Monday, December 3, 2012

A little (non-profund) insight from Jeremiah

I'm reading through Jeremiah at the moment. It's a great read. Tough, but lots of gems along the way.

Here's something (not really a gem, but a useful insight) that I came across today.

Have you ever wondered about that slightly unusual ceremony in Genesis 15? You know the one where God has just promised to Abram that he will make his offspring like the stars in the sky - despite the current situation of Abram being childless and the biological clock for he as his wife Sarah seeming to have ticked it's last tock.

Having made that promise, God then tells Abram to cut up various animals in half and lay them out. Abram does so and as night falls, he goes to sleep.

He then has a dream in which God visits him and makes more promises - again, about his offspring. But also, in the draw, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the pieces of the animals and we are told that on that day God made a covenant with Abram.

We don't really understand the details of how this covenant ceremony works and they are not explained for us, which perhaps means that the original readers understood exactly what was going on and so didn't need an explanation.

But here is what I found in Jeremiah today. In Jeremiah 34 God commands Jeremiah to go and speak to the Zedekiah, King of Judah, and the message is not great. Basically, because the people of Israel have been systematically and habitually ignoring the law of God, they are going to suffer under his judgement. This is expressed in various ways throughout the chapter, but verses 18 and 19 say this.

"And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts - the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf."

In other words, they have broken the covenant and as a result, they are going to become like those animals that were used in the covenant ceremony.

I don't know about you, but that helps me understand what is happening in Genesis 15. The symbolism of the halved animals is a promise of what happens if the covenant is broken. Therefore, the promise is a very serious one and needs to be considered with great caution and respect!

(Told you it was little and non-profound, but useful all the same.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Church discipline : the first step

I recently had the privilege to attend a conference run by 9Marks, a group led by Mark Dever from Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington. Mark is an incredibly well thought our and humble teacher and is leading a great movement to encourage Biblical churches in the USA and beyond. I was there because for the first time ever, a simultaneous conference for Spanish speakers was held, which meant I had a great opportunity to network and learn.

Mark's sessions and generous conversation at dinner made me think about lots of things. Not surprisingly, I didn't agree with everything he said (but then if you are going to conferences where you agree with everything that is said, maybe you need to push your thinking a bit harder) but I was really challenged by one point that he made.

Throughout the weekend there was quite a bit of talk about church membership and church discipline. Membership being the formal process that people are asked to step through to declare their commitment to their local church, and the process of the church accepting and including them. And discipline being the process of confronting those members who move away from the things they committed to in the membership process, with the aim of restoration (guided by passages such as Matt 18).

We had a really helpful discussion on the process and purpose of discipline and, how people within the church are involved, how discipline can be exercised without encouraging "the church police". But the thing that really stuck out for me was this comment. "The first step of church discipline is church membership."

When he said "the first step of church discipline is...." I immediately started thinking about who raises the question, who does the visit, how hard do you go it - all that sort of stuff. But no, for Mark, the first step was membership. Because in his mind, without a clear membership process and commitment, the exercise of discipline becomes much more difficult. Why? Because the expectations and boundaries haven't been clearly defined. And without those in place, it is much harder to say - hey, you are not keeping up your end of the agreement. Perhaps without some sort of membership system, the response might come back... "What agreement?"

Now for different churches and denominations the process of membership will look different. Whether there are covenants to be signed or courses to be completed or pledges to be made - who knows. The point is, if we want to be caring for the people in our churches, then perhaps there needs to be something.

Maybe the 21st century response to this idea might be - wait a minute, I don't commit to anything beyond a 3 month gym membership, and so requiring a commitment to church might be seen as being a bit over the top. Maybe so - but then again, maybe we need to be counter-cultural, and say - people matter to us. They matter so much that we care about them and their walk with the Lord, and to care for them as best we can, this is something we ask.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why exegetical preaching is good for you.

Last week I was one of the presenters at a pastor's conference on an isolated Caribbean nation. (Yes, one of those ones that got smashed by Hurricane Sandy - which made for an interesting couple of days.)

I was speaking about the importance of Biblical Theology and how we as pastors can teach it to our congregations. But I was also invited to be part of a panel which discussed various issues and took questions from the floor for an hour each day. During one of these panels I was reminded that exegetical preaching is good for you.

It came up because we were talking about the different of roles of men and women in ministry, and someone asked about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 - the famous "head covering" passage. 

We talked about the different issues involved in the passage, cultural things, creation order, expressions of authority and submission to authority etc. It is a difficult passage, requires hard work to understand it, and even harder work to teach it. And then it came to me - that is exactly why a steady diet of systematic, exegetical preaching is good for us. Because it makes us think and work hard.

