If God seems far away… he isn’t

Growing up in Taree from about 1967-72 I was the proud owner of a purple dragster bicycle.

Not indentical, but a close match for the dragster I use to ride. This one, an original, is selling for $2,800...

High-rise handle-bars, a T-bar gear shifter midway along the top-tube (in hindsight, perilously located), and banana seat with sissy bar meant I was the height of late-60s, early-70s bike-riding fashion… something that escaped me as a nine or ten-year-old.

I can still recall riding around Nicoll Cres with my friends singing Bopping the Blues (Blackfeather, 1972 – not that I actually knew who the band was at the time) or pedalling down to the corner store for a 15c can of soft drink. Saxby’s I think.

I can also recall my mother giving me a sheet of flouro pink stickers that had Christian mottos or sayings on them for the purpose of encouraging people to think about God.

When I started riding the bike to school, we attached a bike rack at the back (I’m finding this hard to imagine but I know it’s true because my school case once fell off it in the middle of the road outside Taree West Primary School and while scooping my belongings back in, I found about 15 cigarettes lying there and scooped them in too – but that’s another story).

Anyway, we used to park our bikes in racks at the side of the school and I can distinctly remember two boys, walking past as I was preparing to leave for the day, stopping, reading the sticker, laughing and moving on.

The good news was that they appreciated the humour of the flouro pink sticker and this saved me from a moment of ridicule which I had been fully expecting.

The sticker read:

‘If God seems far away, guess who’s moved?’

Now, in 2012, this is an extremely old line which still gets trotted out. But in the late 60s, early 70s – it was brand new.

And the saying has remained associated with these memories ever since. Of my purple dragster, of my mother’s eager new faith and desire to share it with others, of my own childlike faith and an innocence in putting my beliefs on the line, of wearing green button-up shirts to school, drinking warm flavoured milk in small foil-lidded bottles at recess and falling off the monkey bars and smashing my head open one lunchtime (yet another story).

Forty years on and recently I have paused to reflect on the whole idea of our relative location to God and the reality of him feeling far away.

If I had my time again, and was a wise nine-year-old, I would say to those two older boys, as I say to you:

‘Everyone is moving all the time and often without even knowing it. But wherever we go and how ever we get there, God is never far away, even if that’s what we feel. We may take 10,000 steps away from him but it’s always only one step back.’

The past few years have seen some changes in my life that I could never have anticipated, to do with who I thought I was and what I was doing with my life. A lot of movement occurred, often outside my control, but thankfully the most important things of life – faith, marriage, family, health – have remained true and near. God has indeed seemed distant, often, and yes, it was me who moved in those times.

But if God seems far away to you today, he isn’t. He’s close enough to whisper in your ear and know the longings of your heart.

Psalm 139

Oh, and because I know you can’t get that tune out of your head, here’s Blackfeather with Boppin the Blues

Model’s faith no secret as she leaves lingerie behind…

“I am still modeling but only with brands that respect my decision not to wear lingerie,” tweeted former Victoria’s Secret model Kylie Bisutti, aged 21.

The Californian Christian won Victoria’s Secret Model Search  ahead of 10,000 other girls in 2009 but has quit the company because of her Christian values.

“Victoria’s Secret was my absolutely biggest goal in life, and it was all I ever wanted career-wise,” she told FOX411.

“I actually loved it while I was there, it was so much fun and I had a blast. But the more I was modelling lingerie – and lingerie isn’t clothing – I just started becoming more uncomfortable with it because of my faith. I’m Christian, and reading the Bible more, I was becoming more convicted about it.”

Her comment that “her body should only be for my husband” was widely reported, and ridiculed, but for Kylie “it’s a sacred thing”.

“I didn’t really want to be that kind of role model for younger girls because I had a lot of younger Christian girls that were looking up to me and then thinking that it was okay for them to walk around and show their bodies in lingerie to guys.”

She has a number of career opportunities ahead including an appearance with Jennifer Lopez and will continue to model for companies that respect her decision not to model lingerie.

“It is a very hard industry to be in without falling into things you don’t want to do,” she said.

