The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Newsletter – Christmas 2016

2016 has been the year of the project, or more accurately, the projects! I’ve always had one project or another going, and I’m not happy unless I have a project to work on. But this year there’s been more projects than what I’d like.

Working with Jericho Road has seen many projects, from trying to get my head around the NDIS, to reviewing policies, to becoming aware of issues people with disabilities face. A large portion of the year has been spent reviewing the Commonwealth Government’s Senate Committee Report on violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings, including the gender and age related dimensions, and the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability. There’s a title if there ever was one! Strangely, even though I grew up in the “disabled world” the report revealed a side to Australia I was blissfully unaware of, and one which I found very disturbing. The day I wrote this newsletter, I read yet another report of a school student with a disability being sexually harassed by another student, and others left on a school bus and neglected. Yet, reflecting back on my experiences, in the final analysis, none of this really surprises me. I have now finished summarising my summary of the summary of the enquiry which still summarising! It’s a big issue, to make an understatement. Nonetheless, the greater task at hand is to work out how, as a denomination, we can begin to the respond to these issues. If Christ reached down to the depths of human depravity in order to redeem it, then so must his church! But to achieve that, we’re going to need a bigger think tank that comprises of more than just my head!

Other projects have been in the transport department. I had been spoilt by my last trip to New Zealand 2 years ago. Even though the camper I rented was a bucket of rusty bolts (the one’s that were still there!) and was horrible to drive, everything on the camping side of things was usable and made for the best holiday I’ve had. So I began to think seriously about converting my truck into a camper. Then the head gasket blew – big dollars there! So, I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about what sort of camping setup do I want, should I be changing vehicles, and if so what vehicle, and how I would want it set up? In the end, I was reluctant to spend the money converting a vehicle that is now 20 years old. It’s at the stage where something will go wrong with it. The question is what? This doesn’t bother me unless I’m a long way from home. So, I’ve made the decision to change vehicles in the next few years, and find someone who will fit out the new vehicle the way I want – not someone who thinks he thinks he knows what I think I need… I think. It’s not an urgent project, but it’s simmering away in the background.

Trikes, trikes, and more trikes. How many trike projects can one person have going on at once? 3, apparently! It’s now been over a year since my fastest trike has come out of the shop. A critical component failed in 2015, which is no longer made. The part was shipped off to the manufacturer, and after 3 months, the manufacturer decided they couldn’t repair it! Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it. It hasn’t helped that I keep changing my mind every 5 minutes! I had intentions of buying another trike with full suspension, and build it for the road – I do like suspension! But, with a new van in the pipeline, I decided this probably wasn’t wise, and made the decision to make my existing trike as fast as possible. Some may find this a scary prospect!
While this was going on, I was given a tandem recumbent trike, complete with a trailer that the occupant can peddle. I didn’t want it, but I feared it would end up on the scrap heap if I didn’t take it. A machine like this should not be on the scrap heap! It should be out on the road being enjoyed. I looked at the trike the morning after it was dropped off and decided it was a strip down and rebuild job. My bike mechanic agreed. So, I took it upon myself to have it restored. Hopefully I can find a buyer who can appreciate its value and use it.
Then there’s the never-ending story of the Monster (my offroad trike). I picked up a friend’s mountain bike and realised I was never going to compete with that – at least not going up hill. The decision was made to fit an electric assistance motor – which is still sitting on my living room floor. It’s a decision I’ve been resisting. I like competing with friends, even though my trike twice the weight of their bikes. A motor would take all that away. But, the way I was going up the steepest hills, I was either going to break the trike, or break myself, or possibly both! Besides, I’m hoping the motor will give the trike more versatility, and open up other opportunities.
Meanwhile, my touring trike is the only vehicle that hasn’t needed major repairs! It’s done 2,500km between since its last service, which is astonishing – although it needs a service now. This has allowed me to build on my fitness. With everything going on, I’ve changed to shorter, more intense rides less often. This seems to have had an impact. Even though this isn’t my fastest trike, I’m matching some of my fastest times. Some may wonder why I put so much prominence on cycling. As I found out a few years ago, it’s quite simple – if I’m not fit, I don’t function. So, I remain thankful that I can get out on my trike.

However, the biggest project started this year has been my research master’s of theology. I had to begin by completing a research methods subject. To be honest, I thought this was a bit rich. After 10+ years of study, I’d expected I would know how to put a paper together! It turned out I didn’t, and found the subject quite useful. Studying at this level is a whole other ball game. I realised a research master’s is pretty much a baby doctorate. It’s just shorter, and not quite as intense. But my supervisor keeps assuring me I can do it. No doubt I can!
At this stage, I’m preparing a proposal for my topic to present to the academy. This is a big enough project in itself, which involves a lot of study. The more I know what my paper will contain, the better I can present the proposal. I’ve never read so much in my life! It’s almost like I need to come up with an answer, then get permission to submit my answer. Not quite, but almost! There is flexibility to make changes after approval. So far, I’ve narrowed my topic down to, “How does Jesus’ healing ministry to people with disabilities fulfil the prophecies in Isaiah?” There’s three big topics right there – the development of perceptions of disability, the gospel of Luke, and Isaiah. To put the question simply, “Why did Jesus heal people?” I’m really am responding to liberal theologians who see the healing by Jesus to be metaphorical, and conservative theologians who see disability as being a direct consequence of the Fall, thus Jesus’ healing ministry is part of reversing the effects of the Fall. Neither position I agree with. That is, I agree Jesus came to reverse the effects of the Fall, but I don’t think the elimination of disability was part of that reversal. Hence my question. So far, I’ve been very much enjoying it, and I praise God for the support I’m receiving from Christ College. I’m being looked after very well. I’m also thankful for my work who allow me to manage my time as I need I expect to graduate in 2019 – mark the date!

I did manage some travelling this year. Though, for once in the past four years, I managed to stay in the country. I had four days in the ACT when I went to visit the Presbytery for work in late February. That made for a nice short break taking in some of the sights of Canberra, included the War Memorial, which was quite an experience! I had another week in the ACT in June working with Gungahlin Presbyterian Church as part of my advocacy work. That was a non-stop week. I even managed to get a 30km mountain bike ride in with one of the members, which I really regretted the next day when I had to preach! But it was a lot of fun. It reminded me a lot of mission trips with college, except the mission team this time consisted of one – me! I managed to do a quick 10 day trip to Victoria, taking in a conference on Spirituality and Disability as part of my work – I didn’t present (probably a good thing given the theologically liberal nature of the conference). This also gave me the opportunity to catch up with friends around Victoria. Later on in the year, I enjoyed a couple of camping weekends with friends from church at Belbora and Newnes. Happily, the Monster came out both times, and had I some enjoyable rides.

The ministry at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance continues. By now, I was hoping to have offloaded some of the work. But no one has stepped up. Services are now once a month, and if I’m away, or sick, that makes for a big gap between service. Yet, the regulars remain eager to come, and occasionally, one or two extras join us. We had our Christmas service at the start of December and a number of people came along who aren’t regulars. This was exciting to see, and I pray something of the gospel caught their attention. I’m also thankful for the many people who help me with this ministry.

2017 is shaping up to be another big year. Some how, I need to keep cycling, so I can keep working, so I can keep studying, so I can know God’s word and apply it all the more. The trick will be to manage all this without becoming overworked. So, as always, I appreciate your prayers and support as we all enter the new year by God’s grace.

December 27, 2016 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | , , | Leave a comment

The Minister’s Desk Newsletter – December 2013

PDF Version (16MB)

So, where was this all leading? That was the question being asked for many years as I studied. My exit thesis was accepted on the second submission and came back with a distinction. Subsequently I was licensed to preach on the 17th March – an acknowledgment that I had completed my training. Yet the question remained, “Where was this all leading?” It wasn’t until mid March that any prospects of employment began to take shape.

