Author Archives: W C

2017 Year in Review: discovering Sydney trains, discovering ourselves

It was one of those glorious late summer mornings in Sydney – clear enough to go exploring under a brilliant blue sky, and enough cloud cover to fend off oven temperatures. We set off with the aim of exploring some part of our new home city. A friend suggested we try some desserts at Lakemba, so off we went.

Waiting at the train platform with anticipation, one of our girls piped up: “Hey, we should go visit every train station in Sydney!”

A simple request kickstarted a family project that, 68 stations later, still brings beautiful sights, culinary delights, and God-given insights about communities, journeying together, and living life as people “passing through”.

Station #15: Circular Quay

Sydney is beautiful. But it’s a beauty that goes beyond the postcard-quality harbour views at Circular Quay and Milson’s Point Stations, or the picturesque entrance into the Blue Mountains at Emu Plains. There’s also a raw, unscripted beauty in seeing crowds hustle between platforms at Central Station, the early-morning market shoppers at Flemington Station, and the swirl of grunge and rainbow hairstyles at Newtown Station. There’s also the quiet serenity of sailing towards the Blue Mountains in the quiet carriage, the suburban station that’s synecdoche for home (Croydon), and the experience of walking through a city of gravestones pondering the brevity of life (Lidcombe).

Station #14: Central

Culinary delights – yes! Travelling between Sydney suburbs can seem like sliding between alternate universes. At one stop you’re enjoying hipster brews with yuppies and power-parents (Dulwich Hill), at the next you’re scarfing down dumplings (Ashfield). Try some Indian curry (Harris Park) or Bangladeshi desserts (Lakemba). Slurp some Vietnamese Phở (Cabramatta) or Taiwanese beef noodles (Eastwood). Can’t decide between Asian or Middle Eastern for lunch? Then fill up with both Laotian and Iraqi cuisine either side of Fairfield Station.

Station #51: Cabramatta

Of course, a city is more than its food. Travelling on trains (bikes, buses, ferries too) allows the kind of personal interactions that we often zoom past in our automobile-induced amnesia. After all, it’s only by travelling slowly that you meet complete strangers, hear their stories, and even share Christ with them. In our train station hunt, we’ve met humans of Sydney from all walks of life: people sleeping rough, retired grandparents, fellow parents, tourists, business-people, and other thrill-seeking children. It’s their individual stories that stay in the memory: the grandfather fretting about his grandchildren’s future, or the refugee who’s found job-seeking a racially-discriminatory disappointment, or the man who simply wants the dignity of buying a meal this day.

Station #60: Wentworth Falls

Train networks also serve as etched evidence of our innate inclination to settle in homogenous communities. There are unmistakable trends in who lives where. Upper-middle class families in North Sydney and the Hills, working-class people in the West and Southwest, Koreans in Strathfield, Nepalis in Granville, Lebanese in Punchbowl, Italians in Leichhart. Residents of Sydney who coalesce into ethnic, religious and socioeconomic tribes. Godly unity brings strength. Sinful unity foments mistrust and race riots. In this I’m reminded that Jesus came to break down the dividing wall of hostility by creating in his death on the cross one new man in place of two, so making peace (Eph 2:14-16). In God’s Kingdom there won’t be segregated communities to train through. And even if train lines carve divisions (they talk about the Chinese side and the Korean side of Eastwood, for example), true gospel communities can bridge those divides through the shed blood of Christ.

Station #9: Homebush

Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul shares this well-known line:

“For our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Phil 3:20)

Paul is convinced that standing firm in our heavenly citizenship empowers us to press on towards knowing Christ more.

I think this truth is more vivid this year for us, living life in transition. When you know you’re just passing through somewhere, you’re motivated to make the most of your time: to take photos, try what we can, and come away enriched and grateful. Just as we visit most train stations wondering if we’ll ever come back, we’re making friends, pursuing gospel opportunities, reading and studying, knowing that our season is temporary.

Perhaps here God gives us a parable for the Christian life: if this life isn’t our final destination, if we are just passing through this station, then we should live differently. Spend differently. Read differently. Relate differently. Try things more spontaneously. Share Christ more courageously. Love our fellow sojourners more fervently. Our citizenship in heaven affects our choices on earth.

