23 February 2014

Children upgraded

12-5292-EMBAGRAD-588 by BU_EMBA
12-5292-EMBAGRAD-588, a photo by BU_EMBA on Flickr.

I spent the evening with some people in Sydney from our tennis club. The discussions are always lively about religion and Australia and tennis and global warming and tonight we spoke for a bit of time about authority. It actually arose from a discussion about social media and how useful it was in finding my camera some weeks back.

One of the ladies suggested that she saw no real purpose for Facebook and hashtags and such. One mentioned one thing that was a benefit; another piped in and around the table it went.

When I was a kid, we had authorities. You know, when you wanted to know something about a medical condition you had to go to the chemist (pharmacist) or the doctor. When you wanted to know something you went to the encyclopedia or the librarian. If the librarian didn't know, s/he would know whom to call and where to hunt. The rabbi had authority at synagogue; the teacher had authority at school. And this idea of an authority brought comfort to most of us.

But in these days, authority has been diminished. Wikipedia allows anyone to post credible encyclopedic answers to themes or make comments about people. Blogs like this one can pronounce about almost anything and it has as much validity in conversation as the official journalists of the NY Times or the Melbourne Age.

A child can don a mortar board (ok, I know this man was sharing with his child in the photo, but it captured my imagination tonight)

Anyone can publish a poem, or a book of poems without being a Longfellow or Poe, without being recognized by others and paying his dues.

I'm happy about that leveling of the playing field and giving everyone a fair go.

I'm not happy about the diminishing of authorities and the commensurate struggle that so many have as a result. Without authorities whom do people seek for information, both academic and personal? Google is limited. Wikixxx is limited. We need authorities who are recognized and substantial.

14 February 2014

Good grief?

Grief by OnTask
Grief, a photo by OnTask on Flickr.

Given at One New Man
Sydney, February 2014

When a man plans a talk to be given at a gathering like this, our monthly One New Man meeting, a wise man would always choose topics that are uplifting, like joy or happiness, like love (especially since this Friday is Valentine’s Day) and faith or hope. See? Sound good, right? So, when I tell you that tonight’s topic is “Grief”, your first thought is … what? Despair. Sadness. Death. Loss. Second thought: What a downer! What else can I be thinking about rather than what the guy up front is addressing?

But I promise, if you listen with your heart, and open your Bibles and read along, if you take on board what God has to say about grief, you will be upbeat when you leave. You will be a better person. You will be improved. And that is why you attended tonight, right?

Take a look with me at some photos. This first one was taken in Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans, LA. One of the most photographed and talked about statues in Metairie Cemetery is inside the mausoleum of Chapman H. Hymans.
The interior of the mausoleum, modeled after the mausoleum of Queen Louise of Prussia, is lit by 2 blue stained glass windows that cast a soft light on the statue of a young woman with angel wings head down on her arm and overcome with sadness. The beautiful marble statue titled, "Grief" was made in Carara, Italy. It is a replica of "Angel of Grief", an 1894 sculpture by William Wetmore Story, which serves as the gravestone of the artist and his wife at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, Italy. The intensity of the blue light in the mausoleum changes during the day and with cloud cover but "the blues" never leaves this sad but beautiful tomb.

I suppose a classical statue and art itself has a beauty we can and should appreciate. But we are not thinking about artwork tonight; we are thinking about the subject of grief.

And that’s appropriate for us as Jews, who have experienced great grief throughout our history, both corporate (Holocaust, Inquisitions, pogroms…) and many can talk about individual histories of grief.

Lon Solomon is a Jewish man, about my age, who grew up in the American south and who also like me is a Jewish believer in Jesus. He is pastor of 10,000 people at the McLean Bible Church in suburban Washington DC. He has three sons and one daughter. The boys are professionals: a doctor, a lawyer, and one involved in Homeland Security. But it’s the daughter Jill, born in 1992, about whom I want to speak for a minute. She was born with mitochondrial disease. She has had tens of thousands of seizures all her young life, and as a result has had massive brain damage. Lon wrote the book “Brokenness” to help all of us deal with our situations, our sufferings, our grief. In fact Lon writes of his own disappointment (and that of his wife Brenda). “There was the grief, of watching our dreams and plans for our little girl vanish. There would be no shopping trips to the mall, where Brenda and Jill could laugh and buy clothes. There would be no piano lessons, dance lessons, first dates, prom nights, or teaching Jill to drive. I was never going to walk my daughter down the aisle or watch her become a mother.”

