Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reflections on Getsmart 08

Last night I went, for the first time in years, to a night at the popular Getsmart conference organised by Andrew and Janine Kubala.

The first thing that I was forced to notice was that it certainly hasn’t become less popular in the 3 or 4 years since I last went. When my friend said they were lining up at 5pm for the 7 o’clock session I knew it was going to be crazy. Sure enough I turned up at 20 past 5 to find the queue extending back a hundred metres or so. The line was full of excited, sparkly-eyed youngsters who obviously weren’t shy, so the first thing to say is that it is exciting to see this conference that is clearly about God’s business inspiring so many future leaders.

Anyway, my background with this conference is slightly turbulent. I was once one of those excited, sparkly-eyed youngsters. After a few conferences, however, I became more and more wary of the hype that goes along with this. I heard more and more stories (and saw them in my own life) of people going along and being powerfully inspired, only to return to school and see no real or lasting change, which bred doubt and cynicism in my mind.

So going into this conference, my hopes and prayers were that I could remain discerning and critical, able to tell truth from error, and between human hype and spirit empowered fervour. I also wanted to balance that with being aware of and getting into what the Holy Spirit was up to. Conversely, I didn’t want to miss something the Holy Spirit was genuinely working in that place. The two sides of discernment and excitement seem in conflict to me though. Somehow I don’t think they should be, but I don’t know how that can be the case. I would like to read Jonathon Edward’s The Religious Affections which I hope has some insight into this. In fact if anyone has read it and has something to contribute I would appreciate hearing it!

I shall (hopefully) write more on the Getsmart experience tomorrow….

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Problem with Over-Population

"I very frequently used to retire into a solitary place, on the banks of Hudson's River, at some distance from the city, for contemplation on divine things and secret converse with God: and had many sweet hours there" - Jonathon Edwards

"I retired early this morning into the woods for prayer;…and was enabled to plead with fervency for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world.” - David Brainerd

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." - Mark 1:35

Ok so I'm seeing a theme here. I know a little more digging will reveal a wealth of verses and quotes advocating the benefits of getting away on your own. I am always amazed how many times it turns out that some revolutionary christian spends a lot of their time, you guessed it, in the solitary place.

Without making any excuses I want to say only this, that with six billion people on the planet now, lonely places are harder to find. Certainly if you're like me and live in a city and don't have a car, it is pretty difficult to get away from people to somewhere safe to groan and cry out in fervent prayer.

The objections come to my mind immediately though. No one ever said it wouldn't be difficult, in fact the difficulty factor is probably a large reason why it is so effective. And although the population in Jesus' day was lower than ours, I don't have the problem of having crowds of people scrambling to see me at any opportunity.

I don't really know what I'm trying to say, besides that I think this is something we should take more seriously than we do. I think there is definitely something to be said for getting away to somewhere outside where we can simply be awed by God. And yes, I think the outside factor is important. Setting aside time in your room is all good, but I do reckon there's something about the outsideness that God honours and uses.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I Deleted My Stat-Counter

This blog has become something of an enigma to me. I’ve been really busy lately, what with studying surveying, being a involved with church and now having a girlfriend. None of these things, I hastily add, are bad things, but they do mean I haven’t been letting the world know my thoughts. Sorry world, your loss.

But actually, by ‘your loss’ I mean ‘you’re not actually missing out on much’ because I haven’t really been thinking much recently. At least not thoughts intellectual or intelligible enough to warrant the time taken to write them down. Nor have I been reading as much as I would like, which I suspect is the cause of my relative thoughtlessness of late.

Unbeknownst to most of you, I had a secret stat-counter telling me when anyone pokes around on my site. For a while it boosted my ego a bit to see how many people from around the world were checking out my thoughts. As the content dried up, however, so did the visitors, and checking the stat-counter just became more and more depressing. I would check it on the odd occasion to try and inspire myself to get back into writing stuff, but I’ve found it hard to motivate myself to write when I can count on one hand the number of people checking it in a month.

Anyway, the root of my problem is that I got sucked into writing for the audience, rather than writing for myself. And obviously when there’s no audience, there’s not much reason for writing. But the reason I originally started, and the reason I am going to give it another shot, is because I need a way to sort out my thoughts into something cohesive.

