christian

Medieval parenting

My wife and I were discussing parenting for faith last night as we often do. We reflected on the perilous social conditions that confront Christian parents today.

I cast my mind back to my own parents who were foundational in their influence on my life, especially with regard to faith. My parents were two very different people. My mother believed and knew what she believed and nothing would dissuade her. My dad, on the other hand, had a more tumultuous relationship with his Creator. He struggled with understanding God’s actions, His revelation of himself, His fairness and many other aspects of the God revealed in Scripture. But there was one absolute truth that both my parents abided by – God was real! And that is what I mean by Medieval Parenting – there is no question around the existence of God. It is a given. In Medieval times there were no atheists. In my family, growing up, the reality of God’s existence was always at the heart of our family life. This truth guided our decision making, priorities and also guided us through life, which, at the time, being a migrant family with few resources, was an amazing comfort. We were in God’s hands no matter what happened or whether or not we understood Him..

What I particularly appreciated about my father’s relationship with God was that God was a constant presence in the conversations. In prayer, in family devotions and at Christian gatherings God was always in the middle the conversation. Never on the periphery.

Looking back, I treasure my father’s open struggles in understanding God. It gave me a living example of what we often see in the Psalms – the psalmist questioning God, angry at God, confused by God but always conversing with God.

“Medieval parenting” starts with a living and real relationship with God and the question of His existence is never part of the conversation.

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“Everyone Who Loves and Practices Falsehood”

I first wrote this over 10 years ago. Reflecting on it, I thought it was worth reposting.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  Rev 22:14 & 15

Every now and then as I am reading the Bible a phrase or word jumps out at me. It may be something that I hadn’t noticed or reflected on before. In our staff devotions at school Revelation 22 was read and I closed my eyes and listened. I have read or heard this passage on many occasions and reflected on it. However, this time, the phrase “everyone who loves and practices falsehood” made me sit up and take notice.

We live in a world of “spin”. Politicians, companies and celebrities hire “spin’ experts – people to put the “right” perspective on an issue or dilemma. “Spin” is the key to advertising and promotion. I think we could rightly say that “spin” is part of everyday life.

I remember, years ago, attending regular meetings of church leaders and we were called to report on our individual churches. Looking back in hindsight, there was a lot of “spin” happening. Despite issues in the churches, in this public forum we put ourselves in the best light. We do it as individuals as we try to make ourselves look good, knowing all the while, that in reality we are hiding the truth.

A friend once reflected, after a visit to Holland, where one can look into the front rooms of nearly every immaculately presented house, that it reflected his family. The front room, in this case the way his family appeared, was tidy and well kept, but in the back rooms there was chaos anger, lies and pain.

As a culture and society we have become very able practitioners of falsehood. As individuals and churches, we too have been, unthinkingly, drawn into these practices. Why does Jesus include falsehood with idolaters, murderers and sexual morality?

The child of God is the representative of truth. We are called to stand in direct opposition to the enemy, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). John writes “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John4:6)

The Church and the Christian can have no place for “spin” or subterfuge. The world needs to see what truthful lives look like. That also includes honesty when we have mucked things up. Seeking forgiveness is far more constructive (and painful) than spin. The media, quite rightly in my opinion, has highlighted the falsehood of the church. It can only do that when we have not been true to our God of Truth. Rather than blaming the media we should look carefully at ourselves.

For me, this is a tough call. I don’t like being found out. More important though, is my desire to be more like Jesus. The Word tells me that when I know Jesus I “… will know the truth, and the truth will set (me) free.” John 8:32

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The Census – Religion and Australians

The recent Australian census results have revealed that fewer Australians than ever before have stated that they are religious. How should the Christian Church take that message? A slap in the face? A challenge? A cause for reflection? A sign of the times?

Probably all of these.

The church has been “on the nose” for a while. Abuse of children, high-profile pastors abusing their position and other bad press have all been on a steadily growing the list of Christless behaviour.

However, in all this, we should not lose sight of the faithful adherence to the gospel and its calling by many who have quietly, worshipped God, cared for, served and loved their neighbour as an outworking of their faith in Christ – people who have faithfully served and loved despite the appalling behaviour of some.

However, that doesn’t mean there is not much to repent of and seek forgiveness for.

