Thanksgiving turkey.

Still, by Friday bidding on the original flake had reached $1025.

And again:

The first item sold on the site, when it was launched under the name Auction Web in 1995, was a broken laser pointer for $14.83.

Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar, a French-born Iranian-American, contacted the winning bidder and asked if they understood that the pointer was broken. The buyer replied: "I'm a collector of broken laser pointers."

It's the Monday of a four day long weekend. Not much news today.

Mercy Ministries

A director of Mercy Ministries, Peter Irvine, writes in the SMH today. He says

Mercy Ministries is not owned or run by Hillsong Church. Hillsong, along with other churches, organisations and individuals, makes annual donations to our work. Like any other not-for-profit organisation, we do seek the support of sponsors, which include Gloria Jean's Coffees.

As a Christian charity we believe in the teachings of the Bible, and that God loves all people unconditionally and all life is sacred. Our program reflects this statement. Claims of exorcism are simply untrue. We address the spiritual needs of young women, and prayer is one aspect of this.

We provide all residents with total access to medical specialists, including psychiatrists, general practitioners and psychologists. Our counselling staff are carefully recruited, hold tertiary qualifications and undergo ongoing professional development.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Jesus died in our place

I believe that our dear daughter Ruby (6) has a firm grasp of the gospel of grace. We prayed together tonight and then she talked about how the Lord Jesus took the punishment that we deserved, dying on the cross for us. I said "Yes, that's quite right, isn't it wonderful?"

"Yes", said she.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Roman Catholic World Youth Day

What's it going to cost? It's hard to find out.

If your church happens to use a government school hall to meet in, anywhere in NSW, you won't be allowed to be there on the two Sundays of the week of World Youth Day. It affects three of our congregations at St Paul's Carlingford.

Kevin Rudd

I like him a lot. He seems, so far, to be a man of integrity who is trying to focus on doing what he has promised.

But Alan Ramsey, whose hard-baked cynicism and vitriol is sometimes so appalling that he is almost unreadable, is almost certainly speaking truth here.

Words of a martyr

The martyr was Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, who died on the Bartholomew's Day massacre in France, 1572 (Background).

An eyewitness recorded his final words, in which he committed himself into the hands of a good and gracious God:
I see clearly that which they seek, and I am ready steadfastly to suffer that death which I have never feared and which for a long time past I have pictured to myself. I consider myself happy in feeling the approach of death and in being ready to die in God, by whose grace I hope for the life everlasting. I have no further need of human succor. Go then from this place, my friends, as quickly as you may, for fear lest you shall be involved in my misfortune, and that some day your wives shall curse me as the author of your loss. For me it is enough that God is here, to whose goodness I commend my soul, which is so soon to issue from my body.

I pray that when I face death I'll do it with the same trust in God and concern for the good of others.

Taking the Opera out of the Sydney Opera House

A proposal in the SMH.

Quite a good idea.

I'm singing in the Opera House tonight, if I can get past this cough and find my music. I'm about to go and investigate the state of my tuxedo, which has been metaphorically mothballed for ten years. The trouble is, it wasn't actually mothballed, and so may have moth holes in it.

We shall see. It is amazing what a bit of black texta can achieve if there are white bits showing through.

Here is the programme for tonight. It is called 'Easter a la francais', which means it is a fairly Roman Catholic affair for various historical reasons. But being entirely in Latin, you don't have to worry too much about that.

Friday, 21 March 2008


I don't know if this is going to work, but we are going to try to get to church to see the Mullinses this morning, our good buddies from Paris, France. They will be at Dundas.

Get dressed, girls!

UPDATE: It was a lovely catch-up with Dan and Deb, their 4 boys and also the Lukabyos. Al Lukabyo did just a superb children's talk explaining why Good Friday was good. If he wasn't an Anglican minister he could host a kid's TV show. Very clear that Jesus died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserved.


Fifi is off to a Permaculture Convergence (a conference). Permaculture is about sustainable organic agriculture, preferably in your own backyard, or 2 square metres of balcony if you have no backyard, but going all the way up to large scale reclamation of expanses of urban wasteland or areas that were previously thought to be beyond hope of cultivation.

Fifi is a member of Permaculture North, and if you click through on the link, she is back row, third from the left.


What's the big deal about this?

I'm thinking that we should keep the public holiday, no question there because I'm Australian and I love public holidays. But leave the celebration to the Roman Catholics, who seem to link the liturgical year to the beatific vision in a misguided analogical attempt to read the details of heaven into the tealeaves of our present experience.

Well, at least our own Peter Jensen managed to score a media victory by actually getting death and supernaturalism into his Easter message.

"We will be joining them, but they will not be joining us"

he said about dead people.

That's true, isn't it? We all die, and after that we face the terrible judgement of God. Either standing naked before his throne, or clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

Col. 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

It is quite an extraordinary coup to get ABC radio to quote something they just don't understand—death and all that goes with it.

Meanwhile the bit quoted from Roman Catholic bishop George Pell was something about water conservation.

Lots of new rail links planned

Lots of new light rail links planned for Sydney. An opinion piece on it here. The link to Gladesville would mean a trip to the city would take 11 minutes, far faster than a car in peak hour.

But can the government deliver? I don't trust our state politicians one bit. The current incumbency has the whiff of corruption about it.

At least the proposal for this new system is that it be built and maintained by the private sector.

Below walking and cycling, public transport is my favourite way of getting around. You can get a lot of work and reading done if you get a seat in the right spot.

Taxis are good too. They are multiple times cheaper than buying a second car, which costs hundreds of dollars a week to run when you include depreciation in the cost, which you should.

