24 December 2011

Christmas Eve

Today is 24 December and the rain woke me, then I had a brief time with my daughter and then a lot of time with my grandson who fell asleep eventually. I came to the Jews for Jesus book shop in Bondi Junction. It's that time of year when the shopping centres and the malls and shops are alive and bustling. People are hunting deals and hoping for a dollar or 50 dollars off. Hoping to find the best gift to give their loved ones or the lady next door. And giving is a good thing. So I'm always happy that people want to be generous at this time. I like being generous at this time. I also like it when people are generous to me, but hey, who doesn't?

We sell a lot of things at this time of year. We sell menorahs and candles and dreidels, calendars and cookbooks and biblical books and books of all kinds. CDs and DVDs and heaps of necklaces. So this time of year is good business for us, and I'm not sad to thank God for that. All surplus from our shop sales goes back into evangelistic ministry, so that's a good way to raise funds for the rest of the year.

Still I ponder the commercialism that has invaded the world, even my world. What's the holiday about anyway? What is a holiday? Does it really come from the phrase "holy day?" And if so, what's so holy about shopping?

I could be pejorative about Coca cola and the mingling of Santa Claus, the red suit and the bubbly soft drink. But that's not my usual style. I think this photo tells everything. The King of Kings, Adon Olam, Lord of all, and Creator of heaven and earth invaded His planet in the person of Y'shua, the baby Jew who grew up in wisdom and stature. The whole story is at the end of this blog, if you haven't read it (in a while).  And hey, don't knock the Engish, that is, the phrase should be King-sized bed. Hyphenated and add the 'd', but can you really hear the story anyway?

What makes Christmas is that a baby was born, whose birth had been predicted back in the earliest days of the Bible, from Genesis, and Isaiah the prophet. And when He came, some recognized Him as something significant or wondrous or even miraculous, but few really understood. 

Really, Christmas is a baby. And a hope for overcoming darkness. No longer would the plight of humanity be stuck in its (our) own sin but now we could have hope for deliverance. God loved us enough to send a remedy, a Saviour, a deliverer. In fact The remedy, The Saviour, The Deliverer. Y'shua is the Jewish Messiah foretold in the Bible by Jews to Jews, and anyone else who is listening. Are you?

Merry Messiah-mas 2011 and a joyful 2012 to you and yours.

From the Bible, chapter 2 of the "Good news according to Luke":
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. 

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Messiah the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. 

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),
and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:  “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.
And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

19 December 2011

Frozen in time

Sunset over Kansas by bobmendo
Sunset over Kansas, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

I'm in Sydney as I write this, but earlier this month I flew to Kansas City, to visit with my daughter and her family. I've often commented that 'just above' the clouds is my favorite place on the planet. And I've been in many places on the planet!

So here I was, at sunset, early December. The sky is turning those gorgeous colors. The camera takes a great shot, but nothing compared to the real colors. It's a little 'less.' Maybe that's why the Almighty said not to make an image of anything 'above, or on the earth, or of things under the earth'. When we make an image, we actually 'freeze' something at a moment, and miss motion. We miss smell. We miss the rest of its reality.

Now don't get me wrong. I love photography. I have over 15,000 photos on this Flickr site from which the "Sunset over Kansas" shot was taken.

What I'm saying is that when we shoot an image, when we make a sculpture, when we draw a painting... we are pausing time, we are stopping motion, we are saying "This is it"

And honestly, it's not it. There are other stories to tell. There are other things going on that are not recorded. For instance, what's going on on the other side of this wing? And of the other side of this plane? And inside the plane, near where I am? So many stories, but you are only looking at one image, frozen in time.

Enjoy it, and enjoy any other of my photos, but in the end, look up from the computer. Look up from your book. Look up from your own life and see what else is going on. Find the world alive and real. After all, the "earth is the Lord's and the fullness of it" (Psalm 24.1) so that our Creator could receive the praise due Him. Even from you. And from me.

18 December 2011

Be careful where you bow

Yesterday I was surprised when Katie, a young Jewish believer, told me she didn't sing certain songs at her uni, because they are sung to Isis or some other tribal deity. She sings opera, and I never really thought about all that. I'd considered activities of worship when my family went to Thailand and we were invited to play with some sticks. The tour guide told us the luck we would gain from the Buddha in front of whom we were invited to bow would be wonderful. No, I said, I'm not going to bow down there. OK, so that was fairly blatant, but Katie's comments made me ponder more about 'the season' in which we find ourselves.

My friend Phil up in Brisbane updated his Facebook account today after church with, "Must be Christmas time, the place is packed pumping and jumping." I asked him if he meant the shopping centre or the church.  He replied, "It might depend on who your God is."  Yes, that made perfect sense. 

Tonight in Lane Cove, in the Helen Street Reserve, some singers will lead some carols. And the neighbourhood is invited along. Bring a picnic, or buy some snags there, and sing some Christmas songs. Can you do that?

Back when I was in high school I was part of the madrigal singers at Shawnee Mission East High School. We got to leave school at this time of year, a lot, and that was in itself a lot of fun. Why did we leave? To sing carols and classical pieces, dressed in white dinner jackets, at Kiwanis Club luncheons or at shopping centres or wherever our teacher had arranged us to sing. One of the songs we used to sing was "Hallelujah", the famous chorus from "Messiah" by Handel which is sung worldwide at this time of year. I had a hard time singing one section of the song, maybe like Katie here in Sydney.

The song says, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ." It's a direct quote from the Newer Testament, in the Book of Revelation chapter 11. "the seventh angel sounded; and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, ¶ “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever.”  Can you hear it in your ears or in your mind, just now? I can.

Back in high school I didn't believe in Jesus, and certainly wouldn't sing to him or about him. I knew almost nothing about Jesus, but definitely didn't want to sing a song about him. And yet, Messiah was massively popular and sing-a-longs are still held in New York and Australia and South Africa... how would I avoid this?

I mouthed the words. That's what I did. I couldn't think of anything else to do. I wouldn't sing about "Christ" but I felt it ok and permissible to mouth 'Christ.' Negotiation, eh?

We all have ways of dealing with things that are 'out of bounds.' Sometimes we vote or carry placards or even Occupy somewhere. Opposition may turn into hostility or outrage. Then you might get the outrageous comments of the rabbi in the US and Tim Tebow last week. Thankfully the newspaper for which he writes pulled the rabbi's article as it was not consistent with their editorial standards. I won't cite it, but suffice it to say that the rabbi's outrage was not warranted. 

Still, what do you do with commercialism which abounds in these days, the countdown days until Christmas? Do you avoid the malls altogether? Do you avoid putting up green/ red tinsel at home? Or do you join in and put up the world's largest Santa Claus in your front yard, or let the neighbour do that like "Me Ditto" did in Kansas City this December?

