19 October 2016

Tranquility in vivo

So much of life is turbulent. We get disturbed when we read the newspaper and see the suffering of Syrians in Aleppo. There are gunshots spraying over university campuses or in shopping centres. Worries arise in respect to the falling British pound and the dissatisfaction with the American electoral process. Life seems difficult and without calm.

Dr Bruce Wells wrote in this article in June this year about depression and worrying. He says, "Worrying excessively can lead to a host of physical and mental problems such as hypochondria, muscle tension, chronic indigestion, poor sleep, irrational fears, panic, self-consciousness, stage fright, compulsive behaviours, and perfectionism. You may think that worrying will help you avoid bad things from happening, lessen the impact of bad things, or help you come up with solutions. But worrying is actually the problem, not the solution."

So Dr Wells gives six solutions which might help.
Rather than be held hostage to disruptive worrying thoughts throughout the day give yourself permission to postpone worrying until later.

A solvable worry is one that you can take action on right away.

Once you determine that a worry is solvable, brainstorm as many possible solutions you can think of.

Sometimes you can’t solve a problem because either it’s not your problem (you are worried about your daughter’s failing marriage), it’s uncontrollable (you are worried whether it will rain during the picnic), or it can’t be resolved right away (you are worried about your factory closing in two years’ time). When this happens focus on managing your own emotions.

The solution is to accept that uncertainty is a part of life and then choose to focus on the parts that you can control and put all of your energies into making the most of them and appreciating them.

and finally,
Chronic worriers tend to have two types of thoughts. First, they over-estimate the possibility that bad things will happen, and second, they underestimate their own ability at handling these things. These thoughts aren’t based on reality or fact and are totally irrational.
You can break these bad thinking habits and develop a more balanced and healthier perspective of your worries.

Yeshua said this to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?" (Luke 12.22-26)

Worry is a function of distress, and it makes much sense at times. But in the midst of it all, in our lives (in vivo), God can bring tranquility. I wish that for you. I wish that for everyone. Not because of some prescription drugs. Not because of a dismissal of the realities of life which can be daunting. But a tranquility based on the power of God to oversee, and to override, to prevent and to accomplish.

If Yeshua is really who He claimed to be; and if He so chooses to assist and to help, then what honestly do I have to worry about? He wants us to trust Him.

Hear these words from Isaiah the prophet who was trying to calm the Jewish people of his day, "Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, but He will save you.”(Chapter 35:4). And what about these words from the great Rabbi Saul of Tarsus: "Don't be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Phil. 4.6) And what does Saul say will be God's response? "The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Jesus." (4.7)

Know Yeshua. Know peace.
No Yeshua. No peace.

Photo credit: By author in Hunter Gardens. 2015. All photos from there are Hunter: here

18 October 2016

Conjuring up images: Isaiah 60

Maybe I shouldn't use the term 'conjuring.' It might make you think of Macbeth or even earlier, as history shows, Shakespeare took note of The Three Witches or Weird Sisters or Wayward Sisters whose origin lies in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), a history of England, Scotland and Ireland. But to 'conjure' is more than the witch's notion. Merriam-Webster says the simple Definition of conjure is
"1) to make (something) appear or seem to appear by using magic
2) to make you think of (something)
3) to create or imagine (something)"

OK, so I want you to imagine with me what Isaiah is saying in his wonderful passage in what we label "Chapter 60." Remember he didn't write in chapters like modern novelists do.

Is. 60.2 “For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the LORD will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you.

I let my mind wander as I read and even memorised this passage a couple weeks ago. And I wondered what the Almighty was saying. Isaiah is talking to people who have been suffering in what he called 'darkness.' Some of that darkness is sin. Some of it is hopelessness. Some of the darkness is selfishness. Our gloom. When was darkness covering the earth, I mean, originally? Ah, of course. It was in Creation. See Genesis chapter 1. In the same way that the world 'came to be' in that time, God is saying through Isaiah something like this. In the same way you think it's all lost, that darkness is oppressive and settled and never moving, even then, God will break forth and bring His light. His glory will shine. It will rise (same word as sunrise) over you and bring hope and healing. You will not be suppressed by darkness; light will triumph.

