Thursday, October 07, 2021

CP 294 An Imaginary Tale

 

CP 294 An Imaginary Tale

Part One

Imagine that you are a poor itinerant worker and you have managed to find permanent employment on a large estate. Your employer is a stern man, but he is also fair and honest. Since you do not have a house of your own, he undertakes to provide a cottage for you on the estate but it will be made available to you under strict conditions. He instructs his lawyer to draw up a formal agreement which sets out the conditions you both agree to.

On his part, he makes the dwelling available as long as you are working for him. He will pay all insurances, and any Government levies and taxes. He also undertakes to pay for any regular or necessary maintenance on the property.

On your part, the monthly rent must be paid on time without fail. You will be responsible for keeping the cottage clean and in good order at all times. You will also be required to pay for the cost of electricity, water and sewage services. You are permitted to make use of the garden and orchard. No pets are allowed inside the house under any circumstances.

When the lawyer has drawn up the Lease Agreement, he presents it to the owner and both parties sign it in the presence of witnesses. It is now a binding agreement between you.

Fifteen years later…

Imagine now that you have been living on the estate for fifteen years. By and large you have managed to fulfil the terms of your agreement. You have worked hard and always done your best. You have learned so much. In your private time you have kept the cottage neat and tidy and you garden has given you joy. There is no doubt you have been blessed here. You have almost always worked on estate projects with Joshua, the son of the owner. There is a sense of delight when you are in his company. In recent years you and Joshua have celebrated birthdays together, often in your employer’s own home. You know your place but sometimes it seems as though even your employer has forgotten that you are not a member of the family.

One day, you are going about your duties when you see the estate lawyer arriving in his black Mercedes. Ten minutes later the ageless estate manager, whose name is Sophie, comes to you and tells you that you are urgently required at a meeting in the owner’s office. You are nervous, and a fleeting thought flashes through your mind that maybe the owner is intending to terminate your agreement.

When you and Sophie enter the office, the owner and the lawyer are in serious conversation. You notice a number of official-looking documents on the desk. The owner indicates you should sit. The atmosphere is strange, and you feel awkward. Then Joshua also enters the room, with a solemn look on his face, and sits next to you. His father picks up a document from his desk and turns toward you. He is the first to speak, and he says something that you could never have expected and which shocks you to the core.

‘Frederick, in the last few weeks, I have had extensive conversations with Joshua about your future. I have come to a decision which may surprise you.’ He pauses. ‘I want to adopt you as my own son.’

What? You are speechless. You shake your head as if to clean your ears, because you cannot possibly have heard what you thought you had heard. You look back at him and he looks steadily at you and repeats what he said.

‘Frederick, I want to adopt you as my own son.’

Now you are truly confused. How could this possibly be? You turn to Joshua, as if to ask a question, and he says quietly, ‘Freddy, this was my idea. I want a brother. I want you to be my brother.’ His father addresses you again. ‘Frederick, I mean it. I want to formally adopt you. I want you as my second son. Here in my hand are the official deeds which will be registered with the authorities.’

You are overwhelmed, but you hear surprising love and joy in their voices. They know they have shocked you. Never in your wildest dreams could you have imagined such a thing. You feel totally unworthy of what they are proposing. You begin to weep. Joshua taps you gently on the shoulder. ‘Freddy, will you please be my brother? I love you like a brother. I want you to be my brother.’ Now you can hardly speak because you cannot think. You tell them you have heard what they have said but that you need time to think. You rush out of the room. By the time you get to your front gate you are a blubbering mess.

One month later…

Once again you are in the estate office and the owner is behind the desk. It has been a month of conflicting thoughts and emotional turmoil. Your comfortable little world has been turned upside down, and you yourself have been turned inside out. Once again Joshua, Sophie and the estate lawyer are present. Once again there are documents on the office desk. Once again Joshua’s father asks his question. ‘Frederick, will you agree to be my son? Will you allow me to adopt you?’ And without further ado, but with an almost unbelieving humble heart, you say, ‘yes’. You both sign on the dotted line, and your signature is witnessed by Joshua and Sophie. Your brother hugs you, and everybody, including the lawyer, has tears in the eyes. Your father says, ‘Now, my son, there are two more items of business.’ He picks up another document from his desk…

Stop Now! Take time! What do you think will happen next?

