Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Government, David Hicks, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and you, and me.

28 February 2007

The Government, David Hicks, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and you, and me.

Those of you who know me reasonably well will be aware that I have long had a problem with the way the business of David Hicks has been handled. Each of us has to think our way through the issues. In this case I’ve had a sense that “something is not right with this picture”.

Let me declare upfront that I believe David Hicks deserves to be punished if indeed he is guilty of a crime. As Paul observes in Romans: “The emperor does not bear the sword in vain” If we keep in mind the distinction between Caesar and God which Jesus makes, it’s perfectly expected, and to be supported, that those who sin against a community must expect to be held accountable by the justice system. Justice must apply.

From a historic western, legal point of view there is a problem because David Hicks has been unable to have his day in court! That reflects on us as a secular society and the values we hold.

From a Pastor’s viewpoint something else has troubled me greatly. It’s this: Our government leaders, most of whom have strong Christian ties, and who are part of worshipping communities, make much of the fact that Australia is a Christian country with values, with ethics and morals, which arise out of the Judaeo – Christian history of Europe. This is expressed in a commitment to Ten Commandment type values. In the process our system of justice, and how it is put out there as the thing that makes us as uniquely Christian. It’s this commitment to bible principles which marks us a Christian. Viewed from this perspective, what has been allowed to happen (or not happen) to David Hicks creates no problems.

How about we approach this with the prodigal son in mind (Luke 15). There is a son who has messed up not only his life – but his position in the family! In that story, what marks the Father’s heart is the longing to have his son return, the rush to forgive, the declaration of welcome home, all wrapped in compassion and mercy. Not everybody likes the idea but that father always kept open a way back for his son. Now there’s a true Christian value from the mouth of Jesus himself! And how that stands in contrast to the position of the older brother who is deeply resentful of the unfairness of it all when he himself has always done the right thing.

I think what has offended me is this: that David Hicks is an Australian Citizen, who has been hung out to dry by his Government. I tell you straight, if one of my sons were to do something heinous, which warranted time in gaol, do I disown him? No! He’s still my son. He remains my son, and I long for him to be home. If it was against me that he had committed the crime, he’s still my son, and I still want him home.

There’s my conclusion. If we are going to argue this case on Christian foundations, we have to keep compassion, mercy and forgiveness, and reinstatement, in the picture. That’s the way of our heavenly Father. If justice (and fairness) is the only consideration then we line ourselves up with the older brother. We line ourselves up with the Pharisees!

Ah, how difficult it is to live out the mercy and forgiveness so freely given to us through Calvary!

Pastor Fred

Friday, February 23, 2007

Crash Helmets and Church Bells

23 February 2007

Crash Helmets and Church Bells

Today’s Cross Purposes is not mine. I have ‘borrowed’ it from “Pulpit Resource” Feb 4, 2007. It touched something deep in me. I pray it does so for you too!

Writer Steven Vryhof tells the story of a miraculous, life-giving glimpse of God in worship:

One Sunday morning, years ago, I entered a Lutheran Church in a small village on the coast of Sweden. Perhaps because of the early hour, or the lure of a beautiful summer morning, or the effects of state-run Lutheranism, there were only fourteen congregants gathered. The minister was a slender, blonde lad who had to be fresh out of seminary. I struggled with the Swedish hymns and the Lutheran tendancy to stand to pray and sit to sing, the opposite of what I was used to. I joined the others at the front railing for communion, taking the bread and the wine, then returning to my seat.

While the minister, his back to us, was putting away the elements, a parishioner, a middle-aged woman, returned to the front, this time pushing an old woman, presumably her mother, in a wheelchair. The mother had the classic nursing-home look: slumped to the right, thin, scraggly, colourless hair, vacant eyes, and a slack-jaw with her tongue showing a bit. She was here for communion. There was an awkward minute as we all waited for the minister to notice the two waiting at the railing. He finally did turn, perceived the situation, and proceeded to retrieve the elements. He carefully administered the bit of bread and the sip of wine to the old woman. And then he paused, and I held my breath, because I knew what was going to happen next. The young minister looked at the old woman, physically a wreck of a human being, and he said to her the most important words that one human being can say to another human being. The minister looked her right straight in the eye, and said to her, “var Herre Jesus Krist, vem kroop och blod ni hartatt emot, bevaran din sjal til evigh liv”. Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose body and blood you have received, preserve your soul unto everlasting life.

And I suppose it was a coincidence, but it was a God-given coincidence nonetheless. At that precise moment, the bells of the church started pealing, ringing and resonating and resounding and reverberating through the church and through me, making the hair on the back of my head stand up. Heaven touched earth and it seemed that Var Herre Jesus Krist, himself was saying, “Yes! I will do that!” And then the Father and the Spirit joined the Son, and using the same words given to Julian of Norwich, the Triune God proclaimed loudly over the ringing of the bells, “I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well; and I will make all things well, and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well!”
(Steven Vryhof, “Crash Helmets and Church Bells”, Perspectives, August/September 2000, p.3).

