And then they kissed… twice

Sometimes you need to remember what is real. Is it the prevailing tide of opinion in all its digital cacophony, of feeds and tweets and posts and oh so shareable commentary?

Closed minded fools masquerading as open minded elite, intellectually dishonest assuming the cleverest of ground, storytellers spinning their own fairy-tales in self-congratulatory wonder.

For a moment or more I despaired.

“I’ve been thinking bout everyone
Everyone you look so empty” Stars, Switchfoot

Then I attended a Christian wedding with my happily-married wife of 32 years in a church that continues vibrant Christian worship more than 100 years after it was built. The stained glass reminded me of a good shepherd and I recalled being at the Christian wedding of the parents of today’s bride.

The gathering was ablaze with faith. There was humour and poetry and music and beauty and family and community and generations but must dazzling to me, faith.

The pall of the morning’s mourning was replaced by a mantle of praise and a bringing to life of what Paul described as mystery – how the of the union of a man and woman somehow spiritually, fundamentally, intrinsically pictures God’s love for his called-out-to-gather people.

It was the realest thing by far.

And then they kissed… twice. Before the minister had time to invite the anticipated physical display of affection, the young groom leapt forward and planted a long kiss on his smiling bride, stepped back, and then did it again, both all red faced innocence and joy.

When today’s posturing about what things are important is superseded by tomorrow’s, those things that are eternal, which have never failed, have never looked like waning, will continue on with little concern as to whether anyone else notices or not.

“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come.  Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8:38-39

 

PH

 

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And then I realised a scattering of bloggers

When I started my first WordPress blog on April 29, 2009 I couldn’t find anyone else I knew personally among the millions of WordPress bloggers.

Today as I read through some of the writing or reflective blogs I follow, I realised they were mostly by people I know in the real world and all offer something unique and encouraging.

So here they are, mostly on WordPress, why not check them out:

Chrissy Guinery, author of Falling Upstairs, reminds you why life is living large.

Bronte Sawtell, is 19 and thinking and has fallen in love with Newcastle.

Josiah Hallett is tossing out the pros and finds hope in the midst of angst.

Stephen Baxter is an old mate from Alive and On Being days and is keeping the heaven2earth connection going.

Rachael Stevens is a talented young writer (The Skeleton Diaries) and influencer and has a great website and blog which I daresay is designed by husband Tom.

I’m thinking there is groundswell of (Christian) writing evident here of which the sites I’ve listed are just a small sample.

Share your own favourites in comments (below).

PH

The complexity of command, conscience and covenant: new year reflection

The Christian life is a complex interplay of command, conscience and covenant – and none of these words are particularly popular or well understood in our culture or, perhaps, by many in the church.

traffic, conscience, right, wrong, covenant, maturity, choice, freedomFrom time to time debates rage in one corner of Christendom or another as to what Christians should or shouldn’t do and rarely is a mature understanding of these coexistent realities displayed.

Simplistically we could draw understanding from the humble traffic light. Red and green are commands and amber is more or less a matter of personal decision or conscience. Red does not ask you if you feel you should stop, it tells you that you must. Amber however allows you some measure of consideration. And green, like red, is a command to go and if you are in doubt about that you have not experienced missing a green light in Sydney traffic.

The context for the command and conscience of the traffic light is the covenant we all have with each other that we will obey the traffic rules, including traffic lights, and likewise drive safely and responsibly. When we as a community balance command, conscience and covenant well, there is relative safety and amenity on our roads. When these three are out of shape – frustration, damage and even death can result.

Read More »

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

Christmas speaks to the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul

Birth of Jesus by RembrandtChristmas as we know it has been culturally crafted over thousands of years around a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel.

Each December various scientists, atheists and pot-shotters are trotted out with their latest theories debunking Christmas and erstwhile Christian intellectuals and apologists bravely rally to defend the seasonal ground. Others argue over various cultural accoutrements to Christmas such as dates and customs and commercialistation. They act as if the average person is not intelligent enough to distinguish between later attempts to mark something significant and the significant thing itself.

Certainly the habitual attacks on the historical origins of Christmas or Easter or any Christian belief along with the confusing but largely irrelevant criticisms of the cultural artefacts that accompany those traditions, have a gradual, destabilising effect on the faith of the wavering or nominal who are probably the majority of believers in our nation. Around the globe however the effect is infinitesimal and Christian faith continues to thrive and multiply in amazing diversity with scant disregard for broadsheet column centimetres.