Station #20: Belmore

Hours separate us from the dawning of 2018. This year has been like no other for the Chongs. We’ve ached for friends departed, and welcomed new ones. Our first year here has pulled at our minds and hearts. Our marriage and parenting has been a fishbowl experience, filled with God’s mercy amidst our failures.

Only the LORD knows all the joys and struggles next year will bring. But one thing’s certain: there’s two more years to go and 110 more stations to visit. I’m not sure if we’ll get to them all. But by God’s grace, our family is certainly richer for the journey.

God of my fathers
Strangers in this country
Pilgrims on these dusty roads
Across the great plains
In the bellies of the steel trains
To stake a new claim in that wilderness of hope

And like my fathers I am looking for a home
I’m looking for a home beyond the sea
So be my God and guide me till I lie beneath these hills
And let the great God of my fathers
Be the great God of my children still

God of My Fathers, Ben Shive

Station #61: Emu Plains


Appendix: Our #sydneytrainhunt journal, Year 1

(The only rules we followed: we needed to visit the actual station and not just pass through, and we needed to take a photo with the station name on it for it to count.)

  1. Arncliffe – Explored this cliffside station while waiting for an airport pickup. Bought a 7-up with label in Arabic. Tasted like normal 7-up.
  2. Ashfield – Ian runs a lovely cafe across the street that does cheap, tasty Malaysian food.
  3. Auburn – H and I enjoyed a “babycino” and some baklava. Street signs a fusion of Lebanese, English and Chinese.
  4. Bankstown – A lovely afternoon catching up with the McMahans.
  5. Belmore – Met George, a lapsed Greek Orthodox who’s lived here for years. Takes the train to Liverpool for work each day.
  6. Blacktown – This was a busy, crowded toilet stop for one of our kids. The $1 slushie was nice.
  7. Bondi Junction – Busy waiting for a bus to Bondi Beach. Could the train not have extended to the seaside?
  8. Burwood – Our starting point for many adventures. The BBQ lamb shop across the road always seems like its on fire with all the smoke coming out.
  9. Cabramatta – Come here and find a special gate, interesting fruits and yummy food. No longer the infamous heroin capital it used to be.
  10. Campsie – Albee’s Kitchen is here. Where else can you get Kuching laksa this good?
  11. Canley Vale – Bought some pork buns for the girls enroute to Cabra-vale Park.
  12. Canterbury – A small square-shaped station we can get to by bike (and bike trailer)
  13. Carlingford – We came here to attend Michael Abel’s memorial service.
  14. Central – The grand concourse with its high dome and giant Victorian-era clock feels like a scene from the movies.
  15. Chatswood – Met Amelia and the twins here! The largest shopping mall complex we’ve ever seen.
  16. Circular Quay – Postcard views of the Sydney Harbour. Tourists galore. Lunch on the Opera House steps is great.
  17. Clyde – We walked here from Granville Memorial Park once and the girls had fun hiding inside a pole.
  18. Concord West – Took H here and cycled around Olympic Park reserve. Easier to access the Brick Pit Ring Walk from this station.
  19. Croydon – We went for a walk from home one day and 20 minutes later we reached our closest station.
  20. Denistone – Walked past a house auction – $2 million for a full-section 4-bedroom house.
  21. Dulwich Hill – Came here for some fish and chips. Plenty of fancy food places here.
  22. Eastwood – Went to the Taiwan Night Market for dinner.
  23. Emu Plains – Got off to view the Blue Mountains from Sydney’s vantage point. Nearly got fined for forgetting to tap on again!
  24. Epping – We got off here on the way to Carlingford once. Big screen TV ad hangs over the pedestrian bridge.
  25. Erskineville – H and W walked here from Macdonaldtown Station. A few bikes passed us on the way.
  26. Fairfield – Went to the massive adventure park, and had Laotian crispy fried rice for lunch.
  27. Flemington – The Sydney Markets are here. Rows and rows of stalls, people selling anything and everything: flowers, fruit + veg, garage sale-type stuff.
  28. Gordon – The cafe across the road does Nitro Coffee (cold brew). Wow!
  29. Granville – We found a park with trees that had monkey apples. Nirwan and his mum played with us at the Memorial Playground.
  30. Green Square – Caught up with Greg Cooper for lunch and a yak about church music.
