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.


Monday, February 08, 2016

CP 268 Wallaby series... Into the rockpool we go

CP 268 Wallaby series... Into the rockpool we go!
Hi people, this week I’m itching to tell you about Belinda. She is a friend of one of my daughters and boy, O boy, has she been on a journey. In the last two weeks I’ve walked a little of the way with her.

Before I get into it let me give you a bit of background. Over the last dozen years I’ve come to resent having to take a lot of the baptisms that came with my call. Not all baptisms. Many were a joy to be involved with but so often I felt compromised, a participant in a charade, as I confronted the nauseating reality that neither parents nor god-parents had a faith in Christ and, regardless of what I tried to say, were giving lip-service right answers just to get it over with. Not long before I retired I told some of my fellow pastors that one freedom I was looking forward to was not having to take any more baptisms! I often thought of a comment by a visiting seminary professor from Norway who maintained that the Scandinavian countries were full of baptised pagans! Which brings me to Belinda.

Belinda grew up in one of those Scandinavian countries. Her family was, and still is, without faith. She completed confirmation, at age 13 or so, apparently by turning up at church on ten Sundays, in her pyjamas, so the Pastor could put his signature in her book to indicate that she had fulfilled ‘the requirements’. It was all meaningless except for the presents. Her upbringing was devoid of any sense of the God of the gospel of Christ.

Belinda has recently become a Christian, and how it came about is both remarkable and encouraging. Her story, actually her testimony, gave me joy, much joy. The 'wow' sort of joy. How did this come about? 

Belinda's favourite music for all her life has been metal, as in heavy metal. There was one band with which she had a special relationship, a band called KORN. As I understand it they’re into real head-banging stuff. Their lyrics were about alienation, grief and lostness. Their music, especially their music, was her music. Deep inside, where Linda was Linda, their style of music resonated in a way that nothing else did. When they played she was alive. KORN was her band.

Belinda came to Australia Pastor via South Africa and England. Along the way she acquired a husband and a daughter. The marriage lasted 10 years and during her 10 married years, to all intents and purposes, KORN disappeared from her life. When the break-up happened she went ‘wild’, became a party girl and constantly over-indulged with alcohol.

One day, massively hungover and on her way by train to a KORN concert in Sydney, she said to a friend, ‘Something’s got to change!’ She told me that at that moment she knew she was in trouble and on the precipice of becoming an alcoholic.

Well, she attended the concert. When she got home she thought she might google KORN. There she read that Brian Welch, lead guitarist for KORN, had become a Christian, and had in fact left the band for 8 years. She wondered what that could be about and went on to find and read his testimony. As she read it she had, in her own words, an epiphany experience. She was flooded with the conviction that what she was reading in his testimony about Jesus Christ was the truth, and that what he had found in Jesus Christ was what she needed for herself. She became a Jesus Christ person at that moment. Her life has never been the same.

She knows that Jesus the Christ found her. She was looking for something but he found her. She bubbles with grace like a lively stream. The dependence on alcohol finished that night. She hasn’t had a drop since. She began to worship and read a Bible. She asked her Lord to help her drop the smoking. She no longer smokes. There is an irrepressible joy about her and she delights to share her story of freedom.

How did I come to be in this story? Simple. Belinda wanted to be baptised. Knew she needed to be baptised. Needed it to be full immersion. Needed to have that awareness of being washed clean. The only problem was that the church in which she worshipped insisted on baptising in front of the whole congregation and she couldn’t cope with that. She was sharing that with my daughter one day who promptly said, ‘My dad might do it.’ I was ‘around’ because one of my doctors couldn’t fit me in before February 9.

I met Belinda less than 2 weeks ago. Her story of her encounter with Jesus moved me as much as anything has moved me in years. What pure joy to have a pastoral conversation about Jesus the Christ, grace, faith and baptism, and all within months of my declaration that I no longer wished to conduct baptisms!

So on Saturday February 6, 2016, at 2.00pm, there was worship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the Woonona Beach rockpool. ‘I baptise you in the name of Jesus… Father pour out your Holy Spirit…’

Three things:

First, how appropriate that she was baptised in a rockpool!

Second, an elderly gentleman swimming in the pool observed proceedings, and as he passed by he said, ‘You’ve been baptised! That’s good. You’ve become a Christian. Congratulations!’

Third, a second member of KORN has also become a Christian. That’s Fieldy, their drummer. I saw a DVD some time ago where Fieldy and Brian Welch walked up and down the line of people waiting to go into their concert, offering to speak to anyone about the Lord Jesus Christ. I think that DVD is called Holy Ghost and it’s available through Koorong.

Be blessed friends. I was. Our Father is good, our Lord is supreme, and his Spirit fills us…