That is because at the heart of it, the Christmas story – to quote myself – ‘a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel’ is so shockingly familiar to our own human experience it reaches us where the debunkers and apologists never could, in the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul.

Here are just a few examples, in no particular order:Read More »

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.

 

 

 

Kate enters MasterChef final with plenty of prayerful support

Several thousand past and present students of Greenacre Baptist Christian Community School will be glued to the MasterChef finale with former teacher Kate Bracks one of the final two contestants.

And quite a few might be saying the occasional prayer to see her win the final challenge next week. They’ll be joined by the members of Orange Evangelical Church where Kate, husband Luke and three children are members. Throw in additional prayerful support from Orange Christian School and it could be suggested that Kate has an unfair advantage.

But it will come down to taste and so far, Kate has proved time and again that her food has plenty of that. The township of Orange is, no doubt, in raptures about her success and will be hopeful her cool and calm approach will continue into the grand final.

Back in the early years of this century when Kate was teaching at Greenacre, she was a much-loved and respected teacher at a beautiful little school located in an area often referred to, somewhat ominously, as south-west Sydney.

And while fires and shootings at nearby car wrecking yards were routine, there was an atmosphere of love and peace that enveloped the school and embraced two of my children for several years.

Kate taught my youngest son in his pivotal Year 6 and, while there was no hint of her cooking prowess in those days, she was an excellent teacher.

On his Year 6 progress report, she wrote: “He is cooperative, modest and encouraging in his dealings with others.” Sounds very much like Kate’s own approach to her time on MasterChef.

Kate spoke about taking on the challenge of MasterChef to show her children that it’s possible to chase one’s dreams and be stretched beyond our normal existence. It might also be a shout-out to all parents to be living examples of faith in action to their children, shrugging of conformity and consumerism and doing something generous with their lives.

As for taking on the MasterChef challenge, Kate credits family and friends for their support. The Central Western Daily newspaper (worked there myself back in the day…) reports:

“Despite her love of cooking Mrs Bracks said she wouldn’t be competing in MasterChef if she didn’t have the support of her family and friends, including those from the Orange Evangelical Church. ‘I’ve got such a supportive network,’ she said.
Even after a successful audition for the show it took an extra push from her husband Luke, a teacher at Orange Christian School, to remind her that she was up to the challenge ahead. ‘He just told me not to let other things get in the way [of me doing this],’ she said.”

Kate and the Dalai Lama

Oslo misery compounded by shooter ‘Christian’ claim

Ship of Fools, an alternate Christian website, summed up the feelings of many Christians when they tweeted yesterday, “Our misery is complete. The Norwegian gunman is reported as a ‘Christian fundamentalist’.” The enormity of terrorist tragedy was made worse by reports the gunman may have identified himself as a Christian.

It is unclear at this stage what evidence there is for this claim in the media apart from a Facebook page on which the shooter Behring Breivik identifies himself as ‘Christian’ with ‘conservative’ views.

But he also listed interests such as the game World of Warcraft, freemasonry, and the television series Dexter which is about a serial killer. The reality is that any group or organisation with which Breivik expressed an interest will be now horrified by the association.

As a sidelight to the issue, it is in interesting to see how quickly Breivik’s private social media entries were accessed by the media…

Hauntingly, the one message on his Twitter account dated July 17 was: “One person with a belief is equal to a force of 100,000 who have only interests.”

Regardless of the actual nature of his beliefs, it is distressing that the term Christian, first used to describe followers of Christ in Antioch in the first century, should be even remotely associated with this horrific act.

Anyone familiar with the ‘fundamentals’ of Christ’s life and teaching would know he is easily identified with those who were killed and not at all with the one who killed.

For a thorough analysis of this issue, visit The Christian Post’s story.

Read part of New York Times report:

OSLO – The Norwegian police on Saturday charged a 32-year-old man, whom they identified as a Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections, over the bombing of a government center here and a shooting attack on a nearby island that together left at least 91 people dead.