  31. Harris Park – The day they extended the Inner West Line to Paramatta. We got off here and bought some Turkish delight and κεφαλητυρι (head cheese?)
  32. Homebush – E and W found a Russian Saturday school and ate some пирожки (piroshki).
  33. Hurlstone Park – Got off the bus here once enroute to see Jared and Kristy in Marrickville.
  34. Kings Cross – Stopped here to have morning tea on the way to Bondi. Famous Coke sign has been upgraded.
  35. Kogarah – Cycled to Brighton le Sands with E and went home via this station.
  36. Lakemba – A suburb that’s 59% Muslim based on the 2016 census. Bangladeshi sweets were nice, Jasmin’s Lebanese even better. No Christmas tree on the street corner.
  37. Lewisham – This is our stop every Sunday morning to get to church.
  38. Lidcombe – We walked to Rookwood Necropolis from here. One grave was for a child who died at 11 months.
  39. Lindfield – W handed out flyers here while on East Lindfield college mission.
  40. Macdonaldtown – Closest stop to Moore College. Lots of “sleeping trains” here.
  41. Marrickville – Saw a big cargo train roll past here. Met up with Jared and Kristy for lunch in the park.
  42. Martin Place – Brought Ashleigh and Jayana here to go visit the Hyde Park Barracks.
  43. Mascot – Visited Samuel and Sherry in their last week in Oz
  44. Meadowbank – Took the ferry from here to Circular Quay along the Parramatta River.
  45. Milsons Point – Walked across the Harbour Bridge with CJ and Dave
  46. Museum – An old-style underground train station with vintage ads on the walls
  47. Newtown – Burgerfuel here! Also lots of rainbow flags and a very alternative bookstore.
  48. North Strathfield – Komart here has a great range of Korean snacks.
  49. North Sydney – W cycled here one morning. Crossed the Harbour Bridge at dawn.
  50. Olympic Park – Brought Christian here. There was a big fountain where E got very wet!
  51. Parramatta – Wandered around the town square and visited St Johns Cathedral (parish of Samuel Marsden, the “apostle” to Aotearoa New Zealand).
  52. Petersham – Two Fat Greeks does a delicious souvlaki. Also can’t beat Gelato Republic.
  53. Punchbowl – W cycled here one morning. Station looks unwelcoming, Lebanese shopkeeper was the opposite.
  54. Redfern – E and W did a Food Ride with some other cyclists. Had to carry bike and trailer up the stairs.
  55. Rhodes – IKEA is here.
  56. Rydalmere – W cycled to here one morning, went along the southern bank of the Parramatta River.
  57. St James – Came here after exploring Hyde Park with Christian. Has an old-style food bar inside.
  58. St Peters – Came with H to explore Sydney Park on the bike.
  59. Stanmore – School of Theology with Prof Guy Waters at Stanmore Baptist. House prices too high for church members to live here.
  60. Strathfield – The square has a lovely fountain, Jacob makes a great coffee, and lots of people have time to take a tract or talk about Jesus here.
  61. Summer Hill – A trendy place to live. Lots of dogs as pets here. The IGA has a cheese room.
  62. Tempe – W cycles through whenever he takes the Cooks River to Airport route
  63. Town Hall – Came here to attend the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at the Cenopath
  64. Waverton – E and W cycled here one morning, via Harbour Bridge.
  65. Wentworth Falls – We met some Taiwanese grandparents and walked to the Falls together. (This is technically outside Sydney…)
  66. West Ryde – Koorong is here!
  67. Wiley Park – Found a community veggie garden. South Asian women with their children in the playground.
  68. Wynyard – Another stop where people are happy to sit and read about Jesus, if you offer a tract to them. John Dunmore Lang’s statue is here.

Year 1 of our #sydneytrainhunt

May all pay attention to Elisha

A few months ago, I submitted a 2500-word response to 1 and 2 Kings as part of studying the Old Testament at college. The lecturer invited us to be as creative as possible – poems, board games, flow charts, music albums were all fair game. My response ended up being a selection of acrostic poems following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (à la Psalm 119), responding to the events of 1 and 2 Kings. My favourite part was reflecting on the comparisons between Elisha and Jesus (as others have also done), and how it highlights the book of Kings’ importance in pointing us to Jesus, the perfect Messiah. This response is below, and I hope it whets your appetite to read more of Kings, and the Old Testament, looking for Christ.