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An Imaginary Tale – Part Two

What happens next

Father picks up another document from his desk. He speaks. ‘My son, this is the Lease Agreement which we signed fifteen years ago. We won’t be needing this anymore. It’s obsolete.’ He proceeds to rip it into pieces, all of which he throws into the waste bin.

You think to yourself, ‘What on earth or in heaven does that mean? Gosh, maybe I won’t have to pay rent anymore.’ A skip of delight bounces across your heart as a new thought occurs to you. Your new father might even want to give you the cottage. It would be wonderful to have this comfortable retreat as your own home. However, your father’s next words make clear that he has no plans to do that. He says, ‘Frederick, could you please give me back the key to the cottage?’ With a tinge of sadness, you take it from your pocket and give it to him.

The third document

Now your father picks up the third document. You’re looking at him, wondering what is coming next. How many more surprises can there be? He sees the question flash across your face. He says, ‘Don’t worry son, I don’t need your signature on this document. This is my Will and Testament. It has my signature on it, and Joshua and Sophie have witnessed it. Joshua has personally sealed it for me. This document is the declaration that you are now a joint-heir with Joshua of everything I have. My estate is now your estate. My house is now your house. My treasures are now your treasures. My servants are now your servants. Everything you can see around you is the inheritance you share with Joshua. It is there for you to use and enjoy.’

Then he reaches into the right-hand draw of his desk, finds what he is looking for, and hands you the biggest key you have ever seen. He says, ‘Son, take this. It’s your key to our home. It opens the front door.’

You faint.

Two hours later

You are waking from what seems to have been a deep asleep. You know you are at home. You feel wonderfully comfortable and comforted in a way you have never ever known. You open your eyes. ‘Wait! I’m not in my cottage. Where am I?’  You take in your surroundings. You have been asleep in a huge bed in the largest room you have ever seen. It is beautifully decorated in bright and joyful colours. The afternoon sun is streaming through the window. Strangely, you feel you belong here.

You hear the sound of a gentle cough. You turn and your eyes light on your father, sitting quietly by the bed. He smiles. ‘How are you Freddy? We were a bit worried about you.’ He grins. ‘You fainted when I gave you your own house key. Joshua has been sitting with you for the last couple of hours but I told him I want a private word with you myself. I suppose you are a bit overwhelmed. By the way, this is your room. Joshua’s room is next door.’

Now it is your turn to smile. Suddenly, from deep inside, you realise there is an awkward thing you must do, a word you must say, and now is the time. Timidly and sheepishly, you say, ‘D..d..d..dad?’ Then more words come slowly. ‘I… I… can hardly believe… what you have done for me. I don’t deserve this. I’m really overwhelmed. And I feel a bit scared too. I… I… don’t know how to live in a place like this. It’s so big, much bigger than anything I’ve ever known. I feel free, but I don’t know what that means. Dad, why have you done this for me?’

‘Ah,’ says dad, ‘Joshua told me you would ask that. Freddy, I’ve adopted you because I love you. No more, no less. I love you. And if you ask Joshua the same question, he’ll say the same thing. Ever since you turned up he has only wanted the best for you. He has been passionate about having you in the family. He’s been on about it for ages and ages.’

‘Dad, can I ask you a question? What do you want me to do for you? I’m happy to do anything you ask, but is there one thing above all others you want from me?’

‘Freddy, before I answer that question, I want to ask you a question. What is happening in your heart? What is the voice in your heart telling you to do?

‘That’s easy, dad. That voice inside me wants to tell the world what a good, good father you are.’