You see, if each week you preach on what has come to you during the week, or what is the "live issue of the day"or what doctrinal or theological topic you think needs to be addressed in any particular moment, I'm guessing you'll probably never preach on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Because it is unlikely to come up on your radar as a "hot topic"while you are considering what to preach about this Sunday.

But if we are committed to work through a book, chapter by chapter, then we commit ourselves to the hard yards or having to deal with these sorts of passages. And that is a good thing, because I think if we preach week in and week out on what we think the congregation needs to hear, then I suspect we tend to preach on what we think we already understand, and therefore our preparation and thinking gets sloppy. We spend more time trying to work out how to communicate what it is we already think we know, rather than being challenged by something new and then working out how to communicate that.

But if each week as we open to the next chapter in our program, we are presented with the agenda from the Bible, sometimes - in fact hopefully, many times - our thinking is going to be challenged, our eyes are going to be opened to new truths and insights, and we are going to need to read and prepare carefully to answer the surprises and challenges that the text throws at us. Yes, that will require careful thought, hard work, and longer preparation, but that is a good thing, because it will make us students and servants of the text, rather than authorities over it.

So, get that diet of regular, systematic, expository preaching going - and look out for the challenges it will bring your way!

(The picture is of sunrise over our city this morning, snapped by our most excellent language tutor Lillian.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

A little reminder of why we are here

I had a conversation last week which was a good reminder of why we need to be here, and what we can and can't take for granted.

I was chatting with someone I have got to know over the last year or so. He's a christian and a great guy, very keen to be doing what he can to encourage others, but hasn't really been settled in a church for a while. He has recently started studying a couple of the courses I am running, and we are also both part of a mid-week Bible study group.

We were talking about what he'd been learning as he studied his first Old Testament subject. The conversation went something like this. He is 'F' (for friend), I am 'M' (for me).

'F' : Do people really study the Bible?
'M': Do you mean, do people really study the Bible - in terms of where it came from, how we got it etc, or, do you mean, Do people study it in terms of what it says?
'F': No - do people study it deeply or just skim over it? I mean, I have learnt so much from studying this course and I wonder if others do it or they would benefit from it?
'M': Yes - people do study it in depth. There are some places, like in Sydney where I come from, where it is totally normal for people who are members of a church to also be involved in a Bible study group each week where they read the Bible carefully and try to apply it to their lives and encourage the other members of the group to do the same. Each week in the sermon the preacher also tries to carefully teach the passage for the day and apply it to our everyday life.
'F': Really ?! Wow, that would be really good if we could get people doing that sort of thing here.
'M': Well, I'm running a group on Sundays at our church in which we are reading through Ephesians. Looking at 10 or so verses each week, thinking about the details and how those details speak to us.
'F': That's fantastic - that is exactly the sort of thing people here need, because they just spend a lot of time skimming on the surface.
'M': Yes.

For readers in good churches where this sort of detailed study is par for the course, can I make two requests.

1. Don't take it for granted. Keep pushing your leaders to do a good job of careful teaching from the scriptures.
2. Don't forget that there are whole lot of places in the world where things are very different. So please keep on remembering those places in your prayers and in your giving.

(Photo: Holy Cross Anglican Church, Tarija, Bolivia)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fly in, Fly out teaching

I teach classes in all sorts of contexts, but one which is becoming more common is the "fly in, fly out" model. Kind-of like the miners who commute from Perth, but without the big $$!

I was recently involved in a group which illustrates how this model works, and why.

The academic year has just begun in Spain, and the local IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) group (GBU) was gearing up for their program to begin. As part of their week long staff get together and start up for the year, they invited me to go and teach the MOCLAM Old Testament 1 course.  So, for a week I'd teach the material, and in the afternoon they'd do other GBU stuff, study or get ready for the year ahead.

It was fantastic - here are some of the reasons why.

i. They got the chance to study. 
For many of the people in groups like this, formal, full time theological education is not a possibility. Whether it be for reasons economic, geographical, educational or others - the possibility of going to a seminary to study for a few years is not on the horizon. Therefore, for them to be able to do a seminary level course in their own environment is a great advantage.

ii. They got the chance to study with others.
There is no substitute for learning in community, especially learning theology in community. Distance education is great and it means lots of people can be studying who may not have been able to in the past, but  there is no substitute for community. Studying together in a group for a week means we get to discuss questions, chase ideas, swap experiences, think about personal applications and generally have a fun time - all of which is much harder if you are by yourself.

iii. The got to study in their own language.
One of the issues with theological education, particularly here in Latin America is that many of the good resources and colleges require English. The vast majority of my fly in - fly out teaching is done in Spanish, so is very much more accessible.  (Due to the makeup of the group, the class in Spain was actually in English, which is the first time I have taught in English!)

iv. It is relatively cheap
I can get anywhere in Latin America or Europe for about US$1000. In the world of education that is cheap! Of course the students don't pay for that - the generous supporters of CMS who see this as a worthwhile thing to be doing do.

