The Syrian Crisis

Damascus is my favourite city in the world.

by Rosemary Sheel
by Rosemary Sheel

Over the last ten years I would’ve visited this wonderful city nearly a dozen times. It’s history and culture captivated me since the day I first arrived. To walk the souk filled with shopkeepers attempting to sell their wares and see so many people in one place enjoying themselves is a vivid picture in my mind. So too is walking the street called Straight, where St Paul once walked. To visit Ananias’ house with the small staircase into the small two-roomed house now decked out out as a church.  These memories and many more are what I think of when I think of Damascus.

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Now, this image has been changed and I can’t imagine how the people of Syria cope with the destruction of their country.

The Syrian Crisis has wrecked havoc for Syrians and the wider Middle East as people seek to cope with current situation.

Last night on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent there was an episode about the refugee camps in Jordan. It tells the story of Syrians who are now “making a life for themselves” inside these camps. The episode gives an amazing picture of life within the camps and what these people need to deal with on a daily basis.

I’d encourage you to watch it and become aware of what’s going on.

Dreams and Aspirations

Over at The Gospel Coalition blog this week there’s been a great little article from Jackie Knapp about coming to terms with life when it doesn’t seem to work out the way we thought it was promised.

Jackie speaks of the realities of living in a fallen world and dealing with unfulfilled dreams. She makes particular reference to the self-esteem and “Just Do It” worldview that permeates the 20s mindset and how suffering and disappointment isn’t just for those who are older.

I’d encourage you to have a read of it.

I’ve always found myself reading self-help and life-hack type articles on the net but often reflect that they may not actually be doing my spirit or mind any good. While they are inspirational on one hand they can become depressingly self-centred on the other. While I want to live with a positive attitude toward life and the freedom that comes with faith in Jesus I’m just not convinced that this positive psychology talk gels well with the Christian faith.

Something to continue thinking about.

A Dinner For Champions

After an hour and a quarter we rolled out of the restaurant with bellies full but a story to remember for a life time.

A month earlier I’d made the claim among some of my mates that I’d be able to eat 50 dumplings in one sitting. Immediately this was jumped on and a date was set when this eating challenge would take place.

A feat that would solidify my eating prowess and stupidity all at the same time.

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In the week leading up to the event emails regarding strategy were sent thick and fast. Some just wanted to enjoy the meal. Some were concerned about ‘stomach shrinking’, with so little eaten in the lead up to the night, but a couple of us disregarded such thoughts as an old wives tale. Some, like my good self, took it more seriously and conveniently began a weeks trial at the local Anytime Fitness in preparation.

Eating and drinking little over the weekend of the challenge was my strategy. This I committed myself to wholeheartedly, even to the point of ordering a calamari salad on the Saturday afternoon while The Wife devoured a glorious burger and chips. Not only did I have food envy, but lost man-points from the waitress serving us.

No amount of manless embarrassment was going to stop me from performing at my optimum.

As a regular Hamish and Andy podcaster I took a leaf out of their book, recognising their tried and tested strategies in any food challenge. This made me concerned about the amount of, and type of, food and liquid to consume in the 24 hours prior to the event. I did find time to invite them along via Twitter but they were obviously busy.

The day of the challenge provided ample opportunity for success, which began with a light breakfast of two slices of Vegemite toast and a banana. Small glasses of water were consistent throughout the day and a small zucchini slice and salad for lunch was the final foodstuff allowed down my gullet until the evening. The afternoon was full of solid garden work that whet my appetite for dumplings, and provided poor justification for consuming so many calories in such a short period.

After a full and strategic weekend it was game time and we entered the arena, David and Camy’s Dumping House, Box Hill at 7:30pm.

Six of us were ready to feast our eyes and stomachs on these delicious morsels of carb goodness.

The worry of not getting a seat was soon waylaid and the first four plates ordered in good time. Much anticipation was evident around the table. Despite not seeing each for a while we didn’t really care to talk of what we’d been up to. Such small talk was for non-elite dumpling players.

