Thursday, July 17, 2014

CP 253 O Deer! Bambi's perpetual captivity...

CP 253 O Deer! Bambi’s perpetual captivity…
A few months ago there was a notable news item about herds of deer on the border of what used to be West Germany and Czechoslovakia. That border marked the line between the Warsaw Pact countries and the NATO alliance of the West. Not long after WW2 a fence was built by the Communists to stop ‘migration’ to the West. The ‘fence’ was actually three fences of high and vicious barbed wire, fully electrified. Armed guards constantly patrolled its entire length. Apparently more than 500 people died along that border as they sought freedom from that oppressive regime.
They were not the only casualties. For century upon century herds of deer had freely roamed the forests of Europe in that area. Once the death-dealing fence was in place the deer quickly learned to avoid it. Deer on the Czech side moved through the eastern forests up to the fence, along it on well worn tracks, and away again. On the German side the herds of deer learned to do the exact same thing. East was east, and west was west, and ne’er the herds did meet.
Now here’s the thing... The herds still don’t meet. It is now 25 years since the wall came down and the fence was removed. In the years since then observers were astonished to see that the deer adhered (!) to the tracks they had learned. Since scientists began micro-chipping the herds only two, both male, are known to have ‘crossed the line’, and one of those returned the same day and never ‘re-offended’. The herds are stuck in their learned patterns of behaviour in spite of the fact that not a single deer alive today was alive when the electric fence was doing its dirty work. As one report had it, ‘The wall is still in their heads!’ No other animals are limited in the same way.
I observed in a sermon recently that the deer were almost certainly Christians. A few hours later I mused that I could have added, ‘Probably Lutheran!’ I belong to a church which prides itself on its convictions about Gospel freedom. We love Galatians 5:1. ‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast then, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (RSV) Most certainly the Gospel bestows the gift of freedom through forgiveness, for Christ’s sake, by grace, through faith. With it comes that delightful and cherished confidence that there is now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Being placed ‘in Christ Jesus’ puts the children of the heavenly Father beyond any accusation that could ever be raised according to law. Nothing, repeat nothing… nothing in all creation, nothing… can ever separate us from the love of God the Father revealed in Jesus Messiah our Lord. Nothing!
More often than we know, the ‘walls’ remain in our heads. A few examples from scripture. First, Mary and Martha. When Lazarus died both ‘knew’ it was too late for Jesus to intervene. ‘Lord if (only) you had been here…’ The unsaid part of that encounter was that all ‘knew’ that once the stone was in place and the cemetery gate shut, well, that’s the end of it. Jesus had to destroy that wall in the mind.
Second, think of the two sons of the prodigal father. Junior ‘knows’ that having blotted his copybook disgracefully he has gone beyond the point of no return and his sonship is forfeit forever. That’s his wall in the heart which Jesus and his Father proceed to blow apart with a ring and a robe, sandals and a cloak, all climaxed with a feast. Senior, on the other hand, has lived with a wall all his life. ‘All these years I have slaved for you…’ How sad. And his was the harder wall to dismantle.
I reckon if I sat with you we could come up with a million examples of that ‘deerish’ behaviour. Just think about the teachings, assumptions and expectations we had as we entered life which were never going to be fulfilled or met because they simply weren’t true? Not long ago I came across a chap who struggled all his life with receiving and living in forgiveness because his mother had put it into his head that God was carefully recording, in His Book, every single thing he ever did wrong.
Walls can be theological… The Church has used a certain structure in its worship for centuries. Can worship be legitimate without a traditional liturgy? That’s a wall in some minds. Another is the notion that true worship can only happen if we are using only hymns! In Luther’s day there was a wall about translating the scriptures into German… after all, everybody knew they had been delivered to the church in Latin! Not true of course. The Latin was a translation of the Hebrew and Greek. Later on there were objections to English because ‘we knew’ they were originally written in German!
A friend of mine had a wall in his head about God… when he was young his father told him it was pointless looking to the heavens for help because, ‘there’s no one there.’
After all the ugly truths have emerged about abuse of children within and under the cover of churches, can you imagine how the angry comments of millions of parents have created walls against trusting God? Hypocrisy of any sort builds walls where there should not be walls.
For me, the miracle is that, again and again, humbly spoken Gospel words and gentle lives can open things up for somebody to identify that lies create an impression of walls which simply do not exist. The greater miracle is that Jesus the Christ got behind the real wall of the law, undermined it by his life of suffering glory, dismantled the accuser’s strongholds by delivering forgiveness through his own death, drove a stake through the dominating heart of the spirit of death by his resurrection, and proceeded to lead the redeemed through those shattered walls into the kingdom of his Father.
I have a feeling there’s much more to write about ‘them walls.’ Much, much more. Whatever, let your thought structures be challenged by what He did, and as he shows you the lies upon which your walls are built, rejoice as you see them evaporating before the laser truth of Him and the Gospel.
Bless you all.

