26 January 2016

Priests and Melchizedek

A sermon given at Epping Baptist Church
Epping NSW
24 January 2016

Thank you for that reading from Psalm 110. Here at Epping Baptist you are looking at the pslams during the month of January, and I thought Psalm 110 would be a fitting one for me to teach. And Hebrews chapter 7 is almost mandated to adjoin this psalm.

(The audio of this sermon is here )
Shalom to each of you today as we unpack this psalm and learn a bit about one of my favorite biblical characters, Melchizedek, and sort out why the biblical writers chose to make mention of him and use his person as a pointer to the Jewish messiah Yeshua. And today we will also consider the mission to the Jewish people here in Sydney and worldwide as I share a bit about Jews for Jesus also.

Introduction: Who is this guy?
The psalm begins with unusual vocabulary. “The Lord said to my Lord” It doesn’t sound very Jewish, because we Jews have one God, and not more than one. Here we read One Lord said to another Lord, and that sounds like two, but David sounds confused. So confusing in fact, that Yeshua Himself used this text to answer those Pharisees who were giving him stick about his claims.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Messiah, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.”

(This is still taught nowadays. I grew up an Orthodox Jew in Kansas City In the middle of the US, and learned Messiah would be “Mashiach Ben David”) He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, until I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET”’? “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ How is He His Son?” No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question. (Matt. 22.41-46)

Our role: The role of the priests
For others it’s not so clear. So let’s try to clear things up. Before we unpack the psalm, I want to remind you if you are a believer in Yeshua as Messiah that He calls us to be a royal priesthood, according to the apostle Peter. (”But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2.9). Peter would certainly have known all about this priestly ministry, as Yeshua actually ordained him to such a status as is recorded in Matthew chapter 16. “Yeshua said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My congregation; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16.17-19)

By using the odd phrase “Blessed are you” (which is how Jewish prayers often begin) and Peter’s full Hebrew name (demonstrating this is an official ceremony), Yeshua ordains Peter to Gospel ministry, and that means one thing to those men that day. Peter is becoming a Cohen, a priest. Wow, who can do that anyway? Who can make someone who is not a priest to be a priest? It was genetics that made a priest.

The only one who can really honestly do that is the Lord himself. And Yeshua is basically saying that of himself. Jesus is claiming to be God. Deity? What an awesome claim!

But wait a minute, Jesus isn’t even a priest himself, is he? Yeshua was born from his mother Mary (Miriam) who was from Judah. (His adopting father, Joseph, also was from Judah). According to the Scriptures, a priest had to be born in the line of Aaron, who was a Levite, Levi being the 3rd son of Jacob. Yeshua according to the genealogies was a great, great, great…. Grandson of Judah, the 4th son of Jacob. In other words, Yeshua comes from the wrong son of Jacob. To be a priest—descend from Levi. Yeshua? Descended from Levi’s brother Judah. So, no he’s disqualified, he cannot be a priest at all, much less to make someone else to be one like Peter. Therefore, something has to be done about that conflict. The writer of Hebrews will make a very clear and very important case for the priesthood of Yeshua, and I’ll explain that just now using our featured character of the day, Melchizedek.

Yeshua: The great High Priest of our confession
Melchizedek lived during the time of Abraham about 2000 BCE. And he is mentioned both in our Psalm today and in the book of Hebrews. Who is he? And why is he so important?

According to the story found in Genesis 14, he was a priest of another people, geographically in what we today call Jerusalem. When Abraham had been successful in battle in retrieving his nephew Lot from his captors, Abraham wanted to demonstrate thankfulness to God right away. He went to Melchizedek, both a priest and the King of Salem, who promised to stand with Abraham, Melchizedek brought out what we would title communion or kiddush, that is, bread and wine, and served some of the military leaders in Abraham’s entourage. He also said a priestly blessing over Abraham, which was powerful. The Bible makes it clear that the greater blesses the lesser.

What Abraham did was surprising. He gave money, a tithe to Melchizedek and thus gave honour to him. Let’s read from Hebrews 7 and unpack it as we go to learn why this is so important.

Verse 1: “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.”

“Without father or mother” (v. 3): This doesn’t mean Melchizedek didn’t have parents, but rather that in the record of Scripture, he just pops onto the scene. He did have beginnings and he did die later, but the Bible doesn’t make mention of those events. What matters is that moment.