But of course there are some disadvantages as well.

i. It was only for a week.
Yes we got to study in community and we bonded quickly, and I will have some ongoing email contact with the members of the group - but the class only existed for a week. Theological education is a process of shaping. It is not about giving a long list of answers to an even longer list of questions. It is about shaping our minds so that we can read and understand the Bible so we can teach it to others and work out, using God's wisdom, the answers. You can't do that in a week. You can start, you can give a few building blocks, but the house can't be finished in a week!

ii. It takes time to understand local culture
As a teacher in a fly in, fly out role, I really need to be on my game when it comes to understanding and adapting to the local culture. There are all sorts of things that can be very off-putting for students if I don't understand what is going on. For example, what is my expectation of students asking questions? What do I do when a student gives a wrong answer to a question that I ask? Are the students able to work in small groups without direction? What is considered a reasonable starting time and what is the correct reaction when someone is late?   
All these are cultural questions, and require careful thought. As much as possible, I try to have a local organiser who deals with a lot of the local logistical stuff, and I try and take my lead from them.

iii. Modelling
I think I am safe in saying that the greatest influence on a Christian's life is their day to day and week to week interaction with their church, their pastor, and their fellow local Christians. They will model their Bible reading habits, their methods of thinking, their devotional life and their attitude to others on the models they see around them every day. Therefore, if I come in for a week and say "here's a brand new way to think about the Bible" or "here's a new preaching model", it is hard to know what use that is - and that is assuming that the model I'm introducing is brilliant!
Just as there is no substitute for long term, community based theological education, there is no substitute for long term, relationship-based modelling of the Christian life. 
But, just because it isn't the best, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

What we're trying to do now in MOCLAM is see how we can use the "fly in, fly out" model as a basis for forming ongoing study groups. Things like:
- trying where possible to make return visits to teach subsequent classes.
- having students continue in their studies as individuals and meet regularly in local groups.
- encourage students to participate "virtual classrooms" as they continue to study individually.

(By the way, you might be glad to know that we have passed 1,000 enrolments for 2012!)

(Photo: Boarding in Tarija, Bolivia - just before the Military Policeman grabbed my camera!)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day off trickiness

Today I was doing a bit of planning for the remainder of the year. There are a couple of busy months coming up including a long (4+ weeks) trip and some weekend things. In the midst of that planning, an age old question has arisen. When do you say "no" - I just need to have a rest?

On one hand, the answer is obvious. You say no when you need to.

But its never quite as simple as that is it. I mean, if the thing I was saying no to was a waste of time or pointless, then we wouldn't be having this discussion. No would have been the answer a long time ago.

The problem is, the things that are filling my diary are neither a waste of time nor pointless. In fact, they are exactly the sorts of things I am here to do. Teach courses, participate in workshops, meet and encourage leaders.

You can see (and I'm sure resonate from your own experience) the problem.

Added to that is that fact that out of necessity (due to the availability of those who are coming) many of these things happen on the weekend. Saturday is our family day off. We try and do something together - go to a park or have an adventure somewhere. It is an important thing for the health of our family to do these sorts of things.

But me teaching a course means that family day doesn't happen. I'm led to believe they all have a reasonable time while I'm away - but its not the same. Certainly not the same for me.

Yes - I can usually take a day or so off sometime during the week if I need to, but its not like a Saturday, because the normal stuff of life carries on.

And so - day off trickiness is the result.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

On the road again

Tomorrow - I'm on the road again.

My main reason for travelling this time is to teach an Old Testament intensive course to IFES staffworkers in Bilbao, in the north of Spain. (The Spanish IFES group is the GBU) Some of their staff have been doing MOCLAM courses regularly, and for some this will be their first. I'll be seeing my good friends Derek and Jane, who are missionaries from Ireland and who are very quick to remind me about Australian sporting failures.

As usual, I try and do a few other bits and pieces while I'm travelling. This time I'll be having a meeting with the great people from Christianity Explored in London who are producing a Spanish version of the video resources to go with the printed material we already have. I'll also meet a couple of MOCLAM students in Barcelona and have a chance to meet and encourage / be encouraged by other CMS missionary families (Lovells, Whittens), and talk with them about how MOCLAM can help their ministry. Finally, I'm meeting with some people involved with the work of MOCLAM in a large Caribbean island and look forward to working with them on how we can keep the work growing in a very needy part of the world.

