09 September 2017

Pride comes before a fall


The book of Proverbs says, "Pride goes before a fall." (16.18) An online dictionary 'translates' this to "said to emphasize that if you are too confident about your abilities, something bad will happen that shows that you are not as good as you think." That pronouncement makes sense to anyone who was running first and ended dead last. It makes sense to those who watched Steven Bradbury win the Olympic gold medal in 2002 in the 1,000-metre speed skating event. But making sense doesn't always translate to owning something.

I really liked Alex Smith's comments after Thursday night's victory of the Kansas City Chiefs over the almost-never-lose-at-home New England Patriots at Foxboro. Tom Brady led the opening drive for the Pats into the Chiefs' end zone without so much as a drop of sweat. After a fumble by the Chiefs on the next play, Brady had the Pats down at the Chiefs' goal again. But some serious defence and some good continuing work by special teams and both sides of the ball, and the Chiefs ended up winning 42 to 27. BJ Kissel, Chiefs' reporter, wrote this, "Despite the impressive victory, which moving forward will probably earn the Chiefs much more respect nationally, Smith isn’t making it any more than what it is in the bigger picture.

“I think you have to be able to handle defeat, as well as victory, the right way, and I think each can deter you because you put a lot of emotion into it,” Smith said. “You certainly get this victory, but you can’t forget that it’s 1-of-16, right? You’ve got to keep that same mentality week in and week out – the attention-to-detail mentality.

“Just because you do it one night, doesn’t mean it will just carry over. You have to find a way to beat the next opponent and the unique challenge they present.”

I really liked Smith's comments. It's a humility that doesn't look like most of the showboating of most of the NFL players. Think about how often the split end catches a pretty easy touchdown pass and goes into all kinds of antics. It's usually embarrassing or at least annoying to those of us at home who simply want to watch football, and not showboats. But Smith isn't in that category. His humility shows. And it's contagious. At least, we hope it catches.

I need to learn what Alex lives. My sins and failures are my own doing and most of the time I could have done better. I know better, but my pride, arrogance, and self-vaunting trip me into thinking I'm doing better than I really am. The Apostle Paul knew this well and warned the Corinthian believers, saying, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed, so that he does not fall." (1 Cor. 10.12). Why don't I listen to that? Why do I follow the show offs in the end zone, rather than the leader who really knows how to lead? I'll work on this. And I encourage you to do the same. Let's meet at the bottom. Humility is its own reward. And maybe a victory or two as well. Not a bad result, you know?

02 September 2017

Father's Day Sermon: Penitential Prayers and Promised Messiah


Prayers of repentance and God’s answers:
A study in Daniel 9

Given by Bob Mendelsohn
Father’s Day: 3 September 2017
LCM Churches, Lane Cove, NSW

Salutation
Thank you Darren, and all the staff, and all the volunteers who make LCM such a great place in Lane Cove, among His people on the North Shore. Thank you for welcoming me again this morning to teach in our congregation’s series on the book of Daniel. I’ve been assigned chapter nine, and I’m grateful to share this with you.[Online folks, the entire text is at the bottom of this blog]

Introduction
In a couple weeks on 20 September, Jewish people worldwide will pray penitential prayers, confessing sins and entering into what is known as the Ten Days of Awe or Ten Days of Repentance with serious considerations of sin. This might make sense to you, here at Lane Cove, that Jewish people should do that, but some of you might know that most Jewish people don’t think much about sin, that is, throughout the year. We give ourselves to good works, to charity, to benefiting the world, but not to our own measure or level of holiness. Sin is a Christian issue, most would aver, but not one with which we have to deal. But this season speaks differently and certainly today’s reading in Daniel 9 screams loudly that this is not the case. In this passage we’ve just heard read it is clear. [If you are listening online, please pause this talk just now and read the whole 27 verses, then come back to hearing what we are saying. Thank you.]

Daniel, as you have been learning here at church, is a noble, great character, the kind of guy you want to have at youth group. The kind of man you want to work with you in the next office. He’s the kind of person you want in your home group. He knew when to speak and when to be silent. He knew that God was able to do amazing things, and yet, even if He didn’t, Daniel was going to trust Him.