Everyone has a way to deal with things with which they agree or with which they disagree. 

That said, I recommend you be careful where you bow. And in front of whom. I like this photo of the little girl at the mall in Bondi Junction. She's not in front of Santa. She's not in front of a shop. She's considering the truths that this little manger scene (creche) communicates. Is this really the reason for the season? Is this "born is the king of Israel?" Is he your king?

Be careful where and in front of whom you bow.

04 December 2011

Sabbath made for man: 4th in a series on Restlessness

Darlene Zschech leading worship at Hillsong Conference
This is now the 4th blog on rest and restlessness.  And my theme today is rhythm.

In music, I like rhythm. I like melody, to be sure, and harmony, and all the components that make up music, but I can't get away from rhythm. Maybe that’s because the beat stays with me even if I forget words or lilt. The other night I was playing guitar, leading the singing at the OneNewMan fellowship in Waverley (NSW) and saw everyone's feet tapping along with the rhythm of the songs. Nice feeling. We all got onto the same rhythm and we all were together together.

God gave us rhythm, not only in music, but also through the annual cycle of events in the Jewish calendar. That calendar is most notably listed in the Bible book of Leviticus chapter 23. That chapter starts by listing a weekly Sabbath, a time to pull apart (rather than being pulled apart by) [from] regular work and let our timing get in sync with God. He rested; we should rest. That's sensible.

I remember hearing a medical doctor discuss an issue related to menstruation. He cited studies showing that women all living in a certain house, and though they all had different menstrual cycles at the beginning of their living situation, as they lived together, their cycles all came into sync with one another. That’s a unity of rhythm that would have been notable to be sure.

But it's more than history, although it's at least historic. It's about God being with us in our lives today and throughout our days. And when we get in sync with God’s rhythm, we are truly one. We think God’s thoughts; we hear God’s voice; we do God’s will.

Let's clarify this. Jewish holidays are not festivals in the style of Australia Day or US Independence Day.  The Hebrew word for these days is mo’ed. Mo'ed is used more like an appointment than a flag-waving time. More like, "Hello Mr Mendelsohn, this is God's office ringing. You have an appointment on Saturday with the Almighty. Will you be able to keep your appointment?" 

If you don't keep that appointment, according to way-too-many places in the Bible, you are sinning. Ouch. Restlessness is sin. 

Get these:  Exodus 20.10  "The seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates."

While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the 
Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and 
the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what 
should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole 
assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp 
and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.  (Numbers 15:32-36)
When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we 
will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will 
forgo working the land and will cancel all debts. (Nehemiah 10.31) 

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as 
you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD'S 
holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not 
doing as you please or speaking idle words,then you will find your joy in the LORD, 
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the 
inheritance of your father Jacob." The mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 58.13-14)
 But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying 
any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, 
then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will 
consume her fortresses.'" (Jeremiah 17.27) 

And there are heaps more. It's clear. Rest is required, and remembering God as Creator and Deliverer. He wants us to remember that He made the earth in 6 days (the world has significantly forgotten that one in the last 200 years) and that He brought the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt under Moses 3500 years ago. That's what Sabbath was about. Rest and remembrance. 

How about that? Do those today and see how that works out for you.

Same Sex Marriage and the Labor Party

According to Bill Muehlenberg of CultureWatch in Australia, "Federal Labor has declared itself to be aligned with the powers of darkness. It has decided that the most important thing this nation needs is homosexual marriage, and to hell with ordinary Australians and workers who dare to stand in their way."

Here is the story: “The Australian Labor Party has voted in favour of same-sex marriage. It’s also backed a motion to allow state and federal Labor MPs a conscience vote on gay marriage if a Bill comes to parliament. The motion on the conscience vote was carried 208 votes to 185.

“The motion to change the party platform on same-sex marriage was carried on the voices. When the results were announced, Senator Penny Wong hugged Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Delegates on the floor of the party’s national conference in Sydney clapped and cheered.”

Muehlenberg says, "So Labor has officially and decisively abandoned its own base, the workers, and the Australian people, and has declared that it exists solely to do the bidding of Bob Brown and the militant homosexual lobby. This is a sad day for a political party and the nation."

Muehlenberg certainly does not pull punches.

Look, gay activity has been around for a long time, certainly in variant and what some would say deviant societies in Greece and Egypt. That is not the issue in these days.
And in the modern days gay activity has even been celebrated by many. Note parades in Brazil, Sydney and even in Israel.
But what is at issue these days, if I read it right, is the institutionalizing of gay marriage.

What the Labor Party is backing is a change in the definition of marriage in a radical way. Of course the Greens (who should be concerned about environment and pollution) are driving the re-definition of marriage. That in itself is bizarre, but as Muehlenberg points out, it's contra the ALP platform of decades. Seems politically motivated, and not rooted in deep-seated convictions.

But who would accuse politicians of anything higher?

The Australian Christian Lobby said it was a sad day for Australian families.
"Sad that the Prime Minister's election promise and the party's election promise now looks set to be flagrantly set aside," the lobby's Lyle Shelton said. "The only way Labor can redeem any integrity as a result of the events of today is to ensure that it votes with the Coalition to make sure there is no amendment to the Marriage Act in this term of Parliament."

Federal Aged Care Minister Mark Butler hailed the victory, but says the fight is not over.
"We did not win the war, the law still remains, but I tell you we won a decisive battle," he said.
"Up until this morning Labor Party policy still said that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, it doesn't say that any more."

That's what seems apparent to me. The lobbyists and politicians who are 'not happy' because of the conscience vote are still happy that they are putting another chink in the armor of the Marriage Act. 

Other delegates from the Labor Right, like Tasmanian Senator Helen Polley, were not so happy.
"Marriage is a term that can be used and has been used for centuries to describe a relationship between a man and a woman," she said.
Union leader Joe de Bruyn says Labor has turned its back on a core value and it will cost votes.
"Particularly in some of the traditional Labor electorates in suburban Australia," he said.

That said, it's not good when such an institutionalization is on its way. Buckle your seat belts Aussies. This does not appear to be good for our country.

From the ABC newsroom: Watch and listen to the charges and the almost electrical charge here as ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Finance Minister Penny Wong and trade union secretary Joe de Bruyn speak on the issue of gay marriage on the second day of the ALP Conference: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-12-03/conscience-vote/3710872  (and the use of 'equality' and 'dignity' and 'discrimination')

The whole article is here:  Bill Muehlenberg on the Same Sex Marriage issue

30 November 2011

Drive-thru vs Family time

Australia Jews for Jesus: This is the 3rd in a series of blogs on Rest and R...: This is the 3rd in a series of blogs on Rest and Restlessness. What triggered it was a series of thoughts and readings beginning with T...

