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Grand Designs – A Family’s Castle Is Their Home

How would you like to live in a mock castle? Perhaps you’d like to add an entire dwelling area to the structure? No. Well, tonight we watch someone else do it by watching Grand Designs.
What is Grand Designs? It is a television program, hosted by Kevin McCloud, an architect who, on each episode, observes various domestic dwellings being constructed or restored. It is currently shown on ABC1 at 8.30pm on Tuesday nights. The stories of those who will eventually make these various structures their homes are woven into the story of the progression of these buildings. Usually, the people are easily as fascinating as the buildings.
One million pounds has bought Dean and Sarah a stone castle in Newport, Wales, called The Folly. Their plans include a restoration of the building and the construction of further living areas around it. As the project starts the couple make the choice to manage the project themselves, particularly Sarah. Their architect becomes basically a consultant. Proverbially, the person who provides legal advice for themselves has a fool for a client; McCloud shows similar scepticism about the owner who manages their own building project. So what do we learn? Continue reading

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Alex and Sybil Shaw – Global Recordings Network

Alex and Sybil Shaw are part of Global Recordings Network. GRN’s mission is: ‘In partnership with the church, to effectively communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ by means of culturally appropriate audio and audio-visual materials in every language.’
Presently they are conducting a series of meetings in South Australia to provide an update on the progress of their work and to renew their partnership with us.

As our meeting began Alex reminded us of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic in Mark 2. We recalled that God alone forgives sin, and that Jesus exercised that authority. The differing human figures demonstrated faith, doubt, need, amazement and joy. We appreciated the joy of sin forgiven, the power of God and Jesus’ patience and compassion.
Story telling is becoming an important part of Gospel communication. Many people in the world are oral communicators. This is due to a number of factors. Some peoples are not literate in written language. Some peoples have written languages, but little material is published in their tongues. Others, including many in the West, are literate (sometimes at high levels) but simply choose not to read. The recordings of biblical stories bring the Gospel to these varied groups in their own tongues so that the Holy Spirit may carry out His work of regeneration.
Sybil spoke of the challenges of providing recorded materials to the many different language groups that have no biblical material available to them. Her work also involves training people to read their own tongues, so that they can return to their own and speak the Gospel among them.
Hindrances to learning to read can be as basic as a lack of eyeglasses, or electricity for light. Age is a challenge for those wanting to learn to read as well. Returning to people that have been trained previously produces the fruit of seeing these folk spread materials and training to other language groups around them. People who are reticent about going to a church to hear the Bible will purchase a cassette tape and listen to the recording in private.
We were shown a gospel recording on a black vinyl record. Alex demonstrated a cardboard record player that produced remarkable sound. Then we saw a hand cranked audio cassette player. Finally we were shown an mp3 player that operates by a hand crank, which when wound for five minutes provided thirty minutes of playing. It holds fifty hours of recorded material. A one gigabite SD card can also be plugged into the mp3 player. It also can be plugged into other power sources. The mp3 unit is the middle one in the picture below.

Another development in Alex and Sybil’s work has been short term trips to Peru (Aventura Misionera Peru / Wokabout). Each Aventura Misionera Peru (3-6 weeks) enables recordings to be distributed among a number of people groups. The teams that accompanied the Shaws were able to assist in the work and gain cross-cultural experience in mission. The people along the Ucayali river were supplied with Scripture recordings and local pastors were challenged to work together to see the people’s need for God’s Word to be met.
Two powerpoint slide shows displayed the Aventura Misionera work. We were able to see the connection which the teams were able to make the local people. Their efforts were well received and appreciated. Though the conditions are challenging, the work looked very rewarding. It is also encouraging to see the local Christians who are being raised up to carry out this work.
As our time drew to a close Alex spoke of his desire to have people trained in story telling. He visited a native American Indian reserve and was told by a local pastor that the story of the Scriptures needs to be told in the languages of the people with respect to local protocols. This has been the aim the GRN all along.

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Love Divine, All Loves Excelling – Sunday Songs

The words to Love Divine, All Loves Excelling were written by Charles Wesley. They contain his romantic and subjective expression, but also demonstrate a grounding in Scripture truth and a desire to express complex truth in popular form.
The church in which I grew up sang this hymn to the tune ‘Hyfrydol’, the tune to which it was set in the Church Hymnary, Revised. With the advent of the Rejoice! hymnbook the tune to which we now sing it is called ‘Blaenwern’.
The hymn is also evidence of a tendency toward what is called Christian perfectionism, a belief that Christians can live in complete obedience to God and not sin in this life. The second verse reproduced below is not included in either of the hymnals mentioned above, along with many others. If this is the first time you’ve seen the second verse you’ll notice how it casts sentiments in the other verses in a different light.

