Friday, May 30, 2008

Our trip: days three and four

In my last post about our Brisbane/Sydney trip, I forgot one very important detail about Day 3.In the evening we visited with friends of Dave's who've moved over from South Africa, which was a great blessing.

On Day 4, May 18th, we went to church with my brother and his family. It was great to fellowship in Brisbane.

We also went out for lunch with the family, spent a relaxing afternoon at home, ate pizza for dinner, and had a good chat with my brother and sister-in-law in the evening.

Letter from a Christian Citizen

This week I finished Letter from a Christian Citizen, a short book by Douglas Wilson. It is written as a direct response to Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, which is a popular book advocating atheism. Douglas Wilson’s writing is in a conversational style, and he makes comments such as “if we ever meet, I would love to buy you a beer”. He finds points of agreement with Harris, as well as disagreement.

One of the excellent things about Wilson’s Letter from a Christian Citizen is that in defending the gospel, he does not attempt to explain away parts of the Bible. He is just as passionate about the Old Testament as the New, and it stands him in good stead. Wilson is also a creationist, so he argues against macroevolutionary theory. Since macroevolution is the foundation of atheism as an intellectual position, this is important.

One aspect of Wilson’s argument that may be overdone is his emphasis that Sam Harris has no basis for the statements he is making. He really hammered home that Harris’ “nice” version of atheism was borrowing from a Christian cultural inheritance of certain moral values such as kindness to others. These values would be difficult to arrive at from a purely atheistic system of thought.

I love Wilson’s explanation of the gospel, and his answer to Harris’ comments on the dangers of religion.

“The problem of sin cannot be removed by education, money, or getting a bill through Congress. But neither can it be solved by getting rid of religion. All that does is give you a secular religion of the kind currently on tap in North Korea . . . The problem is in concrete persons. People are sinful, and they want to throw rocks at one another.” Page 95.

Jesus is the one who can take up these sins, and give us his righteousness.

“He gathered up a world full of hatred, adultery, treachery, rape, murder, envy, genocide, religious hypocrisy, atheism, theft, lying, and all forms of arrogant haughtiness, gathered it all to His chest, and disappearing, sank into death.” Page 104.

This same Jesus rose on the third day. He is working even now through his Holy Spirit to spread the gospel, and all its cultural benefits, to the ends of the earth.

You can visit the website of Letter from a Christian Citizen here.

Dave in Hallstatt

Dave posted these photos on his Facebook account . . .

I'm so grateful that if he must be away, he gets to be in such a beautiful place!

I miss him a lot, and have started counting the "sleeps" until he gets home. 10 to go . . .

Due to Dave's travel schedule, time differences, and difficulty in accessing email and phones during his travels, we've only talked for a total of about 1/2 an hour since he left over a week ago, and I received my first email from him today.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our trip: Days 1 to 3

I really enjoyed reading the Girotti's day-by-day recount of their recent trip, especially their visit on day three to Biltmore estates, so I'm going to do a similar series of posts about my trip with Dave to Brisbane and Sydney from 15 - 21 March. I don't have photos for each day though.

Day 1:

We arrived in Brisbane in the afternoon and enjoyed time with my brother, his wife, and their three children. We explored their new house for the first time.

Day 2:

We went shopping, went for a walk, read stories, and played with the children, amongst other things.

Day three: We had a lovely time in Brisbane city. We explored Southbank and the Botanical Gardens across the river.

Dave had never visited Queensland before. The climate in Brisbane reminded him of Durban in South Africa, where he spent several happy years (and even walked around at night safely, amazingly enough) until he came to Australia in 2005. Even the smells in Brisbane brought back memories.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The horror of racism

Sadly, just weeks after I wrote fear in context, Zimbabwean refugees are fleeing back to their country. South Africa's unexpected racism, which I wrote about in Africa-as-everything-bad, has led to South African blacks attacking refugees from ofther African nations. You can read about the current crisis in this BBC news article. You can also read some commentry at Inside South Africa blog. Meanwhile things are hardly growing better in Zimbabwe, with many opposition supporters in hospital.

This latest flare up of violence will, of course, do nothing for the image of South Africa. I've already had a number of people ask me about it. They generally seem to have no understanding of the context, but it reinforces their perceptions of South Africa as a highly dangerous place. One person suggested that there was little difference between Zimbabwe and South Africa. While this is untrue, it natural that people arrive at this conclusion if they only listen to news snippets. The huge differences between the countries are not "newsworthy" in terms of radio or TV news.