So now, free from the oppressive clutches of the stat-counter, I’m going to give this blogging thing another go. Don’t expect anything too profound or regular as I try and sort out my thoughts (but please tell me if I sound like I’m trying to copy dead theologians writing styles!), but I’d still be grateful if you joined me in this new journey.

Monday, March 10, 2008

In the Absence of Something Interesting...

It's Monday, and I really doubt I'm going to get round to writing anything worth reading tonight, so instead, here is some miscellaneous stuff that is worth checking out....

The Internet Monk was actually the inspiration for me to save my time writing stuff no one cares about, and instead disperse links into the wider reaches of the internet (along with other advice contained in this post).

This map combines my interest in all things gangsta, and my interest in all things to do with cartography into one unified and entertaining whole.

On a more serious note, Of First Importance is a quote-blog that I enjoy checking regularly, and often has some real gems. In particular, I thought today's quote was an interesting, and encouraging take on something easily brushed over.

The movie End of the Spear, opened in New Zealand this week. It is about the events surrounding the death of missionaries Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and others in the Ecuador jungle. It's a movie I am very much looking forward to seeing. It got reviewed at Christianity Today, which also has links to what other people are saying about it.

I close with a terrible surveying-come-blogging joke I just thought up now: If a chain consists of 100 links, shouldn't blogs with massive blogrolls operate in chains?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ok...But Where Do I Start?

Evangelism is something I have many questions about. Whether or not it is necessary is not one of them.

I doubt anyone would disagree that evangelism is done best when the message is motivated by a deep and passionate awareness of the beauty of the gospel, and of the desperate need sinners have of it. I think it stands to reason that if that foundation is set, then a willingness to share that message should flow naturally from that. When we become so enthralled at God’s love for us poured out through the cross, and see the perilous position of unsaved sinners, that should naturally motivate us to share that message with those around us.

By the way, I am here referring to evangelism as the bowl-up-to-randoms-on-the-street-and-share-the-gospel variety, which I am aware is a very narrow definition, but in my situation seems to be the main thing pushed.

My questions arise when something is missed from this picture. What do we do when people feel the need to share their faith, and are not driven by a deep and profound awareness of the reality of the message? And what can be done for people who truly rejoice and are thankful for God’s grace, yet have no inclination towards evangelism? What comes first? Where do we start? Do we get people sharing their faith with strangers from the word go, assuming that evangelism is a means by which God works in his people? Or do we come from another angle, saying God changes his people through other means, and that the natural overflow of these is to willingly advocate Christ in all situations?

I consider myself someone who truly enjoys God, and finds immense satisfaction in Christ. However, when the challenge goes out to witness, on the street or around the campus, something in me draws back and cringes. Intellectually I totally agree that the message we are taking is desperately needed, so why do I resist so much? More importantly, what is the solution? I have had people tell me something to the effect of “get hard,” which no doubt has some element of truth in it. But as a rule, I think an indifference to evangelism is more of an indication that my own hunger for God needs improvement.

I think the answers to these questions will turn out to be ‘a bit of both.’ There are other factors that come into it, of course, like fear and other objections I have with pushing ‘street evangelism’ on everyone. But I think these are questions worthy of consideration.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret

The little word on the back cover of this book, the one that describes where it should go in the library, says ‘inspirational.’ I thought it was a biography, but apparently I was wrong. Though I find that biographies can often be quite inspiring, so I assume it works the other way in that inspirational books can, in fact, also be biographies.

Hudson Taylor was the man who founded the China Inland Mission (now known as the Overseas Mission Fellowship) in the mid to late nineteenth century. As an organisation, its growth was remarkable, having reached 750 missionaries in China when he laid down the leadership role in 1900. The cost of such a venture ran into millions of dollars, and yet the organisation never made requests for money (aside from in prayer), nor did it ever go into debt. Such facts, and the many stories that accompany them, hint at the monumental faith that formed the backbone of the mission, a foundation laid in large part by Hudson Taylor.

As a literary piece, I found this book very interesting. It is written in a funny style that I find hard to describe. It frequently refers to Mr. Taylor in abstract terms, switching between more traditional third person (“he did this”) and this odd removed way of describing things (“the man of prayer did this"). Take, for example: “Far from being elated at the turn events were taking, success only added to his sense of responsibility, and it was a man burdened with a God-given message who moved from place to place that memorable winter…” Although it is quite different style to other books I have read, I think it is an enjoyable change, and it was quite refreshing to read something so unique.

