07 July 2017

Singalong... when it's odd


I note that every time I watch a live performance, on television, or even like this one on New Year's Eve in Nashville, Tennessee, that
the people at the concert sing along with the performer. I don't think Keith Urban minded at all that wintry night. No one near me that night was singing so loudly that I couldn't hear Keith, but I wondered what I would have done if someone were too close.

Up in Tamworth, the Sunny Cowgirls, the Lee Kernaghan band, and Jasmine Rae all were much louder than their appreciative gallery, so no one really minded the singalong.

(Yes, I shot all these photos)

But then what about this picture of young Paul singing to his bride Jamie?
A hush fell over the crowd, which now became an audience, and we listened with respect and honor. Made so much sense.

So the question is begged...when is it right to singalong, and when do we leave it for the performer? Perhaps it's dependent on the price of the ticket. A free concert, well, it's a free-for-all, and everyone can sing. A ticket at the Sydney Opera House to see La Boheme would not, even if you were a trained opera singer, allow you to sing "Quando m'en vo". It's a fascinating dynamic, really, when you think about it.

We don't grab a scalpel and enter the operating room with our surgeon.
We don't move around the counter and start slicing our cheese for the morning omelet at the grill.

But music, apparently in live concert, in the pub, the club, or in Times Square or Martin Place... that's free game.
Has this ever bothered you? What did you do about this?

Oh, at the neighbourhood church, they would welcome you to join them in singing to God, by the way. And I wonder if God Himself might not be joining in the chorus. As the Jewish prophet Zephaniah said, "The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing." Want to join in?

03 July 2017

Sinner or saint?


This blog was prompted by some Facebook conversation. The issue may be simplified to a binary consideration--which is true? Are believers to self-define as "a sinner saved by grace or a saint awaiting heaven?" The difference may be negligible to some, but let me see if I can unpack the differences. Back in the 1970s I used to read and reread two books which have stayed with me and in my mind for decades. They are Victory in Christ and Johannes Jorgensen's biography of St Francis of Assisi. I don't even remember who wrote that first book. What motivated me then still envelops me today. There are two realities in my life, and those two books well depicted each.

Victory contained a series of chapters highlighting our position in Messiah. Since Yeshua won the victory over death by his resurrection 2000 years ago, then we have nothing to fret, nothing to fear, nothing will cause us distress beyond our capacity. Paul the apostle wrote, "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' O death, where is your victory? O death, Where is your sting?” but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." (1 Corinthians 15.54-57)
John the apostle weighed in with "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith." (1John 5.4)

My life has taken this victory mentality seriously. I trust that God has done all that was necessary for me to survive, to win, to have an optimistic perspective. One of my life sayings is "Since Jesus is Lord, what is there to worry about?" It's similar with amendment to both Alfred E. Newman of Mad Magazine and Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't worry; be happy'. Newman's "What, me worry?' is close, but neither McFerrin nor Newman hit the right reason. Being happy, not worrying-- both good ideas, but on what do they base this happiness quotient?

That's why the book about our victory in Jesus is so significant. It taught me the position I have and should have each day. Because of the death of Messiah, I can feel good; I can overcome adversity; I saw the glass as half-full. I could sing happy clappy songs at church; I could withstand the rejections that came from being a full-on Jesus freak. No matter what others thought of me, God had welcomed me into his family and made me his. That sonship was rewarding then, in the present, and in the future. Positive attitude was mine, and that was victory.

I also read Jorgensen's biography of Francis. What a character from history. I knew nothing about the guy before about 1973, and two things helped me learn. One this book, which to this day, continues to assist me with another attitude, equally needed throughout the decades, and two, the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Franco Zeffirelli. It was released in 1972, and I saw it about a year or two later. If there is a single word that characterizes this 13th Century mystic, it would be 'humility.' And that character trait, more than any other, is one which I desperately need, and for which I long.

Perhaps those two themes, victory and humility, are what I considered when the Facebook conversation ensued. Should a believer define himself as a sinner saved by grace (humility) or a saint bound for heaven (victory)? I suppose it might be a matter of degree or timing, depending on whom you ask. And maybe that's why I found such a firm footing each time I would read either of those books. Yes, it's clear that we are failed humans, that our sin nature often finds us acting out in wrong behavior, and humility before a holy God is normal. Psalm 51 says "in sin did my mother conceive me" and a serious admission of sin by the great King David of Israel. (circa 1000 BCE). David said, "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, for I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me."