‘Thank you, Freddy. I hoped you would say that. Now I can answer your question. All I want is for you to love me. That’s what will make me happy. Nothing more, nothing less.’ He pauses. ‘Freddy, do you know how to love me?’ The look on my face tells him I’m not sure. Father continues. Actually Freddy, that’s the reason why I wanted to have this little talk with you. You want to make me happy so I’m singing and full of joy? It’s easy. All you have to do is love Joshua with everything you’ve got. Love him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. That’s it, Freddy. When you respect Joshua, you are respecting me. When you honour Joshua, you honour me. I’m blessed when you bless Joshua. That’s how I will know you love me. It’s simple really. Love Joshua and I am loved!’

For the whole time dad has been speaking, something has been happening within me. It feels like there’s a bubbling spring inside me, looking for a way out. I want to jump and sing and shout.

A knock on the door

Just then there is a gentle tap on the door. Joshua pops his head in. ‘Hey dad, are you finished? I want to talk to Freddy myself.’ Dad winks at you. ‘Yes, Joshua, I’ve said everything I want to say. Come on in. I’ll see you later Freddy.’ Joshua sits himself in the same seat dad used.

‘Oh, Freddy, Freddy, how are you? I can see you are much better. It all a bit much I suppose. Anyway, I’ve been so excited today. My heart is singing. You’re my brother! The whole household is buzzing. Freddy, I’m so happy!’

His enthusiasm is humbling. You take a moment to think. ‘Joshua, what you’ve done… what has happened to me… it’s hard to get my head around it. I’m just amazed. I want to thank you and at the same time I’ll never be able to thank you enough. But I want to ask you something? I know you love me because it was you who got me here. So what do you want me to do?’

‘Oh, Freddy, there’s only one thing I want from you. I’m just like our dad. I know it sounds silly but we love to be loved!’

‘Well, I can understand that. But how will I know how to love you?’

Joshua takes his time to answer you. ‘Freddy, I know you trust me, and I know you believe in me. So how do I know you are loving me? It’s simple, really. I know you are loving me when you love and look after other people the way I’ve loved and looked after you. Actually Freddy, I’ve been watching you and I’ve seen you already doing that. But tell me, when dad was talking to you, did you feel anything happening inside?’

‘Oh, yes. How did you know? It was strange. It was like I was being filled up with happiness or joy. Even right now I can’t wait to get up to dance and sing.’

There’s a twinkle in his eye. ‘That’s dad’s doing. He’s worked out a way of putting his own spirit inside people like you. His heart is so full of love that it tumbles out of him into the people around him. But I guess you didn’t see that side of him too much before today.’

You have one more question for your brother. ‘Joshua, I think you know that I have no idea how to live like you do. I know how to live in the cottage. I got used to that. But Father’s house is just so big… so spacious… it’s challenging. How can I learn to live here? How do I work out how to live like a son?’

Joshua smiles one of his best smiles. ‘Freddy, you ask the best questions. Again, the answer is simple. Stay close to me. Follow me around. Learn from me. Be with me as much as you can. Do what I do. I’ll show you how. And then he drops his voice as if he doesn’t want to be overheard. ‘And if you get stuck, just ask Sophie. I know you don’t see her around much. She has a habit of staying out of sight, but when you need her she’s always there. She’s wise. Sophie always knows what to do. She’s always ready to give you whatever you need. You can ask her.’ He chuckles. ‘You know, in her heart of hearts she’s a teacher. She loves to be asked!’

From downstairs there comes the boom of the great gong near the front door. Joshua says, ‘Goodness gracious me. How time flies. We had better get moving. Your home-coming feast starts in 15 minutes.’                      (Copyright Fred Veerhuis 7/10/2021)

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An Imaginary Tale – Part Three

A poor - yet important - parable

Yes, the parable is inadequate

I assume, if you have read this whole imaginary tale, that you realize that my story is a type of parable of the salvation story of the New Testament. I freely admit that is an inadequate story for two reasons.