I had claimed that the fried dumplings were the only ones we could go with because they were superior in taste and texture. Little did I know.

After downing my first three steamed dumplings I had been converted, my theory shattered.

We discussed how we’d prepared for this event and what we’d been doing the last 24 hours to keep ourselves primed. Some had downed a few beers before arriving, believing that with no food in the stomach the craving of dumplings would be like the craving of kebabs at 2am after a hard night out on the juice.

This wasn’t 2am.

Amateur mistake by some around the table.

A quick move to double figures occurred without trouble and we began to talk about what we could realistically eat. Adjusted targets were set, there was no way 50 was in the offing this evening. I said I’d be happy with 30. I was one-third of my way to that already and confident enough in my strategy.

We did have an issue in the wait between ordering and delivery of such succulent dumplings. As any high performance eater knows the first 20-30 minutes are key in jolting the body into coping with copious quantities of food. Despite this hump in the road we continued to order another four plates and waited for them to arrive.

There is only so much soy sauce, dumpling juices and Chinese tea that can be consumed before the palate gets a bit bored by it all. Strategic orders of carbonated goodness were fulfilled, with a knowing thought that it could either help or hinder the eating process. I had a positive outlook, knowing that I’d have to stagger my drinking of the ice cold Coke. After the second round of dumplings had been eaten we’d moved into the high-teens and a few were beginning to fall behind. This was the time for the satisfying cleanser that is Coke to be opened.

It was beginning to be evident that anything over 20 dumplings would be a respectable effort.

But this night wasn’t about respect. It was about writing history. It was about becoming a history maker. Maybe even beginning a movement of dumpling eating challenges for all future youngsters and high achievers to aspire to.

So the crossing of the 20 barrier progressed quickly and moved into the impressive category that is the mid-20s.

The waiter began to see what we were doing. Not only was he taking our steady orders of dumplings but was beginning to give advice on what to try next. He threw in the left-field option of noodles, which we batted out of the park. It wasn’t until we showed him our dumpling counters we’d brought along especially for the event that the penny dropped. At this point, whether wanting to become our friends or try to get more money out of us he made the audacious claim that he eats 30 dumplings when he’s really hungry. A dint to the confidence and self-esteem for even the best of us around the table. But not enough for us to finish there.

The stomach was beginning to feel heavy as the next round came out. People were bowing out and questions over how many more plates we’d need was the main conversation.

Some idiot ordered vegetarian at one point, a disappointment to all of us.

After an apology from said orderer, but despite the disgusting nature of vegetarian dumplings three of them did help the total move higher.

The plate tally reached 11 and me and another were still going toe-to-toe.

The move to 30 was a feat worth celebrating and so hands raised and high fives were given.

You’ve got to celebrate the small wins in life.

As the final plate was laid before us quick calculations were being made as to how many we could end up with. As providence would have it two of us made it to 35 and glory was poured upon us by others. The obligatory Instagram photo was taken, with the waiter encouraging us to get the menu in it for posterity, or more likely shameless promotion.

So we exited the venue $20 lighter, 180+ dumplings heavier, and a story to tell for the ages.

While the 50 wasn’t made this evening the numbers were still compelling. A few celebratory games of Daytona and Basketball at the local Time Zone helped digestion, before wobbling to our cars and having to deal with the consequences over the next 24-48 hours.

Ah, what a night.

