Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Poo in the pool CrossPurposes

Poo in the pool. CrossPurposes 156

The house we had at Woonona, during my leave-of-absence, had a pool. We weren’t looking for a pool, but given there was a pool we were determined to get as much use out of it as possible. It took a while but I learned how to care for a pool. I’d even venture to say I mastered the skill. Mind you, it was a chore, and a relentless one at that!

It was all good, except for the ducks. Ah, that wretched family of half-a-dozen ducks. When we got to Woonona, el nino was still the dominant babe. The great drought of the naughties was yet to break. The ducks needed a place to hang out and swim. Apparently our pool provided all the required facilities. Without so much as inquiring about a lease, they ‘settled’ on our pool. They were true squatters and wouldn’t look after the place. I’d go down for a dip and our feathered friends would take noisy flight, leaving duck-poo on the fences, around the pool edge, and of course floating in the water. It tended to be a turn-off for water-based recreation.

Many means were used to try to wean the ducks from the pool. I could hear the beggars as they gathered. I could see exactly where they were from a window in my office. Early on, I’d sneak down, chunk of brick in hand, and hurl it at the corrugated-iron fence. Yes, it frightened them away – for a while. But they kept coming back, always leaving behind what came from their behinds. I’d hear that quaack, quaaack, and it would drive me nuts. My next approach was to take one of my yard brooms and hurl it over the fence into the pool. The shocked birds would fly away. But they left behind even more of what frightened birds always leave behind. The pool area smelt like how I reckon Nauru would smell.

The quaacks continued. Desperate Fred realized a new strategy was needed. An air rifle would be great, but also illegal. Instead, he went to the newsagent and bought the strongest rubber bands to be had. Given the unavailability of a willow fork, he went home and fashioned some heavy gauge wire into a good old catapault. Went to Bunnings and bought ammunition in the form of staples that farmers use to fasten fence wire to wooden posts. I was now in possession of a potent, if dangerous, weapon.

Next time I heard those offensive and invasive ducks I gently opened my office window and set myself up as a sniper! I must have fired 40-50 times. A lot of staples hit the fence with a high-pitched ping, which caused the nearest duck a moment’s discomfort before it settled down again. A lot of those staples hit brick pillars and ricocheted around the pool area or into the garden. Many of my ‘shots’ missed the pool fence completely and sailed (harmlessly?) into the Franklins carpark beyond. I never hit a single duck. They were unmoved by my efforts, continued to pollute the pool, caused me no end of grief and denied me a comforting dip.

Finally I talked to the expert. Allan from Pool Care advised me to put a pool-cover on the pool. Desperate people do take advice, whatever the cost. The pool cover was purchased, delivered and installed within a week. And the ducks left. And didn’t come back. All because of a pool cover. The maths was simple. No pool cover = poo. Pool cover = no poo! I was free to live, to exult, to enjoy a swim.

Why have I told this tale? Well, for one thing, I like telling stories. Really though, it’s amazing how life’s experiences can amplify truths we need to know from the Jesus Christ story. My duck-poo story has to do with poo in the pool of our lives. It has to do with soul-pollution and guilt. Especially the way guilt has a way of sticking around and mucking up our lives, our relationships and our experience of the Lordship of Jesus. There is not one of us who hasn’t got a ‘history’ somewhere. As often as not, no one else knows about it. It’s something about ‘me’, what I said or did, or what I didn’t do, that had consequences for me or for others. It doesn’t matter that others may not know. I know, and God knows. (The devil knows too!) An awful lot of energy is consumed in suppressing or denying shame and guilt. Unacknowledged shame and guilt cripples me and distorts me. It therefore affects all my relationships. It kills joy, inhibits inner-peace, and cripples my freedom to love. It results in a permanent sense of alienation in relationship with God and others.

The solution? Many people can suggest solutions, including counselling. Others just resolve to forget about it and get on with life. Some seek peace by getting involved in a ‘good’ project as a way of atonement. I’ll suggest what I believe is the Gospel of Jesus Christ way. Get covered and stay covered. One of those little choruses has a wonderfully simple way of saying it:

I am covered over with the robe of righteousness that Jesus gives to me.
I am covered over with the precious blood of Jesus and he lives in me.
What a joy it is to know my heavenly Father loves me so and gives to me my Jesus.
When he looks at me he sees not what I used to be, but he sees Jesus. (Anon)

You see, the devil relishes stirring in the poo-pot of our life. He operates in the area of unexamined and unconfessed sin. He’s a master at reminding us of failure, of the shameful, of our guilt! On the other hand the Spirit of Jesus tells us that God no longer remembers our sin when it’s repented and forgiven. Or as wise old Paul wrote, “There is, therefore, no condemnation now for those in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) The devil is free to smear our crap all over us if we are not in forgiveness, in Christ. Wherever there is forgiveness it’s the devil who has no freedom! He can’t make anything stick on Jesus, and therefore he can’t make anything stick on the ‘forgiven’ you.

And one other thing from a source I no longer remember: “If the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future!”

