Friday, 21 September 2007

Blogging off until October 15

Things are going to be quiet over the next few weeks on this blog. The family is off on holidays until October 15.

Stay nice in the meantime, and y'all come back now.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Peter Holmes a Court on pokies

In today's SMH, Peter Holmes a Court talks about why he and Russell Crowe want to get rid of the pokies at South Sydney Leagues Club. And here's Tim Costello's opinion piece in the same paper.

I've written a letter to the SMH about it.

Roman Catholicism

My guest blogger this morning is Broughton Knox:

1975 has been declared by the Pope a Holy Year, so that Roman Catholics who visit Rome or go on other approved pilgrimages receive an indulgence, that is they are led to believe that punishment due for their sins will be remitted by this visit.

The Roman Catholic theory of indulgences goes hand in hand with the theory of purgatory. The two stand and fall together. Purgatory is said to be something whereby you make satisfaction after death for temporal punishment due to your sins, and an indulgence is the Pope’s action in letting you off these required satisfactions because of something else which you have done which he has nominated, for example a visit to Rome in Holy Year. But the Bible teaches that our sins are blotted out completely when we put our faith in Jesus and that there is no over-plus for which we have to give satisfaction in purgatory after death. Purgatory is a cruel doctrine, but it is a figment of the imagination. It has no basis. The Bible teaches, on the contrary, that at death Christians enter into the joyful presence of their Lord, because their sins are completely forgiven through his death.

When I was in Rome, I saw in a building near the Old Lateran Palace a staircase of 29 marble stairs which men and women, young and old, were climbing on their knees. A plaque at the bottom of the stairs stated that God would forgive the punishment of purgatory due to their sin for those who climbed these stairs on their knees, and that was why these people were engaged in this otherwise meaningless activity. I was reminded of Martin Luther when he visited Rome in 1510 before the Reformation movement began, how he had begun to climb these same stairs on his knees in the hope of obtaining indulgences and so shorten his time in purgatory. But half-way up the stairs a verse from the Bible rang through his mind: “The just shall live by faith”.

It was a verse from Habakkuk the Prophet which St Paul had re-echoed in his letter to the church at Rome. “The just shall live by faith.” Yet here was Luther trying to live by works, anxious to accumulate merit with God by climbing up these stairs on his knees. But the bible says, “The just shall live by faith”. This was God’s word. Luther wanted eternal life but he was trying to earn it by merit; but God had said, “The just shall live by faith”. We are told that Luther got up from his knees straight away, walked down and walked out. He turned his back on salvation by merit. For him from now on, it was salvation by trust in God.

“The just shall live by faith”: faith in what? Faith in God’s promises. God has spoken: some people hear and obey, others ignore his word going their own way. Those who hear have faith in him, and God accepts them and he gives them what he has promised. He promises to receive all who come to him through Christ; to save them; to forgive them. His word is clear: “If any man sin, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness”. Christ’s blood is the only purgatory we need. Since God promises that Christ's blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness there is nothing left over for an indulgence to cover. Since we are saved by faith we ought not to try and climb into his favour by our merit. It is up to us to believe him, to trust him, to thank him, to serve him, so that the peace of God which comes from the knowledge of forgiveness may take the place of fear and guilt.

D. Broughton Knox, "Holy Year" in Selected Works, Volume II, pp 411-412.

This one for you, Pete and Rachel ;-)

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Nother Russell Crowe story

Read a profile on him in the SMH a few years ago. Apparently like many aspiring actors he worked as a waiter in Bondi. However, he was sacked.

The reason? A woman asked him for a decaf soy skim milk latte or some similar pathetic excuse for the real thing. Russ returns and slams a glass of boiled water down on the table in front of her. She says "What's this?" He says "Lady, when we do decaf, we don't f— around."

Anger management issues.

When Al Stewart was at St Matthias Russell C dropped in and heard him preach. Thought Al did well.