Admitting our sin is right, and righteous. Admitting our sin is an honest mark of humility. And the result of that admission is the forgiveness that only God can fully extend. David said, "Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." (51.7) and "Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness." Victory comes and happiness is resultant from repentance.

"Never water down the word of God, preach it in its undiluted sternness; there must be unflinching loyalty to the word of God; but when you come to personal dealing with your fellow men, remember who you are - not a special being made up in heaven, but a sinner saved by grace." so said Oswald Chambers.

So what's the verdict? His blood has set me free. Victory comes, not because I'm so worry free, not because I'm so good, but because of God's awesome grace and forgiveness. My humility is the entry to the eternal hope of mankind, a relationship with God through Jesus, the Savior. This sinner saved by grace has the victory, and I'm singing tonight. Thanks be to God who gives me the victory.

01 July 2017

How would you answer this man?


I had a discussion today with a man who posed an interesting theory. He has been informed of many philosophies and religions throughout his life, so his position is not one which he has not seriously considered. At the risk of simplifying his reasoning, let me say many of his thoughts and you consider along with him what he is saying, and if you can or want to enter the discussion, answer my question, "how would you answer this man's allegations?'

He says he regularly steals from a grocery store in his neighborhood. It's a national chain here in Australia. His rationale is that the company makes too much money, and thus their money-making must be tainted, with greed, or with some other dirty method of making money, thus the money is not really theirs, since they have stolen it, so his sense of justice invites, no, almost demands, that someone steals the money (or product) back from them. It's Robin Hood-like.

His justification involved a comparison of two men. First was his kindly old uncle who was a humble farmer, all his life, who was worth close to a million dollars at his death. That money was distributed to the many, and he honestly earned all that money, one farm product and hard work at a time. He didn't go on vacations; he didn't live above his means...he was a simple man.

The other man in this man's comparison was Donald Trump. According to this man, Donald was a thief, who made more money than he ever could spend, and the money he made was not due to his hard work at all. He demanded from others; he made others work hard. But it wasn't earned so much as stolen money. Similar to the grocery chain.

OK, fair enough, do you have enough information to answer this man ywr?

He said that the million dollars of Mr Trump and the million dollars of his farmer uncle were equal scientifically, of course, but not equal at all, because of two things: 1) how they earned it and 2) the source of the money changed its intrinsic value, that is the Trump million was tainted.

A man should never earn more than he needs, this man averred, and what a man needed could be defined as owning one house, and perhaps another one, a distant one, for vacations. If a man made more than what he needed, there should be some sharing, some equity, some distribution of that wealth, and if that fair distribution didn't happen, then that was a clear sign of tainted, indulgent, 'dirty' money that needed to be taken, like the grocery stock to equalize the situation.

Do you have enough information to answer this man?

You may NOT use the Bible, or even the Older Testament, although he is Jewish, Bar Mitzvah and all. Just because some old Jewish man who was a power-hungry 80-year-old came up with such commandments don't necessarily translate to today's world, he says. OK, fair enough. Using only assumptions and philosophies and looking at big pictures, what would you answer this man?

23 June 2017

THEIR costs go up? And so...?



We just received an email from our mail house. "postage prices will increase by around 4% as of 3 July 2017" Ah, thanks again Aussie Post. 4% is a huge increase, when the other numbers from the government show price increases only of 2-3%. Even so, prices have to go up, they say.

Who decides this anyway? It's as if each sector of the economy or the government is quoting one or another. For instance, the tolls on the motorways are set to increase on 1 July. And the prices of bread and petrol, of clothing and insurance-- all will rise, because, well, you know, they will hem, haw and say, "Prices are going up. We have to keep up to match them." And no one will stop the madness.

I'm of the opinion that someone has to prevent prices from ascending, in their own way. I'm planning to keep our prices down, in fact, lower than ever. Our cheapest Hanukkah candles remain at $5, our CDs are now almost all $22 rather than the market-bearing $29. We will continue to help everyone find affordability in our on-line catalog. That way, our products will continue to help the ordinary Christian to understand Jewish people, and they will help the ordinary Jewish person to sort out the issue of Yeshua-- who is he? If you can find our products on your bookcases or in your car glove box, then that will only help. See what I mean?

