Should Christians celebrate bin Laden’s death?

When we see people in the Middle East rejoicing in the streets over the death of Westerners in a terrorist attack, we feel outraged. We struggle to understand the world view that would cause one person to celebrate the needless death of another.

And while it may be a poor comparison, seeing Americans cheering in the streets over the death of Osama bin Laden doesn’t sit well with me either. While it could be argued that his demise is a justified casuality of war or a  just result for a terrorist, surely it is still an overwhelmingly sad moment.

Sad that it continually comes to this in human history – someone must die for others to feel safer, freer, stronger.

15th century depiction of Cain and Abel, Specu...
15th century depiction of Cain and Abel

I don’t judge those that are cheering – so many were touched by the 9/11 attacks and many other tragic killings around the world, it is understandable that there would be a sense of relief and victory and yes, even celebration.

But in the cold light of day, people will soon realise that the world’s problems, America’s problems, have not gone away and the struggle that has gripped humanity since Cain and Abel goes on unabated.

President Obama said that people who love peace and human dignity would welcome bin Laden’s death. Maybe so.

But only One Man’s death has ever truly provided for peace and human dignity in a profound, eternal and ultimate way. And his undeserved death was for thieves, murderers and, yes, scandalously, even terrorists.

See how some of America’s Christians are responding:

Christianity Today
Christian Post

Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment below.

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Bin Laden death ‘welcomed’ by all who believe in peace, human dignity

US President Barack Obama has today announed that US forces have killed Osama bin Laden.

He said the death would be welcomed by those who believe in peace and human dignity.

Read the latest report in the Sydney Morning Herald:

See the latest coverage from Reuters.

What’s your reaction to this news? Welcome, disbelief, or something else? Please comment.

Royal couple kiss us (twice) into a new day

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Whatever interest there has been in the Royal Wedding to this point, it has almost been overshadowed by one small act of affection, the Royal Kiss.

As much as people have been caught up in the pageantry, celebrity and history of the Royal Wedding, humanity seems to crave even more  the intimacy, reality and spontaneity of two people touching lips to show their love.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana were the first royal couple to kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, and it is rumoured that Charles first paused to ask permission of the Queen, which was duly granted.

Now William and Catherine have given their own romantic demonstration, as if to anoint the vows that went before, accompanied by the oohs and aahs of a couple of billion television viewers.

Many television commentators, swept along by the great sense of good ‘will’ accompanying the wedding, have spoken of the couple as carrying with them the hopes of a new generation and a renewed era.

But a marriage is more than a wedding service and balcony kiss (or two), and hopefully William and Catherine have taken time to learn the lessons of the past and will find their way to live with wisdom, balance, faith and, as their prayer from the wedding mentioned, generosity.

Be who God meant you to be… Royal Wedding sermon

The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Richard Chartres gave a stirring Address at the wedding of  Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton.

Billions around the world heard Rev Chartres urge William and Catherine and all listening to set the world on fire by being who God meant us to be.

He also highlighted that every wedding is a royal wedding in the sense that every bride and groom are kings and queens of creating new life.

Rev Chartres said that in marriage we are to make our spouse our ‘work of art’ while at the same time not placing on them a burden of expectation that only relationship with God can carry.

Interestingly, the sermon included a prayer composed by William and Catherine which asks God’s help in keeping their eyes fixed on what is real and important and to help them to be generous with their lives, ‘to serve and comfort those who suffer’.

Read the full sermon:

‘“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

‘Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.  

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.Read More »

Two giants rise leaving us to rise up

On April 26, outstanding Greek-Australian preacher, evangelist and teacher, Con Stamos, died after a three-year battle with cancer.

Always larger than life, Con’s outstanding ministry reached many areas of Australia, notably the Aboriginal communities of northern Australia and the eclectic residents of inner city Sydney.

In a letter to friends written in early March, Con acknowledged the seriousness of his condition but was far from subdued:

‘Time is God’s domain. Mine is to live this life to the fullest.’

On April 27,  Rev David Wilkinson, the founding pastor of Times Square Church in New York City and author of the well-known book The Cross and the Switchblade, posted a blog titled When All Means Fail.