The newly appointed CEO of Presbyterian Social Services asked the question I’ve long been waiting for, “Jason, what do you want to do?” Around 3 weeks later after further correspondence, I was appointed as the Disability Advocate for the NSW Presbyterian Church for 14hrs/week. The task: to educate the church on matters of disability and to equip the church to respond to the needs of people with disabilities and their carers – no small task for anyone! But there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. Consequently, 2013 was very much a whirlwind of a year.

Prior to taking the position, I had agreed to co-author a conference paper with Lindsey Gale (CBM, Melbourne) for the ‘Disability, Theology, and the People of God’ conference at Carey Bible College, Auckland in July. Happily, all this was considered part of my new position as research and development. This was a compilation of my exit thesis “The Role of the Holy Spirit in a person with a Disability and their relationship with the Church”, and Lindsey’s research into the results of the National Church Life Survey in regard to disability in the church. It was a mammoth project. Somehow, I think I had the easy end of the deal! All I had to do was come up with the theology – most of which I had already written. I just had to “de-nerd” my thesis by taking out all the Greek, which grated me… Anyway! Once upon a time, I didn’t know Greek either. I have since learned our paper has been accepted by the publisher for the conference book which is great news – and a relief!

So, this meant some travelling. In April I went to Melbourne to begin co-authoring the paper. This also provided an opportunity to catch up with friends, and share my faith at one of the schools. I also went to Auckland for the conference. Last time I was in New Zealand, I didn’t take the opportunity to have a look around after my training placement. This time, I was determined to take the opportunity! With the OK from work, I hired a motorhome for 10 days and toured parts of the North Island. It’s certainly one of the best holidays I’ve had. Some of the highlights were the Coromandel Peninsula, Hobbiton (Lord of the Rings movie set), and Rotorua. I really enjoyed learning about Maori culture as well. The geothermal areas were a freaky but intriguing place to be. I was really blessed with the weather. Of course, it rained. But it didn’t affect my activities. Hobbiton was well timed. Just as I was leaving, it began to rain – YES!! I found their winter isn’t that much colder than their summer, so staying warm and confortable wasn’t that much of an issue.

Apart from higher academic works, I’ve also had articles published in the Presbyterian NSW state magazine, ‘The Pulse’, and the National Magazine, ‘Australian Presbyterian’. I’ve been visiting churches and Presbyteries promoting Luke14 – the education initiative developed by CMB. Highlights have been to visit Mittagong Presbyterian who have an active ministry to include people with disabilities, and to visit Toukley Presbyterian on 2 occasions. Never had I received a reception to one of my sermons such as I did at Toukley. It was very encouraging. Much of the work is done at home, such as reviewing Scripture teaching material for children with intellectual disabilities, and continuing research into theological developments and current affairs in the area of disability.

A big blessing has been to have my church on board with my work. Gosford Presbyterian agreed to host all 5 Luke14 workshops dispersed throughout the year. This is giving me the opportunity to get a feel for the workshops and find out what works, and what doesn’t work. It’s been great to have a team of people supporting me as I run these workshops. So far, I’ve run two workshops, with the next one on Kids and Teens on the 9th March, 2014. I’m continually praying that churches will recognise the need, and make a decision to take positive action.

It was thrilling, then, to formalise this work with my ordination into the Presbyterian Church as a minister on the 20th October – something I was wondering if it would ever happen at the start of the year! To hear Dr. Ian Smith open God’s word, and have so many of my friends and family there was such a blessing. A few of my friends came from deep in the woodwork. This was an encouragement and a surprise. Being ordained and appointed to my position now means I have a say in what happens in the denomination the same as other ministers. I think this is a very good thing for the NSW Presbyterian Church, and not just for me.

So work is only 14hrs/week – what do I do the rest of the time? Again, I taught year 2 Scripture at Wyoming public this year. This is still a challenging exercise reinventing the lessons so I can deliver them with my limitations. I expect to be doing this again next year. I’m still running church services at Allambie Heights’ Cerebral Palsy Alliance. This year, we finished the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ series. We went through 1 John – which worked remarkably well. Now we’re half way through the ‘I am’ statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel. It’s been particularly encouraging this year to see these people affirming the Gospel. I’m also giving pastoral support in my own time, and leading my Bible Study group when required. I’m still involved with disability camps at Springwood, largely helping out with the teaching side of things So, life is full, and I have found myself some weeks with my head in 4 different parts of the Bible, in more than one language. I’ve enjoyed the interaction I have online discussing points of theology, and nuances in the Greek.

I have also made a point of bike ridding and exercise – not that it’s happened as much as I wanted. But I have grown acutely aware that the fitter I am, the more I can do. If I’m to keep up this work rate, along with looking after myself, I need to be fit! So I’m thankful that my work is only 14hrs/week with all the flexibility that I need.

Apart from tripping around in a Kiwi motorhome, I’ve also had opportunity to take shorter breaks. I took the opportunity to end a 12 year absence of attending Katoomba Easter Convention – a weekend of Christian teaching by international speakers. It was very refreshing. And I had a few days relaxing at Jervis Bay with friends this past spring.

So, where is this all heading? No idea! But God knows, and I very much look forward to the adventure. God had brought me thus far, doing what no one has been able to perceive. And I’m thankful to have your prayers and support along the way. College might be over (for now), but the hard work has only just begun.

In case anyone is wondering, I’ll still be writing under the title The Student’s Desk. “The Minister’s Desk” is only a celebratory title. I may no longer be at college, but I still consider myself as a student of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That’s what the word ‘disciple’ means – student. If I’m not a disciple, then it’s high time I resign from the ministry! Evidently, I’m intent on remaining a disciple. Then there’s the prospect of a research master’s… one day.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | 1 Comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December 2012

2012 saw the end of a course of study that began in July 2002. To think I entered PTC timidly, concern I wouldn’t meet the standards required of a degree, to come out the other end being able to debate interpretations of the Bible from the original languages, along with other abilities, has truly been a blessing from God. It was also the kind of year where meeting an Ewok look-a-like Cavoodle that did meerkat impersonations didn’t seem all that out of place! More of the dog later.
I began the year with optimistic valour. I thought, “Just a language to learn, and a thesis to write. How hard could that be??” I had to ask… When I learned Greek,  I thought that was hard. But, compared to Hebrew, Greek was a walk in the park! Or should that be ‘a walk in the λάχανον’? Anyway, I found Hebrew extremely difficult, and I can now understand why everyone I spoke to discouraged me from doing it. But I had to be stubborn! In the first 3 weeks, while my classmates were flat learning the language, I was flat out learning how to access the language.
Not being able to use paper and pen means doing everything via a computer. At the start of the year, my main computer was my Windows laptop. Changing from English to Hebrew and back again wasn’t as straight forward as one would hope. So then I tried my Mac which, thankfully, was much more streamlined. Then I found sophisticated word processing applications (like MS Word, Mac Pages) couldn’t handle right to left text (Hebrew runs the other way to English). So I had to buy a word processing application that could handle bidirectional text. Then I found many of the processes and methods I had developed for learning Greek weren’t going to work for Hebrew.
At every step in the journey, I incurred frustration. I seriously pondered whether I needed to withdraw. But, I was told of some vocabulary applications for the iPhone, and they pretty much made all the difference. Then I was left to struggle with the same issues as everyone else – vowels that changed for no apparent reason, and vocabulary that had no bearing with English. But now, I am ever so pleased I had taken on the challenged – and succeeded! The strange thing is, while Greek was easy to learn, it’s hard to read, Hebrew is hard to learn but easy to read. Many others have made the same observation.
As for my thesis – ey! Emotions are still raw as I write this. I only submitted it in recent days – for the second time! It was toward the end of November. My thesis had been submitted 3 weeks prior, my final Hebrew exam had been completed, and I began to celebrate. My studies were over! So I thought. Alas, those celebrations were short lived. 4 hours later, my thesis came back. Not good.
    The topic I had chosen was ‘The work of the Holy Spirit in the person with a disability, and their relationship with the church’. Now, if you ever wanted a challenging topic to write on while adhering to the Reformed theological tradition, this would be one of them. I chose this topic for 3 main reasons. Firstly, my Pentecostal friends often speak of the Holy Spirit, and I wondered if he really did some of the things they claimed. Secondly, I wanted to provide a theological basis for disability inclusion. I have come across disabilities ministries that are completely segregated from mainstream churches. They do a wonderful service in ministering to people with disabilities, but I wondered if they capture God’s vision for his people (there’s only one!) and the ministry of reconciliation. Thirdly, as a would-be Presbyterian minister, I wanted to state very clearly what my theological agenda is from the perspective of disability – I want to see people with disabilities included in the life of main stream churches as an expression of God reconciling all things to himself through Christ.
So the thesis gave me an opportunity to explore these issues. Unfortunately, the examiner wasn’t happy with my arguments (and rightly so, I’ll readily admit), although they applauded my efforts. So in the past month, I’ve had to come up with a new argument, and rewrite half my 8,000 word thesis. Not to mention attending several speaking engagements, organising a Christmas service, and going to Melbourne for 3 days during the process. Now, 8,000 words may seem allot, but when you have a mind as hyperactive as mine, I can assure you it’s not! My biggest frustration was cramming all my ideas under the word limit. I have enough discarded bits and pieces around here to publish a book. That’s before I develop them any further so a nonacademic could actually understand! Of course, I’m happy for people to read my thesis, so long as they’re prepared to contend with Greek, and a bit of Hebrew. As I write, I still don’t know whether I’ve actually finished my studies. I’m still waiting for the result.