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.
Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit;
let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
end of faith, as its beginning,
set our hearts at liberty.
Come, Almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return and never,
nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray and praise thee without ceasing,
glory in thy perfect love.
Finish, then, thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee;
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Thoughts of Christian perfectionism aside, the remaining lyrics can be sung in a way that expresses a present thankfulness for sanctifying power and a future expectation of complete glorification.

Just to illustrate the difference that singing one set of words to different tunes can make (and how one set of words can have more than one tune that people feel is the right one) here are three tunes to which this hymn is popularly sung.

First youtube is the Boy’s Brigade in London, 1991 singing the tune ‘Blaenwern’.

Second youtube is from the Crystal Cathedral to the tune ‘Hyfrydol’. At least they sing the gospel at the Crystal Cathedral.

Lastly is a third youtube of the tune ‘Beecher’ to which the hymn can also be sung. (Does the organist have a tatoo on their arm?)

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Romans 2:1-16 – Week 3 – Judgment For All

The outline:
1) Human partiality. (Romans 2:1-5)
a) A common standard.
b) A revealed truth.
c) A kindness ignored.
2) God’s impartiality. (2:6-16)
a) A coming judgment.
b) A universal judgment.
c) A fair judgment.
There seems to be the problem that those addressed in verses 1-5 had fallen into a belief that having the covenant and the written commands of God guaranteed that they were not going to be judged. While they condemned those who engaged in the behaviour described in the second half of chapter 1 they displayed the double standard of actually committing many of the same acts themselves but without any conviction that they too were under God’s judgment.
This is the opposite reaction to that which they should have had. God’s patience and kindness should have left their consciences softened, not hardened, and they should have repented instead of condemning others and being complacent themselves.
Verses 6-16 outline God’s impartial judgment of all humanity.
A couple of ideas will be used to illustrate the points here.
Firstly this text affirms that those without the written law will still be judged. It does not teach that some are exempt because they do not have that which others do. Their own consciences speak them of their condemnation.
Those who have the written law are judged to a more exact standard, but they are judged too. I think the flood is an analogous. All humanity was judged. Noah’s preaching of righteousness was primarily building a boat.
Secondly some background to the judgment. We’ll spend some time thinking about Matthew 25:31ff, the parable of the sheep and the goats.
The following points, composed by Kanishka Raffel are relevant for our consideration of Romans 2:6-11.
Four signs of evidence that this work is God’s and not ours:
i. Sheep are called ‘The blessed of my Father’;
ii. They receive an inheritance, which is a gift, not a wage;
iii. ‘From the foundation of the world’ shows a plan that could only have been God’s; and, finally,
iv. Their surprise shows they were not working at achieving this state.
We’ll spend some time thinking about what a person’s works reveal about their spiritual state, and also how that relates to people from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.

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Romans 1:18-32 – Friday Bible Study

Having expressed his greetings to the church in Rome, Paul affirms that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation. This power is for people from all backgrounds because all people are under God’s condemnation. He now goes on to explain how that judgment is true.
Some questions:
• Even though the gentiles didn’t have the scriptures to guide them, what guidance did they have? (1:19-20)
• What did they know about God from that guidance? (1:19; )
• What have they done with that knowledge of God? (1:18)
• The Bible is making a point about people who assert they do not believe in God. What is it? (1:19; 20)
• What happens to these people? Who is at work? (1:21; 24; 26; 28)
• If the knowledge of a Creator is suppressed, where will people’s devotion turn? (1:22-23; 25; 27; 29-31)
• What role do people’s minds, hearts, passions and lifestyles play in this judgment? Is there any order being represented here?
• How do you understand the list of sinful behaviour listed in verses 29-31. Clearly they are not all equally wicked. What quality do they all share that causes them to be listed here together.
• Note in verse 32 the additional observation about approving the practices? What does this mean?
• In what ways does this passage remind you of Australia today?
• We probably tend to think of God’s wrath as being something for the end times. What can we learn about God’s judgment right now? (1:18)
• Paul is not just condemning certain behaviours. He is making a larger point about every person who lives in this world. What is it?
• How does that observation relate to verses 16 and 17?

