The Status of Preaching

While reading Second Timothy as Paul instructs Timothy from prison to be a staunch and steadfast promoter of the gospel and to “correctly handle the word of truth”, it struck me that many of the examples of preaching that I encounter stand in stark contrast to that injunction. Pop psychology, platitudes, personal views and alternate readings, replace what should be at the heart of preaching – God’s infallible Word.

Even worse, some preachers encourage their hearers to find “their own truth” in the text. This is a very postmodernist approach where we all have our own “truths”. All we need to do is discover it. God’s truth, is secondary to our “truth”.

I found an alternative view in a church in Porvoo, Finland, a number of years ago. As the preacher approached the pulpit, above the door to the pulpit the cleric would have read: 1 Cor 1:21 “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” And as the preacher left, on the other side, 1 Cor 4:20 “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” For me, it highlights the fact of God’s truth is proclaimed through the foolish mouths of humans. However, this Word, as it comes from God, is empowered to change lives and destinies. It doesn’t give us an excuse to replace God’s Word with some fantasy of our own.

Our foolishness, however, does not give us liberty to stray from God’s word. This must always be at the heart of all preaching.

Categories: Bible, Christianity, preaching, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Medieval parenting

My wife and I were discussing parenting for faith last night as we often do. We reflected on the perilous social conditions that confront Christian parents today.

I cast my mind back to my own parents who were foundational in their influence on my life, especially with regard to faith. My parents were two very different people. My mother believed and knew what she believed and nothing would dissuade her. My dad, on the other hand, had a more tumultuous relationship with his Creator. He struggled with understanding God’s actions, His revelation of himself, His fairness and many other aspects of the God revealed in Scripture. But there was one absolute truth that both my parents abided by – God was real! And that is what I mean by Medieval Parenting – there is no question around the existence of God. It is a given. In Medieval times there were no atheists. In my family, growing up, the reality of God’s existence was always at the heart of our family life. This truth guided our decision making, priorities and also guided us through life, which, at the time, being a migrant family with few resources, was an amazing comfort. We were in God’s hands no matter what happened or whether or not we understood Him..

What I particularly appreciated about my father’s relationship with God was that God was a constant presence in the conversations. In prayer, in family devotions and at Christian gatherings God was always in the middle the conversation. Never on the periphery.

Looking back, I treasure my father’s open struggles in understanding God. It gave me a living example of what we often see in the Psalms – the psalmist questioning God, angry at God, confused by God but always conversing with God.

“Medieval parenting” starts with a living and real relationship with God and the question of His existence is never part of the conversation.

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The Pornification of our Culture

Currently I am reading Carl R. Trueman’s brilliant unpacking of our contemporary social morass in his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. This mind-bending unravelling of the nature of modern identity in the West is a “must read”. However, I just want to reflect on one chapter: Chapter 8 – The Triumph of the Erotic. In this chapter Trueman explores how Surrealism, inspired by the likes of Marx but particularly Freud, made a concerted attempt to destroy Christianity via the means of a sexual revolution.

The author traces how this process has worked in what he describes as the “pornification of mainstream culture.” We see this in more recent times through the rise of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine in the 1960s through to explicit sexual acts in mainstream television and films in the 2000s. There has been an increasingly overt wearing down of the old sexual morals. What was once hidden  in dark places is now celebrated out in the open. As he points out, in today’s context Hefner looks conservative. Now porn in every aspect our culture is the norm.

The author then goes on to look at the implications for violence particularly towards women, and the impact of this revolution on the feminist movement as a whole.

My precis is brief and insufficient, however, the question this chapter raises for me is, how do we protect our children from this inescapable onslaught? In some ways contemporary society must resemble the situation of the early church in a pagan environment in which the culture was etched into every aspect of daily life. How do you grow up faithful to the gospel in such an environment?

Here are some thoughts, but I would love readers to add their contributions as well. For the church, this is a communal issue in which community must play a crucial role in the response:

  1. Nurturing faith must be a parent and church’s highest priority. Faith is both the foundation for protection but also the restorer when failures occur.
  2. Modelling within the family and church is key: what we say, what we watch, how we respond to the inappropriate must always be consistent with our faith. Children watch our every move and are expert at detecting hypocrisy.
  3. Nurturing responsibility is also important. Age-appropriate steps in trust and responsibility are essential. Teaching strategies in reading and watching and choosing what to read and watch is essential.
  4. Many of the practical parenting ideas given (by a variety of programs) with regard to the internet are helpful, but ultimately children need to be responsible for their own choices and action.