2012 also saw plenty of opportunities for me to speak and teach, which I’m most thankful for. In March I preached on John 9 at St. Clements Anglican Church, Mossman. The same sermon was delivered at Temora Presbyterian Church in June where I also spoke to them about how they could be more inclusive of people disabilities. This is where I met this strange dog that would frequently sit upright on its hind legs with its front paws drooping downward, and have a good look around the room. It was quite funny to see. I was able to preach the same sermon again to Buxton community church, which was an eye opener into the workings of community churches in December. In October a ministry for people with intellectual disabilities called ‘Jesus Club’ invited me to preach at their supporters night on Matthew 28:16-20. This was a great opportunity to meet new people and encourage them.
Raising the awareness of disability also kept me busy as I introduced the Luke14 program (a disability inclusion initiative by Christian Blind Mission), to Anglicare in Campbelltown in May. I was also able to speak to the Presbyterian Women’s Home Mission Committee in June about the needs of people with disabilities and their families, and my desire to equip churches to meet this need. Similarly, I had the opportunity to speak about disability at the ‘Flourish’ Presbyterian Conference in July. St. James Anglican, Turramurra, had a disability awareness Sunday asked me to speak for 10mins on ‘Loving People with Disabilities’ in relation to 1 John at all 3 morning services in December. This also was very well received. My answer? We love people with disabilities the same way we love anyone – the way God has loved us in Jesus.
My last college mission saw me going to McClean on the north coast of NSW. There, I was able to give my testimony to the local Presbyterian Church. One of the members saw an opportunity, and the next thing I knew, I was off to Grafton Christian School to give my testimony there as well. It was very encouraging to see how the students responded to what I had to say. I think I’ve remembered all the speaking I’ve done… My apologies if I’ve left out anyone!
Aside from these opportunities, I continued to teach year 2 Scripture. This has been an extremely valuable experience for me in learning how to relate to kids. It’s always interesting looking at the lesson in the teacher’s manual thinking, “That’s not going to work for me…” Then coming up with my own approach. Computer produced find-a-words based on a Bible passage and colouring in pictures from the internet have come in very handy.
Church services at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance continued this year, and it was great to have so many willing volunteers to help me out with the ministry. This year we went through Genesis 1-12, looking as some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith: that God loves us, he provides for us, he wants to restore us and the rest of the world from sin, and we need to trust him in that regard and obey him. Recently we’ve been going through the Sermon on the Mount, understanding it as an appropriate way of responding to the grace God has given us. At the end of the year we had our Christmas Service. A number of people got a band together so we could sing carols. Everyone involved put in a huge effort. People came to the service who don’t usually come, and they were able to hear about how Jesus gives us peace with God, which is where peace on Earth starts. It was a really encouraging time.

So, all that was quite allot on top of my studies. Pending the response to my thesis, I’m assuming the formal part of my studies is over. So what happens next? In a word: DUNNO! However, I’m hoping to be licensed to preach on the 3rd January (again, pending the thesis result). This does not mean I’ll be ordained, it’s just one of the last steps toward ordination. How and when ordination will happen remains a mystery. Nothing has been planned in terms of employment for 2013 (that I know of!). There are a couple of leads I’ll be chasing up in January. Apart from this, I’ll continue teaching Scripture, running the church services at Allambie Heights, and providing a bit of pastoral support. I’m hoping that the opportunities I have to speak and teach around the place will continue, and develop into something sustainable.
Apart from this, I have a small stockpile of books to keep me occupied. In many ways I feel I’ve only done the preliminary part of my studies, and now I’m free to get on with the real work. There’s a number of issues I’d like to address, as well as developing my thesis further. In terms of further formal study, I’ll be taking a break to recover from the prolonged pressure of study, and to discover what ‘normal’ now means for me. But the possibility wont be too far from my mind. As such, The Student’s Desk will remain, even though my former studies are over (for now). I look forward to exploring and learning even more.
It’s been a really, really long journey, and I’m thankful that so many have stayed with me on it. Especially those who have been with me from the beginning. Whatever happens now, I feel hugely blessed by, not only in being able to do theological studies, but to actually excel in them. This is a privilege and a grace.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk – January, 2012

What a crazy, crazy year 2011 has been! Usually I write twice a year. But in June, instead of writing The Student’s Desk, I was remodelling The Student’s Desk. And for half of December, I wasn’t even to be found in the country! More on these in a minute.

2011 began where 2010 finished – in Melbourne. I returned to Melbourne in January to do the second half of my block placement. This time, I was working much more closely with CBM (Christian Blind Mission) preparing training modules for their Luke14 program which looks to equip churches to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. By year’s end, I found myself becoming one of the volunteer regional co-ordinators for both Central Coast and Sydney. This means I’m part of a team that visits churches to run a training seminar, among other things. This also led to the opportunity in September to present a theological approach of relating to people with disabilities to couple hundred men at a ‘Men for Christ Ministries’ conference with Rob Nicholls from CBM.

In March I graduated with my theological degree, and was also awarded the ‘Koorong Prize’ for Excellence in Biblical Studies. This was unexpected, and I felt very honoured to receive this prize. It was a brilliant night for all, being reminded of the biblical truths we hold to. I was so glad to have many of my family and friends there to mark the occasion. I wasn’t so crazy about wearing a tie, though! As exciting as it as to graduate, it was a bit of an anti-climax to wake up the next morning to more essays as I continued working towards my Advance Diploma of Theology – required for ordination in the Presbyterian Church.

Studies in first semester included Grace and Eschatology, and John’s Gospel (in Greek, of course!). Eschatology led me to engage with the millennium debate, which discusses the circumstances of Christs return. I’m not sure if I fully understand the debate, and I’m not sure if many people do! What did astound me is no one has seemed to venture to explain how the millennium is functioning in the text (Revelation 20:2-7). I would’ve thought it was a fairly fundamental question, but apparently that’s the wrong question for a systematic theologian to ask (??). I hope to make some progress in answering this question myself before returning to college this year. Studying John’s Gospel gave an up-close and personal insight into the person of Jesus, and was again confronted by the significance of Jesus, and the fallen state of the world.

