Monday, July 30, 2012

CP 187 The love of Johnny Pango

CP 187 The love of Johnny Pango…

My friends, this week I want to put before you a couple more snippets about marriage. My thoughts are driven by what an apparent confusion between romantic/erotic love and Jesus the Christ sort of love. The former is what draws us together… the second is what keeps us together. Please know that I am aware that often there is great distress when one partner chooses not to uphold the vows. There is not much the other can do except pray, forgive, hope, and pray and forgive again. However, where we can we do everything in our power to encourage couples to understand the vows they make before God and family, and then to be faithful to those vows. So here are a couple of more snippets to chew on.

1) Love and Marriage
“One of the things that most of us learn in marriage is that love – real, deep, abiding love – is the result of marriage rather than its cause. Strange but true. A couple standing before God and the church at their wedding, may think that love is the reason for their wedding. They are here, in the church, having a wedding, because they are in love.

But one of the wonders of marriage is that, in making and keeping the promise to love one another – for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part – your love deepens, you become more in love than you were when you began keeping the promises of marriage. You’ve heard married couples note this when they say, “We didn’t know a thing about real love when we got married. We were young and silly. But over the years, we’ve learned what real love is.” Through the thick and the thin of marriage, in the struggle to be faithful, love has been the gift of their fidelity. Thus the church, at a wedding, does not ask, “John, do you love Susan?” but rather, “John, will you love Susan,” speaking of love in the future tense. 

One thing that most of us discover in marriage is that the more you work at keeping the promises, the more faithfully you hold to what you promised to do, the less you have to consciously keep those promises. Fidelity just becomes part of you. You become a faithful person through your faithfulness. And thus Jesus speaks of love.”     William Willimon, Pulpit Resource 1985
The second item is my paraphrase of a story from Selwyn Hughes’ book, ‘Marriage as God Intended’. (Kingsway publications, 1983)

2) The love of Johnny Pango
A young Polynesian man named Johnny Pango met a girl from a neighbouring island, and promptly fell in love with her. When he first met the young lady he was blind to the unpleasant reality of her shattered self-esteem. She believed herself to be downright unattractive if not ugly. She carried herself accordingly. During her childhood she had been constantly denigrated by her father. Johnny was distressed by her self-contempt but in his heart he saw the person she could be and so continued his courtship of her. Then came the day he sat down to bargain with her father for her hand in marriage.

It was the custom in that place that the bride-price was negotiated between the girl’s father and the future husband. It was usually established in the number of cows one might exchange for one’s future wife. If a girl was of 'ordinary' looks a father might be willing to accept just two cows as the bride-price. A future wife regarded as more physically attractive might be counted as worth three cows. An exceptionally beautiful maiden might mean four cows for the father. When Johnny Pango arranged to meet the father of his chosen one it was widely expected that, being shrewd, he might manage to part with only one cow, or two at most.

In this matter, Johnny was shrewder than he had ever been. He offered eight cows, double what had ever been offered for a wife! Eight cows! Of course his future father-in-law did not hesitate. The offer was accepted on the spot. The girl’s father thought Johnny a bit of an idiot. But not his future wife. She blossomed under this very public declaration of her great worth. Everything about her began to change. The girl of no esteem was transformed. Johnny’s willingness to pay the highest price had declared to her, and to the world, the place she held in his heart.

How can I conclude after a story like that? Sort of obvious is it not? God so loved the world he gave his only Son… His only Son... to the Cross... His only Son... crucified... His only Son. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church… Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ…

Be blessed as you wallow in his divine estimate of you, in his CrossPurposes.


Monday, July 23, 2012

CP 186 Truth in labelling…

This week I bring you some more bits n’ pieces that I’ve heard about the way people label and get labelled in words.