I know enough about Africa to realise just how little I do know. Often, TV news and the radio gives us the false impression that they know what is going on in certain countries. I'm sure I've made this mistake many times in the past. Now, after being married to a South African for just a short while, I realise just how simplistic and/or distorted impressions of a country can become. I'm trying to be more wary, and more informed, in my comments about the world. I know next to nothing. Even though I'm constantly learning, that will probably be the case for a long time.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Spring on the other side of the world

It was fun today to read about Karen's raised beds and Stacy's garden inspiration. Spring is coming to a close over in the USA! It is great to see others' plans for making use of their space and enjoying fresh food.

Dave and I have our own dreams for spring in Australia. We are planning a whole new garden, with beds laid out in an attractive way and a potted lemon tree in the middle. The only part of the vision that exists so far is the lemon tree, which my Mum and Dad gave Dave for his birthday on the 14th. We bought a pot for it and planted the tree on the morning of the 15th, before we set out for Brisbane and Sydney for a week to see family, friends, and beautiful things! Dave is still away, on a working trip. He is in London right now, and will soon go onto Austria and then Germany. It is spring there as well!

I hope she doesn't yell at us . . .

When I was in church one night a couple of weeks ago, I started to think about doing something for the neighbours who had just moved in directly across from us. God tells us to "love our neighbours", and I was suddenly determined to do so in a very literal sense! I toyed with making a cake and taking it over. After all, who can be grumpy with someone bearing a cake? Dave suggested that cookies might be better, so I made some and placed them in a jar for our new neighbours.

As we walked across, I said to Dave " I hope she doesn't yell at us". Neighbourliness is so rare these days that it is sometimes viewed with suspicion. The last time I'd dropped by this house, the former resident looked at me through a crack in the door as though reproaching me for ever knocking upon it. Our reception this time couldn't have been more different. Our new neighbour invited us in and we chatted inside the door for about 10 minutes. It was a real blessing to us and, it seemed, to her. This was an encouragement to continue to be counter-cultural and take the time to find ways to love our neighbours.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Loving God When Life Hurts

Every second week of the month, I aim to blog about loving God. This week I was struggling to think of something to share. Then I thought about loving God when you're in the midst of fighting sin and sadness. In the last couple of weeks I've been experiencing sadness about quite a number of things. It is easy to respond with sin, as well, when I face various challenges or circumstances that I don't like. This is a path that I, like most people, have been down many times before. What I try to do at these times is to . . .

Remember what God has done in past circumstances. I might not understand what God is going to do in these circumstances right now, but I do know what he has done in the past. I can remember the way he has revealed his character in countless ways, and the way he has blessed us. Often we can't see what God has done until months or years afterwards.

Remember that God is transforming us into his image, even (0r perhaps especially) through things we find hard. When it seems like certain personal faults or challenges are not changing, it is helpful to remember that God has transformed me a lot already and he is continuing that good work.

Avoid thinking that any form of sin or self indulgence will improve things. No, spending whatever I feel like will not make me feel better. Hitting the wall will not make me feel better. Being nasty to others will not improve things. Following God's ways in the long term does result in joy and peace, and "good fruit" in our lives. Sin or carelessness cannot bring lasting peace or joy, and will result in "bad fruit".

Cry out to God. One of the main ways we can express our loving trust in God is to tell him about anything and everything, and believe that he is involved in our lives. Even when it feels like God is not answering specific prayers, we love God when we continue to trust him enough to seek his face and his will in the situation.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

In April, Noel Piper write about what she learnt about caring for the environment from a trip to Kenya. The article, "Behold , It was Very Good." But Now? , details some of the environmental problems in Kenya and a possible Christian response to them.

It is very encouraging to hear of the work Christians are doing in Kenya:

Care of Creation is introducing “Farming God’s Way.” Model farms demonstrate the increased yields through sustainably replenishing the soil and retaining moisture. Over time, the method requires less strenuous hand-tilling than the usual farming method.

But what makes this a Christian mission and ministry? The practical help and methods could be demonstrated by anyone who cares about people.