Food reviews

Richard Ackland comments on the legal risks of food reviewing in today's SMH. From the article:

Gill said: "My chicken and ham pie was a disaster. I use the word in the gastronomic sense. It wasn't a disaster like an earthquake in Pakistan or the Black Death, but in its own dinner time, it was up there with the Thirty Years War. A sarcophagus of bone-dry, boiled and shredded ham ... Once the pastry was on, they'd forgotten to make it taste of anything, or give it liquidity. 'Sorry, mate' we've paved it over now. Can't dig it up again'."

Mrs W. tells the complaining kindies at school "You get what you get, and you don't get upset!" I guess that's one critic where his infants teachers' lessons didn't sink in.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Light up for Earth hour

Plug in those 100 watt light bulbs and let 'em burn, baby, burn.

If you're worried about CO2 emissions, it's better for the earth than the alternative.


Would you say 'bited' is a word?

I would, but Scrabulous wouldn't, so I had to write 'bidet', which is a bit whatever.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


In the last month or so I've made a concerted effort to read a few more blogs on a daily basis. Finally got broadband, rss feeds and starting to get an idea of what's out there. I'm trying to figure out what works, and why, partly given that my employer Matthias Media is about to make a bit of an effort to increase the frequency, quality and relevance of its blog by introducing new members to the team. Really, I know nothing, and I've just been trying to learn a few things.

I'm still a bit puzzled. My goodness there is a lot of regularly updated dross out there in the Christian world (not you Craig. I'll always click for you, buddy. You were the one who convinced me that there might be a bit more to blogging than just "Tuesday. I seem to have developed a nasty red rash on my elbow").

Now it does need to be regularly updated, I can see that. If it's not updated most days, you need to have a friend like Craig who notices when you do, and links to your stuff.

But even when it is updated daily, it needs to be interesting. Good grief, sometimes the very act of clicking on your link is sending me to sleep. Nothing personal, but if I could write your blog entry for you before I've clicked you're that predictable, then I'm not going to click through, really. Spare me. Maybe along with the list of recommended reading that some blogs have down the side, I could add yours except with a heading 'Warning. Sufferers from sleep apnoea, do not click or zzzz...' 'Do not read this blog before driving or operating heavy machinery', that sort of gear.

There was a busker who used to sing and play guitar just outside the Queen Victoria Markets when I was enjoying a post-vegetable-shopping cup of coffee. You know how there are some buskers you just want to take the money from out of their guitar cases in quite a pointed way, so as to discourage them? I came that close, I tell you.

Anyway, some of your blogs are like that. No, not you Craig, really; and Jean yours is fantastic too and deserves more attention. I'll stop there before I start sounding like that weird lady on Romper Room with the mirror, from when I was little. Funny how you look at kids' TV in a new light when you're a grown up. Still hate Play School, but. Stop talking down to me, Benita or whatever your name was. Got enough of that from Mr Smillie in year 9. And Humphrey B. Bear is even more pathetic and wet than I remember, which is pretty hard, because even back then he had the sort of personality that if the year 9 boys caught him behind the toilet block, they'd job him just for being who he was, a creepy mute guy in a bear suit.

Anyone out there got blogs they like? Don't tell me Challies or Pyromaniacs, I know all those US reformed guys. Huh. I'm in a bad mood now. Those links better be good or you'll be hearing about it.


Badders' were pretty good too, but they never update now they have a baby.

My dad

My father is possibly the oldest player in Sydney to still play competitive tennis in the Badge competition. It has about 500 players across all divisions.

He's 78 years old and still plays tennis two or three times a week.

He's not as good as he was, but then, he was A grade. My guess is, even Kenny Rosewall is a bit slower these days.

Taking photos of people in public

" A person, in our society, does not have a right not to be photographed."

-Justice Dowd in R v Sotheren (2001) NSWSC 204

From here. There are a few restrictions, nevertheless.

(Thanks Karen).

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Sinister scrabulous

According to the Scrabulous dictionary:

'Israeli' is not a valid word. 'Jew' is a valid word.

Please explain.


Comment moderation defeats another spammer! I feel unreasonably happy, like when you swat a mosquito against your forearm before it has drawn blood.

More Hillsong

Following on from yesterday, the SMH details financial and managerial links between Hillsong and Mercy ministries, and Gloria Jeans and Mercy ministries.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Luther's visions.

Over at the Matthias Media CHN blog I've mentioned a vision of Christ that Martin Luther saw, together with his comments.

The new Matthias Media blog is very close to going online now, and the other members of the team are starting to post in entries, all of which will be progressively revealed when the blog gets under way.

Happiness and thankfulness.

A nice article from Jim Packer about happiness. He concludes:

Glum Christians who say they have not much to give thanks for are wrong. Some of the specifics of my experience, narrated above, are no doubt peculiar to me, but I cannot believe that the quality of my experience is in any way special. So I say: Look for the happy surprises, for they will help you to keep expressing proper gratitude to God all your days.

He writes from the storm centre of a controversy in Canada about the blessing of same sex unions, which has seen attempts to suspend him from Anglican ministry. I suppose he has seen far worse, but to write with such joy of God's blessing in the midst of controversy is a great inspiration. Whenever I think I am hard done by, I am going to make more of an effort to think of things to thank God for. There's always something.

I suppose the only instance in the whole of history where the person suffering had nothing to thank God for was Jesus, at the moment of his crucifixion.

Hillsong church in the news again

Not for good reasons, unfortunately.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

I thought one day I might go blind

So I've been practising shaving without looking in the mirror. As I don't wear my glasses when I shave, this ends up looking much the same as when I shave and still look in the mirror.