29 November 2011

This is the 3rd in a series of blogs on Rest and Restlessness.

What triggered it was a series of thoughts and readings beginning with Tim Chester's book entitled The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness. But I guess what prompted my reading that was considerable bother about not having time myself to do the things I like or want to do. I used to journal most days. Now almost never into the journal (book). I used to exercise very regularly in a gym. Now almost never. I used to read books regularly, and again that has dropped off to minimal reading. What is or was happening?

Chester lays out six main reasons why people tend to be busy, that is, too busy for me. They are 1) to prove themselves, 2) to meet other people's expectations, 3) to maintain control, 4) due to a preference of business/ pressure, 5) to provide capital by earning more and more, and finally 6) to make the most out of life.

He captivated me with his opening chapter. In regards to rest Chester said, "even our time off can be hard work... leisure has become a thing you 'do' or 'buy.' We relax by going to the gym, driving across town to a late enight movie or spending an afternoon shopping- and nothing is more tiring than shopping! We no longer stroll or ramble; now we hike with walking poles to propel us along. Leisure is no longer rest; leisure is consumption." (page 11) Wow, did that nail me. I play 18 holes of golf a week, and have to work hard to fit that into my schedule. I usually rock up just in time to hit off, while most of the guys I play with average arriving 30 minutes early. I tend to put an appointment on the back end of the round also, thus maximizing my day, but not ever really relaxing. And often will answer the phone while on the course.

We as humanity used to be regulated in work by the daytime and by the seasons. As the industrial revolution hit, we became regulated by the clock. Now we are self-regulated, or not, and thus day is night and winter is summer, and a man I met in Singapore works the graveyard shift in IT servicing the people in his work group who live in the UK and some in the US, on their time zones, not on his.

When I was a kid, in some restaurants, where a family would eat out together, they created a 'drive in' style. This involved the family getting into the family car, and driving to the car park, sit in the car, order a family meal, and then sit in the car to eat it, while a roller-skating server brought things to you on a tray which you affixed to your driver's window. 

But now the drive-in has become the drive-thru, and we cannot even spell through correctly. We are in too much of a hurry. We call it drive-thru and don't sit to eat, we rush to eat. We have to get to soccer or violin practice. We don't have time to relax together. Everyone has commitments. And thus we continue being time-poor.

God said to take the sabbath day off. Literally. Not a figure of speech. To seriously take your watch off, and chill.

It's a faith matter, not a 'works' matter. If I trust God to provide for me in 6 days instead of in 7, then I'm giving 14% of my energy/ time/ money-earning potential away. That's a lot of cash!

We rest, not out of exhaustion, but out of satisfaction. We are finished with the work; we take time to enjoy what we did.

More to come...


Texting by Rick Rock Radio
Texting, a photo by Rick Rock Radio on Flickr.
The series on Restlessness continues

This is now Blog #2 on the Sin of Restlessness.
The high speed collision in China reported here 

OK, maybe you don't have time to read it. Maybe you are doing a multi-tasking job of reading your emails, SMSing your mates, and pretending to be among the thousands of fans at the game. Honestly you can't do it all; why not admit that?

The expression is 'time poor.' We ran out of time to do everything, so we multi-task. By definition we try to do more than one thing at a time. I'm a male, so that can never happen anyway. But for some females, honestly, you simply cannot be both a fan and an SMSer. Not at the same moment. Really.

Why are we so 'time poor?' We have more conveniences and more things which do more stuff for us. We don't have to hand wash all our clothing anymore. We have a washing machine for that. All we do is toss the dirty clothes and some detergent into a box, and in an hour, the clothes and soap have teamed up for a cleansing. Voilá, all done.

We used to write letters which would take half an hour to compose and script with our free hand, but now we type with lightning speed the same letter, or shorten the whole thing into a blog or SMS or email of similar 'length.' Visiting a friend took time; now we ring or text. Want to find out about an historical event or personage, and you had to ring the librarian or investigate at the encyclopedia. Now you 'google it.'

All that convenience and still no time. Why? We don't extend to ourselves the privilege of silence and the freedom of doing nothing. 'Don't have time, sorry.' but really we just don't take time.

If you don't answer the phone, (so says my new friend Lewis in Singapore), they tend to stop ringing. I like that. The phone is a good tool, but a lousy master. It's a noose for many; it should be a servant. Answer it when you can; let the voice mail answer it otherwise.

Learn to relax. It's another world out there. Just watch the game, girl in the blue cap. It's restful. (OK, some say 'boring') But a bit of rest is good for us now and then, you know?

BLURRED... the world passes us by

BLURRED by Lauren Withrow
BLURRED, a photo by Lauren Withrow on Flickr.

Today I'm going to begin a series of blogs on the sin of restlessness. It's about rushing. The blur of the crowd. The keeping up with the Joneses. I've just returned from Singapore and over and over I saw this. The crowds are one thing, but I'm talking about an inability for an individual to rest.

You know the Bible says "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the 7th day is a day of rest in honor of the Lord your God. You shall do no work in it."

That seems so quaint, so out-of-date, so not with the times. The shops stay open 24/7. The people work less 'official' hours in some countries, but they take their laptop with them, and are ever connected with smart phones and such.

I sat in a meeting last week, speaking to a group of men. They were very enthusiastic to my message, but each man, at one time or another, answered his phone, replied to an SMS or email, and was distracted by the phone. I said, "The phones will wait. None of you is so needed that you cannot take an hour off, you know?" Wow, I saw the restlessness, not only with a day off, but even with an hour off.

The Chinese call this 'kaisu' a sort of 'don't let anyone pass you.' It's a driver, something which they use to keep themselves going and going. Like the Energizer bunny. If they stop, someone might take their place. It's a fear and an inordinate fear for a believer, to be sure.

If you live in fear, you are not living in faith. If you live in restlessness, you are not living in faith, in rest. More on that in the next blog.

Lauren Withrow on Flickr wrote: Via Flickr:
"This life I'm in,
moves by way too fast.
Blurring the edges until nothing is clear.
Someday things should just slow down."

Went to the mall with a couple friends and saw Push. It was pretty good.
Don't know how much I like this but oh well.

feb 8, 2009]

25 November 2011

Strange bedfellows and reality

Read the whole article here: NY Times 
Pictured are Hamas and Fatah leaders, smiling, but are they really smiling?

The NY Times today published an in-depth article about the strife between Mahmoud Abbas (pictured on the right), Fatah leader since 2004, president of the Palestinian Authority and his rival, Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas. They met in Cairo, Egypt, agreeing to go ahead with elections in the Palestinian territories next year, even though they failed to resolve differences over an interim unity government to prepare for the vote. 