So in today’s reading we see Daniel taking on board the sins of the Jewish people so as to bring them to the Almighty and for Him to deal with them in His timing. And we see God’s promise of a Messiah to come, to be the hero/Savior we need to deliver us from the very issues Daniel is confessing.

I. OBSERVATION OF THE TIMES
Before we look at Daniel’s lengthy prayer and God’s answer, let’s note what prompts it. Babylon is now ruled by a king of Median birth, as Jeremiah had promised (51:28). The punishment that Jeremiah threatened (25:12–14) has begun. The restoration of the exiles (Jer 29:10), and the restoration of Jerusalem that Isaiah and Ezekiel promised, ought therefore to be imminent. Thus we can imagine an exilic Daniel noting the passages in Jeremiah 25-29 that spoke of a seventy–year exile and wondering about their fulfilment; Zechariah, after all, did so.

What prompts Daniel’s prayer is observing the situation. When King David raised an army, people came from throughout the land to sign up. Of note were “the sons of Issachar, who were men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do.” (1 Chronicles 12.32) These were people who listened to their prophets and saw the signs of the times. Listen, to make changes, you have to know when change is required. Alarms might be annoying to you when you hear one outside your home, but you can be sure that the alarm is designed to assist, not to annoy. Someone is being burgled, or a smoke alarm notifies us of imminent danger with fire or such. A red light on your car’s dashboard may bother you, but be sure to get to the servo sooner rather than later to see to the problem. Alarms signal problems. Only the foolish dismiss such alarms.

II. PREPARATION FOR PRAYER
That God has spoken through the prophets (Amos 3.7) does not mean that all the believer needs to do today is sit, Fin Review and ABC radio at hand, awaiting the outcomes. The appropriate response to prophecy is prayer. And before Daniel goes to the Temple to pray, before he sends out an email and shows on Instagram his bent knees, he readies himself. He drops everything. He cancels his appointments. He wakes early. And the book says, he ‘gave my attention’ but the Hebrew says he “gave his face” to the Lord. That means he got serious about things. Nothing else mattered. He turned off the TV. Face to face, he stood before God. Five things were used: prayers, supplications, fasting, sackcloth and ashes. Physical reminders of significance. And conversation with the God of the universe. Daniel had seen the signs; he knew the 70 years were up. The kingdom had changed, Darius was now king, the Medes ruled. Now he moves to prayer. And it’s a serious preparation of prayer that begins.

I don’t know how you pray. Some close their eyes. Some bow their heads or bend their knees. Some sing. They say, “He who sings, prays twice.” Whatever you do to pray, getting into a new position, or into a new chair, lighting a candle or wearing special accoutrements …whatever you can do to prepare, do it. Knowing that the bent knee doesn’t impress God. The scent of the candle does not notify Him that He needs to turn and listen more closely. All of the preparation is for us, for our ‘giving our face’ to the Lord. His hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear too dull that he cannot hear. Our prayerfulness is about our rigorous honesty with Him.

III. PRAYERS FOR SELF/ FOR THE PEOPLE
This set of confessional prayers in chapter nine of Daniel are similar to the Selichot, the penitential prayers said on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah in the modern Jewish religion, that will be the 16th September this year. Most Jewish gatherings, certainly prayer meetings, happen in the daytime, but the Selichot prayers are offered around midnight. They are prayers and responses, sometimes sung in chorus, or merely uttered by individuals to get God’s attention, to remind Him to be merciful, to remind ourselves that we have sinned. The Hebrew word, “Selichot” means “sorries” and the root of that word is used in our text today at least two times.

The Midrash relates that King David was anguished when he foresaw the destruction of the Holy Temple hundreds of years in the future, along with the cessation of the offering of the sacrifices. “How will the Jews atone for their sins?” he wondered.

G‑d replied: “When suffering will befall the Jews because of their sins, they should gather before Me in complete unity. Together they shall confess their sins and recite the order of the Selichot, and I will answer their prayers.”