Mike K comments on Bible distribution

Worthy of being pulled out of the comments page and onto the main page. Michael Kellahan says of the Bible distribution idea:

I think a couple of the strengths of the proposal are that:

1. it is more than just Bible distribution - as fantastic as that would be - it aims to make a connection between Christians and not yet Christians

2. This means each church (even leafy ones) will need to think about how to connect with their community. One of the great suggestions coming out of Synod has beeen the 'Adopt a block' scheme in Wollongong where church army plant is visiting the same blocks week after week after week. From this they've gained trust, provided genuine Christian charity through Anglicare, and had many come to a new church who'd never been to one before. Obviously you need to work out what will work at your church and it is contemplated some larger wealthier churches can help smaller struggling ones but it is encouraging all to be on mission.

When 60% of the city don't know a Christian who goes to church then we need to connect.

However I will say that 'adopt a block' reminds me of the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer adopts half a mile of motorway and decides to repaint the lines to give cars on 'his' section of road wider lanes. 3 lanes into 2 with no warning.

On yer, Russ

Always liked Russell Crowe.

In the latest, he's gotten rid of poker machines from South Sydney Leagues Club, costing himself a lot of revenue in the process but contributing to fighting the huge gambling problem in this state.

Poker machines have no redeeming social value at all.

"What we do in life echoes in eternity!"

-Russell Crowe as Maximus, Gladiator.

Selfishness--->population bust

If this Sydney Morning Herald report is accurate, we won't need to worry about an exploding Australian population any time soon. We will, however, have to face the consequences of an aging population, a weaker economy, and fewer stable families.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Still a good idea, a few days on.

A few days ago, I mentioned Peter Jensen's good idea.

It's still a good idea; one of the best. Giving a free Bible to people in Sydney Diocese has all sorts of potential to grow the church and bring glory to God.

Most important reason: It’s the word of God alone that grows the church—that’s basic. So looked at from a theological angle, to give people the word of God is to give the hope of bringing them into the church family and most importantly, relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Then when you look at it from the point of view of giving a gift, it’s a good thing to do also. It establishes friendly contact with strangers. It spurs the gift giver into making that contact and building on it. It is the best sort of gift, because there are no strings attached, no expectation of receiving any payment or gift in return, and if used for its intended purpose will give eternal life.

Arguing the economics of the operation really is a secondary question, especially when the hoped-for outcome is somewhat imponderable. You throw a lot of seed around in full knowledge that some of it will fall on the path, or rocky or thorny ground. If the seed you were throwing around was better child-care programmes, provision of car-parking spaces, or amped-up music, you might well think twice about using such things as tactics to grow the church.

In comparison to alternatives, I personally could handle the idea of 99 mulched Bibles for one that was read and responded to. Mulch is good recycling anyway, and imagine the bad uses the paper might have gone to otherwise.

And the giving of the Bible in no way precludes you from other ways of speaking the truth in love, or living out what you believe by showing kindness in other ways.

I would also like to think that certain areas of Sydney Dio would receive priority attention in this project. Let’s doorknock or letterbox poorer and Muslim areas before we do the leafy North Shore. They can buy their own mulch, and perhaps even have money to spare to think of buying Bibles to support the mission of the church in poorer areas.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Empowering the laity

Lay presidency at the Lord's supper has been considered for about 30 years in Sydney Diocese. Now it's being looked at again, and looks set to be allowed to happen this time.

This is the way it should be. The idea that a special priestly caste should have the role of leading the Lord's Supper is at best anachronistic. It reflects the Roman Catholic idea that the leader of the church has a priestly role of mediating between man and God, and is nowhere to be found in the New Testament.

I first led the Lord's Supper as a layman in an Anglican Church back in 1985. We remembered together our Lord's death for the forgiveness of our sins, and life went on.

Friday, 14 September 2007

North Austinmer beach

My daughter Ruby at North Austinmer beach.

Will heaven be better than this? You bet it will. This whole world is under judgement, which is our only hope that greater things lie ahead. In the meantime, the world has so many glories of its own to offer, that if you didn't believe in judgement you would say nothing of the gospel.

Matilda took the photo.

The gospel in the newspapers

When someone actually gets the gospel into the letters pages, it is worth more than a hundred feral elections.