Friday, July 11, 2014

CP 252 'Who's packing your parachute?' with a Christ twist.

CP 252 ‘Who’s packing your Parachute?’ with a Christ twist.
Hello friends. This week I’ve been itching to share with you an insight that came after reading the story below about a man and his parachute. It arrived in my inbox and I did what I have taught myself to do, that is, check out whether the story is true. It is. You can find references to it on Google under “Who’s packing your parachute?” Anyway, here is the story:
“Charles Plumb, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected & parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured & spent six years in a Communist prison.
He survived that ordeal & now lectures about lessons learned from that experience. One day, when Plumb & his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up & said, "You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!"
"How in the world did you know that?" asked Plumb.
"I packed your parachute," the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise & gratitude. The man pumped his hand & said, "I guess it worked!"
Plumb assured him, "It sure did - if your 'chute hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here today."
Plumb couldn't sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, 'I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform-a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bell bottom trousers. I wondered how many times I might have passed him on the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘good morning’, or ‘how are you?’ or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.
Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship carefully weaving the shrouds & folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn't know. Now, Plumb asks his audience, 'Who's packing your parachute?' Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory-he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, & his spiritual parachute.”
The story got me thinking in a number of different directions. One obvious one is that Australia provides a wonderful well-packed parachute for anybody who is sick, has an accident, loses a job, needs an education and so on. Regardless of all our grumbling, our transport systems, agricultural systems, distribution systems, health, service and education systems, welfare systems, financial systems, and political and legal systems, are as good as you get in the whole wide world. Relative to most others we are blessed with high quality infrastructure! All of this is what the Lord’s Prayer seeks as “Daily Bread”. What a parachute! (For the asylum seekers?)
It struck me too that the churches are called to be the providers of ‘parachute’ for the lost. Not that we are the parachute. Rather, we are the human channel through which the Spirit of God can activate the chute. The Lord gives his Word. It comes to us via someone’s preaching or teaching or witness or song. When it comes to us, the Spirit gives faith to a sin-burdened heart and we believe, and we have a parachute which sustains us in this life and conveys us into the eternal life of the kingdom of Heaven. Let me give you an example. Kate Koob was one of only two female American diplomats among the more than 50 taken prisoner when the USA Embassy was overrun in Iran in 1979. Did she fear for her life? Of course. Did she have a parachute? Yes indeed! She was sustained for those 444 days in captivity by her Lord who brought to her remembrance all the scripture she knew from home, Sunday School, Confirmation and Study. And day by day, in circumstance after circumstance, hymn verse upon hymn verse came to mind to sustain her in  heart, soul and spirit. She knew without a doubt that the Lord Jesus was with her every moment, and His Spirit lived within her heart. The parachute worked!
Then came clarity of revelation. It was tempting to think the pious thought that Jesus provides the parachute which carries us in the Father’s embrace but that is not correct. He does not provide a parachute… He is the parachute! Think of some of those wondrous texts… You were baptised into Christ… There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… If anyone is in Christ that person is a new creation… Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord. There are dozens of such ‘in Christ Jesus’ texts. He is my parachute. I am endlessly grateful for that freedom… that grace-full gift.
The best moment for me came a little later. Here’s a truth… Jesus Christ could be my / our parachute because he chose, quite deliberately and out of love, not to activate his own parachute. Remember the taunts? ‘Ho. Ho. Ho. If you’re the Son of God, come down from that cross. Hahaha!’ He chose not to, not because he could not, but because, for our sake, he would not! In the garden he had already told his disciples that he could summon 12 legions of angels… You know, the song says ‘It was my sin that held him there.’ It wasn’t my sin… it was his love that held him there. Amazing is it not? Jesus Christ is my eternal parachute because he chose not to use his own. His death destroyed the power of Satan. His resurrection destroyed the power of death. Wow!
Be Blessed in Him… Fred      

Saturday, June 28, 2014

CP 251 The getting of Wisdom...

