25 July 2017

Flashback and memories


King Arthur sings a reprise of the title song in the Broadway show "Camelot" as the play comes to an end. The majesty of the scenes, the songs, the triumphs, the never-ending nature of optimism is found in the earlier lyrics, but this is the final number, with a bit of a tear-turned-away and softening of memories, Arthur and Tom sing,
ARTHUR:
"Each evening, from December to December,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.

Ask ev'ry person if he's heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!
Now say it out with pride and joy!
TOM:
Camelot! Camelot!

ARTHUR:
Yes, Camelot, my boy!
Where once it never rained till after sundown,
By eight a.m. the morning fog had flown...
Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot."

That's what I'm pondering today as I read the obituary of yet another of my friends from decades gone by. No one would have doubted that John Rooker, student council or Senior class president or whatever his titles were, would be a success and live long and prosper after we graduated in 1969. Many who remembered him from our class in the requisite Facebook historical revue this last week have commented on his kindness, his energy, his wonderful voice and acting ability. No one is saying, "Oy, I hated that Rooker guy..." because that's not what you are to do in times like these, AND because I seriously doubt if anyone did feel like that about John.

But whatever that season of our lives was when Janis Joplin and Peter, Paul and Mary were singing, when Midnight Cowboy was rated X, when Woodstock took the world by storm and Richard Nixon was still up to his ears in government, for John and most of us remembering, it was a Camelot-type moment.

Arthur and the chorus sang earlier, "In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here In Camelot."

This is the stuff that fairy tales are made of. And yet, in the end, they sing about this being one "brief shining moment." Those moments don't last-- neither in their activity, nor in their resultant accolades. In modern days we use the phrase, "15 minutes of fame" and no matter how long on the clock they actually remain, it bears witness to the reality that all of that glory is a "fleeting wisp."

If that be so, then why bother? If our energies for honor and history are but for a moment, then what's the point?

The point is to make the world better, one person at a time. We don't have to be encircled by the millions at the Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC. We don't need accolades then nor now. What we need is to have purpose in life, and strive to make that happen, to the betterment of the world and its people. Then our sleep will be sweet, Then we can look the (wo)man-in-the-mirror each day with something better than smugness or shame. We can look with rigorous honesty and thank the Creator for making us such, and get on with the plan.

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.