Grace comes for nothing

How do you know if you have done enough good deeds in order to be acceptable to God? This is the dilemma of everyone whose religion has no concept of free forgiveness. Mother Teresa's religious doubt and spiritual emptiness was as understandable as it was tragic ("To doubt God is human, and to hell with convention," September 13). If only she had read her Bible she would have seen that grace is a gift, not something that one earns.

Joshua Bovis, Lambton (SMH 14 September)

What I love most about this letter is not so much Josh's letter as great as it is, but the (presumably pagan) subeditor's heading. "Grace comes for nothing". The subeditor has understood what grace means, and that is an extraordinary victory for Christian thought in a society which cares nothing for God.

Well done Josh. Keep writing. We need persistent, faithful newspaper correspondents. I've just been re-reading Jim Packer on the Puritans and his well-researched view is that spiritual revival in the 17th century, just as real as its 18th century counterpart though less well publicized, was (under God) due to puritan writing.

And deliberately dumbed down writing, too. These guys worked overtime to tell the gospel straight, without clever allusion and witty sesquipedelian flourishes. JC Ryle later called it 'crucifying your style'.

Costello vs Rudd

That's what it is now really.

Peter Costello may give a better account of himself under the spotlight than he has as the man in the photos as a smirking sidekick. His debating skills and his command of detail and policy are impressive.


And the really big thing is that the Prime Minister won't even win Bennelong.

From this report:

Sucking on a cigar, Downer presided. The Foreign Minister opened by saying the Prime Minister had asked him to get their opinions. He told the group that Howard had concerns about whether he could win the forthcoming federal election, and concerns about whether he could hold his seat of Bennelong. The Prime Minister wanted the matter resolved as soon as possible, said Downer, according to participants.

The meeting ran for about two hours but this opening statement struck the group's collective confidence with the force of an incoming howitzer shell.

The polling in this area (I'm in Bennelong) has shown him to be behind Maxine McKew for months.

One of my personal worries: What is Rudd's policy on mandatory detention of asylum seekers? I'm not aware that it's any different from the government's. But perhaps the next immigration minister will be able to bring in something more humane.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

John Howard resigns

No. But he should have. The election is unwinnable and he is just prolonging the pain.

Howard said that he would go when the party told him it was time to go. So he asked, and they told him, and now he's still here.

Seems this is another 'non-core' promise. But people don't like being lied to, and this really is the end. Howard will be gone by the end of the year.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Sydney pedestrians

Sydney pedestrians are a downtrodden lot. Jan Gehl, urban design dude, talks about how the city could be a better place:

We found many footpaths interrupted by drive-ways and carpark entrances. Here the pedestrian should be king, not the delivery van going into a parking bay.

We also noticed in our Sydney survey that some groups were very obviously absent from the city: children and the elderly. A civilised city welcomes all, and provides access for baby strollers and wheelchairs; it lets vulnerable people feel safe. A city for children also provides delight and surprise in creative public space and art.

But how can we do that, if the streets are wall-to-wall traffic? Where are the shared-zone streets or pedestrian laneways?

Above all, where is the sense of Sydney as a great harbour city, which should be celebrated in many different ways with recycled water used in features throughout the CBD. We need to thread water through the city as a reminder that this is part of Sydney's unique spirit, that we are, even in mid-town, in Sydney and not in Kansas City.

If Sydney is to deal with climate change and remain a great global city, the creation of a welcoming city for pedestrians and cyclists will mark a giant step forward. It can only benefit all residents and businesses because, as I have said before, a good city is like a good party - people will always stay longer than they planned.

Polly Seidler got a letter about it in today's SMH:

While we all wish Jan Gehl and our Lord Mayor well in their aims to make Sydney more friendly to pedestrians, surely, unless Sydney's wider public transport system is addressed and cars are forbidden in the town centre (as they are in Vienna), city office parking spaces will continue to be marks of prestige for our top executives and the only way to allow unencumbered pedestrian walking will be within a spaghetti of overflying freeways as it is in Darling Harbour.

Polly Seidler, Darlinghurst

Having more and enjoying it less

Ross Gittins speculates in this article about why we are about to throw out a Federal government in a country where the economy is healthy and people's living standard has never been better.

From the article:

That question does reveal our present materialist mind-set. Why do we so easily assume that the state of the economy will be paramount in voters' political calculations? Who said material prosperity is the only thing we demand of our leaders?