A lawyer name Strange lay dying. His colleague of many years sat glumly by his bed. “Have you thought about what you would like on your gravestone?” he asked gently. ‘Yes”, whispered the lawyer, “All I want to have on it is, ‘Here lies an honest lawyer.’” “Is that all?” asked his friend. “Not even your own name? Why only the words, ‘Here lies an honest lawyer?’” “Well,” replied the lawyer, “People will read those words and say, ‘That’s strange!’” (Sorry friends...really sorry.)
On the Saturday before Mother’s Day in May this year a couple of the grandchildren were with us. Tahlia and Jordan were playing ‘mother and child’, with the twist that boy Jordan, age 3, was mum, and girl Tahlia, age 5, was child. It was a perfect opportunity for older sister to commandeer all the toys from ‘mother’. At some point Jordan felt the need for some toys of his own and headed off to get them. Here is what I heard ‘child Tahlia’ say:
“Jordan, mothers don’t have toys! Mothers don’t have fun! They only work!”

A few weeks ago I was in conversation with a friend of many years. I asked Graeme (not his real name) what it was that his wife appreciated most about him? He answered easily. “She likes that I care for her, and my sense of humour – I manage to put a smile on her face every day.” About an hour later he was telling me that he recently needed to find his own mobile number – so he looked in his wife’s phone and found it… under “Grumpy”! I don’t know which version I’m supposed to believe.

Last week I got a phone call from the daughter of a bloke I like. With good humour she said, “If you want to understand my dad think of that old saying, ‘Street angel – house devil.’” I thought to myself that my kids might sometimes have been tempted to lay that moniker on me!

Here’s one from my first parish in South Oz, (with apologies to the Kleinig family). One of my elders, commenting on observable family traits, said to me, “The Kleinigs are ‘sudden.’” That one reminds me of the well known thing about people from Crete. “All Cretans are liars. You are a Cretan. Therefore you are a liar!” Neither of those two observations is ever going to be 100% true.

I guess nothing should surprise us. Even Jesus noted that when John the Baptist came, neither eating nor drinking, he was labelled as having a demon, and when the Son of Man came, eating and drinking, he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard!

However, here’s something to think about. Don’t know where I got it from but it’s true. “The wise person knows that in every bucketful of unfair criticism there is always a grain of truth.” The old saying tells us that if the cap fits, we should wear it. But take note, don’t wear it to your grave. Wear it instead to the Cross, to your Lord, whose cross-released blood brings us forgiveness and promises cleansing. It is truly liberating to have somewhere to go where our complete honesty is met not with condemnation but mercy. Check Romans 8:1 for all the assurance you’ll ever need.

Have a blessed-in-Him week.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

CP 185 A ship you will not desert?

CP 185 A ship you will not desert?

More than 40 years ago, in the early days of our marriage, someone gave me a little booklet entitled “How to be married – AND happy”. It was not meant to be cynical. The author was wanting to encourage couples who were struggling in their marriages. My pastoral experience and reading tells me that no other relationship makes us so consistently vulnerable to deep and long-lasting wounding. Nowhere else are we so ‘naked’ to another. Intimacy wounds hurt like no other wounds. They take longer to heal. When the temperature of love has a period of cooling the call to forgiveness is daunting and might feel impossible. Today I simply wish to share with you a couple of snippets written by thoughtful writers who have been wrestling with the joys of marital love.

The first is from the introduction to “The Meaning of Marriage” by Timothy Keller. (Hodder and Stoughton 2011) In a humourous and honest way, Keller acknowledges the truth of the journey he has taken with his wife Kathy:

“Our friendship grew into romance and engagement, and then from a fragile new marriage into a tested and durable one. But this only happened through the ‘Pearls before swine’ speech, the Great Dirty Nappy Conflict, the ‘smashing-of-the wedding-china affair’, and other infamous events in the family history… - all mileposts on the very bumpy road to marital joy. Like most young modern couples, we found that marriage was much harder than we expected it to be. At the conclusion of our wedding ceremony we marched out singing the hymn ‘How Firm a Foundation’. Little did we know how relevant some of the lines would be to the arduous and painful work of developing a strong marriage.

