Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sitting still or moving

A book ‘Turning your Adversity into Victory’, by Jerry Saville, contains a wonderful analysis of a story in 2 Kings chapter 7.  The opening to the story is depicted here:

Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” 2 Kings 7:3-4 NIV

There are four lepers.  They will die one day of their disease.  Before then, they may die from the sword of invaders.  Yet, the invaders are in camp.  They are in camp having arranged the supply lines to the leper’s city to be cut-off. So the lepers, and all in the city, may die before the enemy charges with the sword. 

“The supreme act of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”
Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War

Basically, the four lepers conclude that they are as good as dead.

Yet, they are not without hope. 

Finding hope starts with a question: ‘Why stay here until we die?’.  The answer seems peculiar yet it fits well with the four leper’s predicament: ‘So let’s go over to the camp of the enemy’.  In the verses that follow they act. The four lepers achieve a very satisfactory result (please do read forward in 2 Kings).

The legacy of the four lepers is in the lesson that they leave for us all, particularly for those seeking healing: 
  • Do not give up hope. (For example of this consider one parent's efforts to find answers to a rare disease)
  • Keep asking questions.
  • Put everything to God.
  • Understand that God's answers may not, at first, seem to fit.
  • Be prepared to act.


Note: all links good as at 31 January 2017

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Seek the Lord

Visiting a church in an urbanised part of a major regional town of Northern New South Wales was a delight.  The congregation were very welcoming and the service honoured God.  The church had a prominent and solid timber cross as a centrepiece.  Next to the cross was the only other addition on the front wall.  That addition, a verse from the Old Testament, was painted in a stylised font:
"Seek the Lord while he may be found" Isaiah 55:6 NIV

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It is a fascinating verse.  Immediately, one sees the call to "seek" the Lord - that God requires that people are active in drawing to God.  Then, curiously, it occurs that God may not always be found!

It was the later part of this verse that had me thinking the most.  In which circumstances did the church feel that God may not always be found? 

During the church service, and over coffee afterwards, I learnt that the church was very active in drug and alcohol rehabilitation welfare work.  Did the decision to paint the verse on the wall arise from considerations of the rehabilitation process?  That is, did the churchfolk have experience of people breeching rehabilitation processes such that there was only a slim slice of time in which such people may look to the Lord?  Does the drug and alcohol haze make God impossible to find?  In more general application, do people who are caught up in the trappings of the world have roadblocks to finding the Lord?  Certainly, God wants to be found, and is always, present so "while he may be found" can only refer to the ability, or willingness, of the seeker.

The verse also had me thinking of people who have their abilities lost to them.  Ministry to people with dementia often has similarities to preschool ministry - simple choruses and childlike gospel illustrations.  Such ministry is highly commendable as the person has lost an active ability to seek the Lord, yet the pastor can help them recall the Lord that they learnt of in their childhood.

Whatever the intent of painting that Biblical verse on the wall it is a worthy verse and one that lingers.  Are you seeking the Lord while he may be found?


Monday, January 23, 2017

Tim Minchin was right

In a Christmas song, White Wine in the Sun, Australian artist Tim Minchin reflects on spending time with his family.  Tim's is a non-churched Christmas.  Tim places higher values on family than on God's gift to the world of Jesus Christ.  Tim's own assessment is that it is a sentimental song.

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The song includes a section of lyrics that give Tim's assessment of church songs:
"I don't go in for ancient wisdom
I don't believe just 'cause ideas are tenacious it means they're worthy
I get freaked out by churches
Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords
But the lyrics are dodgy"

It is an assessment that pays good heed to church hymns in terms of their chords but identifies with dodgy lyrics.

Now, I suspect that when Tim identifies with dodgy lyrics he is recognising solid Biblical concepts as portrayed in song such as Christ's birth, in a manger, to a Virgin etc.  If one does not accept these concepts from the Bible, then one is hardly going to find those concepts acceptable within lyrics of a hymn.  That's fine and consistent with Tim's perspective.  However, what if the lyrics are dodgy from a solid theological viewpoint?

