Thursday, September 28, 2006

Just who are these Gentiles?

Hi guys, Fred here.

On Sunday morning we welcomed back a lost sheep to the fold. Deepa from India was baptised in 2000. Subsequently she struggled terribly and eventually she returned to her Hindu gods. During a visit to the US this year the Lord restored her faith in Jesus Christ, with clarity and power. During the last fortnight the Dutch born Pastor, assisted by a Lithuanian born assistant prayed through these things in preparation for receiving Deepa back on Sunday morning. Bruce (USA) spoke the forgiveness and welcome of the Congregation.

Immediately after this Dan (USA) reported on a visit he and Alvin (India) make to Kassem (Lebanon) in prison at Muswellbrook.

These events had me musing on the rest of the service. The gentiles figured prominently. Gavin (Scotland) read the lessons because Nina (Poland / Estonia) is in France. Diané (Germany) led the childrens’ segment and then she and Rose (Germany) taught the kids in Sunday School. Hildegard (Queensland) played the organ because Elena (Malaysia) was unable to do so. Her husband Jimmy (China) was on fire duty at Hornsby. Tony (Sydney) and Matt (Forbes) led the singing because Miro (Czech Republic) was off attending a Roman Catholic Service. Bruce helped with Communion, assisted by Mia (Sydney) because Peter (China) was away overseas on business, and his daughter Amanda (China) was unavailable.

Darryl (via Eternity) was running the PA system. Bill (Temora) coordinated the ushering while Andrew (Germany) set up for Holy Communion. Afterwards Emily (Poland/Germany) confirmed the Church Council meeting date, and Milton (Barossa) attended to the offerings. Beulah (Temora) provided morning tea. The car park was monitored by Dale (Walla Walla).

There was also a family visiting at this service – Sharon (Denmark) and Chris (Greece) who normally attend a Greek Orthodox Service. The other worshippers included a Latvian woman, Korean students, a young Japanese woman, some Chinese students and workers, American members and visitors, a Brazilian lass, a PNG born lady, and many others from the various Australian regional tribes.

Jesus did say: “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 11: 28)

But something about Deepa…
Deepa’s family has now absorbed the fact that she has thrown in her lot with Jesus Christ. This has meant a drawing back from her spiritually – something is now withheld. In describing this new reality she said that she now feels like an orphan! Deep inside I know exactly what she means. Physically she belongs to her birth family. Spiritually she’s been cut off and is some way disowned.

We might well keep that in mind. We love to celebrate conversions! We love it when X becomes a Christian. I wonder do we ever think about what it means for those who shared X’s previous loyalties and how they now respond to X.

As for Deepa, we’ve committed ourselves, publicly, to be her family. We are aware of Jesus’ promise:

(Luke 18: 26-30)
Those who heard this said, "Then who in the world can be saved?" He replied, "What is impossible from a human perspective is possible with God." Peter said, "We have left our homes and followed you." "Yes," Jesus replied, "and I assure you, everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, as well as receiving eternal life in the world to come."

Have a good week

- Pastor Fred

Just a reminder, that you are free to use this material, send it on to anyone else.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

While Shepherds Washed Their Socks

Hi guys, Fred here again.

Walking along the Harbour Shore recently, Rosemarie and Fred were having a bit of a laugh about the fact that we can often hear the words of a song, sing them for years, and then discover that the words we sang for years were wrong. It’s a little like that old joke about kids being asked if they knew any names for God. Little bloke puts up his hand. Harold! Harold? How do you get Harold? Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be your name…

For years in Canberra I used to sing a song I was sure I knew well…”I don’t believe in ‘if’ anymore”. That lyric went round and round in my head. Until I was put right, finally, by a couple of feisty Finnish girls who told me in no uncertain terms that the right words were “ I don’t believe in ‘it’ anymore“. They knew because it was dad’s favourite song. The lovable wretches even sang it when I was farewelled from Canberra.

For years I sang “Say a Prayer, say a prayer, say a prayer” from an Enya song when the right words were “Sail away, sail away, sail away”. You tend to feel like a dill.

Once as a kid probably, 11 years old or so. I read a book called “The men came out of the mist”. I can’t remember what it’s about. I recall that it was a bit heavy and a bit scary, although the hero came through in the end. After I finished I went looking in the family bookshelves for another book. The first one I spied on the shelf was a hard cover book by the title “The earthman’s hentage”. That title sounded a bit too ominous for me. Told myself I’d get back to it sometime. Settled instead for another Biggles or Famous Five.

Finally opened the book when I was about 16 or 17 and discovered that it was a bloody geography book! Its real title: “The earth; mans heritage”. Yes, you’re right. Once again I felt like a dill. As Homer would say ‘Doh!’

Why am I telling you this? Simply because I’ve been a Pastor for 28 years and every day I discover more and more that most people have misheard, misunderstood, not heard or not understood, what our God is on about, what he’s like, and how he operates. We think we know. In fact we are sure we know! But as Paul says of the Jewish nation, his first faith family – “They are full of devotion for God, but it is not a devotion based on true knowledge”. (Romans 10: 2).

We misread and mishear what our Heavenly Father is saying! Often it’s because the childhood-self protective messages are so strong, the family messages so ingrained, that we conclude that is how it must be with God. Especially the idea that I’ve got to get it right, and do it well, to be accepted. And he’s not like that at all.

Sometimes the very people whose job it is to be getting simple basic knowledge of God to us are not doing it because they’ve lost the plot. (Why did they build the Great Wall of China dad? Because emperor Nasi Goreng wanted to keep the rabbits out!). If your clergy person is a legalist or a syncretist, what hope have you got? (As long as it’s spiritual it’s right..all roads lead to God…)

There is hope. And hope is based on clean knowledge. Clean truth. “…In these last days God has spoken to us in his Son”. The Word (who is from God, and is God) has become flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. Simple you know. Want to know truth? Investigate Jesus Christ and see what he’s telling us, (also and especially on Good Friday), about his Father’s heart for us.

