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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

new beginnings...!

If you've noticed an absence of blogging is why:

That's right, a new website is now up and running with all previous blog posts here imported into the site. Go check it out, and reset your RSS feed through there as I will not be maintaining posts on this blog for much longer...

Monday, January 24, 2011

What can miserable Christians sing?

Carl Trueman once remarked that when he asked the above questions at conferences it often elicited laughter from the audience despite it being a serious question.

So, what do Christians who are hurting, who are experiencing the fire of trials, who find themselves in the Valley of Vision, sing? Here is a hauntingly beautiful song from the Getty/Townend duo (lyrics below).

Still, my soul be still
Words and Music by Keith & Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend

Still my soul be still
And do not fear
Though winds of change may rage tomorrow
God is at your side
No longer dread
The fires of unexpected sorrow

God You are my God
And I will trust in You and not be shaken
Lord of peace renew
A steadfast spirit within me
To rest in You alone

Still my soul be still
Do not be moved
By lesser lights and fleeting shadows
Hold onto His ways
With shield of faith
Against temptations flaming arrows

Still my soul be still
Do not forsake
The Truth you learned in the beginning
Wait upon the Lord
And hope will rise As stars appear when day is dimming

Can I also suggest that the wonderful album 'Come Weary Saints' from Sovereign Grace ministries as another resource for churches to tap into.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Unilever, Lynx and Dove - a contrast in advertising

Unilever is a pretty big corporation which owns a variety of products and brands. Their brand ownership includes both Lynx (men's personal hygiene products) and Dove (generally women's personal hygiene products).

A brief look at the recent advertising of these two products presents a world of difference. Lynx has emphasised the use of attractive and immodestly dressed females to market their products to (generally) young men, while Dove has pitched their advertising to women encouraging greater self-esteem in women by taking aim at the use of overtly sexualised/photoshopped female images.

It is this stark contrast in advertising aims and goals which encouraged a good friend of mine to share his concerns with Unilever. This was his letter:

Dear Unilever,

We find the advertising used to promote Lynx products offensive, sexist, and degrading. It encourages men to see women as objects for their use and pleasure rather than human beings of equal value. It gives young men unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of women and relationships.

We wish to inform you that we will not only never purchase any Lynx products, but also, since the release of your “Lynx Lodge” campaign, we have decided to never purchase any products that are owned by Unilever.

This is for several reasons:

1. The Lynx Lodge is little more than a glorified Brothel. Even though we have read statements from your company stating that the women who work at the Lodge are safe, we are highly concerned for the long term physical and mental well-being of any woman working in such a degrading job.

2. Unilever owns Dove, which claims to promote a healthy body image for women. We find it extremely hard to understand how a company that is aiming to help women with their self esteem can be undermining their own goal to such an extreme with one of their other brands. Even if Lynx advertising is not aimed at women, they are still exposed to the images of bikini-clad super thin models who men desire. The message from Lynx has a detrimental effect on women that more than undoes any positive messages Dove might be trying to communicate. The inconsistency within your company leads us to wonder if your goal with Dove is to truly help women improve their self esteem, or simply to make money out of them.

3. Unilever is willing to use sex to sell products. Surely if your products were of a high quality, this would be unnecessary, as you would be able to advertise them based on their performance rather than eye-catching campaigns. All we know about Lynx is that it is supposed to turn women into crazed sex-driven animals – and in reality this is certainly not the case. Your advertising conveys nothing about what actually makes your product superior to its rivals. While we are aware that this is how most of your competitors behave, surely it is better to stand out as a quality product that does not need to degrade women and deceive men in order to create sales.

4. Your company has displayed through these behaviours that it is incredibly irresponsible with the power it has through the media. Unilever appears to be a company that is concerned solely with self advancement and profits, not the wellbeing of its customers.

For these reasons, we find it impossible to continue to endorse any of your brands, and we are morally compelled to make our friends aware of the significant lack of ethics and decency demonstrated by your company. We hope that the outcry sparked by your Lynx Lodge campaign will urge you to reconsider the values your company holds, and make some changes to the way you advertise. Unilever is in a position of significant influence over our society, and we hope that you will start to use that power for good and not for your own gain. If these changes were to occur, we would happily purchase Unilever brands.


This was Unilever's reply:

Dear Mr and Mrs W.

Thank you for your feedback and the opportunity to address your concerns regarding our marketing activations.

While acknowledging the raised points I would like to take the opportunity to outline Unilever's practice standards regarding the marketing activities involving our products:

We take marketing responsibilities very seriously and are committed to responsible marketing.

