The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December, 2007

My studies at PTC continued on this last semester, and it has been the craziest semester I’ve experience. The fact that this Student’s Desk has come so close to Christmas is an indication of how crazy it’s been. Never in one semester have I learned so much, or written essays so quickly! Not to mention an impromptu trip to Hobart in the middle of it all. But more about Hobart later.

            My subjects for the semester were Church Ministry and Sacraments and Theological Ethics. If that sounds like a mind-full, it was! Both these subjects allowed me to pursue or visit two issues I have been trying to resolve for years. One of the issues has been prayer, which I have struggled with ever since coming to a greater understand of Jesus death and resurrection for me in 1993. Not so much the discipline of prayer (not that my prayer life can be regarded as disciplined), but how we think about prayer in relation to God’s providence and sovereignty, and our responsibility. So when I had the opportunity in Church Ministry and Sacrament to write an essay answering the question “Does God answer pray?” I threw myself head-long into the exercise. I was glad to find scholars who were struggling with the same questions I had been, and coming up with some thought out answers. Perhaps not all that well thought out, but I finally had some ideas I could interact with. I managed to resolve allot of issues concerning prayer for myself, and came to some fairly interesting conclusions that perhaps not everyone in the conservative evangelical tradition would agree with. I’m willing to share the paper I wrote, however, I’m still yet to collect the marked paper with the feedback.

            Theological Ethics introduced me to all sorts of strange ways of thinking and the equally strange people who identified and formulated different schools of ethics. One who stood out was Helmut Thielecke, who I wrote a short paper on. Thielecke was a Christian Ethicist who grew up in early 20th century Germany during the rise of Nazism. He stood out not so much for his strange thoughts – he was actually quite level headed, which was nice for a change – but for his dry and very sharp sense of humour, and a very down-to-earth approach to trials and difficulties. I took great pleasure in being able to read a good chunk of his auto-biography. In one section, he reiterated the time when his mother announced he’d be going to kindergarten the following day. As you may know, kindergarten in German literally means ‘children garden’. At his mother’s announcement Helmut burst into tears and started screaming, for he had imagined he was going to have his feet buried and constantly watered. Well, I had to put the book down until I was done laughing. I was left thinking, “I’m studying ethics, and enjoying it. THIS IS NOT RIGHT!!!”

            Reading his observations of what was happening to the church and wider society in Nazi Germany also helped me to understand the theological and philosophical heritage western culture has, particularly in its modernist approach to sexuality and the post-modern reaction to this. Not that this was a topic I had to write on, but it has been an issue I’ve been trying to understand for a few years now. Reading a few comments from Thielecke brought this and a number of other issues together, which I now have safely tucked away in the back of my mind for another paper on another day.

            Yet, all this learning about prayer and the German Church’s response to Nazism wasn’t without its toll. I spent far too much time on both the prayer and Thielecke essays, and this had the effect of pushing back the rest of my essays which resulted in a great rush getting them all done. By semester’s end, I had 4 1,500 word essays and 4 weeks to do them. Somehow I pulled it off in 3½ weeks. In the end, I found Theological Ethics quite maddening trying to understand the different schools of ethics, and which categories of thought belonged in which school. On one hand, I found it helpful to learn different ways of deciding what would be ethical in different cases. On the other hand, I wondered if it was all just a hair-splitting exercise to justify sinful behaviour. Yet, in the midst of this madness, I must’ve done something right as my results were much better than expected.

 

 

Beyond the Theology Books

 

Church Services at the Allambie Heights Spastic Centre have also continued this semester, and it has been a real honour and a joy to still be able to be part of this work of God’s. This does not mean it’s easy. To go down each fortnight and spend time with the people there is still a struggle. Nonetheless, when I consider how the ministry is continuing, and even growing, I am convinced that God is at work among those people. For 5½ years I have been involved in this ministry, and the demand for it is just as great, if not greater then when I began. Despite having a few members dying (which there have been no deaths for quite some time), numbers have been either consistent or growing. Typically I can expect around 10 people turn up. For the past couple of months, numbers have been around 14 or 15 people. My presence each fortnight is very much anticipated by the people, which I take to be a great complement. I certainly don’t “tone down” my doctrine, or put on an entertainment show. What I say at the Spastic Centre is exactly the same as I would say in any church pulpit, or article I write. So I can only assume they come to hear the Bible being taught, and to address God in prayer. This semester, we worked our way through the parables of Jesus. It was great to see the tremendous dignity that Jesus gives to those who are less able than others, and how we can all partake in the Kingdom of God and have responsibilities despite a lack of ability.