As if writing for Con and his family, he had this to say:Read More »

Justin finds his voice for justice

We’ve all had a chuckle or two at the Justin Bieber phenomenon and wondered how long it would last. I even thought of buying my son a Justin Bieber t-shirt as a tongue in cheek  joke.

But listening to the radio today I noticed someone crooning about closing their eyes to pray for a better day on behalf of those doing it tough. When the song credit was for Justin Bieber, I decided to have a closer look:

I just can’t sleep tonight,
Knowing that things ain’t right.
It’s in the papers, it’s on the TV,
It’s everywhere that I go.
Children are crying, soldiers are dying,
Some people don’t have a home.

Pre Chorus:
But I know there’s sunshine behind that rain,
I know there’s good times behind that pain (hey)
Can you tell me how I can make a change?

Chorus:
I close my eyes, and I can see a better day,
I close my eyes and pray.
I close my eyes and I can see a better day,
I close my eyes and pray.

When someone uses their fame to ask people to consider the needs of others, questions their own role in making a difference and encourages us to take time to pray, it deserves acknowledgement.

And to highlight the benefit that flows when popular culture turns its attention to serious issues, consider these comments on the Close My Eyes and Pray page on a popular lyric website:

‘every time i hear this song i cry and it is sooo sad and true im trying to change things too…‘ and
‘i think this song is very helpful to ppl out there because the first time i heard this song i cried…there’s so many ppl out there that don’t even care about the poor.so thank you justin for making this song.WE LOVE U!!!:)’
 
If you still aren’t sure, check out the YouTube clip and you may become a believer. Anyway, for what’s a worth, I’m a (kind of old) fan Biebs. I’ll be praying you don’t lose your way…

www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9tJW9MDs2M

For the complete lyrics, keep reading. Oh, and, find a moment to close your eyes and pray…

Finding faith in the deathly grip of AIDS

Being unable to sleep sometimes has its rewards such as seeing some extraordinary world cinema late at night (or early morning) on SBS.

Early Saturday morning as part of SOS (Shorts on Screen), SBS showed an 18 minute film by somewhat notorious French director Gaspar Noe called, Sida.

In Sida, Noe moves away from the explicit nature of his feature films such as Irreversible, and instead presents the story of an AIDS victim, Dieudonne Ilboudo, in Burkina Faso.

Dieudonne tells his story, withholding nothing, and as the story of his illness is portrayed, so to is his Christian faith, to the extent that the film ends with Dieudonne reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Sida is part of a longer film titled 8 in which each segment promotes one of the eight Millennium Goals. Sida picks up the theme of Millennium Goal six which is ‘combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases’.

Another of the films, The Water Dairy, is directed by Australian producer, Jane Campion.

Please take 20 minutes to listen to Dieudonne’s story – to honour his life, to remember the plight of AIDS victims worldwide and to be inspired by the power of faith even in the darkest hour. (The film is in French and if subtitles are not showing, click the CC button at the bottom of the YouTube screen.)

God makes a Google Street View appearance

Plenty of interesting things have been found on Google Street View ranging from dead bodies to hovering cars, but perhaps even God has made an appearance.

A god-like figure can be seen hovering midair above a lake in Quarten, Switzerland.

Discovered by the Gawker blog, the image is most likely to be the result of  light distortion or lens flare, however blogger Max Read has questioned tongue-in-cheek whether it might have more mysterious origins:

‘Is it something on the camera lens? Or is it maybe… God and His only begotten Son? And who’s to say that God isn’t “something on the lens”, in some kind of a cosmic, metaphysical sense?’ he writes.

God can be anywhere and everywhere – even on a camera lens no doubt – which kind of reminds me of the supposed ‘how many angels on the head of a pin‘ theological debate. Still, when God appears again in the sky, the Bible suggests we won’t be left guessing…

For a few more favourite Google Street View images, visit this Sydney Morning Herald gallery.

And let’s not forget Perth’s famous hovering cars or an unusual man-made landscape in a remote part of China which appears to be a model of a larger piece of territory complete with snow-topped mountains, streams and valleys.