For many decades, if not centuries, church adherence has been tribal. As Michael Jensen pointed out in a recent article (https://tinyurl.com/y93hc8pa) different tribes belonged to different churches. Scots were Presbyterian, and Irish, Catholic and so on. This demise is not something to cry about. It was too often more about a culture and ethnicity, than Christ. Today we see something similar in the US with belief and politics morphed in a very unholy collaboration. A return to a church that is fundamentally anchored in Scripture is to be encouraged and applauded.

Also, Barny Zwartz points out in The Age,(July 10th) ( https://tinyurl.com/4rnuxjww )  “We don’t yet have full figures for the 2021 Census, but in 2011, when 6 million Australians claimed no religion, only 59,000 identified as atheists. There were more Jedi knights.” The point is that people are reluctant to disavow a belief in the existence of a higher being yet they have, as Michael Jensen points out, opted out of the club the family may have belonged to in the past.

Zwartz also compares the census data with the National Church Life Survey, “Research by the National Church Life Survey shows that by far the most hostility to Christianity comes from people aged 50 to 65 – as director Dr Ruth Powell observes, the people who hold the microphones right now. NCLS research suggests that only 21 percent of Australians go to church at least once a month – but that figure rises to 32 percent among 18 to 35-year-olds.” There are points of light and hope in these figures.

The census is, however, a cause for reflection. What does it mean to be church in C21st Australia? How do we reflect Christ and His Kingdom in a winsome way? How do we represent God and the gospel in a way that encourages Australians to think beyond the tribal connections of the past and to reflect on the true meaning of life in a way that honours the God of eternity? Also, how do we repent genuinely, for the poor behaviour of the few who have dishonoured the name of Christ so publicly, while acknowledging humbly that none of us live as Christ calls us to live?

This is a challenge. How do we convince people they are spiritual beings with a soul as well as a body and that in this life, and the next, there is a God who desires the best for them and calls them into a relationship with Him?

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For a Time Such as This

How has God been preparing the church, the people of God, for a time such as this? And what hints and leadings has He been giving us to be His active representatives on earth right now?cropped-cropped-isaiah.jpg What opportunities has He created? These are all questions my wife has been challenging me with in recent times. Hetty has written the following.

In 2005 we went to live in the UK for 16 months. I found myself with a lot of time and looked about to find something to become involved with. Our local church put me in touch with Bridgebuilder, an organisation that worked with schools to teach children about the Christian faith.

This appealed to me because for 15 years I had been a volunteer teacher of Christian Religious Education in Australia. Every week I spent 30 minutes in each class, sharing Bible stories, and praying with the students. It was a government legislated privilege to be able to do this.

In the UK things were different. The best Christian churches could hope for was to be invited into schools for a few hours every year. Bridgebuilder developed programmes and presented them to a hundred students at a time. I felt appreciative of our Australian system but knew that there was a lot of opposition building against it in the secular community.

Fast forward 5 years and my fears were being realised. The CRE programme was under attack, the organisation overseeing it was scrambling to adapt to the pressures. If the Government removed its protective legislation how would its mission to school children continue?

This was the moment that I thought back to my time in the UK. Could God have given me this experience so that I could now see a way forward in my local situation? Had He been equipping me for a future I didn’t yet know?

Today the universal Church is part of a universal crisis. Alongside health, economics, education, transport, employment, and a hundred other areas of human life, the Church is wondering how it will survive in a Covid 19 world and how it can keep being Christ to that world.

Many Christians and churches are trying to tweak what we’ve always done – drive thru communion, services in the car park while parishioners stay in their cars, and the like. Generally we are hunkering down and looking after our own flock. Missions means going ‘out there’, but we’re being told to stay at home.

But my thought is that God has been preparing His people for a Covid 19 world. What He was doing in your life ten years ago, or five years ago, or last year, was ‘the equipping of the saints’. Cast your mind back.

Look around your immediate vicinity. What appearance does this new world have? How has it changed? Then go back to our marching orders. What is a Christian’s primary mission, and what equipment and training have we been given by God to carry it out?

One example is the scandal of child abuse that has rocked the Church. The Church has become a stench to the world, and often it is trying to make excuses for the actions of its own people, desperately trying to salvage its reputation. I cringe whenever this issue is raised. I want to hide in shame.

So how should we view the sequence of events in our time with the idea that God is using them to equip us? And how do we move forward into the future with this massive millstone around the neck of the Church?

I believe God can and will advance His kingdom in spite of the wickedness of mankind. Abusive churchmen and women cannot thwart His plans. Perhaps the Church needs to fall on its knees, confess, repent, and seek forgiveness from those it has harmed. Never seeking a lenient sentence, but accepting judgement, and giving all it owns (every last gold goblet!) in restitution and compensation. A broken and contrite heart. Personally, I am waiting for the leaders of our churches to start this process.