In all cases we follow the regulatory guidelines, while being respectful of differing views, and taking care not to offend.

Unilever adopted a global guideline to prevent the use of 'size zero' models or actors in its advertising to ensure that our advertising does not promote 'unhealthy' slimness.

We follow explicit guidelines about direct advertising to young children.

Unilever has a wide portfolio of everyday consumer brands, offering products to consumers that address different needs. Each of our brands talks to its target consumers in a way that is relevant and that communicates the brand's own unique proposition. Sometimes that proposition is serious and informative; at other times it is light-hearted and amusing.

Lynx communicates to its consumers through a series of light-hearted and tongue-in-check advertisements that feature fantasy situations that rarely happen for guys in the real world. Lynx strives to create marketing campaigns and promotions that make women laugh as much as men, and the women featured in our advertising are always in on the joke.

The campaign for Lynx aims to build the confidence of young men. For Lynx, it is about the "Lynx effect" - the boost that using Lynx can give to the confidence of young men that often find themselves daunted by the dating game.
We do take the concerns of consumers very seriously and thank you for your feedback.

Again, we apologise for any offence caused and thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Consumer Relations Department

So what do you think?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Facebook Photo Albums Do's and Don'ts

This is a 'one finger pointing to you, two fingers pointing back to me' post. Not intentionally singling anyone out – and I'm guilty of some of the 'Don'ts' in this post! There are also more 'Don'ts' in this list because I'm a legalist at heart, but what other Do's and Don'ts would you add?

  • Don't post up blurry, or unintentionally out of focus photos: it ruins the purpose of an album, to tell a story.
  • Don't post up 200 photos in one album. Just because there's an upper limit doesn't mean you have to reach it with every album. Break it up a little, books have chapters so too can your albums.
  • Don't mix up the order of your photos: especially if chronology is important to the photos you post up. It's bad story-telling, and you don't want to be known as a bad story-teller!
  • Don't post up un-rotated photos: it's bad for people's necks!
  • Don't post double-ups: even if one photo was without the flash and the other with...pick the better one and leave it at that
  • Don't post up unedited photos alongside obviously edited photos: it makes you look a) too lazy to edit all your photos, b) like you're trying too hard to be a 'pro photographer', c) like you're happy with your edited photos but unhappy with your unedited photos (so why did you post those up?).
  • Don't spam tag: when you take a photo of something rude and tag all your friends.

  • Do post up photos in an album some at a time, especially if the photos develop an unfolding narrative (like a wedding or event)
  • Do post up edited photos: but if you do, make sure that the photos in the album are edited with consistency.
  • Do write captions for your photos: witty or otherwise, they help viewers enter the story of the photo and album.
  • Do 'like' and 'comment' on other photos that you genuinely enjoy.
  • Do set your album privacy settings to 'everyone' when appropriate. When is it appropriate? That's up to you to decide (be wise, and especially obtain permission where necessary - like other people's kids).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Building Houses, Reading Books – some suggestions

In between the last post and this post (about two months!) some friends tagged me on a Facebook list. It asked what 15 authors have influenced you the most and it was interesting to see some of the responses. The most encouraging comment I received was that my author list reflected my vintage! So please keep that in mind as I make some suggestions in this list. It is by no means exhaustive and it is highly reflective of my Gen-Y vintage.

Paul writes to the Corinthians that when they were ‘infants in Christ’ he fed them ‘spiritual milk’. This is appropriate since infants need milk. But for a Christian of a few years – say, spiritually 5 years old and up – it’s a massive concern if they are still on milk. A child of 5 years old should be stomaching solid food. A child of 10 should be eating a wide variety of food and should be able to readily identify what is good and bad for them. And even more so for someone much older. So with this in mind I’ve separated each section into ‘for starters’ and ‘moving forward’.

First – The Framework. Books to build your understanding of God and His Word.

For starters:
- The Bible – keep reading and re-reading! It is simple enough for babes to grasp, and profound enough to keep even the wisest among us in awe. Keep reading the Bible!
- Tim Keller – The Prodigal God – This is a great little book to remind you that the gospel isn’t first and foremost about people but about God.
- CJ Mahaney – Living the Cross Centred Life – my book of 2008 and 2009. Worth owning and re-reading yearly.
- Josh Harris – Dug Down Deep – my book of 2010. Excellent, clear and simple introduction to doctrine and how great it can be.