So when I talk tonight about grief, let me be clear. Grief is not only the pain of loss at the death of another, but at the loss of something we hold dear. Grief then is the gut-wrenching intense suffering and our commensurate inability to smile at life’s pains.

                                           On the left is a replica of the famous statue by Mr. Story, this time in Menlo Park, California, by Stanford University. It looks so clean and neat. The surrounds are beautiful gardens as you can imagine all over the campus. It’s sterile. And empty.  That's not to say anything against the pristine surrounds of the campus.

On the right we have the original statue by Mr. Story in Rome, Italy. A bit more aged. A bit more tired. A bit more real. Like grief, I suppose. A very harsh environment and a very harsh reality.

This angel from a London cemetery is weeping. And that makes sense to you, doesn’t it? But think about it. Where in the Bible do we read of angels crying? Anywhere? But we have put human emotions into the art world and that makes sense. And we would not even be shocked if we saw God crying. I remember in the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” when Yeshua died, and the camera panned up to the view from above, we saw a single tear fall. That tear crashed into the crucifixion scene, causing calamity, despair, disorientation, earthquakes, a torn curtain in the Temple and massive confusion.  One tear can cause the world to stop. According to Mel Gibson.
More dramatic for us, are the times in life when we cry, when we are struck with joy by a piece of music, feel awe at the beauty of a landscape, or are overwhelmed with emotion by the kindness of others. Then, there are those really fun moments of complete abandon when our sides ache and tears roll down our cheeks from the laughter that comes from a hilarious comedian. Clearly the salty water that flows from our eyes is an important part of the human experience.

Often, people report that a good cry can make them feel better and more at peace. In one survey, 85% of women and 73% of men reported feeling less sad or angry after crying. As a result of this kind of information, psychologists and scientists are doing research to discover what the content and purpose of tears may be. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis has conducted some of this research in an effort to discover the chemical make up of tears. Frey compared tears induced from sadness with tears caused by chopping a raw onion. He found that the tears caused by emotional stimuli contained more total protein than those that resulted from irritation. Frey proposes that the emotionally based tears contained high levels of cortisol, which is the primary hormone released during stressful situations. This suggests that we may be literally removing toxins from our system when we cry, and that crying itself may support our overall good health. Dr. Frey discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, whereas emotional tears also contain stress hormones, which get excreted from the body through crying.

After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins, which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.” Interestingly, humans are the only creatures known to shed emotional tears, though it’s possible that that elephants and gorillas do too. Other mammals and also salt-water crocodiles produce reflex tears, which are protective and lubricating.

Dr. Judith Orloff writes: “Our bodies produce three kinds of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional. Each kind has different healing roles. For instance, reflex tears allow your eyes to clear out noxious particles when they’re irritated by smoke or exhaust. The second kind, continuous tears are produced regularly to keep our eyes lubricated--these contain a chemical called “lysozyme” which functions as an anti-bacterial and protects our eyes from infection. Tears also travel to the nose through the tear duct to keep the nose moist and bacteria free. Typically, after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.” (Adapted from “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life” (Three Rivers Press, 2011) She is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA.

Psychologists intuitively have understood the healing power of tears and often encourage people to allow their tears to flow freely, unobstructed by any internal sensors that might shut them off.

So you say, “Bob, all well and good about tears, but tonight we are talking about grief. And sometimes grieving is not therapeutic at all; it feels terrible. It’s just wrong.”

I get it. I hear you.

Consider Joelle, a dear friend of Jews for Jesus who lives here in Sydney. She has three beautiful kids whom she home schools. Last year she was pregnant with her fourth, and after full term, she lost the baby girl. Dead in her arms. SIDS, no doubt, but whatever the 
-->cause, grief came. Serious, almost suicide-watch grief came upon her. And that’s reasonable. And painful. Can you imagine what she went through, carrying the baby, anticipating the joy of a 4th child, and then all hopes dashed. And the only thing to fill the void was heart-wrenching tears.  Here is the cemetery where her baby is buried. It’s empty. Her life was empty. Shattered.

