Thursday, October 15, 2020

CP 292 Two prominent Australians and controversy

 

CP 292 Two prominent Australians and controversy

There are many prominent Australians who generate strong emotions in the population. Among them are church leaders and political leaders. In this CrossPurposes I want to comment on one thing former Prime Minister Tony Abbott did do, and one thing Cardinal George Pell said he would not do.

My comments are not about politics. Repeat: This is not about politics. Rather it’s about something that goes to the heart of our faith. I would welcome your thoughts about what I have to say. Let me begin with Mr Abbott. What did he do? In early December 2019 he was filmed walking out of a Victorian prison after having visited Cardinal Pell. He was loudly and roundly condemned for doing so and some labelled his conduct shameful. I didn’t think it was shameful at all. The super-righteous reaction by sections of the media caused a particular passage from Matthew’s Gospel had sprung to mind:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36)

Personally I had no problem with Mr Abbott’s visit. He was visiting a long-time friend in a private capacity. It had nothing to do with Cardinal Pell’s guilt or otherwise. Regardless of whether Cardinal Pell was guilty or not, Mr Abbott’s visit was an appropriate Christian thing to do. Frankly, I hope that if I ever found myself in prison, for whatever reason, someone among you would come and visit me. Isn’t that what you would want for yourself, or your son or daughter or brother or sister, regardless of the reason they were in prison? In my mind, Mr Abbott was living his faith convictions.

I had a similar reaction when a Cronulla Sharks footballer, Andrew Fifita, visited a young man in a NSW prison at Cessnock, earlier in 2019. That young man was undeniably guilty of a wanton act of manslaughter. Years earlier, Andrew Fifita had been that young man’s Rugby League coach. Mr Fifita was publically condemned for making the visit and was also warned by NSW Police for consorting with known criminals. Now I don’t know all the ins and outs of these things but again, every Christ instinct in me says it is right to visit someone in prison.

Now, to something Cardinal Pell said he would not do. After former Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in Australian institutions, Cardinal Pell in turn held a Press Conference in Sydney. The Herald-Sun reported on it this way in November 2012: ‘Cardinal Pell yesterday welcomed the royal commission into sexual abuse and said he would front the commission if called on - but openly advised priests to avoid hearing confessions of sexual abuse from fellow priests to help preserve the sanctity of the confessional… "If the priest knows beforehand about such a situation, the priest should refuse to hear the confession," Cardinal Pell said yesterday. "I would never hear the confession of a priest who's suspected of such a thing."

I was gob-smacked by those remarks in 2012. I’m still gob-smacked by them today. Bear with me as I explain why.

Understand that in Roman Catholic teaching and Canon Law, the absolution for the forgiveness of sin is in the authority and call of the Priest, through the Bishops and Cardinals, back to the Pope. You may or may not agree but that is the teaching. Without the absolution there is no forgiveness.

The Cardinal’s words imply that forgiveness should not be available to priest-offenders. How does that fit with the knowledge and conviction that Christ came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world?

I know that this is one of the most painful issues of our generation. I’m not for one moment minimising the sin, especially by those with authority over vulnerable people, especially children. The lives of too many people have been reduced to lifelong misery as a result of such sins. I loathe the sin too. But I find it deeply disturbing that a leader / teacher of the faith could exercise his sacred office in such an arbitrary way. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but within that faith context it appears to mean that forgiveness is not to be made available in those circumstances. I believe that’s a denial of the faith he represents.

I know this is a sensitive subject for so many. However I am also called to represent the heart of the Father in sending the Son. Calvary speaks forgiveness for all who repent and believe. Of course there must be justice, and, painfully, often the ‘little people’ of our societies never see it. Our hearts weep. But please, in our rage and broken-ness let’s not lose sight of Him whose love desired redemption for all. Difficult as it is, we Christians bear the name of Christ, and his mission, in the world.