I'm testing the theory that you can shave by sound and system. 'System' means doing things in the right order, with special attention to the chin and the left upper side of the lip (for right-handers, which I am). 'Sound' means that when you hear 'rasp, rasp, rasp', you keep shaving, and when you don't, you stop.

Sydney bishops not attending Lambeth: understanding what's happening

Sydney Anglican bishops are not attending the Anglican bishops' conference at Lambeth later this year.

There will be lots of useful stuff said about this, but it is unlikely that you will get a clearer explanation of what Sydney is doing, from Sydney's perspective, than the ones given at the briefing here.

In it, Phillip Jensen says:

There is little in the New Testament to encourage Christians to split or divide. In fact we are
warned against the divisive person. The works of the flesh include “rivalries, dissensions, divisions,” (Galatians 5:20). So in the context of foolish controversies dissensions and quarrels God says: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful;
he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3.10-11).


But this treatment of the divisive person raises a paradox for us. For we are to divide from the divisive person.

These observations are merely an extract from the introductory comments. There is plenty more there to consider, and it will repay careful study for those with an interest in the issue. In particular, Phillip considers many of the New Testament passages that deal with controversy, tolerance and false teaching.

Phillip concludes:

I would urge those bishops who believe that unrepentant active homosexuality is wrong not to compromise their own beliefs, the scriptures, the church of God and the holiness of Christ.

If they have already accepted the invitation they should repent and apologise. It is not good to go back on your word. But you should not have given it in the first place. And to reinforce your error of judgement by attending is to make the same mistake as Herod when he executed John the Baptist. Such faithfulness to your word and promise is perverse rationalisation for continued wrongdoing.

To those bishops who go to Lambeth knowing that unrepentant homosexual activity is wrong - your profession of evangelical credentials will always be tarnished. You cannot expect God's people to trust you as you pick and choose which parts of the Bible apply to others and apply to you.

Actions have divisive effects. You are now put under incredible pressure to act on an issue that is not your own choosing. But you cannot avoid the consequences of your action. Attending is to fellowship with false teachers in their wicked work. It cannot help but diminish faithful Christians' confidence in you as a leader. To believe otherwise is a further
illustration of the naivety which leads you to attend.

The pragmatic arguments of needing to be there to uphold orthodoxy do not wash. By being there you are denying and undermining orthodoxy. You are demonstrating that the issue does not ultimately matter and that these men are the true bishops of the church.

The American bishops believe they are right and wish to change the rest of the church into accepting homosexuality. There is not the slightest indication that they are coming to Lambeth to listen to what the orthodox have to say. This is not the first round of a debate—it has been going on for years. They are not ignorant of alternative viewpoints. They came
last time for the final debate and they lost. They come this time with an action that they refuse to repent of. The American bishops did not listen last time they will not listen this time.

That the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited them only shows his colours. He is on record as agreeing with the American action in principle. Orthodox bishops attending is not going to change the outcome of Lambeth; just legitimise fellowshipping with false teachers or more accurately declare that their teaching is not false.

For our own diocese we need to explain the issues clearly so people will rejoice with thankfulness to God that we are led by Godly bishops who put obedience to the word of God ahead of worldly popularity. It would also be very encouraging to them to be flooded with letters and emails of appreciation at this difficult time.

Strong words indeed. To attend Lambeth is to legitimize fellowship with false teachers—American bishops who insist that homosexual practice must on gospel grounds be accepted as in keeping with Christian love; and Rowan Williams, who by word and action endorses the principles the American bishops are holding to.

Whether or not we see more orthodox bishops decide to take action remains to be seen. Anglicanism does not have a good track record in producing decisive bishops. But I'm thankful to God that some who aren't bishops, such as Phillip, are able to speak with courage and clarity about these things.

Meaningful work

A nice twist—work that is meaningful and lasts into eternity.

Thanks Jean.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Too much housework

When we have too much housework and not enough time I spend an hour a day fixing the things that bother me most and then I stop. The garbage. The compost. The kitchen. The vacuuming. Our dogs shed enough dog fur that if in any given week the fur was reassembled and given the kiss of life, we would have another dog.


We got one for half-price, and I can see why now. It only works half the time. At least it's value for money. When it works, it's also really really noisy, and fills up the kitchen with its noise, as if to say 'Look at me, look at me, you got what you paid for, I'm doing my job!'

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Marriage in the new creation

Come on all you float like a butterfly, sting like a butterfly theologians out there.

What will marriage be like in the new creation?

You know what I'm asking, and why I'm asking.

For Bible believers:

Matt. 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

(Gk "angeloi all' hws en tw ouranw eisin", ie it means what it says)

Another invention—Scrabulous Plus

Scrabulous is a great game for socializing, but once you have more than two players it doesn't work.

One of the problems is that it lasts too long, because you wait interminably for someone to make their move. I don't know how to solve that.

The other problem is that it doesn't last long enough. It finally gets around to your turn again, and already 58 tiles have been laid, 3 bingoes are down, and you've lost no matter what.

The solution to that is to make the board three squares wider right around the perimeter, and then to issue another 30, maybe 40 letter tiles in proportion to the tile distribution that exists in the current Scrabulous.

I call it Scrabulous Plus, you heard it here first, I'm not actually going to follow through with it but when you see it happen, you know that I thought of it right here, right now, and before anyone else.

Believe it...or not!

Morning prayer

This morning as I rushed out the door I grabbed the Moore College prayer bulletin and an old envelope with 2 notes to myself scrawled on it (EQUIP conference and cancel allergy appointment). I've quoted and blogged about John Woodhouse's inspiring words about prayer and righteousness, from that prayer bulletin, over on the Matthias Media CHN blog.