That’s how the rabbis dealt with their losses, and the obvious problem of the lack of blood sacrifices. I appreciate their challenge and their conclusion, but their answer is dead wrong. We do have to look at current settings and make determinations about our lives and our religion. To be sure. Daniel certainly did just that as he observed the times.

The answer to the situation of our losses, however, is not to commend ourselves. We have no good works in ourselves, we admit on Rosh Hashanah. So why do we count our prayers as ‘good enough?’ In verse 18, Daniel says, “we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion.“ The only way to be sure of God’s answers is not to commend ourselves. Israel (and dare I say Sydney Anglicans) has never been worthy of high praise from heaven. Every prophet in the Bible has nailed our people again and again with words of rebuke, our disregard of the Almighty, our failure to live justly in the land or outside the land. Our sins are ever before Him. What can we do? Perform good deeds? As if that would be enough?

Look, if you kill a guy and go to court, saying in your defense that you will do better next time, that’s a good resolve but the issue is the murder, not the future goodness you might demonstrate.

Our prayers of repentance bring God’s answer, if we are counting on His compassion. Even our prayers are not enough; God alone is our salvation.

a. Prayer begins with Praise
Daniel prayed for himself, he prayed for Israel, he prayed that God would exalt Himself in our midst. In verse 4 Daniel starts with prayer the way prayer should always begin, “God, you are…” Prayer begins with acknowledging who God is. Nehemiah began his prayer with the same words. (9.13) Joel uses this same phrase. (2.13) These are the words of God to Moses in Exodus 34 “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.” (v. 6) Even Jonah prayed this prayer with anger, saying something like, ‘God, I knew you were like this…that’s why I didn’t want you to send me to Nineveh…’ (4.2-3) Prayer begins with preparations of self and then in verbiage with praise for who God is. Tell God who He is. It’s a reminder to ourselves; it’s a reminder to the Almighty.

b. Prayer of intercession continues with confession of sins
Verse 5: We have sinned.
Who sinned? Daniel said, “we have.” In reality, they have. But owning our national or civic or family sins.. that’s the mark of a saint. Corporate identification by a man of God for the people of God. This is a mark of humility which was evidenced in his sackcloth and ashes prep work. These are the words of a man who wants the work of God in his own days. And the list of sins is comprehensive.

We have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened” …unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. Open shame belongs to us.” so the curse has been poured out on us.

As a result of all this sin, shame, even open shame is ours by right. By the way, “open” is the word for ‘face’ again. Shame in our face. Shame on our face, like a cream pie in an old sight gag, but this time, it’s mud and grime, and wickedness all over us. This, Daniel says, is the curse which has been poured out on us. We cannot hide it.

Prayer began with situational setting, then moved into praise and then confession of sins.
Daniel litanizes God’s righteousness and His right to do whatever He wants. He has declared His will in His word, so, Daniel alleges, please be consistent as you have been. And in the midst of this massive confessional, again Daniel reminds both himself and God that “To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness”

This is consistent with God in the Scriptures, he says. in
v. 11: oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him.;
v. 12: He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us
v. 13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us.”

c. Intercession required identification.
For truly intercessional prayers, the identification with the people is required of the intercessor. It’s not a “God bless those guys” type of prayer. It’s a God, help us! The use of the first person plural is uncomfortable for some. It is for me. When I see people sinning, what does that have to do with me? But the corporate nature of our community, of our nation, of our country, of Israel.. it’s not to be missed. The Enlightenment and our tall fences outside our houses made us think we were islands, all alone, but the reality is that we are in this thing together.

How many times do you share what you believe with people and they answer you with “I don’t need church. I can pray on my own at home.” And to be fair, that has a good amount of truth in it. But what they don’t see is that we together are the church, and each of us is merely a blade in the lawn of grass, which when a larger foot comes along to trample us, will succeed if we are not joined together in the community. We need one another. We support each other. We hold each other accountable. And when it’s time for prayer, it’s not private. It’s corporate. That’s why we say, “Our Father” and not “My Father who art in heaven.” “Give us this day our daily bread.” Get it?

