Tuesday, January 10, 2017

CP 272 Ask not for whom the siren sounds...

CrossPurposes 272
Ask not for whom the siren sounds…
Early in November we were at Foster, on the mid-north Coast of NSW, when at 3.00am in the morning I heard the unmistakeable siren of an ambulance… e-aw, e-aw, e-aw, e-aw, e-aw… On and on it went. I remember thinking, ‘I hope the person that is for will be OK.’ Still it kept on…e-aw, e-aw, e-aw… It struck me as strange that it was getting neither closer nor further away. Then it dawned on me that it was coming from inside me. And suddenly I knew what it was. My defibrillator alarm had gone off! Some problem in the implanted mechanism.
As soon as possible in the morning I called the office of my heart specialist in Sydney to make an appointment. ‘Impossible,’ the voice said. ‘No spaces any time soon. Try the pacemaker clinic at the Public Hospital’. I was told to come in ASAP, as in right now! Well we couldn’t do it because Forster is perhaps 350km from Sydney, and we had the caravan as well. ‘Then call the pacemaker clinic at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.’ We did. Again we were advised to get there pronto. We did. The technician checked the device and announced that my battery was dead. ‘You need to get it replaced ASAP.’ He called in a heart surgeon. Who insisted it should be done straightaway.
Long story short… It was replaced in Sydney a week later. Mind you, that was after the specialist in Newcastle advised me that, ‘If you have a heart issue before it is replaced you will die! All charming comfortable stuff. Anyway the battery in the new device will last me around eleven years, compared to the old one which lasted eight. Besides making a good tale, I have a reason for sharing this.
I was in trouble and I needed help. Not just from anyone, but someone uniquely qualified to deal with it. I had such help in the technician and the surgeon. Knew the problem, knew what I needed and could do what was required. Then did it.
I was reminded at the time of an occasion in 2001 when we were exploring the Kimberley region in NW West Australia. On the road across the Prince Edward River we were headed toward Mitchell Falls. The Land Cruiser suddenly lurched left and became unsteerable. Stopped, got out to look, and saw the front left wheel at an angle it should not have been, with grease oozing out of a sort-of-round-thing in disturbing quantities. In trouble, needing help, about 500km from the nearest mechanic at Kununurra. What to do? Got on the CB radio and got hold of brother Leon who was 5kms ahead of us. He owns Toyota Ceduna! Was there in 10 minutes, knew what was wrong, knew what he could do, and effected stopgap repairs within an hour. Amazing.
Both these events and their outcome are like parables of the coming of Jesus Christ into a world of mess, chaos, disrepair, brokenness and sin. He came to be Immanuel – God with us. Sounds like exactly what we need(ed). Which Christian does not know that Jesus died for our sin? I wonder though, if we think much about exactly why and how Jesus was the perfect unblemished Lamb who could go to the cross for us and be an acceptable sacrifice in the Father’s eyes. Has it ever occurred to you that if Jesus had offered himself as a sacrificial lamb when he was just one year-old he would not have been an acceptable sacrifice? Does that thought trouble you? It should, in a good way.
The writer of the great testimony we know as “Hebrews” has an intriguing insight in chapter 2. ‘It was fitting that God… should make the author of salvation perfect through suffering’. (v 10) In v17 he adds that, ‘he had to be made like his brothers in every way…’ Hebrews 5:8 adds, ‘Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation…’
Get that? Jesus wasn’t automatically ‘fit’ to be our Messiah by virtue of being born. He had to be made fit, made perfect. Bottom line? His suitability had to be tested under extreme pressure. Did he, at any point under attack by the devil, by principalities and powers, or by human opponents, did he ever deviate from godly humility and meekness? Did you ever see him turn his back on those who mourned or who were broken in spirit. Was he utterly faithful to his call to hunger and thirst only for godly righteousness? Can you locate a single instance where he didn’t bother to be merciful or shunned the call to be a peacemaker? Was his whole life marked by ‘doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with his God. No, You can find no such failure regardless of whichever way the scripture holds out truth in behaviour. Always there for the ‘bruised reeds’ and ‘smouldering wicks.’ He was tested, yes. But without sin. Remained righteous regardless of pressure. Honoured his Father above all things, and loved even unto death… Tested under the very worst hell could throw at him. That is how he was uniquely qualified to be our Saviour and Messiah. Just what we needed.
Here is the truth. In his life on earth, before the Cross, Jesus lived the righteousness without which no one can see the Lord. His death for the forgiveness of our sin enabled righteousness to be bestowed as the only necessary requirement for life with the Father. It is given to all who call on Jesus’ name. And that is exactly what we needed from Jesus Christ, Immanuel – ‘God with us.’ This is all gift. So if you hear that siren sound over some issue or other in your life, remember that he’s got you covered.
Bless you.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

CP 271 Wallaby series... I said 'No', she said 'Yes. And then...