Husband Mike had apparently prayed that Kylie might come to this decision but allowed her to reach it in her own time.

In a world where people do anything to achieve success, particularly if it involves celebrity, it is encouraging to see someone allow their conscience to guide their decisions and trust God with the outcome.

Follow Kylie on Twitter at @vskylie

LL Cool J opens Grammys with prayer for Whitney Houston

“Tonight, we ask ourselves how do we speak to this time, to this day. There is no way around this, there’s been a death in our family. And at least for me, for me, the only thing that seems right to me is to begin with a prayer.”

And so LL Cool J begins the 2012 Grammys in Los Angeles, leading the large group of celebrities, many with heads bowed, in a prayer for Whitney Houston.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us. Today our thoughts are with her mother, her daughter and all of her loved ones. And although she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit, and to have the legacy of her music to cherish and share forever. Amen.”

Prayer is so often the cry of our heart in the midst of tragedy and joy and many other circumstances.

If you are in need of prayer and are struggling for the words, simply express yourself as you would to a good friend and believe that God who loves you is listening. For more prayer help, visit Wesley Mission’s prayer page or Hillsong’s prayer and support page.

‘Father and son’s daring rescue saves a life’

If ever there was an earthly picture of a heavenly truth, this is it:

Father and son’s daring rescue saves a life

Not only does this story remind that the understated qualities of mateship and self-sacrifice are alive and well in Australia, but it provides a bloodied and beautiful picture of God’s daring rescue of humanity.

The son Kevin places himself in the dangerous water alongside the fallen man, while father Les throws out the lifeline and directs the follow-up support.

And all while they were out fishing. ‘I will make you fishers of men.’

Be encouraged that God too still rescues and puts within us a rescuer Spirit.

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24/7 prayer and night club worship meets the world’s party capital

If you’ve read Pete Greig’s Red Moon Rising you would remember his descriptions of taking 24/7 Prayer Rooms to the clubbing districts of Europe to bring prayer, love and outreach to the thousands of young clubbers.

smh.tv has just released a documentary, God Bless Ibiza, which follows a group of young British Christians as they head to the Spanish clubbing hotspot of Ibiza. One website describes Ibiza as the ‘undisputed party capital of the world.’

The promo for the documentary reads: ‘Young, hip and radical, the team are a far cry from the sandaled missionaries of yester-year. They’re more at home in a club than a church, dance tracks are their hymns and they invoke the Holy Spirit in clubs with quasi-spiritual names like Godskitchen, Eden and Ascension. Whilst they have no problem hanging out with clubbers high on E, the team themselves have all sworn off drugs, alcohol and sex and say they get their kicks instead from supernatural experiences of God.’

If you are used to Christians copping it in the media, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this documentary, not only for the in-depth and positive treatment the 24/7 outreach team is given, but by the groups faith and action. Prayer-walking, creative prayer spaces, worship in night clubs and genuine Christianity without a hint of religiosity.

Check out this nearly 40-minute online documentary and share it around.

Tebowing may yet be a word in Australia too

Tim TebowUS media commentary has been prolific for some time regarding  Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow and now is nudging its way into Australian newspaper columns.

Fairfax papers’ such as The Age in Melbourne today reported how ‘America fawns over God’s anointed NFL star’ but even well-known Australian religious cynicism put barely a dent in the 24-year-old Christian grid-iron player’s almost miraculous aura.

The article describes how Tebow’s remarkable run of last quarter comeback wins even over more fancied rivals has captured the imagination of football and faith fans alike. Says The Age:

“Even Americans who have never tuned in for a Sunday afternoon game have come to admire Tebow’s humble demeanour and his religious devotion, which they say makes him an ideal role model for youngsters.

Some have been disarmed by his matinee idol looks and ripped physique. Others see him as a potent anti-abortion symbol, after hearing the now familiar story of how his mother had refused, against her doctors’ advice, to terminate her pregnancy while carrying “Timmy.” She now is one of America’s most vocal pro-life advocates.

But real superstardom for Tebow has come because of his exploits on the gridiron.”