The lighter side of zips, oxen and paying for sunshine

The Ashes Urn
Image via Wikipedia

One zip and your out

The Brisbane Gabba’s bag policy has been credited as the cause for a lower than expected crowd on the fourth day of the first Ashes Cricket Test.

While most sporting venues have a bag policy which involves checks for alcohol or metal and glass objects, the Gabba has gone a step further and decreed that if your bag has more than one zipper it will be refused entry to the ground.

ABC cricket commentator, Kerry ‘Skull’ O’Keefe, said that under the one-zip policy, there were some concerns that if you had a zip on your jeans, you may be allowed to take your bag in but have to remove your pants…

When you don’t want to be as strong as an ox

 The discovery of three teenagers who had been lost at sea for 61 days was described as a miracle and answer to prayer, apt descriptions indeed.

Not so apt perhaps was the description of their condition by one of the fishermen who found them. After commenting that they were very skinny, he said, ‘but mentally they were as strong as an ox.’ Mmm… faint praise?

There goes the sun

And in the same week that Here Comes The Sun (do,do,do,do) became the best-selling Beatles song on iTunes, a Spanish woman has registered the sun as her own personal property and intends to charge for its use.

Angeles Duran, 49, said she took the step after reading about an American who had registered himself as the owner of the moon and several planets.

An international agreement states no country may claim ownership of a planet or star, but it apparently says nothing about individuals.

Ms Duran now wants to charge for using the sun and give half of the proceeds to the Spanish government, 20 per cent to the nation’s pension fund, 10 per cent to research and 10 per cent to ending world hunger. The rest she’ll keep for herself… Mentally, as strong as an ox?

Flood of faith better than backwater of unbelief…

Western society – especially the white, European, inner city, educated elite – is little more than a secular-atheist backwater when compared to the vast ocean of faith and religious fervour that dominates most of the planet.

And this was clearly on display last week with two major events bringing God to the front pages of newspapers and onto prime time television.

Sweeping the planet from Rome was the ardour of Mary MacKillop’s canonisation which eventually overcame the most cynical media hack and had them sincerely discussing miracles, faith, worship and the value of a genuinely humble, self-sacrificial life.

Simultaneously we had the remarkable rescue of the Chilean minors and 90 point headings on major Australian dailies screaming, ‘GOD AND THE DEVIL FOUGHT OVER ME AND GOD WON!’Read More »

His friend the ex-mercenary finds God

My Friend the Mercenary by James Brabazon is one of the most brutal, true stories you may ever read and yet streaming through it is a remarkable and unlikely friendship.

Brabazon was just beginning his career as a documentary maker and war-correspondent when he was invited to film rebels fighting against dictator Charles Taylor in Liberia, west Africa.

He was introduced to one of Africa’s most notorious mercenaries, Nick du Toit, who had an ambiguous history as part of South Africa’s special forces at the tail end of apartheid.

As James discovered, the sheer need to survive turns the theoretical world of objectivity on its head but also allows friendships to forge that might not otherwise exist.

Alongside the brutal description of rebels executing government soldiers and in one case cutting them up and eating their heart, there is a remarkable, tender portrayal of friendship between two men of different backgrounds.

After Liberia, James is invited by Nick to film the overthrow of the government of Equatorial Guinea. He is part of a small band of mercenaries who are working for the instalment of an exiled leader to replace yet another brutal, corrupt ruler.Read More »

Here on earth: an argument for God

Tower of Babel by Lucas van Valckenborch in 1594
Tower of Babel by Lucas van Valckenborch in 1594

When Jesus told his small band of  followers that they would make him known to the ends of the earth, he unleashed a socio-spiritual revolution that continues to change our world today.

And the message they would carry was that as we learn to love God, love our neighbour and love ourselves – in that order – a new community of grace and truth is possible.

These largely uneducated and insignificant disciples never conceived of this mission and the community it would produce as being possible apart from a living encounter with the words and very reality of Christ himself.

On Monday, Tim Flannery released his new book Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope and some of what he proclaims sounds eerily similar to the mission proclaimed by Jesus, but with a new god at its core.

An extract from the book appeared in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald under the heading, ‘To the ends of the earth we must go’ – either an accidental or deliberate recalling of Christ’s words.

