Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Great Courses – ongoing education!

So I’ve just started to read The Bourgeois Virtues by Deidre McCloskey and in her acknowledgements at the beginning of the book she mentions ‘The Great Courses‘ and something about her listening to it while walking on a treadmill or some nonsense. So I thought to myself ‘I’ve never heard of this thing before?!’ So I quickly moved from bed to desk and in five seconds Google was telling me that there was a massive learning resource of which I was completely oblivious. Basically, it’s a for-profit site that sells different courses (i.e. a series of lectures) that are presented by exceptional (think ivy-league) lecturers. There’s a massive variety of topics and lecturers. They seem brilliant. Importantly (and unfortunately) they aren’t cheap. Depending on the course they range from $100 to $1000+  which is pretty damn expensive if you’re paying in Rands! No 3rd-world-country, boo-hoo, give-me-discount here! BUT, they are currently having a sale and it’s 70% off!!! Which is fantastic news. According to the website, the sale is ending ‘soon‘, but the term ‘soon‘ coming from a money-hungry, morally-starved organisation is a rather loose concept I’m guessing. Nevertheless, I thought I must take advantage of this opportunity (exactly what they want me to think- good little consumer-drone that I am). So I bought the course The Story of the Bible which had rave reviews and looked really interesting (and was only $30 due to the sale! Usually $130!). So I downloaded the first 5 episodes (there are 24 30min lectures in this series) and started listening to them, and they are great. Wunderbar! The professor is interesting, impartial, well-read and enthusiastic. But the story doesn’t end there…unfortunately for my credit card.

So I thought to myself I should really take advantage of this 70% off thing because paying full price will be so irritating when there was just a sale with such a large percentage off (the hook had sunk deep into my consumer-drone consciousness). I was mainly thinking about another course that Prof Johnson lectures called Jesus and the Gospels which is a 36 lectures series (30min each) and only $49.95 (originally $200!). So I bought that one…but then I also saw RAVE reviews for Classical Mythology (24 lectures $35) and History of Ancient Egypt (48 lectures $65) so I got those too 🙂 great stuff!!

I definitely think it was money well spent and I most definitely intend to listen to them at some stage this year. In my budgeting spreadsheet  I will record this under ‘Educational expenditures’ which is an investment (not a consumption) good. I also chalk up my UCT metrics course fees in that category. Too often we think that buying educational books (read: ‘all books that aren’t Mills & Boon’) is a luxury or we are spoiling ourselves. What CRAP! Utter nonsense. How is it that spending R40 000+ on your formal higher education is classified as a legitimate investment in your future, but buying things like downloadable lectures isn’t? For those familiar with the economics of education literature, I am aware that one can use the Signal-theory argument here to shoot me down (with downloadable lectures sending no credible signal), but for me personally I don’t give two hoots about signals – I’m not planning on going into the real world anytime soon (I’m still thinking of a better, more derogatory word for the ‘real’ world). I intend to inhabit academia as long as she will have me.

So I implore you (whoever you are) to do something about your ongoing education. It doesn’t have to be buying a course online (although that really would be a great start – just be sure to read the reviews first), it could be buying and reading a book about history or linguistics or cooking or whatever –  it doesn’t matter…just learn. When we stop actively learning, we start actively dying. Sad, but true.

Onward and upward…

Counterfeit Gods

“When people say, ‘I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,’ they mean they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to them than God’s. Idols function like gods in our lives, and so if we make career or parental approval our god and we fail it, then the idol curses us in our hearts for the rest of our lives. We can’t shake the sense of failure”

“The idols that drive us are complex, many-layered, and largely hidden from us”

-Tim Keller in ‘Counterfeit Gods‘ – PROFOUND!!

Good thing –> ultimate thing = idol {& it’s EASTER!}

“In Ezekiel 14:3, God says about the elders of Israel, ‘These men have set up their idols in their hearts.’ Like us, the elders must have responded to this charge, ‘Idols? What Idols? I don’t see any idols.’ God was saying that the human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”

I’m reading Tim Keller’s ‘Counterfeit Gods‘ at the moment (Intro chapter free here). What a brilliant book (and what a brilliant man!). There is a section on Jonah (pg 133) which is truly insightful and heart-wrenching. The story of Jonah, and Keller’s skillful application in applying it to the human condition has cut me to the heart. If you’ve got the book, re-read pages 133-153. If I scan it sometime in the future I’ll put it up here.