These are just a few broad ideas. But Carl Trueman is right when describes this as an assault. The “pornification of our society” is an attack on faith, the family and the church. There are many who see these as outdated institutions. Therefore, we must be prepared to defend these institutions vigorously and passionately with the welfare of the most vulnerable foremost in our mind.

Categories: Children, christian education, Christianity, Faith | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

To Be Near Unto God

I have used this brilliant quote before but it is worth highlighting again. It comes from the introduction to Abraham Kuyper’s delightful collection of devotions: To Be Near Unto God.

Love for God may be fine sentiment. It may be sincere and capable of inspiring holy enthusiasm, while the soul is still a stranger to fellowship with the eternal, and ignorant of the secret walk with God. The great God may still not be your God. Your heart may still not be attuned to the passionate outburst of delight: I love the Lord. For love of God in general is so largely love for the idea of God, love for the Fountain of life, the Source of all good, the Watcher of Israel who never slumbers; in brief, love for him who, whatever else changes, abides the same eternally.

But when the heart can say: I love the Lord, the idea of the Eternal becomes personified. Then God becomes the Shepherd who leads us, the Father who spiritually begat us, the covenant-God to whom we sustain the covenant relation, the Friend who offers us friendship, the Lord whom we serve, the God of our trust, who is no longer merely God, but our God.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God,  Kindle Edition.

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Robe – A Gem

I have travelled quite extensively around my area of the world but every now and then one finds a gem that has been missed in the past. In our recent trip to South Australia we went to Robe, in the South East corner not far from Mt Gambier. It is situated on an attractive bay. A stone obelisk on Cape Dombey which guided ships to the harbour, is still extant.

In the mid-1800s it was South Australia’s second busiest port. At this time Chinese migrants wishing to avoid Victoria’s arrival tax landed here and walked the 400 kilometres to Ballarat. It is estimated that 16000 travelled this path! The port became redundant with the advent of the railways and the wool and sheepskins which had previously been exported from here found another way of reaching their destinations.

What remains however is an attractive village which, by Australian standards, contains a collection of fine historical buildings – houses, churches and pubs. It is quite a treat to wander around the village with the aid of a pamphlet produced by the local council.

Today it is a holiday retreat with a protected marina for the keen fishermen. The fine old buildings are interspersed with modern units and houses. The town is alive and active but its C21st life is a far cry from the square riggers finding safe harbour here over 150 years ago.

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Why are we doing this?

Hetty Stok

The following is a post by my wife after observing parliament this week.

At a time when our society is becoming a place where rules are up for negotiation at best and completely ignored at worst, the federal election produced a Prime Minister who promises to go back to the parliamentary standards of the past. Less of the adversarial politics. No more shouty Question Time. Politicians held accountable. Integrity.

It’s probable that the PM himself will have trouble holding to his standards but at least he has voiced them; he has put the parliament on notice.

But our world no longer works like that. No wonder then that when a young new politician arrives in the chamber minus the regulation tie, there is a hew and cry. Just a small hew and cry from a fellow MP pointing out the error, followed by a louder Media hew and cry questioning why this archaic rule still exists. 

Another young, new politician is asked to give the pledge of allegiance before taking her seat in the Senate. She proceeds to make up her own pledge, elevating herself to Sovereign, and then insulting the Queen. The Media’s reaction? Headlines announcing that it’s time to change the pledge and ditch the monarchy.

Has this become the way we tackle the many ‘laws’ of life? When a father tells his child to eat breakfast and then get ready for school, should the child tell her father that breakfast is not to her taste and “Who made you the boss of me, anyway?” Well, yes. Modern parenting says that response is perfectly fine. Any wonder then that school children are allowed to stamp their feet and shout ‘no!’ That young people are encouraged to belligerently demand ‘why?’ And that our leaders, caught in a lie or a corruption, calmly tell us “Move on, nothing to see here.” Or, worse still, they call for a change to the archaic rules or the restrictive system.

Perversely, when we are confronted with people who don’t behave in a way our new society has deemed to be correct, we want politicians to make a law to force right behaviour. And punishment for those who disobey. Yet we have created a perfect environment that encourages disobedience and non-compliance.

Perhaps the real issue comes back to the young new politician who proclaimed she was ‘Sovereign’. Don’t we all like to think we are the ruler of our own world? Isn’t it time we realised that the title ‘Sovereign’ implies care for others, responsibility, sacrifice, dedication, and most of all, unselfish behaviour?

