The world’s best food is found in Menton(e)

Mentone has been awarded one of the world’s most prestigious culinary titles, “the world’s best restaurant.” This highly charged competition creates a stir every year as judges tour the world, noting the restaurants that offered them the finest dining experiences. Restaurants and Chefs rise to global attention, while others are shunned. Taste buds, noses, and eyes survey plates, tables, and venues, looking for originality, composition, and that good old subjective sense of ‘wow’.

In the recent award ceremony held in Singapore, the world’s best restaurant for 2019 has been given to Mentone! Yes, we are on the map! Global recognition has finally reached this beachside area.

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Ok, the award is for Mentone France, not Mentone in Melbourne. And in Mentone, they drop the final e, making it Menton. There does exist a close relationship between two towns for Mentone is named after Menton; just that one knows how to spell this English name and the other doesn’t!

The Menton restaurant that has been awarded this prestigious title is Mirazur.

Mirazur is described in the following way:

What makes it special: Unrivalled views of the French Riviera, three levels of cascading vegetable gardens churning out the sweetest produce and a team of outrageously talented cooks and front-of-house staff combine to make Mirazur the ultimate restaurant experience. Mauro Colagreco’s unique cuisine is inspired by the sea, the mountains and the restaurant’s own gardens, including Menton’s emblematic citrus fruits.”

I like to eat delicious food. I appreciate fine food. Susan and I once enjoyed a meal at last year’s “world’s best restaurant”, years before it was recognised as such.

It would be pretty cool if Mirazur had opened its doors in the Mentone of the south. We could do with a few locations for foodies. Mentone may not be a choice suburb for fine dining, but we do have a food experience of another kind, and I reckon it is even better. In contrast to this restaurant that sounds truly quite amazing, Mentone (Baptist Church) is serving up a very different meal. This meal costs a huge price and yet it is free. It is deeply satisfying and yet we are welcomed to eat and drink some more. It is intense in flavour and yet delicate on the palate. It is beautiful to behold and yet it is not pretentious.

At Mentone, we don’t expend all our energy on the packaging. No one is photographing what we serve. The building in which we meet looks as though it belongs to a vintage garage sale. The people are quite ordinary in appearance. The website doesn’t have the habit of making viewers drool at the sight of artistically plated courses. The meal, however, is worth everything.

The meal is in the message, and the message is about a person. It is God’s loving message about his Son, Jesus Christ. The message is one that engages the mind and moves the heart and feeds the soul.

Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)

““Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

This meal is regularly available to anyone who wants to visit Mentone, and indeed many of the other Churches around Melbourne that love Jesus. Churches are not interested in awards, community recognition, or popular adulations (or at least we ought not). We have been invited to eat at the grandest table, not because we are rich or famous or because we have the right contacts in the culinary world, but on account of a loving God who hates spiritual destitution and dereliction.

To the poor, to the hurting, to the hungry goes this invitation. A table filled not with egos but with gratitude, not with critics intent on deconstructing the slightest fault, but hearts and stomachs filled with unspeakable delight and joy.

I love good food. For one reason or another, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down at a table of some of the world’s great restaurants. These are memorable experiences, for which as a Christian I can acknowledge the creative genius of men and women and enjoy the astonishing tastes and smells of God’s creation. The best of food is like viewing a Picasso or Pollock, only that you get to eat it. But these delectable delights are momentary and passing compared to the food that God offers in Jesus Christ. In fact, heaven is described as a banquet, the supersize table where forever God’s family are welcomed to enjoy him and one another and a feast without ending. You see, Christianity doesn’t starve the intellect, the body, or the soul, the Christ of the Bible stimulates the senses and amazes us with the deepest satisfaction.

To those who can afford to eat out and enjoy the world’s best restaurants, there is better food available for your body and your soul. Why live for that which ends up in the toilet when we can eat food that gives eternal life?

