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Archives for : October2013

Faith amidst the flames

Burning cross

This is an article I wrote for my University student newspaper. It is short and for a broad audience, and thus I’m not able to say as much as I’d like to say. If it was to a specific audience (e.g. Christians only) and I was afforded a large word count, there’s a lot more I would cover.

Last Thursday started off like any other. On my way to uni I passed a couple of fire trucks screaming up the road, but I didn’t really think much of it. Not having checked the news while at uni, I had no idea how bad the fires had become. To my surprise, one of my friends raced home to see what state his house was in. Sadly he lost his house.

And now – what devastation we’ve seen! There have been over 200 houses, people’s homes, lost to this blazing inferno.

Of course, amidst all this devastation, many people are asking “Why?” It’s not long before they add “Why God?” For if, as Christians claim, God is an all-powerful and all-good creator, then why does he allow such suffering?

When asking this question, there are some important claims to consider: that God has graciously given us free will, that he’s experienced suffering personally, and that he knows the big picture. All these things help us to understand why God allows suffering.

Firstly, we live in a broken world consumed by evil. But it wasn’t always so. When God created this world it was perfect, free from pain. But God allowed us humans to rebel against him. In doing so, evil entered the scene, and with it, all kinds of suffering. But the freedom to choose also means that we can relate to God in a genuine way, not as mere puppets on a string.

Furthermore, God gets pain – he knows it through Jesus. Betrayed by one friend, denied by another, mocked by the crowds, crucified by the authorities – Jesus really knew what suffering meant. How much it must have hurt God to see his son treated like that!

Lastly, one of the great things about God is that he can see the big picture – so much more than we can ever see. Can devastation and tragedy be used to bring about a greater good? I think so. Will we ever know what this greater good is? Maybe, maybe not. But if God is good – as the Bible shows time and again – then we can trust that there is a greater good at work.

For those going through suffering of any kind, words on a page are often little comfort. Material loss on this scale is devastating – precious items are irreplaceable, one’s sense of security is destroyed and the prospect of re-building is exhausting. Healing obviously takes time. But God is ever-present – we can always turn to him. He offers something greater and more valuable than material goods; something that can never be taken away. He offers you his love and peace.

After telling his followers some parables, Jesus said: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

If you are looking to turn to God but don’t know where to start, a Christian friend or a local church are good places to go. On campus, CBM runs regular bible studies you are welcome to join – don’t hesitate to come along to ask these questions.

Fires in Australia

I’m not sure how much international attention this has received, but the state of New South Wales in Australia is experiencing the worst wildfire disaster in over 45 years with fires all around the state. I live in one of the directly affected areas – the Springwood/Winmalee region of the Blue Mountains – and have had fires come within 2 kilometres of my home. I haven’t been in any direct threat yet, however it’s an ongoing crisis and I’m certainly not completely out of danger.

In a time like this, many people ask “where is God?” A friend from my church whose house burnt down, Joel, has written an opinion piece which has appeared on the Bible Society website. It’s well worth a read. You can find it here: I’m a Christian and my house just burned down.

Marriage on our minds

Honeymoon Kiss

This is an article I wrote for my University student newspaper. It is in part a response to Petition for Gay Marriage.

Everywhere I go young people are talking about marriage! Of course it’s not that we’ve all been swept off our feet and are about to tie the knot – what we’re talking about is who should be able to marry.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in Golden Key’s same-sex marriage debate at UWS Parramatta. I was defending what some consider indefensible – keeping marriage as it is.

Something I want to say right up front is that this isn’t about the rights or wrongs of being gay. It’s about whether we should change marriage. The arguments for keeping marriage as it is make sense regardless of the particular group being discussed.

Now distinctions must always be made – the real question is whether they’re good ones or not. Of course if you’re completely against distinctions then you shouldn’t even be at uni – all unis make a distinction between those who can and can’t enrol in particular courses. It makes sense that high school drop-outs can’t study medicine and hardened crims can’t get into policing!

