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