But it also reveals a failure to understand the nature of materialism, which is that it's insatiable. Howard has venerated the "aspirational voter" but such people are going to be hard to satisfy if they're allowed to believe any failure to achieve their continuously rising aspirations is the government's fault.

Is it wrong to have aspirations? Of course not. They do help to keep the world turning. But if the best you can do is aspire to be ever more prosperous - as the pollies seem to assume is the extent of people's aspirations - that's hardly ennobling.

From St Paul:

But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

-1 Timothy 6:8-9

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

The worldwide society of Gordon Cheng

I started a group on Facebook called The worldwide society of Gordon Cheng for the 14 or so people (at last count) on Facebook who are called 'Gordon Cheng'. But ... er ... some of the rest of you seem to have joined.

If it gets to 500 members I will change my name to Gordon Ingmar Hingwah Cheng.

Update: Since posting this, one of you left! Now we're down to 6 members!


This article says that Sydney's pedestrians are treated as second class citizens and that the traffic laws encourage them to jaywalk.

But surely if we had APEC style laws in place all the time, then this problem could be solved by the simple expedient of crash tackling the jaywalkers, wrestling them to the ground and holding them in prison without a lawyer for 22 hours?

It would certainly make me more watchful, and add new interest to my morning walk up Bathurst St.

Peter Jensen's good idea.

Here it is:

I have a dream - a dream to give all our fellow citizens in [Sydney] Diocese a copy of the word of God. This would have to be a major Christian effort and would involve planning, training, publications, prayer. If we set aside the year of 2009 in particular (the 50th anniversary of the first Billy Graham Crusade) and worked together on such a great project, I think we would experience much joy in the Lord's service. It would also help fulfil the aim of our Diocesan Mission that all may hear his call to repent and believe on him.

Would it not be a wonderful thing if, over the years following such an effort, many people became Christians? Would it not be wonderful if some person to whom you gave a copy of the word of God read it and was saved? Such things happen and we ought to trust God and pray to him that he will bless the distribution of his word in our region.

So everybody in Sydney gets a Bible. What a great idea! And personally delivered—if we could manage this, it would be wonderful for our personal relationships with the rest of the community and open up all sorts of opportunities for conversation.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Iran and Iraq

Meanwhile, in Iran and Iraq, Christians are being tortured and killed for continuing to talk about Jesus and the hope he offers.

It does rather annoy me to hear Christians in the West talking about how Christianity would be more attractive and our churches would grow if we had better music, bigger bands, and people turned up to church on time to hear scintillating 20 minute sermons with good PowerPoint presentations and plenty of carparking space available outside.

I bet you 20 cents that the Christians being persecuted for continuing to trust their Lord in the Middle East are not thinking about car spaces. But their advice that church growth might be aided by suffering and martyrdom in the cause of the gospel is unlikely to be broadly popular as part of strategic thinking in churches in the Sydney Hills district. How about in your church?


Stopped buying them because they were too expensive. You know, those dishwasher tablets.

After a few years and the recent advertising campaign, was reminded of them. The daft thing about putting stuff in the dishwasher and using the regular powder is that you have to wash the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, or they will come out dirty.

So went back to using them in the last 2 days, and do you know? They actually work. You put dirty dishes in, and they come out clean. So maybe we will go back to using them.


Funny in a sad way how a man can put up with some sort of pain for a long time and then one event can push him over the edge.

I am seeing a friend tomorrow in this situation, and hope that being there can be some sort of comfort for him.

The Rich Fool

Last night Max Walker invited me to Greenwich Presbyterian, along with Richard Beeston's band, to talk about 'a smart investment plan that doesn't involve money'—a short talk based on this passage, the story of the rich fool.

This man in Jesus' story, the Kerry Packer of his day, tears down his barns to build bigger ones so he can fit all his grain in. But he knows nothing of God and appears to have no-one but himself to talk to.

Friends from years ago were there, Steve and Veronica Pym, now working with this church. They are fluent Spanish speakers, having spent years as missionaries in South America.