Moving forward:
- Tim Keller – Counterfeit Gods – we all have idols, those things that replace God as the centre of our lives. Identifying them and letting them go, however, is hard. This little book has some helpful pointers.
- John Stott – The Cross of Christ – Immerse yourself in the cross of Christ and you’ll find yourself constantly digging deeper and deeper.
- John Piper – Desiring God/The Pleasures of God/Battling Unbelief – Piper can be hard to get into. I’d suggest starting with ‘Battling Unbelief’ as it is smaller and clearer, but once you warm to Piper’s style a treasure trove awaits.

Second – The roof and the walls – those things you need to keep the weather and baddies (like false doctrine) out. Books to help you understand how the message of the Bible fits together alongside Doctrine and life.

For Starters
- Robert Vaughn – God’s Big Plan – A great little book which is clear, easy to read, and helpfully showing how the Old and New Testaments fit together.
- Kevin DeYoung – Just Do Something – Another great little book on the issue of guidance. This seems to be a regular issue with new Christians and this little book can be of great benefit amidst the many unhelpful things people can say about ‘seeking God’s will’.
- Peter Jeffrey – Bitesize Theology – Jeffrey does us all a great service by helpfully summarising the bible’s teaching on a variety of topics like, ‘Jesus’, ‘The Holy Spirit’, ‘Justification’, ‘Sanctification’ etc...

Moving Forward
- Graeme Goldsworthy – Gospel and Kingdom/According to Plan – Bigger and weighty books on how the Old and New Testaments fit together.
- Mark Dever – The Message of the OT/NT – Dever summarises in his own words what each book of the Bible is about, their main themes and how (especially the Old Testament) point forward to Christ.
- Gordon Fee & Douglas Stewart – How to Read the Bible for all it’s Worth – one of the more helpful reference books you could own, a great book on understanding how the Bible is to be read according to context, genre and literary setting.
- Commentaries – a bit of a minefield in terms of finding good and helpful commentaries. I’d suggest speaking to your pastor or someone you might know who goes to a theological college/seminary, or head here Old Testament and New Testament commentary surveys by Tremper Longman III and Don Carson (respectively) are also very helpful.
- Don Carson – A Call to Spiritual Reformation – Carson is always good value. This is a great book on the topic of prayer and how the New Testament should shape the way we pray.
- Mark Driscoll – Death By Love – one of the best books I’ve read lately which helpfully connects doctrine and life. The subject matters are weighty, as doctrines of the Cross are, and Driscoll helpfully applies each doctrine to pastoral situations. A tough slog, but worth every bit.

Third – interior decoration. This is where it’s up to you. Here are some suggestions in some categories...

Apologetic books can, like commentaries, tend to be a minefield. I’d suggest that apologetic books only be read after you’ve built your framework and walls/roofs a little more. You’ll often find that some apologetic arguments might run counter to your framework and understanding (ie – the ‘free will’ response to the issue of suffering running counter to the Reformed view that the will is in bondage and isn’t really ‘free’ at all). But some of the more helpful apologetic books include:
  • John Dickson – The Christ Files – evidence for why we know what we know about Jesus
  • John Blanchard – Does God Believe in Atheists? – A rather thick book which tackles a wide variety of philosophical and theological issues.
  • Ravi Zacharias – Can Man Live Without God/Jesus Among Other Gods – for those who love a good philosophical challenge. Not for the feint of heart.
  • Ray Galea – Nothing in my hand I bring. A personal journey of one man through Catholicism to a personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Otherwise I’d suggest that the best apologetics come from a solid understanding of Christ and the Cross.

Boy/Girl Relationships
- Joshua Harris – I Kissed Dating Goodbye/Boy Meets Girl – two of the best books about singleness and courtship respectively.
- Some might include the books by Eric and Leslie Ludy, but I personally find them a little bit soppy.
- Joshua Harris – Sex is not the problem, Lust is. Fantastic little book on the issue of sexual immorality, ways to think through it and the hope of the Gospel in the struggle.
- Amelia and Greg Clarke – One Flesh. This one is definitely for engaged or married couples only.

- Colin Marshal and Tony Payne – The Trellis and the Vine – a new and excellent book on thinking through how and why we serve in church.
- Colin Marshal – Growth Groups – one for future leaders of churches.
- Karen and Rod Morris – Leading Better Bible Studies – similar to Colin Marshal’s book but has a few other very helpful insights, particularly if you’re going to be in any teaching capacity.