So when Daniel prays about Israel’s sins, he lists himself as a member of the needy community. We have sinned. We have failed. We are wrong. God have mercy.

Verse 20, he confesses his own sins, and the sins of Israel. That’s honorable. That’s how this intercession works.

IV. GABRIEL SHOWS UP: PROMISES MESSIAH
The final section of chapter nine may well be said to be God’s answer to Daniel’s prayers. By the way, many rabbis won’t let their students read the end of this chapter until they are 30 years old. You will see why in a moment. The chapter ends with a description of some more messianic credentials.

As this angel explains, there are some numbers, or years, some famous personages and events, and some radical fixes that are going to take place.

The problems Daniel talked of in his prayer are going to be met with a divine answer. Even as Isaiah has said, “The Lord Himself” will do something. Here we see three things that will hallmark the answer to Daniel’s prayers.

1) Messiah will die The death of Messiah was startling to me to read about in 1971. I had been raised an Orthodox Jew in the US, in Kansas City. There I learned about Messiah and about our religion. But I never knew Messiah would have pain and suffering in his own life. I knew we Jews were to suffer, and by that we would bring good to the world. I knew Messiah would conquer evil, but that he would suffer and die? Totally new to me.

Had I read the sources I would have learned that Rashi, the famous medieval rabbi, one of the top 5 rabbis of all times, taught Messiah would die and his son or grandson would take over. In 1994 a rabbi died in New York. Not surprising, since there are 2 million Jewish people who live in the environs of that great city. But this rabbi, Menachem Schneerson was different. Some had touted him to be the messiah. Some to this day continue to say that about him.

When he died that summer of 1994, tens of thousands of Jews gathered from around the world there in New York City to honour him but beyond that, to await his imminent resurrection. The rabbis teach that the spirit of a man hovers over a corpse for three days, but on the fourth day it departs. The rabbis and those who claimed Schneerson, The Rebbe, was the messiah were not surprised by his passing. But after he didn’t rise from the dead by the fourth day, they left his gravesite. Verse 26 says “Messiah will be cut off.” Cut off from what? Like Isaiah said, “cut off from the land of the living.” In other words, He would die.

2) Messiah will die in a certain timeframe
The business of the calculations of the 70 weeks, or 62 weeks, or the 7 weeks, is all a bit confusing. Let me tell you this, there is no agreement among scholars on this one. But looking at the events of verses 25 and 26, there seems to be some marking that might help. Verse 25 says the time clock can begin ticking when you “know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah”. OK, when was this decree? Under Artaxerxes in the year 444 BCE. That’s when the permission was given to the Jewish people to go back and fix the Temple and the City.

And in verse 26 we read the end marker of the time period, “the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the City and the Sanctuary” and we even know what sanctuary we are addressing, from verse 24 “to anoint the Most Holy Place” (kodesh k’doshim). The ending is the destruction of the most holy place for Jewish people (obviously the Temple) and the City (Jerusalem) which will take place in 70 CE.

Looking at those two markers and using ‘weeks’ to mean ‘years” which would be consistent with Daniel’s use the 70 years and the use of a variant of the Hebrew word for ‘weeks’ anyway, then after 483 years between 444 BCE and ending by 70 CE, the Messiah had to die. However we calculate this, and in this book by Moishe Rosen, this prophecy is unpacked in a mere 3 pages with great clarity, we know Messiah will die during what you and I and historians and archaeologists call “The Second Temple period.” And with the weight on the weeks in the end, Messiah will die in what we call “The First Century.” No wonder so many rabbis won’t let their students read this passage until later on in life.

