Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Guilty but not guilty

27 June 2007

Hi Guys

This week I’ve got a guest contributor. His name is Rene van den Tol, and he’s the Pastoral Assistant in the Sydney Parish. His encounter with the Law makes for interesting reading.


“Guilty but not guilty”

This is a story I shared recently with our men’s breakfast group. It sums up how we stand before God when we acknowledge our sinfulness, repent, and confess our faith in Jesus Christ.

Several years ago when I was living in Canberra a few friends visited from Sydney. We went out for a meal at a local club and during the course of the evening ordered several rounds of beer. I ordered light beer for myself when it was my shout and thought my friends had also ordered a light beer for me when it was their shout.

On my way home I noticed red and blue flashing lights reflecting off a road sign beyond the crest ahead and thought it could well be a breathalyser unit. At that point I could have turned into another road to avoid the unit if I’d thought my blood alcohol level was over the limit. Confident it was not, I continued on my way. As it turned out, it was a breathalyser unit, and I was pulled over and tested. To my dismay I recorded .07 and was duly driven to the police station for further testing, which confirmed I was over the limit.

I was told I was being charged for driving under the influence and that my car would be impounded overnight, and that I could collect it the next morning. A very considerate, and even sympathetic police officer advised me that as this was my first offence, the best approach would be to plead guilty, get an early hearing, and just tell the magistrate exactly what happened. Given the circumstances, there would be a good chance the magistrate would bring down a verdict of guilty with no conviction recorded. I took the police officer’s advice.

A few days later in the Magistrate’s Court, while waiting to be called forward, I witnessed over half a dozen people take the stand to answer DUI charges. I could hear the verdicts and the sentences. “Guilty! Twelve months suspension of licence.” “Guilty, loss of licence for two years and $2,000 fine.” “Guilty! You’ve been here once too often Mr Smith. Loss of licence and six months imprisonment.” And so it went on.

By now I had my head in my hands thinking the worst – public humiliation, loss of job, loss of licence. “Surely he ‘s not going to send me to jail, is he?” I continued to pray like fury.

When it was my turn to face the music, I stepped forward, hoping the fact I was wearing my best suit would make an impression, but feeling none too confident. My lawyer had advised me to defend myself and “just say it as it is” – just like the police officer had advised.

When asked to explain the circumstances behind my being in court, I told the magistrate exactly how it was. I was only a social drinker, who had gone out with some friends visiting from out of town. We’d had a meal and about five schooners over a period of three to four hours. I thought I’d been drinking light beer, but clearly, some of the beers had been full strength. I had noticed the flashing lights of what I thought could have been a breathalyser unit but felt confident I was under the limit and so had no cause for concern. I was dismayed to be told I was over the limit, but the technology doesn’t lie I told the magistrate, and so I had no defence. I was guilty and I acknowledged it.

The magistrate turned to the police prosecutor who was asked to read the police report. The officer at the scene had reported the facts of the matter. He included that Mr van den Tol appeared to have been in full control of his faculties and had shown no signs of intoxication. He had added that Mr van den Tol had been polite, respectful and fully cooperative at all times. The magistrate then asked me how long I had been driving and if I had ever been convicted before. “About thirty years” and “no” I replied.

At that point the magistrate advised that it was in his power to exercise discretion in these matters. He informed the court that he was sorry someone who had such a clean driving record for so many years had to appear before him, and then pronounced me, “Not guilty.”

“Not Guilty?” “But I pleaded ‘guilty’ didn’t I?” I asked myself. “How then can I be not guilty?” I puzzled.

It reminded me of an even more perplexing question and the amazing grace-filled response. We “blow” more than .05 every day in our relationship with God. We are not only guilty of sin; we are as guilty as sin. We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But Jesus comes along – he who never “blew” as much as .0000005 – and takes the conviction and penalty for us. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

How can we be “guilty” and yet be considered, declared, and made “not guilty?” It happens, as I was reminded, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

René van den Tol

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

To go forward you've got to go back

13 June 2007

I have a young friend here in Sydney who comes from Lebanon. As a 9 year old in Beirut he broke his leg badly. It healed badly and he was left walking as a cripple, hobbling along at best.

His Dad heard about a doctor in (biblical) Sidon who was good with bones. Took young Kassem to see this specialist. The leg was soon examined, and the doctor announced that there was nothing wrong with the leg. All it needed was to be broken again, and reset in its proper place.

Kassem didn’t hear much past the “broken again”. He knew nothing of anaesthetic. What he did know was that breaking his leg had brought the worst pain he had ever felt and here was a doctor offering more of the same. He bolted! As fast as his gammy leg could take him, he shot out of that surgery and hid. His father, the doctor and friends of the family spent the day searching for him, but he stayed out of sight.

When his Dad eventually found him he was adamant he wasn’t having it fixed. His dad, a wise man, I reckon, said that was okay. ‘When you’re ready to have it fixed, we’ll get it fixed’.