Then we can be used by God to …

 

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The Second Sunday of Advent Poem

The Battles of Advent

Preceding ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’

The battle raged:

The snake in the garden,

The first murder,

The lies, deceit

And betrayal.

The Old Covenant sad stories

Reveal

The real struggle.

When David stood before Goliath

The real fight

Was in the heavenlies.

When David lusted after Bathsheba

The battle raged in places

Far beyond earth.

When the second Adam

Was nailed to a tree,

The Romans and Sanhedrin

Were not masters

But slaves.

When Christ arose,

The false Prince lost.

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Splendour

The First Sunday of Advent 2019sunrise

A prayer poem

The whole earth is full of His splendour

Isaiah 6:3

 

Your splendour shines in the DNA of our being,

In the majesty of a sunrise,

Through the first cry of a new born baby.

 

Your splendour radiates through the myriad colour promises

Of a rainbow,

The majesty of mountains

And the delicate beauty of an alpine flower.

 

Your splendour glows through

The warmth of unbroken friendship,

The care of a helping hand

And the shoulder of a good Samaritan.

 

But, sadly, too often …

 

Our eyes are numbed to splendour,

To Your splendour.

Our hearts are diverted by

Foolish trinkets.

Our minds wander

To the distracting, the temporary,

The screen flickering vacuous.

 

Forgive us Lord.

 

When our eyes are really open

We see your splendour.

The splendour of love,

The splendour of Your love

In the promise

In the promises

In the coming of the “only begotten”…

Who is

The fullness of Your splendour.

 

Amen

 

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Jesus Loves You (and wants You to be Happy). Yes?

Over the last 8 weeks I have come across diverse theologies which had one common theme: ‘Jesus loves you’ with the added rider ‘and wants you to be happy’. Initially I didn’t have a problem with it but the more I reflected on it, issues arose.

One group stressed the love of God. It was the mantra and truth that they continually espoused but this was never really unpacked. Then later, I heard the same message in a totally different setting. Jesus loves you and wants you to be happy. One of the implications was that ‘sin’ in the traditional sense, was irrelevant because whether it was one’s sexual inclination or activity, divorce, or , in fact, anything else that hindered one’s happiness, lots of things we considered wrong in the past, were now passe because after all, God wants us to be happy.

‘Jesus loves you’ resonates with our age. We live in and era in which people are desperate to be loved. This God has to hit our ‘like’ button. We want happiness and freedom and so the two, Jesus love and happiness, make an excellent ‘twin set’.

But what does “Jesus love you” really mean? Essentially it means that he loves us that much that he doesn’t want us to live with our brokenness and sin. He doesn’t want us to live with that which kills us and separates us from God. In step one he died on the cross to remove God’s judicial judgement against us. God’s eyes are too pure to behold evil (Hab, 1:13). Jesus removed God’s judgement against us. We are declared innocent.

But in step 2 he sent the Holy Spirit who on a daily on going basis makes us more like the way that God already sees us. In other words his desire is to make us more like Jesus because after all he is the perfect son.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” In other words we want to see our old selves lessen so that a new Christlikeness ascends. That is more than just about happiness. It is about wholeness, newness and a break from our past brokenness. When we say ‘Jesus loves you’ we need to say it against the backdrop of a holy God who abhors sin and brokenness because that sin is allied with decay and death. It is a stench that God will not permit in his nostrils.

Does Jesus love us? Certainly! But he loves us that much he doesn’t permit us to pursue our form of happiness, but his.

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One Generation from Extinction

The following is another post written by my wife:

When I married I lost my surname and took my husband’s. My sisters also married and then the name we had since birth was lost from our family. With no brothers to be able to carry the name into the future, it was gone.

My parents-in-law also saw the future of their name disappear. They had two sons, who married and gave them eight granddaughters. Whether by marriage or when they die, the surname will be lost in one generation.

photo 4Our faith heritage can suffer a similar fate. In just one generation the faith of our fathers and mothers can be lost. Who holds this fast? In whose hands can we entrust this faith to ensure that our grandchildren and the generations to come will carry on trusting God?

The obvious, and truthful, answer is there in the question. We trust God to hold us and keep us trusting Him. But that doesn’t allow us to be passive while God does all the work.