Verse 4: “Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. (All Jewish people pay to the Levites) But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater.”

A key word in the book of Hebrews is ‘better’ and Yeshua is better than angels, better than Moshe, better than… And here in verse 7, we see Melchizedek is better than Abraham because of the blessing.

“In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. (It’s not a one-off annual donation; in this case, it’s a one-off eternal donation) And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” (Abraham represents in his family the Levites because in his loins are the Levites. So when the Levites later receive tithes, they still are owing to the One who is from the greater order, who blessed Abraham.” Levites are less; Melchizedekians are greater.

In other words since Levi was “in Abraham”, and all the current priests were also there, then the priesthood of today (the Aaronides) is less than the priesthood of Yeshua (Melchizedek) because of the blessing and the tithing!

Verse 8: “Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? (In other words, if it were complete in Levi, we wouldn’t need anyone else) For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.”

Yeshua came from Judah and was as such disqualified from being our high priest in heaven, but cleverly the writer of Hebrews gets another order of priests to make this work.

Verse 17 quotes our psalm today: “For it is attested of Him, (the second ‘Lord” of verse 1), “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110.4)
That’s what the author of Hebrews is helping us understand. Genealogy is not what makes Jesus able to be a priest and to make Peter into a priest. God has a second order, actually a primary order, a greater order, a better order, and the psalm tells us that this priesthood is forever. (Ps 110.4) Forever is better than the limited annual work of the Levitical priests. They daily worked, they annually worked, but they never perpetually worked.

That’s why we speak in the Creeds about how he “sat down at the right hand of the Father.” After Yeshua completed His work, dying on the cross, rising from the dead, He ascended into heaven and “is seated.” Why seated? Psalm 110, “Sit at my right hand UNTIL I make your enemies your footstool.” Sit down, not because Yeshua was tired, but the enthronement was both a seat of judgment (see the rest of Psalm 110), and due to His completing the task of eternal salvation for all of humanity. It’s a picture of triumph. Priests had to stand each year on Yom Kippur, and each day they ministered with sacrifices for sin in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple. The offerings were never-ending: done, undone, done, undone—the system shouted “Incomplete” and is represented by the standing priests. But when Yeshua offered Himself, once for all (meaning for all people) it was also once for all (meaning for all time). Why all time? Because “it is finished.” It is done. COMPLETE! For the people of Moses’ day, for the people of Isaiah’s day, of Yeshua’s day, and of our day, too, Hallelujah! And because of His work being done, He can and did sit down. (Hebrews 10.11-13)

Verse 23: “The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Yeshua, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Verse 26: “For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.” (Hebrews chapter 7)

So what do we learn?

Yeshua is our Great High Priest, not because he came from Judah, but because He came from Melchizedek’s order. He is a forever priest. He is God’s Son, equal with God. He is perfect and needed no atonement for his own sins. He is the one who hears us and who cares for us. He lives to make intercession for us. He saves to the uttermost. Glory to His name! And what about you?

Priests have a job to do, to mediate between the people and God, and between God and the people. That’s why we celebrate that we have Yeshua now who is the only mediator between God and men. No man needs to do it for us any longer. No man can do this any longer.

And what about us today? It’s great to learn of Yeshua’s priesthood. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin, therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4.15-16)

I mean, ok, after learning about Jesus, and His priesthood, and that He is awesome and fulfils biblical requirements, ok, so what?

In the same way God ordained Peter, God calls you to be a priest. That means you represent God to others and others to God. We speak about God to others and we speak about others to God. So we evangelise and we pray.

And listen to this odd phrase in Romans chapter 15.
“I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Messiah Yeshua to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15.15-16)

I say it’s odd because this is the only time in the Newer Testament that the word priest is used in verb form. And what we are as the Body of Messiah, here at Epping Baptist Church, and at all the other churches meeting just now, wherever the Gospel of Messiah is proclaimed, we are to function as a royal priesthood, if you will all of us together, reaching a lost world, bringing them to God and bringing God to them. We together are a witness and a holy one at that, of the Holy God. If you are not yet a believer, I urge you to hear these words, to consider Yeshua, our Great High Priest, who alone went into the Heavenly Tabernacle, made without hands, and secured our eternal forgiveness. Consider and receive Him as Saviour and Lord; He is our Messiah and the One who lives to intercede, and to cry out on our behalf. Hallelujah, what a Saviour! Then when you also join Him, and believe Yeshua died for your sins and rose from the dead for us all, then you can join us and make a clear proclamation to the world of God’s eternal message of hope and joy, of forgiveness and salvation.