This poem, entitled “Broken Hearts,” was sent to Joelle, and she found relief there.
Grief can be good, then, can’t it? And we cry good grief when exasperated, but think about it. What makes grief good? What makes grief bad?

Consider Hamlet, concerning his mother, who after his father died, less than a month afterwards, she was marrying his brother. Hamlet feels that his mother Gertrude betrayed his father by marrying his uncle Claudius so quickly after the father's death. His mother cried, deep sentimental tears at the funeral of King Hamlet, the daddy, The Ghost, but they weren’t real. Or so says the son who feels betrayed at what he calls the incest of marrying uncle Claudius.

And Hamlet is at war with his own feelings of whether or not, or how to avenge his father's death, it almost seems like part of him is betraying him sometimes and he has to keep talking himself into keep up his motive for revenge.

I don’t want to spend too much time on Shakespearean questions, but to ponder again what grief is good, and what is bad? Ideas?

One more photo: Most people like perfume in some measure. Do you know how perfume is made? Designing a new fragrance is a complicated process involving a combination of various oils, herbs, and spices. And of course, flowers. To make the most of a flower’s fragrance, you have to crush it. When the petals are crushed, broken open, pulled apart, that’s when the truest, richest, deepest fragrance spills out.

Let me help us with some Bible verses:
In 1 Samuel 2, God through ‘a man of God’ approaches the priest Eli and tells him that even though Eli’s sons are going to die and have miserably failed, God doesn’t want Eli to grieve in soul, I will add, too long. And how will that work? By God raising up another in their place.

God spoke to Samuel to stop grieving over Saul since God had rejected his leadership.

And the final one, which is in my mind tonight, the ultimate in more ways than one:
1Th. 4.13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.

What is the apostle saying about grief here?
1)  Grief is universal
2)  Grief is natural
3)  There are types of grief: good and bad
4)  Good grief has hope; bad grief is hopeless
5)  Informed believers have good grief and thus hope because God will act!

What do you do with your own grief? What do you do with your own tears? (Sharing time ensued)

The general consensus was that grief can be good if we use it as a steppingstone to help others, to grow and mature, to learn, to ‘make perfume’ in other people’s lives.

We closed with prayers for our relatives/ friends for whom we grieve.

Next month we celebrate Purim (2 Adar). Listen to this text from Esther: Esth. 9.22 because on those days the Jews rid themselves of their enemies, and it was a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

Look forward to being with us on 12 March for Purim in Sydney.

13 February 2014

Why would we use the term "Jew?"

Brooklyn Jew 2 by bobmendo
Brooklyn Jew 2, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.
I don't remember being so surprised. The man was a gentle man, kind, and apparently supportive of what we do. "Praise the Lord!" he said when he came into the book shop. He said how he enjoyed seeing our testimony boldly proclaiming Jesus in the midst of a fairly secular area. He liked the name "Jesus" on our signage. He was perplexed however, and expressed it this way.

"Why would you use the term "Jew" in your signage?" I thought, surely he understood we were actually Jewish people and had come to believe in Jesus as our Messiah. Right? So the question surprised me. I tilted my head a little and answered, "Because we are Jews, I guess." That should have satisfied him.

But his response was jarring.

"The word 'Jew' means 'miser', so why would you want to use that word in your name?"

Wow, I don't know that I'd ever heard that. 'Jew' of course doesn't mean that at all, but where he had been raised, and the thought had apparently never been successfully challenged, 'Jew' meant a Shylock, a miser, a tightwad. And any good Christian would never name themselves with such an appellation.

Rabbi Doniel Baron wrote about this very thing a couple days ago. My friend Phil sent it to me.
"We are a nation of many names: Israel, Jacob, Ephraim, to name a few. Why does it seem that the name "Jew" sticks the most? What does the name mean?

The words Jew (Yehudi in Hebrew) and Judaism (Yahadut) come from the name Judah, or Yehuda as it is pronounced in Hebrew. Yehuda was one the 12 tribes that descended from our forefather Yaakov. Understanding who Yehuda was and what he represented provides us with the key to comprehending the name Jew and understanding who we really are.

The word Yehuda comes from the Hebrew word lehodot, which means to thank. Indeed, upon his birth, Leah, Yehuda's mother, exclaimed "hapaam odeh et Hashem," this time I thank God. Feelings of gratitude characterized Yehuda's birth. The commonly used word todah, meaning "thank you," stems from the same root.