CP 271 Wallaby series… I said ‘No’, she said, ‘Yes’. And then…
This is not a tale of strife tween husband and wife. So we were in Portland, Victoria, last week. We wanted to catch up with pastoral friends and check out the LC in Portland because we knew some good things were happening. On the Thursday night my friend conveyed a request that I might share a testimony on Sunday. My initial response was ‘Don’t want to.’ Having forsworn any preaching during this year I wanted to stick to my guns. Give me anonymity! Besides, I’m not necessarily in the right frame of mind. I’m sorting through some heart stuff. In the end, with considerable reluctance, I agreed.
In my ‘10 minutes after the Lord’s Prayer,’ I shared how my conviction about having two spiritual hearts, (an irredeemable one inherited from Adam and the other crystal pure from being ‘in Christ’) had freed me to not fear knowing anything and everything about my dark side because my heavenly Father only ever deals with me on the basis of my Son’s-heart. Being certain that with Christ’s heart in me I am utterly secure, I have no need to deny my darkness or pretend anything. The light of the gospel ensures there is always more that I can acknowledge and confess. But I never come under condemnation again. At least not from my heavenly Father. As far as I could determine it seemed to be well received. Duty done I was looking forward to jumping in the car and skedattling over the border into South Oz. My Lord had another idea.
During the next song the song leader (a former Warrambui intern) came around behind me and asked if I would make myself available to pray for people at the end of worship. My answer was a straightforward, ‘No!’ She checked my answer and I shook my head again. Now I don’t know if I’m losing it but I was truly flabbergasted a minute later when she announced to the congregation, with delight in her voice, that ‘Pastor Fred has kindly agreed to be available to pray with anyone who would like to come forward for prayer after worship.’
I spent the next few minutes before the end of service grumbling to my beloved in the pew next to me. Then I spent the next 45 to 50 minutes or so praying with the dozen or so worshippers who stayed behind… some elderly and unwell, some no older than nine or ten, all with deep longings and needs. At some point in there I got over my resentment and realized this had to be a God thing. I have no idea of the impact of my prayers last Sunday, only that I expect amazing stuff because none of it was my idea. Not a cracker. And then there was an interesting event soon after on the road.
We were heading toward the SA border. Coming toward us on a sweeping bend was a ute towing a boat. He was ‘moving’ as they say, and he was well over on my side of the road. He saw me late and wrenched his wheel back to his side. His boat trailer, however, slung out a bit further… I told Rose later that in that instant I’d accepted that we were going to collide.
In the event we missed each other, as Maxwell Smart would say, ‘by that much!’ Kept safe. Why am I telling you this story? To thank you for your prayers for our safety is one answer. To record our thanks and praise to our Father for his protection is another. But there’s something else, and it’s been sitting there for a couple of days. There is a connection between the testimony and prayer at worship and the avoidance of the accident an hour later. I don’t have a clue how that works but I believe that it is true.
Be blessed this week.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

CP 270 The Wallaby series... Caravanic revealings...

CP 270 The Wallaby series… Caravanic revealings…
Two days ago I heard a comment which instantly grabbed my attention. On the telly I was watching an interview with the lawyer who represented Martin Bryant, the young man responsible for the Port Arthur massacre in which more than 30 people lost their lives. The lawyer spoke of how he prepared himself to meet a highly intelligent monster and was instead surprised to find he was meeting a not-very-bright young man who was utterly ordinary. The lawyer added that telling comment. ‘Without the gun he was nothing!’
That touched something I’ve been reflecting on in recent years. Insecure and powerless people - that’s us - are driven to find ways to empower themselves. Some do it by having the meanest, ugliest and most aggressive dog they can find as a ‘pet’. A certain group of young men empower themselves by acquiring particular powerful cars. Others might use the gym to develop a marvellous physique and extraordinary muscles. It’s not only about physical things.
I remember one man who developed a remarkable word knowledge and vocabulary, who then used it, often as not, to hector, bully and batter others into submission. Another used an amazing knowledge of ancient and modern history to pontificate, always be right, and always have the last ‘winning’ word. Another person used to use personal knowledge about people to ‘control’ them. Others I know live out their dream of ‘being someone’ through computer games. I suspect we all do it in some form. Who wants to be a nobody, a nothing?  So we set out to make ourselves ‘bigger’, more imposing, noteworthy and formidable than we are. I do it all the time. It arises out of my / our littleness and insecurity and fear.
It usually starts young. Which little boys don’t want to wear Spiderman costumes, or Batman, Superman or one of the Ninja Turtles. Or little girls who long to be a Princess, or Barbie. (Or a Kardashian?) In particular I don’t want to forget the old folks, all those old fogey grey nomads, with their sagging, wrinkled bodies and forgetful, addling minds, their wise ways, and their grandad (ma) humour. Just have a squiz at the names emblazoned on the ever-growing number of caravans the mostly old-farts are towing around Australia at the moment. Let me run a few past you. They gather in themes…
·         Imperial, Kingdom, Royal, Royal Flair, Royale, Regent, Coronet and Viscount. Also Majestic, Sterling and Jubilee. My suspicion is that Windsor should be in here as in the Royal House… Do the caravan makers somehow think (or guess or know or believe) that all of us ‘has-beens’ on the road once dreamt of being kings and queens, princes and princesses? Do all these vans come out of the same factory?
·         Then there’s Statesman, Commander, Crusader, Leader, Mighty, Supreme, Conquest, Eagle, Apollo and Phoenix. Oh, to fulfil the longing to be top-dog significant and important.
·         There is another group around Galaxy and Starcraft, Lunagazer and Sungazer. Also names like (our) Olympic Javelin. Take me away from this mediocre world.
·         The Manhattan would claim, of course, to be top of the pile, and Elite would like to be there as well. So would Paramount. No doubt Grande too. And Palazzo!
·         Tornado is in a class of its own, but then there is also Grenade. Not to forget Patriot, (as in the missile?) Oh, to recapture that youthful dynamic for which I once…
·         I’ll lump the rest… Opal is nice, Freedom is fantastic, Eureka offers hope, and so does Evernew. Safari offers adventure and Retreat suggests rest. Dreamseeker and New Age are for dreams in old age.
Clever, aren’t they, these van manufacturers? Using the names and what they mean as a way of marketing to the olds especially. They are tapping in to the deep unmet and unfulfilled longing, and need, for security, or self-worth or significance. The names promise hope. But they can’t deliver. Proxy power never delivers.
So? Let me mention Jesus the Christ. All those words in the first group about royalty and majesty apply supremely to Him. He is Lord, Master, Statesman, Mighty Conqueror! He is Lord of all things in the universe, in things and powers above or below. He is the unassailable patriot. His Father’s house is truly top of the pile, palatial. He’s the deliverer of freedom, rest, and eternal life. In Him our dreams are fulfilled. And the dynamic we need and crave is his gift to us in the Spirit.
All of that comes from him, through him, to us because of a sacrificial life climaxed by a sacrificial death, acknowledged in a resurrected life! When we find ourselves having been clothed in Jesus Christ, the Father’s forgiveness is declared over us, and furthermore, in the Son’s righteousness he becomes our security, self-worth and significance. He promises, and he delivers!
Maybe that makes sense. I hope so.

