Category Archives: William

Wishing tree thoughts

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, we were walking through a local shopping mall and saw they’d put up this tree:

It turned out to be a wishing tree – people were invited to write their wishes on a card, and hang them on the tree. The branches were full of notes.

Some were predictable:

I wish for endless love! And lots of money!

Good health for my parents

To find a good job

Some were lovely:

That Josh proposes to me

Dear God, May we love each other just as you have loved us.

Some expressed pain and longing:

For us to fall pregnant with a healthy baby

For my parents to choose who I love

For my son to come home

Some were sad:

For my Mr Grey to find me

For my family to get along, 

For my parents to stay together

I think what kept Cheryl and I there for over an hour, reading message after message, was this: what we wish for is a window into our hearts.

So I started to pray to the Triune God for each card I read. After all, who else can answer our prayers? Who are we wishing to? God? A Higher power otherwise undefined?

I found it hard to stop thinking about the messages afterwards, so jotted a few lines of verse down.

// WISHING TREE //

Under the Wishing Tree hopes expressed
dreams declared
reunions requested
and names signed
Among them
Tamara pleads for a family in heaven
A prayer that God in Christ sought to answer
When he too dangled his message on wood
Jesus Messiah laid bare for sinners
Our names bound to him by scarlet thread
His death and revival
Brings the arrival of riches exceeding red packet provisions
This New Year lift your eyes to true prosperity
God’s Son wishing life from his death on a tree.

16.2.2018

 

Book review: Going Deeper with New Testament Greek

 

Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament (B&H Academic, 2016).

by Andreas Köstenberger, Benjamin Merkle and Robert Plummer

Genre: Biblical Reference / Language Study

Size: 550 pages.

What’s the big idea: The book aims to “stir in you a passion, and to provide you with the necessary tools, to ‘go deeper’ in your pursuit of your master of NT Greek” (p.1).

There’s a quip in New Testament Greek circles that, for every 9 Greek lecturers, there are 10 Greek grammars. The most recent contribution to the scene is Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament (B&H Academic, 2016). I first heard about this volume through Rob Plummer’s Daily Dose of Greek videos, and thought it would be a good complement ahead of my second year of learning biblical Greek.

Easy to read? Surprisingly enough, yes. It’s certainly more readable than Daniel Wallace’s grammar (as excellent as it is). I think part of the charm of Deeper Greek is that it’s organised in a way that blends the traditional grammar with other helpful content (like a Swiss Army knife). Each chapter ends with practice exercises, a vocab list and tables summarising the content just covered. I came away enjoying, rather than enduring each chapter I read.

What I appreciated? Several things.

  • I loved how every chapter features a short introduction where the author takes an example from the Bible to illustrate the practical relevance of the content to follow. For example, Chapter 2 on The Genitive Case begins with a translation issue in the Bible: should Luke 2:14 read “Peace on earth, good will towards men” (KJV) or “Peace on earth to those whom his favour rests” (NIV)? Lo and behold, it all hangs on whether there’s a genitive noun, and I’m hooked into going deeper into the rest of the chapter. Contrast this with Wallace, who writes assuming that you’re motivated to plow through 33 types of genitives without being convinced of its usefulness.
  • I found the first chapter on the history of Greek and textual criticism very helpful to kick things off and bolster my confidence that in 99.9% of cases, we have in our Bibles God’s authoritative Word preserved for us.
  • There’s a very interesting and informative chapter on verbal aspect, an area of debate among NT Greek scholars today.
  • The last chapter gives practical tips to keep up your Greek. You really feel like the three authors are encouraging you to keep studying and mastering Greek.
  • The book contains charts summarising each chapter. These are fantastic and would be worth the price of the book alone, though seems like you can purchase them separately.

What I would have liked to see:

  • Section numbers. The lack of them throughout the textbook. It made it more difficult to find specific concepts more easily and to cite them.
  • Less derivative content. Some chapters on noun cases seemed to lean on Wallace quite heavily, where it would have been nice to see the authors just present their own study of NT grammar and syntax
  • An answer key for the Practice Exercises would have been helpful for students.

Who I’d recommend it to: Any Greek student with a year of Greek behind their belt, or a pastor who’s “apostasised” from their Greek in seminary and wants to get back on the saddle. If you’re a whizz at Greek and love getting into the details, the thoroughness of Wallace’s grammar might be more suitable.

Verdict: This book will help you to understand the language of the New Testament better, and to become excited about studying God’s Word more deeply.

More info:

  • Deeper Greek website – coming soon, a website that will hopefully dive into some of the topics covered in this textbook. A video discussion on verbal aspect would be very helpful.

(I’m grateful to B&H Academic who provided a review copy of this textbook, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

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.