The mid-year break saw the remodelling The Student’s Desk, which was a much bigger project then I had imagined. You know how it is – you start working on one thing which leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to “I should never have started this!” Such was the remodelling. I had the idea of moving my studying out from the 2nd bedroom to the loungeroom for over 2 years, centred around a large, custom-built desk (which I had already drawn up plans). Then I had a brainwave (always a dangerous thing with me). With modern TVs having the ability to be used as a computer monitor, why not buy a big TV, hook up my computer, then get a table on wheels to place a wireless keyboard and mouse with enough room for 2 or 3 books? With the analogue TV signal being phased out, I would’ve been buying a new TV anyway. Well, that’s exactly what I did, along with buying some storage draws and cupboards, and it’s worked really well. Even though I had people assembling and moving furniture and cleaning the place up, it was still a big effort for me getting all the bits together, and moving books is not easy! I’m just glad the vast majority of them are on my computer.

This time also saw the addition of new technology – a Mac, of all things! After years of taking the micky out of them and those who own them, I bought a Macbook Air. What I’ve wanted was an “up-and-go” mobile computer. None of this turn it on and wait for something to happen. And wait, and wait, and wait! Hence why I previously bought an iPad, but found it too limited in what it could do. The Mac has surpassed all my expectations, allowing me to take it everywhere and to work anywhere on a full computer system that’s responsive and reliable. I’ve found myself a few times commuting to college on the train preparing a talk. I’m so impressed with the Mac, I’m now looking to replace my main computer with one, once Apple starts putting today’s technology in them, and not yesterday’s!

After 10 years, services at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance (formerly NSW Spastic Centre) continue. Recently we’ve been slowly working our way through John 14-16, looking at what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I’ve found this very interesting and quite confronting, yet encouraging. What’s been noticed is Jesus makes some big demands on his followers, but he doesn’t leave them to their own devices. As Christians, we are given all we need to do Jesus’ bidding, and we mustn’t ever forget that grace! It’s also been encouraging to see new people come along and participate, if only for a short time.

In the latter half of the year, I also frequently found myself in a school surrounded by ten year 2 students, teaching the Bible. I wanted to learn how to relate to kids, and in the first half of the year returned to assisting with Scripture in a special education school. I was unable to continue in the second half of the year, and was reassigned to another class at a mainstream school, except, I wasn’t to be an assistant. I was to be the teacher! Oh boy! How on earth was this going to work?? The kids were attentive, and I did have an assistant to help with communication. The school was also very supportive of what I was doing. Again, technology came to the fore as I quickly learned how to use a smart board to present lessons.

In the second half of the year, I took another 2 subjects:  Pastoral Skills and Methods and Synoptic Gospels (again, in Greek). I found Pastoral Skills really helpful for ministering to people one-to-one, although I really didn’t like writing the essay on ‘divorce’, but understand why that topic was chosen. Synoptic Gospels really enforced the importance of reading the books of the Bible as literary units, and not isolate passages and interpreting them by ones own presuppositions, as significant as they may be!

I finished my lectures for the year, and from then on, life became really crazy! I thought I had 3 leisurely weeks to learn 6 chapters of Luke (in Greek) in preparation for my exam, and to pick up my fitness for my upcoming block placement in New Zealand. Our legal system had other ideas. I was summons to jury duty which reduced my study time to 1 week. Any thought of getting back on my bike went out the window as I crammed 5 out of 6 chapters into my head. Then it was a case of completing the exam one day, packing my bags for New Zealand the next day, board the plane the day after, and run around New Zealand non-stop for 3½ weeks. After all this, I popped out the other end with a High Distinction for Synoptic Gospels. Don’t ask. I’ve got no idea how that happened either. I’m just chalking it up to God’s providence! While I’m relieved to have completed the Greek side of my studies, I’m also disappointed it’s finished. As crazy as it may sound, I really enjoyed getting into the Greek text. I am very glad that I insisted on doing Greek, and am thankful to the college for their support.

New Zealand was a huge effort, but well worth it. I can’t imagine flying off to another country for the first time on your own is much fun for anyone, much less someone with a disability. But, this is what I did. I was still experiencing difficulty getting a field placement for my studies when this opportunity with Christian Ministries with Disabilities Trust in Auckland came up. I went back to my college and negotiated to do a 2nd block placement in lieu of a field placement. So the endeavour to become a Presbyterian minister became an international effort!

            New Zealand was a fantastic experience with friendly people who have a tremendous sense of humour. One person tried telling me I was from the ‘West Island’. I had to pay that one. There was plenty of opportunity for me to preach and teach, encouraging people one to one, and try my hand at other ways of presenting. It also gave me an opportunity to find out the inner workings of CMWDT, and start thinking about what might be possible in Australia, and the best way of maintaining Biblical standards. I really enjoyed my time in NZ, although there were some very difficult moments. So it was with a measure of sadness that I boarded the plane to come back home. The photo on the left is Lion Rock at Piha.

Looking to the year ahead, it’s shaping up to be a quiet one on the study front, but I’m anticipating this will be a very busy year. It is with immeasurable joy that I can say this will be my final year of study (at least for this course). I only have Hebrew to learn (how hard can that be?? I was also told Greek would be hard!), and my exit thesis to write. Beyond this, I am praying that opportunities will be opened up around the Central Coast and Sydney, and I’m already seeing some movement on the horizon. It will be very interesting to see how this year unfolds.

January 16, 2012 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | , , , | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December, 2010

Each time I’ve sat down to write one of these, there’s been something significantly different about the previous semester. The later half of 2010 has been in keeping with that trend. This time, my training for the ministry landed me in Melbourne. Which is why this edition of The Student’s Desk is a little late. But more of that in a minute.

            I only did one subject this semester – Other New Testament Writings in Greek. It was the only subject available to me. While that may seem like a light workload, it wasn’t. I still had to only learn 8 chapters of Greek like last semester. But unlike like last semester, the 8 chapters were spread over two books. So that was two lots of themes, two lots of literary styles, and two lots of arguments. And when one of those books is Hebrews – yah. You should be getting the picture by now. Understanding Hebrews in English is hard. Understanding Hebrews in Greek is fine – so long as you have nothing else to do! I once joked by saying I looked at the first verse in Hebrews in Greek and about the only word I could recognise was kai. Basically, kai is one of the most frequently used words in the New Testament, and means ‘and’. If you can’t recognise kai by this stage of Greek, you shouldn’t be doing Greek! The other book was 1 Corinthians which was a piece of cake compared to Hebrews. I only had to learn half the vocab as I did for Hebrews, and the sentences actually made sense – which is always a bonus! At least I was able to get on top of my vocab by streamlining the production of my vocab cards, which meant drawing on some computer skills from last century – seriously! I made a list of the words that I didn’t know in a spreadsheet along with a definition, the occurrence, and parse. I then imported that information into a word processor to produce vocab cards, which I could then view on my computer or mobile phone. Every time I came across a word I didn’t know while translating, it went into the spreadsheet. It was quite quick to do, and got the vocab into my head – at least long enough to get through the exam! I still make a practice of it when I translate the Greek for my own preaching and teaching.

I’m continuing on with church services at Allambie Heights Spastic Centre, which really has been a privilege. I took them through Jonah this semester before returning to the miracles of Jesus. I struggle with providing teaching from a variety places within Scripture as the people there find it much easier to understand the gospels. But I consider it important to teach from all areas of the Bible. Next year, I intend to go through book of Judges, emphasising the theme of ‘God’s unlikely servants’, drawing out the idea that God can also use people who are different from most to bring about his purposes.

