Wednesday, November 21, 2012

All over bar the shouting

The 20-week New Entry Officers Course (NEOC 47) is close to being complete.  Our graduation parade is next Wednesday and between now and then all that is in front of us is 35-40 hours of marching drill practice for our passing out parade. Quite literally it is all over bar the shouting.
Someone commented recently; “ Surely they don’t shout at 52 year old ministers of religion turned Navy Chaplain do they?” Actually they do! Even today a very friendly Petty Officer suggested with considerable public volume that my about turn was about as “graceful as a penguin on ice scates ”.
Nonetheless much has been achieved since I last updated about 9 weeks ago.  
·      We researched and wrote a major naval history essay.
·      We survived three weeks at sea on one of the RAN’s oldest ships. We were accommodated in the “ troops mess” which was not exactly third world conditions but was not exactly first world either. 
·      We enjoyed port visits to Townsville and Noumea, including some very unusual outdoor accommodation at a French air base.
·      We experienced a flight back from Noumea in back of a C130 Hercules RAAF plane. 
·      We endured 7 end-of-course exams in 3 days. Some of us found these more stressful than the HSC. What is more interesting is that most of my fellow classmates were not even born when I last sat exams. The range of subjects included everything from torpedos, radar and naval guns, to business planning  to the Geneva Convention and to what types of pencils are used on the bridge of a ship.
·      We survived with arms (but not ammunition) exercise Matipan – a 5 day leadership field exercise. We interacted with helicopters, the police, the fire brigade and emergency services. We were challenged by role playing refugees, looters, lost fisherman, terrorists, camera crews and very demanding senior officers. We spent a day doing evolutions on a small ship on Jervis Bay and a 7-hour night on a much smaller life raft. We survived on ADF ration packs trusting, in spite of the evidence, that they actually contained food.
For me the experience of learning a new ‘charry’ language, adapting to a military maritime culture and learning to live with peers who are mostly younger than my children was always going to be tough. It has been. However like any challenge it has also bought great highs. Not to mention a load of precious memories, a huge number of very funny moments and a new very Gen Y nickname. (Q-Dog, or Q- Daddy and even Q Grand-daddy). 
For me faith in this context was an essential. People say that faith is a crutch for the weak. A better description is that faith is like a great pair of joggers. You still have to run. The pain is not eliminated. But the support, the strength, the confidence and the reassurance of knowing and being known by a loving God can make the journey so much easier.
Psa. 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
PS. For all Word4Life readers in Sydney I would like to invite you to a special service called a “ setting apart service” which is essentially the Presbyterian Churches way of commissioning me to my new role. I commence on 03 Dec 2012 as Chaplain to HMAS PENGUIN. The service will be held on 07 Dec 2012 at 7.30pm at Macquarie Chapel (see for address and details). The invitation is open to all. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Through the fire and flood...

The theory behind the 20-week New Entry Officers Course (NEOC) is that after the first four weeks, (the Intensive Training Period) the course gets a little easier. The 17-hour days have been replaced by 10-12 hour days. Weekends have generally been off, except half of the time when duty or travel has reduced our weekend to just one day. Now as we are about to start week 12 and go to sea for 3 weeks it is worth looking back at the last 7 “easier” weeks. Where….
·      we learnt to drive small boats by passing a solid practical and theoretical test.
·      we completed a 4 day first aid course in 2 days with practical test and a written exam.
·      we survived a theory and practical test on how to abandon a ship and board a life raft.
·      we learnt, and passed a test to disassemble, reassemble and test, a Steyr 88 assault rifle. Then by simulation, and finally live fire, we passed a target test at 100 and 200m.
·      we sailed for a week on a small ship on and around Jervis Bay, where we learnt, amongst other things how to steer and command the ship, how to leave the ship in a small zodiac boat in big swell, get to shore and search for casualties.
·      we endured three grueling days in the field with heavy packs, carrying weapons, with plastic sheets to sleep under and ADF ration packs to sustain us. In the name of leadership we were examined to see if we could lead a small team in exercises like crossing a simulated mine field or leading a search party into a tent of well armed terrorists.
·      we had a week learning the theory (with a very tough written exam) and the practice of fighting floods and fires on RAN ships in a rather large impressive simulator. If that was not enough we ended that week learning to kit up and survive a tear gas attack with real tear gas.
·      we also learnt to be real RAN officers by attending the Captain’s Cocktail party while entertaining some very important VIP guests.
·      we also continued to spend countless hours in class room backed up with assignments, task books, marching, quite a bit of yelling and a history essay.
Three things for me have been crucial to my endurance so far. One has been the wonderful support of my family who have supported and encouraged me constantly. Being away from your wife and best friend is the hardest part but somehow the distance is lessoned by text, phone, email, commitment and love. Family is one of God’s greatest gifts. Secondly my young fellow NEOC’s, and especially Phillip Division, (my ‘oppos’) have become increasingly like an extended family. Their humour, friendship, enthusiasm and confidence so often has helped me keep going. Finally God has been so evident and clear that my faith has been renewed, refreshed and replenished by the whole ordeal. The beauty of God’s creation, the gift of prayer, the touches of his grace and of course the encouragement of his word have been a daily experience.
I have been reading a Psalm a day. Starting on day one with Psalm 1 I hope to finish NEOC with the reading of Psalm 143. In the middle of the week before last we were battling flood, and fire in a simulator that the RAN could only insure by describing it as a theme park ride. I have new appreciation for the strength of fire fighters to wear heavy suits and man handle powerful fire hoses. On the Wednesday of that week I read these relevant words from Psalm 66.
Our God, you tested us, just as silver is tested. You trapped us in a net and gave us heavy burdens. You sent war chariots to crush our skulls. We traveled through the fire and through the floods, but you have bought us to a land of plenty.
Psalm 66: 13-15. (CEV)