Isaiah's message is so thrilling and comprehensive that it took 66 chapters to unpack it completely. If you want to listen to the podcast / sermon / Bible study group on Isaiah 60 which we conducted last Thursday, here is the link:
Isaiah 60 Podcast
And of course the entire series (up to chapter 60) is online at: Bible classes on audio Enjoy!

Photo of the three witches by painter Johann Heinrich Fussli
Photo of the sunrise taken in August 2015 by the author at Magnetic Island (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobmendo/20378803856)

16 October 2016

What is love, after all?

It's not even Valentine's Day, but I'm thinking about love. Yes, emotional love. Yes, real love. I'm not even watching a chick flick on an airplane, although I have done that. Hey, nothing wrong with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together. No, the word 'love' is bandied about so often and so far... it does require some thinking on it, don't you reckon? And after we have thought about it, maybe we should discuss it?

Nothing like Shakespeare's 116th sonnet to help us on the subject.
I quote it in full. Forgive me if you aren't used to these 14-liners from the Bard.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Yes, this is Elizabethan (a.b.a.b.) and not Italian. That's for my trivia friends. OK, so what is love according to Shakespeare? We know first that it's not love if it changes when change happens. Or is dismissed when others take it away. It is fixed. It is locked in. The marriage vow says, "in sickness and in health" and means that no matter what your partner experiences, or doesn't experience in your relationship, you are going to stick it out.

Tempests blow and yet love stays the course. When ships are tossed in those tempests and the guiding principle (star) is not so easily found on the horizon or in the sky, yet it remains, to guide when we do finally engage it. We don't know much about the worth of the stars, but they are there, pointing us on the way.

Change-- nope. Not a characteristic of real love. And if anyone calls me on this, then real love never existed. Wow, what hubris! Or what correctness?

I walked by Bondi Beach with my friend Kameel the other day. The graffiti wall was painted anew, with fine new works still fresh from their creators. And I found this one. And really liked it.

Maybe you will like it also. The colors are bold in person; the message distinct. The focus for me was on the middle of the word, 'Love." What do you see?

I see a cross. Why? The Bible says, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3.16) That's the greatest love of all. John said elsewhere, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4.10).

The cross is the location of the death of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua. He gave His life for us that we might experience His love and life.

The greatest gift. From the Greatest Giver.

Photo credit: By the author. From Bondi Beach. Original is here

Amazing grace: Being edited

Many of us Jewish people spent hours and hours the last couple weeks dealing with personal issues, repenting of sins committed, and asking God and others to forgive us. We anticipated that God, who set up these High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, would be somewhat vested in being there on the other end of the long phone call to Him.

There was talk about judgment and about eternity; there was consideration of repairing the breach and making things right. It was deep, emotional, considerate. And all the while, many in the row in front of us or behind us, or who never even darkened the doorway to enter the synagogue, seemed to be less inclined to dig deep and ponder what was hitting us so deeply. Should they be so sure that their prayers or thoughts were heard by the very busy Almighty? What is their take-away from all this religious activity?

I saw this above image of the editing erasure on another blog yesterday. It struck me personally. When I talk to God, in prayer, asking for forgiveness, is my sin really erased? Did He just edit the history of my life? Or will I have to carry this around with me for weeks, months, forever? I wonder, does the Scripture have anything to say to me, or is it even trustworthy as a psychological advisory book?

If I listen to sensible and powerful voices in history, I would be well advised, even if I knock back the Bible. Gandhi says that the strong are the forgivers. My impression is that God is Strong, so He must want to forgive.

On Google, I found this one, "If God didn't forgive sinners, heaven would be empty." That's especially clear. And powerful to ponder. After all, Alexander Pope wrote, "to err is human, to forgive, divine." Well, I'm human and very capable and very erring. So I'm especially glad for God's forgiveness. Or shall I expect it after all?