I got out the door three minutes before the next bus was due and saw a bus leaving from the bus stop. Why does the heart sink when you see a bus leaving, even when you know full well it's not yours? Well it could have been I suppose. It was the 9.04 leaving 12 minutes late. The 9.19, which I was about to catch, was only five minutes late. There is no necessary connection between the lateness of one bus and the arrival of the next, but the late arrival of a bus is enough to unsettle the soul ever so slightly.

Anyway I spent most of the bus trip praying or being distracted. The praying was helped by Woodhouse's words (see CHN link above) and by the physical presence of a slightly scrunched prayer bulletin in the hand.

I'm not entirely sure why my friends who send me prayer letters have stopped sending me letters, and now only send me e-mails; worse, e-mails with pdf attachments. I have never consciously requested e-mails in place of letters; whenever I am asked what I would like, which is not often, I ask to be sent a letter. I am fairly hopeless at praying, and I always try to pray when I get the e-mail or the letter, but if I am busy I am almost always going to ignore the e-mail and hope to catch up with it later. The other day I started praying through e-mails as I was deleting, but it felt like business rather than pleasure.

With paper letters, however, both I and my girls always feel our spirits lifted when we receive them. The girls love taking it in turns to check the letter box. I enjoy the slightly negative relief of realizing that I haven't been sent a bill, bank statement or piece of advertising. Then later, I open the mail and pray for the person, and from time to time will put the prayer letter into the kids' Bible (David Helm's Big Picture Bible. Really, really good!) and talk about the letter from the friend over our Bible reading time at dinner.

If the letter is really lucky it will end up on the floor next to the toilet, and the contents will end up being prayed about some more; a lot more, depending on how dodgy the take-away I bought at Wynyard turns out to be.

And this morning I prayed for many of the staff and students at Moore College while on the bus, and thanked God for the theological programme that Moore College is setting up in Alexandria. Because I happened to have a scrunched up prayer letter in my pocket, grabbed as I was hurrying out the door. I prayed for the Doyles in their loss. I thanked God for the Webbs' first grandchild. I prayed for the people who heard Mark Thompson speak at the Moore College Graduation last night.

You may well ask why I don't just print the e-mails that my friends send, so that if I really want the paper I will have it, and not at their expense or the expense of their mission organization. Well I do! Every time I remember and have the time, and the printer is working, I do that. So far in the last 3 or 4 years, I have printed off about 2 letters. I will do it again, too, when I remember.

Leaving church

I posted a comment on the Pyromaniacs blog on the subject of leaving church, and I thought I'd reproduce it here. The blog suggested as a rule of thumb, "you should not leave your church." My comment:

People do leave churches for all sorts of reasons, some of them good.

So far I've been a member of many congregations over the last thirty three years [over on the Pyro blog I said ten, but I realized I missed counting a few—some were different congregations in the same church, one I checked out for six months before moving, etc.] and been encouraged by the leaders of five of them to leave. In no particular order, the reasons included

1. To go to theological college.
2. To become an assistant minister.
3. One never gave a reason.
4. At another it related to a sermon I preached on 1 Timothy 2 on women's ministry (my view is theologically complementarian).
5. At another the reason was that it would be 'good for me and good for the gospel' (in the sovereignty of God, it was. There may have been other reasons, but they were not made public).

We're blissfully happy at the church God has led our family to, and where we've been for four years now. And I'm starting to feel less paranoid about being encouraged to leave again. ;-)

My basic test for joining and staying in a church (and sometimes, for leaving) is 3-fold.

1. Is the gospel preached (including the bits people don't like to hear) with some evidence that people are attempting to put it into practice? (The faintest scintilla of response in the hearts of some will do)

2. Am I being encouraged and finding opportunity to 'speak the truth in love' (especially including the gospel, and especially including the bits people don't like to hear).

3. Would I feel comfortable inviting my non-Christian friends to come and hear the teaching?

If the answer to those 3 questions is yes, I should stay. If the answer to any of the questions is no, I should stay and work to do something about the problems until it becomes clear that what I am trying to do is undercutting or opposing what the leadership is trying to do (being invited to leave might be one indication of this).

I admit my three-pronged test is nowhere near as succinct as the rule "You should not leave your church", but I think it may potentially end up being more biblically faithful and effective for the growth of the gospel.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


Hey mr. tambourine man play a song for me
I'm not sleepy an' there is no place i'm goin' to
Hey mr. tambourine man play a song for me
In the jingle jangle mornin' i'll come followin' you.

Then take me disappearin' thru the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
Yes to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand wavin' free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory an' fate, driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Roman Catholics criticize Rowan Williams on Sharia law

A Roman Catholic leader said that Rowan Williams' thinking about accepting parts of sharia law into British law is a 'mistake' and 'naive'. Reuters report here.

Idol mockery from Paul Barker

Melbourne friend Paul Barker, vicar of one of the few really great Anglican churches in Melbourne (many are sunk deep in liberalism and mediocrity), wrote in to the Briefing about mockery and taunting. It's all on the website in the Interchange section along with a lot of other good letters, but I thought it was worth posting here too:

I like the comparison made in passing in the CHN about Emoting about Idols with Australia's cricket boasts. It got me thinking that perhaps we need some of the mocking chants that we hear at the MCG (presumably SCG too). When someone is taken off by police, there's the chant ‘You're going home in the back of the divvy van’. So some sort of variation on that to idols and false gods might be good: ‘You're gonna rust away; moths are gonna eat you up’. Or ‘You're going away in the back of a robber's van’.

A variation is the taunt: ‘Can't bat, can't bowl, can't field’. So, in line with Isaiah 46:1-4, we could sing or shout ‘Can't make, can't carry, can't save’.