The police said they did not know if the man, identified by the Norwegian media as Anders Behring Breivik, was part of a larger conspiracy. He is being questioned under the country’s terrorism laws, the police said, and is cooperating with the investigation of the attacks, the deadliest on Norwegian soil since World War II.

“We are not sure whether he was alone or had help,” a police official, Roger Andresen, said at a televised news conference. “What we know is that he is right-wing and a Christian fundamentalist.” So far Mr. Breivik has not been linked to any anti-jihadist groups, he said.

And now atheists join the billboard conversation

First the Muslims, then the Christians, and just as Rev Rob Forsyth suggested, now the atheists.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) is preparing for one of its “biggest and most important projects” – a billboard campaign to encourage individuals and families to “think about the importance and impact of their answer to this leading Census question: ‘What is the person’s religion?'”

As the next Australian Census approaches on August 9, there will be concerted campaign by the AFA to have nominal or non-believing people mark their census “No religion”. Their nominated motivation for the campaign – to take religion out of politics on the basis that if there is a larger “no religion” segment of the community, the views of Christians and other people of faith will be less influential in the political realm.

In the meantime, the political aspect of this campaign has led to one of their billboards being refused, much to the AFA’s loud dismay.

Read the full story in Australian Christian News.

Faith by billboard conversation continues

If you happen to commute along the M4 and also Victoria Rd (you are to be deeply pitied for that commute) then you may feel like you’re in the middle of a friendly, billboard-sized banter between a Christian and a Muslim. And the topic? Jesus.

Check out the full story at Australian Christian News.

Original billboard post
Forget billboards, they want to ban the  Bible

Forget billboards, Islamic leader calls for Bible ban

At a time when Christians and Muslims are conducting (mainly) respectful debates about large billboards with Islamic messages in Sydney, there has been a call in Pakistan for the Bible to be banned because it is blasphemous for Muslims.

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party’s leader, Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi, at a press conference on May 30 in Lahore, informally petitioned the Supreme Court, complaining that the Bible includes stories about some of the biblical prophets that include “a variety of moral crimes, which undermine the sanctity of the holy figures.”

Pakistiani Christians, estimated at 3 million, fear the call for a Bible ban is a sign of a trend of deepening persecution against them.

Now might be a good time for people of Islamic faith enjoying democratic rights and freedom of religion in Australia to raise their voices against this call.

Read the fully story in Christian Telegraph

 Related articles

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.

New Last Supper theory interesting, but not so new

Media outlets are today reporting claims from a new book that Easter celebrations are a day late in marking the celebration by Jesus of the Passover before being crucified.

Many close readers of the Bible who have studied the Gospel accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life would have already considered the possibility of the Last Supper occurring on the Wednesday, rather than Thursday, before Good Friday.

The Gospels are not motivated by a desire to inform readers of exact dates – presuming early Christians were already well aware of these,  or because they were focused on the content of Jesus life and teaching rather than chronology.

However as an historic faith, it is heartening to see scientists seeking to test accounts and find explanations for these eye-witness accounts, handed down over many centuries.

And while this latest book is unlikely to change the way Christians celebrate Easter (although perhaps we could argue for an extra Easter holiday?) it is a useful reminder that Easter is more than religious tradition, it remembers extraordinary events in the lives of real people, one in particular.

“‘One of the most famous meals in history is commemorated a day late, a new  book by a Cambridge University physicist claims,” the SMH report says.

“Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, who was knighted last year for his  contribution to science, argues that the last supper Jesus Christ shared with  his disciples occurred on Wednesday, April 1, AD33, rather than on a Thursday as  traditionally celebrated in most Christian churches.

“The theory would explain the apparent inconsistencies between the Gospels of  Matthew, Mark and Luke – which say the Last Supper was a Passover meal – and  that of John, which says Jesus was tried and executed before the Jewish  festival. It would explain another puzzle: why the Bible has not allowed enough  time for all events recorded between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.

“Sir Colin’s book, The Mystery of the Last Supper, out this week, uses  astronomy to re-create  calendars, plus  detail drawn from texts such as the  Dead Sea Scrolls  to propose a timeline for Jesus’s final  days.”

Read more at the SMH’s New theory on date of last supper.

Check out a previous Easter Utterance post

Bear grilled (lightly) on Aussie TV, Hillsong

Bear Grylls featured on Channel 7’s Sunday Night  program tonight where besides  eating spiders and leaping out of helicopters, he was also shown visiting Hillsong last weekend.

