28 July 2017

A crack down or two


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 July 2017

Flashback and memories


King Arthur sings a reprise of the title song in the Broadway show "Camelot" as the play comes to an end. The majesty of the scenes, the songs, the triumphs, the never-ending nature of optimism is found in the earlier lyrics, but this is the final number, with a bit of a tear-turned-away and softening of memories, Arthur and Tom sing,
ARTHUR:
"Each evening, from December to December,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.

Ask ev'ry person if he's heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!
Now say it out with pride and joy!
TOM:
Camelot! Camelot!

ARTHUR:
Yes, Camelot, my boy!
Where once it never rained till after sundown,
By eight a.m. the morning fog had flown...
Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot."

That's what I'm pondering today as I read the obituary of yet another of my friends from decades gone by. No one would have doubted that John Rooker, student council or Senior class president or whatever his titles were, would be a success and live long and prosper after we graduated in 1969. Many who remembered him from our class in the requisite Facebook historical revue this last week have commented on his kindness, his energy, his wonderful voice and acting ability. No one is saying, "Oy, I hated that Rooker guy..." because that's not what you are to do in times like these, AND because I seriously doubt if anyone did feel like that about John.

But whatever that season of our lives was when Janis Joplin and Peter, Paul and Mary were singing, when Midnight Cowboy was rated X, when Woodstock took the world by storm and Richard Nixon was still up to his ears in government, for John and most of us remembering, it was a Camelot-type moment.

Arthur and the chorus sang earlier, "In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here In Camelot."

This is the stuff that fairy tales are made of. And yet, in the end, they sing about this being one "brief shining moment." Those moments don't last-- neither in their activity, nor in their resultant accolades. In modern days we use the phrase, "15 minutes of fame" and no matter how long on the clock they actually remain, it bears witness to the reality that all of that glory is a "fleeting wisp."

If that be so, then why bother? If our energies for honor and history are but for a moment, then what's the point?

The point is to make the world better, one person at a time. We don't have to be encircled by the millions at the Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC. We don't need accolades then nor now. What we need is to have purpose in life, and strive to make that happen, to the betterment of the world and its people. Then our sleep will be sweet, Then we can look the (wo)man-in-the-mirror each day with something better than smugness or shame. We can look with rigorous honesty and thank the Creator for making us such, and get on with the plan.

07 July 2017

Singalong... when it's odd


I note that every time I watch a live performance, on television, or even like this one on New Year's Eve in Nashville, Tennessee, that
the people at the concert sing along with the performer. I don't think Keith Urban minded at all that wintry night. No one near me that night was singing so loudly that I couldn't hear Keith, but I wondered what I would have done if someone were too close.

Up in Tamworth, the Sunny Cowgirls, the Lee Kernaghan band, and Jasmine Rae all were much louder than their appreciative gallery, so no one really minded the singalong.

(Yes, I shot all these photos)

But then what about this picture of young Paul singing to his bride Jamie?
A hush fell over the crowd, which now became an audience, and we listened with respect and honor. Made so much sense.

So the question is begged...when is it right to singalong, and when do we leave it for the performer? Perhaps it's dependent on the price of the ticket. A free concert, well, it's a free-for-all, and everyone can sing. A ticket at the Sydney Opera House to see La Boheme would not, even if you were a trained opera singer, allow you to sing "Quando m'en vo". It's a fascinating dynamic, really, when you think about it.

We don't grab a scalpel and enter the operating room with our surgeon.
We don't move around the counter and start slicing our cheese for the morning omelet at the grill.

But music, apparently in live concert, in the pub, the club, or in Times Square or Martin Place... that's free game.
Has this ever bothered you? What did you do about this?

Oh, at the neighbourhood church, they would welcome you to join them in singing to God, by the way. And I wonder if God Himself might not be joining in the chorus. As the Jewish prophet Zephaniah said, "The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing." Want to join in?

03 July 2017

Sinner or saint?


This blog was prompted by some Facebook conversation. The issue may be simplified to a binary consideration--which is true? Are believers to self-define as "a sinner saved by grace or a saint awaiting heaven?" The difference may be negligible to some, but let me see if I can unpack the differences. Back in the 1970s I used to read and reread two books which have stayed with me and in my mind for decades. They are Victory in Christ and Johannes Jorgensen's biography of St Francis of Assisi. I don't even remember who wrote that first book. What motivated me then still envelops me today. There are two realities in my life, and those two books well depicted each.

Victory contained a series of chapters highlighting our position in Messiah. Since Yeshua won the victory over death by his resurrection 2000 years ago, then we have nothing to fret, nothing to fear, nothing will cause us distress beyond our capacity. Paul the apostle wrote, "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' O death, where is your victory? O death, Where is your sting?” but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." (1 Corinthians 15.54-57)
John the apostle weighed in with "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith." (1John 5.4)

My life has taken this victory mentality seriously. I trust that God has done all that was necessary for me to survive, to win, to have an optimistic perspective. One of my life sayings is "Since Jesus is Lord, what is there to worry about?" It's similar with amendment to both Alfred E. Newman of Mad Magazine and Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't worry; be happy'. Newman's "What, me worry?' is close, but neither McFerrin nor Newman hit the right reason. Being happy, not worrying-- both good ideas, but on what do they base this happiness quotient?