That’s why I’m here today. To help you all see the priesthood of all believers, that is, that we all together, are a priesthood to the world, and to ask you to continue to pray for our work in Sydney, Australia and around the world. Quick story about a guy out west named Allen.

Story: Two days before Christmas I received an email from a confused Jewish man out in Perth. He didn’t string his sentences together the way I’m used to and I wondered if he were having a go at us. But he said he was Jewish and curious about God, so I wrote him back straightaway. He replied. I replied. It kept going and a phone call ensued. And on Christmas Eve, Allen prayed with me to accept Jesus as his Messiah and Lord. And his darkness is going away. God is saving him daily by His priestly ministry.

And we have loads more stories I want to tell you, from Budapest and Tel Aviv, from London and New York, to here in Sydney. This week into our shopfront in Bondi Junction came many Jewish people too.

I love that story. I have many others I want to tell you, but I’ll let the newsletter do that. Would you please fill out the white card you received on entry, tear the stub off, and begin to fill out the larger card. I won’t think it rude for you to write while I finish speaking. Please fill out the card completely, especially your email, so we can tell you stories quickly and you can pass them on via forward to many like this one. (For those online, just send an email will you please?) to admin@jewsforjesus.org.au will be happy to receive your contact information and anything you want to let us know about yourself.

If you are giving financially to Jews for Jesus today, please put the amount on the front of the card when you fill it out so we can receipt and thank you. I really appreciate that. (to donate, using PayPal, click on this link to donate Thanks.

Our book shop and ministry centre in Bondi Junction welcomes people all week, and every week for a decade unsaved Jewish people come in, like this week when Sebastian from Chile and Nick from Russia and Ariel from Israel all came in, to talk, to learn, to discuss.

I have a resource table up the back, and really want you to get some books on messianic prophecy like this one, or messianic music and many other items on the table.

By the way I also have a credit card machine, so you can use your card, a cheque, or cash to pay for things.
Pastor Andrew, thanks for letting me come today. Thanks to each of you here at Epping Baps who make this such a good place in a dark world. Remember, be His priests to the world that so needs to know Him. Keep doing what makes Yeshua happy and have a blessed Australia Day Tuesday.

19 January 2016

Admitting hypocrisy

I don't like knowing some things about myself. I know those things I do when I'm alone; I sometimes appreciate them. And I know what I have promised and commitments I've made. And I sometimes keep them. And sometimes I fail. That's the human condition. "To err is human," the Bard reminds me. But that doesn't mean I like to fail. Or want anyone else to know that I fail.

Edmund Burke said, "Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing." But I don't imagine myself as such. I actually intend to go beyond promise. I actually intend to perform vows and my own words. "I give you my word" is not a couched fingers-crossed intentional deception. It's a plan; it's a promise. And yet...

I love the phrase/ thought of American politician (from decades ago), Grover Norquist who said, "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue." Ouch. I don't want that tribute to be lip-service only. I want to be honest to goodness. I want to live what I say I will live. But Shakespeare was right, you know?

So what's a man to do? If I admit that I'm a hypocrite, am I still a hypocrite? Can hypocrisy be diminished by lowering my vows/ promises to the point of no one expecting anything from me? Is that a good solution? Was it Carl Jung who attributed hypocrisy to those who are not aware of the "dark or shadow-side of their nature"? But I am deeply aware of my dark side, so does that still make me a hypocrite?

The word 'hypocrite' comes from two Greek words, hupo and krino. Under and judgment. and has the notion of pretence.
I like the Wuest's note here which says, "a two-faced person; a "hypocrite," whose profession does not match their practice – i.e. someone who "says one thing but does another." So my question remains, "If I lower my profession, am I still a hypocrite?"

Yesterday I was in Tasmania and sitting with a few friends when a young woman and her dog sat next to us in the outdoor cafe. She was a lovely person and the dog was cute, too. We began a conversation which lasted probably longer than any of us anticipated. She had some ideas about God and Bible which were different than ours, yet the conversation was irenic and pleasant. She didn't agree with us, on most things, but there was something I said, which I don't remember ever saying to anyone before. I was referencing the book by Timothy Keller "The Reason for God" which I often recommend. I gave a series of talks from the book a couple years ago (Find the podcasts I led on Keller here .)

