Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Craftsman

St. Cuthbert, Lindisfarne

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph 2:10

Lovingly planned,

Gently formed.

Carved and shaped by sublime hands.

Sanded and smoothed,

Rubbed and polished.

Crafted with pride and purpose.

Breathed into miraculous life.

Accompanied by the maker’s instructions;

To serve,

Be,

Do,

To the glory of the

The Master Craftsman.

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Even Roman Centurions Need a Break

One of my favourite photos from Rome is a picture I took of a Roman Centurion, near the Colosseum, reading a newspaper. Adding to the relaxed atmosphere was a Gelati van in the background.

Reflecting on this photo it reminded me that some of us, either because of our background or natural disposition frown on relaxation. It is not productive, there are things to be done and we shouldn’t waste time. Some of us, especially those of us brought up under the spectre of the “Calvinist work ethic”, see relaxation as sinful, or if not sinful, certainly heading in that direction.

Is this driven lifestyle something that God wants? Is it healthy?

When reading the Psalms it strikes me that Psalmist, stopped, stood down from his business and basked in the beauty of the creation around him

“You have set your glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1b)

“The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1a)

“Sing to him a new song; play skilfully and shout for joy” (Psalm 33:3)

There are many, many more examples.

What they reveal is a person delighting in his relationship with God and rejoicing in the beauty and majesty of his God’s creation.

For the hard nosed, star gazing and lyre plucking are not productive activities. However, for the delighter in God, they are worship. There is a joy and celebration knowing that God has surrounded me with His creation – a creation not simply there to be productive and mined, but a creation that reveals God, His majesty and beauty.

So in your busy-ness stop and smell the flowers, or if you like, have a gelati and a read a paper. Even centurions need a break.

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Two Images – One Story

On a cold but sunny December day in 2005 I stood in the old ruined Cathedral in Coventry, UK.

I have two photos taken that day; one in the ruins of the old  Cathedral and another outside the new. In their contrast and contradiction, they tell one unified story.

The first, is the altar in the old bombed out Cathedral. On the 14th of November 1940 the Luftwaffe blitzed Coventry. One of the victims was its 800 year old Cathedral. Today, where the altar once stood, is a plaque that simply says, “Father Forgive”. Above this is a simple wooden cross made from charred beams which survived the conflagration. In front of this stands a board with a simple Litany of Reconciliation, the refrain to which is, “Father Forgive”, as well as a small bunch of flowers.

The other image is on the outside wall of the new Cathedral consecrated in 1962. It is of St Michael’s victory over Satan by Jacob Epstein. This dramatic sculpture represents St. Michael (meaning “who is like God”) a Biblical figure.  We see references in Daniel 10:13,21 and possibly Joshua 5:13-15, Jude and Revelation. In Scripture St. Michael is presented as a protector of God’s people.

The obvious question is, where was St. Michael on the night the Cathedral was bombed? There is an irony in these two images.

The answer lies at the altar of the old cathedral. The cross revealing Christ’s sacrifice for all God’s people – both the bomber and the bombed. This is reinforced with the words, “Father Forgive”. Brokenness lies at the heart of all of us. It is not the exclusive domain of a culture or nation. George Bush’s “axis of evil” comment in 2002, forgets that evil or sin isn’t exclusive. It encompasses us all. It is a curse from which we all need to be relieved.

That a cultured country such as Germany could blitz Britain or a civilised community such as the UK be complicit in the razing of Dresden is a reminder that evil is not far off. We see it in Abu Ghraib, in Libya and in our own hearts.

Yes, God does protect His people. For all those who come to faith in Christ there is protection. Not just for a moment or a life time – but eternity. There is a payment for our brokenness and a reconciliation with God.

What sign should we look for that this truth is also ours. I think one sign must be our ability to say, like our Saviour, “Father Forgive”.

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Prayer for Generosity St. Ignatius of Loyola

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labour without seeking rest,
To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
Save the knowledge that I have done your will.
Amen.

In John 13 we read the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I find that confronting. Not the act itself. I have had careers in toilet cleaning and garbage collecting, so a bit of tinea doesn’t bother me. No, it is the subservience, the humility that sticks in my throat. I don’t have a “natural” gift of service. It galls me.

Yet, this is what Jesus calls for and it is what St. Ignatius echoes.

The striking aspect of St. Ignatius’ poem is that it reminds us that our selfless, sacrificial service is a sign that we are growing in our reflection of Jesus. Once again, this challenges me, as it is not the way I want to live.