CP 251 The getting of Wisdom
A couple of weeks ago, while getting ready for Sunday, I had one of those moments when a few unrelated thoughts go click, click, and click, and the next thing you know you’ve seen something in scripture you’d never seen before. You could say that it was a case of being wise after the event.
My message theme for week was going to be based around the business of choosing the Apostles’ helpers in Acts 6. There was ‘trouble in the camp’ and somebody had to be appointed to sort it out. The Apostles’ instructions were specific. ‘Choose 7 men… known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.’ (Acts 6:3) That reference to wisdom got me thinking about Solomon and his ‘wisdom’, and the remark of Jesus that ‘…one greater than Solomon is here.’ (Matt 12:42) Next thing, my eyes see the reference to Solomon’s Colonnade. (Or Portico or Porch). So check out what the ‘Colonnade’ is. Turns out to be a huge undercover area on the built-up, east side of the Temple.
Do some more research…
  • It’s the place where Peter’s second ‘address’ is given after he has healed the crippled man at the Temple gate. Acts 3:11
  • It’s the place where the disciples used to meet in Jerusalem! Acts 5:12
  • It’s the place where, with great power, the Apostles continued to teach and to testify to the resurrection of Jesus. Acts 4:33
  • It’s the place where Stephen, Philip and the others were chosen as being ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.’
It also turns out to be the place Jesus could be found… John 10:23 records, ‘Jesus was in the Temple area, walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. It was here that he spoke some of his profoundest truths… (27-30)
  • My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me…
  • I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish…
  • No one can snatch them out of my hand… no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand…
  • My Father and I are one…
One of the things that really struck me was that the Apostles are proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that he is Messiah and Lord, in the very place where Jesus had declared that his sheep would hear his voice!
Do a little more research…
  • It’s the place where the Scribes, the Teachers of the Law used to meet for discussion, debate and decision-making…
  • Which means it is almost certainly the place where the 12 year old Jesus was in his Father’s house, ‘…sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.’ All the while, everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers! Luke 2:41ff

Anyway… I thought that was pretty neat…

Thursday, June 19, 2014

CP 250 Forrest Gump knew God's name...

CP 250 Forrest Gump knew God’s name…

Here’s something that came via email a week or so ago. It’s as good a bit of humour as you’ll ever want to read. Read on…
***Forrest Gump dies and goes to heaven. He is met at the Pearly Gate by St. Peter himself. The gates are closed, however, and Forrest approaches the gatekeeper. St. Peter says "Well, Forrest, it's certainly good to see you. We have heard so many good things about you.  I must inform you that the place is filling up fast, and we've been giving an entrance quiz for everyone.  The tests are short, but you need to pass before you can get into heaven.
Forrest responds, "It sure is good to be here, St. Peter. I was looking forward to this. Nobody ever told me about any entrance exam. Sure hope the test ain't too hard; Life was a big enough test as it was.”
St. Peter goes on, "I know, Forrest, but the test is only three questions:
1. What days of the week begin with the letter T?
2. How many seconds are there in a year?
3. What is God's first name?”
Forrest goes away to think the questions over. He returns the next day and goes up to St. Peter to try to answer the exam questions.
St. Peter waves him up and says, "Now that you have had a chance to think the questions over, tell me your answers." 
Forrest says, "Well, the first one how many days of the week begin with the letter "T?"  "Shucks, that one's easy. That'd be Today and Tomorrow."
The Saint's eyes open wide and he exclaims "Forrest!   That's not what I was thinking, but... you do have a point though, and I guess I didn't specify, so I will give you credit for that answer."  "How about the next one? How many seconds are there in a year?"
"Now that one's harder" says Forrest, "but I thought and thought about that and I guess the only answer can be twelve." Astounded, St. Peter says "Twelve! Twelve! Forrest, how in Heaven's name could you come up with twelve seconds in a year?"
Forrest says, "Come on, St Peter, there's got to be twelve. January second… February second… March second... " 
"Hold it," interrupts St. Peter. "I see where you're going with it. I guess I see your point, though that wasn't quite what I had in mind, but I'll give you credit for that one too. Let's go on with the next and final question.  Can you tell me God's first name?"
Forrest replied, "Andy."
St. Peter asked how in the world he came up with the name Andy.
Forrest replied, "You know, St. Peter, that song we sing in church: "Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own…"
St Peter opens the Gate and says, “Run, Forrest run.”***
You may roll your eyes, but Forrest Gump understood something fundamental about the God who made heaven and earth, and who redeemed a fallen humanity. The Lord’s absolute purpose and passion, joy and delight, is to be with his people! Here are some scriptures to think about:
  1. Because of the golden calf idolatry, the Lord declares that he is not going to go with Israel to the Promised Land. Moses intervenes on Israel’s behalf. (Note the words in italics) “Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’ (Exodus 33:15-16)
  2. Joshua was told, ‘As I as with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.’ (Joshua 1:5) Abraham, Jacob, David, Jeremiah, and many other OT figures had the same promise.
  3. The promises find their fullest fulfilment in the coming of Jesus Christ. ‘I am not alone, for my Father is with me.’ (John 16:32).
  4. John 1:14… “The word became flesh and dwelt (pitched his tent) amongst us.’
  5. Matthew 1:23… They will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’
  6. ‘…The Father will give you another counsellor to be with you forever… I will not leave you as orphans… I will come to you… We (the Father and I) will come to you… (John 14-16)
  7. ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me… And I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18,20)
So you see, Forrest Gump was right. He walks with us, talks with us, tells us we are his own…. His presence is what distinguishes us from all other peoples. By grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, we are the people of the presence of God. We have been placed ‘In Christ’, and in Christ we are never separated from our Father’s love.