3) Messiah’s death will bring atonement
Finally we get to the purpose of Messiah’s death. It says in verse 24 to “finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness.” The purpose of the death of Messiah is to answer the prayers of Daniel, to fix what is broken in our world. He will heal all the brokenness of lives, of families, of governments. He will put an end to wars and vanities. He will make the wolf lie down with the lamb. He will restore all that is broken in our lives. And set up His Kingdom once and for all. The Forever Father’s Day will be seen as we read last week, “One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (7.13-14)

What a day of rejoicing that will be!
What Jesus did in dying for us on the cross, in the First Century, exactly 483 years after the edict to restore Jerusalem, brought victory and salvation, in answer to Daniel’s prayers, in answer to Isaiah’s prayers, and to Hannah’s prayers. Now here’s even better news for most of you-- it’s not only for Jewish people. Messiah died in fulfilment of prophecy. What Jesus did was to bring in a dominion which is “for all the peoples, nations, and men of every language” Even Kiwis. Even Brits. Even those who barrack for the Hawthorn Hawks. Even all you Gentiles.

The scandal of God’s redemption for all people was never hidden from view in the Scriptures, but dismissed by many throughout time. I missed it. Most of my Jewish people miss it. Don’t you miss it. The Word is for all peoples. For your neighbours. For your friends. For those you don’t like.

Let us bring them the Good Word of the Lord. Let everyone hear. Messiah has come; Messiah died. He rose again. He lives today. And Messiah will come again in glory. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

What other lessons do we learn for our lives today from Daniel 9?
First, see the situation, whatever that is, at work, at home, in your personal life. Evaluate it on the basis of Scripture, and your own heart. Be honest. Rigorously honest.

Then, Intercede as the situation demands, for others, include yourself, of course, but widen it, to include your community, your church, your family.

Wait for God’s answer, for it will surely come, maybe not as quickly as you request, but be confident, that’s what faith requires.

Finally, celebrate the God who answers in His time. He is worthy of all praise. He has done all things necessary to receive such accolades.

I’m happy to be part of this family of faith for the last 19 years. Patty and I along with our kids moved here in August 1998, and it’s been a good innings. We are honoured to be part of your financial considerations as well, as some of you have been giving to Jews for Jesus for a while, and others are invited to do so today, using that white card, or the tap and go credit card machine I have in the back at the resource table. [If you are listening online, you can give to Jews for Jesus on PayPal or on our website, ]

Please fill out that white card; please extend to us the privilege to share with you again as a result of that filling out the card. So many Jewish people are listening, at our book shop, in their homes, around the globe, in Berlin, Jerusalem, on the streets of Budapest right now, and here in Australia.
Thanks for your prayers for us.
Thanks for interceding for us and along with us, for the Jewish people, during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and throughout our days, until Messiah returns.
What a day of rejoicing that will be.

Shalom.
For those online, if you want to join us for Rosh Hashanah in Bondi Junction, register here using “Free ticket” button. We are happy to host you. Thursday 21 September. 11 a.m.


Text of Daniel 9 for those without it:
Dan. 9.1 ¶ In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans —
Dan. 9.2 in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
Dan. 9.3 So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.
Dan. 9.4 And I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,
Dan. 9.5 we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and b rebelled, even turning aside from Thy commandments and ordinances.
Dan. 9.6 “Moreover, we have not listened to Thy servants the prophets, who spoke in Thy name to our kings, our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land.
Dan. 9.7 “Righteousness belongs to Thee, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day — to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which Thou hast driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against Thee.
Dan. 9.8 “Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against Thee.
Dan. 9.9 “To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, 1for we have rebelled against Him;
Dan. 9.10 nor have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His 1teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets.
Dan. 9.11 “Indeed all Israel has transgressed Thy law and turned aside, not obeying Thy voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him.
Dan. 9.12 “Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem.
Dan. 9.13 “As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Thy truth.
Dan. 9.14 “Therefore, the Lord has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.
Dan. 9.15 “And now, O Lord our God, who hast brought Thy people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and hast made a name for Thyself, as it is this day — we have sinned, we have been wicked.
Dan. 9.16 “O Lord, in accordance with all Thy righteous acts, let now Thine anger and Thy wrath turn away from Thy city Jerusalem, Thy holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Thy people have become a reproach to all those around us.
Dan. 9.17 “So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Thy servant and to his supplications, and for Thy sake, O Lord, let Thy face shine on Thy desolate sanctuary.
Dan. 9.18 “O my God, incline Thine ear and hear! Open Thine eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Thy name; for we are not presenting our supplications before Thee on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Thy great compassion.
Dan. 9.19 “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Thine own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name.”
Dan. 9.20 ¶ Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God,
Dan. 9.21 while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering.
Dan. 9.22 And he gave me instruction and talked with me, and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding.
Dan. 9.23 “At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.
Dan. 9.24 ¶ “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.
Dan. 9.25 “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
Dan. 9.26 “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.
Dan. 9.27 “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