So let's look at a couple citations from that mysterious book of life, the Tenach, and see what it might say.
"The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed will be forgiven him." (Leviticus 19.22) "Nislach lo" is the Hebrew. It will be forgiven him. Wow, just like that. A forgiveness because of some animal substitute, a forgiveness which knows the satisfaction of the judicial system. A forgiveness granted, and (perhaps) received.

Later in Torah Moses commands the priests to pray this prayer, "Forgive Your people Israel whom You have redeemed, O LORD, and do not place the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of Your people Israel.’ And the bloodguiltiness shall be forgiven them. So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the eyes of the LORD."(Deuteronomy 21.8-9) Someone has to pray; someone has to intercede; someone has to do right.

King David well knew his own nature of loving God and yet failing Him miserably. We read His personal comfort with this from Psalm 32. "How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!" And Isaiah the prophet was convinced of his own sins, his own wrong talking, lashon hara, and found God's grace. He reported it as follows: "He touched my mouth with a burning coal and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (6.7)

It takes an agent of forgiveness, a bloody sacrifice, a mediator, and humility to make this all 'work.' Maybe that's why Jewish people like me are fascinated by and eventually succumb to the amazing grace of God revealed in His Messiah, Yeshua. He has done it all for us. We enter by faith into that reality, and we find real peace.

No wonder Rabbi Saul of Tarsus (some call him the Apostle Paul) said this, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Messiah also has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4.32) We learn forgiveness from the One who forgave us. We treat others as we have been treated.

Being edited makes sense, then. And grace is truly amazing when you experience that. Will you do so just now? Receive God's love in Yeshua, and ask Him to forgive you. That is His desire. He did it all for you.

11 October 2016

Hope, where is it? A Yom Kippur message

G’mar Chatimah Tovah. May you be inscribed and sealed at the end for good. That’s one of the best greetings on this holiday. Of course, when I grew up the greeting was “good yontif.” And then we wish each other an easy fast. And a common reply as we ponder not eating for 25 hours is “I hope so!” Everyone from Desmond Tutu to Albert Einstein to another 10,000 quick find entries has a comment about the idea of hope. Mumford and Sons, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, John Longmire and Jason Day…everyone has a hope and a dream and a quote on Wikipedia, or so it seems.

Ask for a quote on emotion or Sydney Swans, or a quote on wisteria or bottle brushes and you will find hundreds, but type in ‘hope’ and this request will garner 10,000 before I can even finish clicking my computer’s “Find” button. Here’s one: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Martin Luther King, Jr. And another from the wife of the current US president, “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world's problems at once but don't ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” -Michelle Obama.

On Sunday I sat with some friends in Collaroy and learned that one of them was working on her Ph.D. in clinical psychology on the theme of ‘hope.’ This seriously excited me. And my excitement added to her excitement. She wanted to know my definition of hope. Hmm, I don’t know that I’ve ever really processed a singular definition of that. So I tried. And failed miserably. I know it’s a concept for a future. I know it’s related to faith, but is somehow distinct from it. Let me ask you—how would you define the word ‘hope?’

John Piper gave a sermon 30 years ago in which he wrote this, “Richard Sibbes, one of the great old Puritan preachers of Cambridge who died in 1635, wrote a whole book (175 pages) on Psalm 42:5. He was called “the sweet dropper” because of how much confidence and joy his sermons caused. He called his book The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, because in Psalm 42:5 that is exactly what you have, the soul arguing with itself, preaching to itself. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God!”

Hoping in God does not come naturally for sinners like us. We must preach it to ourselves, and preach diligently and forcefully, or we will give way to a downcast and disquieted spirit.” (http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/what-is-hope) In this sermon Piper says that the English term “hope” is used in three senses:
1) a desire for something good in the future,
2) the thing in the future that we desire, and
3) the basis or reason for thinking that our desire may indeed be fulfilled.

