Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The mighty (mitey) widow

Cross Purposes # 67

22 November 2006

Hi Guys. Fred here.

The mighty (mitey) widow

Three or four days before his 3.00pm Passover appointment, Jesus did one of those disconcerting things – he plonked himself down where he could watch the rich and poor put their cheques, notes and coins into the temple treasury.

(You’d think he had better things to do wouldn’t you? There’s a world to save so why should he perch himself where he could peek at what I do with my wallet while I sit in the pew? The blighter makes a point of catching my eye as it goes on the plate!)

Anyway, he watches it all and obviously sees some pretty generous donations being made. But what touched his heart was not the big stuff. It was a little old widow who tosses in 2 small coins which together don’t even tally to one cent. And this is what happens:

He called his disciples together and said to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others. For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had – she gave all she had to live on”.
(Mark 12: 43-44)

That story draws something from me about freedom – especially having the freedom to give it all away. There is something in that little old lady that releases her to be totally spontaneous and unregretful about “not withholding even a mite”. The child in me knows that she knew the secret of worship – living in utter trust of God.

But wait a minute – what if that widow was my Mum, and she had just signed over $150,000, her whole life savings – her nest egg, (and my inheritance!), over to the St Vincent de Paul Society for soup kitchens? How would I, in my modern context, react. Let me put it to you in polar opposites.

Would I see it as… (an act of)
Love… or lunacy?
Faith… or fantastic folly?
Worship… or waste?
Obedience… or idiocy?
Stupendous… or stupid?
Offering… or over the top?
Applaudable… or appalling?
Terrific… or troublesome?

“Oh Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, how do I work out your will? Can I really live that childlike trust? Do I need to learn how to undo all those years of being taught to calculate how much I’ll need and how to spread it out? Jesus, I’ve been taught to be ‘moderate in all things’ – and the widow doesn’t seem to have been moderate.

And thank you Lord that it’s not black and white – thank you that you make me think, and make choices, exercise my will, and accept responsibility for what I do!”

Gee people, I hope this helps you.

Pastor Fred

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

To Bell or not to Bell

15 November 2006

Hi Guys. Fred here.

To Bell or not to Bell

There was an article about bells in the Sunday Life Magazine (Sun Herald) on October 15. The main story line was about how wealthy Englishmen in the 16th Century set up home gymnasiums based on the ropes of church bells. Apparently they’d picked up that Bell ringers had snazzy and enviable physiques. How to emulate that? Simple! Set up a room in your house and, using pulleys, create an imitation of the ropes of the bell ringers. And while all the action might have produced bodies that looked like Adonis, the people exercising those ropes did not produce any sound. Therefore the weights on the ropes became known as dumbbells.

That caught my attention because I’ve long had the thought that a lot of my religious rope pulling wasn’t producing any sound either. At least not in the place it really matters. By that I mean to say that the aim of religious behaviour is to produce the bell sound of joy and praise and worship to God.

As a kid almost 100% of my religious energy and behaviour was about making an impression on God. I tried hard. Really hard. The bottom line was that I wanted him to take notice of me. The theory was that if I made enough noise in his presence then he’d look kindly on me and bestow his blessing upon me. So I did all sorts of things – mostly advocated and encouraged by the institution of which I was a part.

I served at the altar. Helped the nuns and brothers. Attended mass regularly. Didn’t eat meat on Fridays. Said the Rosary. Prayed to Mary and the saints. Tried (very badly) to keep the ten commandments of God and the six commandments of the church. Did lots of good stuff (badly negated by more than my share of bad behaviour). All with one aim. To make a noise in the presence of God that might earn his “yes”.

It looked good. Seemed very spiritual. But missed the mark entirely. Jesus was once asked by the most religious and devout Jewish leaders: “What must we do to do the work of God?” To which he replied: “This is the work of God… to believe in the one the Father has sent”.

A shattering, smashing insight. If you have been, like me, a person who has invested a lot of energy in establishing a “credibility account” with God it’s a shock to the system to discover you’ve been barking up the wrong tree.

Since Calvary (and before actually) God the Father has had one touchstone for sound and music acceptable in his presence. What is it? He keeps asking us: “What are you doing with my Son? How are you responding to my Son? Have you received the Son as Saviour and as Lord? That and that alone is what is pure heavenly music to my ears!”

It’s trust in Jesus that makes us bell ringers. All the other stuff reveals that we’re dumbbells! Hell’s bells…it gets us nowhere.

Pastor Fred

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


8 November 2006


Our youngest daughter Tracey was married to Coby on the last weekend in October. The ‘chapel’ was the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney, looking over to the Bridge and Opera House. The reception was on a boat called (appropriately) Vagabond Princess. The weather was perfect and we had a blast.