 

Mem מ‎

A maskil. Of the Shunammite woman, 2 Kings 2-6.

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Meagre farmboy turned miracle worker

Mouthpiece of Yahweh, whose armies surround him[1]

May all who taunt him be mauled![2]

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Miracle worker amidst death in the land

Made meals for the hungry,[3] restores dead to life[4]

Made way for slaves to be free![5]

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Minister to Gentiles,[6] he made lepers clean

Master even over Creation’s sway[7]

May all make straight paths for him!

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Mother and father he leaves behind[8]

Model disciple who mimics his Master

Might he lay down his life for his friends?[9]


 

[1] 2 Kings 6:17

[2] 2 Kings 2:23-25

[3] 2 Kings 4:1-7, 2 Kings 2:38-41

[4] 2 Kings 4:32-37, 2 Kings 13:20-21

[5] 2 Kings 4:1

[6] 2 Kings 5:1-16

[7] 2 Kings 6:6

[8] 1 Kings 19:19-21

[9] John 15:13

The best 1600 words on church history I’ve read

I’ve just read a breathtaking summary of 2000 years of church history by Bruce Shelley. It’s from his Epilogue to “Church History in Plain Language”. The way the author flows through the warp and weft of two millennia of Christianity is a sheer masterclass of writing.

I can’t share the whole epilogue here – for that you really should buy the book. It flies through early persecution and heresy, the Imperial age from Constantine, councils and hermits, Eastern Orthodoxy, the fall of Rome, the reconversion of Europe, Charlemagne and Cluny, the church as empire, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment and Evangelical Awakening, the Age of Ideologies – all in the space of 1600 words.

But here is how it ends (emphasis mine):

“Christians can hope because faith always reaches beyond earthly circumstances. Its confidence is in a person. And no other person in recorded history has influenced more people in as many conditions over so long a time as Jesus Christ. The shades and tones of his image seem to shift with the needs of men: the Jewish Messiah of the believing remnant, the Wisdom of the Greek apologist, the Cosmic King of the Imperial Church, the Heavenly Logos of the orthodox councils, the World Ruler of the papal courts, the monastic Model of apostolic poverty, the personal Saviour of evangelical revivalists. Truly, he is a man for all time. In a day when many regard him as irrelevant, a relic of a quickly discarded past, church history provides a quiet testimony that Jesus Christ will not disappear from the scene. His title may change, but his truth endures for all generations.” – Bruce Shelley

Truly inspiring.

Reflections on the modern hymn In Christ Alone

(This article was first published in the NZ Baptist Magazine website: http://www.baptistmag.org.nz/discipleship/in-christ-alone/).


When was the last time you remember singing about God’s wrath? If the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” is in your playlist, then it was probably more recently that you realised.

“In Christ Alone” was the first hymn that writers Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty produced together, and to this day, it remains their most well known. Since its release in 2001, “In Christ Alone” has been referred to as “surely the worship song of the century so far.” The song has been covered by scores of artists including Owl City, David Archuleta, and Natalie Grant, and has been translated into several different languages.

 

The hymn takes a linear approach in unfolding the gospel narrative (the life, death, and resurrection of Christ). The first verse introduces Christ as solid ground, a cornerstone that we can find safety and refuge in. In the same way that stonemasons in biblical times relied on the precise placement of a cornerstone to set the foundation for every other stone, Christ promises to be “a cornerstone chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:6) that we can rest every triumph and tragedy upon.

The second verse invites us to gaze at the wonder of the incarnation—the fullness of God in human form—before zooming into the life and death of Jesus. Despised and rejected by the people he came to save, the Messiah willingly poured himself out during the drama of the cross, where gruesome death and sacrificial love satisfied God’s righteous anger that our sins deserve (Romans 3:21-26, Romans 5:9).

The third verse begins with gloom of the tomb, but gives way to unabashed celebration of the risen Christ. The melody climaxes alongside triumphant news: Jesus is alive, victorious over death! We can now have the confidence to claim him as our own! The resurrection proves that sin’s death grip no longer remains: “…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Powerful stories demand a response. In the final verse, we are invited to sing our reaction to the good news of Jesus. His unmatched power provides assurance that guilt need not plague us, death need not scare us, and hell can never take us: there simply is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). With King Jesus in command of our destiny, we stand with confidence, awaiting the day we finally meet him face-to-face.