And while the focus of the extract is human responsibility for causing – but also potentially repairing – environmental degradation, there is a deeply spiritual tone to the article.Read More »

Change comes from global action and the smallest deed

Millennium Development Goals
Image by jiadoldol via Flickr

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York next week, to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, aimed at halving world poverty by 2015. Newly appointed Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, will be attending.

In the meantime, some good news from Britain today with these comments from British PM David Cameron in an article regarding the Pope’s visit:

‘The Holy See is a partner in pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, which will be discussed at United Nations headquarters in New York again next week. For our part, we are totally committed to meeting the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid by 2013. And we want to ensure that the money we spend goes to those who need it most. Sustainable economic development is closely linked to political stability and security. A world in which there is a yawning gap between the rich and the poor will be more dangerous and less secure for all of us.’

Come on Jules and Kev, don’t let the Brits get the jump on us!

Meanwhile in the same article, which touches on the beatification of Cardinal Newman while the Pope is in the UK, David Cameron says: 

‘Cardinal Newman once said that one little deed, whether by someone who helps “to relieve the sick and needy” or someone who “forgives an enemy” evidences more true faith than could be shown by “the most fluent religious conversation” or “the most intimate knowledge of scripture”.’

Oprah’s visit recalls other Christmas arrivals

Oprah Winfrey.jpg
Photo: Wikipedia

So Oprah is coming to Australia just before Christmas, including a show at the ‘Oprah House’ on December 14.

Made me think of some other great arrivals around Christmas time and the counter-cultural nature of the Messiah’s mission – just as shocking today as it was then.

While Oprah is bringing her own audience of 300, Jesus had a few animals, shepherds and mum and dad.

Oprah is arriving on a jet plane with a crew of 150, while an unborn Jesus arrived on a donkey with no room at the inn.

Oprah will take over the Opera House with her American audience, crew and ‘thousands’ of Australian fans. When Jesus arrived at Christmas, the angels sang opera but only a shire of shepherds noticed.

Oprah’s visit is expected to be great for Australian tourism although we expect Austria may also get an unexpected boost. Meanwhile Jesus’ visit has sent people travelling all over the planet for 2000 years starting with Persian magi and including many who died for their efforts in pursuing His purpose.

Oprah no doubt will have her detractors but ‘all publicity is good publicity’ in the wild world of television. Jesus had a few detractors too and we know how that turned out.

I do love Oprah’s generosity in springing this great gift on her audience, self-serving as it may be, to a greater or lesser extent.

I do love God’s generosity in giving Jesus, the one purely altruistic act of history, which can be received freely, no strings attached. And the good news is that it is good news forever, not just for this season’s rating period…  

Balancing freedoms as Bibles and bodies are burned

The threatened burning of the Qur’an by a Florida pastor created international headlines and now a Brisbane atheist has used pages of the Bible and the Qur’an to roll fake joints and smoke them. 

And while journalists waste time over these peculiarly western debates, we hear nothing about the very real plight of millions of Christians, many in Muslim countries, where such freedoms are not enjoyed. 

For example a young Laotian woman had her Bible burned (pictured) by villagers who believed it was causing her mother’s illness. 

‘My villagers still hate me and mock me, like they mocked Jesus on the cross. It is the world’s right to hate us or to love us. But for me, I will follow Jesus.’ 

 Many people like this young woman are assisted by Voice of the Martyrs. You might wonder why we need such an organisation in the 21st century but there are more Christian martyrs today than ever before. 

VOM says, ‘In restricted nations around the world, Bibles are burned, shredded or confiscated every day. Those opposed to the gospel can destroy Bibles, but they cannot destroy the faith of those like ****’. 

To read many other heart wrenching stories of the persecution of Christians – the burning of their Bibles, churches and bodies – visit Voice of the Martyrs

We do enjoy remarkable freedoms in the west, rarely known on our planet or throughout history, very much brought about by a Christian world view that says every life is sacred and deserves dignity, freedom, opportunity and life. 

This should be extended to people of all faiths and Koran burning or Bible ‘smoking’ are ridiculous parades of ego. 