Our Sages taught that a person's name is given by his parents in a moment of Divinely inspired insight, and a name describes something about the person who bears it."

Now being a thankful people is not something which has always characterized the Jewish people.
Isaiah said it four times, Jeremiah once, Daniel twice, Ezra and Nehemiah once each, but David was the man who thanked God the most and who called us as Israel to 'give thanks to the Lord' more than anyone else.

Why would we use the term "Jew" of ourselves? Because we are Jewish people, who read the same Scriptures as other Jews, who want to learn of them, who want to live thankful to the Lord, and who want to call others to the same thankfulness. We are not cheap about that; we give of ourselves to that goal daily.

Would you use the term if you could?

07 February 2014

Warning signs and Aussie flag bearer at Sochi

Beware by bobmendo
Beware, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

My friends Trevor, Rod, and Phil had some fun at the North Ryde Golf Club when we saw this warning sign, "Beware of golfers on tee." Not sure why golfers on tees are dangerous, they struck a pose of possible impending doom. Trevor's nose caught the brunt of the intimiphoto.

The other day at our office one of our workers erased a large batch of data by ignoring a warning that the computer gave. I've noticed that we often zoom past warning signs and computer prompts on a regular basis. We simply don't have time or interest in insignificant information. It may be significant after all, but we don't give it much mind.

There is great worry about terrorism in Sochi. This morning snowboarder Alex “Chumpy” Pullin learned he will carry the Australian flag at Friday night’s Winter Olympics opening ceremony - and then said the sight of warships off the coast as he flew into Sochi heartened him that he would not be at the centre of a terrorist attack.

Pullin, who is one of Australia’s leading medal contenders in the men’s snowboard cross, was a surprise selection ahead of four-time Olympic aerial freestyle skier Lydia Lasilla.

He will lead a record 60-strong Australian team into the ceremony, although the event will happen under the cloud of terrorist fears.

The opening ceremony has long been identified as a potential target from Chechen extremists, who have vowed to create havoc on the games.

“No, not at all,” Pullin said when asked if he was nervous about potential threat.

“We flew in over navy ships that were floating out in the water, all surrounding the airport, and later when we looked out the window there was a military officer manning once every 20 metres. There’s such a security lock down on the whole thing, and this event is taken very seriously."

“I’m sure it’s secure and everything is completely under control.”

When you see a warning sign, when you learn that trouble is brewing, when you consider possible trouble, pause. Take a moment. Re-read the computer prompt. Re-read the sign on the sign of the roadway and ensure that you are reading it right and that it is a clearway or a parking zone or...

Ezekiel was a Jewish prophet and he said this in his book in the Bible, chapter 33: "Now as for you, son of man, I (God says) have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them warning from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life." (verses 7-9)

Seems that preachers really do have a role in life. Even I have a role. Not only a photographic role. Not only an administrative role. Not only as a father or husband. I have a preaching role which includes warnings.

And if you listen and turn from your sin, and turn towards the God who loves you radically, and wants to be in a relationship with you, then you will have a better life.

Not an easy life. Not a life without pain or real suffering, but a life where you have a relationship with the One who took your sin on Himself. Yeshua is the Savior of your life. He saw those warnings and those signs and took on board the pain of your hostility towards God.

Warning today? If you don't receive Yeshua, you will die in your sins and that has consequences about which we shouldn't be thinking. Better to think in terms of the response of your heart to a loving God who wants you to know Him.

Get it?

And watch out for goofy golfers in North Ryde. With drivers.

03 February 2014

Coming up short

The long and short of it by bobmendo
The long and short of it, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

The Super Bowl was a bit of a bust, as far as a competitive contest goes. The Seattle Seahawks were dominant from the beginning, never looking back, and trouncing the Denver Broncos 43-8 in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The Denver Broncos came up short. Way short. And it may have been Peyton Manning's worst defeat in like forever.

The quarterback for the Seahawks is Russell Wilson, an unlikely hero for his stature. He's 5'11" short and was drafted #75 overall in the 2012 draft.

Not a single quarterback under 6’0” has been drafted in the first two rounds since the 5’10” Ted Marchibroda went No. 5 overall to Pittsburgh in 1953. The average height of the 2014 quarterbacks is 74.6 inches, or just over 6’2”.

