Author Archives: Andrew Mackie

Learning to code

People sometimes ask me how to learn to code.

I always recommend solving a real problem for real people, because it forces you to learn whatever is needed to solve that problem.

That is, after all, what coding is – the commitment to learn whatever is needed to solve problems (because almost every new problem requires learning some new coding library, strategy, skill, etc.).

In my opinion a ‘coder’ is someone who has the confidence take on any coding-related problem in the knowledge that they can learn whatever is required to solve it.

Put another way, I’m saying that learning another skill isn’t what makes you a coder – what makes you a coder is accepting that you need to continually learn new coding skills.

So don’t focus on acquiring skills as a goal in and of itself. Instead, have confidence that you can learn as you go and, therefore, start solving real problems for real people right now.

Start with small problems and work your way up over time.

The surpassing worth of (knowing) God

In Phillipians 3:8, Paul writes:

‘… I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.[NIV]

The word ‘knowing’ is critical here. Without the word ‘knowing’, Paul would have lost all things simply because God (Christ Jesus) is great (of surpassing worth).

If God’s most praiseworthy aspect is that He is great, then we rightly owe him everything and He is entitled take everything from us. And Paul would be right to praise God for His greatness and to acknowledge God’s right to take anything and everything from us.

But Paul doesn’t do that. He praises God for the gift of knowing Him, and all that this entails – forgiveness from God, peace with God and joy from God. Paul gladly lost all things because he had already received something of far greater worth.

This means that God is a giver, not a taker.

And that’s why Christ Jesus is worth knowing.

Miracles and computer games

People often argue that miracles are impossible and, therefore, that the Bible is unbelievable. Here’s a simple thought experiment which is intended to demonstrate the flaws in this argument.

Consider a computer game, one that you know well. It could be a game as vast as World of Warcraft or as simple as Tetris or Pac-Man.

From your observations as a player of this game, could you come up with a set of laws which govern how the game’s universe operates? Could you create rules which define the circumstances under which a character always dies, say, or a mission always succeeds? Yes you could. In the universe of Pac-Man, for instance, your laws might say that Pac-Man always dies when he touchs a ghost in its normal state and that a level is always complete when he eats the last dot.

As a player of the game, are you bound by those laws you have observed? Yes you are – you can’t make Pac-Man survive an encounter with a ghost in its normal state or allow him to stay on a level when all of the dots are eaten.

Do you believe, then, that the authors of the game, the people who wrote the code for World of Warcraft or Tetris or Pac-Man are bound by your laws? Are the authors of the game limited by your observations as a player of their game? Or are they free at any time to change the code so that the game behaves differently? Are they free to make temporary or permanent changes to their game whenever they like or even to include Easter eggs, hidden areas of the game which operate differently to the rest of the game’s universe? Yes, they are free to make changes. Of course they are.

So let me ask you this: If God is the author of the universe, why would He be forced to obey our observations as players in His game of life? Isn’t God free to change the universe either temporarily or permanently or even put Easter Eggs into the universe, hidden areas which behave differently to the rest of the universe? Yes He is. Of course He is.

So what would prevent God from allowing certain characters to be healed instantly, to walk on water or to rise from the dead? Nothing at all. If God exists, He could change the code of the universe as easily as coders change a computer game. The Bible goes even further than this by stating that God is the sustainer of everything, by which Christians understand that the universe is not static code that God has left to run by itself – it is sustained (and therefore infinitely changeable) by His will.

I think we’re ready, then, to consider two key problems with the ‘miracles are impossible’ argument.

The first is that that the starting point of the argument is to assume that there is no God or that if there is a god, it’s a kind of powerless god which is bound by the universe as we are. An argument which claims that miracles are impossible is simply knocking down a straw god – it does not consider or disprove the all-powerful God described in the Bible. It’s also worth noting that this approach to God is entirely consistent with how the Bible describes us as sinful, rebellious humans – our desire is to reject Him rather than consider who He is (because doing so might require that we surrender our lives to Him).