PS, Some of you will find this hard to believe, but two weeks ago an African American Canadian we met at a waterfall, took a good long look at me and declared, “You remind me of Billy Graham!” Love it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

CP 269 The wallaby series... Ranking those OT greats...

CP 269 The wallaby series... Ranking those OT greats…
This week we’ve been through Bermagui, Bega, Bemboka and Bombala. Right now we’re in Mallacoota which is in Victoria, so keep praying for us. During my inner cogitations I’ve found myself reflecting on lots of messages we have heard in recent times which have used Old Testament stories as their starting point.
Have you ever thought of ranking the great characters of the Old Testament on the basis of their holiness? I wonder if the candidates who come to mind for me are the same for you? So I think of names, in no particular order. Isaiah the temple priest and prophet, Abraham the believing patriarch, Jacob his sly and unsavoury grandson, Moses of exodus from Egypt fame, or maybe the kings David and Solomon. Others might be Joseph or Daniel, neither of whom ever seem to have put a foot wrong, (and for that very reason I struggle to connect with either of them.) I’m happily adding Joshua to the list, and maybe Ezekiel, the holiness prophet mostly based in Babylon. Not sure about Jeremiah though… he comes across as a bit of a grouchy grumbler. I suppose I shouldn’t include Samson. However I will include Elijah and Samuel.
No doubt you might put forward another one or two. Of those I have, who would you nominate? More than a few have ‘public’ black marks against them and that only underlines the need for grace. My personal ‘favourite’ would be Moses from the time the Lord called him. I understand both his unwillingness and his anger. He’s ‘real’, and astonishingly faithful to both the Lord his God and the ungodly, ungrateful and ungracious people he leads.
What might surprise you is that Jesus put forward a name not on my list and declared without reservation that his nominee was the greatest up to his time. Who is this mighty hero with a righteousness above others?
“Among those born of woman there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11)
Get that? In Jesus’ judgement, John was greater than any of his OT predecessors, any previous patriarch, priest, prophet, wise man or king! Greater than any other human being who had ever lived. What is amazing is John’s own assessment of how his ‘greatness’ compares with that of Jesus the Christ:
“The one who comes after me is more powerful than I am, and I am not worthy to even carry his sandals!” (Matthew 3:11) Translation: I might be the greatest but I’m not even the Messiah’s bootlace!
What was John’s message? ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’ ‘Look to Him. Listen to Him. There is no one else. There is nowhere else. He and he alone is the answer to the consequences of Adam’s failure… He is the Lamb and in Him and Him alone will you find the kingdom of heaven! Trust Him. Trust in Him. Only his heart, life and Spirit within you will enable you to live in a way that pleases Father in heaven.’
Am I right? I know I am, and that’s why I get totally crapped off by sermons which start in the Old Testament, in which characters are held up as the best of the best examples, and never refer to Jesus the Christ whose life was so holy that his sacrifice could bring forgiveness for all our failures in trying to emulate those OT heroes whose ‘best efforts’ fell just as far short of the glory of God as ours!
Pray for Kingdom preachers.