Short is not a good commodity in NFL quarterbacks to be sure. But Wilson did great in the Seahawks victory.

But wait, Bruno Mars was the celebrity performer at the halftime show of SuperBowl XLVII (48). He's only 5'5" short, too! Maybe that's why he wears his hair so tall. See


There was nothing little about his performance as Bruno wrote the songs, which he then drummed, danced, and sang to. It was excellent! I couldn't understand a word of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with whom Bruno also performed, but Bruno even seemed like he did that well.

Short is not bad at all, as this photo of my friends Avi and Stuart show. Avi is a little guy who has a big heart and a bigger vision of what the Gospel can do in this wicked world.

Come to think of it, Isaiah the Jewish prophet had something to say from heaven about God and shortness. "Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short that it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear." (Chapter 59, verse 1)

God's hand is not short, although some would say He is out of touch. God's ear is strong although some would say he doesn't listen. He wants to listen; He wants to touch you and wrap His arms around you. He can find you. He can help you.

God will never come up short in His care for you. Will you trust Him even now?

02 February 2014

Football: the game of life

Sweep for a TD by bobmendo
Sweep for a TD, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

My friend Tim Calcara in the US wrote this today. Fitting as the SuperBowl is about to take over our airways even as far as Australia.


Are you ready for the big game? I’m not talking about the Super Bowl. I mean the game of Life for a child of God. The game begins once we first believe and resolve to follow him all of our days. But let’s never forget that believing is kind of like the opening kickoff. To stay effective for the duration of the game, it requires daily training, preparation and focus.

And don’t forget. It actually depends upon a world class coach to lead us to victory.

Fortunately, you have that world class coach - the Holy Spirit - who promises to lead us and help us until the final minute of play.

When we watch the Super Bowl, we may have a favorite team that we’ll whoop and holler for but let’s face it, it is just a game, right? And you and I are mere spectators.

On the other hand, you and I are much more than spectators in the game of Life. In Life, we get to suit up each day. And we have the power to play each day with intentionality and purpose when we let his presence rule in our hearts.

Ambassadors of the living God. That’s the game of Life for the Child of God. Bringing him glory in both good days and bad ones. That’s how we advance his agenda toward his sure final victory.

Remember, we have already won the game of Life because of what Jesus has done for us. Every Child of God will receive a crown – you could say it’s kind of like a Super Bowl ring – except that when the game is over, instead of boasting about how we were the hero, we’ll take no credit for the victory and humbly cast our crowns at His feet as he is unanimously voted the game’s most valuable player! – see Revelation 4:10.

Maybe you feel like you’ve been “knocked out of bounds” for whatever reason and apathy has overtaken passion for the moment. Going through the motions is an easy rut to fall into, especially when the adrenaline of the holidays has worn off and you have to play even when wind chills dip into the negative double digits.

The apostle John wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus about this dangerous habit of “going through the motions.” Perhaps there is something we can learn from John as he addressed our Ephesian teammates.

In Revelation 2, John’s warning to this maturing church community was that they had fallen from their first love. He urged them to remember their “rookie years” and begin to play the game the way they did when they first came to faith. He reminded them to remember the opening kickoff. And run each play with the same zeal.

Like football, the game of life for the believer must be played with passion, with resolve, with intentionality. Falling into a rut is easy to do but the remedy is to return to the love we had when we first believed.

Ask any football veteran. They'll tell you that rookies bring passion and excitement to the game because everything is so new to them. Sure, rookies make more mistakes but their boundless zeal keeps the team motivated and excited about executing the game plan. And remember, in God’s economy, passion always trumps doing it perfectly – Acts 13:22.

One of favorite songs by Mathew West is called “Going Through the Motions.” Listen to the words of the chorus…

I don't wanna go through the motions.
I don't wanna go one more day
without Your all consuming passion inside of me.

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking,
"What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?"

I am sure that no player in the Super Bowl wants to have regrets about going through the motions of mediocrity.. They resolve to give everything they’ve got until the final tick of the clock.

Are you willing to do the same?

Have a Super Ground Hog Day on Sunday but remember you have a bigger game to play on Monday I.e. the “Game of Life.” Let’s all resolve to reignite the passion that we had when we were “rookies”.

It’s the only way to play.