- SMBC – How To Speak at Special Events – one of the most helpful entry level books on preaching and how to preach.
- Don Carson – Exegetical Fallacies – if you’ve read through some of the other books already listed, this one might be worth getting if you’re getting into serious preaching. Carson’s list of exegetical fallacies, how the bible is often used wrongly in sermons, is lengthy and varied. Sometimes the matters can be quite technical (ie – incorrect use of Greek grammar for emphasis) but it’s an otherwise helpful book.
- Jay E Adams – Preaching with Purpose – a short book to spur you towards passionate preaching.

Missions biographies are always gold. These are worth stocking up on.

Fourth – the rubbish bin. You can generally judge these books by their covers because they usually have the author’s face plastered dominantly on the front.

- Anything by Joel Osteen deserves to be binned. He’s basically Oprah Winfrey ‘think positive’ with a Christian Badge...a very small Christian badge...

Well, there are my suggestions. What would you add to the list? Would love to hear from you, especially the non-Gen-Yers!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Building Houses, Reading Books

In my former work life I spent the bulk of my day reading building disputes. I read all kinds of disputes: dodgy repairs, owners unhappy with the work (sometimes unjustly), contract obligations unfulfilled. There were some strange ones in there: like the man who was convinced his home's foundation was laid incorrectly and was faulty despite multiple inspections saying otherwise, who then went bankrupt and took a jackhammer to the floor before the bank repossessed it. But more often than not most matters revolved around perceived dodgy work by the builder.

Reading all these disputes helped me realise that building a house must be done in a particular order. One memorable person who came through our way was a builder whose license was suspended. He had built a new house which the Qld Building Services Authority not only deemed unfit to live in but also potentially dangerous or life threatening. The house he built had its foundation laid correctly, but he failed to build a house which was safe to live in.

Reading books to build our renewed minds (Romans 12:1-2) is like building a house. The foundation needs to be laid first, then the framework of the house needs to be erected, a roof put in place, then walls and then all the interior stuff. I personally think the books we read fall into similar categories as building a house. The foundation is Christ, but how you build from there is important. Get the order wrong and you can end up with a funny looking home or worse: a home which falls over at the whiff of a storm.

As an avid reader, but by no means having read everything, can I make a few (non-exhaustive) suggestions on how choose what books to read:

First – you need framework. A good home has not only been designed well, but the framework is erected first. Not only does this give shape to the home, but it also sets up how you build the rest of your home. Books to help build your framework are books which help you understand God and the Gospel.

Second – you need a roof and walls. The roof and walls of your home help provide shelter from the elements and keep the nasties out. Books which help you understand how to read the bible and build your confidence in God’s Word are like the roof and walls. When the hard knocks of life batter away at you your roof and walls shelter you, and when you encounter strange (or false) doctrines your roof and walls keep them out of your home.

Third – interior decoration. This is where it’s up to you. Just like there are some essentials in a home (tables, chairs, beds) books on ministry and church help you feel more at home as you serve others. Apologetic books are useful at this point in time, after you’ve built an understanding of God’s word and your framework (not all apologetic books are useful nor would you necessarily agree with some of their arguments).

Fourth – the rubbish bin. This part requires a certain degree of discernment and humility. After re-reading and growing in our knowledge of God and the Gospel we might find that some books we read earlier may no longer be helpful or useful. I found one particular book very helpful in my Christian walk early on, but I'm loathed to suggest it now.

My next blog post will suggest some books which fit all of those categories.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Australian Election 2010 – and my vote does not go to...

Danny Nalliah. My brother in Christ, minister with ‘Catch the Fire Ministries’ (who recently won a Federal court case against the Islamic Council of Victoria), recently forwarded an email that’s been making the rounds outside of his own circles. It’s an interesting read for a number of reasons, primarily because he says that if you vote Labor in the upcoming federal election you’re (essentially) not a Christian. How else would you read these words?

If you still say ‘I will vote Labor’ that is your choice. That’s the freedom we enjoy in a democracy, but I must say you definitely cannot be a Christian who has a proper relationship with Jesus if you vote this way.

There’s been a few other unhelpful emails flying around Christian networks – or I assume they are flying around primarily because I’ve received them a number of times from various sources. I classify them as unhelpful for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is the assumption that Julia Gillard’s atheism makes her unfit to be Prime Minister of a ‘Christian Nation’.

Now, here’s where I’d like to point to a couple of more helpful thoughts on the upcoming election.

First there is my college friend and coffee-dealer Nathan Campbell. He asks some good questions and links to other - helpful - articles from well thought out Christians. He also raises questions on why an Atheist should not hold office in a democratically elected Parliament, making the insightful point that when Paul tells the Roman Christians that all governments are placed there by God he had in mind one of the most anti-Christian governments in history, the Roman Empire.