      When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
      My grace all sufficient will be your supply.
      For I will be with you your troubles to bless
      And sanctify to you your deepest distress.”

The second quote is from Lewis Smede’s book, ‘The Power of Promises’. This passage has become embedded in my heart as a foundational truth for my part in our marriage. I share it with every couple in pre-marriage discussions. Read on:

“Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make.

I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God.

What a marvellous thing a promise is! When a person makes a promise, she reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable; she will be there even when being there costs her more than she wants to pay.

When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.

When a person makes a promise, she stakes a claim on her personal freedom and power. When you make a promise, you take a hand in creating your own future.”

Can I tell you why I love Lewis Smede’s words? If a couple make such a promise or vow to each other they need never fear the fights. Everything that ever needs to be put on the table can be put on the table because ‘the other’ has promised to be there regardless. The other is committed to forgiveness and reconciliation! Can you imagine what it might be like if you were fearful about raising any issue because you thought that if you did, your partner might take offence and leave. This is a real fear for those who do not live within the safety net of the marriage vow.

If you are married, do yourself a favour, look your spouse in the eyes, and say, “Doesn’t matter what, I’m never leaving!” That’s a Jesus Messiah type of love. And as Fr. William Bausch once observed, “Many couples give up in the blackness of what feels like Good Friday. We are challenged to remember, especially on Good Friday sort of days, that there was a resurrection on Easter Sunday.”

Enough from me. Onward in hope!

May your week be blessed in Him.  …Fred.

Monday, July 09, 2012

CP 184 One text haunted me...

CP 184  One text haunted me…

Many years ago, in what now feels like the olden days, I was one of the Pastors of the Eudunda Parish in South Australia. It was a wonderful time, (apart from a few minor exceptions), and the town and Parish was chock-a-block with ‘characters’. A bloke couldn’t avoid them because almost every business and organisation was owned by, or staffed by, members of the flock. One such was Vin Geyer, the town barber.

Since it was important to support local businesses I duly presented myself for a haircut. Vinnie was pleased and wanted to talk. On his heart was his errant son. The lad had been to the local Lutheran primary school, done his confirmation instruction, (2 years, once a week!), and made his confirmation. Having finished his education, the beloved son moved to Adelaide for work. And then brought sadness and shame to his family.

Of all things, he joined the Hare Krishnas. His parents were shocked and grieved. This was totally incomprehensible. How could he do this? What had they done wrong? How could they have failed? Vin and I agreed that the only thing we could do was pray for him to ‘get out’.

Time passed. Maybe a year or so, I’m not sure. One Sunday morning, behold, there was the young man sitting beside his parents in worship. Mum and dad were beaming, as well they might. He was present most Sundays after that. I looked for the chance to talk with him.

He told me his story of how he got involved and what that involvement meant - surrendering possessions, community living and structures, street work, and teaching sessions. “What led you to leave?” His answer astounded me and will be a source of comfort to many of us whose children have finished up in ‘prodigal places’.

What did he say to me? “As I was listening to their teaching, I was comparing it to what I had been taught in confirmation. It didn’t fit with the truth I’d learn’t, so I left! Just like that. And he came home. To both his heavenly Father and his earthly parents. 

His story came to mind recently when I sat with another young person coming out of one of those ‘alternative’ faiths and was astonished at how the Word of God, embedded in a person’s heart, and regardless of how it gets there, is used by the Holy Spirit to lead that person to the joy and freedom of Jesus the Christ and his kingdom. The Gospel Word is the raw material with which the Spirit of Truth does his work.

And I passionately encourage you. I would say to you parents, god-parents, grandparents and others, as you have permission and opportunity, use it to speak and teach the truth of Jesus the Christ into the minds and hearts of the young and the old. Share what you know of Calvary and what it teaches us about the grace, mercy, peace and holiness of God. Never tire of giving the Holy Spirit the chance do his special work.