First, the picture I have painted of Frederick isn’t at all true. He was never that good. The real Frederick was happy to live in the cottage but among other things he was a thief and a liar. Away from the estate he would often badmouth Joshua and his father as greedy and even unfair. Not only that, but away from the estate, he kept company with some very unpleasant people who despised the owner and his family. The rent for the cottage was often paid late, and sometimes not at all. Frederick was also lazy. He made sure the outside of the cottage and the garden were generally presentable, but often the inside of the cottage resembled a pigsty. The reality is that Frederick deserved nothing, not even some reward for good behavior.

The second reason my story could be assessed as a failure is that there is no indication of the sacrifice the Father and Son have made through Jesus’ life to the cross and into the tomb. The resurrection isn’t mentioned either! Frederick’s acceptance and adoption could not have happened without that action of holy love. But all that said, my story carries some powerful truths.

Still, a very important parable

When I sat down to write the An imaginary Tale I had one aim in mind, and only one. I wanted to launch an assault on one particular Bible teaching which is embedded in the heads and hearts of almost all Christians I know, and it should not be there. This teaching needs to uprooted and evicted, and thrown on the manure heap alongside the Apostle Paul’s dung heap. (Philippians 3:8) The teaching is in us because it was taught into us, and it has a powerful religious hold over us. We believe it, we are enslaved to it, and it contaminates the whole way we see our relationship with our heavenly Father and his glorious Son. It prevents us from living in the fullness of our inheritance as adopted children of our heavenly Father. It is a teaching which erodes hope and steals joy. I must explain.

Think of your computer. It does what it does according to the way it is programmed. It will not respond or process contrary to the way it is programmed. Someone has put the necessary data together in a particular way, and it is that format which pre-sets the way the computer works. In the same way, our Christian upbringing, the traditions we have been exposed to, and all the teaching we have received, has created a control tape which determines how we understand the call to live the heavenly kingdom life.

So what is the teaching which so many Christians hold in the minds of their hearts which is so destructive of their confidence, joy and hope?

The torn-up Lease Agreement

When you read the story/parable, what was your reaction when the Father ripped up the Lease Agreement and threw all of the scraps into the waste basket? Think carefully about this. Frederick was leaving the cottage and being moved into the Father’s own home. Through his adoption he was no longer a servant. He had become a son, with all the privileges of a son. Sons and daughters live in the Father’s house. Was the Father right to destroy the Lease Agreement? Of course he was. It no longer applied. As the Father said to Frederick, adoption had made it obsolete. The Lease Agreement was between the Owner and his servant. It had to be discarded.

If the Lease Agreement was obsolete then so were the conditions attached to it. Within the Father’s house the adopted son was no longer bound in any way by the previous tenancy rules. This is the fundamental issue. Is the son going to live under Cottage rules or his Father’s House rules? In Christian terms, do the sons and daughters of the Father live under the Sinai Covenant commandments or under the new commandments of the New Covenant?

Cottage Rules or Father’s House Rules?

I believe many Christians are convinced that they should still live by the strict Cottage Rules, even in the Father’s House. Many Christians do believe they are called to live by the Ten Commandments even though they are embraced by the New Covenant. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Apostle John, in his Gospel, reveals the Father’s House commands which Jesus taught. There are just two:

First, there is an occasion when the Cottage Rules’ experts ask Jesus, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6:28-29) One chapter earlier, Jesus had told those same Cottage Rules experts that the whole point of his coming was that, ‘all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.’ (John 5:23) More than 75 times in his Gospel, whether he is recording Jesus’ own words, or writing Apostolic truth, John is insistent: In the Father’s House, the first Command is to believe in, trust and honour the Son because that’s the way to love and honour the Father. (Don’t believe Fred. Believe the Scripture writers! For a start, check John 1:12, 3:16, 3:36 and 20:31. Also Colossians 1:3-5 and 1 Thessalonians 1:3)

There is something about human nature which always leans toward living in the cottage. We are infected with the world’s view that acceptance is gained by performance. We are taught a similar thing when our Christian teachers turn the Father’s ‘Yes!’ into ‘Yes, but…’ 