Monday, August 6, 2012

…. but God is Good!

Josh Ling, interim supply minister at Macquarie Chapel, is one of those preachers who has a turn of phrase that is often so, so helpful. Some months ago he preached a sermon with the conclusion: Life is Tough but God is Good.
Having just completed the first 4 weeks (Intensive Training Period) of my 21 week New Entry Officers Course with the Royal Australian Navy, I am convinced again that life can be very tough, but God is very good.
Chaplains do the same course as all other new officers, so my last 26 days have included…
·      Days starting at 5.30am and finishing at the earliest at 10.30pm.
·      No days off – and really hardly an idle minute.
·      PT and fitness so tough that a number of twenty year olds have packed up and gone home – and quite a few are injured.
·      Pack marching and field exercises that left two in hospital and one temporarily not breathing.
·      Sleeping out under a bit of plastic when it is blowing a gale and really quite cold.
·      Time pressure like you would not believe ie. getting 18 guys through 4 showers and then dressed and down two flights of stairs in 4 minutes.
·      Only allowed to phone home twice and missing my family so much.
·      Hours and hours and hours of marching drill.
·      Almost 100 hours of cleaning and inspections that could only be passed after ironing your sheets on the bed every night.
·      And yes, as I was warned, quite a bit of yelling.
·      No time to read, think or barely get the bathroom.
Having said all that, the last 26 days have also been a time where God has been so good.
·      Marching past lazy kangaroos that scratch in the sun and wonder what the heck those crazy humans are doing.  
·      Looking out over Jervis Bay and being refreshed by the ever-changing beauty of God’s creation.
·      Parading each morning and watching the flag being raised and being given a ‘quiet time’ to pray and reflect on God’s goodness and my need of His grace.  
·      Going to a Sunday service run by a Navy Chaplain, where just 4 people worshipped with heart and soul and were reminded of a simple verse: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
·      Being surprised that God sometimes allows us to do more than we ever imagined we could do.
·      Being given unsought opportunities to minister to others struggling with the pace and pressure.
·      And the greatest miracle of all is that the old body is somehow (with the exception of a few blisters) holding together.
Life can be tough – but God is good!!
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11: 28 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Not Lost On God