This is not a new reality. Hamas, the terrorist organization, supported by Syria and Iran, refuses three things: 1) to acknowledge the reality of the state of Israel, 2) to denounce violence in pursuit of its goals, and 3) to agree with past Palestinian-Israeli peace agreements. Those three conditions are required if there will ever be peace in the Middle East, and certainly if Hamas wants to be recognized as legitimate by the US, the UN, or the EU. 

Fatah, the party of Yasser Arafat, the former leader of the Palestinian Authority, and ever dressed in military garb, is not the gentlest in the conversation either. They control the West Bank. A bit of nomenclature: Its name is the reverse acronym of Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Falastini, meaning the 'Palestinian National Liberation Movement.' The name also means Conquest or Victory in Arabic.

In May this year, the rivals signed a historic reconciliation accord in Cairo, vowing common cause against Israeli occupation, a product of shifting regional power relations and disillusionment with American peace efforts. But how that plays out, and who leads the conversation in the next decade, that remains to be determined. Declarations are one thing, reality of living it out, that's quite another. The Times reported, "Israeli officials have withheld the transfer of about $100 million a month in taxes and customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians, in part waiting to see the outcome of the latest unity talks. Meanwhile, for Hamas, the Arab Spring has buoyed hopes of new opportunities for Islamist parties across the region."

So what is reality, as we have watched what they call "The Arab Spring?" Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and now Syria. What government will be there in a year, and what uprising will produce good and calm and happy citizens? The almost-nightly drama unfolds on our television sets as another country is riveted by unrest and hope for 'spring.' Spring, when everything comes to life and blooms. Spring when a man's thoughts turn to cricket and love. 

But the victory in Egypt was short-lived, and democracy is not an easy concept in which to live. It's easy to applaud, but hard to live.  

Hosni Mubarak was ousted after 18 days of demonstrations this year on 11 February. After 30 years in office (He took over after Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981.) Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned as president and transferred authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. But who will run the country is still in doubt. Just today CNN reports, "Kamal Ganzouri has agreed to become Egypt's prime minister and will form a new government, an Egyptian army spokesman said."
This development -- announced by Lt. Col. Amr Imam -- comes days after former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his government quit en masse, and days before Monday's parliamentary elections that Egypt's military rulers vowed Thursday would go on despite ongoing unrest.

Apparently strange bedfellows don't always produce reality. WWII had Mussolini in bed with Hitler, and the result was madness and chaos and destruction. Although the phrase, "strange bedfellows" originally had to do with Shakespeare's character in The Tempest, shipwrecked Trinculo, the jester, who happens upon the fallen Caliban, a deformed native on an uncharted island. Trinculo takes the garment of Caliban, and lies with him, thus 'strange bedfellows.' However we take the phrase to mean a partnering of unusual pairs.  Charles Dudley Warner said, "Politics makes strange bedfellows" And by that he meant that opposing forces often have to agree on one item, even though they might be at great distance on others. (That said, Groucho Marx said, "Politics doesn't make strange bedfellows - marriage does.")

God wants to be in relationship with us. He finds us deformed on our native and uncharted islands of life, and takes our nature on Himself, exchanges His life for ours, and dies in our place. That's the message of the Crucifixion and of eternity. Reality may be remote to you just now, in Spring or Autumn, on Thanksgiving or late in celebrating the Festival of Lights, Deepavali.  But God's reality is worth all investigation. He loves you and wants you to know Him. He sent Jesus to die, to bring you back to Himself.  It's not strange, really; it's love.

24 November 2011

Cheap tippers

Here's a report (at the end of the blog) from the USA ...on Thanksgiving no less.

Seems that some folks are being cheap and leaving Gospel information for restaurant servers instead of a gratuity (tip). Read the end first, if you must.

End of the day we should all be generous, happy to share with others, and especially with those who share with us.

Look I've been guilty of trying to get away with giving less, and admit it, but I don't think I ever left a Gospel tract IN PLACE OF a tip, only along with it. In fact, I would feel bad being known as a believer if I was not being generous.

Why is that? God loved the world so much that he gave his only son. That's generosity. And that's the spirit of heaven, and not the spirit of this age.

I'm writing today from Singapore, and one thing I find is that Singaporeans are very generous to those of us who are preachers and especially those who are preaching to the Jewish people. That generosity makes me want to be even more generous in response. So I find myself giving to others happily.

Last night I watched a TV episode on Channel NewsAsia in my flat. The host and the panel of 4 were unpacking the issue of graciousness and kindness. I was surprised that this was a topic of concern and of a tv special during prime time. Each panelist was asked at the end, 'What is one thing people watching can do to demonstrate graciousness right away?' The man had already talked about giving up one's seat on the MRT (subway system) for older and handicapped people, but gave another tip. The woman next to him mentioned asking her colleagues if 'they have had their lunch already." (that sounded like she was saying to invite them to lunch, but could be taken wrongly). The next woman, a school official, mentioned smiling. The final woman, a young government official, talked about having a good attitude and forgiving people who fall short of expectations.

All that said, I thought, come on, people, talk about giving money. Talk about giving clothing like people do daily at the Salvation Army where I am staying in town. Talk about giving food to hungry people. Graciousness is about visible kindness. And it's a function of Grace.

Mercy is not getting what you deserve.
Grace is getting what you do not deserve.

Mercy keeps you from hell.
Grace gives you heaven.

So in light of what God has done for you, in loving you, in sending Jesus His son to die for you and to give you the opportunity to know him personally, what kind of person ought you to be?

Let's be generous.
Gratuity, by the way, comes from 'grace' and that makes me more gracious to others, don't you reckon?

Here's the story that prompted this blog:

Waiter's Phony $10 Tip Includes Religious Lesson
By Claire Gordon Posted 12:35PM 11/23/11 Personal Finance

A $10 bill is a joyful sight for a server. But when one waiter went to retrieve such a note out from under a diner's plate recently, he reportedly noticed something curious. The tip it provided wasn't monetary, but took the form of advice. "SOME THINGS ARE BETTER THAN MONEY," it said on the back, "like your eternal salvation, that was brought and paid for by Jesus going to the cross."

The waiter, who makes $2.65 base pay an hour, didn't take well to getting so self-righteously stiffed. He posted photographs of the scene to the social newspaper Reddit, and wrote: "P.S. I have never been more atheist." "That's not very christian like behavior..." wrote one commentator.

But while that behavior certainly isn't the rule among Christians, it also isn't necessarily an exception. One waiter complained about the proffering of fake scripture-laden bills as tips on the "Friendly Atheist" blog in January 2009.

These phony bills appeared at least as far back as the summer of 2006, at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Greensboro, N.C. One blogger tells of going to a restaurant then and speaking to a waitress who was on the verge of tears. The convention attendees had been atrocious with their tipping, she said, but very generous with Bible verses and phony money.