Lots of flights, buses, trains,early mornings, late nights and waiting, but as always, I'm looking forward to a productive time. (I'm also packing my running stuff in the hope of continuing my slow build up for the Monterrey Marathon in December!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Not having a home has some advantages

At Bible study last night we were reading Genesis 11 and 12 and talking about the movement of Abram from his homeland of Ur to Canaan. We did a quick "go around the room" and found that only one member of our group currently lived in the city of his birth. Two others were from different parts of  Mexico and 3 were from outside the country.

We talked a bit about that, and about how it can often feel like we're not at "home". For those of us from a foreign country, culture and language background, this is certainly an issue. I am reminded pretty much every day that I am not from around here - through a lack of understanding of the way things work, language failures, failing to understand the significance of certain events - all sorts of things. But then, when we go back to our original countries, we're not home there either. Things have changed, people have changed, things have moved on. Sometimes we can feel like we are homeless, citizens of no man's land.

But then when got talking about how that sense of "homeless-ness"can be a great advantage for Christians, because in many places the Bible reminds us that our hope is our future inheritance, and therefore we are now to live as aliens and strangers. ( eg: 1Peter 1:3-12, 2:11-12) We're urged not to be conformed and tied to this life, but to live lives that reflect our heavenly inheritance (Col 3:1-17).

Perhaps living as aliens in a foreign country gives us a headstart on understanding and applying these principles?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A week in Bolivia

I just got home from a week in Bolivia where there are many opportunities for training and encouraging  Christian leaders.

Here's a few highlights:

Adrian and Anita (CMS - part of the MOCLAM team, pictured) are now well settled in Cochabamba. They are doing really well at their Spanish studies and are teaching Creation to New Creation to a couple of their teachers from language school! There are good opportunities for Adrian to be starting a new CNC class with a few guys next month or so.

We met with representatives from a couple of different seminaries / denominational groups who are interested in using the MOCLAM courses as part of their curriculum. They are particularly interested because in Bolivia there are many people living in isolated rural areas for who studying at the seminary is virtually impossible. The nature of the MOCLAM courses makes study for these people a real possibility.

It was also amazing to hear about the "normal" life of a seminary student in Bolivia. For many of them, they have classes 6:30-8:30am and 7-9:30pm each day, and go to work in between so they can eat. They are really doing it tough.

In this context, an Australian guy, Nathan Spies, has started an organisation called 'Roots'.   Roots offers scholarships to seminary students so they can spend more time concentrating on their studies. They also offer mentoring and additional training. I was able to teach a one day seminar on Biblical Theology to the Roots group.

I visited a rural church in Tarija in the south of Bolivia. This church serves very poor people living in squats and reclaimed land around the city. It was good to hear of the challenges faced by such a different church.

Adrian, Anita and I had a great day discussing MOCLAM matters and brainstorming at the house of Andrew and Paulina Cox (CMS) in Tarija. Many ideas were developed and it was good to hear how the courses are being used in many different contexts.

I had a game of soccer at 2,600 metres above sea level. After about 3 minutes I though my heart might leap out of my chest it was beating so hard! (But I continued to play for the next hour of course - can't show signs of weakness you understand...)

One of the slightly odd things about going to Bolivia if there was a direct flight from Monterrey to Cochabamba or Tarija it would probably take about 7 hours (have a look at a map).
Monterrey to Cochabamba
But of course, there isn't a direct flight. In fact, my return trip was made up of 5 separate flights and took 29 hours door to door. I even got to have a happy reunion with my luggage 4 hours after I got home!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Warning ... Olympics rant approaching!

I love sport as much as the next guy - especially when my country wins. (And now I have two countries so the chances of that happening are increased).

But, isn't it time that we had a rational debate about sports funding in Australia. I mean, the figures seem a bit out of whack don't they. We have one of the largest teams at the games (from a pretty small country), the government funding that the athletes get would make any state school principal or overseas aid coordinator green with envy and our results aren't that great.

But even if we were winning a whole bag of gold medals, would it still justify the ridiculous amount of money that gets spent on elite sport? I think not.

There are those who say that success at the elite level encourages grass roots participation and therefore public health - but I think that is a myth that as been debunked. If you want to increase grass root participation, put the money into grass roots sport. Come to think of it, if you want to increase education and "smarts" in the community, put the money into schools and universities.

While we're on it - how come I have a HECS debt that I have to pay off, while someone who goes to the AIS doesn't? (and I reckon they have a better chance of endorsing shampoo or nutritional supplements that I do!)

I wonder if a sensible debate about sports funding can be held in Australia with out the "this will cost gold medals" argument dominating the headlines. I guess my response to that is "Ok - maybe it will, but does that matter?"