So get covered and stay covered.

Summer’s on the way. Happy swimming.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CP 155 A tale of two Taroona High students

A tale of two Taroona High students

“Once-upon-a-time there was a school in fair Hobart called Taroona High. It was regarded as one of the ‘better’ schools in that southern kingdom of Van Diemens Land. Almost half a century ago, not quite in the olden days, a young girl named Rosemarie was enrolled in the afore-mentioned school. She flourished there and indeed, graduated as dux-of-the-school. An exceedingly bright future beckoned when she moved to the wondrous harbour-city called Sydney.

About thirty years later, in more modern times, another bright student was enrolled at the same school. Although Mary did not become dux-of-the-school, she excelled in her studies, and she too was drawn by the allure of the great city to the north.

By coincidence both young ladies met a handsome men called Fred. Rosemarie met her Fred on Coogee beach on a warm late-summer day. Mary met her Fred on a cool early-spring evening at Darling Harbour during the Olympic Games. Both women married their Fred. By coincidence both Freds worked in a vocation beginning with P, and both serve a in a Kingdom. Rosemarie’s Fred became a Pastor after he joined the Lutheran Church. Mary’s Fred turned out to be a Prince, and before she married him she too joined the Lutheran Church.

Nowadays Rosemarie lives with her Fred in Campbelltown, (let the reader understand,) while Mary and her Fred live in Copenhagen. Rosemarie lives in a parsonage while Mary lives in a palace. Rosemarie lives in relative obscurity and Mary lives in royal opulence. Their lives are a world apart. However both are happy and both expect to live happily-ever-after.”

Here endeth the tale.

Question… Which of these two fair ladies is the more richly blessed? Answer… I have not the foggiest idea. As the older of the two Freds, I might only speak for Rosemarie, and what presumption that would be. But, all things considered, I surmise that she must be very happy. She has 5 children. Add a baker’s dozen grandchildren. Plus she has me. She also has Jesus. And Mary? Touring Australia at the moment, she comes across as happy too. Apart from her children, the eyes of her Fred reveal a deep affection for her and that must count for much. She, too, may have Jesus.

So why am I writing this flowery tale? Is there a faith lesson in this story? Hardly. Is there a moral to this story? The answer is no. All I intend to do is to place a simple observation before you. And what is that? The person we marry, or will marry, has an enormous influence on the content and direction of our lives and in the way our lives pan out.

That’s it. The fairy-tale is to fall in love, then marry, and then live happily ever-after. However being ‘in love’ carries no guarantee of personal or marital happiness. Those who are madly-in-love are almost invariably unable to see with the eyes of wisdom and discernment. Being objective and being in love are not comfortable bed-fellows. Mistakes are par for the course. But who can control that mysterious thing of the way of a man with a maiden? For what it’s worth, at least try to be objective. (You may be sure that the ‘Palace’ checked out Mary of Taroona pretty thoroughly.) I will repeat what is important to remember: The person we marry, or will marry, has an enormous influence and impact on the course of our lives.

Is there hope? Of course! As William Willimon says, “Marriage is not about finding the right person as much as being [becoming] the right person.” For that you need Jesus Christ, his transforming Word, and his transforming Spirit.

Bless you people.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sculptures by the Sea (of Galilee)

Sculptures by the Sea CrossPurposes 154

If you don’t live in Sydney you probably don’t know about the annual sculpture exhibition which is presented on the coastal strip between Bondi and Tamarama beaches. The two week show is on just now. Some of the best known sculptors on the planet have their ‘creations’ placed on the headlands and rock formations, on the grassy slopes and beach sands. Thousands upon thousands visit the site and marvel (or wonder!!!) about the creativity on display. (Joggers hate it because it all happens on their track.)

For reasons I can’t explain, while half-asleep the other morning, I was linking the Sculptures by the Sea with the story of Anna which I shared in CrossPurposes 153. Weird? Not really, if we let the Holy Spirit be the sculptor. The instrument he uses to do his ‘fashioning’ is the Word of God, especially the Word of Jesus Christ. His raw material is the regenerated heart which is set on Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Such a heart is willing to be remade, even if there is a cost. As that person ‘stays the course’ through thick and thin, through the best and worst that happens in life, then transformation is to be expected.

I mentioned Anna Papaj. But think of Jesus’ disciples as they roamed the highways and byways along the Sea of Galilee. Picture their souls and spirits being pickled in his words about salt and light, turning the other cheek, forgiveness of others, meekness and mercy, trust and prayer. Catch their astonishment at his purity of heart and purpose, and his unwavering trust in his Father’s will. Let them hear the call to humility, to wash feet, lead by being a servant, take up their own gospel cross. See their confidence grow as they begin to trust his ‘ask, seek and knock’ promises.

Let’s keep going. Imagine what the Spirit is doing in them as they confront their own failures and as they are unwilling spectators of his crucifixion. Record their amazement when he meets them risen and alive. Sense their relief as forgiveness embraces them. Be heartened as you see them rise to the call to represent Jesus and his kingdom to the world.