Go on. Be a detective for that truth.

Travel well – travel holy.

- Pastor Fred

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Steve Irwin and Peter Brock - God's gifts

Hi guys, Fred here again.

Legends come… Legends go…
It’s been a time for collective reflection by the Australian people. We’ve all been rendered thoughtful by the 5th Anniversary of 9/11. Al Gore’s documentary film on global warming is challenging. Then the life of the King of the Mountain came to a sudden end up against a tree. Just after the Crocodile Hunter’s life came to a sudden end on the barb of a stingray.

Those last two men – Steve Irwin and Peter Brock – have both frequently been described as larger than life. As best as I can figure that’s a way of saying that each one came to represent something in our collective Australian psyche that was out of the ordinary – something about our fears and dreams. Probably about wildlife, danger and pushing the boundaries in Steve Irwin’s case. And probably about speed, danger and pushing boundaries in Peter Brock’s case.

These men were regarded as legends in their own time by their contemporaries. And legends reveal something of the God who made them!

I have no idea whether either man acknowledged Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. I hope they did. Their ‘followers’, in many situations, idolised them. Now you and I might recoil at that thought. But I reckon we can learn something here about our God, and at the same time, help others process these sad endings.

If Steve Irwin was especially gifted with wildlife then that very fact points us to the creator of Steve Irwin who made the wild creatures, and him, and gave him that gift in the first place.

If Steve Irwin had a way of dealing with people that was captivating, again that points us to the creator of that giftedness.

If Steve Irwin could establish a zoo that gave joy to thousands, that points us to the creator of that first zoo in the Garden of Eden.

If Steve Irwin had a sense of humour he received it as a gift. Its presence revealed the hand of the creator who put it there.

If Steve Irwin had a gift for organisation, think about how his life reveals something of the original organiser.

If Steve Irwin had a gift for drawing the best out of a team and encouraging them to excellence – well, who does that remind you of?

If Steve Irwin loved the beauty and intricacies of nature he was a walking/swimming billboard of the creator who gave Adam dominion over the earth.

So there! I think we can honour what famous, well known, powerful, free people can do and have done. But we do it with thanksgiving for what the creator has given us through that person.

(A motor-sport afficionado could write something very similar for ‘Brocky’).

Such honouring doesn’t negate the fact that all of us, them included, are simply unable to build the bridge to God that all of us need. Each and every one of us needs to be humbled before the Cross to find that bridge. Brilliant they may have been, but like all of us, lacking the holiness and perfection that can only come in Jesus Christ.

Remembering that, it's also okay to thank God for the joy and blessing such iconic people have brought to many lives!

Something humorous
I have here before me a receipt from Dan Murphy’s Liquor chain. It records the fact that I bought a carton of red wine and a carton of white wine. Having sampled both types I can only say they were surprisingly pleasant to the palate. Why am I telling you this? The total bill for 24 bottles (cleanskins!) was $47.60. That’s $1.99 / bottle – which is cheaper than bottled water. Which prompted my son-in-law to quip that we might have to ask the Lord to change the wine into water!

Have a good week

- Pastor Fred

Just a reminder, that you are free to use this material, send it on to anyone else.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Movement in Jesus’ Grocery Chains

Hi guys, Fred here.

A funny little moment at a local clergy gathering the other day. This Lutheran Pastor turned up for the first time which triggered “connections” for some of the others (me).

The Roman Catholic Priest for Kings Cross is Father Steve Sinn (Yep, that’s right!). He told me that his family history was German and Lutheran! From Hamburg if my memory is right. There was no Lutheran Church where they lived in Australia so they joined the Roman Catholic Church.

Told him that the famous Bishop Henschke of the Wagga Diocese was born into a large Lutheran family with lots of children, whose father was a railway fettler based in Oodnadatta in South Australia. Because there was no way to connect with the Lutheran Church the family converted to the Roman Catholic Church.

Some were a bit surprised that I knew that. It just so happens that I was one of Bishop Henschke’s altar boys through my early High School years. The others raised their eyebrows when I told them that I’d done all my schooling with the nuns and Christian brothers in Wagga.

Next thing one of the women from the Anglican church tells me that she was educated at Concordia Lutheran College in Adelaide, South Australia.

I’m not sure why I’m writing about this except for the fact that this small breakfast group is in a small way what has become a major thing in Australia. There has been a deep shift in what we have known as church loyalties over recent years.

On the one hand it seems as if the churches have become one more product with options in a religious supermarket. You know – I always shop at Coles, but now I prefer Woolworths. Occasionally I go to the IGA. Sometimes I’ve had the feeling that “success” is going to be determined by how well we market our product as against their marketing.

On the other hand its also clear that clarity in the Gospel is not necessarily the case simply because we bear a brand name. Healthy doctrine doesn’t guarantee that clergy or congregations always live and express the freedom of Jesus. It’s easy to be fearful, mournful, legalistic or even angry. Or simply cliquey or unfriendly. Or we control by shame or guilt. These things happen in pockets of all church groups.

The heart of Christian freedom is trust that Good Friday represents forgiveness of all sin. All who believe in Jesus Christ, who receive him, and honour him as Lord are unconditionally accepted by the Father. They are our brothers and sisters in the Father’s family.

I hope that we know this. I guess I hope that in our small corners, you in yours, I in mine, we can represent that holy love. I hope we know that God doesn’t mind where we worship as long as it is his Son we worship and serve.

Have a good week guys.

Go the Swannies!!

- Pastor Fred

Just a reminder, that you are free to use this material, send it on to anyone else.