For a long, long, long time I have avoided a phone contract. I have bought my phones outright and paid as I went along. But the attraction towards the iPhone has grown, so the issue of facing a contract had to be considered again. I did the maths on buying outright and much to my amazement a contract was actually cheaper. As my daughter chirped; “ Dad, sign up. You can’t ignore the culture of instant gratification for a monthly fee forever”.
So with family unity in mind, my wife and I signed up to Virgin for a two year contract for new ‘his and hers’ iPhones. The salesmen at Virgin were surprisingly helpful, courteous, and not that condescending to a pair in their fifties signing their very first phone contract. They promised that with Wendy’s phone, transferring her service and number from Vodaphone, it would connect immediately - and it did. They warned that it would take a few days for the transfer from my old phone on Amaysim (on the Optus network) to Virgin (also on the Optus network). This did not really make sense, but they guaranteed that my old phone would work until the transfer and then I would enjoy the new service with my old number. So on Thursday night Wendy’s new iPhone was working fine and I was waiting for a transfer within a day or two.
By Friday morning my old phone had stopped working and then the fun began. Wendy started to receive all my calls and my new iPhone was working but with what looked like a new number. Sure enough, after a few phone calls it was admitted that there was a ‘patching error’ and Wendy was now on my number and I was on a temporary number. They suggested a quick fix that would take a couple of hours. Wendy could keep my number and they would retrieve Wendy’s number and then all we would need to do was swap the SIM cards, otherwise the problem could not be fixed inside a few days. So by Friday night it should be fixed - but it wasn’t. On Saturday we swapped phones, which meant I had my number but Wendy’s contacts diary and phone numbers, and Wendy had my contacts diary and phone numbers, with a new number that no one knew. Saturday and Sunday passed with repeated promises that things would be fixed. Continuing with the wrong phone seemed dumb, so on Sunday we actually swapped SIM cards as they suggested. So now I had my phone with my number and Wendy started Monday with her phone and a weird number.
By lunchtime on Monday Wendy again started receiving my calls on her phone. I then realized that instead of half fixing the number problems as they promised, they had completely fixed the problem, which meant we had the wrong SIM card in our respective phones. So after many days of drama we finally swapped the SIM cards back and voila, instant gratification! We are away (we hope).
The whole episode got me thinking about God’s knowledge of us. He does not rely on numbers or codes – he knows us by name and then at a level even deeper. God knew us from the womb and has our allotted days written in his Book of Life. He knows our strengths and he knows our shades of grey. He does not forget and even though we are often determined to be off line to God, He is willing to reconnect to us when we are willing to accept His incredible offer, on His gracious terms and conditions.
Psalm 139: 1  O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
PS. Our last Sunday at MacChap will be next Sunday the 17th June. I will be preaching for the last time at all three services 8.30am, 10.30am and 6.30pm. We are having a special day with morning tea after the first service and lunch and dinner after the others. Word4Life readers who are close by are most welcome to share in this special day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Carpe Diem