On the other hand, I am inspired and challenged by the response of a family whose 4 children were killed by a drunk driver not long ago. ‘We forgive him, but we demand full justice!’ Lord give me such a heart.

Be blessed.

Fred

Monday, September 07, 2020

CP 291 The expulsive power of a new affection

 

CP 291 The expulsive power of a new affection

In 1970 I had a life-changing, split-second dilemma at the Wagga Wagga Railway Station. I’d come home on the train from Sydney and mum was there to welcome me. For all my life, up to that very moment, I would have automatically and instinctively walked straight up to mum and greeted her with a kiss. Not this time. I hesitated for just a fraction of a second and instead went first to greet my soon-to-be-fiancee, Rosemarie, who was also there to meet me. The love of my life had changed the norms forever!

This fleeting ‘moment’ on the railway station became a sort of mini-forerunner of what happened to my life when the gospel of grace hit me with the force of a train a year later.

Fast forward to 1976. I’m at the seminary and listening to old Doc Hamann in Homiletics. (Yep, when I started that class I had no idea what it was about either.) It was a compulsory course class about preaching – putting sermons together and how to preach them. The Doc’s approach was simple. Do your homework on the text you are using, let the text speak for itself, then mull it over until you can distil what you will say in one simple sentence. He gave us an example from a sermon preached by Thomas Chalmers in Edinburgh, around 1820.

Chalmer’s text was 1 John 2:15-17:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.’

What was Preacher Chalmers sermon about? Simple and direct…

The expulsive power of a new affection!

He developed that sermon from key thoughts.

1. All of Adam’s children are driven by the affections (loves) of the flesh. Mostly this is expressed in self-love. (Matthew 15:9, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 2:1-4)

2. When one comes into a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ a new affection is introduced. For example, ‘God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us…’ (Romans 5:5) ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10)

3. This new affection has a power of its own. For example, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation…’ (Romans 1:16) See also Acts 4:33: Grace powerfully at work, or 1 Corinthians 1:18: ‘The message of the Cross… is the power of God.’ See also Ephesians 1:19-20 and Ephesians 3:20-21.

4. Consequently, because this new affection is an expression of God’s power, this new affection’s power is expulsive… For example, ‘Perfect love drives out – expels or casts out - all fear.’ (1 John 4:18) Yes, the Greek word here is the same word used when Jesus was driving out unclean spirits… and strangely, the same word is used in Matthew’s Gospel to describe the Holy Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness for the confrontation with the tempter!

The New Testament is full of examples of this expulsive power of the Good News of Christ:

Matthew 13:44 Jesus parable… A man found treasure hidden in a field… in his joy, he went and sold all he had and bought that field… Freedom to give up everything to obtain the one thing his heart truly desired.

Philippians 4:7…And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Clarity and calm replace confusion and distress.

Acts 19:17-20… The name of Jesus was held in high honour… many came and confessed their evil deeds… the sorcery scrolls were burnt. Faith and trust replaced idolatry and witchcraft.

Luke 19:1-10… Zacchaeus ‘meets’ Jesus… Honesty and generosity replaced greed and dishonesty.

Acts 5:29… The Apostles… ‘We must obey God rather than men…’ Boldness and confidence replaced timidity and fear.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a…Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. Where Christ’s cross-love rules, there impatience, nastiness, judgement, selfishness, pride, envy, contempt, conceit and anger cannot stand!

Cross-love is an overcoming love. Cross-love is a cleansing love. Cross-love is an empowering love. Cross-love is a cross-bearing love. As Paul wrote, ‘The love of Christ compels us…’ (2 Corinthians 5:14) The Good News version of the Bible has ‘We are ruled by the love of Christ…’ Note: Not love for Christ, but the cross-love of Christ already within us.

We should not be surprised that such expulsive power is in us. Consider Jesus.

Matthew 4:10-11… In the wilderness of temptation, it is the Satan the tempter who is forced to leave the scene of battle.  