Categories: Hetty's Devotions | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

“Everyone Who Loves and Practices Falsehood”

I first wrote this over 10 years ago. Reflecting on it, I thought it was worth reposting.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  Rev 22:14 & 15

Every now and then as I am reading the Bible a phrase or word jumps out at me. It may be something that I hadn’t noticed or reflected on before. In our staff devotions at school Revelation 22 was read and I closed my eyes and listened. I have read or heard this passage on many occasions and reflected on it. However, this time, the phrase “everyone who loves and practices falsehood” made me sit up and take notice.

We live in a world of “spin”. Politicians, companies and celebrities hire “spin’ experts – people to put the “right” perspective on an issue or dilemma. “Spin” is the key to advertising and promotion. I think we could rightly say that “spin” is part of everyday life.

I remember, years ago, attending regular meetings of church leaders and we were called to report on our individual churches. Looking back in hindsight, there was a lot of “spin” happening. Despite issues in the churches, in this public forum we put ourselves in the best light. We do it as individuals as we try to make ourselves look good, knowing all the while, that in reality we are hiding the truth.

A friend once reflected, after a visit to Holland, where one can look into the front rooms of nearly every immaculately presented house, that it reflected his family. The front room, in this case the way his family appeared, was tidy and well kept, but in the back rooms there was chaos anger, lies and pain.

As a culture and society we have become very able practitioners of falsehood. As individuals and churches, we too have been, unthinkingly, drawn into these practices. Why does Jesus include falsehood with idolaters, murderers and sexual morality?

The child of God is the representative of truth. We are called to stand in direct opposition to the enemy, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). John writes “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John4:6)

The Church and the Christian can have no place for “spin” or subterfuge. The world needs to see what truthful lives look like. That also includes honesty when we have mucked things up. Seeking forgiveness is far more constructive (and painful) than spin. The media, quite rightly in my opinion, has highlighted the falsehood of the church. It can only do that when we have not been true to our God of Truth. Rather than blaming the media we should look carefully at ourselves.

For me, this is a tough call. I don’t like being found out. More important though, is my desire to be more like Jesus. The Word tells me that when I know Jesus I “… will know the truth, and the truth will set (me) free.” John 8:32

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The Tools of the Trade

The changes in teaching tools over 50 years

I first walked into a classroom as an underqualified teacher in 1972. Being a slow learner, there were still some units of study to complete at University. I had started in Economics but switched to History and this change caused a delay. So I wasn’t fully qualified until 1974. What I didn’t know or understand at the time was that I was on the threshold of huge changes in the way that education would develop in the next 50 years. Slow learner or not, I would have to keep my skates on to keep up.

Ocean Grove Primary School circa 1957 – Pieter with slate

A few years ago I visited a great indoor/outdoor museum in Ostersund, Sweden. In the schoolhouse there were desks made up of sand trays – a desk with a thin layer of sand so you could practise your letters or do you sums in the sand and then erase them to leave a blank layer of sand for the next exercise. In Grade 1 at Ocean Grove Primary School we had large black slates and a stick of chalk to do our writing and arithmetic. Things had been this way for a long time.

In 1972, when I began my career, if a teacher wanted multiple copies of a document, a spirit or ink duplicator was used. Spirit duplicators were good for handwritten documents and short runs of under 50. The colour in the stencil would disappear but the students loved the methylated spirits smell and held the sheets of paper to their noses. The ink duplicator would use a wax stencil that had the material typed on it or inscribed with a stylus. This could print hundreds of copies and be retained in a sleeve of blotting paper for future use. The downside was that playing with the dark ink was a messy affair. I would regularly be berated by my child bride for ink on the shirt cuffs. Newfangled photocopiers were too expensive to use for class sized duplication and most copiers still used a grey tinted photographic paper.

Overhead projectors were expensive and the few in the school would be in strong demand. Then video recorders started making an appearance in schools during the mid 1970s. They added some flexibility to the TVs that had been recently brought in, but they were hideously expensive and there were at least three different formats to choose from: Betamax, Phillips and the ultimate winner,VHS.

Even later in the 1970s and into the early 1980s personal computers such as the Vic20, C64, Atari, Apple and a myriad of others were making their appearance, starting off a format war far bigger than the video cassette wars. In this decade the first computers were making their way into schools but they were rare and seen as a gimmick by many.

Still to arrive was the Internet, Data Projectors, large class sized LED screens and apps and devices galore.