Well, just how does a candidate for the Presbyterian Church of NSW end up doing a training placement in Melbourne? It starts with prayer. Several times over a number of years a suitable training placement has been sought for me, all to no avail. Last time I wrote, I mentioned I had an opportunity, and I asked for prayer that it would lead to other opportunities. It did! The opportunity I had was to be involved in a 1 week intensive subject in July raising the awareness of disability in churches. Here, I met Lindsey Gale who heads CBM’s (Christian Blind Mission) Luke14 disability inclusion program, and asked about the possibility of doing a training block placement with CBM. Lindsey also attends Donvale Presbyterian Church, and discussions began about the possibility of a combined placement. By September, I was on a plane to Melbourne to finalise those discussions, and by the end of November, I was packing the Hotel Royal (my truck) to drive to Melbourne for the training placement.

            And what an opportunity it has been! Donvale was keen to have me teach their people all I could about disability, and I was greatly support in this. I learned so much about pastoral care, and the work of CBM, and am keen to learn more about CBM. I was also given the opportunity to preach at their night service, and my sermon was very will received. I now have a very clear vision of what my future ministry will look like. I still have no idea what I’ll be doing, or for that matter where. But I know how which is helpful for me, and those who’ll be working with me.

            Normally, the placement is done as a 4 week block, but I’ve been allowed to divide it into two 2 week blocks. So mid-January I’ll be doing the run to Melbourne again. I’m looking forward to much of the same as last time, and will also be discussing future possibilities of ministry. All these opportunities couldn’t be more timely – praise God!

Why are these opportunities timely? Perhaps it’s because of the highlight of the year – finishing my degree! On the 9th of March next year I graduate with my Bachelor of Theology. But don’t get too excited, this is not the end of my studies. To fulfil the requirements of my candidature, I need a second award. This is an Advanced Diploma of Theology. I can now say with unswerving confidence that this will take no more than two years to complete.

So what does one do after two years of Greek? Well, they do another year of Greek, of course! Next semester I’ll be doing John’s gospel, and being “fisherman’s Greek” I’m expecting a much easier time of it than Hebrews with it’s “scholar’s Greek”. Although, who knows what the examiners will pull from their bag of tricks just to make it more interesting. I’ll also be doing Grace and Eschatology and I’m looking forward to deepening my knowledge of grace.

 

We’re nearly there folks, we’re nearly there! One challenge almost done, another one rapidly coming – a ministry placement. Thanks for your prayers and support.

December 26, 2010 Posted by | Newsletters | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – June 2010

Last semester was yet another intensive time, in more ways than one. Although I was only doing 1½ subjects, which left people with a confused look when I told them. I guess it was like telling them I boarded the train from platform 9¾. The 2 subjects I was doing were Romans (in Greek) and Intermediate Greek. Intermediate Greek taught us how to use our editions of the Greek New Testament, and, well, basically to remind us of everything we learned last year and had since forgotten. As well as looking at how the Greek works after having been reminded of the basics. But the only assessment required was turning up.

This allowed much more time and effort to be given to Romans. Now, if you’ve ever studied Romans as part of a Church Bible study group, or simply read through it, you know something of the juggernaut that the letter is. So imagine studying it from the original language it was written in – Greek. Are you starting to feel the intensity? I sure did! We were given a choice of questions for the main assessment, and I picked the place of [Old Testament] law in the life of a Christian being answered from Romans 7. I picked this question because the issue was brought to my attention last year, and I wanted to be much more clued up to form my position. So for me, this wasn’t simply an academic exercise in ticking a box. I worked very hard at understanding not just the issues in Romans, but the issues more broadly. By the time I had done all my research, my head felt like it was stuffed with cotton-wool, and I really struggled to write the essay. But, I managed to squeeze it out, and my essay was well received. Unfortunately, I’m reluctant to share it around. The essay looks like it was written by someone who swallowed a Greek New Testament, along with a few Greek dictionaries – and I’m not sure that I didn’t! I’d have to write a much more pastoral work before I distribute any of my conclusions.

Occasionally, I’m reminded by friends what a privilege it is to study God’s word at Bible College. Such reminders seem to come when I’m stressed, or recovering from being stressed. So I tend to respond with a silent grumble. But I can honestly say, even at the heights of the stress, it was an absolute privilege. I rarely give unqualified statements, but anyone who says studying Greek is a waste of time is WRONG! I really thank God for my stubbornness in not heeding the advice not to do Greek, and the determination to keep going with it. I was able to draw our so much more from Romans. I don’t want to discourage people from reading their English translations. Everything you need for salvation is made clear in English. There is no secret knowledge to be had in reading Greek. But being able to read Greek helps me understand even more what I’ve come to know from the English translations.

Sailing at Jervis Bay

Enjoying a rare puff of wind sailing on Jervis Bay

It wasn’t only studies that made the semester intense, but physical activity as well. I was invited to go sailing for the beginning of May at Jervis Bay. I jumped at the chance, but quickly thought, “I know what an afternoon of sailing does to me. What’s a whole weekend of sailing going to do to me???” So I was quickly back on my bike in the weeks leading up to the trip to get my fitness back up. This was just as well! There wasn’t much wind the whole weekend, so lots of peddling was done (remembering these boats can be sailed, peddled, or paddled). While returning to camping on the Saturday I was treated by a pod of dolphins, porpoising right next to my boat. I hadn’t seen wild dolphins before. I could have just about reached out and touched them. It was and amazing experience. Happily I got through the weekend without any sign of exhaustion.

The services at the Spastic Centre are continuing. Though it’s becoming increasingly evident that this is an aged ministry, and not just a disabled ministry. Often we have had to pray for members who are quite sick, or dying. Even still, glimpses of extraordinary faith can be seen at these times, and these are such a powerful testimony to the grace and work of God in their life. I attended the funeral of one such man. Although Paul was not a full-time resident of Venee Burges house, he was there when recovering from operations, and was determined not to miss out on a church service – even in his last week. His funeral was none I had experience before. It was more a time of celebration than one of mourning. Paul was confined to a wheelchair, and had no speech, and very little use of his body. Yet, this man was able to have such an impact on people’s lives for the gospel, and had a great influence on his church, simply because he exercised his faith, and refused to let his disability to get in the way of anything! This was a great encouragement to me to keep persevering, and to see my disability as an opportunity, not as an obstacle, to minister. Unfortunately, many have considered my disability as the latter, much to my discouragement. So hearing of Paul’s life and faith was a great blessing. It is also a reminder what a privilege it is to be able to teach the Bible in this place, that people may hear and respond to the grace of God.

I was also given the opportunity to speak on college mission. This time at Forster. I was to speak at a youth discipleship group, and to give my testimony (that is, how and why I became a Christian) at a men’s breakfast. I don’t pretend for a second that I’m easy to listen to. Even still, both talks were well received. Especially at the men’s breakfast where my message had a big impact as I found out later.

The worst part about mission was not being able to go sailing. Anyone who’s been to Forster knows the water is a clear, light blue colour. I considered it a great injustice to be forced to drive past the water each day, beckoning me to sail it when I couldn’t. It left me exclaiming, “I WANT MY BOAT!!!” Which of course really isn’t my boat. I did get out on the water thanks to Jason Summers, which was an interesting experience doing a precarious balancing act with 3 other grown men in a tiny dingy. But it was fun!

Well, looking at the college timetable to choose my subjects these days is like arriving late for a party only to pick at the scraps of food left over. That can only mean I’m getting closer to the end of course. Next semester I’ll be studying more Greek looking at the letters of Hebrews and 1 & 2 Corinthians – a man can never have too much Greek! But when I’ll actually finish is still uncertain. Somehow, I’m still intent on studying Hebrew! It also means my anxiety is increasing concerning future ministry. I keep praying for opportunity, and I have such an opportunity at present. So I am also praying that this will lead to other opportunities. I ask you would do the same.