Change happens. Just when we get used to our world the way it is, something moves. Or someone moves. Or we move.
Word4Life began almost 11 years ago and has been sent out via email most weeks for that same period. It began when a member of Macquarie Chapel told me he needed a mid week spiritual hit on a Wednesday to give his corporate life a spiritual jolt. It began as an attempt to see how faith and life interact, to take what we see in the news and to see if in some way we could look behind the event to learn eternal lessons from everyday events. Actually it's not really a new idea, as a certain itinerant spiritual teacher in Israel 2000 years ago told stories about wheat, lost sons, mustard trees and a surprisingly good Victorian (I mean Samaritan) - and he called them parables. Another word for a parable might easily be a Word4Life.
Word4Life, though written by me, has always been a silent partnership. Macquarie Chapel Presbyterian Church (known affectionately as Macchap) has always supplied the computer, the email management system and the time for me to write each week. A good friend, Peter Thomas, has for about 8 years been my unpaid and unacknowledged editor and spell checker. In spite of Peter’s assistance, I have still been able to make mistakes but Peter's gallant service has saved a great deal of grammatical pain and spelling embarrassments.
Last Sunday I announced to Macchap that I will be leaving my post here in mid June, to take a rather different position as a Chaplain in the Royal Australian Navy. There are many factors that have led to this and if you want to hear a much longer explanation then you can listen at In short, as one friend said on Sunday, it’s a Jesus thing. We sensed that the Lord was encouraging us to have one more ministry assignment and the Navy seemed a place where I could follow my passion of connecting word and life in a very real, needy, challenging and, at times, extreme environment.
Starting in July I have to first attend 5 months of New Entry Officer Training at Jervis Bay and if you want an insight to the challenges ahead for this 52 year old, you could check out After that I will be posted somewhere in Australia to serve the men and women of the Navy.
Many have asked what will happen to Word4Life and at this stage the answer is a little uncertain. Many receive this email each week and politely delete it. But for others they read, enjoy and bounce it on to all sorts of people in all sorts of places. I have been humbled that these short thoughts each week are read by people all over the world, from those in the humblest of states to indeed a head of state. Some have suggested that Word4Life could now become Word from the Bridge, Word from the Seas or whatever, but to be honest I am not even sure what time or freedom I will have as I move forward.
So the weekly Word4Life is going to be replaced by an occasional Word4Life. (I will write it when I can and if possible continue to post on the blog and to my Facebook friends). My passion remains to understand this fascinating world we live in and do so with reference to our gracious God, who loves us in spite of our unworthiness. Knowing God and following Jesus has been for me an amazing adventure and I am looking forward to this next posting, with the sadness that comes with any change. The Latin phrase has always challenged me: Carpe Diem - sieze the day.
The words of Scripture remain a light to my path.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Back in late 2007 when the Federal ALP was swept into power under the leadership of Kevin Rudd, it seemed the Labor Party was set to enjoy a golden age of power. Not only did Rudd win with a considerable majority, but the Labor Party also led the State Governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The only conservative remnant of power left in the country was the then Lord Mayor of Brisbane. Now less than 5 years later the political landscape of Australia is remarkably different. Before last weekend the State Governments of Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia had all, in recent times, replaced long serving Labor premiers with conservatives. Following an electoral tsunami last weekend in Queensland, the conservative LNP (Liberal National Party) has now taken power in Queensland. The ALP did so badly that people are asking, “What is the difference between the ALP in Queensland and a Toyota Tarago?” The answer, of course, is that a Tarago has 8 seats – slightly more than the Queensland ALP now has in the Sunshine State.
The Labor Party is hanging on by a thread in minority governments federally and in Tasmania, and with a small majority in South Australia. Back in 2007 Labor supporters were suggesting that their conservative opponents were on the edge of oblivion, but less than 5 years later many fear it is the ALP that might now, at best, be heading for an extended period in the political wilderness.
Life is more seasonal than most of us appreciate. Sporting teams have their times or even eras in the sun and return just as quickly to periods of darkness and defeat. Personally we too have periods in our lives when things go our way: when we achieve our goals; when life follows a predictable path; when love seems to answer all our needs; and when we seem to be able to handle with confidence this thing we call life. But it normally does not stay like that for long. Relationships are fickle and change, often for the worst. Careers have a knack of changing direction with lightning speed. Sickness has a habit of humbling the well. Misadventure seems to unsettle those so sure they were lucky. And then old age invades even those most determined to stay young.
The Old Book encourages us that God is the God of all the seasons of life, for the seasons of life are as inevitable as the seasons of the year. We are called to enjoy God in the good times and seek His comfort in the struggles. In the depths of winter we can trust God that in time we will feel sunshine on our backs again. And when the sunshine seems too good too last, we can enjoy the moment knowing our future is secured, not by the season but by the One who ordained the seasons.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:”  Ecclesiastes 3: 1

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pulped Fiction

What do the well respected Encyclopedia Britannica and the not so well respected ‘lads’ magazine FHM have in common? Not much, you might say.

Encyclopedia Britannica has been in print for 244 years and can be found in most English speaking libraries in the world. As even a rival concludes… “Since the 3rd edition, the Britannica has enjoyed a popular and critical reputation for general excellence.” FHM was first published in 1985 and was described as a glossy feast for those interested in grog, gadgets, gags and girls. Both originate in the United Kingdom but strangely enough that is not the thing they most have in common. No, last week both announced that their publications were coming to an end. Britannica seems to have finally succumbed to its ubiquitous online nemesis, Wikipedia. In the end there were not enough people left to pay thousands for a multi-volume encyclopedia that was out of date by the time of delivery, even though its reliability and credibility were never challenged. The explanation for the termination of FHM’s Australian edition in May was declining sales, because reportedly men have found similar ‘information’ online.
The rise and fall of magazines, newspapers, books and other print material highlights the remarkable longevity and survivability of the greatest old book, the Bible. It too has its online versions now but is still very much in print: in hundreds of languages; in all sorts of editions; in quite a few different translations; and with a future that seems assured.
When I first read the Bible in my late teens, it surprised me for a number of reasons. Firstly, in a good modern translation it was far more accessible than I had imagined. As much of the Bible is taken up with a mega multigenerational story, and then smaller stories within that story, it was surprisingly interesting to read. Secondly, I was surprised how much of the Bible was familiar, even to someone who had not read it before. So many of the stories, lessons and even phrases permeate western culture, plus I must have absorbed more Hollywood Biblical classics than I cared to admit. I kept reading and thinking – is that where that comes from? Finally, reading the Bible was a lot more serendipitous than I expected. The passage or story I read not only made sense to me – it made sense to today, to what was happening in my life, the very day I was reading it.  
When I was given a Bible as a 19 year old, my friend left me with a simple encouragement – “This is the Word of God – read it and live”. It was good advice and I am still reading it and more convinced than ever that it is the eternal Word that will never pass away.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words (Jesus said) will never pass away.   Luke 21: 33