All of these seem to include a bit of uncertainty. And I tried to share this with my mate on Sunday. But biblical hope is fixed, like an anchor for our soul (Hebrews 6.19), like a helmet which is sure, and that guarded a Roman soldier in First Century Judea (1 Thessalonians 5.8). Piper says biblical hope is “A confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.”

I like that. And I agree with that. Confidence because it WILL come to pass. That’s good hope. That’s biblical hope. During the last 15 months I’ve been watching albeit from afar the activity of the US presidential election process. For months candidates try to line up endorsements and gather funds enough to last the distance. They seek to gather friends who actually might end up opposing them and their posturing and jockeying is a marvel to behold.

At the end of last year the actual voting in the primary season began. It’s rather like our finals series in footy. Some candidates were eliminated in the opening contests and thus were out by February, while others lasted a bit longer. Now we are down to two major party candidates and two lesser knowns.

And many are hitching their wagons to the candidacy of one or the other. That’s what they call ‘hope’ but for me it’s just wishful thinking. As we have seen with the plebiscite or the greyhound races, with the GST or immigration policies, what may seem likely might end up tossed aside, as politics is more like a horserace than some would like to admit. Think Melbourne Cup.

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. And tonight we have sung and prayed, confessed and admitted fault. We have apologized to God for many things. Let’s talk about the idea of apology for a while. The definition is either:
1) a formal expression of regret at being unable to attend a meeting or social function.
a very poor or inadequate example of or an excuse for, inadequate example of, poor imitation of, poor substitute for, pale shadow of, mockery of, caricature of "a dire apology for a decent flat"

I am thinking of Mr. Trump’s apology on Friday last week. He said this, “If I have offended anyone, I’m sorry.” This might be best characterized as a non-apology.

Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee offered Fox 13 this observation: "That was an apology for getting caught. That was not an apology for the behavior."

The Huffington Post’s Paige Lavender, who is a Senior Political Editor, wrote, “While some were surprised that Trump had issued his “first apology,” many on Twitter noted that he didn’t actually apologize for his comments, which could be interpreted as the Republican presidential nominee encouraging sexual assault.


Rather, Trump said he was sorry some people had taken offense ― not for being offensive.”

I remember televangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s confession “I have sinned” when he was caught out in 1987 with a prostitute.

And I think of Deborah Levi’s four theses on apologies:
Deborah Levi offers the following possibilities:
1) Tactical apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology that is rhetorical and strategic—and not necessary heartfelt
2) Explanation apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology that is merely a gesture that is meant to counter an accusation of wrongdoing. In fact, it may be used to defend the actions of the accused
3) Formalistic apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology after being admonished to do so by an authority figure—who may also be the individual who suffered the wrongdoing
4) Happy ending apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing fully acknowledges responsibility for the wrongdoing and is genuinely remorseful

So let me ask… what is Yom Kippur for you? What kind of apology do we offer tonight? Have we really sinned in all those ways for which we said, “May it be Your will, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, to forgive all our sins, to pardon all our iniquities, and to grant us atonement for all our transgressions.”

Did you repent? Will you repent yet?

You might say, “But I didn’t sin as badly as Donald Trump.” Or you say, “I don’t believe God cares enough about me to even notice me” or you might say, “I repented last year; that ought to be enough.” Look, you can say anything you want, and you can make God to be your servant or to be your judge or you can be his judge by saying, “Nothing changes in the world when people pray.” Each of us has to deal with our own apology and our own hope in response to who we think God actually is.

Listen to this from the aforementioned Psalm, Psalm 42.

“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
The psalmist is saying, “when people insult me, when they taunt me about faith and my religion, that it makes me really sad. And that sadness sometimes makes me feel like giving up.” So the psalmist says.

Look what follows in verses 6-7: “O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan, and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterfalls.” No matter where the psalmist finds himself, in the midst of his despair, he decides to remember the Lord, and to call upon His name. That is a function of hope. Finding the USB stick or looking at the words on our doorposts, listening to a faith-filled song or hymn… all of these are useful to remind ourselves of the One who bought us and gives us eternity.