The current definition of marriage uses certain criteria – fit these and you’re eligible. On these terms marriage is made up of one man and one woman, in a voluntary, exclusive and binding relationship. As a result a gay man can marry a consenting, unmarried woman. He may not be in love with her or even attracted to her, but – believe it or not – the law isn’t concerned about that. That’s because the law doesn’t exist to regulate our love lives. As a result marriage equality already exists – its criteria apply equally and without exception.

Marriage – like everything else – will always make some distinctions. The real question is where do we draw the line?

To answer this we need to ask, ‘what’s marriage about?’ Marriage has several goals, but the main one is to create a safe, stable and permanent environment for children to be raised. Most people recognise this intuitively. It’s why loads of people who move in together only start talking marriage when they want to have kids.

Now in principle only a man and a woman can naturally produce children – no other two person relationship can do this. Thus the heart of marriage – currently defined – protects the interests of children and, through them, the well-being of society as a whole.

Since same-sex unions cannot naturally produce children, the meaning of marriage would be changed. Marriage would be reduced to simply an emotional union. Emotional unions aren’t bad – not at all – but it would be a great loss to minimise marriage to this meaning alone.

Of course it’s easy to point to ‘celebrity marriages’ and conclude that traditional marriage is a joke. Britney Spears’ first marriage lasted just over two days, Larry King is onto marriage number eight, and let’s not forget Kim Kardashian! This is ridiculous! But that’s hardly an argument for messing with marriage – clearly it needs more help, not less.

On the flipside, if we were serious about changing marriage for the sake of same-sex couples, then shouldn’t we also make marriage polygamous, for the sake of bisexuals or certain religious types or people who just really love their quidditch team?! That’s just taking marriage reform to its logical extent, right?

It’s great that we’re all talking about marriage. Why not help marriage to stay true to itself, for the good of all.

“Underneath we are all the same” Fixed

John over at Sifting Reality posted this up, I felt like it would be more accurate with a small modification.

edited

Discovery Bible Studies

Open Bible

Discovery Bible Studies are a series of 7 bible studies aimed at someone who is new to Christianity or investigating Christianity. They’re super simple to run, and are based on the premise of looking at stories of Jesus and then discussing those stories, such as what each story meant and how we can apply those stories to our lives.

The stories are:

  1. The woman who wept at Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50)
  2. Who does God accept? (Luke 18:9-17)
  3. A hole in the roof (Luke 5:17-26)
  4. Two lost sons (Luke 15:11-32)
  5. A hard road (Matthew 16:21-26)
  6. Jesus’ death and resurrection (Mark 15:1-16:8)
  7. An unexpected guest (John 20:19-31)

When leading, it works well if you’re able to memorise the story and tell it in your own words! Obviously make sure that your retelling is accurate in theology, but I don’t see anything wrong with telling stories in your own words. It feels more natural, and people like listening to stories. Of course, to get it well memorised, one thing you can do is split the group into pairs or triplets, and each member of the pair (or triplet) tells the other member(s) the story. After that, open up your Bibles and read it straight from the text. Overall, each person will hear it 4 times (when you tell it, when their partner tells it, when they re-tell it and when it’s read from the Bible.)

It’s great to split the session up into 3 sections; in each section you can ask different questions and do different activities. Outlined below is one way you could split this up, though of course you can do it differently by using your own questions, or chopping and changing the format below.

Share Time

  • How are you doing?
  • What are you thankful for?
  • What problems or challenges are you facing?
  • If this isn’t the first week:
    • How did you apply the learning from the last story?
    • Did you share the story with anyone?

Lesson Time

  • Tell the story to everyone in your own words
  • Get the participants to tell the story to each other in pairs or triplets
  • Open up the Bible and read the story from there.
  • There are a few questions that you could ask:
    • What does the passage say about God and/or Jesus?
    • What does it say about the people in the story?
    • Is there an example I could follow or lesson I can learn?

End Time

  • Ask the participants the following questions:
    • What is the application for you from this story?
    • Is there anyone you could share the story with throughout the week?
    • Would you like anyone to pray for you?

 

There are a few rules that are helpful, but up to you whether or not you enforce them (and of course don’t be too strict… maybe they could be called guidelines.)