Services announced


Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are very different holidays, rather appointments, in the Jewish calendar. Plan to join us, in Bondi Junction, this year for two very different meetings.

Thursday 21 September for prayers, teaching, singing and luncheon. Bring food to share with others. The shofar will blast.

Friday 29 September for prayers, teaching, singing and no food. Don't bring food. Bring a humble heart to hear what G-d is saying to you at this time of life, your life, His life, the state of the world, even your world. The shofar will blast again.

Invite others, and come along. You won't be disappointed.

27 August 2017

End of winter, here comes the sun


When I grew up in the middle of the US, winters were harsh, snowy, windy, cold. I bundled up and walked to school as a young lad, then took the bus and later even drove as a senior in high school. It was harsh; and I longed for springtime to replace the darkness.

This scene above was shot in Nashville last January and winter was real and harsh and I didn't like it. Maybe because I had become so used to winters in Australia where in Sydney the coldest it gets is 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius). Last weekend I traveled to Canberra and awoke to -2 (Celsius) temps and frost on the windscreen of the car. That was tough. But nothing like winters in Kansas.

This scene reminds me of the sunshine which is lacking during winter.
Psychologists talk much about the effects of winter on the soul. The amount of light is so minimal, certainly compared to summer's extended hours of sunshine,

The form of depression most often associated with variations in sunlight is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The disorder runs in cycles of depression and wellness that follow the seasons -- more specifically, the availability of sunlight. Someone with SAD might feel perfectly fine in spring and summer, and then experience a severe downturn in mood when fall hits. They'll stay that way through the winter, until the sun comes out again in full force. SAD is particularly prevalent in parts of the world with little winter daylight and/or extended overcast periods, like Alaska or the U.S. Northwest.

The Guardian reported this in 2003.
"When it gets dark, a region of the brain called the pineal gland starts producing melatonin. This is thought to make our bodies cool down and feel drowsy, helping us fall asleep. But flick on the lights and melatonin production is cut off. The "hormone of darkness", as it is known, does not just make us sleepy. It has also been linked to depression. People who live in regions with very little sunlight tend to have higher levels of melatonin and are more likely to suffer from depression.

In 1997, in an attempt to bring joy to the miserably light-starved people of Helsinki, psychiatrist Timo Partonen of the National Public Health Institute gave people special lamps producing light that closely matched sunlight. After leaving the lamps on their desks throughout the winter people felt happier, less hostile and more alert.

Light also triggers changes in the brain that make us feel more cheery. Evidence is emerging that light pushes up levels of serotonin and noradrenaline, two key feel-good chemicals. People suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mild depression during winter, often crave foods like chocolate and strawberries, says Anne Farmer of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, which are high in tryptophan, a natural precursor to serotonin.

According to Partonen, physiological changes are just part of the story. "Light has been associated with good, and dark with bad. So, there is clearly a psychological influence," he says." (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2003/apr/24/thisweekssciencequestions3)

Maybe that's why I'm excited about winter's ending this week in Australia. I hear the Beatles singing, "Here comes the sun" and the temperatures are warming, the days are lengthening. I'm like a school kid all over again. Farewell, "long, cold, lonely winter."