And one lady, who just wandered in because of the letterbox advertising, was a fluent Spanish speaker who had decided on the basis of the talk to go home and read Luke's gospel.

Another small but wonderful example of God's providence in action. Veronica and this woman had a long and fruitful conversation after the meeting. The God of infinite wisdom brought them together for a short while.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

APEC madness

A man was arrested for jaywalking in Sydney yesterday and spent 22 hours in jail!

A moment of APEC madness. You worry about the police who did this.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Friends ex-villawood detention.

Hendry Wan sent me an e-mail (thanks H!) pointing to this article in today's Sydney Morning Herald featuring friends Amir and Hui Rong from church. Both have been in Villawood Detention Centre before being released.

The way we treat our detainees and asylum seekers is a national disgrace, and is one of the issues I'm concerned about in weighing up candidates up as we approach the next Federal Election.


Thanks to the APEC conference we have a public holiday today, and a new definition for the next edition of the Macquarie Dictionary: lockdown.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Chinese brutality

For some time now there have been suggestions that the Chinese government is involved in organ harvesting from members of the Falun Gong.

Some Canadians are here for APEC week to highlight what's been happening.

A brutal regime. Pray that the Christians in China (and outside it for that matter) may be able to have an influence on government.

APEC and Batman

What with all these world leaders in town—George Bush and Hu Jintao already here; Vladimir Putin due to arrive tomorrow—Sydney is feeling more and more like Gotham City in one of the Batman movies.

Not just any Batman movie, mind you, but Batman: The Movie made in 1966 and starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as his sidekick Robin.

As well as some of my favourite villains—Catwoman, the Joker, the Penguin and the Riddler—the movie features an exploding shark, some ducks whose existence is threatened by a bomb Batman is trying to dispose of ("Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!") and the dehydrated and powdered members of the United World Security Council.

The book of the movie was pretty good too.

Bourne again

Like I said, I really hope to see The Bourne Ultimatum one day. In the meantime, here is an extract of a review from the New Yorker:

Matt Damon, looking more like a bullet than ever—short hair, blunt nose, no stubble—returns as the out-in-the-cold C.I.A. agent Jason Bourne, who carried out illegal assassinations for the agency, which now wants to get rid of him... Eventually, he gets himself in a position to survey the surveyors and hunt the hunters, but all he wants is the return of his identity, which was filched from him during his training. The director, Paul Greengrass (who also made the second film in the series, "The Bourne Supremacy"), composes the movie in tiny fragments, but we see what we need to see, and the result is pretty nearly always thrilling. Some of the chase sequences go on for as long as ten minutes...

-The New Yorker, August 20, 2007

'Filched' is a great word.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Trinity and Biblical inerrancy

By popular demand, another Broughtonism:

The doctrine of the Trinity is the glory of the Christian faith. It is drawn entirely from revelation. It depends on the absolute truth of the sentences through which the Scriptures teach us about God and his nature, his character, his purposes, his actions and promises. The doctrine depends, for example, on the infallibility and inerrancy of the teaching in St John's Gospel, or the Epistle to the Ephesians or the last paragraph of St Matthew's Gospel, because the doctrine of the Trinity is not enunciated fully in any one passage but is gathered from many statements of the Scriptures. If we cannot rely on the verbal inspiration of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity has no basis.

-"The Implications of the Doctrine of the Trinity for Theology and for Ordinary Life", Appendix B, The Everlasting God (Selected Works, Vol I) p. 153

Broughton insists here on both the infallibility and the inerrancy of Scripture, neither confounding their meanings nor dividing their substance.

Watching Craig Tucker

Craig talks about setting up MTS (Ministry Training Strategy, a two year pre-theological ministry apprenticeship) at Drummoyne on the DVD I'm watching. Funny, he talks about how MTS is seen as too much of an Anglican thing in some parts of the Presbyterian church in Sydney and regional areas.

Because in Melbourne, the complaint is that MTS is far too Presbyterian!

I hope that the MTS 'virus' is able to keep jumping denominational barriers and infect gospel minded people everywhere. Because it's not really about shoring up denominational structures, but finding good ways to put 2 Timothy 2:2 into practice.

...and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful [people] who will be able to teach others also.