I pondered this some years ago, when the state government acknowledged that they were losing money on the Cross City Tunnel. So what's a government to do? Obviously raise the rates, they thought. BUT all they did was punish the users of the tunnel. What they should have done was to LOWER the costs, and thereby procure more funds from more users of the tunnel. Volume is the answer; not sticking it to the customers. You see what I mean?

But they didn't listen to me then; they won't listen to me now. And I can live with that. Even so, I'm not going to raise the rates. Let's live sensibly, help each other, donate when we can. And make a difference in our world, one government agency or customer at a time. See you at our book shop!

18 June 2017

Who wins?


Yesterday, the Sydney Swans came from 35 points down to beat the Richmond Tigers in a great Round 13 match at the MCG. I was cheering for Sydney, of course, but the real winner was footy. Anyone who likes the game will admit that the league came out the better, the winner.

Before 1989, the Berlin Wall was the Great Divide between East and West Germany. Many families were forced to be separated by the introduction of that divide when it was built in 1961. And although many submitted to its imposition, there were families that continued to meet and have reunions in Lake Ballaton, Hungary. Hungary was the winner; family was the winner.

I often speak in churches, from independent Baptist to messianic congregations to Catholic and ecumenical Pentecostal gatherings. It's such a joy to see the width of the expression of God's Kingdom. A friend of mine and I were speaking today about religion, and he's not yet convinced of the Bible's truths, about Jesus, about God's awesome love. Fair enough. When we spoke about the divides in the religions of Christendom, I suggested that he read the Gospel of John. There the words of the Messiah would be made clear. No one owns Jesus. Baptists and Presbyterians, Messianics and Penties.. none of us. That brought to mind these words of philosopher and Boston College professor Peter Kreeft.

"If the churches ever did reunite, it would have to be into something that was as sacramental and liturgical and authoritative as the Roman Catholic Church and as protesting against abuses and as much focused on the individual in his direct relationship with Christ as the Evangelicals, as charismatic as the Pentecostals, as missionary-minded as the old mainline denominations, as focused on holiness as the Methodists or the Quakers, as committed to the social aspects of the Gospel as the social activists, as Biblical as fundamentalists, and as mystical as the Eastern Orthodox."

I suppose to stay with my theme, the Church would be the winner. And maybe that's why I enjoy my preaching schedule. I so appreciate the width of the varied expressions of Messiah's life. Kreeft has it right. No one owns the messianic message. That is, none of us owns it. Yeshua Himself owns His own message. And when we stand together, we amplify His message to the waiting world. And then we become the winner. That's a classic win/ win. Who's with me?

To watch and listen to my sermon given today at an ecumenical gathering in Sydney, click here.

15 June 2017

Was Rodney King right?


James Hodgkinson from Illinois in the US was killed today near a baseball field just outside Washington, DC. He had a gun and was firing at members of the Republican Party congressional delegation who were practicing baseball. Some members of Congress went into and are out of surgery. No one else died. It was near 7 a.m. Wednesday. The policemen who killed Hodgkinson prevented more tragedy as there were at least 40 people involved in the practice session and many other locals in the area walking their dogs, out to the cafes, etc. For the moment, that episode is over.

I watched a press conference later that day about 4 pm. Featured were Rep. Mike Doyle, Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Rep. Joe Barton, Republican from Texas.
Here they are in the photo. Barton had been on the field at the time of the incident. Barton had his two sons with him, who were just outside the fence. Doyle and Barton have known each other for a long time, they said, and their comments were humanizing and warm. Their affection was not a photo op; their lives are well known to each other and the commaraderie was clear.

The two shared about the tensions in the government, about the hostility and tweets and the atmosphere of partisanship which has lately characterized Congress. And Doyle "hoped" and Barton was "sure" that things would change as a result of today's episode on the field. I heard an echo of the famous line from Rodney King. He famously said, "Can we all just get along?"