Rant ends. (apologies)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A new war in Mexico

Here's a really interesting report from ABC-Australia's Foreign Correspondent.

They are doing a story on the problem of obesity around the world, and one of the countries they focus on is Mexico.

One of the great things to see in our neighbourhood is that there is a well maintained park that lots of people use for exercise in the morning and evening. However, that is balanced by the easy availability and amazingly low price of softdrinks (600ml coke, cold at a 7-11 for about AUD$0.50) and pre-packaged, high fat and sugar content snack foods.

Having said all that - we've just come back from a couple of weeks in the USA. Double deep fried doughnut with extra glaze and whipped cream for breakfast anyone??

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A little point on leadership

If you want to "up" you blog views, including a word like "leadership" in the title is not a bad start. Leadership is a very popular topic at the moment - you can read books on it, do degrees in it, go to training courses to make you a better one...etc.

I have no intention on writing a full manifesto on leadership at this point! All I'm doing is making one, isolated observation.

In my personal Bible reading time at the moment I'm reading through Exodus and Proverbs. Kind-of a strange combination, but that's what my system produced for me. Today I was reading Exodus 18 and Proverbs 12.

In Exodus 18 Jethro (Moses's father-in-law) comes to visit the newly liberated Israel under the leadership of Moses. And, he sees that Moses is, well, snowed under. It seems that everyone who has a dispute comes to Moses for him to sort it out.

Jethro's advice is to get a bit of help - delegate this task of 'judging'. But what caught my eye in the context of leadership was the qualifications of these delegates. Jethro says "look for able men from all people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe." (Ex 18:21)

What was interesting for me was that yes, they were to be able (we are not told what their abilities should be, but maybe it was something to do with understanding the legal system), but just as, or even more important is their character. They are to be god-fearers, trustworthy, honourable.

That sounds very Proverbs-ish don't you think?

"The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are deceitful." (Pr 12:5)
"Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit." (Pr 12:17)
"One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbour, but the way of the wicked leaders them astray."(Pr 12:26)

When we are looking for leaders, critiquing leaders, choosing new leaders, I wonder how we manage the balance of character and competence? I think the world pretty quickly sense - competency is king and character is a distant second - as long as character doesn't impinge on your ability to do the job.

But I think this little snippet from Exodus and Proverbs maybe says we can't separate the two. Perhaps character is more important, or even defines your competency?

If this is true, it is of course a great challenge for those of us who have positions of leadership. I don't know about you, but I have moments when the writer of Proverbs could well use me as his anti-example (if you know what I mean).

Exodus 18 and Provers 12 was a good reminder for me to keep on shaping my character according the scriptures.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

671 exams!

I'd like to tell you about two things.

1. A big number.
2. Some individuals.

1. A big number.
The number is 671. That's the number of MOCLAM exams that are currently being sent to me from the famous Island C. Over the past couple of months we've had a bit of a 'catch up on your exams' campaign going, and it seems to have worked! Of course this is really great news. It means that a whole stack of pastors (many will have done more than one exam, so I don't know what the number of students is) have been busy studying their Bibles and course notes, which can only be a good thing for their churches.

It is also great news that 98 of those exams have already been marked by tutors who I've been teaching over the last couple of years. I'll moderate some of their marked papers, but I am sure they will be fine - they certainly have been in the past.

So it is great to see that under God's hand, the effort we are putting in to teaching and equipping tutors is bearing fruit.

2. Some individuals.
Andrew Cox is a CMS missionary working in Bolivia. One of the things he does is teach MOCLAM courses. He teaches a couple of classes locally, but also teaches a class in another city of Bolivia using skype. In Andrew and Paulina's latest news, they share some reflections from their students. In the context of throwing around big numbers, to read the personal testimony of these amazing Bolivian people is encouraging, and also an important reminder of how important individuals are.

I'm quoting from Andrew:

"I have never preached directly from a book of the bible and only heard it done two or three times. I've been learning a lot and the congregation are more keen than ever to know God's word." (Local pastor)

"Discipling like this is the key to our denomination's survival. I've never had this sort of encouragement in my Christian life - even in seminary." (Local pastor)

"I've been a Christian since I was a teenager but I never realised how much God is sovereign and that the Bible is actually about him. I want my children to learn this!" (MOCLAM student)

"I was studying at a national seminary but now I really feel like I am learning from God's word through these courses - there is so much I didn't know before." (MOCLAM student)

I wanted to make a comment about the importance of long term missionary workers for these people, but Andrew does it better than I can, so over to him again.

"Each of these comments represents a person whose life has been enriched through relationship with the Lord of life in his word. In Bolivia, such discipling normally comes about through a believer's long-term faithfulness in personal relationship. There are no short-cuts to building this trust and respect; it cannot be developed by remote-control. It is necessary to send well prepared, servant-hearted sharers of the word."