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December 2009

I am very glad to get to the end of another year, and for once my final exams could not come quick enough. And I truly am amazed and what I’ve managed to cram into my head! I just hope it all doesn’t fall back out over summer. I’ll need it for next year.

This past semester I studied Homiletics (or preaching), and the second half of the Greek course. Greek was particularly challenging as the pace was really ramped up. It seemed we had to learn three times as much material compared to the first semester. Most of it was variants of what we had already learned (supposedly!). At least I had my study methods worked out, and I was able to get to work on it straight away.

Homiletics was a very interesting and exciting subject to study. Though I must admit, I was expecting a semester of being told how to suck eggs! I thought, “I know how to preach. I’ve been preaching for years!” About the third week into the semester I realised, I didn’t have a clue when it came to preaching! I had always struggled to make my talks relevant to the people listening. But the method we learned of witting a talk helped me a great deal to make my talks relevant, and I put it into practice straight away with my talks at the Allambie Heights Spastic Centre. Part of the assessment involved preaching three sermons. I was very interested to see where this would end up given my communication difficulties. Nonetheless, my sermons were very well received, encouraging comments were made, and my results were much better then expected.

Another important discovery was mind mapping software. This allows me to jot down ideas and link them to other ideas. This way I can quickly put all my thoughts down on a given subject and the write the essay or talk once all my thoughts are clearly laid out. I have found it very helpful for writing talks, and should be even more helpful in writing lengthy essays.

Life Beyond the Theology Books

Church services at the Allambie Heights Spastic Centre are still going on strong. Some people have left, others have come, and I still get around 10 people coming along. We have continued looking at the miracles of Jesus, and I, personally, have been enthralled by the biblical presentation of Jesus in contrast to the popular sensationalist ideas that tend to float about our modern society. Jesus just did not fit in to his own time and culture, and was really quite controversial. The reason for this was he was bringing in the Kingdom of God with values that were very different to the culture of his day, and even our culture. I hope some of my excitement has rubbed off on the people there as we’ve talked about the miracles of Jesus.

One thing I am growing more aware of is I’m not only ministering to people with disabilities, I’m also ministering to people who are aging. So it is sad to see people who I once communicated with fluently, now struggling to hear or comprehend anything that is said. Still, it’s always encouraging to see the come along. We recently had our Christmas service, which was again enjoyed by all who came. I also am very grateful to those who help me put the service together. The job seems to get bigger each year, and having the right people on the day makes a big difference.

Well, now that I’ve done 1 year of Greek, what else does one do other than another year of Greek? Seriously! Next year I’ll be doing Intermediate Greek which looks at how the language is actually used, along with canonical issues (that is, why we have the books in the Bible that we have); and Romans which will be looking at what the book is all about, except I’ll be doing it, you guest it, in Greek! I’ve already been introduced to one of the debates that goes on which has left me confused, so I should be in for a fun year! So to prevent all my Greek from falling out of my head before then, I’ve decided to start translation Romans over the Christmas break.

The really good part is I’m getting closer to the end of my degree. From what I can work out, I’ve only got a few years to go, which in my time frame isn’t that long. That’s if I study the Hebrew language as well, which I’m still very keen to do.

There is still no clear direction on what I’ll be doing after my studies, so now is the time to start thinking seriously about this, and praying for opportunities so I can get the right training now when it’s available.

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – July 2009

This past semester was quite different from the scholarly grind I’m used to of having to form and present arguments. Instead, I found myself back in a universe where I was either wrong or right, and having to reflect on my own experience rather than what someone else said. It was also a busy semester as I took on some big challenges, and excelled in my objectives.

This semester included two subjects: New Testament Greek and Leadership. It was an odd combination, but I was glad to do a lighter subject along side of Greek.

Greek is a funny sort of a subject. It’s impossible when you don’t know what you’re doing, and a snap when you do. For the first 10 weeks I considered Greek the hardest course of study I had taken on. Particularly when I scraped through one exam with 51%! Then I conceded there are no shortcuts to leaning Greek, and put myself on a daily routine of paradigms (that’s like a times-table for language), translation and vocab. The real stroke of genius (even if I do say so myself) was making my own vocab cards that I could view on my mobile phone. This allowed me to learn my vocab on the train without the fear of hundreds of bits of cardboard ending up on the carriage floor! My Greek improved greatly, and I found the going easy, if monotonous. The rewards are worth the effort. I was recently told the difference between reading the New Testament in English and reading the New Testament in Greek is like the difference between watching TV in black and white and watching TV in colour. Knowing Greek provides so much more depth to the text. So any time I’m in the New Testament, I find myself looking up the Greek. It’s something I’ve really come to enjoy. Though throughout the course I felt sorry for the lecturer. Before he could teach Greek, he had to teach us degree students English! Such is our education system that failed to teach us grammar. Still, I’ve yet to find out how much Greek can a Greek geek speak if a Greek geek only speaks Greek. (Sorry. Just a little vent I came up during the semester to relieve frustration!)

Leadership was the first stage of me becoming officially “Presbyterianised” as I learned about the inner workings of the denomination. I guess it had to happen some time. This also included learning and developing leadership skills generally. For this I organised a seminar on Disability, the Bible, and the Church at my church in Gosford. This was the first time I had organiusd something like this on such a large scale. It was an invaluable experience giving me insight into the demands of leadership, and the type of person and leader I am. Happily, the seminar went off without a hitch. It was well received by those who attended, and enjoyed by those who contributed. Of course, I am extremely thankful to those who contributed and helped out in smaller ways.

Life beyond the theology books…

Church services at the Allambie Heights Spastic Centre are heading in to their 8th year (I think – just where has the time gone?). God is continuing to bless this ministry with consistant numbers which is so encouraging. Also, plenty of people from my church have come forward to assist with the work. This year we finished our series on Daniel, which didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. We are presently working through the miracles of Jesus which is a very interesting study for anyone to do. I certainly have been challenged and corrected in how I think about Jesus as I prepare the talks (with the Greek text in hand of course!), and I certainly hope and pray the discussions leave a similar impression on the people there.

I was also involved in a disability camp as the speaker. This involved using technology which is always a challenge on the day, and talking to a puppet! Never in my theological training did I think I’d be talking to a puppet! Still, this just typified the whole semester – different! What I was encouraged by was the discussions after each talk. For the first time I set discussion questions for the different room groups, and wandered around to each group to hear good, meaty discussions taking place. This worked better than I had hoped.

From the crazy files…

I thought by the time I got to my mid-30s, I’d stop doing so many crazy things. But no. They’re continuing on. Last summer I learned to sail. Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that crazy, but bearing in mind I have cerebral palsy along with the fact I can’t swim, it doesn’t exactly put sailing within the realm of sensibility!

A mate has become really involved in kayaks that can be paddled as normal, peddled with your feet, or sailed. He through me in one of his kayaks to see how I’d coped. I loved it, and it wasn’t too long before I was out-sailing him! The picture on the left is from a trip down to Lion Island in Broken Bay (click on either for a larger image. But, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. (How else can you say it?). There has been some misadventures in some shocking weather conditions. But that’s all part of the fun! The only time I’ve ended up in the water was intentional. That was to see if I could get back in unassisted. What a fun afternoon that was – not! Gladly, I was able to climb back on board! And of course, I always have a life jacket on when on the water.

I am really thankful for these opportunities. This boat really has opened up a part of God’s creation that was closed off to me. There’s also video footage from the same trip.

It’s still uncertain of how long I have still to go in my course. It really depends on how much I want to do and whether I tackle Hebrew as well. At this stage, I dare say I will be studying Hebrew. As difficult as Greek has been, the rewards have been well worth it. I imagine the same will be true for Hebrew.