To help your memory, King was 25 years old in 1991, at the time of his arrest. Police tried to pull him over in Los Angeles, and had resisted arrest leading police on an 8-mile chase. When finally pulled over police brutality was videotaped. You can see the famous beating by four policemen (see this video from newsman Mike Wallace ). Wallace's report covers the trial and the resultant rioting in South Central and even King's famous line. "Can we all just get along?" (about 18 minutes in)
Here are some other YouTube videos: here and here also .

I agree with Doyle and Barton. Let's get along. Let's stop being so strident, no matter our political views. No matter our race. No matter. Let's learn what Jesus taught, to love one another. I really liked what Rep Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat of Hawaii) said in her interview with Fox News. "I believe failure is not an option... in a moment of unfortunate tragedy... is that opportunity for us as Americans, for leaders in this country to rise up, to set the example, to set that tone of dialogue in conversation... We all have different ideas... The most critical thing is that...we have to debate... actually working together and not demonizing each other."

Maybe Rodney King's famous calming line was right.
Jesus certainly was right.
Labour, Liberal, male, female, he said, she said... Hodgkinson's response was wrong.

Let's all get along.

14 June 2017

The deer, the water, and depression


A Christian man on Long Island wrote a song with words from Psalm 42. "As the deer panteth for the waters, so my soul longeth after thee." It's a prayer of the Sons of Korach, whichever sons those are. I always enjoyed singing this song. Not that I deeply considered the text from that particular psalm. Then last week, a group of us discussed Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 (they probably were originally one psalm) and this verse popped up.


Let me put this line of the song into its literary setting.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. (Psalm 42.1-5)

The little 'Bambi' deer in the photo and in the Marty Nystrom song is exactly NOT what the Psalmists are writing. The author(s) are desperate, more like a vagabond, a lonely man, a starved, aching desperado. Their anguish is summarized in the words, "My tears have been my food", "I will say to God, “Why have You forgotten me?", and "Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me." Those are not gentle words of a smiling deer, but the deep, heart-felt cries of man-in-pain. Deep pain. Aches that describe a depressed, down-in-the-dumps singer.

So why is that in the Bible, anyway? Shouldn't a Bible-believer sing happy-clappy songs throughout his days? When someone finds eternal life in Messiah Jesus, shouldn't they have a good life, full of pleasure and without suffering or angst?

In his classic Making Sense out of Suffering, Peter Kreeft argues well for the need for suffering. Without it, we would have a bad story. Without it we would not learn kindness. Without it we fail to grow in wisdom. He says, "the most popular modern answer to the question of what it means to be a good person is to be kind. Do not make other people suffer. If it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s O.K. By this standard, God is not good it he lets us suffer. But by ancient standards, God might be good even though he lets us suffer, if he does it for the sake of the greater end of happiness, perfection of life and character and soul, that is, self.”

The apostle John wrote about the overcoming of the Devil in Revelation chapter 12. "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life unto death." The pain of life, in the midst of others' pleasures, that seems to be the fate of those who want to win.

Kreeft continues in that book, "“When the worldly toys in which we foolishly place our hopes for happiness are taken away from us, our foolishness is also taken away, and this brings us closer to true happiness, which is not in worldly things but in wisdom.”

Philip Yancey writes in Where is God when it hurts?, "God does not, in the comfortable surroundings of heaven, turn a deaf ear to the sounds of suffering on this groaning planet. He joined us, choosing to live among an oppressed people-- [Elie] Wiesel's own race-- in circumstances of poverty and great affliction... Jesus did not receive an answer to the questions of cause. "Why? ...why?" he called from the cross, and heard nothing but the silence of God. Even so, he responded with faithfulness, turning his attention to the good that his suffering could produce...Jesus' suffering was not a matter of impotence; he could have called on a legion of angels...God took the Great Pain of his own Son's death and used it to absorb into himself all the minor pains of earth. Suffering was the cost to God of forgiveness."

Suffering is purposeful, but depression? How is that useful? When is that to be relieved?

Maybe this article by Mary Leigh Keith will help. And the links they share at the end, also. You are not alone. We have walked this way before. And we are surviving. And finding God now and then. And that's worth it all. Like a deer, come find the water. The refreshing is in His presence. In that double psalm, it's at the altar. It's where the throngs were. The psalm ends with "hope in God." That conclusion, no matter the attending feelings-- that's where life really is.

What do you think?