  1. The passage is preaching, not any particular person. Stick with the passage of scripture that we’re looking at, not looking off at other passages!
  2. No individual may impose his or her “insight” onto others – stick with the plain and simplest meaning of the passage in front of the group.
  3. Any individual may challenge another individual in the group with one question: “Where does it say what you are saying in this passage of scripture?”

I know I’m breaking rule 1 all the time as I like jumping around my bible looking at related verses. Basically, use judgement on if and how you enforce these rules. For someone who is very new to the faith it’s best to keep it as simple as possible. Obviously there will be room for expanding their knowledge later on, but this is designed to be a basic and introductory Bible Study.

That’s it! You’ve got 7 weeks of bible studies right there! It’s really that simple. As you might have gathered from the wording of some of the questions, it’s deisgned to be easy to re-tell and share. It’s really great when you’re able to start a chain effect… you tell someone, who tells a group of their friends, and maybe one of their friends tells another friend. I’ve heard stories about groups going 6 generations deep in the re-telling (and that’s what was tracked; once you get more and more people doing the harder it is to keep track of who is telling who!)

Thanks to Tim Scheuer, an evangelist who has been helping us out at my Uni campus (and doing an absolutely amazing job might I add) for showing me this particular study, and thanks for letting me post it online. His aim is for people to share the studies with other’s and keep starting discovery groups.

Dual Signatory Bank Accounts in a Digital Age


online_approval_diagram

Dual or multiple signatory bank account are a necessity for many businesses and organisations. In short, it means you require (normally) two people to withdraw money from an account. This is normally done via cheque.

The problem with this is cheques are so out dated! There’s a very easy way we could move into the electronic age for multiple signatory bank accounts. Use an approval system for electronic fund transfers. Today, when someone wants to transfer money from their bank account to another, they login to their Internet banking system and transfer the money. The same could be done for multiple-signatory accounts. One of the signatories logs in to the account and requests or initiates a transfer. This transfer doesn’t happen automatically of course. It requires another signatory to login and approve the transfer. How that other signatory finds out could be the job of the person who requests the transfer, or the system could send auto send an SMS to all the other signatories on the account (which could also help prevent two signatories making unauthorized withdrawals.)

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any bank in Australia does this. I would seriously consider moving the bank account for my organisation to that bank (providing they have a branch in the near vicinity and I can convince others that it’s a good idea.)

Are there any security concerns with this? Well, if a signatory has the password for someone else’s account, yes, however this is probably harder than forging someone’s signature (signatures aren’t checked that closely on most cheques under a certain value,) and still illegal. If there was a notification system for all signatories and mandatory waiting period (e.g. 12 hours) then it could certainly be more secure than a cheque.

Come on Australian banks – let’s enable people to completely ditch cheques!

Reflections on my same-sex marriage debate

Panel for the same-sex marriage debate. From left to right: Alex, Renee (in favour of same-sex marriage), Patrick and Josh (in favour of traditional marriage)

Panel for the same-sex marriage debate. From left to right: Alex, Renee (in favour of same-sex marriage), Patrick and Josh (in favour of traditional marriage)

Last Thursday I was apart of a debate on same-sex marriage, and was one of two people to present a case for preserving the current definition of marriage. This was the first time I have participated in a debate on marriage; most of my debates and talks are on abortion (and presenting the pro-life perspective.) As such, I definitely felt like the rookie going in. Alex Greenwitch, who was one of two people presenting arguments in favour of same-sex marriage has had years of experience debating this topic and from what I gathered beforehand, a very capable debater.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the debate went. It was civil. It was overall respectful. And overall I felt our side came off better, having more consistent and reasonable arguments. When we cut through the shouting and noise that so often accompanies same-sex marriage advocacy, we see that the case for same-sex marriage isn’t that strong, and that there is a strong case for traditional marriage.

I want to commend everyone involved, from the organises, the chair and the other speakers. Whilst I didn’t have much of a time to meet them all, they all seemed to be nice and friendly people. With regards to our opposing speakers, as far as I could tell they are nice and well intentioned people. Of course, I disagree with their viewpoints, but I always remind myself that they are just people, and we need to be attacking arguments and reasoning rather than the people. Even if they don’t do the same for you (however in this case they did.)