To the majority who can never afford to pay for such a luxurious food experience, God offers food that will never spoil or perish, and that one day will make Kings and Chefs envious for that they passed it up in favour of a short-lived morsel.

‘Vive La Australia’: Freedom of Speech in Australia

Last night while Melbourne suffered through the Great Snowstorm of 2016 and the rest of the world chased Pokemons, Mentone gathered for quite an extraordinary evening.

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The topic of conversation was ‘Freedom of Speech in Australia’, and we were privileged to have speaking, Mr Tim Wilson MHR, and Rev Dr Michael Bird. Present in the audience were members of various political parties (and of none), and people reflecting a variety of religious and non-religious world views, including of course members from Mentone Baptist Church.

The first thing I learnt last night is that the Federal seat of Goldstein, whom Tim Wilson now represents, is not pronounced Goldstein but rather, Goldstein! In other words, the ein is pronounced as mine, not bean. Apologies to everyone living in Beaumaris, Hampton, Brighton, and so on!

Electoral names aside, both Wilson and Bird presented a case for free speech in Australia that was erudite, thoughtful, and engaging. And this was followed by a time of QandA with the audience.

Tim Wilson spoke first. He offered an historical overview of Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, and articulated how ‘good law’, that which related to work place harassment, has been abused by being applied universally to public speech. A case in point is the now infamous and inexplicable Section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act.

In a defence of free speech, Wilson asked, “is it really right, just, that to exercise our most basic right we have to question whether we are going to be held in contempt of the law and then going have to pay significant legal bills to defend ourselves”

While not the topic at hand, it is difficult to speak on Freedom of Speech in 2016 without commenting on the current marriage debate. Wilson shared some of his own experiences growing up as a homosexual and of him favouring changes to the Marriage Act. Most importantly, in light of his views on marriage, Wilson said,

“I don’t think we can have a constructive conversation around the marriage of same-sex couples until both sides can say what they truly think.”

He then pushed further, pointing out, “the hypocritical nature of so many people today, when they don’t want to hear a particular argument, they declare it to be bigoted or hate speech.” Wilson then referred to Bill Shorten and Penny Wong, noting that only a few short years ago they spoke against changes to the Marriage Act, but now they can’t desist from calling opponents of same-sex marriage, bigots and hate filled.

At the other end of the spectrum, Tim Wilson offered a timely admonition to religious organisations, who though themselves call for a higher standard of morality, they have been exposed, especially in the area of sexual abuse.

As a Christian leader I affirm his rebuke, and would add that men (or women) who commit abhorrent acts on children behind clerical vestments and institutions are not representative of the Christ whom they claim to worship, but are the very manifestation of anti-Christ, for the deny him by their deeds. And yet, we need to understand that the public do not also differentiate between authentic Christians and dress-up Christians. Tim Wilson was spot on to call out Christian leaders to work harder on this.

Mike Bird employed his familiar array of jocose analogies and allusions, while driving home some pertinent truths for Australian society, as well as for Churches.

‘The future is French’, Mike asserted, in relation to where Australian religion and politics is heading. Either we will take the path of Vive la différence or that of the less desirable, Laïcité.

“I like to think our Constitution is robust enough to protect basic freedoms, and our political parties will seek to do right by all. However, people of faith can expect to receive a hard time from progressive activists and parties in the forseeable future. Religion may be sanitised from the public square.”

How should Churches respond to this paradigm cultural and political shift? Bird proposed that the future will either be Swedish or Chinese!

The reproach was overlooked by many last night, but Bird was calling out ‘liberal’ churches, suggesting they suffered from Stockholm syndrome. That is, they have lost their identity by tinkering with the tenets of the Christian faith in order to ensure religion is palatable to the powers that be.

Instead, Bird exhorted Christians to learn from Christianity in China, where it exists on the margins of society. Yet despite the oppression of Christians in China for many decades,  it has witnessed exponential growth, and all without the privileges of political and public freedoms, which we currently enjoy in this country.