I hope that you are encouraged by reading this. In the midst of our struggles, the heat, the difficulties and our tiredness, we are.

We're also really encouraged to know that there are many people who see this work as something really valuable, and you give generously so that we can continue doing it.

If you're encouraged, but aren't yet giving to CMS, can I encourage you to start doing so today. We can only be here doing this work because people like you give money. Andrew is right. Well prepared, servant-hearted sharers of the word are necessary for long term relationships, and that costs money.

If you'd like to give, this month is a great time to do it because the CMS annual appeal is on. The target of $1.4M is slowly being chipped away - as I write something in the order of $470K has been given. But that means there is still a way to go and June is well and truly underway.

Please visit today and give generously and cheerfully, so we, Andrew and Paulina and many other CMS missionaries around the world can keep working with individual people.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Taking a stand

One of our daughters "nailed her colours to the mast" at school the other day.

The kids are practicing for their end of year concert at the moment - music is a pretty big part of our school and each year they do a performance where the whole primary school sings 6-8 songs, with some bits of drama etc interspersed. They practice every day for an hour for 3-4 weeks. Generally good fun, some 'Over the Rainbow" type songs, other more traditional mexican, lots of good variety.

But this year, one of them had the Mexican equivalent of "Oh my God" in it. ie: a pretty commonly used expression of surprise, but using the word God. The sort of thing that we hear 100 times a day, we may kindof cringe a bit but don't say anything.

Well, one of our daughters said something. She quietly said to the (very senior) teacher leading the rehearsal that she didn't think it was appropriate to use the word "God" like that because he is very important and perhaps they should consider using a different expression.

The teacher said "OK - lets raise the issue with everyone else and see what they think?" So, she stopped the rehearsal, said that "______ (used her name but I won't because she was embarrassed) thinks we should change this phrase because some people might find it offensive. What do you think?"

After some discussion, the overwhelming opinion of all the assembled students (and _____'s peers) was to change!

Good on you ______ . We are proud of you.

(Random picture - taken in the Sierra Madre mountains. We live on the edge of this range.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Teaching this weekend

I'm about to head to the airport to go to Tampico - a city down on the Gulf of Mexico - where I'll be teaching an intensive of Old Testament 1 tomorrow.

The way this has all worked out is a great example of networking, relationship and who knows who.

I was originally invited to go to Tampico because of friend of mine here has a cousin there who is part of a great church. They had heard about 'The Trellis and the Vine' ('El enrejado y la vid' in Spanish) and wondered if I'd go down and do a day seminar for local pastors.

I did, and it was great.

Then, the pastors asked me if I could help them in their training, so we talked about the MOCLAM courses, and off we went.

We came up with a mode of delivery which works really well. I go and teach a 5 hour intensive on Saturday morning, which gives them an introduction to the course and we work through 3 or 4 chapters of the subject. Then, over the the next couple of months they study individually or in small groups to complete the course. They then do their exam, and off we go again.

Tomorrow will be the beginning of their 3rd subject for this group of about 20 pastors.

I think there are two keys to the success of this group.

1. The material is great, and self contained. They can work at it as and when they are able.
2. There is a great local guy, Rolando, who is the organiser, motivator, all round good guy. Without him, things would certainly be much more difficult.

Gotta go - VivaAerobus waits for no one!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Exciting news

I received some exciting news over the weekend.

Regular readers will be aware that I'm involved in a program training pastors in a very isolated and disadvantaged part of the Latin American world. I've been travelling there regularly to help a developing network or tutors teach the MOCLAM courses.

Last week, two of the tutors travelled to the remotest and poorest part of the island (8 hours drive away from a famous American naval base) to spend a week teaching a new group of pastors. News from the week is that the pastors loved the material and are wanting more. They studied each night accompanied by the local frogs and I'll soon be receiving their exams. My informants tell me the marks will be great!

It would be great if you could pray for us as we try to work out the complicated logistics involved in keeping these enthusiastic pastors fed.

(The photo is a local family heading off to church)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My experience of "internet church"

I was unable to go to church today (an eye infection that would make you weep probably wasn't the sort of fellowship my friends were after) so I decided to give "internet church" a go.

Each week our church broadcasts our two services live. All you need to do is go the website of the church, click the link, and hey presto - there it is.

The technology setup is pretty simple. A single camera, an audio feed and a relatively high speed broadband connection.

So what was it like?