On a different note, it’s raining today here in Stellenbosch. I really don’t mind the rain. I often actually enjoy it. It has many benefits: it forces me to read/work, it stops the neighbors dogs barking, and the screaming-crying kids now scream and cry inside not in the freaking garden (which is wonderful).

AND more importantly than all of the above (#best4last) it’s EASTER SUNDAY! When Jesus rose from death – “He has risen! He is not here” the angel told the two Mary’s. Jesus had conquered sin. As He says in Revelation 1:18:

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Praise God!! Thank-you Jesus!

Sometimes people get confused about what happened when, and don’t know why Good Friday and Easter Sunday are so special. See below for a brief chronology, (found here).

– Good Friday 

In the early hours before sunup, Jesus is betrayed by the “Judas Kiss” and arrested. At sunrise, he is disowned by Peter. When brought before Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, and his Council, he is condemned. He says that he will rise from death after three days.

They hand him over to the Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, who sends him to Herod (Antipas, the son of Herod the Great). Then Pilate asks the crowd who he is to pardon: a murderer, or Jesus? The crowd betrays Jesus and he is sentenced to death.

Jesus is brought to Calvary, where on the “third hour” (9 am) he is crucified. He is mocked as he hangs between the Bad Thief and the Good Thief, whom he blesses. On the “sixth hour” (noon), darkness covers the land. Jesus cries out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

After drinking sour wine, he commits his spirit to his Father and dies. Matthew (27:51-52) reports an earthquake that destroys the Temple. Many understand now that Jesus was the Son of God. His body is taken down and anointed. He is buried in a cave. This is the first day of death.

– Holy Saturday 

The Jewish Council remembers his vow to return and has the tomb guarded and sealed with a heavy stone. His followers stay in the “Easter Vigil”. Second day of death.

– Easter Sunday

On the third day of death, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary see an angel roll away the stone in front of the tomb. The angel tells them Jesus is already resurrected and is on his way to Galilee. On their way to tell the others, Jesus appears to them.

Easter Sunday marks the beginning of Eastertide or the Easter Season of 7 weeks, ending with Pentecost.

Spiritual Audit

During a recent preach my mind started to wander onto a different wavelength. Usually I force myself to stay focussed or (if it’s really bad) start some Scripture reading, but this time I let my thoughts get some speed. I did this because it felt right, it felt important, and the questions which I wrote down (see below) seemed penetrating and revealing – things I try not to brush off easily.

Basically, it occurred to me  that companies have their books audited once a year, but we Christians hardly ever audit our spiritual lives with the same rigor, and that is if we audit them at all! A financial audit is defined as ‘An unbiased examination and evaluation of the financial statements of an organization’. Similarly, I would define a spiritual audit as ‘An unbiased examination and evaluation of your spiritual life’. I hate airy-fairy terms, which invite confusion and speculation, so let me define what I mean by the terms ‘spiritual life’. My spiritual life consists of all those factors that affect me spiritually. When I ask how my spiritual life is doing I’m asking if I am spiritually healthy now (the present), and if the way that I am living my life now is setting me up for future success (the future). Because the physical and the spiritual cannot be separated (for example it would be impossible to split my spirit from my body) – we must necessarily include physical things in the spiritual audit. How I use and manage my time and money have direct implications on my spiritual health. It’s debatable whether that link is causal or if, instead, the way that I use my time and money is simply symptomatic of my existing state of spiritual health. Something to think about but I won’t elaborate on it here.

So I thought of a bunch of questions. The answers to these questions, and the way we answer them (how long it takes, if we get defensive, if we think of excuses etc.) is an indication of the state of our spiritual lives. I wrote this list for myself first and foremost (although I’ve included some questions that obviously don’t apply to me (like for husbands and wives). This is for now, but also for the future. The questions (and the realities they reveal) do not have an expiry date – the factors that affect our spiritual lives may change slightly in shape or form, but their broad outline remains unchanged. So here is my list…if you also want to answer them, take a minute and commit yourself to answering in total truth. I solemnly swear to tell myself the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God! {and on that note, please do help me God!}

Spiritual Audit


  •  Are there any serious disappointments (personal, professional, and spiritual/church) in your life that you have not dealt with?
    • What are they?
    • Why haven’t you dealt with them?
  • Do you prioritise your health? Especially in terms of exercise and diet?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  • I am where I thought I would be at ___ (insert current age)
  • If all areas of my life (especially private) where made public I would not feel ashamed.
  • I am quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1).
  • I willingly submit to my church leaders with joy.
  • I regularly take time out to see the bigger picture.
  • Unbelievers have a big influence on me
  • I have a big influence on unbelievers
  • (for wives) I willingly submit to my husband with joy
    • I understand and support my husband in ways that show my support for Christ (Msg)
  • (for husbands) I willingly lay down my life for my wife, and do it with joy
    • I go all out in my love for my wife (Msg)
  • (If married) I regularly affirm my spouse verbally (in private and in public)
  • (If married) I regularly take time out to spend with my spouse and see the bigger picture
  • (If married) I encourage, uplift and invest in my spouse
  • (If married) I am sometimes harsh with my spouse
  • (If married) I often pray with my spouse