That's why the book about our victory in Jesus is so significant. It taught me the position I have and should have each day. Because of the death of Messiah, I can feel good; I can overcome adversity; I saw the glass as half-full. I could sing happy clappy songs at church; I could withstand the rejections that came from being a full-on Jesus freak. No matter what others thought of me, God had welcomed me into his family and made me his. That sonship was rewarding then, in the present, and in the future. Positive attitude was mine, and that was victory.

I also read Jorgensen's biography of Francis. What a character from history. I knew nothing about the guy before about 1973, and two things helped me learn. One this book, which to this day, continues to assist me with another attitude, equally needed throughout the decades, and two, the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Franco Zeffirelli. It was released in 1972, and I saw it about a year or two later. If there is a single word that characterizes this 13th Century mystic, it would be 'humility.' And that character trait, more than any other, is one which I desperately need, and for which I long.

Perhaps those two themes, victory and humility, are what I considered when the Facebook conversation ensued. Should a believer define himself as a sinner saved by grace (humility) or a saint bound for heaven (victory)? I suppose it might be a matter of degree or timing, depending on whom you ask. And maybe that's why I found such a firm footing each time I would read either of those books. Yes, it's clear that we are failed humans, that our sin nature often finds us acting out in wrong behavior, and humility before a holy God is normal. Psalm 51 says "in sin did my mother conceive me" and a serious admission of sin by the great King David of Israel. (circa 1000 BCE). David said, "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, for I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me."

Admitting our sin is right, and righteous. Admitting our sin is an honest mark of humility. And the result of that admission is the forgiveness that only God can fully extend. David said, "Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." (51.7) and "Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness." Victory comes and happiness is resultant from repentance.

"Never water down the word of God, preach it in its undiluted sternness; there must be unflinching loyalty to the word of God; but when you come to personal dealing with your fellow men, remember who you are - not a special being made up in heaven, but a sinner saved by grace." so said Oswald Chambers.

So what's the verdict? His blood has set me free. Victory comes, not because I'm so worry free, not because I'm so good, but because of God's awesome grace and forgiveness. My humility is the entry to the eternal hope of mankind, a relationship with God through Jesus, the Savior. This sinner saved by grace has the victory, and I'm singing tonight. Thanks be to God who gives me the victory.

01 July 2017

How would you answer this man?


I had a discussion today with a man who posed an interesting theory. He has been informed of many philosophies and religions throughout his life, so his position is not one which he has not seriously considered. At the risk of simplifying his reasoning, let me say many of his thoughts and you consider along with him what he is saying, and if you can or want to enter the discussion, answer my question, "how would you answer this man's allegations?'

He says he regularly steals from a grocery store in his neighborhood. It's a national chain here in Australia. His rationale is that the company makes too much money, and thus their money-making must be tainted, with greed, or with some other dirty method of making money, thus the money is not really theirs, since they have stolen it, so his sense of justice invites, no, almost demands, that someone steals the money (or product) back from them. It's Robin Hood-like.

His justification involved a comparison of two men. First was his kindly old uncle who was a humble farmer, all his life, who was worth close to a million dollars at his death. That money was distributed to the many, and he honestly earned all that money, one farm product and hard work at a time. He didn't go on vacations; he didn't live above his means...he was a simple man.

The other man in this man's comparison was Donald Trump. According to this man, Donald was a thief, who made more money than he ever could spend, and the money he made was not due to his hard work at all. He demanded from others; he made others work hard. But it wasn't earned so much as stolen money. Similar to the grocery chain.

OK, fair enough, do you have enough information to answer this man ywr?

He said that the million dollars of Mr Trump and the million dollars of his farmer uncle were equal scientifically, of course, but not equal at all, because of two things: 1) how they earned it and 2) the source of the money changed its intrinsic value, that is the Trump million was tainted.

A man should never earn more than he needs, this man averred, and what a man needed could be defined as owning one house, and perhaps another one, a distant one, for vacations. If a man made more than what he needed, there should be some sharing, some equity, some distribution of that wealth, and if that fair distribution didn't happen, then that was a clear sign of tainted, indulgent, 'dirty' money that needed to be taken, like the grocery stock to equalize the situation.

Do you have enough information to answer this man?

You may NOT use the Bible, or even the Older Testament, although he is Jewish, Bar Mitzvah and all. Just because some old Jewish man who was a power-hungry 80-year-old came up with such commandments don't necessarily translate to today's world, he says. OK, fair enough. Using only assumptions and philosophies and looking at big pictures, what would you answer this man?