Watching Paul Dale

Superlative stuff on preaching and how to train others in preaching. All of it will end up going into the DVD(s) I'm working on for MTS (Ministry Training Strategy, a 2 year apprenticeship in ministry programme normally undertaken prior to theological study).

Paul points out that Richard Baxter, the great Puritan preacher, spent fully half of his sermons preaching application of the passages he was exegeting. I don't know if I'd want to see all ministers trying to do quite that much, but it would be a stretching exercise for most of our preaching (and I dare say, useful for our hearers) if we all worked harder on this side of things.

Watching Sandy Grant

Sandy Grant is another man who is on video talking about MTS (Ministry Training Strategy) training. Again, wonderful stuff.

He, like me, believes that ministry training really is ministry. So in training ministry apprentices, one of the things he does is encourage them to speak to other people about the gospel. The suggestion he makes is to ask the non-church person if they mind helping out with training the trainee, who wants to learn how to communicate what Christians believe and wants to practice on a real live person.

The other person is almost always happy to help out. And more often than not, lo-and-behold a pretend conversation about Jesus turns into a real conversation about Jesus (showing that ministry training really is ministry) with benefits flowing in both directions.

Post-secular universities.

Gary Bouma is reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald as arguing that universities ought to reconsider their secular stance.

I'm not sure that he's rightly understood the historical reason for secular universities, which is not to exclude religion, but to ensure that no one religion is made compulsory. Witness Sydney and Melbourne Universities, both secular, and yet recognizing and catering to church-run residential colleges—a quite deliberate move on the part of those who founded the universities.

That said, it's probably good to remind secularists that we are moving into a post-secularist society, and Bouma's talk at UWS does this.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

"I don't want any comments or feedback"

One of my favourite quotes, from a minister I used to work for.

If I was courageous enough, I would say this at every staff meeting. ;-)

Passive-aggressive billboards

Some people don't like the idea of God judging us, but are too scared to say so.

So a church billboard which says "You are under the judgement of God and are going to hell" would give them the screaming heebie jeebies, but they would have to find a way to say so without also attracting attention to the fact that they have stopped believing in the idea of divine judgement—if indeed they ever did.

Instead they will talk in terms of the need for respect, love, gentleness, humility and the desire not to be misunderstood. As if to speak truthfully about the reality of judgement, even if in a short-hand way, is somehow not respectful, loving, gentle or humble.

However, rather than giving slightly timorous people grief, it seems to me that we need a line of regular billboards which state gospel truths in a rather blunt and unvarnished way, and a whole 'nother line of passive aggressive billboards that don't really speak of judgement, but kind of hint that all is not well...

"We all share in the guilt"

"Why can't we all just be nice to each other?"

"God is very disappointed."

"About something."

"I think you know what I'm talking about."

"Do I have to spell it out?"

"I hope you understand faint disapproval."

"Remember to breathe."

"Practice random acts of kindness."

"Watch this space"

Admittedly, some of these slogans are not particularly obvious. But their juxtaposition with a nearby church building should be enough to help people pick up the hint. I can almost now see the penny dropping—people reading such billboards, noticing the nearby church and falling to the ground convicted by guilt and crying "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5)

Sounds like The Bourne Ultimatum will be great

I say sounds like, because after an intensely busy period I took Fifi along to see it this morning.

Actually, I tell a lie. She took me. Fifi has to drive, because she gets carsick otherwise.

Me, I don't get carsick. I can, and do, sit in the back of the bus and read away whilst working on the laptop.

I do, however, get movie sick when watching movies like The Bourne Ultimatum, where the camera people had been given handfuls of amphetamines and pogosticks, issued with their cameras and told to go to it.

So Fifi watched it and loved it. I watched for fifteen minutes and then closed my eyes for the rest of the movie to stop myself from throwing up. It sounded fantastic. I managed to watch a good part of the fight scene in Morocco with one eye half open, and it was just spectacular.

When it finally goes to DVD, I will watch it on our telly, which has a very small screen indeed. This will save my tummy and our rug.

Pathetic little men

Some MTS trainers ought to have warning labels attached. They will have their curricula, their programmes, their expectations, their promises about what to expect, their clipboards, their stock phrases, and their ability to suck up to people they consider to be important.