Then finally for the 2nd time in verse 11 (and there will be one more reminder/ chorus in chapter 43), we read, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? and why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance, and my God.” The psalmist concludes his aches, his hopelessness, his wondering with a challenge to his own soul. He says to himself, “Hey, it’s bad, but there’s something much worse. It’s the despair of being alone, far from God, and away from His personal attention. The sons of Korach who wrote this particular psalm are saying that their countenance is fallen, but God will raise their heads. Things may look bleak but without God they are bleaker still.
Hope, that’s the ticket. Hope in the living God who will make all things better and for His purposes.

And this is not only for us Jewish people. When God will send His servant, His messiah, listen to what Isaiah predicts will happen.
“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed, Until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” (Isaiah 42.1-4)

Let me ask you, Who are the coastlands? Matthew answers that question in his biography of Yeshua in chapter 12, “AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE.” (.21)

So whether you are like me, a Jew, tonight here at our Kol Nidre service, or you are a Gentile, even watching on the internet on Facebook Live, either live or later on our video channel, even on YouTube, this word is true. God wants to give you hope. And our biggest battle is often inside our own head and heart. We know ourselves, and we know the depth or the shallowness of our own apologies. We know we are not the most authentic believer out there. We have failed. We have sinned. And then we say, “Wait, I’m a believer. I’ve been a believer for decades. How could I have fallen so far? How could God even begin to consider forgiving me?”

Here’s the deal. Grace and hope are sisters in the same family. Without grace, you are right to beg the default position of failure. You have failed God; you will fail Him again next year. Maybe with different sins, but you will fail again. That’s not an excuse to carry on. It’s the reality of our humanness. AND YET…

God wants to give us hope. Real hope. Not hope with uncertainty. But biblical hope. Assurance. The reality of a confidence in the Almighty that is not braggadocio nor false humility. It’s about knowing who He is, and what He has done, and what He will do on our behalf.

Listen to this from Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, in his letter to the Roman believers, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Thanks be to God, amen?

What does not disappoint? Hope. Why? Because of God’s awesome love poured out into us by the Holy Spirit. We have His Spirit. He loves us. We are His. Hallelujah!

God wants to give us hope. And on that you can bank your apology and your Final Prayers tonight. In a few minutes we will hear the sounds of the shofar blast. And remember, we heard it 100 times on Rosh Hashanah. That introduced us to the 10 days of Awe. Now we will conclude them. And with the conclusion we are not wishful thinking about the Almighty. We are serious that He has forgiven us in Yeshua. And we are justified, that is, declared righteous, just as if we’d never sinned, because of our faith in the death of Messiah, the love of God poured out on a Roman cross, to give us all eternal life.

No wonder when the shofar sounds, the long t’kiah g’dolah, we will shout Hallelujah and we will rejoice. We are forgiven! If you have never received Yeshua as your messiah; if you have never professed faith in Him publicly, then why not do that right here and right now? You might be watching in the privacy of your apartment or on a public computer. No matter where you are, or who you are, you might even be running for state government, or be a candidate for US president—real hope is not mixed with any uncertainty. God sent His only Son to earth, to live and teach, and then to die on a cross to grant us justification, to forgive our sins, and to bring us to Himself. Say “Yes” to Yeshua now. Invite Him to be Lord of your life. Agree with Him that you are a sinner and that He alone can save you. That will give you a hope which will never disappoint. Now and forever.

If you want some words to say, try these, “Father in the name of Yeshua, I’m sorry. Really sorry for my sins. I don’t deserve your love. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but those who believe in you say you want to forgive me and be in relationship with me. So I receive your love and grace. I believe Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah and Lord of life. I acknowledge His grace and want His help to walk this out, tonight and from now on. Thank you for saving me. Thanks for your love. Amen.”

10 October 2016

Under construction (not this blog)

Major cities, even lesser cities, are experiencing the pain and discomfort of road closures, of widening current avenues, and making our paths from point A to point B that much easier. But in the meantime, it's not easier. Nothing about construction zones is easy.