With all my heart I pray that the Spirit of Jesus would open your heart and mind to the new reality that under the New Covenant, there is only one truth which sways the Father. He asks, ‘What are you doing with my Son? How are you responding to my Son? Is your hope anchored on my Son and what he has done for you?’ That which the Father seeks is called faith, and that faith is a gift freely given to us by the Father’s grace. (Once again, don’t believe Fred. Believe the scripture writers. Check Ephesians 2:8-10 and 1 Corinthians 12:3) Your heavenly Father is blessed when your faith is totally in Christ. Amazingly, he freely gives to us the very faith in Christ Jesus that he requires. That is how Jesus the Christ is the only way to the Father, the only truth which is unshakeable, and the only fountain of life which is eternal. 

Secondly, on the night before he died, Jesus issued a second new commandment to his disciples. A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ (John 13:34) It is worth noting that no more than a minute later, Jesus told the disciples that he was going away to prepare rooms for them in his Father’s House!

Sinai demanded, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ If you love your neighbour perfectly, the way you love yourself, the blessing will be yours. Jesus commanded, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’. Think of Calvary and the Cross, and the Lamb who died for the sins of all people. The blessing of perfect love comes before any loving on our part. First you are blessed by love. Then you can love from within with his freely given love.

[The root of our problem with the Cottage Rules is that we have been led to believe that Jesus taught that the Sinai Commandments were to be the commandments for his disciples. (Luke 10:25-29, Mark 12:28-33 and Matthew 22:34-40) This is not correct. It is true that in each of the Gospel accounts Jesus acknowledges the commandments of the Law. But he came to fulfil that Law so that we could live under Grace. John in his Gospel could not be clearer: ‘The law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ (John 1:17)]

The two new commandments apply to those who are adopted into the Father’s House. The Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant do not apply to those who live in and from the Father’s House. Those who choose to live in the Cottage place themselves under the Sinai Covenant and therefore the Ten Commandments do apply to them. Go back, and re-read the Imaginary Tale. You will see that the two New Commandments, one issued by the Father, and the other issued by the Son, make the Ten Commandments irrelevant in the Father’s House. (But don’t believe me. Believe the scripture writers.)

Look at these truths in a different way. The Ten Commandments issued through Moses are commands of Law. Blessing comes if they are obeyed. The two commands issued through the Father and the Son are commands of Grace. Blessing comes through Jesus Christ’s obedience and death, and within that blessing is the freedom and power to continue believing and trusting in Christ. Without any prior effort or merit on our part, the blessing of the holy love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ is poured into our hearts, and from the richness of that blessing we are able to love freely as Christ first loved us.

John in his first letter, could not say everything I have said in less words:

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.’ (1 John 3:21-23)

                                                                                            (Fred Veerhuis 7/10/2021)    

Monday, March 22, 2021

CP 293 An Irish Blessing for the Lutheran Pastors

 

CP 293 An Irish Blessing for the Lutheran Pastors

Sometime during the 1980’s, when I was still youngish, I attended a Lutheran Pastors’ Conference at Warrambui, near Canberra. Our VP Carl Dohler, had a surprising agenda in store for us. To this day I am still astonished that he had both the freedom and the courage to arrange for our gathering to have not one, but two Irish priests to lead a clutch of Lutheran Pastors in biblical study. One priest was a spirit-filled Matthew’s Gospel scholar. The other priest was also wonderfully switched-on to Jesus Christ. His particular teaching centred on discerning and discovering how the Christ-revelation changed the way we read the Psalms of Israel. His insights deepened my understanding of my Lord Jesus and his work. It also massively impacted and influenced the way I read the entire Old Testament.