And they will treat their trainees like dirt while expecting them to show loyalty, respect and gratitude.

Don't ask. I'm not telling.

What's MTS doing?

"We're training officers not soldiers, so we train in principle not procedure."

-Phillip Jensen

Consequently, no curriculum. It's a way of seeing the world.

How did MTS start?

"It was cheap labour."

-Phillip Jensen.

Far more to it than this of course. If the person training you knows what they are on about, it is worth paying them for the privilege.

The other good thing about hearing Phillip describe what he was doing (on the DVD, which I'm currently listening to as I type) is that he admits to having no curriculum whatsoever, which to this very day remains my philosophy of training. ie Bumbling along. Phillip trained me well!

Hmm, perhaps I will edit myself back in to the final cut.

Can't stand watching myself

So I will almost certainly edit myself completely out of the final cut of the MTS DVDs, and leave the ground to people who not only know what they're talking about but look like they know what they're talking about.

Still plenty of good material, but.

MTS failures

I know nothing about long term statistics on ministry dropouts. Of those in my year of college who did MTS (Ministry Training Strategy, a 2 year training programme you do before theological study) at UNSW, and the ones immediately before me and after me, 100% of us are still in ministry, or have returned to ministry after some time in the wilderness.

Now pride comes before a fall, and who knows what failures lie ahead? Or indeed, successes, as we see those who we thought were 'dropouts' from ministry—and sometimes possibly even Christianity—returning to the faith (if indeed they ever left it) and being used by God in all sorts of wonderful ways.

I wouldn't want to sheet home ministry success or failure to a training programme, whether MTS or other, as all of it, every last bit of good that happens, is a work of God's Holy Spirit.

But 2 years doing MTS, as well as being training for ministry, really is ministry. By the end of it, you will have a very good idea of what it involves, along with the opinion of a broad cross-section of people, some of whom are worthy of respect. It's pretty useful, I say, to have that experience before you fork out the dollars and the four years necessary to obtain a decent theological education.

Yes, I recognize that is a pragmatic argument, but I've always been a pragmatist.

Watching Ben Pfahlert

I am currently reviewing hours and hours of material taped by Col Marshall as he interviews leaders who have been involved in training apprentices in ministry.

There is some marvellous pragmatic stuff from Ben Pfahlert (current national director of the MTS, Ministry Training Strategy) about why it is actually efficient to add two years to your training for ministry before going on to enter theological college. It looks like a waste of time to spend six years rather than four in training, before you even hit your first longterm paid ministry role. But Ben makes the point that heaps of pastors drop out of ministry over the years, and for a good number of them (in Ben's observation) it has to do with them just not really knowing what it was going to be like before they started the long and arduous process of training for it. A two year MTS-style apprenticeship is going to give a pretty solid sense of what it will be like.

I also really appreciated his statement of the big lesson he says he learned as a ministry apprentice: that it is God's job to fill ministry holes (whether Bible study leaders or others), and so the best response is not to panic but to pray.

This material is pure gold—wonderful practical and theological thinking from Tara Thornley, Joshua Ng, Phillip Jensen and a heap of others (I'm in there too). And Col Marshall is, seriously, one of the best interviewers I have seen. There is a mountain of material here that will certainly repay the effort of trainee trainers in watching them. I have the job of ensuring that the material ends up well indexed, edited and accessible; as well as linking it to the MTS training manual I'm working on with Col Marshall.

The process is going to take a while. I believe that by the time we've finished working on this resource we're going to have something that will be of extraordinary gospel benefit for our generation of gospel workers. Also, I am hoping that Col will keep interviewing and adding to what we have.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Watching yourself

Just watched myself on video.

I have very squinty eyes.

Or maybe that's just an Asian thing.

Uncle Joe

We had Father's day with my dad yesterday. Our three girls, Fifi, me and he went to yum cha.

He told the girls about Uncle Joe, his mum's brother, who lived with her at Campsie until she moved to Top Ryde. He then moved into the Southern Cross Hotel, a pub on the corner of Princes Highway and Ricketty St in St Peters, and lived there for the rest of his life.