Michael Bird also lauded Tim Wilson’s work last year in organising the Religious Freedom Roundtable, and he suggested that we need more forums such like that.

If I were to offer any criticisms, they would be minor:

At one point Tim spoke of certain religious groups who have tried to impose their morality onto other minorities. I do not disagree that historically there have been religious groups who’ve behaved as such, but the key word here is ‘impose’. There is an essential difference between imposition and influence, or pressure and persuasion. Mike said it well, when he exhorted Christians to “persuasive and compassionate discourse.”

In a crescendo of rhetoric Mike declared that, ’Christendom is over’. I would push back on this point and argue that Christendom in Australia never was. There is no doubt that Christianity has significantly influenced Australian culture and life, but it has been tolerated rather than happily embraced, sitting there in a position of begrudged prominence.

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The content of each presentation was winsome and helpful, but for me the highlight of the evening was the manner in which the conversation was conducted, including  participation from the audience. The tone was respectful but not innocuous; certain hypocrisies were called out, and serious challenges were proposed, but all without the immature name-calling and shout downs that are becoming all to common in the public square.

Last night demythologised the rhetoric of some social progressives, that civil dialogue can’t be had on issues relating to sexuality and marriage. Can an heterosexual Evangelical Anglican clergyman discuss issues of national importance with an agnostic gay politician? The answer is, yes. Indeed, despite obvious differences, they shared much in common. And can a room full of people, representing a spectrum of political and religious ideologies, enjoy a robust night of conversation? Yes, and in fact, people stayed and talked so late into the evening I was tempted to begin turning off the lights.

Finally, as a poignant way to close the evening, while answering a question on how to raise children to preserve and properly practice free speech, Mike Bird responded, ‘Love God, love your neighbour.’

Of course, these words comes from the lips of Jesus, who in turn was affirming the Old Testament Scriptures, and they remain the model for how Christians relate to others in society. I cannot speak for those of other world views, but this is how Christians must participate in both public and private. This Golden Rule does not build a staircase to Heaven as is sometimes believed, but rather, it is the life response of a person who has been captivated by the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. It was fitting way to end such a rewarding night, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

The talks an be downloaded here and the QandA here

Easter at Mentone

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Easter remains an important weekend in the Australian calendar but we are increasingly uncertain what it is about. What are we celebrating at Easter?

If you live in or around Mentone/Cheltenham why not visit Mentone Baptist Church this Easter.

Good Friday Service is 10am, followed by a yum brunch

Easter Sunday Service is also 10am.

At both services we will be exploring the heart of the Easter message and it relates to Aussies today.

You don’t have to be a Christian to attend…you don’t have to believe in God either.

Interested? Intrigued?  Love to see you there

 

A letter for the community of Mentone

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Como Parade, Mentone

Dear community of Mentone,

I am writing to address an issue that is impacting our local community.

Last week a member of the community spoke to me about a story regarding a local Catholic priest in Mentone, which is being reported in the media. Both the Herald Sun and The Age have run update stories today (Feb 10).

As many people will be aware, I live in the local area of Mentone/Parkdale, and I am a father of 3 children who attend a Mentone school (not the two schools mentioned in the media), and I Pastor a Church in Mentone. To hear any story of abuse in the community concerns me because I am a parent, and because I am a Pastor, and because Mentone is my home.

I ought to preface the statement with these two points:

i. Apart from media reports, I am not privy to the particulars of what has taken place with the accusations levelled against John Walshe.

ii. Even though I am a Minister in Mentone, I don’t know John Walshe (Priest at St Patrick’s, Mentone), and have only spoken to him once, about 9 years ago, albeit briefly on the phone in relation to a school Christmas event.

The issue concerns an incident that took place in 1982, when Walshe allegedly abused a seminarian, shortly after Walshe had been ordained. News of this incident has caused concern and outrage amongst many parents at the two schools under the jurisdiction of St Patrick’s parish, St Patrick’s School in Mentone and St John Vianney’s School in Parkdale. It should be added, there are other parents expressing support for John Walshe, and both school councils have indicated ‘unanimous support’ according to The Age.

