28 February 2012

57/366 Inside Dome Westfield SF

Not a church, but the icon of worship in the modern world. A shopping centre. I'm not sure that Frank Lowy in Sydney who is the founder of Westfield or Abraham Levitt and his sons, William and Alfred, who created the shopping mall as we know it, in Levittown NY and Levittown NJ in the USA, would agree with me. They saw the mall as a place to find stores and consolidate shopping for customers. To make life easier for the consumer.

But I aver that the mall (and in 2nd place the sports arena) is the new 'house of worship.' Consumerism has replaced 'divine worship.' Sunday shopping has replaced liturgy (the work of the people).

It was scandalous in the 1950s when "Blue laws" were enacted to allow stores to open on Sundays. Today, however, closing shops on any one day of the week in compliance with biblical standards is shocking to many, and certainly disallowed by Westfield or Levittown centres.

Welcome to the new cathedral. The dome inside Westfield makes sense as a place of worship now, doesn't it?

25 February 2012

Will He come?

Good luck, Tobes by bobmendo
Good luck, Tobes, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

I mean no derogation. It's just that Avi, sitting at the computer, is not the most machine-friendly guy when it comes to computers and mobile phones and such. So when Toby, from the UK, started showing Avi, who lives in Budapest, the ropes on this machine, well, I just wished Toby good luck.

And maybe that's the way it is with disk-cipleship. Or discipleship. We tend to look at what has been, and not what might be. We evaluate the possibilities on the basis of past performance rather than the future hopes.

The Bible quotes people who were in such a consideration. There were those who were tired of waiting for the return of Messiah Jesus. They had hoped for a year or two or ten, and were wearying. The past had dreams and these dreams were (as yet) unfulfilled. So in 2Pet. 3.4 we read, "saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

You can hear their disappointment. You can hear their pain. But to their mockery, Peter has an answer:

2Pet. 3.9 "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."

That's the grace of God. That's the kindness of the Almighty, to wait for you to come to Him. He's not delayed nor tired nor unable. He's patient.

Won't you receive Him today?

23 February 2012

Deep in prayer

Eric deep in prayer by bobmendo
Eric deep in prayer, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

Some male Orthodox Jewish people wrap themselves in a prayer shawl. Some Catholics light candles and burn incense. Some Buddhists light shrines and bring offerings to their deity. And whatever their mechanism, like this man deep in prayer, it's about intensity and about trust that pervades the scene.

I've heard other people in a sort-of demand mode, telling God what He needs to do, or He cannot be their god. That is not in view here.

A smart pray-er is a humble pray-er. He knows he has no claim on deity and has almost no rights even to request anything. Humility-- that's the way into the holiest.

So what about the tallit? Shouldn't we wrap ourselves with a prayer shawl each morning? Won't that help? To be fair, yes, it does help some of the people who use them. They are able to concentrate that much more. So for them, it's more useful. For the Almighty? Nope, He knows our history and our heart; so no amount of activity will be impressive. He's not a teenaged girl, after all.

Eric, who is deep in prayer, is still wearing his apron. He was cooking this morning. He later on will clean up the dishes. Then this afternoon he will be ringing some churches as is his usual duty.

He knows from where his own strength comes. No wonder he affords himself the time to pray. And to trust the Almighty. Smart move.

For Eric.
And for me.
And for you.

22 February 2012

Freedom to read...even the Bible

From the NY Times today:
BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Protests broke out and shock rippled through the country on Tuesday as accounts emerged of NATO personnel setting fire to bags filled with Korans and other sacred books of Koranic interpretation at the Bagram Air Base.
Shah Marai/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images   An Afghan man aimed a sling shot toward soldiers during a protest outside Bagram Air Base on Tuesday.
The holy books were saved by Afghans working in the area, some of whom rushed screaming at two soldiers who were throwing the bags into an incineration pit, or reached into the fire to extract the volumes. A NATO spokesman said the books had been gathered at a detention facility for suspected insurgents and inadvertently sent for incineration. 

When I look at these images and the embarrassment of the situation, I'm so sorry that other countries, like Saudi Arabia do this on a regular basis. What? You say... Read this from yesterday's Christian Post:

If this is true, then the same outrage that the Afghans displayed about their Koran and the shame and apologies of the NATO commanders, should be enforced on the Saudi regime. 

"The heavily Muslim country threatens to confiscate them from foreign visitors along with other prohibited items such as narcotics, firearms and pornography, according to the web site of Saudi Arabian Airlines, the country’s national carrier.
“A number of items are not allowed to be brought into the kingdom due to religious reasons and local regulations,” states the airlines’ web site. It goes on to say: “Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are also prohibited. These may include Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols such as the Star of David, and others.”
An employee of the Saudi Arabian Airlines in New York, who only identified herself as Gladys, confirmed the rule."

Same playing field. Same world. Same section of the world. Someone should tell the Saudis, you know?