"She asked us if we knew what it felt like to pick up what you thought was a great tip, only to find out that it was not real, and that the patron had actually been a cheapskate, after she served them well?"

Study: Christians More Likely to Stiff Their Server

The idea that Christians are poor tippers apparently has been whispered in service circles for a long time. Many waiters try not work Sunday brunch, so as to avoid notoriously stingy churchgoers, claims Justin Wise, the director of a Lutheran ministry in Des Moines, Iowa.

"Christians don't tip very well," he wrote for The Lutheran magazine in January 2009. "As a matter of fact, we're pretty cheap. What makes this worse is that we paint 'cheap' with a religious-sounding veneer and call it 'being a good steward.' Nothing like hiding behind the Bible to camouflage your stinginess."

One woman wrote back: "It was almost 100 percent true that the worst tips were on a check with a Bible verse or fish symbol."

This is a particularly uncomfortable phenomenon to face for a community that values generosity, justice and service.
"By leaving tracts and not tips, that person is saying to their waiter or waitress, 'You are not a person, but rather just a notch on my belt of evangelistic pride,' " explains Daniel Readle, a pastor at a Baptist church in Cleveland, on his blog "Christ and Culture."

An empirical study on this topic was conducted recently by Michael Lynn of Cornell University. He found that Christians are not in fact bad tippers; they gave an average of 17.3% for good service, well inside the 15% to 20% norm.

Only 13% of Christians left less than 15% for good service. That's a small minority of Christians, but still almost double the percentage of unaffiliated diners who left that amount, and more than six times the percentage of Jewish diners who under-tipped.

So while it is statistically false to say that Christians are bad tippers, it is true that Christians are more likely to stiff their servers than people of other religious (or non-religious) bents.

Because of these penny-pinchers, waiters are more likely to give bad service to anyone who appears outwardly Christian, Lynn suggests, or to call in sick for the Sunday shift.

Some things may be better than money, like trust, fairness, and tolerance. But a decent tip to your server can go a long way toward those goals.

30 October 2011

On, off, on...what to do with cancellations

After labor talks between US National Basketball Association (NBA) players and owners ended Friday with no deal in place, the league cancelled games through Nov. 30. "It's not practical, possible or prudent to have a full season now," commissioner David Stern, who added that the amount of money lost by both sides is "extraordinary," said after the meeting. The issue of how to split revenue remains the largest obstacle to ending the lockout.

"We made a lot of concessions, but unfortunately at this time it's not enough, and we're not prepared or unable at this time to move any further," union executive director Billy Hunter said.

Here at home Qantas has shocked the flying world and the business world and maybe your world, with the announcement that they grounded their entire fleet in light of the continuing union strikes. This happened while seventeen world leaders attending a Commonwealth summit in Perth were booked on Qantas flights and were trying to get home. (The queen was here for the summit, but has her own plane)

The Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, said her government would help the Commonwealth leaders fly home. My guess is she is less concerned about the non-global leaders. And so far the strike is estimated to cost the Australian airline AUD20 million a day. And 68,000 people per day will not be able to fly (except those Miss Gillard organizes personally).

The Australian government called for an emergency arbitration hearing, which was adjourned at 2 this morning, after hearing evidence from the airline and unions, who are protesting planned job cuts. It will resume later today when the government will argue that the airline be ordered to fly in Australia's economic interests and in light of its being iconic.

The Australian and International Pilots Association said that Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s decision to ground the entire Qantas fleet is “nothing short of a maniacal overreaction.” AIPA Vice President Richard Woodward said the move was pre-meditated, unnecessary and grossly irresponsible. “Alan Joyce is holding a knife to the nation’s throat,” Qantas Captain Woodward said.

Full stop.

When plans change, what do you do? Cancellations are annoying for kings and queens, CEOs and little guys, and you and me. Cancellations cause us to adjust, and most of us don’t want to do that. I'm not even sure if the Melbourne Cup will be on.
On Tuesday this week in Melbourne, at Flemington Raceway, the horse race that stops the nation, the Melbourne Cup, is on. At least we think it will be. Now Qantas has stopped the nation, and who knows who will make it to Melbourne to watch, to show off their new spring carnival costumes and punt on the biggest sporting event in Australia in November every year.

What do you do when things don’t happen the way you happen to want them to happen? Do you easily adjust? (Blessed are the flexible; they do not break.) Or do you live in frustration and anger and hostility?

God wants us to learn His ways and to find His path, even when no one else is travelling that direction. Set your face like flint towards the end you know to be right, and even if things bump into us, or knock us or delay us, we can and must find the continuity to reach the goals we have.

The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways (cancelled or not) acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3.5-6)

23 October 2011

5772 and welcomes!

This month we celebrated the Jewish New Year 5772. And we welcomed it with trumpets and festivities and holy crying and seeking forgiveness. And last week in Israel, Gilad Shalit, after over five years in a Hamas prison, was released to his family and waiting country. The welcomes pictured were overwhelming. And the exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners leaves much by way of controversy. Then this week we also welcomed Queen Elizabeth II, the monarch of England and the Commonwealth. She went to church today to a welcoming crowd and our comments are prompted by all these welcomes.
Hamas had demanded the release of about 1,000 prisoners held in Israel in exchange for Shalit's return, including some whom Israel considers "heavyweight terrorists," who were directly – and sometimes personally –involved in the planning and execution of dozens of deadly terror attacks against Israelis.

Finally last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Hamas had agreed to a prisoner-exchange deal that would secure Shalit's safe return. As part of the deal, Israel agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners, in two stages.

The deal was welcomed by 80% of the Israeli public, but several High Court petitions were filed by families of terror victims in an attempt to suspend it. The court rejected the petitions, stating that since the prisoner exchange deal was a matter of State in which the government had full authority, the court had no room to intervene in its execution.

Thus after nearly five-and-a-half years in Hamas captivity, Shalit was finally reunited with his family. Welcome home, Gilad!

Back in Canberra, and decked out in their Sunday best and brandishing flags and flowers, an enthusiastic crowd cheered as the monarch arrived at St John the Baptist Anglican church with Prince Philip for Sunday worship.
The queen, 85, is in Australia for a 10-day tour -her 16th and possibly last here- which will culminate in her opening the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth on Friday.

Queues began building outside the sandstone church shortly after sunrise and they finally saw her, wearing a primrose-yellow dress and hat with white gloves.

St John's was consecrated in 1845, some 70 years before Canberra was named Australia's capital, and Sunday was the queen's sixth visit to the lakeside parish, which is regularly attended by ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd. Now the foreign minister, Rudd and his family were among 100 regular parishioners selected to join the royal couple for the invitation-only service.