Not only on roads and bridges, but on rooftops and building sites across the country, the tough have to keep getting tough and climbing on ridiculous angles, helping shape the architecture of the next quarter-century.

24 hours from now, I will be gathering with Jewish people in Bondi here in Sydney. And it will be time to hear Kol Nidre and to enter into the 24 hours of the Day of Atonement (See Leviticus chapters 16, 17 and 23 for more infoamtion) This is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a day to reflect on our sins and God's awesome love and desire to forgive us. Does He? How do we appropriate this?

Of course, to be repaired on your roof, your roadway, or your reprobate mind, you have to admit a need first. No repairman comes to the roadside unless he's called. No Maytag repairman comes to fix your washing machine unless you ring the phone number. We have to be humble enough to make the call, and wait, and watch the repair take place.

If that describes you; if you are at that point in your life when you need to admit a desire for a fix, for a serious repair job, then now is the time to call on God. Now is the time to ask for His help. Your name doesn't have to be Trump or Roethlisberger, you can be a Smith or Mendelsohn or Chang. God loves everyone and wants to give us each eternal life.

You have to admit your need, and come under His care. Admit you are Under Construction. That's the safest and best place to be! Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty let him come to Me and drink, and out of his belly will flow rivers of living water." (John 7)

and again John quoted Yeshua (Jesus' Hebrew name) who said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (3.16). Jesus is the real answer to the disrepair in our lives.

G'mar chatimah tovah.

Photo credit: By the author. All construction photos are here

08 October 2016

Repeating. Did I say that already?

It was common for actors in the 16th Century, in Shakespearean companies to play different roles each night. A band of actors would travel from one city and village to the next, and in each location to perform another of the Bard's great plays. I have a friend here in Sydney who runs an opera company. And opera fans have seen the same companies perform different shows each night for weeks, while the cast remains the same, but change roles each day.

In this painting by Caravaggio, the setting is clearly the ancient story of Narcissus, and this one features some similarities to other paintings by the artist.

It has been questioned by art scholars, whether the painting Narcissus was actually painted by Caravaggio. Elements in the painting’s style and iconographic creativity has led to the acceptance that it actually was one of Caravaggio’s creations. Caravaggio, a young and poor artist, was known to reuse models and costumes repeatedly, in order to save money. The facial features of Narcissus look very similar to the angel in the painting Rest on the Flight into Egypt.

The composition of the vest that Narcissus is wearing looks as if it is the same material as Mary’s dress in another of Caravaggio’s paintings, The Penitent Magdalene, as well. Caravaggio was also known to produce paintings with a suspenseful, magical and introspective atmosphere, during the middle of his career as an artist, which is very characteristic of this painting.

Repeating ourselves, and reusing characters, plots, themes, story lines, even clothing... hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Of course, we're writing about Shakespeare, operas, and great artists. Their works have stood the test of time. But what about others who continue to peddle tried-and-true formula antics like comedians whose shtick is canned? Think of Abbott and Costello; think Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin; think Adam Sandler or Woody Allen. Their marks are all over their works and they 'work' which is why they didn't adjust; they didn't need to. It's still working.

I watched the first two debates in the US presidential election. One with the senior candidates, and the other with their 2ics. One of the knocks I hear from each side is that 'the other guy uses canned answers.' There is a sense of indignity that preparation in debate leads to answers which apparently are not real. As if answers have to be off-the-cuff to be genuine. I don't really understand that.

I go to a certain florist shop to buy flowers because the lady Rita who runs the place does a great job. I know what I'm going to get. She knows what I want. It's a comfortable albeit patterned situation. I trust her BECAUSE she's reliable. And the product is repeatedly good.

Most people who buy bread at the bakery want good bread. They want bread that is reliable and safe and healthy and tasty. They don't want something new or different as if that's the only good stuff. They want repeatability in reliability.

I wonder if someone can help me understand why 'canned' answers in debate preparation is wrong, but good paintings, bakery products or flowers is right. I'm willing to learn. Thanks.