Admitting that speaking to an auditorium full of people is scarier than most of his Man vs Wild adventures, he also revealed how he got his nick-name, Bear.

Rather than arising from ‘wrestling a bear when I was 3’, Grylls explained that his real name is Edward, which was shortened to Ted, and then Teddy, on to Teddy Bear and finally just Bear.

So one of the world’s toughest men is named after a soft toy…

Described on the show as a ‘man of God’, Grylls once again acknowledged the importance of Christian faith in his life and the importance of prayer.

For more on Bear Grylls and his views on God, visit my previous Bear post. He also has his own blog where he describes making a show in an Australian swamp as one of his hardest yet. You might also like to visit the charity page on the blog, and see how he uses his fame and fortune.

Speaking of which, he said fame and fortune were two things that caused him the most trouble which may be why he supports so many charities.

Oh, and the worst thing he’s eaten was a toss-up between raw goat testicles and bear poo…

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…

Enabling churches to be more inclusive

‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ Luke 14:21

Christian Blind Mission Australia has long worked with the disadvantaged across the globe but has recently fixed its gaze on an apparent injustice closer to home.

According to a CBM, disability ministry is a growing need yet only 5 per cent of Australian churches have any intentional programs to include people with disabilities.

Inspired by Jesus’ call in Luke 14, CBM Australia has developed a program of the same name that seeks to better equip churches to meet to be more inclusive of people with a disability.

Information about the launch of the program says:Luke14 is a CBM initiative aimed at equipping churches to welcome and include people with a disability. It is a process that assists churches to both reach in to improve church access and understanding, and reach out to offer support and friendship to people and families living with a disability in the community.

‘Many Australians living with disabilities aren’t a part of a caring church family, let alone involved in ministry. Luke14 seeks to help make our churches places where every person is appreciated, welcomed and encouraged to serve.’ 

CBM’s Luke14 will be launched with special guest speaker Therese Rein, wife of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, at St Anne’s Ryde Anglican Church Conference Centre on Thursday, November 25 at 9,30am and in Wollongong at Figtree Anglican Church on November 26 at 9.30am. Both launches are free. Check out the CBM website for details.

Worshipping at the altar of popular culture: Hollywood Jesus

Hollywood Jesus no doubt started out as a genuine attempt to engage with popular culture but is now dangerously close to blasphemy, certainly in regard to its Santa Paws at Your Church “sweepstake”.

A promotional email sent out by Hollywood Jesus, a US Christian movie website, invites readers to enter a ‘Santa’s BFF (best friends forever?) contest in which first prize is a visit by Santa Paws, a free screening of the movie and DVD give-aways. Check it out:

The church does need to engage with culture and to communicate in a language that touches the heart and souls of real people.

But there is a place for purposeful discernment – what are we trying to achieve and what do we risk losing by gaining some temporary popularity? And probably we should ask, who is making money out of it?

When I first saw this email I felt sure it was a hoax, with a virus hiding behind every link. Or perhaps the Chaser boys had sent it out to see how many tacky Christians they could snare.

But it’s real and sincere and obviously no one involved saw a problem with it. And unless you pull back and ask, who is meant to be influencing who at Christmas time, or anytime, it might just slip by as another great way to get lots of unchurched families dropping into the church building to have a great old time.

Except what kind of Jesus could really be communicated in the sickly-sweet company of Santa Claus (or Paws), Walt Disney, Hollywood and good old American (and Australian) consumerist tripe!Read More »

Hope against all hope in the midst of change

It has been a year of unprecedented change for our family, some if it chosen, some of it not – and it’s not over yet.

Change, whether initiated or imposed, is often challenging – especially when it affects the deep things of your heart and your future.

In the midst of some difficult moments this month, I had a speaking engagement where my theme was to be hope. Having been planned long before, it almost seemed laughable that I would contemplate hope when I was more prone to panic.

Of course, God has a sense of humour and that is good reason to be hopeful – it helps not to take yourself too seriously.

There is something unique about the Bible that when you turn to it to prepare some thoughts for others, it has an amazing power to instead prepare you.

And so, for all those pondering their future, wondering their past and wandering right now, let there be hope:Read More »