So, there I was at a Christian summer mission site hearing these lyrics:

The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave
Our God has robbed the grave
From 'Resurrecting'
There it was: "God has robbed the grave"! Contextually, the lyrics were kind of okay. The artist was clearly sharing how God did not intend Jesus Christ to stay in the tomb.  I get that.  Yet, "God robbed the grave" sent my mind racing towards all the weird and wacky theories that persons who read beyond the Bible seem to perpetuate - those, for instance, who claim that the disciples stole Christ's body away.  I immediately turned to the book of Acts to comfort myself that Peter and Paul in addressing crowds clearly identify with how Jesus rose from the grave.  "Borrowed for three days" adds to the issue in that no-one at the time of placing the body in the grave thought that the grave was being lent.
Then again in summer, while visiting an urban church in a regional town there were these lyrics:
Verse 1
O God of burning cleansing flame
Send the fire
Your blood-bought gift today we claim
Send the fire today
Look down and see this waiting host
And send the promised Holy Ghost
We need another Pentecost
Send the fire today
Send the fire today

There it was: "We need another Pentecost"! Well no, no we don't!  Pentecost was a one-off.  It was the fulfilment of a promise of Jesus of Nazareth that he would send the wonderful counsellor.  The disciples had waited in Jerusalem for the event.  We do not need another Pentecost when instead we fully seek to understand the one and only Pentecost (Acts 2).  The fire follows from each Christian as each Christian does the work that Christ bids of them in the world.


Note: all links good at 23 January 2017

Note: at the church where I heard 'Send the Fire' I met a gentleman over coffee.  He was attending the church after he had been redeemed from a life of alcoholism.  He was grateful to the church for their role in that redemption and he could see Christ's hand on those in the church who had saved him.  He recognised the healing that he had received.  In that conversation I could see the fire.  Halleluiah!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Holy Spirit, a person?

They Speak with Other Tongues’ by John L. Sherrill is a study of the Pentecostal movement in the United States in the early 1960s.  Sherrill comes to his study from a mainstream Protestant perspective.  While Sherrill focuses his study on speaking in tongues, he does include a wonderful chapter where he identifies the Holy Spirit as a person.  

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“One of the clearest indications of the fact that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and not some vague sort of automatic force, is the fact that He can indeed be grieved “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”, said Paul”. 
Page 148 of book with quote from Ephesians 4:30

Sherrill includes the following summary of the Spirit as a person of the Trinity:

-        In the Old and New Testaments both, the Spirit is thought of in terms of action.  Words that suggest movement – fire, wind, breath, rain, dove – are used to refer to Him.  The Spirit is dynamic: He is God in action.

-        In the Old Testament there are inferences that the Spirit is personal; in the New Testament this side of Him is stressed.  Christ is constantly giving names to the Spirit which describe His shepherding, brooding, caring nature.  He calls the Spirit guide, counsellor, comforter, advocate.

-        In both Testaments, when the Spirit touches human life, personality is transformed.
Reference: Page 121 of book.


Note: all links are good at 22 January 2017

Note: The Spirit has perhaps never worked in this manner:

"A small child was drawing a picture and his teacher said,
"That's an interesting picture.  Tell me about it.
"It's a picture of God"
"But nobody knows what God looks like.
"They will when I get done"

What would the early church father's think?

After recently presenting a talk on the Gospel of Luke a speaker at a local suburban church fielded a question: “What would Luke think of the cessationists?”.   It was an interesting question.  The questioner was attempting to understand a current thought pattern in terms of Luke’s understanding.  The question was asked specifically with divine healing in mind.  The question pre-supposed that Luke - filled with knowledge of all the divine healings that occur through Christ’s ministry and through the Acts of the Apostles - would anticipate that the current church would continue to observe divine healings. 
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The speaker appeared cautious in his response.  His caution possibly came from the contextual setting.   He was an invited Baptist speaker in an Anglican Diocese of Sydney church.  The cautious reply was simply that ‘Luke would probably lift an eyelid’.
I reflected on the question again on reading They Speak with Other Tongues’ by John L. Sherrill.  I did not think of the question itself but instead its practice of asking what a church father would think.  Sherrill does the same.  Sherrill’s book is a study of the Pentecostal movement in the United States in the early 1960s.  Sherrill comes to his study from a mainstream Protestant perspective.  He asks what Paul and Peter and Barnabas would think of the staid, fully programmed church service formats that are in use today.  He ponders how such services make any room for the Spirit.