The difference is that Care of Creation’s first priority is God. Then, like God, they care for people by making God and his ways more clear. This truth was the foundation of two daylong workshops presented by Craig Sorley and his coworker Francis Maina. One focused on farming. The other, for community and church leaders, focused on the problems of deforestation. During both, there was significant teaching from Scripture, looking at the earth through God’s eyes and seeking his purposes and desires for his handiwork.

As Christians we are in a unique position to understand the importance of caring for creation. Read Noel's article and find out more!

I am thankful to my friend Felicity for sending me the link to this article.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fear in context

The fears of the South Africans and visitors who are rich enough to afford security are put into context when one considers what life can be like outside the gates. The situation in South Africa is not as bad as that in Uganda. However, the poem I've linked to does draws our attention to the fact that the plight of those outside the gates is often much worse than the plight of those who are rich enough to build them.

There are also many people for whom South Africa is seen as a land of great hope, not of fear and violence. These refugees from Zimbabwe are trying to get into Limpopo province in South Africa.


Recently I posted on Africa-as-everything-bad, which got me thinking about some of the most common perceptions of South Africa as an individual country. When Australians think of South Africa, they think of crime. When I was first considering visiting there with Dave, one relative informed me that I’d be “raped and murdered”.

About a week ago, someone told me of a conversation they’d had with a South African ex-pat who’d recently gone back for a holiday. This person, I was told, “didn’t bring back your glowing reports” but instead had tales of relatives being hijacked, fences with barbed wire on the top, and gates that block off the area of the house where the bedrooms are.

I suddenly felt like my “glowing reports” were embarrassingly na├»ve. Apparently it is suspicious even to enjoy South Africa, and appreciate its beauty and its people, on a holiday. I’d stayed behind barbed wire fences with people who’d been hijacked and tied up in their own home. I’d seen the security signs everywhere, and the “car guards” at the end of every parking place.

Yet somehow I’d failed. I’d still managed to feel positive about being in South Africa. The crime stories weren’t at the top of my list of perceptions of the place. I remembered a beautiful garden and a happy dinner behind the fence and the laser beams. I remembered a spectacular view from the well-secured apartment complex. I remembered how much fun it was to see my husband’s old home and school, even though every house in the street had a security sign on the fence.

I think ex-pat South Africans also have mainly positive memories of their homeland. Most would readily admit that the lived a reasonably good life in South Africa, but envisaged a better future somewhere else. Some, like my husband, came here for reasons completely unrelated to the social problems in the land of their birth. They came to pursue study or work, and never intended to remain indefinitely. Dave and I still hope to spend substantial amounts of time in South Africa, perhaps even years.

It is probably Australians, not South African ex-pats, who are at fault in the creation of the mental phenomenon of South-Africa-as-fear-and-violence. The crime stories are so much juicier than the tales ex-pats could tell of the jobs they enjoyed, their trips to other countries in Africa, the people they loved and still love, the opportunities for service to the community, and the cultural aspects they miss? Who wants to hear about those when you can hear about the time Uncle Bob woke up to find a masked man at the end of his bed?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

I am the worst of sinners

Jesus said:

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you". Matthew 28: 18 - 20.

Ministries that fight the acceptance of certain sins in public life are seeking to teach the nations to observe what Christ has commanded. In nations like ours with a Christian heritage, where many people still label themselves "Christian" and have been baptised, this is an even more legitimate goal. We are not just to disciple individuals. Our efforts are also meant to have an impact upon whole nations.

It is also a meaningful activity to promote godly values because these are loving. If we love people, we will not want them to suffer the awful affects of sins like abortion, promiscuity, homosexuality, or divorce. When these sins are common and acceptable, people become involved in them almost as a matter of course. In contrast, if godly patterns of relationships are normative people tend to follow these.

Yet there is also a danger as Christians publicly argue against certain behaviours. It can seem like we are saying that we are not sinners and others are. If the moral messages are not combined with the gospel this will be the message that is conveyed. This is damaging.

Paul preached a different message . . .

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15 - 16.

As we seek to love the nations, and to disciple them so that they obey Christ, it is imperative that we do not convey false messages about the gospel. The gospel teaches us that we are the worst of sinners - every single one of us. "I am the worst of sinners" needs to be one of our primary messages. Christ has transformed us, and that is why we love others enough to care what is happening in our nations.