Of course, there's also the taunts to fielders when they miss a catch (as well as to spectators who pass the beach ball to the police): You are a w*****. So an occasional chant in a liturgically appropriate time to idols and false gods of ‘you are a nothing’ could wake up a few congregations.

Mockery is, of course, biblical as evidenced by Isaiah 46 and not least by Elijah on Carmel. Indeed, in 1 Kings 18:27, there is possibly a euphemism mocking their gods for going to the bathroom, not all that different from the blunt cricket cry above.

Even a slow hand clap mocking idols might be an idea.

Taunts and chants lend themselves to kids songs so perhaps Colin Buchanan can be contracted to help here. Interspersed with some Mexican waves, I can see quite a future for liturgists and congregations. As well, I see a future for liturgical expression when the congregation can point mockingly, not to the dressing room when a batsman is out, but down to hell. Given the demonstrative nature of umpire Billy Bowden, maybe he could choreograph something for us? Signal a six to celebrate God; raising the finger when the idols fail. Of course, already cricket fans bow down in adulation at some heroes. We need to rescue that back to God.


I got ordained in Melbourne at the same time as Paul, and it is great to see him going on strong in the Christian faith. He became a Christian under Paul Barnett at Robert Menzies College, Macquarie Uni. (Paul was master at the college, and later became bishop of North Sydney)

Rich and poor

Jean has some thoughts about coming from a background of privilege.

She quotes a passage from James that it's easy to skip past:

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

Very easy to favour 'important' people.

American religion

Al Mohler blogs about the American religious landscape according to recent survey work here, including noting the continuing strength of Protestant evangelicalism (44% call themselves 'evangelical' or 'born-again'; non-denominational Protestantism continues to grow).

Here's Mohler's summary of the summary.

The Vatican

A letter in today's SMH reminded me that World Catholic Youth Day is coming to Sydney.

It's time to start preparing in earnest, and at least part of it will involve learning all the words to the Vatican Rag:

The letter, by the way, said

I think it was the late Malcolm Muggeridge who said his greatest ambition would be to take Jesus on a conducted tour of the Vatican.

John Chapman, Parramatta

Racism against aborigines

Here's a story of terrible racism from today's SMH, about some aboriginal women being forced to leave a backpacker resort because they were 'scaring' the other hostel residents. The women were in Alice Springs to take part in a life-saving training course.

The racism of the backpacker hostel in requiring the women to leave is rightly being condemned. What I've yet to see in any report so far is any mention of the equally racist attitude of the Asian women who made the initial complaint about being 'scared'.

In the Australian media it is generally only the racism of white people that comes in for criticism. Asians and other ethnic groups seem to get a free pass in these matters, as if racism is a whites-only problem, which it certainly isn't.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Things I haven't retracted.

On my blog post Things I've retracted, Junior Jensen saw fit to ask if I'd retracted my article "Quit Your Day Job", which can be found in Briefing #50, July 1990. At that point, Adam asked

For those of us who were 10 years old when you wrote "Quit your day job" (and, surprisingly, not Briefing subscribers at that time), care to share highlights?

Cheng leans back in his leather armchair, refills his pipe deliberately, lights it and begins to puff meditatively.

Ah young fellow-me-lad, that question takes me back many years. I was but a callow youth at the time, barely 29 years old. Junior Jensen was a spotty but strapping teenager who inhabited the touch football fields close to Moore Theological College in Newtown. Happy, happy days...

Anyway, I tossed off what I thought was a fairly damp squib, some reflections on Ecclesiastes and how the meaninglessness of life affected all things, and was not undone by the new covenant and would indeed not be undone until new creation. My damp squib turned out to be a double bunger that started a conflagration, not least because the piece I'd written was, unbeknownst to me, being regularly trotted out in Moore College Ethics lectures as an example of idiotic things to say regarding the nature of this creation and the next.

Highlights, you ask? Oddly enough, the people I work for haven't provided an online version of this particular piece. Possibly they fear another rash of cancellations of Briefing subscriptions. But years have passed since then, and we're all a bit older, a bit sadder, a bit wiser, a bit sleepier, a bit...oh well, let me stop rabbiting on and just give you the article!

The screen shimmers and begins to blur ... the year is 1989

There can be only one meaningful career choice for Christians—that of preaching the gospel of the risen Christ. So says Paul, and having also read Ecclesiastes, I tend to agree with him.

You’ll remember, perhaps, the desperate-sounding cry of Ecclesiastes: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”

The word translated ‘meaningless’ might also be rendered ‘transient’, ‘ephemeral’ or ‘vain’. Nothing lasts. Everything changes. When it has changed then it will change back again. Nothing is ever achieved. Nothing is ever undone. “I know that everything God does will endure forever: nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it” (Ecc 3:14)

How does this relate to career choice?—whether I become a bean counter or a paint salesman, an engineer or an aerobics instructor? Ultimately it says that all jobs are equal in the sight of God—meaningless! There is no difference between the doctor, the dentist and the dishwasher. No-one achieves more than any of the others: “I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecc 2:17)

You see, there are a number of problems with work. All of it is ‘pain and grief’—for most of us, work is difficult, frustrating and unrewarding (Ecc. 2:23). It is unfair: we receive pay and amass possessions, only to die and leave it all to one who doesn’t deserve it (Ecc 2:21).

But the fundamental problem is this: Nothing is ever achieved. Buildings are demolished. People healed of sickness die of old age. People are counselled, relationships restored—only to be permanently broken by death. Governments and business empires collapse. Rot creeps in where growth began. Technological ‘progress’ is used for destruction—and all returns, finally, to the dust from which it was taken.