The word ‘inspirational’ on the back cover should serve as a warning to those who like dry, objective and merely academic biographies. This is clearly written by people with enormous respect for Hudson Taylor’s work (the authors are his son and daughter-in-law!), and who intend their readers to be inspired by his story. This is one of the least balanced biographies I have ever read, and my only criticism is that the language is so dressed up that I suspect it portrays him in too favourable a light. It is true that Hudson Taylor lived an amazing life of deep and living faith, however, the authors have highlighted all the best aspects of his life, while skimming over the lower points. I guess that’s the whole point of biographies though.

Besides this very minor point I found the book to be very enjoyable, informative, challenging and, yes, inspiring. I’ve already alluded to his faith, which is a very strong theme of the book. The authors do a good job of showing how this faith was rooted and founded in rich and frequent solitary devotions. “To [Hudson Taylor], the secret of overcoming lay in daily, hourly fellowship with God; and this, he found, could only be maintained by secret prayer and feeding upon the Word through which He reveals Himself to the waiting soul.” ‘Pray and read your Bible,’ seems to be one of those Christian clich├ęs that only has enough power to score some points in Sunday School quizzes. This book, I’m sure, will redefine what prayer and Bible study mean to many readers. Another memorable quote:

“…and then, after sleep at last had brought a measure of quiet, they would hear a match struck and see a flicker of candlelight which told that Mr. Taylor, however weary, was poring over the little Bible in two volumes always at hand. From two to four A.M. was the time he usually gave to prayer; the time when he could be most sure of being undisturbed to wait upon God.”

Needless to say, I am stoked to have read this book, and would recommend it unreservedly to others. It is a worthy resource not only for the historical record of Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, but also for the challenge it presents to the modern reader.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Confessions of St Augustine (in Modern English)

This is a book review I started a while ago, but never got round to finishing (hence the references to holidays). I still don't consider it finished but its complete enough to get a general idea of what I thought of it. If anything I would add a bit more in its favour, basically expanding on what I do say in this.


I have a confession of my own to make; I bought this book because it was cheap. Actually I think there may have been more to it. I know it is a classic, and hoped it would prove to be a valuable resource to have. The little words saying ‘Modern English Version’ looked ominous to me, along with the fact that it really is a puny little book, that is hardly impressive as it sits on one’s shelf. Sure enough, I opened it to find written: “[This version] omits large sections of the full text of Confessions,” which disgruntled me somewhat, seeing as I don’t like being at the whim of the translators (who are they to decide what the good bits are anyway?). But I had some cash, and the CD I wanted wasn’t there so I bought it.

This is one of those books that I put down at the end and thought: ‘What have I just read?’ This is probably due to a number of factors, not least of which being the fact that I’m on holiday, meaning less sleep, longer sleep-ins and just generally feeling lazier and less inclined to think about what I’m reading. I also blame the translators, and for that matter I point the finger at Augustine himself. I respect them for trying, but really I get the impression that Augustine’s thoughts and musings on life don’t want to be squeezed into our 21st century language. The introduction states that ‘The poetic nature of much of Augustine’s text has been broken out typographically to highlight the literary beauty of the thought.’ In reality I think they only succeeded in making Augustine sound like a rambling old man. In the same way as the KJV, I think if you want to capture something of the literary beauty of this book (which is a large part of it) you’ve gotta go old-school. As for the intellectual content of the book, I suspect the modern English doesn’t make it much easier to understand his ideas. Furthermore, because this is a truncated version, it doesn’t give me any confidence that I’m getting the full version of his arguments. I figure that Augustine is always going to be hard to understand, so a bit more effort to get your head around his complete confessions would be worth it.

The redeeming factor of this book is that Augustine’s life was, in fact, very interesting. To read his musings on life is to be inspired to think about the world in a different light, and find sources for praise in otherwise mundane things.

As my final comment I have only this to say; that if you are prepared to put the effort in to understanding Augustine, you probably won’t regret making a little more effort to work through a more comprehensive version of this work. I will be looking for another version of this book.