One of the characteristics I see in Keller is that he is a humble person. I admire that and hope to get there one day. So when I told the young woman about the book, about Keller's attempts to answer objections to people who ask about God and suffering and such, and that Keller admits that he doesn't know everything, she replied, "Aha! All Christians say that. And that's a cop out." She went on, "when coincidences happen which are good, you attribute those to God. But when things go badly, you don't have an answer, and you won't blame God for those." In other words, the suffering in the world, the plights of humankind in poverty and hunger, the 'bad' is unattributable. What I said next was new, and was something with which she agreed.

But first...what would you say?

I said, "Look, what kind of person would you like to learn from? Those who are know-it-alls or those who admit that they don't know everything? I suspect that you prefer humble people to people who are up themselves, am I right?" And she agreed with me. And I agreed with me. And my friends agreed with me. And now I wonder if you agree with me?

So is it still hypocrisy to live a little under our own judgment? Is it two-faced to fail now and then? Or is hypocrisy less condemning to me than I was thinking earlier? I certainly don't want to justify doing wrong, but is failure necessarily hypocrisy?

Four years ago, a Catholic priest wrote a blog on hypocrisy which I really appreciate. There Msgr Pope says, "[Hypocrites] are willing to adapt themselves often in dramatic ways to win approval. They are willing to play many roles and wear many masks to give the audience what they want. They are like actors on a stage, who seek applause or perhaps laughter and approval. Notice the way Jesus describes the heart of hypocrisy:
"Jesus said to his disciples: 'Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;'….The Lord goes on to say that they 'blow a trumpet so that others will see them giving alms,' they pray ostentatiously so that others may see they are praying, and they alter their appearance so that others may see they are fasting.
The heart of hypocrisy – Thus, the goal of such a person is to be seen." I also appreciate all the comments people made to Pope's blog. If you have time, read his comments and theirs. I think it will clarify this whole idea of hypocrisy. At least it may help. I hope so.

Let's help each other listen more to each other, and to believe the truths of the Scripture. Let's repent of our failures and admit those quickly to God and to those we hurt. That's not hypocrisy; that's good news. God is a forgiving God.

18 January 2016

The miser and the slippers by S. Brombacher

Photo Credit: AdamJiaoshi130

In a small village lived a very rich miser. Every time the local rabbi came to his door to collect funds for the poor, the miser would invite the rabbi in, offer the rabbi a glass of tea and talk about his business. When the rabbi started talking about the plight of the poor people in winter, the miser would brush him off and tell him that poor people like to complain--it wasn't all as bad as the rabbi thought. In any case, he had no cash in the house at the moment, and couldn't give anything right now. Could the rabbi come back another time? The miser would then escort the rabbi to the door, go back to his warm and comfortable room and settle down in his favorite chair near the fireplace, very pleased with himself.

But the rabbi was not pleased. The poor had no money for food or for wood for their stoves and they were cold and hungry.

One evening, the rabbi knocked on the rich miser's door. It was a cold and miserable night, snow and sleet blew through the deserted streets. The miser asked the rabbi in, as usual. But the rabbi refused. "'No," he said, "I won't be long." And then he inquired after the miser's health, and after the health of his family, and asked him about his business, and spoke about affairs of the community for a long time. The miser could not send the rabbi away, of course; he had opened the door for him himself. But he was getting quite uncomfortable. He had come to the door in his slippers and skullcap, dressed in a thin shirt and his house pants. The rabbi, wearing a warm coat with a fur lining, his biggest shtraymel covering his ears and heavy winter boots encasing his feet and legs, talked on and on. No, he didn't want to come in. No, really, he was on his way. The miser's toes became ice and stone.

Suddenly the miser understood. "Oh, Rabbi!" he cried. "Those poor people with no warm clothes or firewood for winter... I never knew. I never imagined it could be like this. This is miserable. It is horrible. I never knew, honestly! Something must be done!" He went into the house and returned with a purse full of gold coins. He wanted to go back to his fireplace as soon as he could. He needed hot tea. The rabbi thanked him and took the money. He, too, was cold after that long talk, but he didn't mind. The poor people would have a good winter this year.