The guest-speaker priest’s primary point was that we are called to look beyond the psalms we have in front of us. No, he was not suggesting the Psalms were irrelevant. Yes, we acknowledge that the Psalms were Word of God to Israel, worship songs expressing the faith of Israel as it had come to know the Lord God Almighty. However, they are not the songs of faith for the community of Christ Jesus. The Psalms, and in fact the whole of the OT Jewish scriptures, are not the Lord’s complete or final word for the world. We are called to hold on to the truth that in Jesus Christ a better, perfect word has been spoken. This better word (Hebrews 12:24) is based on the better sacrifice (Hebrews 9:23) which undergirds the better covenant. (Hebrews 7:22) This better covenant delivered better promises, (Hebrews 8:6) and therefore a better hope. (Hebrews 7:19) It is the Christ – Messiah – who has moved us beyond the Kingdom of earthbound Israel to the better, heavenly Kingdom of God. (Hebrews 11:16)

Our Irish teacher admonished us to always view the Old Testament through the dynamic lens of the breath-taking coming, life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ. Our anchor for understanding the Word of God is found in Christ alone. As John the Gospel writer confesses, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ (John 1:1, 14, 17)

I was reminded of this recently when a bunch of us Pastors spent a few moments, verse by verse, considering that great psalm – Psalm 46 – which has so often comforted Christians. Let me share how I reacted to this devotional exercise. 

Psalm 46 RSV (in italics)

God is our refuge and strength… ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Romans 8:35)

a very present help in trouble… ‘Immanuel… I am with you always…’ (Matthew 1:22, 28:20)

Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea… ‘Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…’ (Hebrews 12:28)

though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult…. ‘There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone…’ (Matthew 28:2)

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God… ‘Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ (John 7:37-38)

the holy habitation of the Most High….  ‘My Father’s house has many rooms.’ (John 14:2)

God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God will help her right early. Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”’ (Luke 24:36)

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts… Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”’ (Revelation 1:17-18)

The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge...
(see the comment at verse 11)

Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has wrought desolations in the earth… Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…’ (Galatians 3:13)

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
he burns the chariots with fire!...  
‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33)

10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth!...”
When I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ (John 12:32)

11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.
(RSV)

Special comment… verse 11 and verse 7:

1. The Lord of hosts is the Lord of heaven’s armies. The power is on the Lord’s side. It was with this mighty public display of power that the Lord defeated Pharoah and the gods of Egypt. ‘The Lord your God brought you out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm…’ (Deuteronomy 5:15) Note, however, that the greater redemption of the world from Satan’s dominion came not by mighty ‘right-hand power’ but by the humility and meekness of ‘left-hand power’ through Jesus’ free-willed sacrificial death. ‘…by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil… (Hebrews 2:14) Or as Paul so desperately wants us to know, ‘the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… (1 Corinthians 1:18)

2. The God of Jacob. Israel defined itself as the people of God, descended from Abraham through the patriarch Jacob. The Apostle Paul, however, delivers an astonishing and transforming insight in his letter to the Galatian churches when he declares, The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.(Galatians 3:16)

Conclusion: What would Psalm 46 look like if David had known the full revelation which came in Jesus Christ? For all the promises of God find their Yes in him!!!’ (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Be blessed in HIM

Fred the Rev

Thursday, October 15, 2020

CP 292 Two prominent Australians and controversy

 

CP 292 Two prominent Australians and controversy

There are many prominent Australians who generate strong emotions in the population. Among them are church leaders and political leaders. In this CrossPurposes I want to comment on one thing former Prime Minister Tony Abbott did do, and one thing Cardinal George Pell said he would not do.

My comments are not about politics. Repeat: This is not about politics. Rather it’s about something that goes to the heart of our faith. I would welcome your thoughts about what I have to say. Let me begin with Mr Abbott. What did he do? In early December 2019 he was filmed walking out of a Victorian prison after having visited Cardinal Pell. He was loudly and roundly condemned for doing so and some labelled his conduct shameful. I didn’t think it was shameful at all. The super-righteous reaction by sections of the media caused a particular passage from Matthew’s Gospel had sprung to mind:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36)

Personally I had no problem with Mr Abbott’s visit. He was visiting a long-time friend in a private capacity. It had nothing to do with Cardinal Pell’s guilt or otherwise. Regardless of whether Cardinal Pell was guilty or not, Mr Abbott’s visit was an appropriate Christian thing to do. Frankly, I hope that if I ever found myself in prison, for whatever reason, someone among you would come and visit me. Isn’t that what you would want for yourself, or your son or daughter or brother or sister, regardless of the reason they were in prison? In my mind, Mr Abbott was living his faith convictions.