“It struck me as a curious contrast with the sobersides pulpits of today that the first Christian sermon should begin with a stout denial by the preacher that he and his friends were drunk.  Why, he said, it’s only nine in the morning, how could anyone be drunk?”
Quote from page 122, ‘They Speak with Other Tongues”, John L. Sherrill
Such questions of what Luke would think; or what Paul, Barnabas or Peter would think, are perhaps of limited use.  The church changes.  The church fits to its day.  The Word does not change but the church does.  It is perhaps a luxury to contemplate what a church forefather would think of church practice in the developed West.  A forefather placed into the church today would probably have more wholesome immediate foci.  For instance, they would surely rejoice first at the church in its suppressed form in countries where Christians meet in underground settings.  Luke or Peter or Barnabas or Paul would perhaps rejoice more to see the hope that a North Korean obtains on hearing the gospel in his humble, cold neighbour’s basement than to debate the finer points of cessationism.
Note: all links good as at 21 January 2017
Note: Sherrill's book was found at a book exchange at Coffs Central Shopping Centre in Coffs Harbour.  In amongst the many popular novelists was a single Christian gem.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus)

Hot from the discovery of lemon myrtle, I was pleased to find a significant quantity of another lemony treat - Lemon Thyme.
Thyme drying on overcast day of low humidity.

Lemon Thyme grows with tough wiry, thin, branches.  It is ideal for drying in that it will dry well in shade in low humidity.  It is argued that it is more palatable in its dry state than when fresh:

"When we were in Provence in the south of France, I asked one of the farmers we met why we had not seen any fresh thyme for sale in the local markets.  Her reply was, "But of course we only use dried thyme, because the fresh is no good in cooking" in The Spice & Herb Bible, 3rd edition, p635, Ian Hemphill

Legend has it that "thyme was included in the hay used to make a bed for the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child", The Spice & Herb Bible, 3rd edition, p634, Ian Hemphill

Preparing dried thyme needs some skill.  This video is useful:


Note: links good as at 15 January 2017

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Heightened discernment

This blog has regularly considered pewsitter discernment (see this post for example).  One’s need to exercise discernment is elevated when a member of clergy flags that there is a wave of unbelief that is influencing the church.
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A Sydney radio station; HopeFM, broadcasts a sermon from Reverend Manchester of St Thomas Anglican Church North Sydney each Sunday following the 0800 news bulletin.  The sermons are always spiritually nourishing.  My household hears our second sermon for the day at a local mid-morning church service.

Last Sunday morning, Reverend Manchester made an interesting observation about how there is a wave of unbelief sweeping the world.  He spoke of how the world has turned from gospel truths to accept worldly lies.  With all due respect Reverend Manchester added little by making such an observation in that many have recognised that the world is in a post-truth state.  Moreso, many have identified how the world is very good at selling lies.  However, Reverend Manchester did valuably add to the conversation by mention of how the wave of unbelief is also affecting the church.  Not pulling any punches, Reverend Manchester suggested that the wave of unbelief had not just affected congregations, but also clergy. 

Reverend Manchester’s observation was a small component part of a message germane the day’s subject text from the book of Acts.  He made his observation and purposefully moved on.  As such Reverend Manchester did not offer any examples of how the wave of unbelief is affecting the church.  I was left to speculate on examples. I recall that Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship rallied against cheap grace.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship (a form of unbelief in that one is not heeding the whole biblical message).  I speculate on some possible examples of unbelief affecting the church here:

Examples of the church following worldly form:

-        Homosexuality: that the Bible is contorted to suit people’s sexuality and lifestyles (as considered in this post),

-        Homosexuality: that the Bible can be used to justify appointment of clergy in same-sex relationships (as considered in this post),

-        Homosexuality: that clergy can swop camps (as considered in this post albeit that the gentlemen, at odds with senior clerics, supports his position based on his interpretation of Biblical truths).