            I did have great delight this semester in briefly connecting with these people on a different level. I tend to use humour as a means of reaching and connecting with people. The hardest people I’ve found to do this with are those at the Spastic Centre. Though for a few minutes, we were all able to have a good laugh. The occasion came about when one of the people there proudly told me they were have 2 parties to celebrate their 40th birthday. At this I exclaimed, “Two birthday parties?? Are you turning 40 twice? It’ll be enough for me to turn 40 once!” They found this most amusing, and it was great to make that informal connection.

 

 

Blessings and Praises

 

It would seem to be becoming a habit of mine to do something crazy in the second half of each year. Last year I went out wandering about Central Australia on my own for 5 weeks, followed by South East Australia for another 4 weeks. The year before that I spent 6 hours on a train to Dubbo to buy a 9 year old 4wd from Japan so I could go wandering about on my own. So what happened this year? Well, that’s where Hobart comes into it. At the beginning of October I found myself on a plane to Hobart to buy a push bike. YAH! Told you it was crazy…

            ‘Bike’ is actually short hand for recumbent tricycle. I’ve been ridding the things for 14 years, and there’s not too many around. I already had one, which was my second one after the first was stolen, but the way I had it made, it didn’t lend itself to off road duties. I had it designed for long range touring, and not much else! Since collecting my 2nd bike I found touring in a van much more preferable. I’ve wanted to change to a more general purpose bike, as was my first one. Problem being, to by one new is around $6,500, and second hand they’re normally around $3,500. So, when I did a casual search on the internet to see what was available and found one going for $1,000, right make, right model, I jumped! It was the same as my first bike, only a later model. The bike seemed to be ok when I contacted the seller, so I decided to buy. There was only one problem – I was in Gosford, the bike was in Hobart! After scratching my head for a few hours thinking of ways to get it, the best thing to do was to jump on a plane, have 1½ days in Hobart, pick up the bike, and fly back with the bike on the plane the next day. I had not been to Hobart before, or purchased an airfare. So it was all a bit of an adventure – particularly when I should’ve been home working on essays (oops!). There were some anxious moments during the trip (what am I saying? The whole trip was an anxious moment!), but praise be to God all my needs were catered for. I found the bike in the said condition, and it needed a fair bit of work, but nothing too difficulty. A recent trip down to Victoria to see recumbent specialist, who’s also a mate, took care of the repairs. Now it’s a very nice, and very quick bike.

            So what does this new bike mean? And do I really need 2 bikes? The new bike is shorter which means I’ve got use of all 4 seats in the Hotel Royal (my van). So next time I write a Student’s Desk on Location I’ll be able to do so from the comfort of the Lounge Area (the 4th seat) and not Master Bedroom (the bed). So camping will be much more comfortable. Also, I’ll be able to set up a base camp in the bush and explore the surrounding area by bike, whether it means ridding on highways or bush tracks, which has been the intention all along. Unfortunately, I can’t justify owning 2 bikes, which is why the tourer will be going on the market, after I get it fixed up, and it will be going for much more than $1,000, if anyone’s interested.

 

Australia‘s oldest bridge still in service

Built in 1820, Richmond, Tasmania

Hobart is about the strangest place I’ve been to. It was like the calendar got to 1850 and stopped! Not that I saw anyone wandering down the main street of Hobart with their feet shackled. Mind you, it would not have looked too out of place. Hobart has allot of colonial architecture, and it was great to see old buildings still in use. What really took my fancy was nearby Richmond which was like walking around a colonial theme park. I saw what I presume to be an original cottage, and right next to it was a new house built in the same style. It was a rather surreal experience. Having seen just a small slice of Tassie, I’m now really keen to get down there with the Hotel Royal and explore this island state.