Hudson Taylor on Temptation and Forgiveness

Hudson Taylor was one of a kind. He is remembered as a missionary to China and a great man of God. Yet, in his walk with God he battled with seasons of temptation and doubt about the forgiveness that comes through Jesus. At the age of 37 he wrote his mother the following:

“My own position becomes continually more and more responsible, and my need greater of special grace to fill it; but I continually to mourn that I follow at such a distance and learn so slowly to imitate my precious Master. I cannot tell you how I am buffeted sometimes by temptation. I never knew how bad a heart I had. Yet I do know that I love God and love His work, and desire to serve Him only in all things. And I value above all things that precious Saviour in Whom alone I can be accepted. Often I am tempted to think that one so full of sin cannot be a child of God at all; but I try to throw it back, and rejoice all the more in the preciousness of Jesus, and in the riches of that grace that has made us “accepted in the Beloved.” Beloved He is of God; beloved He ought to be of us. But oh, how short I fall here again! May God help me to love Him more and serve Him better. Do pray for me. Pray that the Lord will keep me from sin, will sanctify me wholly, will use me more largely in His service.”

After receiving an encouraging letter from another missionary some time later he came to understand the forgiving nature of salvation through Christ, declaring, “God has made me a new man! God has made me a new man!”

The letter he received said:

“To let my loving Saviour work in me His will, my sanctification is what I would live for by His grace. Abiding, not striving nor struggling; looking off onto him; trusting Him for present power; trusting Him to subdue all inward corruption; resting in the love of an Almighty Saviour, and the conscious joy of a complete salvation.”

How encouraging!

Christians and Humour

Wee Sen Goh
Wee Sen Goh

There’s no denying it. I love to laugh.

The world would be a sad place if God hadn’t created us to laugh. Laughter means we’re enjoying ourselves. It means we’re enjoying the world. It means for that moment we’re having fun and are happy, no matter how short-lived that moment may be.

Thinking of the physical nature of laughter, it makes our body move, it causes us to make noise, it may even make us cry. Laughter doesn’t only show we’re having fun on the outside but it provides our bodies with activity that is beneficial to our muscles and our brain.

Laughter can help alleviate pain and sadness. Laughter can get us out of awkward conversations. Laughter can help us to not take ourselves too seriously.

This is one of the major problems with people who take things too seriously, they don’t laugh.

I know a number of fellow Christians who don’t really laugh. I’ve never seen them laugh. OK, sometimes my jokes may have been misplaced and not really funny at all but you’d think that we (Christians) would be the people of this world who would be laughing the most.

Laughing gives off a sense of confidence. There is confidence in the enjoyment of the moment and the time. As believers who are assured of life forever and worship and know God himself our enjoyment of him and everything he has provided for us should enable us to laugh. We’re creatures created to laugh.

There are of course different types of humour and some people frown upon certain types. The Australian humour of putting down others and sarcastic comments has been around for years. I can’t say I’m not immune to letting the odd sarcastic comment come out of my mouth just to get a laugh.

The other day I finished reading Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff. It’s funny. Really funny. It takes the mickey out of Christian culture and names it for what it is – weird. This book provides a perfect example of Christians not taking themselves too seriously. Well, at least those who read it and find it funny.

Sometimes there are people I just want to say “loosen up” to. They’re never laughing, always talking about serious things, not allowing themselves to enjoy the world.

God created us to laugh. He even wrote funny bits into his Word. Remember that guy who was listening to Paul preach and he fell out the window because he’d fallen asleep. That’s funny. Surely that’s funny. OK, he died, but then God performed a miracle and he was made alive again. The fact that he fell asleep while listening to what many people would say the world’s second greatest preacher (no one’s allowed to trump Jesus, of course) is funny.

Or think of Jonah, he gets swallowed by a large fish! Amazing and funny at the same time.

Ah, well, I enjoy laughing. I hope you do too.

What have you laughed at this week? What have you found funny? Are you enjoying what the Lord has made?

10 Simple Steps To Making A Godly Decision

I recently preached on God’s Guidance. Toward the end I provided some practical steps in how to go about making a biblically wise decision. The steps are outlined below and have been adapted from Kevin De Young’s book, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach To Finding God’s Will.