Examples of the church allowing other form:

-        Muslim teaching: a Muslim being permitted to teach in a Christian cathedral from the Koran that: 'Allah can have no son' insists Surah 19 of the Koran.  The teaching repudiates a creedal concept of the Christian faith.

Examples of the church behaving badly:

-        Child sexual abuse: that clergy can justify the most heinous abuse of children and then cover-up each other’s behaviour (as evident from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and by general reference also this post),

-        Redefinition, or leniency of application of definition, of sin (as evident from this post).

Example of the church gnarling administration:

-        Sermon form and length: that sermons need to be shaped to worldly expectations that dictate form and length – at cost of power of delivery of God’s Word and at cost of Synod meeting time being directed to meatier matters (as considered in this post)

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God does not tolerate unbelief amongst those who know better.  Many who justify themselves before mankind will be dealt with most harshly by the ultimate judge.  Some will find that it would have been better that a millstone had been tied to their necks.


Note: All links good as at 9 January 2017

Note: On Homosexuality and calls for the Bible to meet relatively modern and diverse definitions of sexuality: No-one more misinterprets the Gospel than those that come to Jesus with clenched fists, rather than open palms.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Truth, by Michael Palin

'The Truth' was a novel that I hoped to read for some time.  In picking up a novel by an author I have never read I have a rule that I’ll persist to the 10% content point before choosing to conclude the whole.  One critical judgement at the 10% point is whether the main characters have been wholesomely developed, another is whether there is adequate orientation.

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With this novel, I stopped short of the 10% mark due to irritating language issues.  Two issues were observed:

1.     Palin tends to write in long sentences and the content of such sentences adds little to the story line. 

2.     Some of the language is really odd.

An example of the long sentence issue is perhaps best illustrated on page 21 of the paperback:

“He tugged at the phone cord, which had twisted itself  around the cast-iron umbrella stand that had so delighted Krystyna when she’d spotted it in a local junk shop”

On analysing this sentence:

-        There are two subjects – a phone cord and a cast-iron umbrella stand.  The two subjects are unrelated.

-        If it were necessary, the sentence could conclude with mention of the umbrella stand and a second sentence could form to further detail aspects of the umbrella stand. So, “He tugged at the phone cord, which had twisted itself around a cast-iron umbrella stand.  The umbrella stand had so delighted Krystyna when she’d spotted it in a local junk shop”

-        As the sentence occurs amid a telephone conversation then perhaps all that is of immediate relevance (the reader have been earlier told on page 20 that the phone was on a long line through the house) is: “He tugged at the phone cord”.

-        If the author needs to develop an understanding of Krystyna - as particular to her junk shop buying habits - then it could occur elsewhere.


An example of odd language is on page 23 with two joining sentences:

“It was evening and he was at the kitchen table, absently flicking through the pages of what turned out to be yesterday’s Evening Standard. Jay had prepared supper for the two of them, as always a little stronger on the lettuce than he would have preferred”

 The oddities are:

 -        One does not absently flick through pages of a paper only to make the observation as to the age or date of the paper.  One flicks absently through a paper instead in a distracted mode.  One’s focus would typically be elsewhere.  Palin has allowed his author’s voice to interfere here.  We are not in the mind of the character, but instead in the mind of the author.  That is, the author pictures his character as being an Evening Standard reader and is crafting the character as one which the audience would consider as an Evening Standard reader.  The sentence would be adequate as: “It was evening and he was at the kitchen table, absently flicking through the pages of a newspaper”.

-    “A little stronger on the lettuce” sounds absolutely Pythonesque.  It is surely a throwback to Palin’s Python days.  Supper can be a little stronger on an ingredient that may have some bite – such as garlic or chilli – but lettuce hardly ranks as something that would sway a supper.  Lettuce lends instead to an expression of: “Jay had prepared supper for the two of them, as always with a quantity of lettuce that was more than he would have preferred”.  In any instance, the clues as the nature of the meal, that arise as the meal is consumed, do not suggest any presence of lettuce in the meal.  This clue perhaps suggests a pasta dish: “Mabbut sank his fork, all too easily, into something maroon and semicircular”.  To Palin’s defence this could be an oddity of the editing process rather than the writing process.