In reading the media’s report, parental concerns become clearer because of a contradiction between what John Walshe says took place, and what the ArchDiocese of Melbourne determined.

According to an ABC report, John Walshe, said “while his conduct was contrary to his religious beliefs, the encounter with X was completely consensual.”

The Catholic ArchDiocese of Melbourne however concluded that the victim was sexually abused and gave him compensation. Given that this is the case, it does appear incongruous that Walshe is permitted to remain in the ministry.

First of all, I want to ensure Mentone (Baptist) that we hold extremely highly the qualifications set out in Scripture for church leaders.

As I said before, I am not privy to all the information regarding the alleged abuse case, however I know that at Mentone Baptist Church, should a pastor (or any one at the church for that matter) sexually abuse anyone, their tenure would be terminated, and the authorities contacted. And should any of the Church’s leaders engage in sexual immorality (having sex with a person to whom they are not married), they would also be required to step down.

Sadly, I understand how many people have become suspicious of ecclesial organisations,  given the lack of transparency that exists among some. Many are not like this, an example of humble transparency and honesty is that of Peter Jensen, the Former Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, who gave testimony at the Royal Commission last week. But the offering of silence, as seems to be the case here, when there are legitimate concerns, is as helpful as clanging cymbals being hit half a beat behind rest of the band (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

Second, I have lots of empathy for the concerned families of these schools. After all, this is my community where my family and I live, and it grieves me to see this situation unfolding over the neighbours fence, so to speak.

I am happy to meet with concerned parents, should they think it helpful (email is pastor@mentonebaptist.com.au)

Finally, we are praying for all concerned. As we pray, we do so trusting that godly resolution will come soon.

I don’t know John Walshe’s heart, and it is not for me to doubt the sincerity of his apology. I understand that the event took place over 30 years ago, and following the incident he sought counselling. But I also know that time doesn’t equal repentance, and time doesn’t heal all wounds.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus, who said,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

And

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

In other words, Jesus both judges and comforts, he brings justice and he exercises mercy. Jesus Christ does not offer cheap formulaic remedies like we find in the self-help section of a book-store, but these are words of the God who became man and took onto himself all the pain and sin of the world in order to bring healing and peace. The cross is a picture of ugliness and suffering, and for that very reason it is also a story of forgiveness and hope.

Moral failure in leaders disappoints, hurts and can lead to a hundred questions and doubts. It is not wrong to set the bar high for those who would oversee a church or ministry, but even with that justified high standard we must rest our hope in Jesus, not in people, for only in Him will we find what we most need.

Christmas Carols with Chill/i

So it’s a stinking hot morning in Melbourne today. 34º degrees by 7:30am. I reckon that must be close to a record for a Melbourne morning.

News is, the cool change is heading our way and will be sweeping across the Bay by 1-2pm. That’s great news for emergency services and home owners out bush and in outlining parts of Melbourne. It’s also great news for everyone who love Christmas Carols.

Even if the heat persists Mentone Baptist can keep make the auditorium as cold as Montreal on Christmas Eve, and we can even add in the snow…maybe not.

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For Christmas singing, lights, something for the kids, fun, BBQ, and a message about the joy God can give, join us for this wonderful  Christmas tradition.

 

Starts 6pm and will finish around 7pm

Everyone around Mentone, the Bayside and beyond are very welcome

Cultural Blindspots

I have noticed how people on social media, including friends of mine, are questioning why we are talking more about the attacks in Paris, than those in Beirut, Baghdad and Nigeria.

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Mentone in France (courtesy of the Telegraph UK)

There seems to be a sense of frustration, and even anger that we are somehow more concerned for Paris than we are for these other cities which have also witnessed terrifying atrocities in recent days.