What should I do? This gracelessness in my life is a reminder that I still have so far to go in understanding Christ’s sacrifice for me, no matter how well I think I know my Bible. The more I understand and apprehend the cost of my salvation, eternal life and membership of His Kingdom, the more I will bow the knee in humble thankfulness.

To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labour without seeking rest,

All these acts require a decision of the will, not simply a response of the emotions. Each act is one that I need to practise and practise again. If you, like I, do not find these actions come naturally our challenge is to actively seek to serve and labour. However, we must always remember that this is a response to, not a cause for, our salvation. In the words of St Ignatius it is what Jesus “deserves”.

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Divine Breath: A poem on Sunday

Divine words creating

Shaping

Holy breath speaking into presence

Majestic imagination

Unfolding and weaving

Triunity

In partnership

Speaking, Breathing, Being

Creation blinks

Light streams forth

Air and water part

Land and sea claim their domains

Leaves shoot forth in their hallelujahs!

Stars, planets and comets scatter into space

The rhythm of being beats

The waters swirl with life

The land abounds

Then I am made

Like God!

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God’s Imagination & Our Lack of Imagination

“For you created all things
and by your will they were created
and have their being” Revelation 4: 11b

In this fast food, fast service, impatient generation, it is easy to simply skim over Scripture to get a quick “fix” for the day: a pep talk to keep us going. When we take time to sit, ponder, reflect and digest God’s Word, it can transfix us and in a very positive sense, overwhelm us. Revelation 4:6-11 is just such a passage.

The imagery is immense. We get the strong impression that the apostle John struggled to grasp the enormity of his vision as he put quill to papyrus.

However, it is the second half of verse 11 on which I want to concentrate. It tells us that all created things have their existence through the will of God.

Think about it! We exist because of God’s creative imagination. In contrast, how puny and pitiful is our rebellion and defiance! Even our most amazing scientific discoveries, our peering into the universe, our understanding of the brain, nano technology and so on, are simply examples of us being able to enter into a minuscule part of God’s imagination.

All the things we discover, should in fact remind us of God’s incomprehensibility rather than our self imagined magnificence.

In contrast, our response should be the same as John’s and that of the 24 elders. That is, we should bring worship, adoration and praise. Not, as we modern people so often tend to do, and treat God with arrogance, ridicule and rejection. Really, our modern attitude is a picture of how small our minds and imagination are in comparison to the majesty and magnificence of God.

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No Fear

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

The phrase “No Fear” was made popular in the late 1980’s by a lifestyle clothing company. However, Scripture had already claimed the rights to this 1900 years earlier. The apostle John  wrote about  “no fear” in his first epistle.

He explains that the perfect love of God is the complete and perfect antidote to fear. Fear of :

  • the wrath of God ((Hebrews 10:31)
  • death
  • eternal separation from God
  • the insidious power and influence of Satan

To fear, to be frozen in horror at the prospect of death or judgement, means that the sacrifice of Christ  has not been personally appropriated. It means one is living outside the complete covering of Jesus that removes all cause for the need to be fearful.

To be made perfect in love is the gracious, eternal life giving act of our Saviour, Jesus.

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The Princess Syndrome

With hindsight, it was easier to have six than one. Having “half a dozen unassorted”, as one doctor described them, (i.e. six daughters) turned out to be a blessing for them, and for us as parents. The girls had to learn to share, cooperate and compromise.

We told them they could have an “attitude” when they became a teenager. If they displayed an attitude after their 13th birthday we told them they missed their chance. It was on the day they turned 13 they could have an attitude. After that  was too late. With six, you set patterns and the others tend to follow with only the odd break out attempt.  In our family there was the famous dummy spit over a school bag. It is memorable because it was a rare event.   So the patterns went like this: “It is our family rule that we know who is supervising the teenage party before you can go”. This became a mantra for all of them. On one embarrassing occasion an unsuspecting dad was dragged into the house by one of our daughters to give evidence that the party she wanted to go to was supervised.

It was not all beer and skittles (bad phrase) but on the whole, parenting during the teenage years was a pleasure and not the trauma that many parents experience. The one exception was probably learning to drive as some of them suffered in the spatial awareness department (thank you uncle Rudi for all your patient work).

Sadly, as a teacher, I am seeing more and more girls, usually only daughters, who come through their teenage years with the “Princess Syndrome”. This disorder suggests to the girl that she is the centre of the universe. She is the prettiest, most important and most precious person in the world.  The world owes her a debt for her beauty and charm. The parents serve this darling, as well as give and bestow anything the princess wants. You may have met her? Or even worse, you may be serving her in the palace right now!