All that being said, I feel that while the reader was well orientated by page 23, the characters were thinly drawn.   



Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sizing the playing field

Matthew 21:23-27 has held my attention this last week.  It is a fascinating set of verses. The recorded dialogue is between Jesus and the chief priests.  The venue is the temple courts. It is Passion Week (some commentators suggest it is Tuesday of the Passion Week). Jesus is asked a nested question and he replies to the question with a nested question of his own. Jesus sets terms in that he offers a reply to the question put to him if the chief priests can first answer his question.

The question put to Jesus follows form of questions put to him earlier in his ministry.  It is a question that seeks to uncover the authority by which Jesus acts:
“By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
The priests are quite possibly referring to the action of Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. The chief priests were probably quite disturbed by the over-turning of the tables in the temple (Matthew 21:12).
Jesus answers with a challenge and a question:
"Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.  John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?"

The challenge is in the form of drawing the priests to answer a question first.  

After some deliberation the priests answer "We don’t know” (verse 27) and Jesus concludes with “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things" (verse 27).

Now, it is a fascinating dialogue for a number of reasons.  Firstly, Jesus sees that the chief priests hold Jesus in some air of authority in that Jesus is emboldened to set the challenge. Secondly, the priests persist in wanting the answer to their question by accepting the challenge. Thirdly, the chief priests, as late as the Passion Week, seem not to have assessed Jesus' fulfilment of prophetic statements (the lame will walk, the blind will see etc).

A fourth reasons fascinates me the most.  The fascination derives from a simple aspect of the questions. It is mathematical.  While Jesus asks a closed binary question (one which has two mutually exclusive answers), the chief priests seemingly ask an open ended question (one which has many possible answers).  So, the answer to the question Jesus asks is a) or b) (heaven or man) whereas the possible answers to the chief priests questions seem to be p), q). r), s) ...... (Jesus for instance could answer God or Moses or Abraham or Zeus or Thor).  Jesus is asked a wide question, Jesus asks a narrow question.  Jesus reduces the playing field.  

Or, is it that simple?

This is where it becomes really fascinating.  While the nested question asked by the chief priests appears to be open ended.  It is in fact a closed binary question.  To understand this you need to understand the chief priests motives.  Jesus himself understood their motive.  The chief priests wanted to have Jesus state that he was authorised by God - in which case they would then accuse him of blasphemy, or to have Jesus state that his authority came from a non-God source in which case they would dismiss him.  Their question actually only has two answers (God or someone other than God (for instance: Moses, Abraham, Zeus or Thor)), God or not God. 

Jesus in his challenge and question is cleverly illustrating back to the chief priests the nature of their question - and the nature of their hearts.


Note: links correct at 7 January 2017

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Backhousia citriodora (Lemon Ironwood)

An Australian native tree, an evergreen rainforest plant, commonly referred to as Lemon Mytrle continues to amaze me.  Most recently I came across a grove of the immature trees that circled a fire circle within a NSW Public School.  Enquiries of one of the members of staff revealed the trees to be approximately three years old.  Some of the trees continued to hold their descriptive tag:

DESCRIPTION: This versatile plant is grown for its outstanding creamy-white flower display in summer.  The dark green leaves are often red when young and emit brilliant, citrus aroma.  A slow growing, attractive tree or bushy shrub.
One of sixteen Lemon Ironwood that are planted in an arc around a fire circle

The tag explained that the tree can grow in height to 10 metres with a mature width of 5 metres.  At an age of three years the tress had not yet reached a height of 1.6 metres.  They were planted in full sun, in sandy, well-drained soil.  Adjacent Davidson Plum trees were clearly burnt by the sun exposure.

I was fortunate to have someone harvest leaves for me.  These leaves were immediately set to dry for later processing into a crushed form.
Dried Lemon Myrtle leaves

If you intent to view the trees please be mindful that it is inclosed land and that you therefore need permission to access.