I had a similar reaction when a Cronulla Sharks footballer, Andrew Fifita, visited a young man in a NSW prison at Cessnock, earlier in 2019. That young man was undeniably guilty of a wanton act of manslaughter. Years earlier, Andrew Fifita had been that young man’s Rugby League coach. Mr Fifita was publically condemned for making the visit and was also warned by NSW Police for consorting with known criminals. Now I don’t know all the ins and outs of these things but again, every Christ instinct in me says it is right to visit someone in prison.

Now, to something Cardinal Pell said he would not do. After former Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in Australian institutions, Cardinal Pell in turn held a Press Conference in Sydney. The Herald-Sun reported on it this way in November 2012: ‘Cardinal Pell yesterday welcomed the royal commission into sexual abuse and said he would front the commission if called on - but openly advised priests to avoid hearing confessions of sexual abuse from fellow priests to help preserve the sanctity of the confessional… "If the priest knows beforehand about such a situation, the priest should refuse to hear the confession," Cardinal Pell said yesterday. "I would never hear the confession of a priest who's suspected of such a thing."

I was gob-smacked by those remarks in 2012. I’m still gob-smacked by them today. Bear with me as I explain why.

Understand that in Roman Catholic teaching and Canon Law, the absolution for the forgiveness of sin is in the authority and call of the Priest, through the Bishops and Cardinals, back to the Pope. You may or may not agree but that is the teaching. Without the absolution there is no forgiveness.

The Cardinal’s words imply that forgiveness should not be available to priest-offenders. How does that fit with the knowledge and conviction that Christ came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world?

I know that this is one of the most painful issues of our generation. I’m not for one moment minimising the sin, especially by those with authority over vulnerable people, especially children. The lives of too many people have been reduced to lifelong misery as a result of such sins. I loathe the sin too. But I find it deeply disturbing that a leader / teacher of the faith could exercise his sacred office in such an arbitrary way. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but within that faith context it appears to mean that forgiveness is not to be made available in those circumstances. I believe that’s a denial of the faith he represents.

I know this is a sensitive subject for so many. However I am also called to represent the heart of the Father in sending the Son. Calvary speaks forgiveness for all who repent and believe. Of course there must be justice, and, painfully, often the ‘little people’ of our societies never see it. Our hearts weep. But please, in our rage and broken-ness let’s not lose sight of Him whose love desired redemption for all. Difficult as it is, we Christians bear the name of Christ, and his mission, in the world.

On the other hand, I am inspired and challenged by the response of a family whose 4 children were killed by a drunk driver not long ago. ‘We forgive him, but we demand full justice!’ Lord give me such a heart.

Be blessed.

Fred

Monday, September 07, 2020

CP 291 The expulsive power of a new affection

 

CP 291 The expulsive power of a new affection

In 1970 I had a life-changing, split-second dilemma at the Wagga Wagga Railway Station. I’d come home on the train from Sydney and mum was there to welcome me. For all my life, up to that very moment, I would have automatically and instinctively walked straight up to mum and greeted her with a kiss. Not this time. I hesitated for just a fraction of a second and instead went first to greet my soon-to-be-fiancee, Rosemarie, who was also there to meet me. The love of my life had changed the norms forever!

This fleeting ‘moment’ on the railway station became a sort of mini-forerunner of what happened to my life when the gospel of grace hit me with the force of a train a year later.

Fast forward to 1976. I’m at the seminary and listening to old Doc Hamann in Homiletics. (Yep, when I started that class I had no idea what it was about either.) It was a compulsory course class about preaching – putting sermons together and how to preach them. The Doc’s approach was simple. Do your homework on the text you are using, let the text speak for itself, then mull it over until you can distil what you will say in one simple sentence. He gave us an example from a sermon preached by Thomas Chalmers in Edinburgh, around 1820.