You know what they are? What they are becoming? Yep, that’s right. They are ‘living sculptures by the sea’, being wondrously and beautifully worked by the Holy Spirit of Jesus.

But that’s not all. In his mind’s eye the Holy Spirit has an extraordinarily lucid image of the end goal of his labours. The artistic result is what the Father in heaven always had in mind. Without any hint of loss of personality, indeed with marvellous enhancement of individual personality, each follower of Jesus looks more and more like him. Jesus, in his coming, living, working, suffering, dying and rising, is the prototype for the divine craftsman.

Many years ago I went to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra. One thing he said in particular stayed with me. “God forbade his people from making ‘graven images’ because in each human being he already had a person made in his image.” A valid point I reckon, though the image is often so heavily obscured, under layer-upon-layer of sin, that it is well nigh invisible. For new covenant people that image is emerging with even greater clarity and glory than was present with Adam. (Fred, Fred, Fred…are you not bordering on heresy here?) In Jesus we see a side of our God that the newly created Adam did not (need to) see. As we are being ‘sculpted’ after the image of Jesus, the Spirit enhances the ‘living sculpture’ by installing into the core of our inner-self a new heart which is wired to replicate the capacity for Calvary-type grace, mercy and truth which is only found in Jesus the Christ.

Does that give you fresh eyes to see what the Spirit was doing in Anna Papaj? Now think of what the Spirit has in mind for you (and me). Does your spirit not cry out for such stunning possibilities? Ask and you shall receive!

Have a ‘blessed’ week.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

CrossPurposes 153 On being an Anna


Hi guys, Fred here. The other day I was moving toward the Sudoku in the Sydney Morning Herald when my eye caught a name I recognized among the Funeral Notices. As I read it I found a tear in the eye and joy in my heart.


(nee Arnold).

03.07.1921 – 21.10.2011

Widow of Peter (Piotr), mother with all her heart

and strength to daughters

Emilie and Christina and

proud mother-in-law of

Tom. The most loving of grandmothers to James, Andrew and Adriana, and great-grandmother to Darren Castiel (France).

The world’s best baker of cakes and pancakes.

A woman of great intelligence and courage, survivor of so many hardships through her

deep faith. She loved the Lord with all her soul.

Getragen auf Adlers

Flugein bis hinein

In die Ewigkeit

A funeral service for ANNA will be held at St Pauls Lutheran Church,

St Marys, on Tuesday

(October 25, 2011).

Pretty special, don’t you reckon? I knew Anna and I knew she had died. That I came upon her name in the SMH was pure fluke. However, the family’s heartfelt affirmation of mother and grandmother brought back many memories. I was her Pastor in Sydney for almost 10 years. Her story was unique and at the same time it was the story of thousands of others.

Picture Germany after WW1, a time of uncertainty, painful and resentful introspection after military defeat, complete financial chaos, all accompanied by political disorder indistinguishable from anarchy. As Germany entered the Depression years the turmoil intensified until the Nazi dictatorship crushed all opposition. Then came the Hitler years and with him came war. The brothers went to war and she remained on the farm as her father’s labourer until he died. From that point she worked the farm on her own until she married her Polish husband. One brother died during the war. Another was disabled for life. When the third brother returned from Russia he insisted that the farm was his.

As with hundreds of thousands of others, they moved to Australia. Soon after they arrived her husband became sick and could no longer work. (In fact he spent his first day in Australia in hospital.) With an invalid husband and two children she established a poultry farm at Blacktown in western Sydney. It was there that the family was finally able to establish itself.

That’s the bare-bones of the story. But the thing which most got me about Anna was her deep and unswerving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This was not a lady to skip church. She was in Sunday worship because she wanted to be there. Her wisdom and understanding were genuinely remarkable. She ‘got it’. She knew her need, and she knew how Calvary was her Lord’s way of meeting that need. She knew grace. She knew God her Father. She was a woman of spirit and she was a woman of the Spirit! Yes, she was a rock to her family, but she knew, without a skerrick of doubt, that all her efforts, indeed her whole life, was anchored on the Rock of all Ages. She knew the Cross was her lodestar, and she never took her eyes off it.

I guess it is no surprise that Anna was one of the great encouragers of my pastoral life. I was strengthened Sunday by Sunday simply because she was there! I have no idea how that worked, but it was true. Sunday by Sunday, usually without words on her part, I was lifted up. And she did that too, when I visited her at home and in the nursing home.

Why am I writing this story. I’m not 100% sure myself. But from the moment I saw that funeral notice I knew, among other things, I wanted to encourage ‘others’ to be an “Anna” in the lives of yet more ‘others’, especially for their children and grandchildren. More than ever the world needs followers of Jesus who embody holy faith and holy love.

Be blessed.


PS The German words translate as follows:

Carried on the wings of an eagle, right into eternity.

These words come from one of Anna’s own prayers:

O that we would learn to love God with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our being. Then we could sing:

Carried on the wings of an eagle

over the roaring sea of time,

carried on the wings of an eagle,

right into eternity.