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Atheists Encouraged To Steal From Religion

Alain de Botton is an atheist who has a new international best selling book about what he likes about religion. Even though de Botton does not believe in religion, his book argues that he wants to ‘steal’ religion’s best features, because atheism does seem a little empty. I know this sounds rather far fetched but the public is literally buying it in very large numbers.
De Botton admits that atheism has never been very good at building community the way a local church does. He admits that when the faithful face trial and death, they seek not only the counsel of their faith but they seek the support from their pastor or priest. He admits that religion has that ability to put humans in their place: to make us, in the good sense of the word, seem small; to recognize that the world does not revolve around us; and that there is a higher purpose and calling. Finally de Botton admits that humans are not very nice to each other most of the time and that religion has played a part in advocating morality and encouraging people to be more loving and kind.
In many ways the popularity of de Botton’s book is more interesting than the book itself. Atheism and agnosticism have had the philosophical and popular ascendency for much of the last hundred years in the western world, but for many a desire within continues to yearn for something more. We medicate with alcohol and drugs, but awake hung over rather than satisfied. We fill our lives with things in a vain attempt to ease the emptiness, but only accumulate clutter. We obsess about sex and relationships which not only fall short of our desires, but often remind us of our personal failures. We dream that a politician will rise up and fulfill our hopes, but their rhetoric is somehow never matched by reality.
De Botton may well have noble desires, but religion without belief seems a little like promoting the virtues of marriage without an understanding or belief in love. Stealing religion without belief may be as useful as a smart phone without a network. How can a community of faith work if no one has faith? How can you face trial and death without a belief in the afterlife? Why would you bother praying if you knew there was no one to hear? Ultimately humility is bound up not just in us feeling small, but experiencing that smallness next to the vastness of God.
Real atheists will reject de Botton as a sell out.
Real believers will weep at the continued stubbornness of humans to resist the God who we cannot see, but continue to sense is there.
The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” Psalm 14: 2

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rats in The Ranks

There is a lot more goes on in a suburban backyard than we dare to imagine. During the day a garden can look so serene, calm, tranquil and charming. Flowers and shrubs, trees and lawn can hide a darker side. For many years we had a wonderful Border Collie called Mickey, who patrolled our perimeter fence day and night to ward off any possible rodents. Occasionally one would foolishly enter our suburban block and Mickey would pounce, leaving his trophy catch on our back doorstep. With Mickey’s passing some time back, it was only a matter of time before the rodents would return. Some weeks ago I spotted one in broad daylight, so it was time to head to the produce store to buy a rat trap.
I mentioned my rat trap in a sermon at church a few weeks ago, to illustrate the point that disobedience to God was a little like taking the bait in a rat trap – pleasurable maybe, but somehow with consequences far worse than we could ever imagine. As a preacher you hope a carefully crafted illustration will deliver a seam of spiritual response, with people convicted of the need to repent. Unfortunately I am yet to see that spiritual response, but I have, by accident, become my church’s consultant, advisor and mentor on catching rats. It seems our backyard is not unique. With Sydney’s continued mild and damp summer turning into an even more damp autumn, the rats have enjoyed somewhat of resurgence. I have been encouraging many in our church to face their rats with bravery and resolve.
Most people in Sydney are blissfully unaware of what crawls around their gardens in the middle of the night. I don’t really know either but I do know one thing: there are now 14 less rats active in my yard than when I starting using the trap a few weeks ago.
When it comes to our lives, our hearts and our minds, most of us underestimate the darkness than lurks there as well. We seem to be quite proficient at seeing it in other people. We question their motives, we judge their actions and we condemn their foolishness. Somehow in others sin seems so easily recogised, but our own faults and foolishness seem to blend into the background.
One of the greatest gifts that God promises us is that His Holy Spirit will convict us of our sin. It might not sound like a gift, but the ability to see our own weakness can save us so much pain. We cannot control the strife and pain we experience in life, but when our sin is exposed we have a chance to at least reduce and maybe even heal our abundant self-inflicted wounds.
“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:”  John 16: 7-8