  •  Are there any unresolved relationship issues that you have with anyone? (believers or unbelievers)
    • If so, have you done everything in your power to rectify that relationship?
    • If you haven’t, why not?
  • How many meaningful and deep relationships do you have with people in your church?
    • Are you making new meaningful and deep relationships?
  • How many meaningful and deep relationships do you have with people outside your church? (especially unsaved).
    • Are you making new meaningful and deep relationships?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  • I often tell my friends how much I appreciate them, and what I appreciate about them.
  • I often tell my family how much I appreciate them, and what I appreciate about them.
  • I make an effort to be friends with people even if I don’t naturally ‘click’ with them.
  • I really care that unbelievers become saved.
  • I prioritize people above everything else in my life (except God)


  • What are the three most time-consuming activities in your week?
    • Are they legitimate uses of your time?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  •  I am very disciplined with the way I spend my time.
  • I sleep too much.
  • I am happy with how much dedicated time I spend with God each day.
  • I have a routine that I stick to each week/day.
  • I often make time to spend with people.
  • If someone judged my priorities based on how I spend my time, I think that would be an accurate reflection.


  • CS Lewis said ‘If we live at the same level of affluence as others who have our level of income, we are probably giving away too little’. Am I living at the same level of affluence as others (unbelievers) who have my level of income? Am I giving away enough? (what is enough??)
  • Are you currently in debt (other than for a car or house)?
  • Do you spend money before you earn it?
  • Would you say that you are financially responsible?
  • Have all your financial dealings in the past year been entirely above reproach?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  • I believe God would approve of the way I spend my money.
  • I never envy rich people.
  • I feel less attached to money than I did a year ago.
  • I often give more respect to rich people than poor people.
  • Sometimes I think that my problems would go away if I had more money.
  • I think God will bless me financially if I sin less.
  • I often give money to the poor.
  • I am disciplined with my money.
  • I think the poor are poor because they are lazy or don’t have a good work ethic.
  • I think the poor is more the church’s responsibility rather than my responsibility.
  • I am very generous.
  • If someone judged my priorities based on how I spend my money, I think that would be an accurate reflection.


  • What are your spiritual gifts? (1 Cor 12:1 & Rom 12:6-8)
  • Do you exercise your spiritual gifts? Are you blessing the Church by exercising your gifts?
  • Do you serve in some way in your local church?

Some statements: (1=strongly disagree, 10=100% agree)

  • I think my dreams are important because God can speak to me through dreams.
  •  I can feel (in my spirit) the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • I frequently doubt my spiritual giftings.
  •  I am completely satisfied with my spiritual progress in the last year
  •  I am definitely less proud / arrogant / greedy / selfish / lustful / insecure / angry / depressed  than I was last year. (go through each one)
  •  I am definitely more patient / generous / loving / joyful / kind / gentle / self-controlled / humble / grateful / than I was last year. (go through each one)
  • I have a healthy prayer life.
On a scale of 1-10 (where 10 is excellent and 1 is dismal) how would you rate your spiritual life on the whole?
***THE END***
I think I might ask Oli if we can do this at Lifegroup sometime so any suggestions about questions to add or delete are welcome!

Galbraith – economist, intellectual, legend!

John Kenneth Galbraith is one of the best, and most well-known economists to date. I really love the quotes below (which I got from here) and I think it’s plain to see why he was so popular.

A brief bio from Wikipedia: John Kenneth Galbraith (October 15, 1908 – April 29, 2006) was a Canadian-American economist. He was a Keynesian and an institutionalist, a leading proponent of 20th-century political liberalism. His books on economic topics were bestsellers from the 1950s through the 2000s and he filled the role of public intellectual from the 50’s to the 1970s on matters of economics.

Wealth, in even the most improbable cases, manages to convey the aspect of intelligence.

War remains the decisive human failure.

Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.

There are few ironclad rules of diplomacy but to one there is no exception. When an official reports that talks were useful, it can safely be concluded that nothing was accomplished.