21 February 2012

Confused about social media. Part I

These are the top three, but there's also LinkedIn and Flickr and so many variations. There's TweetDeck which allows you to enter one and update many at once, and what about MSN? Tired yet? Overwhelmed? Whelmed at least? I get it. I feel it. We get a choice to 'like' people on FB or 'follow' others' tweets. I get to link with others, and create fan pages and try to keep up with real friends and the hundreds of others who ...um....aren't exactly friends.

I'm pondering how to keep pace.
And I'm pondering more things about time and timing and media which is social.

Did you live in the time when people first started receiving FAXes? it was an immediate office-stopper. "Hey, everybody, somebody, there is a FAX coming through." The beep would get us; the information was often of some significance. Information then was mostly linear, and an interruption or two was acceptable.

Then in about 1994 I started using AOL. Some friends were on compuserve or prodigy. The internet allowed us to send and receive messages. You could even have instant chats with people wherever there were, as long as they were 'on' at the same time. I began to look for people on my IM list when I logged on. IM chat made things a lot easier and almost more immediate and personal. I even stayed up late at night and could 'speak' with others in other time zones, for free!

But, the demand was minimal. Internet activity was relegated to the time when I turned on my computer on the desk either at the office or home. Once the internet and portability were merged, on the laptop and now the smartphone.. demand increased and private time was lost.

No wonder people are confused.
No wonder I'm whelmed most days.

There are many answers to the questions and the whelmed feelings. We'll talk about those in the next blog.

19 February 2012

49/366 Authority vs Power

49/366 Authority by bobmendo
49/366 Authority, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

The light turned red. I stopped. The scene is near Bondi Junction and the cars and buses flow seamlessly more often than not. Why? Because we all submit to the rules of the road. When the light turns red, we stop. Soon enough anyway.

So I titled this photo "Authority." Why? Consider the places where red lights are mere suggestions, like in Naples, Italy or in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Our family was shocked at the random nature of compliance in Italy in 2003, and I cannot imagine it has improved. When my daughter and I were in Bs As in 2005, we saw drivers turn down their headlights each evening, and slow down at least, as they drove through red lights without stopping. Wow, the suggestion box is open.

So here I was at the red light, remembering Italy and Argentina. And although I was somewhat in a hurry, I waited until my light turned green before I accelerated.

Our society has agreed to work together in this way. We could all rise up as one or many and disobey, but we don't. We have turned our power to their authority. Let me explain.

If I wanted to do so, I could have driven right into the intersection. Red light or not, what do I care? What would have resulted? An accident or two. Some bodily injury perhaps. I had the power to do what I wanted. But no authority to stop others.

Consider if a policeman were standing in the intersection. He is in uniform. He has a gun. He has a yellow and green jersey which indicates something about road safety. And he puts his hand up, telling you to stop, and you have to make a decision. Will I? Won't I?

He has authority but no power. You can run him right over. Your car is much weightier than his frame and plow...done... farewell officer. Yet, in civil society we submit to the authority.

Same goes for voting or laws about getting a justice of the peace to sign a Statutory Declaration. We do what we are told. And we are happy to do so. Or at least compliant.

Authority, not necessarily in the most powerful at the moment, but the one with the governance on his shoulders. I like that thought.

Y'shua was a strong man, to be sure, as a carpenter in the First Century, but I'm sure a crowd or mob would have taken him down, molested him and say, raised him on a stick to die. But God gave Him all authority in heaven and on earth.

The Bible records these two verses: Matt. 28.18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." and again, in
1Cor. 15.24 "then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished call rule and all authority and power."

Jesus submitted to the hostile mob that crucified him that 'Good Friday" but he remained as having all authority. Authority vs power? I'm on the side of authority, thanks.

14 February 2012

Tragedy: Whitney Houston

Where do broken hearts go?

Yesterday I watched the Grammy Awards and saw the continual tributes to the legend Whitney Houston. She was awarded two Emmy Awards, 6 Grammy awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards, among a total of 415 career awards in her lifetime. And the news kept reporting of her tragic death, the scene of being found in a bathtub in Beverly Hills, California, drowned or dead of a drug overdose. Houston began singing with her New Jersey church's gospel choir at age 11.

I immediately flashed on Michael Jackson and the blame game that ensued and the lawsuits eventually toppling his doctor who gave him too many drugs at inopportune times which in turn toppled the King of Pop.

They used terms on the tv and in the papers in the reporting about Whitney like tragic, tragedy, too early, shame. And I don't mean to demean the reality of her dying. She was 49 years old having burst onto the scene in 1985 although she performed in nightclubs with her mother from her teens. She was the first black woman to be a cover girl on Seventeen magazine. So what is tragic about her death?

Maybe we ought to define our terms. Tragedy. Tragic. Dictionary.com tells us tragedy is "a dramatic composition, often in verse, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically that of a great person destined through a flaw of character or conflict with some overpowering force, as fate or society, to downfall or destruction."