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Audio, Video, Disco – Email, Snail Mail


Some years ago in London, well after audio tapes had been invented, and not long after video clips had gotten a foothold in music promotion, and about the time schools began running discos, some company or other was doing foundation work for a new building, when a stone with an inscription was unearthed. It was in Latin and it read Audio Video Disco. Archaeologists dated it around 200AD.

It translates to I hear, I see, I learn. The archaeologists believed it to be the headstone from a Roman School in Londinium. Those who chiseled it out, or those who taught there, would never have guessed how it might look and sound in 1990!

I don’t suppose one day another store will be unveiled which has “Audio, Video, Disco, E-know”. (We do have emailscam but that’s a different matter).

What is true is that the original stone captured something about learning in any culture, in any time, in any place. I learn by hearing and by seeing. Teachers know it to be true. Jesus Christ taught this way as well. His Parables were straight out of life.

A farmer went out to sow…
A merchant found the finest pearl…
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed...
A King goes to war against another twice as strong...
You put your hand to the plough… and look back...
A man had 100 sheep…

Jesus taught from the agricultural perspective of his listeners, and from the domestic perspective as well.

No one lights a lamp and puts it under a barrel.
I am the Light of the World…
A woman has 10 coins…
A man had two sons…
Five virgins were wise, five were foolish! – this one is straight out of the wedding drama.

The Apostle Paul sought for images in his teaching that were appropriate to his context. His image of the armour a Christian wears in Ephesians 6 is straight from the usual practice of a Roman Soldier. His call to ‘higher service and awareness’ is based on what his people knew about being citizens of an empire as distinct from slaves and servants. Perhaps my favourite one of all is his image of adoption for Jesus Christ’s followers – drawn straight out of a Roman concept of adoption ahead of any other. What is brilliant in his use of ‘adoption’ to describe the status of Christians with their Heavenly Father in that a Roman ‘Paterfamilias’ – Head of the House - could not disown an adopted son. He could disown his blood children – but he could never, ever, disown children he had adopted. It’s this image Paul uses to describe the joyful, unbreakable commitment of the Heavenly Father to his adopted children. Fantastic!

Which leads me to ask, in this cyber space, computerized age – with which I’m barely familiar, what are the concepts, ideas, realities that are useful for communicating the good news of Jesus Christ?

Some I’ve heard of or know, off the keyboard:

Delete – for forgiveness and complete removal of sin?
Back – one can begin again?
Send / Receive – for prayer?
Junk/empty – for forgiveness?
Find / Search – for lost sheep?
Undo delete – for repentance?
Restore - for absolution?
Go – for the charge to get out there with the good news?

The issue here is that the modern world brings challenges to communicating. I guess we’re all confronted by a generation that is biblically illiterate and totally disconnected from the rural stuff of the Bible. I read just this week that most people are not agnostic, but ignostic!

I’d love to hear any of your ‘parable’ suggestions for those who live inside computers, inside cities.

Eg “Live the Brand” – Like Steve Irwin – for Discipleship.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Do you have a ghostwriter?


9 February 2007

Do you have a ghostwriter?

A friend recently gave me a book on “The Power of Praying Together”. It’s by a lady called Stormie Omartian, together with Jack Hayford (“Majesty, Majesty…”). My friend didn’t want to push but thought I really should read the first two chapters. So far I’ve managed the Foreword and the very last sentence caught my heart. She describes how this book was written by “ – Pastor Jack and I and, shall we say, a ghostwriter?”

What a profound statement. We know that many “autobiographic works” are actually written by ghostwriters. The sporting hero or celebrity tells their story and it’s written into book form by the ghost!

So here’s the question. Is the script of your life being written by you? Or is it being written by the heavenly script writer aka the Holy Spirit? Who’s running my agenda? Fred or the Paraclete – my own personal guidance officer? The idea of the Holy Spirit as ghostwriter of that script is fascinating, challenging, forbidding and comforting all at the same time.

Christians puzzle endlessly about how “to live the love born within our hearts” by the Holy Spirit, as the story of Jesus the Redeemer penetrates beyond our physical ears. The broad stroke answer is that we imitate Jesus Christ himself. He endlessly calls us to follow him, to ‘do as I have done’, to love as he loved and loves us, to forgive as he forgave and forgives us. The shape of our life increasingly reveals the shape of Jesus Christ, and the Cross he carried, and the victory he lives, at the Fathers right hand.

All of that needs to be fleshed out indetail. The story textof our lives needs working out. And that’s where the ghostwriter steps in.

How does he do it? He has a freedom to prompt us from inside (where he lives in the temple of the Holy Spirit). As we hear the gospel, and the wrestling with its meaning that occupied the apostles and prophets, he begins to nudge. Challenges our misunderstandings here. Convicting us about “truth” there. Alerting us to sin and rebellion. Sharpening consciences distorted by our history of justifying, and excuse making. Affirming our place anew, by grace, in the Fathers’ heart. Opening our eyes to see the world and its people as the Father sees it. Growing compassion in us for the lost as Jesus does it. Nudging us to pray, praise and give thanks, wherever we can. Daring us the trust our Father regardless of what our eyes see. Always holding before us the Cross-way of Jesus.