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  1. God has called us to himself. He has enabled us to know him through his Son Jesus and given us forgiveness and hope.
  2. The Spirit is at work to grow us into holiness and Christlikeness. We are a work in progress. It’s OK. We won’t be made perfect until Christ comes again. Our decision making is going to be flawed at times, let’s keep ourselves in perspective; it may save us from regret.
  3. We are to love God and love others. The first and most important command, this should be relevant to us as we seek guidance and make decisions.
  4. We are to search scripture and keep ourselves in line with the commands and guidance that God gives through his Word.
  5. We are to pray. Just sit down and pray about it to God. Whether it’s once, or it’s every day for the next 10 years. God seeks to hear from us but it may also change us.
  6. We are to talk to people with biblically wise people. In our churches and communities, and our wider Christian networks, who can help you think through issues and make decisions?
  7. We are to know ourselves. By knowing our gifts, abilities, skills, passions, attitudes and desires we can begin to see alignment between them and what God is perhaps calling us to. The question of are we a ‘good fit’ is a good one?
  8. We are to know other Christians. Discernment and guidance doesn’t take place in your own head. It is a communal exercise. Are their close friends who resonate with what you’re suggesting or doing? Does the church give its backing to your decisions and pursuits?
  9. We are to think through the opportunity. On one hand God’s ‘open door’ policy can be good. There is a door open and you can step through it, then you can look back and think of God opening the door for you. On the other hand, the ‘open door’ can be deceptive. The opportunity that comes along may take you away from other possibilities. However, if you’ve done the above then I would hope you’re right.
  10. We are to make a decision. The ball is in your court. Make a call, commit and follow through with it.

As a final summary to his book DeYoung concludes with these great words on God’s will, guidance, and making decisions:

“So the end of the matter is this: Love for God. Obey the scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be Holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God.”

Silence

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Cristiana Gasparotto

In the early 400s a hermit named Agathon was said to have spent three years with a stone in his mouth to encourage him in his practice of refraining from speech.

Ignoring the fact that Agathon is a cool name and sounds like he should be a character in Lord of The Rings, he was evidently a man committed to silence.

I read this little anecdote in a book I’ve just finished titled, Silence: A Christian History by Diarmaid MacCulloch, the Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University. As the title implies, it’s a book detailing the theme of silence through Christian history.

Since reading this book I’ve found myself pondering silence.

Silence seems to be elusive in our society, it’s not something we’re generally comfortable with.

After all, most of us, I dare suggest, prefer noise over silence.

As I sit writing this I’m well aware of the noise around me. I’m in a cafe where the customer and the owner are talking quite loudly about what they got up to on the weekend. There is a group of Christians (they look Presbyterian) praying in the corner, some of which I can hear. There are people getting up from the table and scraping their chairs on the wooden floor, and there’s the noise from the kitchen, dishes clanging and chef’s directing.

That’s just the noise from where I sit. It’s a comfortable place to be.

But think of the noise we choose to have in our own lives. This isn’t just the busyness that pervades our diaries, this is the actual noise we have ringing in our ears as we fall asleep, as we commute to work, as we do exercise. In each of these cases we may have the radio or the iPod attached as we seek to multitask and be efficient.

So, how do we bring silence into our lives?

If we go back to the example of Agathon we see his commitment to his cause. It’s radical, it’s extreme. I don’t imagine I could do it.

I think I prefer noise because it helps keep me distracted. It helps me avoid silence.

Silence can be threatening.

When there’s no one around and no distractions it’s only me and my own mind. I can get caught up in my own thoughts. Some good, some not so good. Silence means it’s just me. No one else.

From a young age I’ve enjoyed watching the detective series, Cadfael. Cadfael is a monk who was part of the crusades upon the Middle East but then turns to the cloister in search of a simpler life. In doing so he is portrayed as the worldly monk, competent in medicinal practices and helpful at solving the extraordinary number of murders that occur in and around the Abbey.

The monk life enabled regular time for silence, worship, and reflection on God. Silence was structured into the day. Over the course of a 24 hour period there are eight designated times of prayer and worship, while outside of this is space for the individual to be silent.