The miser changed his ways that night. He became a regular contributor to the rabbi's funds for the poor, for poor brides, for poor students, for Passover money and for many other causes. He had learned a good lesson that night.

This story was written by Shoshannah Brombacher, of chabad.org. She studied ancient Near Eastern studies and codicology in Leyden (Holland), with her Ph.D. specializing in the medieval Hebrew poetry of the Amsterdam Sephardic-Portuguese community. She studied in Jerusalem, and lectured in Berlin and New York, where she devotes all her time to her family and her chassidic art. She painted from an early age, inspired by chassidic stories and Chagall works on her father’s bookshelves. She attended classes at an art academy, but considers herself “self-taught.” Her academic career, her passionate interest in chassidic life and her travel experiences (Europe, Egypt and Jerusalem) significantly influence the Jewish themes in her artwork.

11 January 2016

Densification and the new technocracy

Mark McCrindle is one of my go-to guys for trends in society, certainly in Australian society. He wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the latest trends and commented on this issue of crowding. He reports, "Australians have responded to the growth, with housing trends of densification, the growth in apartment living and "walkable" urban communities. In addition to this, the year ahead will see policy and political responses to population growth through more focus on growing regional centres, investing in public transport and road infrastructure, airport and flight movement expansions and renewed discussion of a very-fast train link between Sydney and Melbourne, which together are home to 40 percent of the national population."

In case you missed that, what Mark says is that more people are moving to Sydney and Melbourne from the countryside, where farming and cattle/ sheep stations are losing their populations, and internationals are moving to our capital cities, and since those two cities cannot really expand outward, they are expanding upward. In my own neighbourhood, on a section of land, formerly 18 houses on quarter acre plots were purchased over years, razed, and then developed (photo is of this structure) into 285 units without commensurate parking or other infrastructure services. We are buckling up for the crowdedness to continue everywhere there is a train line or good public transport via buses as well. Squeezing more people into same land means upward trends (but not necessarily upward mobility).

That may not mean anything to you just now, wherever you live, but be sure that this notion of packing-together will continue and demand for infrastructure will cost us all more in the years to come. If it doesn't cost you in money, it will cost you in time. Travel time will increase from one place to another, even if they put in a new fast-train from Sydney to Melbourne, as crowds don't make for ease on any level. Widening roads, increased toll charges, higher costs for products to transport from one place to another... all will assist this troubling trend.

McCrindle also comments on technocracy, which would translate to "the power of technology." He writes, "Technology is now empowering and, in many ways, improving democracy. Traditionally, democracy worked through corresponding with one's local Member of Parliament, signing petitions to be tabled, and of course voting in elections. However, in a technocracy, tweets, trending hashtags, likes and online campaigns have the power to reverse government decisions and influence policy priorities. Such clicktivism gives voice to those beyond adults and enrolled voters and those outside of an electoral or state boundary."

We have been calling this the 'democratisation of information' but I like the term 'technocracy.' When in the past you wanted to know something, you went to an authority, like a rabbi, a teacher, a librarian, someone in authority. Now the blogosphere/ world of tweets has given us anyone as an authority. That's good news and bad news at the same time. Good that any informed person can actually share what they know, to anyone who is actually asking. The truth can get to you fairly quickly, thanks to Google.
What's bad is that people who don't know what they are saying still can say it, and gather a following. Being heard is key to Twitter and Facebook, and the issue of being heard may replace the need to be right, but I'll leave that to the sociologists.

So a madman from ISIS or Boko Haram can write/ video his truth, and voila, some other madman in San Bernardino or Paris will take up the cause and kill and maim. The power (cracy) that people long for, the power to be heard, the power to matter, the power to have significance... are not going to be found in gathering followers. The power of technology is useful for disbursing information and learning when the movie you want to see is showing, but it's useless in being a person of worth. For that, you need the power of God. He alone gives worth to people. He alone shares purpose with you. And this is something we need, more and more, as crowds gather and swarm around us, as information technology passes us by, as Uber drivers and Flipagrams replace the local taxi and YouTube we just discovered.