 

 

The Year Ahead

 

I’ve already enrolled for my subjects for next semester, and will be doing two intensive subjects – Isaiah and Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the doctrinal statement of the Presbyterian denomination. What intensive subjects means is instead of sitting lectures for a few hours a week for 14 weeks, the lectures are delivered in 3 day blocks 3 or 4 times throughout the semester with nothing in between these blocks. I’m hoping this will make things not so intensive by giving me more study time and less travel time. I’ve certainly found I can get much more done by not having my week interrupted by a trip to Sydney.

            I’m very much looking forward to studying Isaiah. I’ve been led to believe it’s the most quoted book in the New Testament, and prophesises much about Jesus. I also know the background to Isaiah, but I have not begun to understand the book as a literary unit, and how it all fits together. So I hope to be able to work hard to gain this understanding.

            Westminster Confession of Faith should also be interesting as, although I identify myself as being in the reformed theological tradition, there are parts to the confession I don’t agree with from a Scriptural basis. So this will be an interesting exercise that will stretch my knowledge of theology, the Bible, and my ability to construct arguments.

Reflections

 

Events in recent days, which I do not wish to disclose, have caused me to reflect on 2 Scriptures which I’d like to share with you. The first comes from Joel who prophesises the day of the Lord, and the outpouring of God’s Spirit on his people. In these days, Joel prophesied that  “… everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved…” (Joel 2:32). Peter used this same passage to explain the events of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus, and they spoke with authority about the salvation made available in Jesus. These are the days of salvation we live in today. Should any one turn their face to the Lord, and call to him, they will be saved. Not if. Not maybe. This is not some kind of insurance policy just in case it’s needed. Calling on the name of the Lord guarantees salvation. We can put our hope in the name of the Lord. In the salvation revealed to us and made available in Jesus.

            So how do we call in the name of the Lord? How do we know we’ve done enough to get God’s attention and earn his favour? This is where the second Scripture, written by David, comes in. David had a profound faith and had much to say about God. David wrote these words concerning God when the Old Testament sacrificial system was in full swing, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17). This was a radical thing to write, seeing how God commanded his Old Testament people to make these sacrifices. But what David was driving at was outward actions don’t carry a whole lot of weight with God. It may well be nice today to have all manner of ritual, or be exposed to volumes of knowledge as surely I have been privileged to be, but these things just don’t carry weight with God. Oh, David knew that these sacrifices in his time were an expression of faith, just as ritual and knowledge may be an expression of faith in our time. But these sacrifices were of no intrinsic value in themselves. They didn’t do anything to change a person, or their standing before God. For the writer to the Hebrews says, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4). What really mattered was what was going on inside a person. What carries weight with God is when a person has nothing to be proud of, or to boast about, and is sorry for their sin. When a person realises they haven’t done enough to mark one merit against their name, and all they can do is cast themselves upon the mercy of God. It is precisely when a person realises they haven’t done enough, that they have done enough. For this is the sacrifice God will never reject. One may think of the thief who was crucified next to Jesus. He had no opportunity to make amends for the crimes and sins he committed. Yet with a humble and contrite heart, he called on the name of the Lord, and was granted eternal life by Jesus (Luke 23:42-43).

            God has promised to save those who call on the name of the Lord, and he has also promised not to despise those with a humble and contrite heart. Let us not forsake the love and mercy of our gracious God by pretending that by our weak and feeble hands we can work to please him. Instead, let us honour and praise God by declaring his goodness to us in casting ourselves upon his mercy with humble and contrite hearts.

  

Thank you for your prayers and support throughout the year. As I have reiterated, it has been a crazy time for me, and I don’t think this craziness has past just yet. Still, God’s blessings have been abundant. And for these I am truly thankful.

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December 22, 2007 - Posted by | Newsletters

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