I’m not suggesting we need to join the monk life, but I am suggesting silence might help us cope with our busy lives. Silence provides a space for reflection, for thinking, for clarity. It enables us to have time to ourselves, to recalibrate our bearings. How long has it been since you recalibrated those rusty bearings?

Recently I’ve found myself enjoying even 5-10 minutes of silence every few days. It’s bought a sense of refreshment and the ability to persevere with whatever is next. For me, incorporating silence into my weekly rhythm will help give me the energy to deal with the week’s busyness.

What about you? Is silence something you avoid? Do you include silence in your weekly rhythm?

Challenge: Spend 10 minutes in your car with the radio off, how do you react?

Just Put It Down

I sat there at the table feeding my 8-month-old daughter porridge. Spoonful after spoonful I dutifully delivered to her the breakfast she was seeking to devour. She was enjoying it and I was enjoying feeding her. She sat there in her highchair, smiling away and looking at me intently, waiting for the next spoonful.

Photo: Anthro Brown Bag

At that point I naturally went towards my phone. This wasn’t to receive a call or check my messages. No, this was to open up my camera app and start putting those priceless smiles and eyes into digital format. After all, I had to capture the moment.

After taking about 10 photos, all very similar of course, I began to think something wasn’t quite right.

Here I was, sitting at the table with my living in-the-flesh daughter directly in front of me, both of us enjoying our time together and the connection we were obviously having in sharing breakfast.

But instead of simply enjoying the moment, I decided to objectify it.

I decided to take this precious moment and stick it in digital format, rather than continue to be mesmerised by my lovely girl. I decided to interrupt breakfast, interrupt our smiling and cooing and eating, and inject some foreign device into the middle of our eyesight all for the sake of capturing another moment on camera.

I don’t think that’s the way I’m meant to be living. I don’t think that’s the way we’re meant to be living.

The wife and I were travelling in Jordan once and we came upon a fellow-traveller who joined us for a desert safari trip for a few hours. He’d been travelling around the country a while and had decided not to take a camera with him. Instead, he asked us (and others he came across) to email him one photo when we were back home and when we had the chance. He didn’t want to be constantly taking photos of what he was seeing, he wanted to enjoy what was in front of him.

I’ve been taken by this idea ever since that trip. It’s counter-intuitive, almost counter-cultural.

Somehow we’ve become OK with interrupting the precious, special, fabulous, emotional (insert your adjective here) moments rather than get taken away with them. We’ve stopped enjoying life because we’re always trying to capture it.

This realisation won’t stop me from taking photos of my daughter, no, I’ll still want to take 10 photos in one hit. I’ll still want to interrupt great moments to video or digitise her for posterity. But what I will do is begin to think through it a bit more. Learn to live in the moment rather than watch it from the sideline. I want to keep engaged. I want to stay focussed for as long as possible. It seems I need to teach myself to just put the phone down. Just put it down.

What about you? Do you do a similar thing? Had similar thoughts? It’d be great to hear from you below.

Marriage Advice

marriage advice
By: pudgeefeet

Make sure you change the toilet roll when it’s finished.

Always text or call when you are running late.

Regularly eat meals together.

Remember and celebrate special days and anniversaries.

In the case of an emergency – buy flowers.

Acknowledge your faults (incl. communication, body odour, and habits).

Go to bed at the same time.

Enjoy your life together.

Priorities

Seeing that I couldn’t get to sleep last night I plugged the iPod in and listened to Mikey’s talk on Priorities.

I thought his dulcet tones would gradually put me to sleep, but alas, I listened to it all.

And…loved it.

Anyone between the ages of 17-25 should listen to this. It is wise and biblically thought through advice on something that almost every young adult I know struggles with. From organising your time to commitment levels to being able to think through the next few years to dealing with what’s next. There are some great tips laid out here which you don’t realise until you’re about 28.

Rather than reading Getting Things Done just listen to Mikey.

Get on it.