Don't get lost in the madness; don't get lost in the shuffle. The great Jewish king Solomon wrote, "The LORD has made everything for its own purpose." (Proverbs 16.4) You want to find (your own) significance? Turn towards the Lord who knows you better than anyone (else) and wants to give you your own raison d'être. He will help you sort out the mess, the confusion, the disorientation, and bring you meaning beyond words, and beyond technology and beyond the crowd.

It won't hurt to try.

10 January 2016


by Bob Mendelsohn
I'm writing this blog in the air. Not in my back yard overlooking the creek. Not from a high-rise building. But from 36,000 feet, on a United Airlines jet plane. I plugged my computer into the power point, strengthening the battery for the long haul 13-hour flight, signed up for the Wi-Fi service, and began working as if I were in the office in Sydney. Only I was sitting in seat 33 and not standing at our work stations in Bondi. Otherwise, it felt the same. Answering emails, uploading photos to Flickr and to our Social Media calendar for the weeks ahead, And sending this blog to the blogosphere....it all seemed so ordinary. BUT IT'S NOT ORDINARY! When you think about it, it's fascinating. 350 other people are with me, flying at 800-1000 kph, across the Pacific Ocean, and I'm typing like I'm sitting in an office back home. You couldn't even get normal people 50 years ago to 'get it' about this one, could you?

Other things fascinate me, like watching magicians perform publicly, and trying to figure out how they do that! This defensive ball of an armadillo amazes me as does watching fairly drunk men in a pub throw very sharp darts at a little circular cork board. Standard height from the floor to the bullseye on the dartboard is 5 feet 8 inches, while the oche (distance between the front of the board and the toeline) should measure 7 feet 9.25 inches. How do they even see the dart board, much less hit it and calculate backwards from 501 to gain dart game supremacy? Fascinating.

What fascinates you? What intrigues you? What grabs your attention?

A Jewish man 3,000 years ago wrote some fascinations he had in Proverbs chapter 30. "There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Four which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the middle of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid." (verses 18-19)

I like Agur the son of Jakeh who penned those words. I too am fascinated by so many things, including how I'm able to stay up here in the air, or an eagle can do that, how a ship below can make it over the course of weeks, and that whole man/ woman curiosity. I get it. I mean, I don't get it. Which is what fascinates me.

Two days before Christmas, just as I was readying to exit for a somewhat lengthy holiday, our office received an email from a Jewish man out west. His language and tone were such that I had to answer it and enquire about his religious journey. When the next day he and I spoke on the phone and he prayed to receive Jesus as his Messiah and Lord, I was again fascinated (or as Aussies usually say, gobsmacked). Why does it take 20 hours for some and 20 years for others. My grandmother heard me testify about Yeshua in 1971 when I got saved, but it wasn't until 1991 when she gave her life to Him. What it is that gives us opportunity after opportunity to witness of God's love to some, and others won't even give us a chance to speak for a moment? It's God's plans, and God's sovereignty. And we rest in that. And we rest in Him.

Stop to ponder something just now which is full of wonder. Something which is 'beyond' the normal of your life.
The Hebrew word is להקסים (L'haksim) which carries alternate meanings of "intrigue , matter to , interest ; transfix , grip , spellbind , interest ; capture , enamour , trance , catch , becharm , enamor , captivate , beguile , charm , bewitch , entrance , enchant , attract , appeal... Definitely not the normal.

I appreciate the Christians of the Great Southland of the Holy Spirit. I moved to Australia in 1998 and although we had very very little by way of support, the believers here have not only taken our mission on board as worthy of support, but they also come to buy products at the shop (or order online), volunteer with us, send money monthly or once in a while... it's amazing, it's fascinating. God nods to us through you, and we are grateful.

Let God captivate you the rest of January and the rest of the year with His love and surprises.

09 January 2016

Morals and sports

When Pete Rose, known as Charlie Hustle, was discovered as having gambled on professional sports games, he lost his place in American baseball history. Look who he was and then consider how he fell. Rose played from 1963 to 1986, and managed from 1984 to 1989.

Rose is the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053), singles (3,215), and outs (10,328). His teams won the World Series three times, three batting titles, one Most Valuable Player Award, two Gold Gloves, the Rookie of the Year Award, and also made 17 All-Star appearances at an unequaled five different positions (2B, LF, RF, 3B, and 1B).