Our family will never be big. Probably our two grandchildren (aged one and three years) will stride toward the future holding hands, just the two of them, carrying the family history and folklore and faith with them. From our perspective it is a scary country that they are entering, full of dangerous terrain, uncertain and dark valleys, and threatening inhabitants. As grandparents we come from the relative calm of a Christian era, when even those who were not Christian lived by a Christian moral standard. Today we paused and asked ourselves, how do we prepare these little children for that foreign country called The Future?

Fortunately it is not up to us alone, and I believe this is the key. Of course they have believing parents and we must support them in their role to nurture faith in their children. But they also have five Aunties and an Uncle who will model a life of faith to them. We can and must give every effort to ensuring our faith heritage is not lost. We have a holy task as grandfather, grandmother, auntie, uncle, sister, brother, and parent. And as we do this we are obliged to hold each other accountable before God.

There is a future world in need of the Good News of Jesus. And I pray it will hear this Good News from the lips of my grandchildren.

 

 

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The Avalanche of Poor Behaviour

The vitriol against our bankers is reaching fever pitch. Even at the local gym my wife encountered patrons seething at the behaviour of the banks. This comes on top of the recent inquiry into child abuse. The churches, in particular, came out of that with their reputations badly damaged. There is another current inquiry into the behaviour of the managers of Aged Care Homes. The police are under scrutiny because of poor behaviour and our politicians have reached lows that has even left voters aghast that new lows are even possible.

The level of self righteous anger is seen on tv news shows, radio talk back, newspapers and blogs. Society is venting! The populace is restless and angry.

There is one segment of society left out – the rest of us – the ordinary punter. But are we really in a position to cast the first stone? Let me ask: Are our tax records spotless and our driving record immaculate? Have we always been honest and honourable with the boss, or spouse or colleagues? Have we used the cash economy to avoid tax? If there was a tv screen on our foreheads that broadcast our inner thoughts for everyone to see, would we have any friends? If we came across an easy way to make extra, illegal, money but wouldn’t be caught, how would we behave?

The problem is that each one of us, banker, politician, you and me – everyone – has a sinful nature. It is an unpopular concept in today’s society in which truth is considered relative. Today we are told that there are no longer clear wrongs and rights in the moral sphere and yet we are surprised when people “do wrong”. We ourselves do wrong but we justify it to ourselves – just, as I am sure, the bankers did, or the paedophile, or the manager of the home or …

Yes, we do need laws to protect children, bank depositors, old people and so on, but let us not pretend that we are innocent.

In the apostle Paul’s words, “We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sinfulness is a problem we all need to deal with. The ultimate answer is not the laws that we have piled on year after year to try to control all sorts of behaviour but rather the real answer is an encounter with Jesus Christ and the the forgiveness and renewal that is freely available through him.

Yes the laws are important to order a civil society but even more important is a radical renewal of each person – politician, policeman, you and me.

Yet first, each of us has to acknowledge that we have a problem and we ourselves do not have the resources to deal with it but Jesus has. In Luke 19:10 Jesus says to the tax collector ( or banker, or business manager or you and me) “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Step one is to acknowledge that we are “lost.”

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Epiphany: a story

Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar

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(Picture from The Life of Jesus, painted by Paul Forsey)

It was a black night. Nothing lit our Eastern sky, nothing. The tiny pinpricks of starry light were almost blotted out by the inky darkness.

Nevertheless, our team was out there on the dunes, peering into our telescopes, occasionally lighting a small candle to jot notes and diagrams onto our parchments.

It was a still night, which was a good thing. Sand grit can be a problem if it’s blown into our equipment and ink. Caspar was sitting in the middle of a huge groundsheet, gazing across to the horizon. It was so quiet that, even though I had my back to him, I heard it when he stopped breathing. He wasn’t dead, just dead surprised.

I turned and said, “Cas?” and then looked where I thought he was looking.

I answered his unspoken question. “I think it is.”

“I’m going to make a light” he said, “you get Melchior.”

I set out over the dunes. With no illumination I stumbled along. Once I turned to look behind me and saw Caspar’s small candle. But behind him was a rising glow from near the horizon. I finally found Mel; actually I stumbled onto him. He cursed as I landed on him, causing his ‘scope to drop to the ground.

“Look” I said, and standing close behind him with my arm alongside his head, I pointed to the west. He moved slightly to follow my direction. “Yes…” he murmured.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking” I asked.