Chalmer’s text was 1 John 2:15-17:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.’

What was Preacher Chalmers sermon about? Simple and direct…

The expulsive power of a new affection!

He developed that sermon from key thoughts.

1. All of Adam’s children are driven by the affections (loves) of the flesh. Mostly this is expressed in self-love. (Matthew 15:9, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 2:1-4)

2. When one comes into a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ a new affection is introduced. For example, ‘God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us…’ (Romans 5:5) ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10)

3. This new affection has a power of its own. For example, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation…’ (Romans 1:16) See also Acts 4:33: Grace powerfully at work, or 1 Corinthians 1:18: ‘The message of the Cross… is the power of God.’ See also Ephesians 1:19-20 and Ephesians 3:20-21.

4. Consequently, because this new affection is an expression of God’s power, this new affection’s power is expulsive… For example, ‘Perfect love drives out – expels or casts out - all fear.’ (1 John 4:18) Yes, the Greek word here is the same word used when Jesus was driving out unclean spirits… and strangely, the same word is used in Matthew’s Gospel to describe the Holy Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness for the confrontation with the tempter!

The New Testament is full of examples of this expulsive power of the Good News of Christ:

Matthew 13:44 Jesus parable… A man found treasure hidden in a field… in his joy, he went and sold all he had and bought that field… Freedom to give up everything to obtain the one thing his heart truly desired.

Philippians 4:7…And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Clarity and calm replace confusion and distress.

Acts 19:17-20… The name of Jesus was held in high honour… many came and confessed their evil deeds… the sorcery scrolls were burnt. Faith and trust replaced idolatry and witchcraft.

Luke 19:1-10… Zacchaeus ‘meets’ Jesus… Honesty and generosity replaced greed and dishonesty.

Acts 5:29… The Apostles… ‘We must obey God rather than men…’ Boldness and confidence replaced timidity and fear.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a…Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. Where Christ’s cross-love rules, there impatience, nastiness, judgement, selfishness, pride, envy, contempt, conceit and anger cannot stand!

Cross-love is an overcoming love. Cross-love is a cleansing love. Cross-love is an empowering love. Cross-love is a cross-bearing love. As Paul wrote, ‘The love of Christ compels us…’ (2 Corinthians 5:14) The Good News version of the Bible has ‘We are ruled by the love of Christ…’ Note: Not love for Christ, but the cross-love of Christ already within us.

We should not be surprised that such expulsive power is in us. Consider Jesus.

Matthew 4:10-11… In the wilderness of temptation, it is the Satan the tempter who is forced to leave the scene of battle.  

Hebrews 12:2… Fix your eyes on Jesus… For the joy set before him he endured the cross…

Luke 22:42… ‘…not my will, but yours be done.’ Faithful, faithful, faithful!

John 1:6… ‘The light shines in the darkness… the darkness cannot overcome it.’ 

The impact in my life.

I noted above that the love of Christ is a cleansing love. It has confronted the idolatry in my life, the selfishness and bitterness and nastiness, the impurity and dishonesty, the lying, the pride and the anger. Often gently, sometimes violently, the love of Christ in me has been achieving its expulsive purpose. It hasn’t always been instant but it has always been insistent!

This love of Christ in me has also been a transforming, strengthening power. It has built courage in me, a stand-my-ground-ness, a refusal to compromise, a determination to speak when I should. It has generated a refusal to be controlled by the demands of man and man-made institutions. It has enabled me to keep my shoulder to the wheel, to tie myself to the mast when necessary, to refuse to deny my Lord. It has enabled me to hang on and hang in when there didn’t seem any reason to hang on or hang in any longer.

And when I’ve failed there has always been Cross-love forgiveness!

Heavenly Father, pour out the Spirit and love of your Son, Jesus the Christ, upon us, upon the whole church.

Be blessed…

Fred

(Big PS: I still loved my mother, but she was never again ahead of Rosemarie…!)