In August 1989, three years after he retired as an active player, Rose agreed to permanent ineligibility from baseball amidst accusations that he gambled on baseball games while playing for and managing the Reds, including claims that he bet on his own team. In 1991, the Baseball Hall of Fame formally voted to ban those on the "permanently ineligible" list from induction, after previously excluding such players by informal agreement among voters. In 2004, after years of public denial, Rose admitted to betting on baseball and on, but not against, the Reds.

Wessel Johannes "Hansie" Cronje was a South African cricketer and captain of the South African national cricket team in the 1990s. He died in a plane crash in 2002. He was voted the 11th greatest South African in 2004 despite having been banned from cricket for life due to his role in a match-fixing scandal.

In cycling, Lance Armstrong (born September 18, 1971) is an American former professional road racing cyclist. He previously won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, but was stripped of those victories in 2012 after a protracted doping scandal.

I get it, gambling and fixing games is illegal and immoral and very much out of bounds for a sportsman, whether in baseball, cricket, boxing and the like. Here in Australia,, according to Channel 9, after crisis meetings with the National Rugby League were scaling back the use of Tom Waterhouse within its coverage after conceding his role between bookmaker and commentator had been ‘blurred’. And using illegal substances to assist in victory, that's clearly wrong. Last year five Gold Coast Titans rugby league players and Queensland Reds rugby union player Karmichael Hunt were stood down after they were charged over allegations related to drug supply offences. But lately a new type of morality is being required of sportsmen which seems of a different category.

This time it's related to drinking alcohol, taking drugs (not for doping, but for pleasure), and being sexual outside of traditional marriage. Somehow, all of these are wrong for role models like professional sports people, although they are glorified on our television and movie screens every day. Helen Razer writes a weekly column for Daily Review, and were her language PG instead of R-rated, I would offer her actual website to read. Instead, I'll simply quote from her article from last August, "DON’T LOOK FOR MORAL GUIDANCE FROM SPORT STARS – OR SPORT WRITERS". She said after Nick Kyrgios acted unbecoming for a sportsman, "We must also say that people who are good at sport carry with them not only exceptional statistics but the moral responsibility for an entire nation. And this is why an unremarkable citizen can become the “greatest Australian ever” [she references Sir Donald Bradman] and why Kyrgios can make local headlines for a week for saying just what many overpaid 19-year-olds with risky haircuts are bound to say until they grow up and out of fashion."

Kirk O. Hanson and Matt Savage wrote about this in their 2012 article, "What Role Does Ethics Play in Sports?" published in Santa Clara (Calif) University. "Some argue for a "bracketed morality" within sports. This approach holds that sport and competition are set apart from real life, and occupy a realm where ethics and moral codes do not apply. Instead, some argue, sports serves as an outlet for our primal aggression and a selfish need for recognition and respect gained through the conquering of an opponent. In this view, aggression and victory are the only virtues. For example, a football player may be described as mean and nasty on the field, but kind and gentle in everyday life. His violent disposition on the field is not wrong because when he is playing the game he is part of an amoral reality that is dictated only by the principle of winning.

An ethical approach to sport rejects this bracketed morality and honors the game and one's opponent through tough but fair play. This means understanding the rules and their importance in encouraging respect for your opponent, which pushes you to be your best."

So who decides on the morality and ethical standard to which all professional sports people should comply?

04 January 2016

Christmas and that man with the thorns

Adapted with attribution from
"Kabbalah Kronicles 34 by Uncle Zally / Zalman Velvet

"I arrived at the computer store ten minutes before midnight, on the last Thursday in November, hoping to avoid the crowds the following morning, known as Black Friday. Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in the US. It's "black" because retailers hope to get out of the 'red' by the enormous volume of sales that day. However, when I arrived at Best Buy, I got a big surprise – there was a line of people in front of the store a kilometre long.

“Oh Great!” I said to myself.
At five minutes to midnight, the front doors were still locked. There was a nasty-looking female security guard waiting behind them, with a taser and a Glock 9 hanging off each hip, an M-16 in one hand, a turkey drumstick in the other. There was a tent right up front, with the line starting behind it. From inside the tent, a young man in his 30’s peeked out. He was unusual looking, with deep blue eyes, long hair, a short beard, and was covered with a sheet.