And then there is Tebow’s typical after-touchdown celebration which sees him drop to one knee, eyes closed and head bowed in prayerful thanks. The pose has been dubbed ‘tebowing’ and while hearing American stars give thanks to God is commonplace (even those whose lifestyles belies any hint of an interest in God) Tebow’s is undoubtedly sincere and is catching on fast.Read More »

John Cleese’s favourite joke

Monty Python‘s fish slapping skit (below) was described by John Cleese, speaking on Seven’s Sunday Night program, as the silliest skit the comedy group ever did.

But when it came to the funniest joke, he offered this, towards the end of the interview:

‘How do you make God laugh? You tell him your plans…’

He was commenting about whether he would be married for a fourth time. In context, the joke suggests that we know so little about what will actually happen in our lives that to tell God what we are planning is hilarious.

But I guess you got it.

Muslim writer questions silent response to death sentence

Muslim writer Mehdi Hasan writes in The Guardian about Muslim response, or lack of, to the death sentence for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran.

‘Pleas for clemency from the archbishop of Canterbury, the UK’s foreign secretary and Amnesty International, among others, have fallen on deaf ears in Tehran. Meanwhile the silence from the world’s Muslims – especially the UK’s usually voluble Muslim organisations and self-appointed “community leaders” – has been shameful. The irony is that I have yet to come across an ordinary Muslim who agrees that a fellow believer who loses, changes or abandons his or her faith should be hanged. Yet frustratingly few Muslims are willing to speak out against such medieval barbarism. We mumble excuses, avert our eyes.’

When this behaviour changes we will have real hope for freedom in many dangerous places for Christians and others.

Read the full article here.

And it’s time the Australian government spoke out in defense of this Pastor on behalf of Australian Iranians, Christians and Muslims.

Repentance baffles secular Australians

Repentance is a world rarely heard outside of a Christian or other religious gatherings and so it is no wonder Australian journalists have matched it with terms like ‘puzzling’, ‘scratching their heads’ and ‘bolt from the blue’ when reporting Papua New Guinea’s first Day of Repentance held today.

True, the public holiday for Repentance Day was announced in PNG with little fanfare or explanation and this has baffled reporters and some (mainly ex-pat) business owners.

But there is no doubt the very large majority of Christians in PNG know exactly what it’s about and many will have participated in prayer events held across PNG today.

Even the small Muslim sector of PNG society was in favour, with their leader’s only caution being that people should not think repentance is for only one day of the year.

One PNG blogger was pleased with the introduction of repentance day and discusses why it could be so useful on the basis that repentance means a change of mind. Nothing new can be done unless there is first a change in our thinking… good advice for any nation.

It’s interesting to consider that increasingly secular Australia is surrounded by many strongly religious nations. PNG, East Timor, Indonesia and many of the Pacific nations have strongly religious orientations.

An overflow of this has been seen in the prayers, songs of praise and statements of faith that have mixed with the outpouring of grief outside the home where 11 Tongan family members were killed  by a fire earlier this week.

Our prayers are with them.

 

 

 

Visualising God at 300km an hour: Senna

Watching cars go round and round has never been a favourite pastime – I get enough of that in Sydney traffic – but as in every facet of human existence, there are personal stories embedded that make even Formula 1 racing interesting.

Asif Kapadia’s new documentary, Senna, tells one of these stories and while there is a fair bit of round and round, there is also an interesting investigation into the life, talent and faith of one of the sport’s most revered figures, Ayrton Senna.

The Brazilian Senna was a superbly talented, and some would say, a dangerous risk taker who had 41 wins and three World Championships which earned him the reputation of being one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all times.

He was well-known for his religious convictions which seemed to heighten for him as he raced.

“Somehow I got closer to God and this was very important to me. I visualized and saw God who is a part of me,” Senna said after one race. When reflecting on his love of racing, Senna says, “I think God gave me this chance.”

Frenchman Alain Prost, one of Senna’s key rivals, held an equally strong belief: that Senna’s personal companionship with the Deity made him a hazard to other drivers.