Getting nearer to the end of my course has not yielded a closer vision of what I’ll be doing after my studies. This is a source of frustration. However, there are many questions I want to pursue and write on as a result of my studies. One way or the other, I will have something to do.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – December, 2008

I am relieved to get to the end of another year of study. Again, the semester ended in a mad rush to get my final assessments done. Nonetheless my subjects for this semester were among the most enjoyable I have done, though only one of the 6 essays I did was “easy”. That essay was on the Trinity, which might give you an idea of what I was up against.

            As I stated last time, my subjects for this semester include Reformation History and Doctrine of God and the Work of Christ. I also mentioned last time that I regarded the Reformation as a theological bandwagon that everyone jumped on with their political agendas. At least that was the case in Europe. In England the opposite was true – their Reformation was a political bandwagon that everyone jumped on with their theological agendas! I did manage to learn a few other things as well about this important time in history. What really stood out was the extent to which politics and religion were intertwined. They really were one and the same thing. It’s very foreign to modern western thought where every effort is made to keep church and state polls apart. It was interesting watching a documentary recently on the 2005 intelligent design controversy in the U.S.A.. The objection was intelligent design should not be taught in public schools because that would constitute a breach in separation of church and state. We’ve moved way up one end of the spectrum, while 600 years ago, people were way down the other end. It was not possible to be theological without being political, and visa-versa. The Reformation had to be political as much as it was theological. This is a point that needs to be understood when addressing any period of Church History before this time.

            The subject also gave me an opportunity to read Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will which I consider to be the best book I’ve ever read, besides the Bible of course! Ever since coming to understand the Gospel as I now do I’ve struggled with prayer. Not so much the discipline of prayer, although that is an issue, but how to think about prayer. How does God’s sovereignty, free will and human responsibility work together in prayer? Do we really need to nag God off his throne to get anything done in the universe, even though he’s know about it for all eternity? What a pathetic view of God! And us! I’ve asked all kinds of people, and read a few books, including Calvin, but only this obscure former monk from 500 years ago had a satisfactory answer for me. It was a real blessing to come across. I suppose you want to know what the answer was. Well, you really should read the book, but essentially, Luther perceived that people had free will over human affairs, not God’s affairs, yet human affairs are still overruled by God. So people do have free will in human affairs, yet we can ask God for his intervention in our affairs, and trust in his sovereignty. Now, that’s an understanding that I can pray within, and not feel like I’m nagging God off his throne like an irresponsible pawn! Unfortunately, this is a hard book to get. It’s not just this book, but other books have been difficult to get. While popular Christian bookshops line their shelves with rubbish, gems like Bondage of the Will and other helpful titles are scarce! It’s a disgrace!! Apart from this I soon discovered Luther was more than capable of having his dopey moments. It was a disappointment to see how someone could write such an ingenious work, and yet be so stupid at the Marburg Colloquy where he debated Zwingli over the presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper. Such is the complexity of human nature, I suppose!

            The Doctrine of God and the work of Christ gave me an opportunity to look at the Trinity. Though I had always embraced the Trinity, I thought it was just a doctrine tact on to the rest of theology to explain some strange occurrences in Scripture. I now understand that the Trinity is integral to theology. If you deny the Trinity, the rest of Christian doctrine falls apart. The subject also gave me an opportunity to explore the work of God in the salvation of individuals. I did a paper on this in relation to people with disabilities and other social issues. Even though my paper hardly answered the essay question, it was interesting to see how the Gospel is applied to people who would appear to be outside the “norm”. Incidentally, the Gospel is applied to people inside the “norm” in exactly the same way. I do wish more theologians would realise this!

 

The church services at Allambie Heights are still going strong with numbers consistently around 10. Some of the regulars aren’t so regular these days which is sad. I suppose it’s part of getting old. But others have come and have been regular. It was encouraging to see how much some of the people are “owning” the service. This became apparent when one of the people had some family members there. When it came time to begin, they kept saying “Church! Church!” wanting the family members to come to “their church”. I felt sad for them when their family members simply ignored the request and walked off to another part of the complex. I thought for sure they would leave and join their family. But no! They stayed for the entire service as they normally would. It’s pleasing to see that this time is regard with such importance by these people. Praise God!

            After going through the Sermon on the Mount I thought it would be good to talk about how to live a godly life when not everyone recognises the only true and living God. So we started going through Daniel. I’m not sure if this is working as well as I’d hoped. The chapter readings are a bit long, despite me encouraging them to enjoy the readings as a “story”. Yet, they are still doing their best to listen, and seem to be gaining something from it.

 

In regard to my studies, I’ve still got around 3 years to go. Thank you for your prayers and support. I think I can confidently say your prayers are being answered. At the end of every semester, I’ve looked at my remaining assessments and thought, “how am I going to pull this off??” Yet somehow I manage to come through. Next year I hope to study Greek, though I’m not sure how this will work out. I found 2 days a week at college to be quite taxing. Not just from travelling, but the extra day at college meant 1 less day I’m working on essays. Technically, this means I’ve got 2 less weeks to get my work done. So I’m keen to have 1 day a week where possible. In the meantime, I intend to spend my summer doing everything I haven’t been doing. That’s going to be one busy summer!

December 3, 2008 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | Leave a comment

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – July, 2008

I’ve managed to get through another semester at PTC, and as I sit down to write another edition of The Student’s Desk this past semester feels more like a full year. This edition has ended up being longer than normal. Probably because I’m still trying to process all that’s happened! It’s been a very busy time. The fact I picked three of the hardest topics to study and became frustrated with the quality of the work by scholars added to a very long semester.

            As I mentioned last time, this semester’s subject included Isaiah and Westminster Confession of Faith. I really wanted to ‘nail’ Isaiah as I anticipated that the better I understood Isaiah, the better I could understand the New Testament. I was promptly warned at the start by a friend, “You wont nail Isaiah, Isaiah will nail YOU!” I drew no encouragement from our lecturer who also warned us, “You wont get your head around Isaiah. It’s just to big.” He did his doctoral thesis on Isaiah, and he’s saying it’s too big! What chance did I have?? Nonetheless, I did get a firm handle on Isaiah. I wont be so bold to say I nailed it, but I did achieve my objective in gaining a better understanding of the New Testament from Isaiah. For the 2 essays, I looked at the Sign of Immanuel in chapter 7 looking at the weird, whacky, and completely ridiculous suggestions commentators have come up with for the identity of the virgin and her child. Working with what our lecturer had to say helped a long way as I came up with my own ideas. I also looked at the theme of Kingship, and looking back, this wouldn’t have been much different to trying to summarise the whole book in 3,000 words – yah! Nonetheless, I gained an understanding in Isaiah’s agenda.

            As for the Westminster Confession of Faith, hmm. What can I say without causing too much controversy? I should say firstly that there is a place for church tradition and systematic theology. I’m not about to deny the relevance of the doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian Church as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as did happen in the 19th century. Particularly today as any aspect of Christian doctrine can mean anything and everything. It’s helpful for Christians to state what they believe corporately so we at least know what we’re on about as a group. If someone doesn’t subscribe to what is said, then maybe they’d do better to find another ‘ecclesiastical home’. But what concerned me is as I investigated again some of the controversies that have occurred in the Presbyterian denomination, I felt more like a lawyer then a Bible scholar. I found people arguing over the finer points of the Confession, and whether this or that teaching can be accepted on some technicality. Where the Bible was used, it was to provide a proof text, not some much to apply the broad, sweeping themes of Scripture. Mind you, this was at a time when only a minority of clergy believed the Bible had any credibility! I became sensitive to the use of the Bible from studying Isaiah, and being aware of the debates about the person and work of Christ that have raged in other times of Church history. Perhaps if a little more attention had been given to Isaiah, these debates would not have been so necessary. Church tradition and systematic theology have their place, but not as a second Bible! This is one of my objections to Catholicism that regards church tradition as being equally authoritative with the Bible (though in my opinion, Catholicism places the authority of church tradition over the Bible). Protestants must not do the same with our systematic theology. As helpful as systematic theology is to identify our persuasion on various issues, extreme care must be taken not to invest too much authority in it. I do not think that humanity in its fallen state has the capacity to crystallise beyond fault, the entire revelation of the Bible into systematic statements. I have come to the firm conviction that God gave us a Bible, not a systematic text, for very good reasons. I’m not sure what all those reasons are, but we would do well to give much more attention to the Bible than our traditions or systematic theology.