“Why are there so many people waiting to get in?” I asked him.
“They’re selling iPads, with Wi-Fi / 4G and 128GB of memory, for $39.”
Wow, I thought. The retail price was over $800. I could use one at $39.
“How many are they selling?” I asked, counting the people I could see. There were about two thousand.
“Yes. They announced it November 1st. I’ve been camping here since then.”
I thought, living in a tent outside Best Buy for more than three weeks, in order to save $700 … sounded a little over the top.

“I am going to buy all five, if they let me,” he continued. “I can then re-sell them quickly, and make three thousand dollars. Then I can help a lot of hungry people with $3,000.” Then the young man stepped out of the tent. The sheet was really a robe. On his feet were sandals. Around his head was a crown of thorns.

In his eyes was a special light.
The people on line suddenly became very quiet. It is a very solemn moment when two thousand people grew silent, while they are waiting to nab a $39 iPad.

“What is your name?” I asked.
He did not answer.
“Well, when were you born?” I asked.
I’ll wager most of you can tell me when.
I’ll also wager most of you can tell me why that day is supposed to be important.

And I’ll also wager that no one can explain why standing outside Best Buy waiting for a $39 iPad, after USA Thanksgiving, has anything to do with the birth of the man standing there in a robe, sandals, and a crown of thorns."

Thanks for that reminder Uncle Zally. With gratitude for the man with the thorns.

01 January 2016

Fire and rain...Turbulence in Sweet '16

No one in Australia would have been unaware of the millions of dollars being spent in the New Years Eve fireworks shows in Sydney and Melbourne and to little villages and small country towns all over the country. The Brisbane River attracted 100,000 visitors and Perth, Adelaide, Wodonga and everywhere brought in the new year with joy and merriment.

Down in Mosquito Hill, Currency Creek, South Australia, yesterday 15 homes were directly threatened, and 310 hectares were scorched. Thanks to 200 firefighters, no deaths were reported and the fire is "contained" which is great news. Not so the people of Wye River where many are still homeless from last week's major fires along the Great Ocean Road. Kennett River (Victoria) home owners were evacuated yesterday, but thankfully no one saw their home destroyed.

In Dubai, a skyscraper is ablaze. The fire erupted ahead of a major New Year's Eve fireworks display, due to be held at the Burj Khalifa. Crowds gathering to watch the display have been asked to leave. Fire appeared to have engulfed much of the building, which has more than 60 stories and is a luxury five-star hotel and apartment complex.

Up in the US in the state of my origin, Missouri, major flooding and rain is threatening all around St Louis and environs of the Mississippi River and other rivers, cresting above levees. Intense flooding has killed at least 20 people and forced hundreds of roads to close across Missouri and neighbour Illinois. Rain-swollen rivers will set records in the Mississippi River basin through much of January. Flooding on the middle and lower portion of the Mississippi River and some of its tributaries may reach levels not seen during the winter months since information began being recorded in the middle of the 19th Century.

Residents in Secret Harbour are being warned again of bush fires today with memories of last November when fires caused havoc in the Perth suburb.

I'm in Howlong as the year begins, on the Mighty Murray River, and there is no flooding here, and no fires. And only small crowds at the Bowling Club last night to watch a tribute group of the Little River Band (http://www.littleriverband.com). LRB was formed in the mid-70s in Melbourne, so it was fitting to hear them play last night, although I have to admit, I heard them through my window as I was weary from a day of golf, heat and reading.

The question for many from Bondi Beach to Brooklyn, from Paris to Perth will be... is 2016 going to be Sweet '16 or painfully reminiscent of the troubles of 2015? James Taylor wrote and performed the song "Fire and Rain" and I thought of this often the last couple weeks. He had seen 'sunny days that I thought would never end" and then there were the troubled times without his Suzanne. I guess the lyrics that hit me the most during those days, and even 4 decades later in my days are here:
"Won't you look down upon me, Jesus, You've got to help me make a stand.
You've just got to see me through another day.
My body's aching and my time is at hand and I won't make it any other way."

I won't make it any other way than with Jesus. He has to be my rock and stability in the midst of flooding waters. He has to be my cool and calm in the midst of storms and fires. He has to be the reason for my celebrating New Years or New Days. He is the reality and the joy of my being. Being born again by Him 44 years ago didn't just give me an entry ticket to heaven; it brought heaven to me in my days. And is available to you as well.

Taylor's prayer can be your prayer. Even today. Even now? Happy 2016.