Back in Beirut Kassem continued to hobble in his distorted way. His friends couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t get it fixed. Kassem remained fierce in his determination not to submit to the doctor. Until someone told him about anaesthetic. At that point he confronted his fears, went to Sidon, had his operation under anaesthetic, had his leg broken and reset, went home – and one month later was walking properly! He had to go back before he could go forward!

I wonder if you can understand that Kassem’s experience is a beautiful illustration of repentance. He needed to be free. Be he couldn’t be free until he went back to receive what he needed.

Kingdom Principle: To go forward you must first go back.

A couple of examples from recent scripture in Worship.

Simon Peter: Jesus wanted him in clear and clean relationship with him so that, among other things, he could use him to “fishing for human fish” in the kingdom. So what happens? Peter must first experience the glory of Jesus so that he knows the true nature of his sin. The revelation is so powerful that he cries out, “Go away from me for I am a sinful man, Lord”. Then, and only then, can Jesus say to him “It’s okay you need have no fear – follow me and I will make you a fisher of human fish!” (see Luke 5: 1-11)
Principle: You can’t go forward unless you first go back.

Young Isaiah: Dedicated young priest whose passion is the holiness of Yahweh and his Temple. In there one day, to pray, he sees “…the Lord, high and lifted up, and his presence filled the Temple… and the angels called to one another “Holy holy holy is the Lord Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory”.

And how did young Isaiah respond to this revelation? “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips…” An angel brings forgiveness to him from the altar, and his guilt is taken away and sin atoned for. Then, and only then, can he hear the Lord calling: “Whom shall I send?” And Isaiah responds, “Here I am, send me!”. (Is. 6: 1-8)

There is the Kingdom Principle again. You can’t go forward unless you first go back.

Michael Leunig makes the same point in this simple cartoon!



Wednesday, June 06, 2007


6 June 2007

Hi Guys

This edition of Cross Purposes comes from my friend Fred Gollasch, who worked with me in Sydney last year. Here he shares something that is true of all of us… an initial stubbornness and deafness to the voice of the Lord.

I love the way God works! Twice, my life has taken dramatic changes in direction, and I realise there is a pattern involved reflecting both on me and on the Lord.

In early 2005 Fred Veerhuis called on me in my first year of busy retirement in Canberra for a coffee. We sat chatting at the dining room table and out of the blue he said, “Why don’t you stop talking about all this stuff around here, and come and help us out in our Sydney congregations next year?” I was shocked. My immediate response was, “NO-WAY!” Fred asked why, and I said, “Because I want a rest!” He said, “I can understand that”, and started on some other topic.

In less than a minute, I was no longer listening. The Spirit was at work in my head and my heart and I found myself thinking and praying, “Hang on a minute! Lord, you told us it was time to leave Warrambui, and you said you had other plans for us. Maybe this is part of your plan?” I interrupted Fred (who told me later he had no intention of suggesting that option when he came), and asked for more information. God did the rest. Over the next months we had God’s peace about moving to Sydney and me taking up a totally new roll as pastoral assistant in the two city churches. That year (2006) was one of our most fulfilling years. It was challenging, fruitful, stretching, and wonderful. God’s ways are best!

This experience took me back to early 1989 in Wagga. I had a phone call from Stan Scheetz asking if Inta and I were interested in applying for the management jobs at Warrambui Retreat and Conference Centre near Canberra. I was not interested in change and my response was, “NO-WAY!” Stan accepted that and I went off to work and forgot about it. That night I thought, “Maybe I should tell Inta about that call!” She had never been as involved in Warrambui as I was, but I mentioned it and she floored me when she said, “THAT WOULD BE GREAT!”

God works in all sorts of mysterious ways. Inta to this day, does not know why she came out with that response, (it even surprised her), but it led to 15 of the most amazing years of our lives at Warrambui. Fred Veerhuis wasn’t planning to ask us to Sydney and yet it led to a wonderful year of rich joy and blessing for us, although it wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to change direction in life; in fact I was opposed to it both times. In response to God’s call I was “No-Way, Leave Me Alone, Fred!”

When our response is “No-Way Lord”, I love God’s patience as He waits for us to wake up to His reality. And on reflection we have lots of “No-Way” companions: Just three are - “No-Way Moses”, (when God called him to return to Egypt to rescue His people); “No-Way Jonah” (as God called him to witness to the people of Nineveh); “No-Way Peter” (who declared he would never be a “No-Way” man yet did it three times in denying His lord); and look what God did with those guys!

Looking back it is quite obvious that God plans our pathways in the greatest detail. Sometimes it comes to us gradually, sometimes the way it is revealed is sudden and surprising. I am thankful that God was patient enough to persevere with me, and nudge me with His Spirit at the right time.

It is crystal clear now that as hard as it is to change direction at times, if the Lord is calling us, the joys and blessings that come from following Him are so rich, why would we want to wander off in our own direction or stubbornly stick to what is safe and comfortable?

Next time God gives you a nudge, remember His promises: “My ways are not your ways…I will never leave you or forsake you.”

The Other Fred
(Fred Gollasch)