Our scripts begin to change. As husbands, wives, parents and children, employers and employees, as servant leaders, as people in ordinary communities, as bearers of good news, as men and women of character and authority, as followers of Jesus Christ! Welcome to your ghostwriter!

Fred Veerhuis

Friday, February 02, 2007

Shit Happens, Grace Surprises!


2 February 2007

SHIT HAPPENS, Grace Surprises!

A troublesome episode from my early life. I’m six and a half. Brother Leon is just five years old. We’re out in the backyard, “cutting firewood”. Leon has his hand on a piece of wood that I want to chop. “Move your hand,” I say. “No,” says he. I chop anyway. He screams. I recall an image of a V shape in his hand. Then blood spurting. He runs inside, terror manifest in his scream. Pandemonium. White nappies reddening as they are wrapped around his hand, trying to stop the bleeding. Oldest brother sent running up the street to call the ambulance. Mother distraught and threatening me with the police. Me mortified and terrified. So scared. Out the back gate and up the lane, re-emerging to watch from a hundred and fifty metres away. Ambulance arrives, men with uniforms. The police? I don’t know, and I’m too scared to get closer and find out. Eventually they all leave and I slink home. There’s nowhere to hide. Leon’s been taken to hospital. One fearful and angry mother, and a lot of brothers and sisters who don’t know what to say to me. Isolated, lonely and lost. Oh, so lost!

Father comes home. Hears the story. No immediate response. Goes about his chores and then gets into his daily bath. I’m the only one in the bathroom with him. I’m dying inside. Shattered to silence. That silence, on his part as well, is not broken until he’s just about ready to hop out. Then he turns to me and says, in Dutch, “Weet je wat je gedaan hep?” Translation: “Do you know what you’ve done?” I indicate “yes”. I don’t think I said it as a word. More silence. A long, painful silence, during which shame and guilt seem to find their way into my deepest places. Finally, after what seemed forever, he speaks. “Je ben genug gestrafd.” Translation: “You have been punished enough.”

I remember those words as if they were spoken yesterday. I also remember that the meaning didn’t sink in because I continued to wait for the inevitable. And waited. I knew perfectly well what I could expect. Rage and anger, then a hiding, followed by the withdrawal of parental affection and approval. But he didn’t follow the script. “You have been punished enough.” He was leaving it at that. Forgiveness, pure and simple, cutting through the shame and humiliation. Forgiveness cutting through the layers of shock about what I’d done, what I’d caused, and about what I’d discovered I was capable of. I’m not clear anymore about the time frame of my appreciating what his forgiveness meant, but from that day onwards I sensed, deep inside, that he understood my pain, fear and shame. There was a sort of security with him and, in spite of what I’d done, there was space for me in his heart. And you know, he never ever once mentioned it again. It was done and gone. Shit happened … grace abounded … and surprised. Not luck, but willed, freely bestowed grace.

I have to acknowledge that sometimes shit happens and you can’t see grace to bless yourself. In fact, the crap stuff inevitably comes along in life to everyone. It’s just that in my life much of the bad stuff that occurred also seemed to initiate something good as a result. Maybe every cloud does have a silver lining. I can agree, in part, with Professor Robert Spillane who said, in a panel discussion on happiness, “Life is essentially a shitheap. The only reason to keep going is to find those little jewels in the heap.”1. I’d want to add that life is often rich and abundant, and that the precious gems are often found in large numbers buried in the dung.

One of my friends says he’s only ever grown when life has been rough and tough. That’s when he’s been stretched and had his horizons and heart expanded. I happen to believe that there is an Almighty and that he is behind all this. Mind you, sometimes there’s a pretty big lag time between the bad stuff and a good outcome. And sometimes the good outcome is not the one you originally thought you needed.

This book is, by and large, the story of how I have experienced the reality of grace, in the midst of inevitable turmoil and trouble, in and through the four great institutions of my life: my birth family and my dad in particular, the Roman Catholic Church, my wife Rosemarie and our children, and the Lutheran Church in Australia, especially the local parishes I’ve had the privilege of serving as the incumbent reverend.

When it comes to forgiveness for our own children I’ve always tried to emulate my father. Strange it has been that the more serious an episode was, the less anger accompanied it. And once forgiveness was spoken, or indicated, the matter at hand was never mentioned again. No account keeping. No “historyonics” down the track. Along the way I like to think I’ve come to enjoy good relationships with my kids. Maybe such forgiveness is part of the reason why. That, and the fact that I learned to apologise to them as well!

Having such a dad as I did was not luck. I think of him today, years after his death, as God’s gift to me. So I reckon that what most of us call luck would be better described as grace incognito – grace unrecognised.


For more information about this book from which this is the first chapter send an email to