Hebrews 12:2… Fix your eyes on Jesus… For the joy set before him he endured the cross…

Luke 22:42… ‘…not my will, but yours be done.’ Faithful, faithful, faithful!

John 1:6… ‘The light shines in the darkness… the darkness cannot overcome it.’ 

The impact in my life.

I noted above that the love of Christ is a cleansing love. It has confronted the idolatry in my life, the selfishness and bitterness and nastiness, the impurity and dishonesty, the lying, the pride and the anger. Often gently, sometimes violently, the love of Christ in me has been achieving its expulsive purpose. It hasn’t always been instant but it has always been insistent!

This love of Christ in me has also been a transforming, strengthening power. It has built courage in me, a stand-my-ground-ness, a refusal to compromise, a determination to speak when I should. It has generated a refusal to be controlled by the demands of man and man-made institutions. It has enabled me to keep my shoulder to the wheel, to tie myself to the mast when necessary, to refuse to deny my Lord. It has enabled me to hang on and hang in when there didn’t seem any reason to hang on or hang in any longer.

And when I’ve failed there has always been Cross-love forgiveness!

Heavenly Father, pour out the Spirit and love of your Son, Jesus the Christ, upon us, upon the whole church.

Be blessed…

Fred

(Big PS: I still loved my mother, but she was never again ahead of Rosemarie…!)

Monday, August 24, 2020

CP 290 Sadness in this human heart

 

CP 290 Sadness in this human heart

Hello friends, I trust you are safe. I am a little unsure about writing on the topic for this week’s CrossPurposes because there’s more than one or two who get stroppy if I’m not always 100% positive and overcoming. Here it is anyway. I want share about something that has caught me by surprise at this time of my life. It’s this: I wake up most days nursing a deep sadness in my heart. I think it’s Isaiah who has the phrase, ‘A spirit of heaviness.’ That’s probably a good description of what it feels like. Now, before you jump to any unnecessary conclusions, let me make it clear about what this is not about. Is that clear? First I’ll tell you what it’s not about and then I tell you what it is about.

What my sadness is not about

First, I’m not writing about personal stuff. While there are any number of things about myself which might, and do sadden me, I deal with those. One example: During the pandemic I’ve had the privilege of a nearby gentle bicycle path which goes into Wollongong. I use it most days. During the solo journeys all sorts of things ‘in my history’ have kept popping up – some going way, way, way back, even 60 years – often ugly and ungodly things I said and did from wayback that I haven’t ever given a second thought to until now. They were often situations of dishonesty or failure or compromise or unwholesomeness which sometimes had real consequences for others.

As I said, most of these things had been out of mind since they took place. I’d forgotten them and I’d never mindfully confessed them to the Lord. Over months of solitary cycling, the Spirit kept on bringing them to the fore of my mind. And when he did, I’d chew the memory, then look up and say, ‘Thank you Father that you covered that too through Jesus and the cross.’ I could rejoice in the forgiveness each time. It was always forgiven but now I could own the forgiveness. In other words, the Lord has used this time to do some housecleaning in me. Sure, it was uncomfortable, and there was plenty to make me squirm at the memory, but overall it has been a healing time.   

Second, it’s not necessarily about the pandemic either, although it certainly contributes to it. I’m sure most of us have checked the internet to see what’s been going on around the world. Early on, the Washington Post, the paper which exposed ‘Watergate’, was offering full digital subscription for a year for $US29 Being interested in both the pandemic and the coming US elections I jumped at it. It has been so instructive about the wider world. We have a tendency to think Americans are ‘insular’ but we are not much different. Anyway, because of that subscription, I’ve been aware of the scale of the suffering around the world. From the beginning I was aware of how things might unfold because I’ve always had an interest in the plagues in history.