“But”, we protest, “surely it is better to take what brief happiness we can from life, and to help others to do likewise?” Yes indeed—there may be some merit in lubricating the wheels of the cradle, so that we can achieve a smoother and more comfortable ride to the grave. Does not Ecclesiastes himself acknowledge this? “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That every man may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in his toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecc 3:12-13). Or a favourite verse of mine: “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days.” (Ecc 9:9) Yes, hard as it is to grasp, it is possible to find enjoyment and satisfaction in the midst of—and even because of—our meaningless activity.

Perhaps this is why Christians (mistakenly) speak of being ‘called’ to work in a particular profession—advancing God’s Kingdom by being a surgeon, or a lawyer or a secretary. It is easy—too easy—to equate job satisfaction with meaning and purpose. But such enjoyment, while a gift from God, can never remove the basic futility of life in the fallen creation.

Indeed, as Paul points out, there is only one thing that brings an end to futility: the death and resurrection of Christ. He it is who puts an end to death (1 Cor 15:54). He it is who restores and renews the old creation under his leadership (1 Cor 15:24-27, Eph 1:10). And “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). Through Christ's death and resurrection the creation (now groaning) will be “liberated from its bondage to decay, and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:28)

What then, of career choices? Anything, job included, belonging to this creation is doomed to futility by its temporary nature: the one shining exception is that which puts an end to meaninglessness—the gospel of Christ. For it is by this gospel that we are given new birth into a living hope—our old selves are put to death, and we are raised to life in Jesus. There is nothing temporary or hollow about our new life, for in it we are transformed into the very likeness of Christ!

Thus, when the gospel is taught and learned, there is an end to both death and, with it, meaninglessness. As Christians are built up in the knowledge and love of God, so they are being changed from glory to glory, that they may stand perfect on the final Day. It is this reality that gives gospel work its meaning and significance.

Gospel work is the only work with permanent effect. That is why it ought to be top priority for Christians. That is why the most demanding full-time secular job can really only be, in its significance, a small part of a Christian’s life. Yes, some jobs do tend to take time—but in a very real sense we will be like the typical Australian, who lives not for his job, but for the weekend. The only difference is that we live for the gospel—and that is what will take our time and energies.

That is why we understand Paul’s exhortation of 1 Cor 15:58 not as urging us to take our bricklaying seriously (or whatever job we do), but to get on with the work of evangelism and gospel teaching: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” What about you? Is your labour a ‘work of the Lord’? Or have you poured your energies into an investment that cannot last?

Again the screen shimmers. we are back at the present moment. Cheng is sucking absent-mindedly on a pipe that has long gone cold.

So there we are, Adam. I hope that answers your question. My goodness, we were even using the NIV Bible in those days.

Anyway. Obnoxious, overstated, hot-headed, poorly expressed; yes, yes, all of that. No doubt the article was each of those things and more. But it seems to me that the greatest howls of outrage came from the middle-classerati who had fallen deeply in love with their own careers, and so failed to really believe that Ecclesiastes could be serious and mean what he said.

Apparently the Briefing got more letters complaining about that one article than ever before or since; meanwhile I was happily ensconced in Melbourne, more or less oblivious to what all the fuss was about, or even that there was a fuss. The article took maybe an hour to write, I just posted it off and thought no more about it, believing the basic point I was making to be unexceptional but essentially in line with the Bible's teaching on the matter. And I still believe that 1 Corinthians 15:58 is all about the ministry we have to each other and to the world as Christians who speak the gospel (and that is all of us, may I say, not just the paid full-timers. I might, on reflection, have made more of the total and utter insignificance of that paid/lay distinction).

The most interesting response I can remember came from my mate Timmy Booker, who told me that the working class members of his church just read the article, shrugged their shoulders and couldn't see what the fuss was about. The work they were involved in was, by and large, drudgery. They knew that Ecclesiastes was right and that work is meaningless. They were just thankful to God that he had lifted them into eternity through the merits of his only son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.

Heavy burdens

I have just caught up with the news of the tragic death of a friend's adult daughter, and the separation of another married couple after more than 20 years.

"It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with."

Meanwhile babies are born and God continues to give the gift of life to others. This life is a great mystery.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Packer, Anglicanism and homosexuality

Dr J.I. Packer speaks about Anglican realignment, and why homosexual practice is not acceptable within the church.

Really quite important.

And you can see the sequel to it here. (Thanks AB)

Jereth writes on abortion

One of my friends from Melbourne Uni days, Jereth Kok, has written about the Melbourne Anglican cave-in on abortion; here at the Matthias Media blog.

The Anglicans in Melbourne are in a bad way. Jereth commented in this controversy on the doctrine of atonement (Scroll down a bit). We should pray for the evangelicals in Anglican churches in that city, and thank God also for the Presbyterians in Victoria. Some Baptist friends and Church of Christ people are doing well too.

Improving Gettysburg

Here's Justin Moffat thinking about Lincoln's Gettysburg address as a model for sermon preparation.

It's a pretty good speech, I suppose. But we editors know that even greatness can be improved and transmogrified into super-duper-meta-greatness. I found the following critique of Gettysburg on Alton Gansky's blog.

Four score and seven years ago (archaic, change to contemporary usages) our fathers (offensive to women; too gender specific) brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, (why are you capitalizing “Liberty”? Consult with style guide.) and dedicated to the proposition that all men (again with the male superiority, Abe) are created (Abe, this spiritual talk will offend the atheist) equal.

[Editor’s recommendation for opening line: Eighty-seven years ago our grandparents started a new nation with liberty as its goal. They also felt that every person born equal.]

Now we are engaged in a great (great implies good and war isn’t so good—choose better term) civil (how can a war be civil) war, testing whether that (unclear; which nation?) nation, or any nation so conceived (sexual overtones; could be offensive to some) and so dedicated, can long endure (awkward).