The queen and Prince Philip returned to Government House after church for a lunch with 50 prominent Australians including Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush and champion paralympian Kurt Fearnley.

Welcome is a key word in life. In Hebrew, "baruch haba." And whether wilkommen or welcome, or aloha, God says that to us as well! Jesus said this [recorded in John 6.37] “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. He welcomes us. And I encourage you to welcome Him to your life.

He's more alive and more real and more significant than a visit to the Oscars or an Oscar winner. He's more royal than any Queen of England or a royal flush in Las Vegas. He's more heroic than the most devoted soldier in the IDF or any army. And He wants to welcome you into His family.

Say baruch haba. Say welcome to the Messiah. Y'shua said this, too, related to welcoming Him. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.
Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES (welcome) IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” (Recorded in the Bible in Matthew chapter 23. Verses 37-39)

Start a new life in 5772. Start it today. He's worth all the rejection and the considerations. He's worth all the pain and suffering. He's God's Messiah, foretold in the Jewish Bible by Jewish prophets. Welcome Him and He will welcome you into His forever family.

20 October 2011

Beauty on beauty

patty.flowers.jpg by bobmendo
patty.flowers.jpg, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II is in Canberra today and went along to the Floriade, the great display of thousands and thousands of flowers across the nation's capital.

A few years ago my wife and I went there to enjoy the same scenery the queen saw today. And I shot this photo to show beauty on beauty. Hope you like it.

And I hope you find things to give you a reminder of God's eternal love and his sense of beauty, too. We say 'our God is an awesome God' and we mean it. In nature and in life, we learn of him.

12 October 2011

Prostitution back on the agenda in South Australia

South Australian Labor Backbencher Steph Key has stated her intention to introduce a private member's bill on the 20th of October to decriminalise prostitution. The bill aims to legalise street walking and the establishment of small brothels in suburban areas. However, under the model, no sex business can be carried out within 200m of any child-related centre such as a school or child-care centre, no people under the age of 18 are to be employed as sex workers and any conviction of a person for an offence relating to prostitution will be immediately "spent" and not retained on a person's record.

This will be the seventh attempt to change the state's prostitution laws in recent years. The latest attempt was defeated in the Legislative Council several years ago, where MLCs voted 12-7 to defeat the proposal. Since then, no one has been keen to tackle what is considered an issue which should be put in the "too hard" basket. All parties will allow a conscience vote on the issue of legalising, or decriminalising prostitution. This makes it hard to gauge what support there will be for Ms Key's Bill. Certainly, in the Lower House, there will be a hard core of Labor MPs from the Right who will oppose it, as there will be from the conservative wing of the Liberal Party.

While there is a chance the Bill could pass through the Lower House, passage in the Upper House - the chamber where it was defeated last time - is very problematical. It will face strong opposition from Family First and MPs from both sides. Family First's Robert Brokenshire says his party cannot support decriminalisation and favours strong powers for the police to combat criminal elements controlling the sex industry. "It's not only prostitution but also the drug dealing that goes with it," Brokenshire says. "In Victoria, where they have licensing of brothels, a lot of backyard brothels have sprung up and there is no protection for the girls who work in them."

Port Adelaide Mayor Gary Johanson, an independent candidate in the forthcoming Port Adelaide by-election, shares Mr Brokenshire's misgivings, especially in relation to streetwalkers. He says the council has had many complaints from young females walking down Hanson Rd or going to the shops at Arndale who had been approached by men seeking sexual favours. He believes legalising street prostitution will only make this situation worse. Other critics of the legislation believe that prostitutes should be provided with support and assistance to leave the harmful and exploitative industry.

The Australian Christian Lobby has issued a statement saying it believes decriminalisation or legalisation of prostitution promotes a culture of acceptance among men as well as in the wider community. Prostitution becomes something which is legally acceptable and therefore socially acceptable; it is just another "job" for the women who "choose" it and provides a necessary "service" to the men who "need" it. It makes it easier for vulnerable women and girls to be drawn into the industry and fosters degrading attitudes among men towards women, including the view that women's bodies are products which can be purchased and used for sexual pleasure.

Decriminalisation and regulation of prostitution are invariably put in place with the objectives of controlling prostitution and creating a safer and more open environment for sex workers. However, these aims are generally not met and in most cases the very opposite outcomes occur. In particular, legalisation of prostitution creates an environment in which human trafficking is more likely to occur. Further, it also creates an environment in which underage prostitution is more likely to occur. Above all else, prostitution is degrading and destructive for women and girls. It is a form of abuse and violence against women by the men who purchase them.

In 1999, Sweden passed the Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services. Sweden recognises prostitution as a "serious form of male violence against women and children" and, in keeping with the country's commitment to gender equality, sought ways to protect women from prostitution by focusing on the core cause - the demand for women to provide sexual pleasure, without which prostitution would not be able to flourish and expand. The women's movement played a pivotal role in the country introducing the laws, highlighting the fact that prostitution is at its core an issue of respect for women and gender equality.

Under the Swedish law, prostituted women are not criminally liable; it is the purchaser of sex who is committing the crime. It covers all forms of sexual services purchased in any circumstances. Although the law was initially met with criticism by police and judicial authorities, they are now supportive of the legislation. As can be seen by the situation in Sweden, society can reduce the amount of prostitution by addressing the core cause of prostitution: the demand from men who purchase women for sex. Other Nordic countries are now following Sweden's lead, and South Korea has had a similar system since 2004. Maybe South Australia could follow suit.

Source: Compiled by Australian Prayer Network from information supplied by the media

09 October 2011

Philip Jensen on 2 pastors and 1 silence

Philip Jensen is an Anglican minister in Sydney. He wrote this piece on his own blog. I liked it enough to share it with you today. Let's see to whom else we can pass this on.

What The Media Does Not Report

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published: 7th October 2011 Tagged: censorship media

In the last year, two pastors have caused sufficient international concern that the White House has spoken about them. But only one has been mentioned in the Sydney media.

Both pastors profess to lead Bible believing churches. Both have come into conflict with Islam. Both have been criticised by their own governments.

Yet, in many respects, they are very different. One operates freely in an open society while the other is imprisoned by an Islamic regime. One is proud of the actions he is accused of, while the other suffers from trumped up accusations. One is an embarrassment to the Christian cause; the other is a hero whose stand for the gospel gladdens the heart of all who love the truth.

This time last year the media was full of Pastor Terry Jones - the Florida Charismatic who threatened to publicly burn a Quran. At that time he was talked out of it – even President Obama called upon him to desist. However, earlier this year he went ahead with his plan in front of a congregation of fifty members, gaining yet more worldwide media attention.