I feel their arguments didn’t stand up for a couple of main reasons.

Firstly, they were too emotional. There is a logical fallacy called “Appeal to emotion.” One cannot make a good logical argument solely based on emotion. Sure, it’s fine to use some emotion to try and persuade a person, however your entire argument can’t just hinge on your emotions. In this case, I felt Alex’s arguments came down to “I just want to marry the person I love.” It’s a touching statement, and I can see why something like that may convince someone, but it’s all emotional. It doesn’t address what marriage is. For one, marriage law in Australia doesn’t care whether or not you love the person (of course, it’s good if you do love the person, however that in itself isn’t what determines whether or not you can get married.) We shouldn’t be changing public policy on emotions. Unfortunately if someone makes and argument with only emotion, and you make an argument with reason and logic, people are more persuaded to the emotional side even if you’ve made some really good arguments. I feel like we did a good job at demonstrating the flaws in the arguments (without attacking the person) as well as providing our own case.

Secondly, there was too much inconsistency, both internally and between speakers. Alex, the first speaker, said that marriage should be exactly the same as it is except include same-sex couples. He wanted to keep the idea that marriage is for life, marriage is only between two people, and it’s exclusive between those two people. However he failed to provide real justification as to why marriage should be like this. The traditional view of marriage agrees with this except it’s between a man and a woman, and there is good reason as to this: it’s deigned to provide a safe, stable and lifelong environment with the possibility of raising children by two biological parents. As same-sex marriage can’t appeal to this reasoning by nature, it can’t use that same logic to justify other aspects of marriage that they want to keep, such as why it has to be lifelong (temporary marriages anyone?) or solely between two people. Renee, the second speaker, was a bit more internally consistent; indicating that marriage is whatever we make it to be. Whilst this is more consistent internally, it did put her at odds with the previous speaker in favour of same-sex marriage. In addition, if marriage is whatever we make it to be, marriage looses all meaning for everyone.

I worked with the other speaker defending marriage to ensure our talks were consistent. In fact, our talks flowed on from each other and re-emphasised key points, with the intention of being extremely consistent. My talk covered the fact that making distinctions isn’t inherently bad (see my post on definitional discrimination) and that you can’t just use the fact that something is discriminatory to say it should be changed, followed by a case for marriage based on it’s original intentions, and finished by looking at where we might end up if we continue with our current trajectory (which didn’t use a slippery slope argument, rather just followed the logic of marriage equality to it’s fullest extent.)

Given the disadvantage of supporting the (supposedly) unpopular side, I feel as though the debate went really well and our points, views and arguments were well received. I was braced for quite a hostile environment, with maybe 80% of people in favour of same-sex marriage, however this was by no means the case. Whilst no poll was taken, based on the questions during the Q and A time, there was certainly a fair amount of support for traditional marriage, I’d estimate between 50% and 60% of the room. This was much better than I had anticipated, and I didn’t receive any negative feedback. In fact, I was commended by a lesbian woman who liked the fact that I was focusing on marriage rather than being hateful towards homosexual persons. This was a real encouragement.

I want to thank the two other speakers and want to stress that by attacking a particular argument, I am not intending to attack the person! Both great public speakers, so thank you for agreeing to take part.

Is this how we should pray?

fb_comment_redacted_names

I recently saw this posted on the Facebook wall of a team at my University participating in a competition. I know that in the team there are plenty of non-Christians, and I also know given the nature of the competition and experience the team in question aren’t favourites to win – it certainly means they won’t, and I trust they’ll do quite well, but I’d be (pleasantly) surprised if they came first.

The post said “Best of luck! We are praying for your Team to win! God is powerful 🙂“. How would a non-Christian read a post like this? I’d read it as “oh, if we don’t win, God isn’t that powerful if he does in fact exist, and if we do win, that’s got to be all our hard work rather than God!” There’s always the age old question of “what if two people pray for contradictory things?” So one person prays for Team A to win, and another prays for Team B to win. They can’t both win! What if Team C, an “unprayered” team wins? God’s just lost it then… hasn’t he?