In one confrontation between the two, Prost says, “Ayrton thinks he can’t get hurt.” Senna responds, “Just because I believe in God does not mean I’m immortal. I know I can get hurt.”

The documentary shows the fulfilment of these words when Senna is killed in a crash  in 1994 at the age of 34, while leading the field at the San Marino Grand Prix. The crash was caused by a mechanical fault and a camera strapped to his car continued to film throughout the tragedy.

Many people from all walks of life talk about the experience of feeling close to God when engaged in an activity that they sense to be their very specific calling and gifting. I once hear a rugby league winger say he felt he was born to score tries. As strange as it seems, maybe Senna was born to drive, and there was no other way to die.

Senna is showing now at Palace Leichhardt – check guides for other cinema times.

Perry perched on precipice of prayer

Rick Perry
Rick Perry

You’ll hear more and more about Rick Perry in coming days and most of it will be bad. Not to say that he is bad, but being a conservative Christian who is demonstrative about his faith and running for US president ensures he’ll get plenty of bad press. Maybe he deserves it, but don’t believe everything you read.

American politics is complex, polarised and confrontational with far less political correctness than is present in Australia. Australians would find it hard to even imagine a character like Perry surviving anywhere except on the very fringes of Australian politics, and yet he is emerging as a genuine presidential contender. It would be like Fred Nile being a strong contender for Australian Prime Minister… not likely, no hard feelings Fred.

But is his faith genuine, heartfelt, intelligent – giving genuine moral and spiritual impetus to his personal and public life? The secular media won’t even consider such questions. They’ve already stereotyped him as someone to dismiss. Perhaps we’ll join them, but there could be more to him than that.

I’m going to keep an eye on him, and to begin with, check out this thoughtful article from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in The Atlantic.

Is Rick Perry as Christian as he thinks he is?

And while you’re at it, you might want to think about this call to prayer Perry sent to other governors before his controversial August 6 prayer breakfast:

“I sincerely hope you’ll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.

Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.”

What do you think?

Speaking in tongues comes to ABC news

Speaking in tongues has finally come to ABC News as journalist Amy Simmons investigates why Pentecostalism is “attracting the Sunday masses” and examines the rise of Pentecostalism in a separate story.

The article covers some familiar territory – it seems each new generation of journalist keeps “discovering” the non-traditional traits that have made the Pentecostals the fastest growing Christian movement across the globe in the past century. 

There’s plenty in the article to allow people to make up their own minds about Pentecostal churches and some areas of belief such as healing and speaking in tongues.

Of course, most Pentecostals would rightly point to Jesus as being at the centre of their beliefs and that without a clear understanding of and vital relationship with the Son of God, then the other elements of faith are worthless.

Academic Associate Professor Rick Strelan of the University of Queensland is called on to deliver the “objective expert” view and is reasonable in most of his comments, which is noteworthy in that Pentecostals are not overly accustomed to having their faith and practice discussed in a reasonable way.Read More »

From MasterChef to Q&A – smorgasbord of religious offerings

I’ll admit missing all of these television programs as I was actually busy doing other things (for a change), but it hasn’t escaped me that although atheists are telling us we are no longer religious, religion simply won’t lay down and die.

If reality television is any gauge (let’s include Q&A in that genre for now) then religion sits right at the heart of the public’s psyche – for this week at least.

Amazing Race Australia had contestants carrying crosses through the streets of Jerusalem, MasterChef had the Dalai Lama, Rev Bill Cruse and Rev Tim Costello as guest judges while the ABC’s Q & A last night had a ‘spiritual special’ featuring Christian mathematician Prof John Lennox and perennial religious researcher, John Safran.

And an interesting inclusion in this program was “pentecostal scholar” Jacqueline Grey who lectures in Old Testament studies and is the Academic Dean of Alphacrucis College in Sydney.