*The quality of the video and audio was fine. There were probably 4 or 5 "freezes" of 1 or 2 seconds during the 2 hr broadcast, but thats about it.
*No fancy broadcast technology was needed. A strategically placed video camera and a direct audio feed made everything fine.
*I could hear everything that happened at church - the sermon, Bible reading, singing, announcements. This means I know what is going on, I was able to hear the testimonies which people gave, and if I have the chance to talk to people from church later in the week, I'll be able to say something about the sermon.
*It was much better watching it live than watching a recording. I wasn't tempted to press pause and go and do something else.

*I was an observer rather than a participant in the singing. Even if I was brave enough to sing along (which I'm not, I think I'd feel a bit weird doing that) I couldn't see the words on the screen.
*I had to twiddle my thumbs while the 'welcome time' happened.
* there was no chance to speak to anyone before, during or after church. ie: no fellowship.
* no one had the chance to speak to me.
* not being there meant I didn't have the opportunity to spontaneously serve (like help a Sunday school class whose teacher has not turned up)
* I didn't have the opportunity to give money. Sure I can 'make up' next week, but will I remember?
* the opportunity for the random or strategic ministry conversation didn't happen.

In the long, I think it was useful but it wasn't church. Rather than being an active participant, I was a consumer or an observer.

As I read passages like Ephesian 4, Hebrews 10, 1 Corinthians 11, it seems to me that personal proximity (ie: being there) is critical for "doing church". I find it difficult to imagine how I can serve others, be served by others, build others up, encourage one another as the day approaches .... if I m sitting by myself in front of a screen. Maybe I could tweet or blog or facebook or whatever about the experience, even setup some sort of online community, but still, it is nothing like the real thing.

I guess I was thinking about "extreme moments" like a funeral or a wedding. Would you want your wedding or the funeral of a friend to be an internet affair? Of course not. There is something significant about presence, proximity, being together. God designed us to be relational and communal creatures, and in my humble (and perhaps dinosaur-ish) opinion, electronic "community" doesn't cut it.

Today I didn't have a choice whether to go or not. But if I did, I think that 'internet church' is not a viable option. We need to be people who are in the habit of meeting together (for real)!

Friday, May 18, 2012

For aussie readers

Dear Aussie readers,

We are really grateful that there are many generous people in Australia supporting us as we live and work in Mexico. We are here as missionaries with CMS-Australia, and rely on CMS to pay our rent, put food on our table, send the kids to school - all that sort of good stuff.

During May and June CMS is having their annual appeal, which aims to raise $1.4mil. This money is used to pay people like us, and their expenses, so we can continue to minister in places scattered all over the world.

Can I encourage you, if you think world-wide mission is a valuable activity to contribute to this appeal. Doing so is easy - just go to

I know many of you already support CMS, and thank you for your support.

If you are not a regular financial supporter and are prepared to give a one-off gift - thank you. But can I also ask you to consider giving regularly. Unfortunately the expenses we incur come for all 12 months of the year, not just during May and June - so regular giving would certainly make life easier for those who look after the finances of CMS.

On the page above you can see an option for regular giving.

Thanks again for your support.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monterrey violence again

You might have seen over the last day or two reports of some pretty horrific violence in Monterrey. When I was browsing my four favourite news sites yesterday, the events on the highway between here and Reynosa (the US border) were the top story on all four. 

 Over the weekend local police discovered 49 mutilated bodies that had been dumped on the side of the road. It seems the work of one of the local cartels, and there is a possibility the victims were illegal immigrants trying to get to the US for work. Whoever they are - they are people, and this is a horrific crime designed to intimidate and scare people.

 But unfortunately, there was something 'normal' about this. Yes, the numbers of people involved was large and the brutality horrible, but it is kindof what we are used to here. It is a sad fact that we are living through a violent time. In the press conference following the discovery, one of the investigators made the point that this is the work of criminals on criminals. There are not innocent people involved in their day to day business. That is true - and despite all the violence and cartel activity, for your average citizen here doing the shopping and going to work - life carries on. And so it does for us - albeit with a lot of heavily armed security driving around the streets.

School is normal, work is normal, church is normal - all the stuff of our life is normal. Its just that we get confronted with these headlines pretty regularly.

 2012 is an election year in Mexico. Obviously, security is a pretty big campaign issue for all groups involved. We need to be praying for wisdom and peace for Mexico, especially in these months of tension.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sometimes it is the simple things...

I had a great conversation with a guy yesterday. I've known him since we have been here in Mexico, and he called me to see if we could meet up. So we did.

He wanted to tell me lots of things - but in the end, what it came down to was that he thought he had finally "got ministry". By that he meant, he thought he'd finally worked out what ministry was about.

The great news is I think he had too!

He told me that he'd worked out that ministry is about service. Simple as that.