I think comments like this, whilst a nice gesture, are unhelpful when viewed by non-Christians. It gives an unrealistic view of what prayer really is. Is God powerful enough to help that team win? Of course he is. Is that how God works though? Not at all. God isn’t a genie there to give us everything we want. And he certainly doesn’t do it in the ways we expect. Unfortunately it was so long ago that I can’t remember what it was, but I prayed for something and I specified to God how I wanted it done. I was adamant it was the best way to do it. God didn’t do it the way I wanted, and I thought the prayer went unanswered. A little while later I remember having the sudden realisation that God had answered the prayer; just not the way I had specified. In fact, his was was so much better. He knew what I really needed, and he made sure to attend to my needs. We need to put everything in perspective and see what our needs really are. Do we need to win a competition? Not really. Do we need the latest and greatest gadget? Again, nope. Do we need salvation from our sins? Now we’re talking about the real stuff we should be praying for!

Prayer is actually quite a strange thing; it works, but never in the way we expect. God know’s the big picture, he know so much more than what we do. He know’s what he’s doing. Just because prayer seems to go unanswered doesn’t mean it hasn’t gone unanswered. Of course, it doesn’t mean we can expect God to be our genie; in the case of the prayer above, I don’t expect it to be “answered,” simply because that’s not the way God works. What I would pray is that the team has safe travels, does their best and all come home safely. That’s something that can be achieved for all teams, and it’s something God can answer if it’s part of his big picture. God’s a lot more concerned with our needs than our wants, because our wants may not be his desires or his will.

A few verses to ponder on about prayer are:

  • Matthew 21:21-22. In this case I honestly believe that one rarely prays with no doubt. So the fact that you can’t move a mountain with prayer doesn’t make this verse invalid or wrong; don’t tell me you had no doubts! (An atheist by definition has doubts)
  • Matthew 6:9-15. The Lord’s prayer, a classic. It doesn’t mean it’s the only way to pray, but it’s certainly a good template for your prayers. I also like Matthew 6:8 in that the Father knows our needs before we even ask, he’s more concerned with our needs than our wants.
  • Romans 8:26. Even when we can’t put prayers into words, we can still pray! Just like Matthew 6:8.
  • James 5:13-20. I like that it gives some good examples of what to pray for. Our prayers should be for other people, but what aspects of other people should we be praying for? Note on v15 of being saved and raised up; this could certainly mean being healed and raised to good health, however we all know that doesn’t always happen. Does this mean James has it wrong? I don’t think so; because I think it also means being saved though faith (of the sick person) and being raised up in glory in heaven. This is very much the opposite of what we expect, as it means the sick person didn’t survive in the way we expected. We should be praying for the sick that they are raised up; they may be raised up physically on Earth, or in glory in heaven.

There are so many verses on prayer and praying in the Bible, just do a quick search online for it!

Cloud Sync: Copy.com

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Copy.com was recently posed to me as a good alternative to Dropbox, especailly given it has much better value for money. Dropbox costs $99/pa for 100GB and $199/pa for 200GB. Copy is $99/pa for 250GB and $199/pa for 500GB. Basically 2.5 times as much storage for the same price. It was pitched to me as matching Dropbox feature for feature, just better value. My Dropbox yearly subscription is expiring soon, so I signed up for a month of Copy to see how it goes.

I have about 91GB of stuff in Dropbox (out of about 130GB of storage – 100GB paid storage and 30GB in bonus referrals. I used mover.io to move everything from Dropbox to my Copy account. Mover gives 10GB of transfer free normally, however if you are transferring to or from a Copy account, it gives you unlimited transfer (which is good because it costs $1/GB for transfers.) Everything went well and I got my desktop computer synced with my new Copy account.

My impression of Copy is that it feels like an early version of Dropbox. This isn’t a problem, Copy hasn’t been around as long as Dropbox, so it isn’t surprising that Copy doesn’t feel as mature as Dropbox.