Safran follows up tonight with his latest TV series – Jedis & Juggalos: Your Census Guide on ABC TV 1. In preparation for the upcoming Australian census,  John scours the globe and hunts down people who blend spirituality with popular culture. The context for this program is the Australian Atheist Foundation’s billboard campaign urging Australian’s to tick ‘no religion’ on census night. (Also see the comment on this post regarding Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey series)

In all of this, one of the most personally challenging situations was MasterChef contestant Kate Bracks’ encounter with the Dalai Lama. Kate is a devout Christian (former teacher of my youngest son) and chose not to refer to the Buddhist leader as Your Holiness. Christian ministers, Rev Cruse and Costello had no such qualms, perhaps being acquainted with various church dignitaries who go by similar titles.

Kate’s view is that there is no one holy but God and presumably she would happily apply the same rule to Christian leaders who might have this included in their title. More power to her.

And while the tide of religion-in-popular-culture will no doubt recede as quickly as it came, we humans are still far more likely to consider there is a God and spiritual reality than not.

Oh, and just when we thought the topic had drifted away, good old Fred Nile stirs up the opposing camps by saying he’ll vote to rescind the NSW government’s public service pay bill unless ethic classes in schools are scrapped. He and many Christians oppose them because they compete with Scripture in schools.

Read the Herald Sun’s report of Kate’s response: Title one ingredient too much for MasterChef contestant.

Fred Nile’s ethic classes demand

Watch the ABC’s Q & A’s ‘spiritual special’.

Check out details of John Lennox’s debate with Peter Singer.

See my previous post re the AFA’s billboard campaign

AmazinGrace carries the cross in Jerusalem

The Amazing Race Australia on Monday, July 18 will feature some of the four remaining teams carrying large wooden crosses through the streets of Jerusalem as part of the episode’s challenges. Check out a preview.

In a city so taut with religious and cultural tensions, it is a daring and perhaps provocative act, that recalls for Christians the crucifixion of Christ.

One of the effects of global tourism is to take long-held cultural, religious and historical events, locations and practices and make them marketable commodities for tourist consumption. While there are respectful ways of doing this, the Amazing Race epitomises the dilemma of rich tourists enjoying foreign lands while running the risk of carelessly trampling upon them.

In this case, a deeply significant religious symbol and act is incorporated into a reality show game in a city which is sacred for three world religions.  It is an ‘amazing’ clash of ‘realities’ and hopefully will provoke thought about the interactions of tourists and destinations; and even more so, about the meaning of ‘carrying your cross’.

The wooden cross (the exact shape is debated, but not important) was used for capital punishment in Roman occupied Israel around the first century AD. Part of the cruelty was at times to humiliate the condemned person by forcing them to drag the heavy implement through the city before they were nailed, tied and hung from it, dying a slow and painful death.

From the film, The Passion of the Christ

The New Testament records this being inflicted on Jesus, after a heavy beating, and is known by some as the passion of the Christ. This term encompasses not just his physical and mental anguish, but spiritual as well.

From a theological perspective, this was God in human flesh, suffering the worst humanity had to offer as identification with us but also as a substitution. Though perfect, he allowed himself to be punished as the worst of criminals and cut off from God so that we might be forgiven and re-connected to God.

So the cross is a powerful symbol of God’s grace extended to all. Perhaps it’s fitting that the show Amazing Race is also AmazinGrace…

At another level, Jesus often used the phrase, ‘carry your cross’ as a way of describing the challenge of following him. This must have been powerful imagery for his first century audience.

They would have seen or heard of the terrible journey through Jerusalem and other occupied cities of cross-laden people, heading for their deaths, under the ruthless eye of their Roman rulers.

To liken the life of a Christ-follower to carrying the cross, was a clear sign that it involved selflessness, vulnerability, suffering, obedience and a stretching of every fibre of being.

Not unexpectedly, it may not be the most popular influence for Christians (or anyone else) when making life choices, but thankfully we have the Amazing Race to bring it back to our attention.

While the cross-bearing exploits in the Amazing Race are a pale imitation of the real event, what’s more important is what we all do without the silent witness of the cross and the call of Jesus to carry it.

You may have never even heard of this call but it resonates through history and awaits your decision. After you watch the show, give the cross more thought…

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. Matthew 16:24-25

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18