To be fair, our focus is partly shaped by the media and what the media choose to bring to our attention. Twitter and social media have to some extent eroded our dependence upon established media, but their influence remains significant. Having said that, the major news outlets have reported these other terrorist attacks, but not to the degree of the coverage in Paris.

I think the criticism holds some weight, and it is also probably a little unfair.

I do not believe that the lives of French people are more important than the lives of Syrians, Iraqis and Nigerians. The Bible makes it clear that every human being has intrinsic value and are equally God’s image-bearers. And yet, the value we attribute to people is evident not by our words alone, but our actions. Are we more concerned for wellbeing of white European citizens? Is the life of a Nigerian worth less to us? Is the security of Beirut less important to us?

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This graphic is being sent around social media; it is certainly cynical. It is communicating something true (and sad), but I think it fails to appreciate laws of proximity. The closer we are aligned to a group culturally, the more affinity we feel with them when tragedy strikes.

To use an analogy, the way I am affected by the death in a family will be more intense than grief I feel in the death of a friend, and it will be certainly greater than my reaction to the death of a stranger. The closer the relationship, the more acute my reaction.

As an example, I admit that I personally have more cultural affinity with France than I do with Middle Eastern and African cultures:

  • My favourite cuisine has always been French (seriously, nothing surpasses truffles)
  • Susan and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary in Paris
  • My favourite art has always been French Impressionism
  • As a pianist I loved performing Debussy, and I still regularly listen to his piano and orchestral works. My favourite orchestral work is Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.
  • My favourite fashion label is also French, although a Pastor’s salary doesn’t permit shopping at Hermes! Those were the days of music.
  • I live in Mentone and my church is Mentone Baptist Church.

These ‘likes’ and affinities are not saying that, for example, Lebanon’s Shia population are therefore less important. Not at all. 

What can we do? Cultural proximity is fact of life, but it is not an excuse for neglecting people who are often more at risk and in need.

Find ways to acknowledge the suffering of people in other parts of the world.

  • We should pray for these other nations.
  • We should investigate what kind of assistance they need. A reality is that France is in a better financial place to assist its citizens in need.
  • In our conversations don’t forget the Non-Western world.

The reality is, our concerns and griefs will always be partial and limited. We don’t have exhaustive emotional energy, and it’s not only cultural leanings, but our sinful inclinations also impact our preferences more than we appreciate. Which is why I thank God that he is God. There exists a good and sovereign God who understands all things and who is able to embrace all of the world’s ills, who is sufficiently righteous not to neglect any injustice, and  who merciful enough to forgive the unjust, even me.

Take a moment to read these words from Isaiah ch.40.

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

    the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

    a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

    every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

    the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

    and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out.”

    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,

    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

    Surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

    but the word of our God endures forever.”

9 You who bring good news to Zion,

    go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good news to Jerusalem,

    lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid;

    say to the towns of Judah,

    “Here is your God!”

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

    and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

    and his recompense accompanies him.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:

    He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

    he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,

    or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,

    or weighed the mountains on the scales

    and the hills in a balance?

13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,

    or instruct the Lord as his counselor?

14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,

    and who taught him the right way?

Who was it that taught him knowledge,

    or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;

    they are regarded as dust on the scales;

    he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,

    nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.

17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;

    they are regarded by him as worthless

    and less than nothing.

18 With whom, then, will you compare God?

    To what image will you liken him?

19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,

    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold

    and fashions silver chains for it.

20 A person too poor to present such an offering

    selects wood that will not rot;

they look for a skilled worker

    to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?

    Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,

    and its people are like grasshoppers.

He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,

    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

23 He brings princes to naught

    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

24 No sooner are they planted,

    no sooner are they sown,

    no sooner do they take root in the ground,

than he blows on them and they wither,

    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?

    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:

    Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one

    and calls forth each of them by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

    not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?

    Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

    my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28 Do you not know?

    Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

    and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary

    and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,

    and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord

    will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

    they will run and not grow weary,

    they will walk and not be faint.