[Editor’s suggestion: This ongoing war between the states is a test of our commitment to the liberty—if we survive.]

We are met on a great (again with the “great.” You might consider a broadening your vocabulary) battle-field of that war (Redundant. There’s no such thing as a battlefield of peace). We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. (Unnecessary inclusion. Of course, it’s fitting. The reader doesn’t need to be told this.)

[Editor’s suggestion: We are here on this battle field to dedicate it to those who died. It’s the least we can do.]

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. (Tortured sentence. Get to the point. Used “cannot” three times.) The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

[Editor’s suggestion: In point of fact, the soldiers who died here have already consecrated this ground. All we can do is recognize that truth.]

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here (“here” is unnecessary and used twice in this sentence. Strike it.), but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced (Awkward, stilted—revise).

[Editor’s suggestion: What we do today may soon be forgotten, but what the soldiers did on this battlefield will be remembered forever.]

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God (watch the God-talk, Abe), shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (Awkward and cumbersome paragraph. Remember, less is more.)

[Editor’s suggestion: What remains for us is to continue working for liberty and freedom. After all, a lot of people died for our cause. Let’s not forget them.]

Okay, Abe. Those are my notes. I think you have a good start here and that someday, you will make a great speechwriter. You just need to pay attention to the details.

Things I've retracted

I was asked over on the Sydney Anglicans forum if there's anything I've written for The Briefing that I feel like I need to retract.

Here's an edited version of the answer.

Is there anything you have ever written in the Briefing that you think should be retracted?

When I type 'Cheng' into the Briefing search engine it gives me a list of articles I've written, although not, perhaps unfortunately, with the words of heresy in red.

I am not specifically aware of anything I've written that falls into the category of 'heresy', but undoubtedly there is material there that is questionable in emphasis or misleading, and would possibly even best be retracted or not written. I still don't believe in daily prayer times (Briefing #337), however on reflection that might be an example of something not helpful to some readers, and best left unsaid. OTOH, some nice readers did write in to set me straight on that, so the Briefing does have a mechanism in place for public and private rebuke of things that cause concern.

But when I say there is 'undoubtedly' stuff there that could be retracted, it is more because the Bible assures me that I am completely tainted by sin in every area of my life, and gives no corresponding assurance that this sin is overruled every time I put finger to keyboard. So far, no-one has accused me of writing heresy, to my knowledge, although it could be that they tried and I didn't discover this for some reason.

I do remember writing an article some 15(?) years ago tentatively suggesting a gradualist view of abortion, which view I deeply regret and repent of. And I am thankful to God and Tony Payne that it never saw the light of the Briefing day. But as it didn't make it in, it doesn't really count as an example I think.

There was a time, too, in the early '90s where I thought that NT Wright's views on justification were worth paying attention to, and they may even have slipped into some talks I gave. Never caught the full disease, it was more like a low-grade virus that slowed down my performance in all areas. But once again, in the mercy of God, that sort of rubbish was consigned to the Briefing's editorial garbage bin, if indeed it even made it into a draft article. Thank God, I was delivered from at least one form of theologically complex and prolix obfuscation, if not all.

It'll all be exposed on judgement day, of course, as to whether the articles written were written with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw or paper. Then both you and I will have an answer to the question.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Scissors paper rock

Many people deride this as a game of chance, but I don't think so. You need to be sitting there with the person, but once you get inside their heads, you can pretty much win at will.

Naturally the question arises, 'To what end?'


Martin Luther's anti-semitism.

Sooner or later, even the most ardent Luther admirer has to confront his apparent anti-Semitism.

I've mentioned it here.

Swedes—Racial imperialists

Just because they were neutral during WWII doesn't mean they were on the side of niceness and goodness.

Read this and rage against the Borg machine.

Singing Latin

Some words which look innocuous on the page actually sound quite rude when you sing them.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Never clean before the guests arrive

I thought about this excellent hospitality tip as I vacuumed and cleaned the kitchen this morning. It came from Nicole's blog, here.

Really useful!


Over breakfast the girls and I were talking about the difference between Christians and non-Christians. I don't know how we got onto that.

Anyway, it seems to me (as I explained to the girls) that the main daily difference between Christians and non-christians is thankfulness, or the lack thereof. Christians give thanks to the Lord Jesus for his goodness. Non-Christians are either not thankful, or they understand that they have been blessed and don't know who to give thanks to. Another word for this is sin, which Christians still suffer from and indulge in most grievously, but they know that they have been forgiven. And they know who to give thanks to, namely the Lord Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us.

I believe that Paul is making this sort of point in Acts 14, in this ripping yarn (Luke is good at writing ripping yarns, isn't he!):

8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, [2] 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

It occurs to me that Roman Catholics are not able to be thankful, because they fear God as judge and can never be certain that they truly are forgiven. Hence their prayers are full of pleading and anxiety, and sometimes they cannot bring themselves to address God directly but seek to go to his 'mother', or some other dead person. This is unwise, and only adds to their guilt before the Lord Jesus.

Anyway today I am giving thanks for my three beautiful girls, the bursting health of an early autumn garden and the genius of Fifi in giving that garden shape. A well constructed garden is like a slow seasonal fireworks display in many shades of light green.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Mangoes in March

From Keith in Queensland, seen in Kingsford.

We're really bilging out the bottom of the barrel, when it get to the point of mangoes in March from Keith in Queensland.

Speaking of which, from our fridge, I tossed two mango seeds, popped the paw-paw in the compost pit, and moved the melon of mediocre moistness to another place of outer darkness.

Summer is over.

Pyromaniacal observation

Here's a good observation from Dan Phillips on the Pyromaniacs blog:

I was reading of Jesus' throwing out the merchandisers in Luke 19:45f., and it hit me.

