Category Archives: Reading

Birdwatching and the freedom of self-forgetfulness

As the hatchback hurtled towards the airport, I asked a most unnatural question to the man in the front passenger seat: “So are you a birdwatcher?”

A few people know me well enough to be able to see and point out a specific way that my proud heart shows itself. When talking with people, I have a tendency to insert myself into the conversation. I’ve done it too many times to count.

“Oh, you’re from Sydney? I was there 3 months ago, and I did this and this and met so and so, and I think this about Sydney even though it’s not relevant to you. I love Sydney, what a beautiful city.”

Sorry dude, your friendly conversation starter just got hijacked by my ego.

If your conversations with others seem to always steer towards topics you want to talk about, you probably have the same self-aggrandising tendency as I have.

True gospel-humility

It was from reading Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” with Cheryl earlier this year (best $2 we’ve spent all year) that God switched on a light bulb to my problem, and the solution.

Tim Keller writes:

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself: it is thinking of myself less.”


“True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself.”

The ultimate self-forgetter

So the problem essentially is that I think about myself too much. The solution is not to think less of myself (“Oh I’m so terrible, I must tell you that” – a false show of self-pity, and really just another expression of selfishness), but to think of myself less.

It’s immensely difficult to change this consciously, especially if you’ve spent your whole life thinking about yours truly, and talking about yourself and what interests you. Blogs and Twitter/Facebook feeds aren’t the problem, they merely amplify the narcissism already in my heart. I’ve been a self-promoter since my youth.

But with the strength of Jesus — the ultimate self-forgetter, advocate and example in true gospel-humility (Phil) — I’ve been given grace to work on dying to myself.

I’ve been practising trying to listen better in conversations with friends or strangers, asking questions and adding responses to encourage the other person, and resisting the temptation to assert my points of interest.

Biting my tongue

So instead of asking Don and Joy what they thought of worship music trends, debating the recent Christian trends, or over-inflating my understanding of Don’s bibliography, I just bit my tongue.

I listened to them retrace where they went on their holiday, excite me with descriptions of the various birds they encountered (Australian birds, I’ve learned, are much more raucous than New Zealand species – perhaps a parable of two nations’ temperaments). I laughed with them upon their discovery of the ubiquitous pukeko (or “water chickens”, as I told them).

“So are you a birdwatcher?”

“Oh, not in a professional sense. But I’m familiar with the different types of birds in our area, local and migratory.”

I’m not there yet. Please tell me, then forgive me the next time I “convojack” you.

And by God’s grace, let’s journey together towards self-forgetfulness.

Half-year update on us trying to read more books

It was sometime towards the end of last year that I realised that, in comparison to the hundreds of articles, blog posts and Facebook updates that I skim through on a daily basis, I wasn’t really doing very well with old-fashioned book reading.

So this year we’ve tried to build it into our family routines more. When we’re home for dinner, we try to read a portion of the Bible (right now the girls all get to listen to Jeremiah, since that’s the book being preached at this year’s Stand Conference). In addition, we try and read as a family after meals (alternating between fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc.). And then I read a few books myself too (usually ones that Cheryl wouldn’t find interesting).

It’s actually nice to look back and see that God has used the time to help us engage with quite a few books. So far in the last half year, we’ve read:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia (all seven books) – aside from the unfortunate tale of Emeth, really enjoyed this. Cheryl had read the series as a kid, I had not. Even E was able to say Aslan after we’d gone through a few of the books.
  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield – so much helpful thoughts about hospitality, parenting, evangelism, and an insightful look into the life of a former lesbian feminist professor turned Christian (I reviewed this last year – we read it together this time as a family)
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl – a delightful tale about a girl who loves to read and is very intelligent, but misunderstood by her parents and headmistress at school. Very humorous. We have a whole lot more Roald Dahl books to enjoy.
  • Hints on Child Training by H Clay Trumbull – we are up to chapter 20; it’s meant to be our date night book but I often forget to pick it out and read it (perhaps because it’s an e-book)
  • The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller – we started this last night (a short book about pride,  something we both want to work on).