“I think I am, Balthazar!” he replied, and I heard the twinkle in his eyes.

We ran then, back to Caspar, who had been consulting the charts. He was fairly jumping out of his skin! And that’s not bad for an eighty year old astronomer.

This was the beginning of our journey westward. That little star, rising up into our world, had been predicted for centuries. But not as headline news in the Astronomers Of The East Gazette. No. It was hidden in the historical parchments of our discipline, to be discovered through intense cross referencing and study. A group of us were hoping and waiting for its appearance in our lifetime. And here it was!

The following days were a buzz of preparations and talking. Our colleagues agreed that Mel, Caspar and I should be the ones to meet the promised King. The King born somewhere to the west of us. The King whose star we had seen rising in the darkness.

And this King would be worshipped with gifts.

So a committee was formed to find appropriate gifts. The gift registrars. They consulted the astronomical charts too, for clues. Each gift would be fraught with meaning. Finally they came on the night before we were to set out. Three packages were presented to us.

“This one is the only gift we could give to a new King” they said. “It is the ultimate symbol of power and majesty.” Caspar stood beside me and whispered breathlessly “Gold!”

“This one” another registrar said, holding up a small box, “was a tricky one. Something in our research suggested this new King is also Godly. So in this box is the very precious frankincense.” He handed it to Melchior.

A third registrar stepped forward.

“Finally, our last gift.” A few of the other members of the committee shuffled uneasily and looked down, as if they weren’t too sure about this choice of a gift.

“Myrrh.” And it was offered to me.

An explanation was called for. The registrar continued. “It’s traditionally used as an embalming agent. The committee thought it appropriate as all kings eventually die, and this new King will deserve the very best of burials. Although” he added,

“this King is a God, so it should not be necessary. However, on the off chance…..” He was now clearly out of his depth so I stepped forward and took the package from him. He looked glad to be rid of it.

The journey continued. The next morning we were assisted onto our camels and the whole assembly of astronomers were there to see us off.

Our College president handed us the scrolls containing copies of the prophesies of the Hebrew Daniel, concerning the King we were seeking. And so we left our home in the East.

It was together boring and exhilarating to be travelling.

At night we pitched our tent, found our telescopes and studied the sky as we had always done. But we hardly needed the telescope to see that Star; it became larger and brighter every night. It was our signpost, our route map, our light for our path.

During the days I reread Daniel’s prophesy. He was an alien in our country, captured over 500 years ago and brought to Babylon as booty.

He wrote about his God and a plan to bring a saving Christ into the world. The ‘Son of Man coming from heaven’.

When we reached the region of Palestine we made our way straight to the city of Jerusalem. I was glad to stop there. Beyond this country was the Mare Nostrum sea and I didn’t like sailing much. I preferred the ships of the desert – camels, and the waves of bare sand.

At the palace the guards brought us before the ruler King Herod. He listened to the reason for our coming, and looked puzzled. “No new kings here!” he blustered.

“A new born King, a baby perhaps?” I suggested.

Now he looked positively scary. “No newborns around here!! “

Melchior offered another idea, “we believe him to be the king of the Jews.”

“What?!!” roared Herod. “I am the king of the Jews!”

And then “Send for my advisors, and those magicians I have!”

They came, and they confirmed what we had said. In the town of Bethlehem the Christ would be born.

Now Herod ordered us out of the room while he conferred with his advisors.

We sat in a tiny anteroom, cooling our heels. “I don’t like that man much,” said Caspar, “can’t we just go over to that town and check it out for ourselves?”

But then the door opened and we were called back in.

Herod’s plan went like this:

We were to go to Bethlehem, find the baby King, and then return to Herod and give him the precise location.

It was something about the way his moustache twitched when he spoke that made me wonder. His whole demeanour had changed since before, but that moustache was twitching! I didn’t trust him.

Well, we found Bethlehem, and we found the King. Our star continued to lead us until it stopped over an ordinary-looking house in a plain old street. No palace, no royal crib, no red carpet.

We felt a tiny bit overdressed for the occasion, and the gifts we brought seemed a tad too grand for such an ordinary child, but we knelt before him. His parents didn’t blink. It was as if they knew His importance, as if they understood Who he really was.

I bowed deeply.

I offered the jar of myrrh to the child’s mother.

In my heart I felt some flutter of recognition as I gazed upon the small boy sitting on his mother’s knee.

The star had brought me to Him. He was the end of my journey.

Hetty Stok,

Epiphany, 2019

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