Finally a word about that young man who left the Hare Krishnas. He met a young lady whom he married. I officiated at the wedding. Not long after that he enrolled at the Seminary in Adelaide. He graduated 6 years later. His name is Peter, and he is currently the Pastor of the Fassifern Parish in Queensland. God is good.

It is pure delight to share with you Peter’s response to what I have written:

The Hare Krishnas were a group of people who truly identified with their faith 24 hours seven days a week. I was impressed. Too bad it took me such a painful experience to learn their theology was not up to scratch.

One comment that I wish you might add to your blog and that is to say that it was the Bible memory work I learned at Confirmation that made the big difference to me leaving the Hare Krishnas. As I tried living as a Hare Krishna, one text haunted me! John 14:6, particularly the "No one comes to the Father but by me". The Holy Spirit worked on the Word I had in my heart to convince me that Jesus was the only way… and so I left!

Be blessed people

Monday, July 02, 2012

CP 183 Why do I do what I do?

CP 183  Why do I do what I do?

The longest time I spent in ministry in a parish was at Woden Valley in the ACT. My call there started in 1983 and came to an end in 1999. These were the years all five of our children went through the cocoon of puberty, from which they emerged as finely-balanced adults. From a pastoral point of view it was pretty full-on so every now and then it was necessary to review where I was at. One time around 1989 I was having a conversation with an Anglican priest about coping with stress when he asked me a question to which, within 20 seconds, I gave two separate and conflicting answers. His question was, “Why are you a Pastor?” My first answer was, “Because I want to give glory to God in all things.” The second answer was, “And it gives me lots of strokes.”

From the moment that second answer popped out of my mouth in 1989 until this moment, right now in July 2012, I have been hesitant about publicly claiming or declaring that I do what I do for the glory of God! I certainly want to act for the glory of God. That is the desire of my heart. But, as my second answer revealed, a lot of my personal motivation can also come from doing whatever works for Fred.

That day, back in 1989, my conflicted heart was laid bare to me. I’m sure Rosemarie and others close to me had known or sensed that unpleasant little truth but I hadn’t seen it clearly myself. Oh yes, I knew I could be self-centred, Fred-centred and selfish. But until that day it had never occurred to me that maybe I was attracted to pastoring for my own sake, that I was using ministry as a means of meeting my own needs.

Now, a couple of things about what I’ve just written. First, please don’t send me a comforting little note to say that I’m being too hard on myself. I think it was the Spirit of Christ himself who hit me with a 4 by 2 that day. It was a great wake-up call which I am glad I received. It is always good to know the truth about yourself, especially when you know that the Father in heaven is overflowing with Calvary mercy and forgiveness. (The Holy Spirit’s agenda is always to bring glory to the Son.)

Secondly, I don’t believe for one moment that I’m an orphan when it comes to doing things for my glory or God’s glory. Every single follower of Jesus the Christ has this inner-conflict going on day by day. In fact the dilemma exists precisely because the Spirit of Jesus Christ constantly nudges us to honour Jesus, while the nature we inherited from Adam is always concerned with self.

Thirdly, that deeply ingrained caution about claiming to be pure-in-heart is probably the reason why I find it difficult to sing songs like, “I love you Lord…” Do you share that with me? I have celebration in my heart as I sing about his love for me. I know my heavenly Father loves me. I know that in Christ he is for me, and that therefore no power on earth is able to separate me from his love. Scripture is clear as a bell about that. Check out Romans 8:31-39!

So how do I know if I love God and live for his glory? There is only one answer to that question. Inside me there is a passionate desire and drive, not of my own creating, to honour Jesus Christ. It’s a forceful thing. It is powerful. My conscious being is driven by that desire. And the gospel tells me that in honouring the Son, celebrating Calvary and his resurrection, trusting him for forgiveness and life, I am honouring and trusting the Father. In fact the scripture makes it clear that it is the one and only way to love God the Father. And that, my friends, is my comfort.

Have a blessed week. Next week I’ll share something funny.