But there is something that would help balance the debate. Whenever we stand and affirm that Muslims, for example, should receive the same freedoms in Australia or America as anyone else, it would be inspiring to hear those voices, especially Muslims, speak up and say they would like to see the same freedoms for those persecuted for their faith in Muslim or other restricted countries.

Cross carries comfort for Scott Rush

When Scott Rush arrived at Denpasar’s District Court on August 26 his white shirt shone in the Bali heat.

By the time he stood in court a dark, wooden cross, of the kind commonly carved and sold in Bali, was hanging around his neck, outside his shirt.

As he made his statement to the magistrates, he told them that his fate was in their hands ‘and the hands of God’.

During his statement, he made an apology for his actions, and as he spoke the words, his right hand lifted up, searching for the cross, which he held and caressed while speaking.

‘I wish to say to you, my parents, my family, and the community, how sorry I am for the crime that I have committed and the pain that I have caused.

‘I have brought much shame upon myself and my family. I have a deep sense of guilt for what I have done.’

In a recent letter to Australian Labor politician Chris Hayes (Member for Fowler), Scott Rush wrote:

”I truly feel sorry for the hurt and pain I’ve caused to my parents. I hope to have the chance to prove I am capable of reform. I want to give back to my community and be an ambassador against drugs.

‘Please say a prayer for me, and remember me to your wife Bernadette. I continue to pray every day and night.’

Rush, the youngest of the so-called Bali 9, has done it tough in prison. A strange episode where he was supposedly circumcised by Muslims being just one example of the spiritual, cultural and legal forces swirling around his life.

He has some strong support in his appeal including a letter from the Australian Federal Police saying he played a minor role in the heroin smuggling operation. An Australian academic respected for his knowledge of international law, has also made a statement on Rush’s behalf.

Now might be a good time to join young Scott in those prayers, morning and night.

And to bring the humanity of this incident more to life, visit the Scott Rush website, obviously developed by his family.

Miner’s faith strong, 700 metres and 17 days beneath the earth

The Faith, sculpted in stone from Badajoz in 1...
'The Faith', sculpted by Luis Salvador Carmona in 1752-53. The veil represents 'not by sight, but by faith'. Image - Wikipedia

Quote of the week:

‘Dear Liliana, I’m well, thank God. I hope to get out soon. Have patience and faith. I haven’t stopped thinking about all of you for a single moment. I want to tell everyone that I’m good and we’ll surely come out okay. God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive.’ Mario Gomez, 63.

Mario communicated these thoughts 17 days after being trapped 700 metres underground in a small room with 32 other men, knowing it would be weeks or months before rescuers would reach them. These are beliefs not lightly held…

The reality of God and the value of faith is often discussed in theoretical terms, as if life and death are not involved. But not for Mario and his friends. Seventeen days is plenty of time for an unreal pretense to have been stripped away. And yet faith in God has surfaced loud and clear.

Interestingly, Mario’s daughter made the following comments after hearing of the note from her father:

‘No-one will be able to take this happiness away from me… I’ve never felt anything like this in my life. It’s like being born again.’

Faith tends to have that result, whenever you encounter it… even for you, today.

Huge Chinese mattress hides $US1.4 trillion…

There is no political, social, educational or philosophical quick-fix for human nature. Figures showing the growing gap between the rich and poor in so-called communist China highlight this once again.

Despite decades of communist indoctrination and more recently, greater freedoms and openness to world markets, the Chinese people still like to keep money under their mattress so they can spend it on ‘things’.

And like anything in China, or India for that matter, that’s one big mattress.

A study conducted for Credit Suisse Group shows that China’s households hide as much as 9.3 trillion yuan ($US1.4 trillion) of income not reported in official figures – 80 per cent of it by the nation’s wealthiest.

One reason economists believe this figure is because the strongest area of economic demand in China right now is the domestic purchase of consumer items from designer handbags to flat screen televisions.

Taking the mattress cash figure into account, it turns out the average urban disposable household income is 32,154 yuan, or 90 per cent more than official figures. The bad news is that this means China’s rich-poor gap is most likely much bigger than realised.

The Gini coefficient is a single statistic used by economists to summarise the distribution of income across the population.Read More »