No wonder we believers get excited when we ponder the coming of Messiah, too. Isaiah the prophet wrote, "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them... For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (chapter 9, verses 2, 6)

The darkness of winter, of sin, of pagan teaching infecting the Jewish religion, of self-centeredness... all came to a head in the death of Messiah. Yeshua died to bear our weakness, to take our sin, to feel and welcome the darknesses around him, that we might have the righteousness, the light, the love of God in Him. What an exchange!
The Bible says, "God made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Exchange darkness for light today. Trade in winter for spring. Depression in winter, natural serotonin, longer days... here comes the Son of God!

22 August 2017

On death and dying


John Donne's famous poem splashed across my thoughts all day today. My long-time friend Dennis Krause passed away yesterday and I read about it this morning. He was unwell but lived life fully. In his youth, he was a member of a couple rock and roll bands, most notable to me, the Hallelujah Joy Band. What a champion he was, staying at the same church he joined back in the mid-70s, serving in music, on the sound desk, and just about anywhere he was needed. His wife, the lovely Anne, is now a widow, way too soon. So which Donne poem? The 10th Holy Sonnet, "Death, be not proud." I quote it in full then add my comments below.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Maybe it's that I'm ageing at some new speed, but it seems that more people I know are dying. Last weekend in Kansas City, a group of friends from Shawnee Mission East High School class of 1969 remembered John Rooker, our former Senior Class President or Student Council president or such. Three men's memories stood out-- those given by Rick Daniels, Rick McNeely and his own brother Tom Rooker. Memories of days gone by. We come and go almost too quickly it seems.

Here in Australia a 7-year old boy is being remembered. He died in a horrible manner last Thursday in Barcelona, Spain. He and his mother were walking along Las Ramblas Boulevard, and according to Reuters today, "Julian Cadman was among the 13 people killed when a van driven by a suspected Islamist militant mowed down pedestrians in Barcelona... The boy was separated from his mother who was taken to hospital in a serious condition. Authorities in Australia and Britain had flagged he was missing since Thursday."

I don't know that anyone in Australia knows any other names of the 14 dead in Spain. There's something wrong, or just feels wrong, about the loss of a child. An innocent. Why did the Islamic terrorist feel that killing that boy was right? Why do we feel so badly about Julian Cadman being killed?

Maybe you remember the movie with Liam Neeson, Schindler's List from 1993, the Oscar-winning movie set during the Holocaust, where 6 million Jews and countless others were killed by madmen in uniforms. The scene highlighted in this still photo
makes the killing of millions personal. The girl in the red coat is one of unnamed thousands in the ghetto, gathered, escaping, hiding, caught. For some reason, when she is noted, we continue to watch for her, to care for her, to wonder what will happen to her. And isn't that what love does?

And maybe it's love, or a desire for love, that makes us so upset at the death of Julian Cadman. And the 13 others. It's one thing to note that 6,775 per day die in the US. But I only noticed two this weekend. Jerry Lewis, because the media made great mention of him here, and my friend Dennis. It's when death gets too close that we note it. But death is not the end. So said John Donne. There is eternity, and there is hope. "Death shall be no more." he said, "Death, thou shalt die"

Hosea, the Jewish prophet, wrote this, which no doubt influenced Donne. "Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?" (Chapter 13, verse 14)

Paul the apostle picked up this notion and filled it full with his remarks recorded in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: "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?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (verses 54-57)

Donne and Paul and Dennis and I all have the same unwavering hope that those who put their faith in the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah Yeshua (many call him Jesus), will eventually join with the myriads in the company of heaven. It's heaven which is our eternal home, not Barcelona or Sydney or Warsaw. The grave is not our eternal resting spot. Finally John the Revelator wrote this in summary of the end of history as we know it. "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." (Revelation 20.13-14) "Death, be not proud." We shall live again. And "death, thou shalt die."

05 August 2017

...then they came for the Jews...


I'm in almost shock as I read the news from Bondi this week. And the rest of the Jewish community is beyond unhappy as well. Waverley Council has knocked back the appeal of its citizens for a new synagogue to be built on Wellington Street. Maybe they would say, "Too many cars" or "not enough parking" or "the grading of the footpaths needs to be improved." But not one of those excuses were even mentioned. Why would the synagogue not be allowed to build on its property it owns already?