While acknowledging the right of free expression, Christians were embarrassed and critical of this pastor’s actions. It was offensive and unnecessarily provocative. It led to riots and deaths in Islamic countries. It didn’t accord with the teaching of the scriptures that “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). Idolatry is always wrong but destroying idols doesn’t remove them from peoples’ hearts. Burning a Quran may show that you don’t fear it or even respect it, but it doesn’t convince anybody of its errors. Paul eschewed worldly methods of warfare in his attempt to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3f).

Now the world’s attention has shifted to another Pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani. His problem was attempting to register his church in Iran. He became a Christian when he was 19. Now in his early thirties, he is married with two small children and is the pastor of an evangelical church with about 400 members.

According to international media reports, Pastor Nadarkhani, was imprisoned in 2009 and in late in 2010, was condemned to death for apostasy. He is accused of evangelizing and baptizing people. On appeal he has been given three chances to renounce his apostasy and return to Islam. On each occasion, he has resolutely refused to renounce Christ or to acknowledge Muhammad as the prophet of God.

Unfortunately, confusion reigns over the details of the legal process. The Sharia law and the Constitutional law seem at odds over the issue. International pressure seems to have reduced the threat of an imminent execution. The charges have suddenly changed and though the court records only mention apostasy, he is now accused of being a Zionist traitor, a rapist, an extortionist and a brothel owner.

Western governments haven’t been duped by this confusion but have denounced the proceedings. The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is reported as saying:

"I deplore reports that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Church leader, could be executed imminently after refusing an order by the Supreme Court of Iran to recant his faith."

This demonstrates the Iranian regime's continued unwillingness to abide by its constitutional and international obligations to respect religious freedom.

"I pay tribute to the courage shown by Pastor Nadarkhani who has no case to answer and call on the Iranian authorities to overturn his sentence."

And a White House spokesman has condemned the conviction:

“Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people. That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran’s own international obligations.”

As yet, I cannot find any reference to Pastor Nadarkhani’s plight in the Australian public media. Searching the ABC and SMH websites gives no results. Even the SBS website, supposedly concerned not just for Australian but world news, has no reference to this case. Australia is being kept in the dark about this appalling attack on religious freedom and life threatening attack on an Evangelical pastor.

Why is this story not being told? It’s a story of the land from which many of our refugees and boat people are fleeing. It’s a story of great interest to the Australian public – not the least to Australian Christians. It’s a story of enormous drama as a man, standing by his principles, fights for his life. It’s a human interest story of personal pathos as a man is called to put his principles before the safety of his wife and young children. It’s a tale of great courage where a man repeatedly refuses to recant in the face of imminent execution. It’s an example of a man of principle all too rare in our world today. Why is it not being told in the Australian media?

Our media is interested in Iran. It recently reported about the young American hikers who had crossed over the border of Iran and were released from prison. Their carelessness, capture and eventual release were headline stories. But the much more morally important story of Pastor Nadarkhani is ignored. Why?

The media were quick to tell the tale of the lunatic fringe, of an American backwoods Christian pastor burning a Quran. It caused a stir all around the world - in part because the media went to such lengths to report it. But somehow, in Australia, they don’t tell of the Christian pastor who refuses to recant his beliefs on pain of death, in front of one of the most tyrannical and oppressive regimes of the world – surely that is a story worth telling. Does this illustrate our media’s incompetence, or bias, or political correctness or just plain censorship?

Please pray for Yousef, his wife Fatemah, and their sons Daniel (9) and Joel (7).

07 October 2011

How many times?

Bob addressing the crowd by bobmendo
Bob addressing the crowd, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

How many times?

Given at Yom Kippur 5772
9 October 2011
Sydney Australia

We’ve been here before, haven’t we? We’ve been together for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. We’ve celebrated Passover and eaten lamb and drunk four cups of wine. We’ve read the Al Chet and repented of our sins, year after year. We’ve sung the Avinu Malkenu (which is usually not sung on Yom Kippur when it falls on Shabbat until the Neilah service), and asked God to be gracious to us. We have done this before. And you have to wonder… did it work then? Will it work this year? When the shofar sounds at the end of our services, will we be forgiven? Will the sounds be muffled and repetitious like the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher in the television show or will we actually hear steadfast declarations of hope from the Almighty?
How many more times do we have to do this?
When I first pondered the title, “How many times?” I flashed on "How Many More Times,” the song on English rock band Led Zeppelin's 1969 debut self-titled album. I used to listen to that with great frequency back in the day. Then I thought of Bob Dylan’s song, Blowin’ in the Wind to which I gave myself even more often back then and throughout the decades. His anti-war ballad of the 1960s Flower Children was almost our neo-national anthem. “How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky? Yes and how many deaths does it take till…”
Bob Marley sang, “How many times have I told you I love you,” but his disappointment of her departure is very evident.
You might however be younger than Dylan, Marley or Page and for you the Pussycat Dolls wrote, “How many times? How many lies? How long you been sneaking? How long you been creeping around?” Their lament of faithfulness in the bold-faced unashamed-ness of her boyfriend’s sneakiness made her to “ go[ne] and thrown out all the records. All the ones that ever reminded me of you
I've gone and tore up all the pictures 'Cause there was not one shred of truth”
So when I hear “how many times?” used to introduce a song, I would need to ready myself for a song from the past decades and more importantly one of disappointment. I’m sure to hear that although I’ve been good, and brought good things to a relationship or to a job or to someone else’s life, that it was not met with good, in fact, it was mocked and ridiculed. I’m going to be shown to be ignorant of their unfaithfulness and disappointed.
However, I hope you aren’t readying for disappointment just now as you read the title of the message in the program or here online. In fact, I want you to hear something very different, in fact, a message of hope and one of outreach from heaven to you. A message of tireless fidelity and awesome love. That’s what’s in store for you for the next few minutes. See if this makes sense to you.

This season called the Ten Days of Awe are all about reconciliation. We get right with neighbours. We get right with God. We get right with anything and everything we can. Or at least we are charged to do so. And once a year, this is a very good thing to do, you know? We have already chanted Kol Nidre. We have already confessed in Avinu Malkenu that we have no good works of our own. We have admitted with our souls painfully exposed the sins of our lives the last year if not the last few days. Is that enough?
I imagine if we asked after services tomorrow in synagogues around the city, around the country, around the world, that we would find most Jewish people not very confident about our reconciliation. We would wonder, “Did it work?”

I remember my grandmother passed away in 1995 just hours before Rosh Hashanah. My mother rang me to tell me of Bessie’s passing away, and told me, “I guess her prayers last Yom Kippur didn’t work.” Wow, the popular interpretation, at least in our worldview, was that the prayers we offered during the Holidays were intended to renew our contract for another year with the Almighty. This annually-renewable contract is a very limited view of the Bible and of the covenant God has with us Jewish people, but it’s one held by many. No wonder we scratch our heads and wonder, “Did our prayers work this year?”