However the harsh truth is, she is isn’t the most important person in the world – not even in a classroom of 25 students. The future that the parents of princesses are “preparing” their daughter for isn’t reality. As the saying goes, even if she is one in a million there are 7000 just like her! Real life requires people who can negotiate, see value in others, share, cooperate and compromise. The “Princess Syndrome” doesn’t allow for that. It only produces self centred, petulant people who will ultimately be unfulfilled and unhappy. Hollywood not only sets the standard here but also reveals the ugly results.

My dad said, “Never marry a  pretty girl” ( I’ll let my wife decide whether I was obedient or not). I think his aphorism was an early warning against the “Princess Syndrome”. Whether we are parenting boys or girls (there is a “Prince” syndrome too) we are failing in our duty and calling if we don’t train them in the art of how effective community should work. In the words of  Proverbs 22:6 “Train a child in the way they should go, when they  are old they will not depart from it.”  This is not a promise, but a principle: The more intentional our training the less likely any deviation from it. This can work positively and negatively.

If we train them to be princesses we should not be surprised when they reveal an ugly, petulant and preening, self obsessed ego. However if we train our children to respect, honour and value others it is unlikely that our daughters will suffer the “Princess Syndrome.” Their lives, and ours, will be better for it.

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Relics and Relatives

When it comes to historical plaques you expect to find long-lost tribes, great statesmen and heroes or local luminaries being honoured. It comes as a surprise to see a photo of yourself in a Davy Crockett outfit on a plaque on an “historical walk” in a town park. Seldom do we consider ourselves as part of “history”.

In the early 1950s, my parents and I were part of a huge wave of migration to Australia. Like others from Northern Europe and the UK, my parents were seeking a new life away from a Europe struggling to house and feed its people after a disastrous war. Now, nearly 60 years later, with the wonderful gift of hindsight, it is clear that we were part of a movement that would change Australia for ever.

The photo on the plaque is instructive in its detail. There is an uncle who had paved the way a few years earlier and was establishing himself as an excellent builder. There is a close Australian friend who had adopted us when arrived in Australia and was my brother’s Godmother. My mother is holding my new baby brother who had been born in this new land and I am standing in a “coonskin” cap made out of rabbit fur – illustrating the popular culture of the day. In the background the car has a table and tea-chest strapped to the roof which is certainly a metaphor for the transitory life we lived when we first moved to Australia. My father, I can safely assume, is taking the photo.

Not only was it a momentous time for the thousands of families that picked up their sparse belongings and moved to Australia, but it was also time of indelible change for Australia. After the Northern Europeans came the Southern Europeans and then when the “White Australia Policy” was abolished the movement became even more spectacular and diverse. Food, music, festivals, dress, values and attitudes would all be changed. “Wog” food became the norm. People would inter marry. Children would make “new” friends.

The Australia that sits behind the photo in the town’s “history walk” no longer exits. And I, together with hundreds of thousand other people, was part of that metamorphosis. .

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The Curse of Privatised Religion

A Reflection on 1 Chronicles 16: 23-36

Declare his glory among the nations, 
   his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

The curse of evangelicalism is that most of us are satisfied with a privatised faith: personal, inoffensive and above all, politically correct. It is a position that many of us, including myself, gravitate towards because it is safe and non- confrontational. The problem is that it is deadly, both for us, as we fail to be the people God wants us to be, and the world, who don’t get to meet God’s representatives. A private faith has minimal consequences.

In 1 Chromicles 16, as the Ark of the Covenant is brought into Jerusalem, King David describes a far more striking reality. David, on behalf of his community, God’s people, writes a psalm that is public and communal, but more than that, it reveals the task of the people of God. It reminds the people of Israel what they are there for; and that is not to be a people who cower in in an insular world of private faith.

Their calling, job, vocation (insert whatever word your theology recommends) is to:

  1. Declare God’s name to the surrounding (unbelieving) nations. David reminds them that they were set apart to represent God.
  2. Praise and honour God for who He is and and His faithfulness to them.
  3. Remember what He has done for them. In other words, without Him they were nothing and would have gone nowhere.
  4. Reveal who God is to the surrounding neighbours, but this goes further than point 1 , they were to urge their neighbours to bow in worship before Him.

This is a snapshot of God’s people about 1000 years before Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Knowing that Christ IS the Saviour and that God has blessed us with His Holy Spirit means that we are without excuse not to Declare, Praise, Remember and Reveal. Or more simply, there is no place amongst the people of God for a privatised faith.



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