The second problem with the ‘miracles are impossible’ argument is that it’s circular – it says that because miracles have not been observed, we can discard all observations of miracles. That’s a very convenient loop if your goal is to deny the existence of anything supernatural.

Now that we can see that God would not be bound by our so-called laws of the universe, we cannot simply reject observations of miracles – we must consider them on their merits. This does not mean asking whether the observed miracle was a normal or repeatable event (and therefore not a miracle at all) – it means asking whether the observer of the miracle is a credible witness. That is, miracles cannot be assessed by acting as scientists because this mode of discovery is bound by the normal and repeatable laws that we (as mere players) must obey. Instead we must act like historians and lawyers – we must look for evidence of the veracity of a person’s claim and consider the purity of their motives in making that claim.

If the witness of the miracle is credible, we may have found compelling evidence that something unexpected happened and this, in turn, may require that we update our view of the universe. This is why the Gospels (the written observations of Jesus’ life in the Bible) record that Jesus referred to his miracles as ‘signs’ – by deliberately doing things which are impossible for mere players in the game of life, he was providing evidence for his claim that he is the author of life. We would do well, then, to listen to and obey him.

Hobby v. Business

I’ve learned the hard way that it’s possible to think you’re running a real business when you’re actually running a hobby. Here are some differences so that you can tell them apart:

Activity Hobby
I make … whatever I want whatever customers want
I do .. whatever I want whatever it takes to learn what customers will pay for and then deliver it to them
I buy … whatever equipment, tools and software (a.k.a. ‘toys’) that I want only what will enable me to deliver what customers will pay for (otherwise I save my money)
I focus on … my business (i.e. my hobby) whatever it takes to make the business work (including getting a job if necessary)
I know … what customers want (they want whatever I decide to make!) that I don’t know what customers want – I must visit potential customers and learn from them.
I want … positive feedback (what if people don’t like what I make?!?) real feedback (because I’m committed to making whatever customers want)
I celebrate … low value sales (this is working! all of my dreams are validated! I should go all in!) every sale but recognise that there’s a long, long way to go before this business will generate real income
I spend my time … making things (whatever I want to make) learning from customers until I understand their problem (and then I sell and build them a solution).

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t turn your hobby into a real business in the future. What it means is that:

  1. you must know whether you’ve got a hobby or a business,
  2. your hobby must not be run like a business (or it will lose its joy), and
  3. your business must not be run like a hobby (or it will fail).

Alpine creek

This is one of my favourite photos – the movement of the water fascinates me. It was taken in a rush at the end of a skiing holiday in Thredbo, NSW before packing up the car and heading home. Carrying all of my gear, I wandered up and down the creek until I found elements that I could isolate – a simple interplay between rocks, water and light. The rest is merely technical – focus, a shutter speed that shows motion but retains detail, and exposure to ensure that everything fell into the 5 stop range afforded by black and white film.

Coming to Christ as a child

As I’m now in my late 30s, my father and I are now peers in many respects. If he wants to give me instruction, I decide whether to listen and if I do, I pick and choose which advice I want to act on – I have my own wisdom and authority.

I understand most of my Dad’s plans and daily activities. I’m not especially interested in hanging around to learn from him – I already know what I need to know. And I do what I want to do, not what he wants. If I don’t approve of what he does, I’ll tell him so, and may complain to my siblings.

My Dad doesn’t provide for my needs – I do, and bear the responsibility and worry for them myself. If, however, I was in trouble, I’d ask him and expect him to help.

My youngest son, however, is four years old. I give him instructions and I require him to obey me, because I know what’s best for him and he does not. He struggles with this from time to time, but accepts it – he knows that I have knowledge and responsibility that he does not. He’s not always happy with what I decide or ask him to do but he never doubts that I have authority over him, have the necessary wisdom to take care of him and love him deeply.