Just as a diamond’s brilliance and sparkle depends on the number and placement of its many facets, God’s beauty shines most brightly in light of his many facets. In 2013, one of these aspects came under scrutiny when the American Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song voted to exclude “In Christ Alone” from its hymnal, in light of the words in verse two, which speak about God’s wrath being satisfied. The decision attracted media interest and sparked a firestorm of controversy. There was much wrath about God’s wrath: some criticised the hymn writers for not allowing a change to the lyrics, while others accused the hymn committee of holding an unbiblical view of God.

Talk about God’s wrath brings unsettling images to the minds of 21st century Kiwis. We rightly reject caricatures of God having the uncontrollable anger of Jake “The Muss” from Once Were Warriors, or spewing forth hateful words at protest marches. Yet God’s wrath—revealed in the Bible—means God was willing to confront the cancer of sin hollowing out his beloved image-bearers, and Christ was willing to absorb the consequences of this cancer in our place. Without it, God’s love becomes saccharine and ill-equipped to respond to the horrors of human sin; whether anti-Semitic violence, or our own Samaritan blind spots; whether selfish exploitation of workers, or our own self-absorbed materialism.

That’s why when we sing about the wrath of God, we actually sing about ourselves: sinners in need of the rescue that Jesus willingly offers on the cross. To minimise any one of God’s attributes from our vocabulary is to rob ourselves of the full brilliance of God’s beauty, and to make Christ’s sacrifice less costly.

“In Christ Alone” depicts a God not made in our own image, but as he presents himself in the Biblical story: beyond us yet with us; holy yet gracious; angry yet loving; just yet merciful. And all of it is worth singing about.

 

Five laments your church could sing this week

“What can miserable Christians sing?”

A couple of years ago, pastor and church historian Carl Trueman posed this question in an article. He was reflecting on contemporary worship music and its limited ability to lament. Cries of pain are largely absent from our gathered worship vocabulary, and so in the wake of a terror attack, or terminal cancer, or the loss of a child, we find ourselves mute.

Here’s five songs, written or arranged in the last decade or so, that could help you or your church to cry out in lament.

1. Though You Slay Me (Shane and Shane)

(Lyrics / Sheet Music)

I like this one because it’s raw and honest. For example:

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You strike down to bind me up
You say you do it all in love
That I might know you in your suffering

The melody is easy to sing along with, and the chorus helps to turn our tears back to trust: “Though you slay me, yet I will trust you…”

2. Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul (Indelible Grace)

(Lyrics and Sheet Music)

This is one of our favourites from the folks at Indelible Grace. Anne Steele’s words give us permission to honestly say to God that sometimes, our hope is fainting, it’s hanging on by a thread. The guys at Capitol Hill Baptist use a different tune, though I prefer this one personally – there’s space to almost “sigh” after each line as we “breathe our sorrows” to the ear of sovereign grace.

3. Darkness – Psalm 88 (Matt Searles)

(LyricsSheet Music)

Matt Searles has been putting out some excellent settings of Psalms, and this is no exception. I like the easy to sing tune, and how it pretty much tracks with each line of Psalm 88.

4. Hide Away in the Love of Jesus (Sovereign Grace Music)

(Lyrics and Sheet Music)

We’ve sung this regularly at Howick Baptist. Each verse talks about a type of person that needs to hide away in the love of Jesus. The first verse in particular helps me put my tired and weak heart into the hands of Jesus:

Come, weary saints, though tired and weak
Hide away in the love of Jesus
Your strength will return by His quiet streams
Hide away in the love of Jesus

5. God Moves (William Cowper, arr. Bob Kauflin)

(Lyrics and Sheet Music)

Veteran worship leader and songwriter Bob Kauflin wrote this arrangement in response to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Cowper’s words were written in the midst of terrible depression. The combination of text and tune has been good for our church to sing over the years:

So God we trust in You
O God we trust in You
When tears are great
And comforts few
We hope in mercies ever new
We trust in You

 


I’m really only scratching the surface here, so please feel free to suggest other laments. I’m particularly interested if you know of songs / psalm settings that are bold enough to stay with the singer in darkness (e.g. Psalm 88, which ends with “darkness my closest friend”).