Yes, the consequences of disasters sadden me, and so they should. I think we are all aware that knowing the history doesn’t take away the question of ‘why’ things are allowed to happen. Humans have always been perplexed about why the Lord allows such disasters in his creation. I have exactly those thoughts about the terrible distressing fires or soul-destroying floods, or overwhelming tsunamis, destructive earthquakes or withering droughts. Ever since Adam and Eve surrendered their godly dominion, the creation hasn’t always been a source of blessing or comfort. And clearly Christians haven’t got a magic immunity ticket from sickness and suffering.

What my sadness is about: Injustice and cruelty

I hate seeing people exposed to injustice. My spirit rages at those who inflict it. I hate the denial of rights to the powerless. My spirit rages at the perpetrators. I loathe bullying and cruelty. My spirit rages against the brutal. I can’t stand the ignoring of the cries of the little people. I can’t stand it when some people or groups are demonised and exposed to hatred. I ache about stereotyping by a powerful majority which consigns the minority to being regarded with contempt. I positively rage when political systems are used with deliberate malice to achieve ‘blessings’ for those who are ‘acceptable’ without the slightest regard for the consequences for those who are deemed not to count. I loathe lying. Even more, I loathe systematic lying. It is always a cover for evil. I’ll repeat that. Behind all systematic and deliberate lying there is always evil at work.

I think I can sum it up by saying that my sadness is for those who are affected by deliberate evil words and actions, or silence and inaction, which results in suffering for those who are trapped. I grieve angrily, daily, constantly, over these things. I carry that grief in my heart and I haven’t been able to download it at the cross as I’m often told, piously, that I should.

The event that crystallised it all for me was watching a police officer, supposedly representing godly appointed authority, keep his knee on George Floyd’s neck, forcefully, in full view of protesting observers, for 8 minutes and 47 seconds. I watched that man die!!! I watched him die as that senior police officer indifferently ignored bystanders who were pleading with him to get his knee off the neck. Even then it wasn’t enough. When paramedics finally arrived there was no immediate concern. It was all so ….ing blasé. Do you see the lie? Seriously, can you discern the lie? The system says that what we observed was OK! It was so normal, so ho-hum! That’s what got to me. And I realised that if the policeman had kept his knee on that man’s neck for only 7 minutes and 47 seconds rather than 8 minutes and 47 seconds, it would have become just one more instance of brutality among many.

The man died before my eyes. Because he was black it was apparently OK to do these things. I lived that man’s fear and pain. I felt his family’s grief and rage. The communal grief and rage which followed was mine too. It has stayed with me. Perhaps it’s the impotent rage of powerlessness. It has remained an inner companion… made worse by the fact that in another time I’ve been part of these oppressive behaviours and systems myself.

How many terrible things have happened in this very land I inhabit and whose blessings I currently enjoy? For years I haven’t bothered to know or find out. Are you aware that in the history of this country there have been at over 400 occasions on which 6 or more indigenous people were simply removed -  shot dead or poisoned - because they were in the way of noble settlers? Did I know? More importantly, did I want to know? Possibly worse, did I choose not to know? For years I couldn’t have cared less, even as my indigenous brothers and sisters, denied a voice, wept in despair at the injustice of it all. And to my great shame, I have been in the chorus of those who dismissed my black brothers and sisters because they had no ‘go’. I’m a beneficiary of actions which caused soul-destroying suffering to the original inhabitants and communities of this Great South Land of the Holy Spirit. Oh! Oh! Aaahhh…

This is the sadness and pain which seems to have become my companion. It’s the cry, the pain, the suffering, the grief, the fear and the shame of the powerless, of those not heard. Deep down I’m surprised, not only about the intensity of the emotions I’m experiencing, but also that I haven’t been able to release it at all. While they weep, why am I not weeping with them?

Perhaps I should not be so surprised. I know a little better the meaning of the suffering of my Lord Jesus before ever he died… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… That’s not just about Calvary. It is about the Cross he was carrying before he arrived there. If my Lord, the man of sorrows, fully acquainted with grief, was carrying this sort of load for humanity… I am in awe.