Some comments/notes:
It is vital to remember that what is being explained here is that the Gospel, the power of God for salvation of both Jew and Gentile is needed by all. The text explains that God’s judgment in universal.
The Gentiles have the testimony of creation. This ‘natural’ theology cannot really be expressed in the detail of biblical revelation.
But, from this testimony God’s eternal power and divine nature are obvious. I think this can be taken to mean that everything did not come into existence (and is sustained) by its own power. I also think it means that God is not part of creation. He is distinct from it. He is not an animistic deity, nor is he a localised deity. Eternal power and divine nature.
Clearly the Bible asserts that people supressed this knowledge. Suppression is an active putting away of truth. There is also an assertion that no matter what people say, they know the truth. There is a creator.
It must be recognised that God is active here. He hands humanity over. He doesn’t let them go their own way, rather He sends them right down the path they want to go.
This judgement is another aspect of His revelation. The world, and humans do not behave as they should. They should recognise their creator and live in response to Him. The fact they do not points to disfunction.
Humanity is devoted to themselves; to creation; to different created things. They’ll take meaning from anything.
The comment about the list of behaviours not being equally wicked needs explanation. There is no question that being foolish is the same as murder. But what is being asserted is that they are both signs that creation is out of order. They are also both sin. They both deserve God’s judgement. They both need the same salvation.
It is entirely unhelpful to break the list down and try and grade the degree of sin though. After all the intent of the passage is to show that all are under the same judgment and need the same salvation.
It is useful to remember that the Gospel is not therapeutic. This is not God’s solution for your problem, it is a means by which the judgment you deserve falls upon the Lord Jesus.
Approving Godless behaviour is also a sign of this judgement.
So, not only can we perceive that there is a divine and invisible God, but that God judges humanity who refuse to recognise Him.
Doubtless there are those who feel that God should overlook humanity’s rejection. That matter will be dealt with later. But really, what should be the proper relationship between the Creator and the created? And, as we’ve already heard, God has provided the salvation for humanity’s rebellion.

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Reaching Forward – A Book Review

‘Reaching Forward: From a Rich Heritage to a Certain Goal’ is subtitled ‘The Presbyterian Church of Victoria 1859-2009’ and is authored by Allan and Mairi Harman. Its publication coincides with the 150th anniversary of the formal union of various Presbyterian churches to form the Presbyterian Church of Victoria.
So, why is it featuring here? Three reasons. Firstly, I received a complimentary copy while Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Australia. Secondly, from 1997 to 2003 I was priveleged to pastor one of the PCV’s Congregations, namely Mordialloc. Thirdly, according to a map of charges reproduced within the booklet, Mount Gambier was one of the foundation churches of the PCV, and remained a part of it until the early 1950s.
This is not an exhaustive account by any means. Weighing in at around 70 pages of text, that’s slightly less than half a page a year. But in 12 brief chapters the Harmans provide a straghtforward and irenic outline narrative of the PCV’s decisive historical markers. They also provide enough reference to other contemporary events to enable an appreciation for the fact that the denomination itself grew within a rapidly growing and changing culture.
The tone throughout is not so much celebratory as appreciative. There is always much reason to give thanks to God and this monograph portrays the particular blessings which the PCV have enjoyed. The fact that the Presbyterian Church of Australia as a body has returned to a more confessional and biblical framework over the last thirty years is remarkable in world Christianity, so material of this type is very useful.
It is not the place of the such a work to look critically, but the book touches on many issues that others will study and write on in the future. Having had such central roles in the life of the PCV since the time of church union, it is probably not the Harmans are best suited to that work but to those who follow, those who will be able to examine and evauate events with the same skill that the Harmans did in their first 10 chapters.
The scholarship and research of the authors is worn so lightly and woven so easily into the work that some form of bibliography would have assisted those who wished to further their own reading and study of the PCV.
This link is to the PCV website where copies can be ordered.
Finding a quote is hard. This is the second last paragraph:
‘The PCV knows that its tasks can only be accomplished by the power of God’s Spirit. No matter how strongly a church may hold to the Gospel, its mission is fulfilled only when human effort is accompanied by blessing that originates with God. Mere adherence to orthordox Christian teaching is unsufficient in itself. Christians must show in their daily lives the transforming power of god, and display the true marks of devoted servants of Christ. The Gospel is to be preached but also modelled before a watching world.’

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When is a worship service not a worship service?

When it’s in Sydney. Then it’s a ‘Christian assembly’.
No this isn’t a post State of Origin induced comment.
On the website ‘The Sola Panel‘ last week there was a post by Gordon Cheng on acts of corporate repentence, their heritage within the Anglican Denomination and his concern that they may fall out of usage.
The comments that ensued (including one from me) began to engage with the Sydney evangelical understanding of Christians meeting together.
Tony Payne takes up this issue today and along with his prefacing comment provides a link to a 2008 report of the Sydney (Anglican) Diocesan Commission entitled ‘A Theology of Christian Assembly‘. It is about 8000 words in length, and is very readable.
Since Sydney evangelicalism is a prominent strand in biblilcally based Australian Christianity this document demands attention. As a movement, their beliefs on this subject are distinctive.
I will post some thoughts later, but a few initial observations.
As an evangelical document it engages the Scriptures and asks its readers to do the same as they respond to it.
As an Anglican document it deals with a mixed heritage of reformed theology and also unreformed high church practice. Some of the contexts it responds to are not part of the church life of those of us from reformed and low church backgrounds.
It identifies a more radical discontinuity between the old covenant and the new covenant than the Westminster Confession, for instance, and some of its positions reflect that position.
So, go and have a read.