Today's Devotions

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Showcase: Assorted Treats

  • Hope for Haiti +

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  • Give My Soul Rest: the movie Avatar +

    Avatar, the 2009 movie by James Cameron, raised as much discussion and controversy through its piecemeal use of Native American, Read More
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philip-yanceyThe following is taken from Philip Yancey's blog. A link to his website is  at the end of this excerpt.

Notes from the Great Southland

Posted on September 27, 2011 by Philip Yancey

In September I spoke eight times in Australia and twice in New Zealand, sharing a platform with the actors from the U.K. with whom we've toured previously.  The only kangaroo we saw in Australia outside of a petting zoo was a dead one, a big red joey that had been hit by a car.  We saw plenty of exotic birds, though, and had a thrilling boat ride in Sydney Harbor.  On our last night I attended a piano concert by Evgeny Kissin in the Sydney Opera House, a splendid building which, I learned, pleases the eye far more than the ear.

Earlier this year a study included both Australia and New Zealand on a list of nine countries where, if current trends continue, religion will go extinct within thirty years.  As in Europe, church attendance Down Under has declined precipitously in the past fifty years and society has grown increasingly more secular.  The current Prime Minister of Australia, though raised Baptist, openly professes her atheism.

Our presentations followed a similar format to the May tour in Britain (see the blog posted on May 25 at  In the course of the evening we went through four Seasons of the Soul, beginning with the new life of spring and proceeding through the joy of summer, the doubts and struggles of autumn and finally the hard times of winter.  As judged from comments afterward at the book signings, audiences responded most intensely to the "winter season" of faith.  Western Australia is suffering from an extended drought while the eastern part of the country is still recovering from a devastating flood that covered an area larger than Europe.  A century-and-a-half ago Matthew Arnold wrote of the ebbing of the Sea of Faith in modern times, a retreat that leaves the world with "neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain."  That last void, nor help for pain, may edge people back to faith, especially those who live in developed countries with so many allurements to pleasure and entertainment.  Sexy advertisements and a shallow celebrity culture somehow lose their appeal when your three-year-old child lies dying in a hospital, or when you do.  I heard story after heart-breaking story of cancer and flood victims and teenage suicides and drug overdoses and Alzheimer's-afflicted parents.  Where else do you turn but to God when all of life seems frozen in a perpetual winter?

One of the sketches performed by the actors comes from the play Shadowlands.  "Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world," proclaims the confident professor C. S. Lewis from a lectern.  Yet later in the sketch, as he comes to terms with Joy Davidman's imminent death, and then tries to comfort her son Douglas, his confidence has melted into confusion and doubt.  The book he wrote about Joy's illness and death, A Grief Observed, has a very different tone than his earlier treatise The Problem of Pain.

Rather than megaphone, I prefer the image of pain as a hearing aid: while the Bible generally ignores the messy question of causation, it encourages us to "tune in" to the redemptive power of suffering.  Some respond by switching off the hearing aid and turning away from God.  Others follow the Apostle Paul's example in allowing God to wrest goodness and growth from the bad things of this world.  Even wintry times offer reasons for hope.  We saw this most clearly at the site of our last event, held in New Zealand's second largest city, Christchurch, site of a devastating earthquake last February.


o the casual visitor New Zealanders seem shyer, more introverted than their Australian cousins, more British in personality than American.  First impressions may deceive.  An Australian described for me the difference between Aussies and "Kiwis," as they call their neighbors.  "We Australians like to present a macho image, but the Kiwis are the real tough ones.  I think it's because they don't have many natural enemies: no snakes, few venomous spiders, no dangerous mammals, no droughts in the Outback or floods in the plains.  So they invent their own physical challenges.  The first man to climb Mt. Everest hailed from New Zealand.  Outward Bound started there.  You can bungee jump off bridges or even a TV tower in downtown Auckland.  The more adventurous go for 'black-water rafting' in which you ride the rapids in total darkness inside a cave."

On this trip we tried neither bungee jumping nor black-water rafting, though we did have an unscheduled adventure.  As our plane descended through a storm toward Auckland, suddenly a ball of light smashed into the window with a loud bang that shook the entire aircraft.  A moment later the Air New Zealand pilot reported dryly, "You may have noticed that our plane has been hit by lightning.  No worries.  These things happen, and all our instruments appear to be working correctly."  The few Americans on the plane were already jittery in view of the date: September 11.

After one night in Auckland we flew on to Christchurch in the South Island.  The earthquake there made front-page news until it got dwarfed by the much more deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan a month later.  We toured the downtown area, much of it cordoned off, and saw heaps of rubble where skyscrapers had recently stood.  The famed Anglican cathedral lost its spire and may have to be demolished, while only a buttress of steel containers keeps the main Catholic church from collapsing.  More than a thousand buildings in Christchurch face demolition.

Often after a natural disaster, communities look to churches for help.  For example, six years after Hurricane Katrina, long after the federal government has moved on, churches in Houston and Dallas still send weekend teams to repair and rebuild houses in New Orleans.  In New Zealand, denominations banded together, assigned response teams to the neediest areas, and organized a food bank and tool bank.  More than 700 aftershocks have hit the area, creating an oppressive mood of fear and anxiety.  In a city whose very name expresses their identity, the churches hope to convey "the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Corinthians 1:3).

As I told the group gathered in Christchurch, on the surface winter looks like death.  Trees once resplendent with leaves now appear as dead sticks.  Yet botanists tell us that most plant growth occurs during winter, below the surface, as roots spread out and absorb the moisture and nutrients they will need for the vitality of spring and summer.  May it be so, not just in Christchurch, New Zealand, but all across that nation and its larger cousin Australia, once known as "the great Southland of the Holy Spirit."

Reflections to Consider

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Audio & Video

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  • Transforming this World: The Hope of Glory by NT Wright +

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  • What is Good in a World that Defies Hope: a talk by NT Wright +

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  • The Stream, the Lake and the River: NT Wright +

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  • Jesus in the Perfect Storm by NT Wright +

    Zechariah 9.9-17; Luke 19.28-48; A sermon for Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011, In the University Chapel of St Salvator, St Read More
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Hidden Blessings

  • Christ is a Great Savior: a review of the movie Amazing Grace +

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  • Wilberforce, Hollywood's Amazing Grace, Charlotte Allen +

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  • Making Beauty out of Ugly Things: Grace by U2 +

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  • The True Nature of Grace and Love: a movie review of the Soloist +

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