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Sorry Lot

Politicians in Australia this week have shown again that they are a sorry lot. From their own accusatory lips we have learnt again that politicians are vain, driven by a desire for power and status, disloyal, narcissistic, obsessed by their own egos, insecure, faction driven, tribal, self seeking, two faced, scheming, pragmatic, selfish, sexist and, at times, just not terribly nice people. It’s enough to make a grown man cry and one called Anthony actually did. The Australian Labor Party has torn itself to shreds this week, all in an attempt to convince us that they are worthy of our vote at the next federal election.

But those words don’t only apply to the ALP. Not that long ago the Liberal and National parties of Australia were tearing themselves apart, using some equally vindictive language over whether or not they believed in climate change and who was the best person to lead their party. The decisive vote that supposedly solved all their internal disunity and disquiet was by a majority of only one. The loser of that vote said he would leave politics, but later changed his mind and maybe still waits for his day of unlikely resurrection.
Of course the journalists who tell us all about these terrible politicians are actually not so wonderful themselves. They regularly drink too much and make fools of themselves at award ceremonies. Just occasionally they look a little vain, self seeking, arrogant and bloody minded. Journalistic ethics sounds so impressive but are often compromised by phone taps, false reports, vilification and a lust to be able to report the fight. At times the media looks a lot like the crowd at a schoolyard, cheering on the punch up behind the science block. Sometimes similar power struggles occur in academia, on building sites, at hospitals, amongst teachers at schools, and in those proverbial dispute centres we call families.
And please don’t think that I am now going to say that nice people who go to church are so much better. In fact vanity, narcissism, egotism and selfishness are all pretty commonplace in most church communities. It may even be a reasonable description of a lot of ministers and pastors I know. More to the point, I can’t even be sure it’s not something my critics might justifiably and regularly say about me! 
You see our politicians’ greatest weakness is that they are just like us. Sin is not the preserve of the powerful – they just have a little more freedom of expression and considerably greater scrutiny. We need much more than a self improvement program and we need something greater than a politician with a messiah complex.
We actually need a Messiah. One who is without sin. One who can save us from our sins.
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Romans 7: 24-25

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Do you feel a little worried if your mobile phone isn't nearby? Do you launch into a panic when you are not sure where you left your phone? Do you get anxious at the realisation that your phone is perilously low on battery power? Does the mobile reside on your bedside table at night, or worse, under your pillow? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then a recent study sponsored by SecureEnvoy and written up in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests you may be suffering from Nomophobia, the fear of having no mobile. Apparently Nomophobia is worse amongst the young who may never have known a mobile phone less period. Those with so-called smart phones may be suffering even greater anxiety, suggesting the more you have the more you have to lose.
In reality many of us have survived much of our lives without mobile phones. Somehow we got by. And my parents seem to have survived their childhoods without washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, TV and a whole lot of things that I can’t imagine life without. Their parents (my grandparents) survived their childhoods without a whole lot more ‘very essential’ things.
One thing most people in the western world have decided to live without is a knowledge of, and relationship with, the living God. For a range of reasons the idea of reaching out to our Maker, listening for moral guidance, seeking for spiritual salvation, and trying to understand life beyond the grave, has become something our society just does not encourage. But why not?
No amount of technology can help us understand what we are doing here on this extraordinary planet that sustains life. Scientists are desperate to discover life somewhere else in the universe, or to postulate the existence of parallel universes, in part because our existence seems too good and too unlikely to believe. Technology can lead us astray while offering us no real moral guidance. We have access to seemingly unlimited knowledge, but seem at the same time to have lost our sources of wisdom. While our technology increasingly distracts and entertains, it does little to offer spiritual salve to the spiritual needs that no amount of distraction can completely satisfy. Finally, and fortunately, our life expectancy is far greater than our technology, but our own built in obsolescence remains an unsolved riddle. Technology may grant us a year or three more on medication in a nursing home, but the mystery of death remains unexplained.
Abandoning God in the hope that technology might provide the answer is a forlorn hope. The death of God has long been predicted, but stubbornly (and fortunately) God refuses to accept our verdict. To know God remains the greatest source of understanding, guidance, spiritual comfort and hope—something we really should not live without.
“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.”  Proverbs 14: 27