That’s why this story we read tonight in Matthew chapter 18 (text at the end, if you don't have a Bible) is so significant. Within the story is the assurance of the love and forgiveness of the Lord to all people, good guys and bad guys, grandmothers and rabbis, crooks and neighbours. This is a story of good news for all people. And please, notice with me the beginning, the story line, the question that began Y’shua’s reply.
Matt. 18.21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

By this, Peter is being very generous. Jewish tradition limited forgiveness to three times, perhaps based on Amos 1:3, 6, 9 and Job 33:29-30 (also Luke 17:4). Peter thought his willingness to forgive seven times was much more generous than the rabbis required and thus surpassing the righteousness of Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 5:20).
Maybe Peter was aggravated by his brothers, the other disciples. Maybe he had forgiven them before and was done with it all. And sometimes, don’t you feel like that also? Don’t you feel like you’ve given enough… forgiven enough… dropped your expectations so low that they are in the basement already and yet people still disappoint you? So maybe Peter is generous; maybe he’s weary. Either way, he’s confronted by a challenging answer of great disproportion. Y’shua tells him 70 times 7 times (or 490 times) he needs to forgive.

What that says is that Peter needs to quit keeping score of how generous he is. Peter needs to stop thinking of himself in social situations. Peter is being told that generosity goes well beyond human comforts and human calculations. What is says to me is that God, who is well represented in the story as the king, does not want us to keep score.

This expression of 70 x 7 may be a deliberate allusion to Lamech's revengeful and bitter words in Gen 4:24: "If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times." Now in Y’shua there is the possibility of a radical reversal from seventy-sevenfold vengeance to seventy-sevenfold forgiveness.

We look at this story on so many levels. First we see the Forgiving King. And we see the awesome debt the first servant owes; it’s 10,000 talents. This amount is so large that it cannot possibly be a personal loan. Even as taxes from a province it is an incredibly huge amount. Ten thousand was the largest number in the first century. The value of a talent varied from six to ten thousand denarii. A denarius was a common laborer's daily wage. A minimum daily wage here in Australia would be approximately $100. Ten thousand denarii, or one talent, would be the equivalent of $1,000,000 in today's economy. Ten thousand talents would be 10 billion dollars. Needless to say, Y’shua used ten thousand talents as a ridiculously exaggerated sum of money that the servant owed the king.
How long would it have taken the servant to have paid the loan back? Eternity! He never would have been able to pay it off, so what did he do? He begged for mercy. He cried out with a deep longing, and the king was merciful. The king forgave the debt to his own praise and glory. What a king!

That would have been a great story right there, you know? The story would be: SERVANT OWES A GREAT DEBT, KING FORGIVES THE SERVANT-- end of story. That would make the news to be sure.
But the story goes on. We see the servant as someone who is unforgiving. He finds a fellow slave who owes him one millionth of the first servant's forgiven debt. That’s nothing. OK, it’s something for a slave/ servant in those days, even as a person who lives on Centrelink gifts might view it, but it’s nothing by comparison. The 2nd servant owed .000001 the amount of the first servant, approx. 3 months’ wages. That was much more payable. That debt was manageable and was probably personal.

And you want the 1st servant to proclaim what he had heard. You want the 1st servant to share the forgiveness of the debt which he had received, but that’s not what happens. He is told to get ready for debtor’s prison and the 1st tosses the 2nd into jail. Yipes, nothing like you would imagine. It’s unthinkable! It’s unconscionable. It’s just…wrong!

The 2nd servant thinks to himself, ‘How many times….” And there seems no answer. The story ends with the fate of the 1st servant, but nothing is told us of the 2nd. At least, nothing more than the debtor’s prison sentence. Something aches in you when you hear this, doesn’t it?

I have another story, taken from Matthew’s gospel also. It’s near the end of Y’shua’s earthly ministry and he’s trying to get the attention of the Jewish leadership. He wants them to listen to him, all the while knowing they are not listening. The lines are taken from Matthew 23. We read, ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. (Matthew 23.37)

Here we have another tale of longing, and aching. We hear another Bible character saying, “How long?” or “How often” or “How many times?” And again it’s an aching for relationship. That’s what seems to drive the biblical writers, and certainly The Biblical author, Y’shua in this case. He wants us to know Him. He wants us to stop living away from Him and to gather as chicks gather to their mother hen. I can tell you as a father and a brand-new grandfather that nothing satisfies me more than being with my family, and being in a good relationship with each one.

What bothers the Almighty, what saddens him, what makes him say, “How long?” or “How many times?” is the reluctance of the people of God to approach Him.

Two things prevent our approaching God. One, our thinking that we don’t need Him. We’re doing fine, thanks. No need for God. No need for spirituality. No need for forgiveness. I’m doing fine. A Jewish man told me this week that he didn’t need to pray tonight because he had not sinned this year. Oops, that’s his first one, then.

The second reason we don’t approach God is that we think Him unapproachable. Or we don’t believe He exists. Or we think he’s harsh and unwilling to be kind. Both of these stories in tonight’s sermon highlight the longing and personal desire of the Almighty in fantastic opposition to this view.
Both of these are wrong. In the first case, we don’t know ourselves. In the 2nd, we don’t know God well enough.

Dear friends, be honest about you, and be honest about God. You are a sinner needing God’s forgiveness. God is loving, and longs to extend that forgiveness to you.
Y’shua didn’t only teach about this. He went to a Roman cross and died for us. God raised Him from the dead on the 3rd day to usher in a new Kingdom with Y’shua as our King.

Receive Him as Lord and Saviour in your life. Start 5772 with a new beginning. It’s better than apples in honey. It’s better than 10 billion dollars in lottery savings or forgiveness. It’s eternity with God and it starts as soon as you say ‘Yes, sir.” Don't leave him wondering “how long?” Say “Yes” and it will be eternity with God for you. That’s good news, to be sure!


Other uses of “How often” or “How many times” in the Bible:

1Kings 22.16 Then the king said to him, “How many times must I adjure you to speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”
2Chr. 18.15 Then the king said to him, “How many times must I adjure you to speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”
Job 21.17 “How often is the lamp of the wicked put out, Or does their calamity fall on them? Does God apportion destruction in His anger?
Psa. 78.40 How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness, And grieved Him in the desert!


The story:
Matt. 18.21 ¶ Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Matt. 18.22 Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Matt. 18.23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
Matt. 18.24 “And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents.
Matt. 18.25 “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
Matt. 18.26 “The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.’
Matt. 18.27 “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
Matt. 18.28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
Matt. 18.29 “So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’
Matt. 18.30 “He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
Matt. 18.31 “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
Matt. 18.32 “Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me.
Matt. 18.33 ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’
Matt. 18.34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
Matt. 18.35 “So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”