My son does not understand what I do at work or even much of what I do around the house. His response is to want to learn more. He loves to be right by my side, watching, learning and constantly asking ‘what can I do, Daddy?’. His contributions are not especially significant, but I love to involve him for his sake – to see him learn and grow – and because his delight in participating gives me great pleasure as his father.

He knows that he doesn’t provide for his own needs but that his mother and I do. He’s never – not once – been worried about his daily needs, whether he will have food, clothing and shelter tomorrow, because he knows his parents love him and will provide them. And he never stops asking for my help, because he knows I can help him and love to do so.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-3 (NIV)

or as told in The Message, a translation of the mood in the original language:

At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?” For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom.” Matthew 18:1-3 (MESSAGE)

 p.s. Love you Dad! 🙂

The scandal of the cross

As humans, we love the law. Not God's law – we don't want anyone telling us what to do – but our law, laws that suit our desires. That's because we think we're good enough to meet the law's demands and on that basis, the law justifies us (me, the good person) and condemns others (them, the bad people).

Many people think that the concept of loving one another is the replacement to the law. That Christ came here to teach us to love one another, and that's what replaces the old law (that we no longer follow). Except it's not what Christ came to teach at all – Christ taught that loving one another *was* the law, and it's what the law shows us that we fail to do. The law condemns us still because we do not love God with our heart, soul and mind and we do not love our neighbour as ourselves. The requirement to love is not our salvation, it's our condemnation.

Instead Christ taught us that all of us are lawbreakers. That none of us are good. The scandal of the cross is that our sole contribution to our salvation is our sin. But the good news is that Christ died, once for all, that all who place their trust in Him can be saved – a gift that none of us deserve.

On the White Horse Inn podcast, the episode 'Good News vs. Good Advice' is excellent listening on this topic.

The two wills of God

Having listened to it twice, I'd say that John Piper's sermon what is the will of God and how do we know it? is essential listening – in spite of knowing most of what the sermon said about God's will, it still provided me with a number of 'aha' moments that will change the way I think and make decisions. 

In particular, John breaks down the two wills of God, that being:

  1. God's sovereign will, by which he commands and controls all things (but allows sin without himself being sinful), and
  2. God's 'will of command', by which he sets out how he commands Christians to live (because they are saved, not as a means to become saved) but we routinely break. 

The trap for many Christians is that we try to determine the sovereign will of God – 'who does God want me to marry?', 'which job does God want me to take?', etc – but for us God's sovereign will is entirely unknowable except in the rear view mirror. You know who God wants you to marry once you have married them (and then he wants you to be faithful to them).

The other trap for Christians is to pay little attention to what we can discern and act upon – God's will of command, which we know through the renewing of our minds (through reading scripture) and by which we can make Godly decisions in all matters:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

So we can take comfort that God's will is sovereign – this knowledge carries us through the darkest of times. Godly decision making, however, comes from knowing how God would have us live, achieved by the renewal of our minds through soaking in his word. As I said, essential listening.

Trust, obedience & happiness

I’m still greatly impacted by Rick Warren’s tweet on trust and obedience, a month after he sent it.

I’m increasingly convinced that trust and obedience are the sum total of both our life in Christ and our obligations as Christians. What I see in myself and in those around me, however, is conditional trust and obedience – ‘I’ll obey God if it will make me happy’ or ‘I’ll obey God when it makes sense [to me] to do so’. Of course, this is not trust or obedience at all, it’s saying that we know better than God:

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 26:12

If trust were easy and obvious, if we could see all of the steps that God was going to take to fulfil his promises, it wouldn’t be called trust – it would be called foresight. If obedience clearly lead to personal happiness – if there were no perceived cost in obeying God – it wouldn’t be obedience, it would be obvious self-interest and selfishness would be our logical goal.

Trust and obedience is about clinging to the sovereign LORD at all times but especially when all hope seems lost, when life is bleak and relationships dry. Trust is saying to God:

‘I can’t see what you’re doing but I’m going to accept that you are in control. I’m going to accept that you’re the sovereign LORD who controls all things and works all things for your glory’.