Monday, February 13, 2012

Beyond Control

“It’s the economy, stupid.” So said Bill Clinton when it came to the 1992 presidential election in the USA. He was probably right, that when it comes to politics people really do care about the economy, because in the end people ultimately care about what affects their own personal finances. But as we approach very uncertain economic times, governments around the world are facing the fact that the levers they have traditionally used to impact the economy, seem either to have disappeared or have become terminally jammed.
In Australia governments have relied on two main levers. The first is fiscal, meaning the government’s ability to impact the economy by its own spending. During the GFC, governments in Australia spent huge amounts of money on things like schools and insulation, resulting in a massive boost to the economy when it was facing tough times. However now the cupboard is bare the debts have to be repaid and the political imperative is to return the budget to surplus. In Australia, as well as most of the world, the lever of stimulus is rusted so tightly that governments will have little ability to move the lever for some decades yet.
The second lever is monetary, meaning that through influence governments can seek for the supposedly independent Reserve Bank to lower interest rates, in an attempt to get credit and the economy flowing. Again this lever looks ineffective, as the banks are unwilling to follow the Reserve Bank tune as their costs of raising money has escalated. In short, the Reserve Bank is probably going to be unable to move commercial and residential mortgage rates by this lever of economic control. The lever might still be there but it seems disconnected from the engine.
Without any control it won’t really matter who governs Australia, as our destiny will actually be in the hands of international money markets (who lend us money), and the Chinese communist government (who buys most of our iron ore). Of course what happens to the Aussie Dollar may also help or hinder our economic future, but again we can’t really rely on a system of currency fluctuations that are determined basically by a casino we call ‘foreign exchange’.
Actually all that sounds bad, but control is probably an overrated concept. Minor things like natural weather disasters, the transmission of disease, the spread of viruses, the outbreak of war, the attacks of terrorists, and a whole raft of things we generally call accidents, are all pretty much beyond our control and most of the time even beyond government control.
All this might lead us to despair. But there are alternatives. We could give up the idea that we are gods that determine our own destiny. We could in humility seek after God by faith, instead of demanding that He impress us by logic or miracles. We could be a little more thankful for what we have and a lot less confident that we have earned our way to prosperity. We may even learn that our quality of life may grow independently of our asset balance, if we stopped worrying about what the government and Reserve Bank is doing and instead determined to work hard, take responsibility, accept that we have had it good for a long time and practice a bit more generosity.
It might even be a good idea to resurrect the ancient spiritual art of prayer.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Not Born To Rule

Many people’s lives do not turn out as they imagined in childhood they might. On 21 April 1926 a young girl named Elizabeth was born to a rather special family. Her father was a quiet man, whose real importance only lay in the fact that his brother was the King of England (and a few other places). Elizabeth, I guess, grew up in an era when an upper class woman would have been thrilled with a comfortable life, a husband of some standing, a family and maybe a country estate with horses. By the time young Elizabeth had turned 11 things had changed rather radically. Her uncle had abdicated as King, her father had become King and she was next in the line of succession. At the age of  26, this wife and mother of two young children became Queen Elizabeth II. This week marks the 60th anniversary of her father’s death and later this year will mark the 60th anniversary of her coronation as Queen. Whatever her subjects (especially those in the colonies) might make of a constitutional monarch in the 21st Century, her life has certainly been extra- ordinary. Sixty years is a very long time to do any job, especially one in your childhood you never imagined would come your way.
It is often argued that we shape our destiny, but in many ways we respond to our destiny, rather than creating it from scratch. Quite often our adult lives do not match our childhood expectations. On the other hand, sometimes through life we are given opportunities to escape what seemed to be our destiny. We do occasionally come to a fork in the road and the decisions we make on a particular day, or in a moment, can lead us inevitably and conclusively to our destiny.
When believers talk about God having plans and purposes for our lives, the interplay between the ordained and the parts we control is often mysterious. Clearly so much is a matter of fate or destiny. So much of who we are is determined by our genes, biology and circumstances way beyond our control. On the other hand our lifestyle choices, our determination, our willingness to labour, our integrity and our will, all contribute hugely to who we are.
Living life in partnership with the God of creation can be so special. Trusting in God’s sovereign will, while creatively responding to what is dealt us, can be one of life’s greatest joys. Accepting who we are and then striving to be who we want to be under God can liberate us from the despair of fatalism and the naivety that we control our destiny.
“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”  Psalm 139: 1-3