Perhaps he wants me to know a little of what he experienced not only in my head, but in my heart and in my spirit. Is that what he meant when he said to his disciples, ‘BLESSED are the poor in spirit’? (Matthew 5) Paul too touches on this when he says, ‘Weep with those who weep…’ Or as the writer of Hebrews put it, ‘Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3)

‘But Lord, I’m too tired to care…’

That’s how I’ve made sense of it so far… All glory to Him.

Fred

PS: Use this where you will. If you would like me to delete your name from the CrossPurposes mail list, send me an email. 


Wednesday, August 05, 2020

CP 289 A personal joy

CP 289 A personal joy during the pandemic

Hello from Fred after a rather long break. I assume you are well, mostly in spite of the isolation. The world has been attempting to deal with the coronavirus for almost 8 months now. It’s been a sobering time for everybody. Some countries appear to have done well, others not so. I must say I’ve been heartened and pleased about the way the Federal and State leaders of Australia have worked together on our local response. There was a sort of bliss for a while when we were spared the interminable and nasty bickering that seems to have been in vogue for many years. It felt good that we were all apparently singing from the same page of the same hymn-sheet. Apart from other things, heaven will have much joy simply because the harmony! Think about that. Through the Holy Spirit we will live within the harmony of the Father and his Son. We will know the colour, the music and the joy of peace. It’s called the Father’s love. I can’t wait. Which brings me to one particular personal j – or maybe relief.

During this restricted time I have managed to do something I have wanted to do for over 40 years. Back in the late 1970’s, as a pastoral student, I heard Pastor Harry Wendt, ex-Temora NSW, explain something about John chapter 1 which showed me a ‘wow’ glimpse of the completeness of what Jesus achieved for his Father and humanity. A fellow student, Ray Eisenmenger, explained that a similar truth was unfolded in John chapter 15. He went on to say that Harry Wendt (Crossways, Divine Drama) had said he’d like to do a whole study of John along the same lines.

That got me going on a quest. Ever after, in study of the Gospel of John, or study of anything written about the Gospel of John, I kept note of insights along the same lines as I’d got while still at the Seminary. Most of my books on the Gospel of John had little notes scattered through them, because the Gospel of John was riddled with the sort of insight Pastor Harry had shared about John chapter 1. Only thing was, I’d never seen them gathered together.

Many times over the years I said to myself that I really should have a crack at doing it, and sometimes I even set myself to start. And always, it was just too much of a mental or spiritual strain for where I was at the time. Well, thanks to Covid-19 lockdown (and boredom?) I finally got to it. The finished product is at the final editors. I’ve given it the title WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY. It has a subtitle, ‘Revelling in the Mystery and Majesty of the Gospel of John’.

It will be sent to Vietnam for translation in the next week or so. That is important because I wrote it with the Vietnamese Pastors in mind. As you know we have been doing Pastoral training with them for seven or eight years and that training has had to be suspended for this year and who knows how long still. Apart from the actual teaching of the liberty of the Gospel, it’s crucial to keep momentum with them during the pandemic time. It’s an important prayer point too – the care for, and welfare of, the fledgling churches of Asia. Who knows what has been happening during the diversions of the pandemic.

Asia Focus will pay for the translation and publication my book on the Gospel of John in Vietnam. If you would like to help with that you can do it through them. I’ll attach their details at the bottom. If the book is well received, it might also get translated into other Asian languages.

At this point I have not yet explored publishing the book here. It can be difficult to get it done by someone else so I might have to organise it myself as I did for earlier books. All I’ll say is, I’m confident that this message that’s been burning away in my heart for 40 years finally made it to paper in an organised fashion.

Anyway, thanks for reading/listening. Over the years so many of you have communicated comforting and encouraging messages. My prayer is that you may not only stay safe, but stay secure in the one who is our Rock, Jesus the Christ.

Fred

 

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