During the day, Cheryl has been reading to E. They’ve gone through dozens of books in this way, including Big Picture Bible, Jesus Storybook Bible, Dr Seuss’s Library, Goodnight Moon, Peepo and others (thanks, Auckland Libraries!)

In addition, here is my personal reading:

    • A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke – I’m stuck in chapter 10. It’s a really boggy book to be in… I’m determined to read more though.
    • Engaging with God by David Peterson – A biblical theology of worship. Very detailed and scholarly, some of it going over my head but lots of helpful thoughts. Very succinct big idea: “Worship is engaging with God on the terms He proposes, and in a way that He alone makes possible.”
    • Passing the Baton by Colin Marshall – A short book outlining a vision for ministry apprenticeships
    • The God Who Is There by Don Carson – Started this and got a few chapters in before getting sidetracked
    • Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith – Started this too, a little underwhelmed. I got the big idea fairly quickly (we are not containers for ideas or beliefs, but rather beings who desire a vision of the good/ultimate life, and this should shape how we think about worship, education, culture), but I don’t see why he has to take so much time and use so much complexity to get his points across.

Also, Cheryl is working through Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley with Kelli and Kat from church.

What books are you currently reading? Any suggestions on what we could read next?

Super searchable Census 2013 results for Auckland

This is a really neat web tool that Auckland Council have released:

This website helps you to easily find census information specifically for Auckland. It provides interactive mapping, graphing and data export functions. You can build your own graphs and tables by selecting a data category or the relevant area on the map.

Information, where available, is given for the 2001, 2006 and 2013 Censuses and more information will be added over time as data is released from Statistics New Zealand.

This online tool is brought to you by the Research, Investigations and Monitoring Unit (RIMU) at Auckland Council.

There’s one tool that lets you view and compare Census data between Auckland Local Boards, and another tool that lets you view and compare Census data across census area units (i.e. individual suburbs).

For example, I could drill into the data and found that:

  • On Census Day 2013, I was one of 18 people from Highland Park that cycled to work (vs. 1,401 by car/truck/van etc) – I guess that means no priority cycle lanes on Aviemore Drive…
  • Howick Ward is the most populous ward in Auckland (127,125), second highest being Henderson-Massey (107,685).
  • Nearly half of Howick Ward residents were born overseas (61,659 out of 127,125, 48.5%)
  • 1 in 8 people living in the Howick Ward are 65 and over (15,993 out of 127,125, 12.6%) – lots of older folk
  • 1 in 5 people living in the Howick Ward are aged 14 and under (25,194 out of 127,125, 19.8%) – so lots of young families as well

Lots of fun to play with – you can view stats on population, ethnicity, birthplace, housing, household income, and travel to work. And you can also view stats from the 2001 and 2006 Census data as well.

Check it out here.


This morning we read a beautiful prayer from Arthur Bennett’s Valley of Vision, simply titled: Choices.

The full prayer is here, but here’s some excerpts:

Help me to place myself always under thy guiding
and guardian care,
to take firmer hold of the sure covenant that
binds me to thee,
to feel more of the purifying, dignifying,
softening influence of the religion I profess,
to have more compassion, love, pity, courtesy,
to deem it an honour to be employed by thee
    as an instrument in thy hands,
    ready to seize every opportunity of usefulness,
    and willing to offer all my talents to thy service.

No matter your vocation (stay-at-home mum, technical writer, student, unemployed etc.): what an honour it is to be employed by the Perfect Master!

Thou hast done for me all things well,
hast remembered, distinguished, indulged me.
All my desires have not been gratified,
  but thy love denied them to me
  when fulfilment of my wishes would have
    proved my ruin or injury.

God graciously withholds certain things from me because He knows I’d get into trouble with them.

My trials have been fewer than my sins,
and when I have kissed the rod it has fallen
from thy hands.

Even in the depths of woe, if I were to count my sins they would far exceed the trials that I’ve encountered.

Thou hast often wiped away my tears,
restored peace to my mourning heart,
chastened me for my profit.
All thy work for me is perfect,
  and I praise thee.

This book was probably the most helpful purchase from our trip to WorshipGod conference in 2011.

Try read one of these prayer, and then praying yourself after it. You certainly won’t be praying the same clichés over and over again.