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Fine Line

Spare a thought this week for the American golfer, Kyle Stanley. In his first few seasons of professional golf, this week Stanley almost won his first ever PGA title. Coming into the last round he had a comfortable 6 shot lead. Half way through his round he extended the lead to 7. Coming into the last hole, a par 5, which for pro golfers are normally the easiest holes, Stanley led by 3 strokes. He hit two solid shots up the 18th fairway, only to see his third approach shot to the green land safely but roll back down a slope into a water hazard. After taking a penalty Stanley landed what was his fifth shot on the back of the green and then he three putted for a three over par 8. That meant he tied with Brandt Snedeker, who probably could not believe his good fortune. The tie was decided in a sudden death play off one more hole. Amazingly Stanley recovered to score one under par (a birdie) the next hole, but Snedeker matched him. On the second play off hole, following his opponent’s par, Stanley again three putted the hole and lost by one stroke. If you are not a golfer you may not understand all of the technicalities, but you will understand this. By finishing second Stanley earned $US 648,000, but had he won he would have earned $US 1.08 million, meaning his last hole meltdown cost him $US 432,000.
At times golf looks unnervingly like life. Defeat often reappears just when we thought victory was at hand. Life unravels more quickly than we imagine when a mistake, a misjudgement, a misadventure or a misdemeanour can sometimes redirect our life with alarming speed.
Just ask Kerry O’Brien, one of the ABC’s much-loved political journalists. O’Brien found himself in court this week after a speed camera nabbed him travelling more than 30kms over the speed limit. A three-month licence suspension was surely not in his plan for 2012. Some will be very judgemental but many others will remember, at least on an odd occasion, when they have done the very same thing, but fortunately without a camera around to record and convict.
Life can change very rapidly for any of us. The Bible never promises anything less. There are no false promises that our golf swing, our marriage, our business, our family, or even our health will not fall apart. What the Old Book promises is a relationship with the God of the universe who takes a personal interest in our plight. Knowing God is to know the One who is indeed our rock, our support, our strength and our guide.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  Psalm 46: 1-4

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Not Too Big To Sink

MS Costa Concordia was the largest Italian passenger ship ever built. Only six years old and built at a cost of 450 million Euro, this Italian cruise ship was rather extraordinary. Nearly 300 metres long, with a layout consisting of 13 decks, with 1500 cabins (550 with private balconies), 4 swimming pools (2 with retractable covers), 5 jacuzzis, 5 spas, a pool-side movie screen on the pool deck, 5 restaurants, 13 bars (including a cigar and cognac bar) and the world’s largest exercise facility at sea, boasting a 6000 sq metre fitness centre, a gym, a thalassotherapy pool (whatever that is) and a turkish bath. 
The name ‘Concordia’ was supposed to express the wish for continuing harmony, unity and peace between European nations. However the ship began life with a less than perfect launch, when at Senstri Ponente on 2nd September 2005, the champagne bottle failed to break.
In a time when financial markets around the world, especially in Europe and the USA, are obsessed with the maxim ‘too big to fail’, MS Costa Concordia has proven again that no ship is too big to sink. Strangely, the picture of a luxury liner sailing irresponsibly close to the rocks, only to crash into them ripping a huge hole in the hull, bears a nervous parallel to a European Economic Union, which also seems to be in very shallow water. In spite of the tragic loss of life, in many ways it remains a marvel that over 4000 passengers and crew were rescued. We can only hope that when the single currency Euro and EU inevitably lists and then rapidly takes on water, that the economic tragedy is also limited. As in the past we can pretty much guarantee that when the finance ships sink, the captains of banking will take the only life boats and it’s pretty unlikely any of them will ever see the inside of a court room or an Italian gaol. We can only hope that governments will be quick on the scene, will attempt to quell panic, will encourage an orderly abandonment of ship and will feed, house and clothe the survivors.
‘It won’t happen’, you say! ‘It can’t happen’, you say! ‘We know what we are doing’, you say! ‘Yes, we are in shallow water, but our technology won’t let it happen’, you say! 
Well, tell that to the passengers of the Costa Concordia - at least the lucky ones who are still alive.
How the mighty have fallen in battle!  2Samuel 1: 25