            However, the subject did give me an opportunity to revisit the issue of God’s providence after writing about it in relation to prayer last year. When I thought about what I had written last year, I wasn’t entirely happy with what I came up with. I also chose to write on it again as I had issues with what the Westminster Confession of Faith had to say at this point. This time, I was to consider God’s providence in relation to the problem of evil, and what the Confession has to say on the issue. This was the third difficult topic I chose. I still don’t have a final answer to the problem, and I very much doubt that I ever will. However the faculty would be pleased to know I’m more in line with the Confession on this point these days, though I still have a point of contention. I do know to be wary of people who claim to have a final answer to this issue. My studies showed that such people have a distorted view of reality, or the nature of God, or both. It was during the writing of this essay that frustration began to build. I have in my own library a copy of Erickson’s systematic theology. In it is a section addressing the issue of God’s providence and the problem of evil explaining three different viewpoints. I thought, “Beauty! That’s half my essay written! All I need to do is look up his citations.” Well, one of the references by Clark wasn’t available. But no matter. I found another book by Clark which was sure to say the same thing. To my horror, what Erickson said Clark was saying, Clark wasn’t actually saying! So this left a dirty great whole in my essay, and in any event, I didn’t fully agree with what Clark was saying! Somehow I had to integrate all this into my essay. All I wanted to do was get the essay written in the limited time! Oh, the joys of being an academic. I got the essay done, and I haven’t had my lecturer wanting to talk to me about it, so that has to be a good thing.

 

Studies aren’t quite the struggle they could be as more technology is being used to aid students. This semester I started using a computer program called End Note. This keeps track of all my references so I no longer need to write the footnotes or bibliographies – the program does it for me. I can also use an online database to import biographical information straight into End Note. This saves time and errors. The database also allows me to search journal articles relevant to the essay I’m working on. Now I think the librarian dreads the days I come through the door. It’s a sure bet I’ll be sending him upstairs with a print out of a dozen journals I want retrieved, if not photocopied. Having the library database online has also helped as I can now see what books the library has and where in the library they are. It means I can go to the library with a print out of the books I want and where they are, pick them off the shelf one by one and spend my library time reading instead of trying to find reference to read! This probably saves 1-2 hours work in the library each time. The internet itself is also becoming more of a valuable resource. Every so often I find myself wanting an obscure book and find if you dig around the internet for long enough, you’ll find a full version of the book on a computer file somewhere, mostly for free! Now I’ve gone from the problem of not having enough references to having too many references. Sufficient to say I’ve become quite good at speed reading.

            Doing both subjects by intensive blocks rather than a few hours each week was quite a different experience as well. I had hoped this would give me more time to get more work done as every week wouldn’t be interrupted by a trip to Sydney. Yet somehow the end of semester still turned out to be a mad rush. This may be due to my own pet projects more than anything else. And after 10 hours of lectures in a couple of days, I wasn’t sure of what planet I was on! Life was also made a little more expensive as I had to drive due to the shear amount of junk I needed to take. Attempts at finding an alternative to driving resulted in a strained neck and shoulder which then went into spasm for 5 days. Hence I kept driving! But I certainly appreciated being accommodated while lectures were on. A 10 minute walk to college was so much more enjoyable than a 2 hour commute.

            As usual I went on college mission just before Easter. This time to South West Rocks. I found this mission to be very different. There were social aspects to the area I wasn’t prepared for, and pretty much took me the whole week to figure out how to handle those aspects. The fact I arrived at mission already tired also didn’t help. For the most part, I had the responsibility of driving the computerised presentation which I don’t have allot of experience in. Before mission, I use to think Microsoft Power Point was a horrible, horrible program. Now I know, I was right!

 

College isn’t the only thing that’s been keeping me busy. Church services at the Allambie Heights Spastic Centre continue with the same number of people attending. I’m really encouraged by the number of people coming forward to help. I no longer feel I need to stand behind people with a big stick to put their name on the roster. Now, I have people almost fighting over dates when they can come down. It’s fantastic!

            Earlier in the year I decided to go through the story of Moses. All was fine until I got to the Ten Plagues. I was left thinking, “how am I going to teach such a huge slab of Scripture in 10 minutes? And, what’s it all about anyway? Surely it’s more than God giving the Egyptians a good spanking for enslaving his people!” Indeed it was. I spent 2 weeks studying the plagues and the significance they had to the Egyptian culture at the time. What was impressed upon me was the all-sufficiency of God in providing for people. The sum of the situation was the Egyptians lived in an uncertain world, and by observing certain rites and beliefs, they could insure and be assured of some certainty. They took pride in this and failed to recognise God’s provision. What the Egyptians put their hope in, God showed to be a sham through the 10 plagues. He is the one who provided for the Egyptians, not some petty idol. We too live in an uncertain world, and we invest time, money, and energy into things that will make us secure and happy. And all too quickly the things that God has given us to enjoy have become our idols, as we fuss and become anxious about them. We forget God gave us these things to enjoy and use for his purposes. If God provided for us in the first instance, God will always provide. Perhaps not always the same thing, but God will provide. There is no need to be anxious about anything. I achieved my objective in getting through the 10 plagues in 10 minutes by discussing these points with the people.

            Of late I have been going through the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I’m finding that a most dangerous piece of Scripture. Just when you think you’ve got the Christian life nailed, you read the Sermon on the Mount. Hmm. But it’s been encouraging as well. I’ve been teaching it as “living life up-side-down” as Jesus inverts worldly standards to show God’s standards. This is good news if you find yourself disabled, and can’t conform to worldly standards. But Jesus doesn’t let you off the hook. The sermon emphasises relationships, and how God is honoured in those relationships. It often means doing things which are least natural for us to do. This presents a challenge for anyone, regardless of ability or lack thereof.

 

I was also involved in the disability camp in March, and to be quite honest, it feels much further back than that. I was asked to give my testimony, but apart from this, I was free and spent the time encouraging campers and carers alike, which probably does more than anything else.

 

Before returning to college, I spent the remainder of my holidays building my own website, happily entitled The Students Desk. This was a big job in itself, writing who I am, what I believe, and what I’m about. It mainly serves as an outlet for my writings so people can read at their leisure, and hopefully be encouraged in their faith. The website can be found at www.thestudentsdesk.com . My intent was to post a fortnightly devotion based on what I’m speaking on at the Spastic Centre. Unfortunately, my studies left me too tired to do much else. I’ll have to try and make more of an effort in the future.

 

Next semester I’m back to the weekly commute, twice a week unfortunately! I’ll be studying the reformation period in church history, and the doctrine of God and the work of Christ (more systematic theology). I’m looking forward to studying the Reformation. I’ve studied it briefly before and concluded that a few people came along with a theological bandwagon which everyone jumped on with their political agendas. I’m looking forward to having my knowledge of this time filled out a bit more. Hopefully the doctrine of God and the work of Christ will lift my view of systematic theology a bit higher,

 

I’ve also worked out where I’m up to in my course. I have about another 12 subjects to go, and at the rate I’m going, that’ll take another 3 years. So, there’s a fair way to go yet, but I’m getting there. I’m just thankful God doesn’t have deadlines!

 

Thank you for supporting and praying for me. It’s a big encouragement on a long road with many battles. A road that I don’t even know where it’s going! But, when all the hard work is done, it’s a good road to be on, because I’m learning more and more about Jesus.

July 7, 2008 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | Leave a comment