05 October 2016

Law, laws, and where is grace?

It can be so confusing. Reading the Bible, which is an exceptional albeit ancient book, can be challenging. You have to be thinking about a culture which is agrarian, where there are kings and prophets, where God seems to speak with individuals and miracles happen once in a generation. This is almost Lord of the Rings stuff, or could be fodder for Harry Potter's next book. But it's not. It's historical and reliable. It's a poetic epic with the book of Psalms clearly some of the most heartfelt lyrics ever written. The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom for any people, of any generation. But, there are some apparent contradictions. Don't kill, but go kill all those Jebusite and Hittite possessors of the Promised Land. Love one another, but Levites killing all those Jewish people who worshipped the Golden Calf.

At times it's clearly confusing in regards to how seriously we are to take it. For whom is it really written? Is it for us in 2016? Is it for Jews only or are Gentiles included also?

There are 613 obligatory statements (laws) given to the Jewish people in Torah. That's the first five books of the Bible-- the Pentateuch. Some are laws about farming and others about ritual practices in the worship center, called The Tabernacle. Some are related to women only and others only for priests. Leviticus 19 is one of the most beautiful chapters in the Torah. The 18th verse tells us to "Love your neighbour as yourself." John Lennon and Taylor Swift, Michael Buble and Kahlil Gibran would all agree that that's all we really need.

What else is in chapter 19? ‘Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the LORD your God.' (3-4) Those laws sound much like the Ten Commandments. OK, nothing new then. What about what is written in verses 9-10? "Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God." Hey, that's interesting. When a poor person is in your neighbourhood, don't make him knock on your door to ask for food; leave the food he will require out in such a place where he can get it without shaming himself. That's both sensible and kind.

So chapter 19 is full of some Ten Commandment memories and some words of kindness for poor people. It also has a few laws on tattoos (a no-no), and about the legal system ("You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly." (v 15)) Great stuff if you like legal codes. But Law is not that interesting for non-lawyers.

And in the Newer Testament there seems to be some not-so-kind views to Law itself. For instance, the biographer and apostle John seems to make a dichotomy in John 1.17 "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." Law versus Grace. If you have a choice, which would you choose? Grace would win by far. Paul seemed to have a very low view of the Law as well, most notably in his letter to the Romans: "You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?" (2.23) and again "the Law brings about wrath" (4.15) and "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase" (5.20)

So, do we keep law or laws? So which is it? Law or Grace? Law or laws? Shall we care for the poor, or take our tattoos off?

Here's the confusion. The Bible uses the term 'law' in two different ways. Don't be confused, although that's understandably easy to do. I believe Law is a system and is in contrast to Grace; laws, on the other hand, are commandments and statutes. The Jewish people were given laws to honour the Almighty, and to learn how to live well as newly-released slaves from Egypt. I believe that Law is a system by the which we seek to gain God's approval. Law is about my religious practice, and as such is based on what I do. Grace, in contrast is based on what God has done. Law is a checklist for us to perform; Grace is the nod-of-God to us because Yeshua died on the cross and welcomes us into His family. Full stop.

So when Paul says that the letter of the Law brings condemnation, he is using it in contrast to the Grace of God in Yeshua. Note this passage in the book of Romans.
"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." (6.12-14)

Grace doesn't allow us to go on sinning, in fact, it has to do with self-presentation. If I present myself to a system of righteousness in which I'm the chief player and the main point-earner, I will fail. No wonder "the Law brings wrath."

Paul summed it up at the end of chapter 6 with this quote:
"Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Messiah Yeshua our Lord." (.21-23)

The gift of God is in direct contrast to the wages we earn. If it's dependent on us, we fail. If we depend on God's work, we succeed. It's not earned. What we deserve? The condemnation of sin and death because we are basically selfish and proud, rejecting the Almighty and His love. What we earn? Death. What God wants to give us? Eternal life. That's newness! That's a new year's resolution. That's life!