Critics of the Bible reject miracles because nothing can happen only once.

Critics of the Bible reject two Temple cleansings because nothing can happen twice.

...if it's in the Bible.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Mark Driscoll

Here's an mp3 audio of Mark Driscoll; a good, thoughtful sermon about worship, part of a series on whether you need to be religious to be right with God (answer no).

It has some good jokes, and some wonderful reminders about thankfulness for the grace of God towards the end.

(thanks CraigS for the link!).

A photo

Many, many years ago a friend came 'round for dinner and was looking at a book we owned about Marilyn Monroe. After a while he said that it was not at all surprising that she appeared so attractive; after all if somebody had that many photos taken of them, you could hardly fail to find a few that looked good. To which I perhaps unkindly responded, 'That's interesting, P, how many photos have they taken of you?' Being a self-effacing man he laughed and acknowledged that there might be a difficulty there.

Anyway, years later—many, many years later—the photographers managed to succeed. ;-)

Why we shouldn't want to see Jesus

I've mentioned before that reasonably soonish, Matthias Media will be launching a revamped blog with some terrific contributors popping up regularly.

I've already started putting up unique posts (ie not repeated here) on the old CHN blog, and in this post I've dug up a quote from Martin Luther's Table Talk on why we shouldn't want to see Jesus.

The devil finds work for idle hands

They say that the devil finds work for idle hands. In my experience, though, it was my mother.

I'm not sure what to make of that.

Hmm, I think that calls for an ellipsis.

I'm not sure what to make of that ...

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Matthias Media RSS feed

Matthias Media has a regularly updated blog called Couldn't Help Noticing, which I also post to.

It's getting updated and revamped soon. Mike commented a little while back:
Gordon, Great idea. Can you get the people at MM to include the text of the post in the RSS feed. All that exists in the MM posts is a link to the site. I'd much rather read it on my PDA (on the train), and it makes for faster surfing.

Thanks, Mike.

I finally chased this up (sorry for the delay Mike) and discovered that there is an RSS feed with full CHN text, and it's at this link:

Marriage togetherness

A friend sent me a rather lovely comment on my post about marriage break-ups, which he said I could reproduce here if I removed identifying features:

We have been married for [many] years. For much of that time my wife has been more or less depressed, and we have just come out of the end of a ten year period of it. This has been the longest unrelenting period of it.

Perseverance pays off, because at the moment we are like newlyweds, though rather experienced newlyweds.

Life has certainly had its joys and sorrows, but we are now both more committed to one another than ever.

Thank God for his kindness in the lives he gives us 'for better, for worse'.

An important phone call

Just took an important phone call, a necessary interruption to my reading of a Karl Barth critique. Ruby's tooth is out!

Gladiator quote

"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."

That quote's always worth a bit of a run when you're feeling hard done by and the bus is running late.

An awkward question for Mr Cheng

Someone called me 'Mr Cheng' yesterday, a student at Sydney Uni, and it reinforced in my mind that I got out of student work just in time (namely, before uni students started calling me 'Mr Cheng'). Anyway, this person also found out I have 478 friends on facebook, and asked me whether or not I was a facebook stalker. Which alarmed me, not least because it'd never occurred to me before. But then again, I am pretty confident that the person who asked me was envious, as they only had 450 friends or so.

But there is always room for more! So if you would like to be my facebook friend, join up and send me a request. I will love you as deeply as I love the other 478, as long as you don't send me any facebook applications. And I won't stalk you, unless you're a Barthian.

Marriage break-ups

I didn't used to have many good friends who were separated or divorced, but now I know several and am aware of others of about the same age who are going through the same thing.

It seems to me that a number of marriages that have struggled on for quite some time will finally reach breaking point at about the time the youngest child leaves school. It is almost as if one partner or the other has said 'That's enough. I've put up with this for long enough, my work with the children is done, and now I'm done too.'

The other thing about it is that in retrospect, the issues leading to separation or divorce seem to have been there almost from day one, a bit like a tree that starts life as a sapling with a divided trunk.

I'm a believer in the idea that marriage is for life, and that the commitment to love rather than the feeling of love is what causes marriages to grow and thrive. That is going to mean a lot of joy and a huge amount of work. What I would wish (and what I encourage couples who are getting married to do) is that people would put that work in from the very beginning, with help from others around them. The patterns of communication and miscommunication are set up very early, and seem to continue unless addressed.

Of course they can be addressed any time, even by couples who have been in difficulty for 20 years. But by that time, often one partner or the other has reached their limit, and there are 20 years of bad relating to undo, rather than just six months.

I have to keep thinking about this as I'm leading a marriage weekend later this year, and in the meantime I happen to be married.


Jean's thoughts and experience of depression.

I suffer regular black moods, and appreciate Jean's thoughts and honesty here.

Schools emptying!

I just read this article about a looming crisis of teacher availability.

Every school in NSW will be empty in 20 years time!

That's the right way to extrapolate statistics and trends into the future, isn't it?

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Below par

This is an odd expression, when used in the sentence "I'm feeling a bit below par", as in, I'm not feeling that great, or I'm feeling a bit unwell. Because if you think about where the term 'below par', comes from, it's mainly used as a golfing expression. And if someone is 'below par' in golf, then they are playing a blinder and doing really well.

This morning Matilda woke feeling nauseous, so she stayed home from church with Fifi looking after her. I went to church with Ruby and Lily Violet, and then we went on to morning tea for newcomers, and I met some nice people. It was very good, and we'd heard a good sermon on love from our minister as well.

But then we got home and Matilda was still sick, and started throwing up. And just quietly, I'm now feeling a bit above par myself.