I write all this simply to show how much the tools used in education have changed over the years and I haven’t included the change from blackboards to white boards and then interactive white boards.

But all this leads to other questions: Has teaching improved? Have these tools made education a better experience? Have these tools enabled students to reach their potential?

A film can introduce a child to a new world of wonder. It can lead to questions, inquiry and further exploration. But it can also be used as a baby sitter and time waster. A printed sheet may sharpen a child’s maths or English skills or simply fill in some left-over minutes in a lesson. The same is true for a tablet and an app. At the heart of the tool’s effectiveness lies the competence and passion of the teacher. As a general rule I would suggest that a teacher with knowledge and passion, without these tools, is more effective than a teacher with these tools but without a deep knowledge of his or her teaching area and no enthusiasm for their craft. It is a roundabout way of saying that it is the teacher not the tools that sits at the heart of effective education.

Furthermore, it is the way we use these tools that carries with it another hidden layer of meaning. What are the values and attitudes that accompany them? What are we showing, living and implying to our students in the way we use these tools?

Are we reinforcing the pervasive and mind-numbing entertainment culture of our society? Are these fascinations available to us to while away the time and to titillate us or are we suggesting that these tools are there for us to explore the world, enhance our understanding and thereby serve God and our neighbour more effectively?

The way we teach and the way we use tools are laden with a subtext – for good or ill.

Has teaching changed over 50 years. I would suggest it has become even more complex, not simply because society is more complex, but our very teaching style can carry with it a sense of complicity with the values of our culture, or, in stark contrast, something far more radical – a critique of culture. Our teaching can reveal the good or ill of the tools we are using. It can encourage students to be, not just critical consumers, but more importantly, judicious and productive users of the tools at their disposal.

It was far simpler to practise one’s letters on a sand desk.

Categories: Education, Future | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Future

Today, I am sitting in a small office, possibly for the last time, interviewing families who wish to enroll their children in Kinder and Foundation for 2023. Family by family they come in and tell me about their desires for their children. These children are bright eyed buttons, some shy, others exuberant and a few just cautious. “What does this old man with a grey beard want?” they seem to think.

It struck me that when these children are my age it will be at the eve of this century – around 2093. And I can’t help but ask so many silent questions: what will the world be like, what will these lives have experienced, will these children have faith, what will have happened to the great issues of our day like climate change, refugees and war, what will be their hopes for their children and grandchildren? The questions mount but the answers lie buried in a future of uncertainty.

But there is good news. The good news is the reason why I am interviewing at a Christian School. There is a God, the God, who knows the future and will not be defeated by the foolishness of humanity. There is hope. A hope that lies outside our own wills and ability and in the person of Jesus Christ who came to seek and save the lost.

When I was 5, my great grandfather was in his 80s. He had been born in about 1870. He grew up to see a new century, WW1, the Great Depression and WW2. Despite all that, his hope in a faithful God was passed onto his son, his son’s son and his son’s son’s son (me). None of the circumstances that he experienced dissuaded him from the truth of God’s Word. I pray that this will be true for these young bright-eyed children who have blessed my day.

Categories: christian education, Faith, Life | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Rise of a Social Dictatorship

The modern world has become even more confusing than ever before. Innately, as post-moderns, we create our own meaning and discover our own “truths” so that we can be “authentic”. However, it is increasingly clear that some people’s “truths” trump others. It is ok for a biological male to identify as a woman, or anywhere in between for that matter, but clearly it is not socially acceptable for a conservative Christian to hold a view that biology and gender are connected.

The result is that we end up with an attempt at “inclusivity” that clearly excludes some. The story of the “Pride Jersey” in the recent Rugby League debacle shows that “inclusivity “can only go so far. For the South Sea islanders of faith, it is clear they couldn’t be included. We can add: so much for “celebrating diversity” as well – another popular mantra.

As a result of this confused, self-centred and self-authenticated thinking which, incidentally, needs the approval of other like-minded people, we have, ironically, excluded others and failed to acknowledge their unique views shaped by faith. In this Brave New World we all need to think the same as those who have shaped the latest views on gender and sexuality. By the way, there are so many other dimensions to our humanity than just sexuality, but it seems that our sexuality is vastly more important than any other facet of our multi-dimensional humanity.

So my question is simple: Why do I have to think the same as others to be socially approved? I can’t stop a woman thinking that she is a man, but why do I have to agree? My approval or disapproval will not make a whit of difference. It seems we are headed for a social dictatorship where the views of the majority will be imposed on the minority. Is this just?

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