There were lots of interesting things happening as always happen when whole families and group of friends intersect in a place of goodwill. Let me tell you about one amusing moment in the lead up to the day.

On the weekend before the wedding, Rosemarie, my wife arrived home from Tassie with a vicious stomach bug that took many days to shake. Two days later Tracey herself was struck by the same bug and finished up crook almost up to the wedding. On the Tuesday before the nuptials our eldest daughter Kerry, on holidays in Port Macquarie, rang to ask for her GPs number because she and the kids were unwell too. The next day, our Canberra daughter Michelle (Bridesmaid), called to say she’d been diagnosed with Glandular fever.

A day later Michelle was in Sydney with us and I told her it seemed as though the Devil didn’t want us to be able to celebrate the wedding. Her answer? “Well, he can just bugger off!”:

You might find the language offensive but you have to admire the spirit of her answer and the Spirit from whom it came. Wrapped up in that straightforward earthy language is some great theology. She was right on the money. What was it the Apostle Peter said to Jesus’ followers under siege?

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you”.

May the Spirit of Jesus anoint your life.

Pastor Fred

Extra note
All of the above was written in a rather humorous tone. It becomes more poignant and pointed because of something sad that happened after the wedding. Coby’s friend Chris Stokes, who was best man, was found dead in his bed in Colorado four days later! This news brought deep shock to us all, especially the young couple. And in those first intensive hours after such sad news that exclamation of my daughter about the devil – well it gained new import.

Maybe “whispers the tempter”, “God doesn’t love you as much as you think! Your celebrations aren’t quite applicable are they?”

If the Devil would have us believe that this occurrence is a sign that God’s blessing has been diminished – well, he can just bugger off!

We’re sad about the death. We shall still celebrate the marriage. And the Lord Jesus who blesses it.

You know, such defiance becomes the followers of Jesus Christ. And perhaps you can see why worship of our God, is, in so many ways, an act of defiance.



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

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The furphy of ‘free will’

1 November 2006

Hello people, Fred here.

Last time in Cross Purposes I tried to shake our spiritual foundations by challenging our often long held, and deeply held, mis-convictions about God. I’d like to specifically challenge our most sacred spiritual cow this time, plus ask a question I’m needing answers for, plus apply a little floss.

1. The furphy of ‘free will’
In the realm of the spirit just about 100% of people, Christians included, hold “free will” to be an article of faith. We say it, affirm it, maintain it, without having to think. We know it’s true.

What if we’re wrong? In the realm of the spirit it is said of us that there is ‘none righteous, no not one!’ We’re described as being without God and without home – and that nothing good dwells within us. Pauls seems to sum it up with the phrase “dead in our wickedness and sin”.

I simply ask, “If we’re dead in the spirit, how can we exercise free will in the spirit?” By the nature we have inherited from Adam and Eve, we just don’t have it. It is however the first thing restored to us when God brings us into relationship with Jesus. Then you can freely choose God things!

2. My ever more pressing question:
What, or where is the line between obedience and rebellion? Good Kingdom of Australia citizen Fred knows from his scriptures that he’s called to be loyal to his government – to obey those in authority as God’s appointed servants. What happens if conscience kicks in and citizen Fred finds himself needing to be in active opposition to what his leaders say and do? Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a host of others faced similar dilemmas in WW2. Nelson Mandela and a host of others found the same dilemma in South Africa. Can civil disobedience be obedience to God?

Kingdom of God citizen Fred knows his scriptures too. It’s drummed into him that David never once laid a hand on Saul, or acted against him or his life, because Saul was the Lord’s anointed man. We maintain that principle in church relationships. There’s a cover of safety for the obedient.

But what happens when those within churches believe the leadership to be in error, or to be misguided, or even to be inadequate? How does one walk the fine line between obedience and challenge. Is disobedience in those situations a form of rebellion? Is the principle of living under the scriptures our guiding star? Luther knew this problem. In the end, for him it came down to the Word of God. ‘Here I stand – I can do no other’. Is it rebellion to challenge those in authority in the churches of the world?

Responses to this dilemma question are invited and welcome!

3. Fairy floss faith
Many years ago I bought two bags of fairy floss at the local show as I love the stuff. One I slobbered my way through quickly. The other I saved. It got tucked away – in a kitchen cupboard and I forgot about it. Found it about four months later. One plastic bag, still sealed, with a few sugar crystals at the bottom.

The older I get, the more I reckon that lots of us have our faith packaged like that, and tucked away, in a corner cupboard of our heart. My observation tells me that for many of us, rediscovering the package is to discover that what was inside seems to have dissolved.

Faith is maintained by being fed and nurtured.

I hope this makes sense.

May your week be blessed.

Pastor Fred

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