Maybe that's perfect here. Whitney was a 'great person' as her CV will show but I’m not talking about greatness like moral or strong on behalf of others necessarily. [For more information, see her Wikipedia entry Whitney here. ] To be fair, we are not privy to the entire dramatic composition, but we have watched, and the networks have exposed her drug addictions.

Rick Dewsbury in the UK Daily Mail wrote yesterday, "Miss Houston entered the music industry as an innocent teenager with dreams shared by so many of being a pop star. But for anybody with slight vulnerabilities, a world flooded with drugs, yes-men, wealth and hangers-on, is a dangerous place…Surrounded by an entourage who must take some of the responsibility for her demise, she pushed herself ever harder in attempt to regain those highs… The entertainment industry simply cannot continue to turn a Nelsonian eye to the endemic drug abuse that claims so many lives. After the latest tragedy it's time for all of those involved, including the performers, to finally do some soul-searching and look at the dark forces at work that allow our most gifted artists who bring joy to so many to go into a tailspin of destruction.”  Read more by Dewsbury here Telegraph article

So Dewsbury is saying the tragedy in part is the responsibility of those around Whitney. Or the industry itself. Again the blame game finds its way into the press. 

End of the day, we are each responsible for our own decisions. You and I can live with pain and suffering without drugs or with them. Karl Marx said, ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

The loss of Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix… and now Whitney. Who is next? Will it be tragic or simply put, a very sad ending to a person’s (like Whitney’s) needs not being fulfilled back in the church where she grew up in New Jersey. I know, church is not THE answer, but fulfillment I believe is only found in relationship with God, and in being forgiven of our sins in relation to our faith in Jesus, the Messiah whom God sent to the planet.

And we each are seeking for fulfillment in fame or beauty or mounting moneys or something, but riches ‘makes itself wings and flies away.’ Only relationship with God endures to the end and to the ends we need.

The human tragedy is not only related to rock singers and R&B artists. It’s not only about Henri Toulouse-Lautrec or Columbine High school shootings. It’s about you and me. What will we do with our life? What will we do with Jesus?
May Whitney’s family, especially her daughter, find comfort in this difficult time of mourning, and may God be able to welcome her into His Kingdom by the evidence of her faith, as only He can judge.

Whitney sang “Where do broken hearts go?”  [See the YouTube here: ” You tube ] “Can they find their way home back to the open arms of a love that’s waiting there? And if somebody loves you, won’t they always love you?” That’s the message of God’s awesome love to Ms Houston and to you and to me. 
 The Bible says, “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5.7-8) That’s awesome love. That’s worth pondering today.

12 February 2012

What is valuable?

Worthwhile. That's the Spanish expression that Pip, my Flickr friend in Spain, said of this rainstorm. The Spanish literally means "it's worth the pain." But it's an idiom. I suppose in modern days we could just say, vale, but the traditionalists win out in the use of the full phrase. (Title of the photo is "La que nos cayó encima... pero valió la pena..."That which falls from above on us, but it's worthwhile)

A Norwegian lady came into our book shop last week. She lives in Hong Kong. And she bought some books on the Holocaust. We had a good chat, and God is moving on her heart, helping her adjust from atheism to a more God-centered life. Pretty good. I got her contact details, and then I gave her our newsletter, translated into Mandarin. At that she was very upset. Not that I gave her something for free. Not that it was in Chinese, in fact, she liked that. What bothered her was the type of Mandarin we used. It's one of two types used in the world today: simplified.

Some years ago, we made a decision to have our newsletters translated into Chinese that we would not use the 'traditional' language which was bulkier and longer and harder, but instead went with the more modern, the 'simplified.'

I don't regret this decision, but it was fascinating to see a woman from another country guarding the old style, as if it were her own native tongue and in fact as if it belonged to her family for generations.

For her, the traditional was worthwhile.

I keep thinking about that word 'worthy.' The online dictionary says it is, "Sufficiently valuable or important to be worth one's time, effort, or interest." That is, it's worth the pain. So effort, interest or time are pain. Really?

Yup, really. That is, if something doesn't cost you, it's not worth anything. Or the older adage, "you get what you pay for." Forgive the prepositional ending. What you spend, you gain. If it's cheap, and costs you little, it's probably worth little.

So when we sing on this Sunday morning in churches worldwide, "Thou are worthy" to the Lamb who was slain, and when we hear the book of the Revelation from which that is quoted read aloud, let us join John in shouting of the worthwhile nature of the One who died for us. Let us worship the One who is worthy.

It's worth our pain.
It was worth His pain to bring us back into relationship with the Father.

On what do you spend your pain today?
Some reflective quotations:

from the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation (Chapter) 4. (verse)11 “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.”

Rev. 5.2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?”

Rev. 5.4 And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it;

Rev. 5.9 And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the 1book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Rev. 5.12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”