He'd just spent a year or so in another country, and the church he attended there did a really good job of caring for him and discipling him. During that time, because he was the recipient of so much good ministry, it really opened his eyes to what he might be able to do for others.

So now, he wants to serve. He's trying to use some of the skills he learnt overseas in terms of leading Bible study and equipping others to read the Bible for themselves, and he's helping at a friends Family Centre. All great stuff.

I had to dash off before we could finish the whole conversation, but we're now planning how I might be able help him keep walking in his newfound understanding and excitement for ministry.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A book recommendation

I'd like to recommend a book  - possibly a first for me.

"God's Good Design" by Claire Smith (published by Matthias Media) is an excellent discussion of the passages that fuel "the women's issue" debate.

Claire writes as someone who has clear and well articulated views, and provides the careful and thorough exegesis needed to back up her conclusions. Her presentation is technical without being inaccessible, precise without being academically stratospheric. In short, she is carefully sitting under the text, not over it.

And deliberately so - by conviction, but also because of history. Claire helpfully puts these passages in the context of the feminist movement(s) of our modern times, and in the process shows us why our initial reaction to some passages in the Bible might be to wince or dodge. There are some fascinating vignettes from those 'outside' our culture and how they respond to these passages.

While examining each key text, articulating the differing views and presenting arguments for and against the various views, we are left in no doubt where Claire's colours lie - and that is a good thing. She is a clear and careful voice in an often muddied and emotionally charged debate.

She also writes compassionately and with great experience in addressing pastoral issues like marriage and domestic violence.

I'd highly recommend it - as a resource for your own study and understanding, but also as a reference for "those" passages when they come up in Bible study or discussion.

What's more - you can get it as an e-book! (I did!)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Safe arrival

We are very thankful that we have arrived back safely in Monterrey.

 The journey was long, but without incident. I think the only problem is that we may have left a novel one of us was reading on the plane (which in the category of what can happen on international travel isn't too bad.) All 11 suitcases, 5 packpacks and 3 violins made it happily.

 The trip was very long - on the flight from Sydney to Dallas we were watching the inflight tracker to see if we would hit 14,000km. We only made it to 13,997. That takes a long time, but everyone was comfortable. It also meant that the 1.5hrs to Monterrey seemed almost instant.

 We had a slightly longer discussion with the immigration officials than we expected, but there were no problems. We'll just have to sort out a visa a little bit quicker than I thought.

 Everything in our house is fine - some kind friends cleaned it for us and made our beds which was a great blessing. And, the car is cleaner that it ever was in our possession!

 We've already enjoyed some advantages in terms of knowing Spanish and how things work. After just one visit to the office, I've already had the phone and internet connected. One visit only! That has got to be some sort of record. (Although I now have to go to the bank to get a new card - it really would be a record if that was done in one visit.)

 Now all we need is for our body clocks to feel normal and to get used to driving on the right, and we'll be ready for action!

Friday, April 27, 2012

What I'm going to miss about Australia

In less than a week we'll be back in Mexico - where all sorts of great things await us. Today I was having lunch with a Mexican friend here in Sydney, and he asked me "So what are you going to miss about Australia?" Here's a bit of list (in no particular order)
 Meat Pies
 Sausage Rolls
 Just Right
 Being able to sort out things like car insurance with one phone call (even though the on hold waiting can be significant)
 Knowing how things work (eg: public transport, banking, school pickup...)
 Morning tea after church
 Small group Bible study
 Walking to school
 Mowing the lawn
 Mucking around in the back yard
 The beach
 Easy friends who you can chill with
 A quiet street
 BBC drama
 magpies (the birds, not Collingwood)
 kid's friends coming over to play
 Driving on the left
 Easy food options when travelling
 River Cottage
 The Voice (just joking)
 Church that stretches my mind
 Trustworthy police
 Cool nights

 Having said all that - we're really looking to going back!

 "Speak" to you from the other side.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A new world record??

Hello blog world,

After a bit of an absence I'm back.

We've been in Australia for the last 6 months visiting our link churches, meeting wonderful supporters and doing all sorts of bits and pieces. We head back to Mexico in 2 weeks - so we're now in the zone of the list of things we need to do is getting longer, not shorter (and writing this is not on the list).

But, there is some exciting news I want to share.

That is - and I have yet to confirm this - but I think we have a new world record on our hands. A man studying the ThC program in Spanish has just become (I think) the oldest person to finish the ThC. (That's all 18 subjects of the Moore College PTC program).

José Luis is 72 and lives on 'Island C'. He's a great student, an excellent teacher and has an average mark I wish I could have achieved! He was in the very fist class that I taught on the island in 2009 and has since made excellent progress through his subjects.

I'm looking forward to seeing him in October and presenting him with his certificate.