There are a few problems I’ve been facing though:

  • LAN Sync doesn’t work – it’s supposed to have it (see tweets below,) but it doesn’t work, and I’m not the only one with this problem.
  • It doesn’t work on my Uni firewall and I can’t seem to get the proxy working properly. This may be my fault or my uni’s fault, however with Dropbox at first it was easy to configure the proxy and it worked, but in the past year I haven’t even needed to configure a proxy for Dropbox to work at Uni.
  • Web interface isn’t as fully featured as it should be; for example, you can’t “undelete” a file from the web interface, only the desktop interface. This is opposite to what I would have expected.
  • It doesn’t preserve all the file attributes, such as date modified. Dropbox does do this, Copy doesn’t. I rely a fair amount on date modified attributes, and have done so with Dropbox for over 3 years.
  • The client got to up 1GB of RAM usage on my laptop. My laptop only has 4GB of RAM, I’m not sure what justification there is for a cloud sync client getting up to 1GB.


https://twitter.com/copyapp/status/381084858337869824
One of the things is I purchased my subscription on the premise that it had LAN sync, and it supposedly does have it, it just doesn’t work. In addition, whilst I hadn’t checked this, I expected it to preserve all the file attributes where possible. It may be difficult to do when supporting cross-platform, but it shouldn’t be that hard, and Dropbox certainly did do it.

At the moment I’m wondering whether or not I should renew my Dropbox subscription for another year (expires towards the end of the month) or just dive in with Copy and learn to live with the shortcomings of it but have significantly more storage (which I can certainly put to good use.) For example, the lack of LAN sync is something I can get over once my laptop has finished syncing, the problem is syncing 91GB can take some time. At least with my desktop I was able to leave it turned on with a reliable connection all day syncing, my laptop I don’t have that possibility.

Update 8/10/2013: It does seem to work at Uni, not sure why it didn’t the first time around!

Update 19/10/2013: I just upgraded to Windows 8.1 on my desktop and laptop and LAN sync started working – my laptops now all synced! This also means other problems such as client using a lot of RAM may not be an issue anymore, so I’ll keep an eye on that. I’ve got around preserving file attributes – that may have been a problem with mover.io rather than Copy.

Why Alex Greenwich is wrong about a referendum

Gay-Marriage Debate PanelI had the privilege of being one of two people on a debate panel Alex Greenwich and another UWS student Renee last night on the issue of same-sex marriage. Alex is a gay state politician in favour of changing our marriage laws. Whilst I didn’t have much of a time to meet him as he had to leave early, I’m sure he’s a great guy with good intentions. However that in itself isn’t a good reason to change laws. I want to focus on one of his arguments he made during the question and answer time. This is nothing personal, as I’m simply looking at what he said and his arguments rather than judging him as a person (this is something I can’t stress enough.)

In the debate, Alex claimed that a referendum on gay marriage, if passed, wouldn’t do anything because it won’t change the Marriage Act and any change still requires an act of parliament.

The claim that a referendum would do nothing if passed is incorrect. The Marriage Act will be changed indirectly by a constitutional change. This is because our federal government has an obligation to ensure that all laws are constitutional. If the constitution changes and causes a law to be unconstitutional, then there is an obligation on the government to change the law. Alex was right when he said it will have to be changed by parliament, however he was wrong when he said that a constitutional change would do nothing, as the constitutional change would cause this change by parliament.

He also mentioned that scare campaigns would cause an increase in gay youth suicide. This may or may not be the case (he really provide any proof and I’m personally not convinced that’s what would happen,) but if it is then we should be providing as much support and funding as needed to reduce this through other means. It’s an issue outside of politics. It’s still a very important issue; suicide is a terrible and ugly thing and I want to do what we can to reduce the suicide rate among teens and others. I feel offering support like this would be much more effective than simply not going ahead with proper democratic political discourse. It is also interesting that he used something quite similar to a slippery slope argument, since his initial address indicated that slippery slope arguments don’t really have any ground (with the expectation of the pro-marriage side to be using slippery slope arguments.)

I’m in favour of a referendum, as are most people in Australia who support traditional marriage. Its interesting that everyone who is pro-marriage is in favour of a referendum and everyone who is for same-sex marriage is against a referendum. Alex claimed it would pass however opposes having a referendum. Actions speak louder than words. Both sides claim they would win a referendum, but I expect the side who actually wants to hold the referendum is the side that really believes their claim.