Second there is Simone Richardson who has raised some good questions in regards to the ‘Christian Values Checklist’. Here’s her thoughts:

  1. Many items on this list are not Christian values at all. Take #22 - 'Oppose all illicit drugs and fund abstinence based rehabilitation'. Why is abstinence based rehab the Christian way? Is God opposed to methadone programs? Or #21. Christians have different views on the charter of rights. Or #10 - Why should same sex relationships not be registered? Or #7 with the education voucher things?
  2. The list is disproportionately obsessed with issues of sex and reproduction. 11 items!
  3. The re-writing of Australia's history required for #2 sounds a bit silly. Didn't think we had much of a christian heritage.
  4. All of the parties get a tick for 'support greater care of God's environment'. Do they really want to care more for the environment? Are they all willing to make the costly and unpopular decisions that may be necessary? Certain parties that got the tick for this one voted against the ETS and don't believe in global warming. A much softer line seems to be taken on this than on any other item on the list.
  5. The biggest problem with this list is not what it says, but what it leaves unsaid. The things (apart from repentence and faith) that God has told us he cares about most are not on the list. What about showing respect for the elderly? the poor? the sick? the outcast (refugees...)
She’s then posted her own version of a Christian Values Checklist (admittedly incomplete and skewed) but with surprising results.

Third there is this fantastic interview with Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen on the upcoming election and the role that faith (for voters and Politicians) plays. It’s a lengthy interview but here are some interesting snippets:

Peter Jensen: The thing that impresses me about the two who are leading up our respective larger parties at the moment is how similar they are. That may sound odd to you.

Monica Attard: How are they similar?

Peter Jensen: They're Aussies. They're Australians. They're passionately committed.

Mr Abbott shows his commitment very strongly. But I wouldn't think if you ran a commitment-o-meter over the two of them you would find the same thing.

Furthermore they're committed to much the same things, and many of those things are good things. So the first task of government is to provide justice. I believe they're both committed to justice.

And there's many ways we have a choice between two goods. And I think we need to recognise that. Yes, there are differences. Of course there are, thank goodness for that. And there will be differences of party philosophy. But there's a lot of similarity, too.


Monica Attard: Now, three out of four Australians identify themselves as being affiliated with Christianity, though only around fifteen per cent, I believe, of those people attend weekly church services. Do Christians necessarily vote from the viewpoint of faith, do you think?

Peter Jensen: Yes, we do. And fortunately in Australia it is perfectly possible, even across the range of options, to vote from faith and to vote differently. You cannot say to a Christian in Australia I think you must vote for such and such a person. It's a matter of balance. You will work out which way you want to go.

There are certain things about the genius of the Liberal Party which are very attractive to Christianity, there are certain things about the genius of the Labor Party that are very attractive to Christianity, because they both come from Christian sources.


Monica Attard: And you're not concerned having a Christian lobby participate in the political process so directly is kind of tearing down that whispering wall between religion and politics?

Peter Jensen: We're pretty robust in this area. One of the ways in which we have got on with each other is for Christian leaders, on the whole, not to reveal voting preferences, and certainly not to urge people to vote one way or the other.

I would hope never to do that. And I would hope nothing I would say would favour one side or the other. That's how we've got on and it's a good system.

It means that the unfair advantage that a church may have is not brought to bear on the voting system. And we recognise the worth of both major parties, for example. That's worked over the years.

The difficulty is, however, that now that Christians - active Christians - make a minority of the population, active Christians want to know more about what parties are saying. And the ACL operates as a group to bring to the surface what parties are actually saying, and to create a sense of accountability by the parties to Christian people.

Could it go too far? Well, not yet. But we need to keep an eye on it.

Monica Attard: At what point would it make you feel uncomfortable?

Peter Jensen: Oh, I think if the Australian Christian Lobby or any group, any church, actually said, oh, in this current federal election, Christians, you must vote for this party.

I think as Australians we've been through some difficult times. The dismissal of Mr Rudd I think caused a shiver of apprehension about the nature of Australian life and politics. I can't feel that it was well done, though those in position felt it should be done.

But God be thanked that, whatever happens after this election, that we will have an Australian who can lead this country as prime minister.

So who am I voting for? I’ve yet to make a decision yet (I’m generally a swing voter) and I’m hoping that better (more interesting?) policies come out soon. Until then, I’ll be doing my research on the candidates and trust that our sovereign God will take care of his church no matter what.