The salary of the chief executive of a large corporation is not a market award for achievement. It is frequently in the nature of a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself.

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

Meetings are a great trap. Soon you find yourself trying to get agreement and then the people who disagree come to think they have a right to be persuaded. However, they are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.

Of all classes the rich are the most noticed and the least studied.

People who are in a fortunate position always attribute virtue to what makes them so happy.

Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.

Power is not something that can be assumed or discarded at will like underwear.

The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events.

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.

By all but the pathologically romantic, it is now recognized that this is not the age of the small man.

Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.

If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should never grow old.

In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.

In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone.

In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability.

In economics, the majority is always wrong.

Same tune, different key…

Our Father, Chief Executive and Architect of heaven, may Your righteous name be held in highest honour everywhere. Come and rule here, change things to the way you desire them to be, on earth as You do in Heaven. Give us this day what we need for today; tomorrow is in Your hands. Please forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. When we’re tempted, rescue us or remove us from temptation. And in all things we give You the credit, because you are God and we are not.

A prayer from a friend of mine who was reflecting on the Lord’s prayer. So revealing to hear the truth in different words, like the same tune but in a different key.

Lovely-jubbly. Tally-ho! **

Hello to all my blog-readers. I think I could count all of you on my fingers, and better still, I could name you 🙂 Nevertheless, I don’t care. I told a friend who was starting a blog, let’s call her Bernice, that you should blog as much for yourself as for others. Who cares if no one reads it, write it for yourself. Write it for your self-in-ten-years. Write it for your kids, you future spouse, some random Zimbabwean who happens to drop by your blog out of pure serendipity. Whoever, whenever, just write.

I think that writing is to our thoughts as exercise is to our body. It helps to expunge our brains of all the nonsense that’s up there and allow some of the more meaningful thoughts to touch the surface. In our wonderful, comfortable, information-saturated existence, we are hardly ever thoughtless. There’s usually something going through our brain – work, play,church,eat,drink,learn,read,etc – so generating thought is not hard. The problem is, is that our thinking is dragged down to the lowest common denominator of our world – basically advertising and consumption. So we need to reclaim the higher ground that we have lost to this denigrating force. And I think one of the ways we do this is by writing (reading also, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish!).

When we write, especially for an audience, we have to distill truth, meaning, humor, sorrow, love or hatred, or any other notion, into words. We beat our disorganized thoughts into shape with the tools of grammar and language. We allow others to follow our thought processes: to think like we did, to see what we saw, and hopefully, to realize what we realised. Poets, novelists, prophets, researchers; all people who use the written word and try to convey something, perhaps it is meaning or a narrative, revelation, truth or discovery. In every instance, the very act of writing is a step of faith. We are saying, ‘let me write this down so that another may be enriched’ (even when that other is simply another version of you). Implicit in that statement is that we want others to benefit from our experience. Perhaps someone can identify with your pain as you coped haphazardly with the death of a loved one…or maybe you can help someone expand their understanding of a problem by your systematic research.

So I think writing is important. I think thinking is far more important than writing, but usually they go hand in hand. Because it’s important, and because our society doesn’t value taking time out, we must discipline ourselves to write. We must also discipline ourselves to think. One such initiative to discipline me to write is the pelting-pact-of-persistence. Yes, I realize the name is completely bizarre – although the author must have a fondness for alliteration by the sounds of things! Anyways, it’s just an agreement with two friends (who also blog, see here and here) that we will blog at least once a week (and they are caning me, although I think I get double points for mentioning the name in the eternal halls of the interweb). So this constitutes my week’s blog. I have  also done some other writing (see here), and while that is probably more important than this (although I think this is also important), I think I prefer writing like this. For one thing you don’t have to pore over every sentence – you can just say it and let the chips fall where they may.

Anyhoo…not too much else to report on…econometrics test coming up on Wednesday. I really hope that the learning disposition falls on me sometime soon, otherwise the panic-disposition is sure to follow. Also teaching, Two Oceans trail run and something else I can’t remember right now…

Cheerio all you good people…

PS – I have no idea why the picture is relevant but it is

**PPS – the title comes from a lovely Economist article, I include the excerpt below: (David Cameron was visiting Tahrir Square in Egypt)

““Are you happy now?” Mr Cameron asked a teenage boy whose face was painted in the colours of the Egyptian flag. The boy proving happy but silent, Mr Cameron settled for a handshake. An older relative stepped in to inform curious reporters that the youth “loves the new freedom”, adding, “Lovely-jubbly, tally-ho, tally-ho.”