Obedience is saying to God:

‘I’m going to put aside my selfish, short-term and corrupted desires and accept your commands, to trust that the way you designed me and the world around me is best for you, others and myself’.

How else can we understand the trust and obedience displayed by the ‘roll call of the faithful’ in Hebrews 11:1-40, none of whom received God’s promise in their lifetime, or the command to us that follows it?:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1–2

Jesus, the one person who perfectly trusted and perfectly obeyed the Father, did not chase his own happiness but endured the shame of our sin on the cross. And we are eternally grateful.

There is more to trust and obedience, however, than personal cost. In trust and obedience there is freedom & joy in living our lives as God designed them to be this side of heaven:

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:7-11

In trust and obedience there is certainty to rely on His grace – there is no need to impress God by performing great deeds, making impressive sacrifices or committing violence:

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:6-8

In trust and obedience there is peace – we don’t need to plan God’s work for Him nor must we anticipate the whim of an imperfect or changing god. Abram (Abraham) did not orchestrate his role in God’s plan, God alone decided to call Abram. And God called Moses and all other prophets, gave kings their power and took that power away, sent His messiah and called His disciples. He planned our salvation before time began – God has not required human input to formulate His plans. Our responsibility is to lay our lives down before Him and obedient as He directs us:

And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? Deuteronomy 10:12

Trust & Obey. Trust & Obey. Trust & Obey. Trust & Obey. Trust & Obey. Trust & Obey. Trust & Obey. Got it?

God’s perfect justice

People often cast God as a genocidal maniac who destroys nations at a whim, making him unworthy of worship. Consider, however, these three passages about the land that the LORD promised to the Israelites. Firstly, consider God’s words to Abraham as he stood on the very piece of land that was to be given to his descendants (emphasis in all these passages mine):

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Genesis 15:13–16 (NIV)

 Then in Leviticus, His instruction to Israelites on how they are to live in the land:

‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.’ ” Leviticus 18:24–30 (NIV)

 And the Lord’s word to the new generation when they were poised to enter the land:

After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord. At Horeb you aroused the Lord’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you. Deuteronomy 9:4–8 (NIV)

Putting these three passages together, is it not evidence of God’s perfect justice? Even though Abraham was standing in the promised land, God did not give it to him there and then because it belonged to the Amorites and their sin was not yet sufficient to warrant their ejection from it. Nor were the Israelites to receive undue favour – they also had to avoid doing destestable things or they would be cut off from the land, Indeed the Israelites were exiled from the land twice because of their own sin. Finally, the Israelites were specifically instructed to not credit themselves for their good fortune in being given the land – it was the sin of the Amorites that was the reason.

In other words, God is not a God who smites countries and turfs them out of their country at a whim, His judgement of people and peoples in the Old Testament are rooted in His perfect justice.

If, then, this example God’s perfect justice is clear, why is it not spelled out for all instances of His judgement in the Old Testament? Surely this is because we are expected to know enough of God and his character to trust that He alone is holy and perfect in His holiness:

For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God!
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
Deuteronomy 32:3–4

When we judge God (or anyone else), we do so with our impure motives and imperfect information. The very good news is that God does not judge us in the same way – He judges all people (and peoples) fairly, with perfect motives against perfect information:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:13

The bad news, of course, is that we are not righteous – our secret, sinful lives will be uncovered and laid bare in front of Christ who will judge all mankind. If we understand this, we will react as Isaiah did when he stood before the LORD in a vision:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5

Or as John saw in his vision of the end times, the Lamb being a name for Jesus Christ:

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 6:15-17

But this is not the end of the story. Because we cannot stand before Him, God, in His deep love and extraordinary mercy, acted on our behalf.

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
made himself nothing,
taking the very natureb of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

… Jesus Christ; who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28

So where do you stand? When your life is laid bare by God’s perfect justice, will you be paying for your sin or have you placed your trust in Christ, accepting his gift of mercy and salvation?