According to news.com.au, the Council "banned the construction of a synagogue in Bondi because it could be a terrorist target, in a shock move that religious leaders say has caved in to Islamic extremism and created a dangerous precedent. The decision, which has rocked the longstanding Jewish community in the iconic suburb, was upheld in court this week as the nation reeled from the alleged airline terror threat and debate raged over increased security measures at airports and other public places.
The Land and Environment Court backed the decision by Waverley Council to prohibit the construction of the synagogue, because it was too much of a security risk for users and local residents.
Jewish leaders are shocked the decision appears to suggest they cannot freely practice their religion because they are the target of hate by Islamist extremists — and that the council has used their own risk assessment of the threat posed by IS against it."

Yup, that's what it says. "they cannot freely practice their religion because they are the target of hate by Islamist extremists"

The hashtag OneWayReligiousTolerance is my phrase for this madness. Let a Muslim seek to build a mosque in Lakemba or Auburn and let the local council there deny their request because of security reasons. You will see marches in the streets; you will see terror and hostility like never before.


Look, to be fair Pastor Niemoller was not a stalwart pro-Jewish Lutheran pastor (compare Dietrich Bonhoeffer) but his quote is too good to miss. We must speak out on behalf of those Bondi Jews. We must stand up for religious freedoms, especially if the synagogue will maintain its own security, as it does worldwide, and certainly here in Sydney at schools and other synagogues.

Shame on the Waverley Council.
Let's write our local members (MP) .
Let's write our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull (twitter to @TurnbullMalcolm) and demand someone notice this travesty of justice, actually injustice. Or else Niemoller would be shouting "What will you do when they come for you?"

For more read the Daily Wire article which cites the News report on the 3rd. Read it here.

28 July 2017

A crack down or two


From Friday's The Australian newspaper:
Jesus unwelcome in schoolyard crackdown
by REBECCA URBAN
@RurbsOz
Talking about Jesus, exchanging Christmas cards and encouraging Christianity have been targeted under an unofficial policy from education bureaucrats that takes aim at junior evangelists in Queensland primary school yards. Christian groups and free-speech advocates have expressed alarm at the recent edict from the Queensland Department of Education and Training contained within its latest review into religious instruction materials and warning that principals were expected to take action against students caught evangelising to their peers.

“While not explicitly prohibited by the (legislation), nor referenced in the Religious Instruction (RI) policy, the department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not,” says the department’s ­report into the GodSpace ­religious instruction materials, released earlier this year.

“This could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive ­environment.”

Departmental policy defines “evangelising” as “preaching or advocating a cause or religion with the object of making converts to Christianity”. Examples of evangelising cited in the review, as well as two earlier reviews into religious ­instruction providers, include sharing Christmas cards that refer to Jesus’s birth, creating Christmas tree decorations to give away and making beaded bracelets to give to friends “as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus”.

The clampdown comes des­pite each of the reviews into the religion lessons aimed at four to 12-year-olds finding no “major inconsistencies” with state legislation or departmental policies, procedures or frameworks.

Neil Foster, who teaches religion and law at Newcastle University, described the develop­ment as “deeply concerning” and “possibly illegal”.

Over in the US, I note in Oklahoma, an NGO from a Washington, DC is suing East Central University about its use of Bibles and crosses on its chapel. More info is here. My friend Mary from high school sent me that link yesterday. When I combine that with the news from The Australian, I think there's a serious something happening. People like @LyleShelton , @mpjensen , @KameelMajdali and @johnpauldickson all keep us informed about trends here in Australia. And I think they would agree this is global in its reach.

I spent time in Seoul twice and wonder what would happen if they attempted to remove those red crosses there which light the evening sky throughout the city. What will they do with the giant Jesus statue in Rio?

“The fact is, there are administrative guidelines that go beyond what the law requires,” Associate Professor Foster said. “It’s really overreaching as far as bureaucratic orders go.”

We shall see, of course, but the erosion of freedom of expression at the slightest 'offense' by others is something our legislators and principals will have to consider. And God give them strength of character.

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.