He had been a member of the Communist Party, but it had done him no good at all when he'd returned to China after the communist takeover of 1949. He was treated just like any bourgeouis landowner.

All letters out of China were subject to censorship at the time. My father remembers one of Joe's which started with the words "As a loyal member of the Australian Chinese Communist Party..."

My grandmother had 3 brothers, Joe, George and Rudd (he was the Chinese boxer in Jimmy Sharman's boxing troupe).


Nice story


From Paul Sheehan in today's SMH...

Researching this subject, it was fascinating to find the many scholarly studies which measured positive roles that companion animals play in social life, with dogs at the forefront. Various studies have concluded that animal owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, higher survival rates after serious illness, and suffer less from loneliness or depression. A number of studies have concluded that companion animals tend to enhance family life.

On the other hand, there comes a tipping point where the whole household turns into a giant furball that requires daily vacuuming and plunges the family economy even deeper into mortgage stress.

We will end up homeless but at least we will have three dogs and a cat to stop us getting depressed about it. And park benches don't require vacuuming.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Judgement, hope and joy

Charles Wesley understood that the ground of the Christian's hope and joy is firmly grounded in the reality of God's judgement:

Rejoice in glorious hope! Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear th’archangel’s voice;
The trump of God shall sound, rejoice!

The great truths set out in this final verse of his hymn are resisted or misunderstood by many Christians today, and even evangelicals are constantly losing sight of them. One good reason for rediscovering at least a few of the old hymns is that they have a far more fullblooded understanding of the grace and gooodness of the gospel than the spineless and anaemic contributions of far too many present day choruses.

Very rarely do we find songs that rejoice in the truth and hope and awe of final judgement. Here's one I love:

Great God, what do I see and hear?
The end of things created!
The Judge of mankind doth appear,
On clouds of glory seated.
The trumpet sounds, the graves restore,
The dead which they contained before!
Prepare, my soul, to meet Him.

The dead in Christ shall first arise
At the last trumpet’s sounding.
Caught up to meet Him in the skies,
With joy their Lord surrounding.
No gloomy fears their souls dismay,
His presence sheds eternal day
On those prepared to meet Him.

But sinners, filled with guilty fears,
Behold His wrath prevailing.
In woe they rise, but all their tears
And sighs are unavailing.
The day of grace is past and gone;
Trembling they stand before His throne,
All unprepared to meet Him.

Great God, to Thee my spirit clings,
Thy boundless love declaring.
One wondrous sight my comfort brings,
The Judge my nature wearing.
Beneath His cross I view the day
When Heav’n and earth shall pass away,
And thus prepare to meet Him.

What wonderful grace and glory is found here. All that is old and corrupt and dead and diseased and sinful will be set to rights. The old has gone, the new has come. It's completely fitting that a tune by Martin Luther is one of the best known settings for this song (on cyber-hymnal here).

We've lost the sense of the awe-fullness of God's grace in and through judgement. Consequently our evangelism is wet, gutless, flaccid and prone to regular outbursts of gimmickry and postmodernist church growth techniques, and general gimcrackery. It's only in, with, and under judgement that the hope of salvation is discovered.


Isaiah knew this:

Is. 6:13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

and it's surely not without significance that Jesus quotes this very chapter and vision of Isaiah at such a crucial stage of his ministry. In judgement, and only in judgement, is found the hope of glory.

And indeed, the glory of God is revealed to us only under the mask of the cross, and nowhere else.


Saturday, 1 September 2007

Ratatouille—the movie

A friend invited us to a preview/premiere today (thanks Catriona)!

Lot of fun for the kids, with amazing animation. Fur, hair, rain, water and Paris—I can't imagine how much computing and programming power they chewed up to do that.

I rate it better than Shrek III (not hard), but not quite as good as the other Shreks. It's by the same people who did The Incredibles, Pixar. The rats look really ratty. The ratatouille looks pretty ratatouilly, and the final ratatouille, sliced and done under waxed paper, will interest foodies everywhere. Hope that doesn't count as a spoiler.

Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 96%, which is amazing.

The final food review by Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole) is a delight and worth seeing the movie for.