christian

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.

 

 

Categories: Children, christian, Christianity, Faith, Hetty's Devotions, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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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He is in every room of our life.

The following was written by my wife, a Christmas fanatic!

“There’s a Nativity scene in every room of my home,” I tell people at this time of the year.

I am a lover of Christmas. Unashamedly I celebrate the coming of Christ as a babe in Bethlehem. While others complain that putting decorations up in November is too early, I am thinking it’s not early enough. If eating mince pies is a reminder that Jesus came to redeem sinners, then what’s wrong with having them in the shops a week after Easter?

And so I put a Nativity scene in every room.
There are two, side by side, in the front window. They were fashioned in Peru; very simple creations that reflect the people of South America in their look and dress. One sits in a hand shape. On the stable roof of the other a little angel is curled up, asleep, while Mary watches her precious Baby and the wise men clutch their gifts.
I stop to look while I’m rummaging in my bag for the front door key.
Jesus came.

Inside in the hallway there are three wise men standing to attention on the dresser.

nativity

The Nativity

They are candle holders with small candles sticking up out of their crowns.
Surely these visitors to Jesus were always destined to be bearers of the Light. They made their way to Jesus’ side by following a star. They found the Light, did a u-turn, and carried that Light back to the East from where they’d come.
Jesus illuminates.

A few steps further, into the kitchen. Here is my best Nativity scene. It’s a beauty!
A cross-stitched triptych depicting the shepherds, the Holy family, and the Magi, is the backdrop for the corresponding figurines in front. It’s a rich scene. The deep hues of the clothes worn by the characters, the ornate rugs carried by the camel, and the opulent gifts held out to the Newborn are contrasted with the straw I’ve strewn around their legs. I have collected extras for this scene – several animals, an odd assortment of angels – from around the world.
The centre of their attention is Jesus. He lies in the lowly manger with arms outstretched.
Jesus gathers.

In our family room there is another Nativity on the piano. It’s carved from a piece of soapstone. It sits beneath another framed cross-stitch which says “Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”.
The scene is simple. Three characters. One small, small Infant. Yet He is all that the quote from Isaiah declares.
Jesus fulfils.

I go into our bedroom, and there on the mirror hangs another Nativity scene. It comes from Belgium. It is made of lace.
I often notice it while I’m glancing in the mirror before dashing off for the day. “Is my hair okay? Collar straight?”
“Oh look, there’s Jesus…..”
In this scene it’s hard to see all the details unless you come close. Then you see the ox and the donkey, the shape of the manger and the tilt of Joseph’s head. Then you notice the haloes around the faces.
It’s delicate and intricate.
Jesus cares.

Finally the bathroom and yes, there is a Nativity scene in here too. A plain wooden one; one piece. Joseph stands, Mary holds Jesus close to her breast.
It’s on the bench above the washing machine. Today there is a pile of washing in front of it so it’s not easy to spot. A toothbrush, laundry powder and a bottle of moisturiser stand around it like bizarre wise men.

The Holy family are witnesses to the business of a bathroom. It’s not pretty. It’s not clean. But it is the business of cleansing and beautifying. The Son is there in the midst of our muck.
Jesus cleanses.

In January I will move through my home to collect my Nativity scenes. They’ll be carefully wrapped and stored away for the 9 months until early November. Jesus’ life will be compressed into our period of time between then and Easter. His birth, and then His death and Resurrection. Next December we will begin the Advent season again, waiting for Jesus.
But in God’s reality of time, which is ‘time-less’, Jesus never leaves. He never arrives, because He always was. We don’t have to wait, because He is.

He is in every room of our life.

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Christina Rossetti – Christmas

We often think of “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” when we think of Christina Rossetti’s Christmas poems. In fact she wrote many others. The following was written years before “In the Bleak Mid-Winter”.

 

A Christmas Carol

Source: The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, with a Memoir and Notes by William Michael Rossetti (1904)

Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,rossetti
Before the earliest cockcrow
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His Hands had made
Born a Stranger.

Priest and King lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem,
Young and old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem:
Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
Kept a watch together,
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on His Mother’s breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless Lamb of God was He,
Shepherd of the Fold:
Let us kneel with Mary Maid,
With Joseph bent and hoary,
With Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass,
To hail the King of Glory.

26 August 1859

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Be Holy – Be Set Apart

Leviticus 20:26 You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

John 17: 6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

Romans 12:2  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

DSC_1051cropIt has always been difficult for Christians to be ‘in the world but not of it’ simply because holiness is such foreign concept for a broken heart and mind to grasp. And as we have been reminded with the recent 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the medieval church like the rest of us also struggled with undeserved grace – the undeserved love of God which becomes the motivation to  inspire us to grow in holiness. The Christian knows that this too is only possible because the Spirit of God empowers us, and the Word of God guides us, towards an ideal that will not be achieved in our lifetimes.

But this challenge to holiness has clearly been in decline in the church in recent generations. The sexual abuse of children and its concealment by leaders in churches, poor ethical relations towards women, financial impropriety … and sadly the list goes on, has meant that the standing of the church in the Australian community is at an all time low ebb.

One of the consequences has been that many in the community have not even wanted hear any of the positions that Christians may hold on same sex marriage, gender and euthanasia. Our voice has been sullied in the minds of many. So what should Christians do? Shout louder? Demand certain legislation? Put ads in the media?

I passionately believe there are two things that are required. One is a genuine attitude of repentance for having failed our calling – over and over again. We have failed the community in which we live. The people who should have been pointing our neighbours to God have been more interested in protecting their own doubtful reputations and we done the name of God no favours.  The second is that we need to reclaim for ourselves an understanding  and commitment to holiness. This is not spiritual snobbery, or spiritual condescension but in simple terms a reminder that God has  set his people apart to be witness to Him – His holiness, his compassion for broken people and his claims over the hearts and minds of men and women.  If a Christian thinks of him or herself as a vessel for God’s use and purpose in the world, then life takes on a different perspective. It is not about me, but about God. It is not about my reputation but God’s.

Now this many not make us any more popular than we are at present, but it will mean we are becoming the people that God wants us to be. It will also mean that when lives are broken and people are looking for answers they won’t be turned off by the stench of the church. Rather they will come to know there are other broken people who have been discovered by the love God and there is hope and that there are answers – not just for moment, a  day or a life time but for eternity.

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This is another post from my wife reflecting on the struggles of finding a suitable playgroup for our grandson.
Finding a playgroup to take my grandson to has not been easy. It’s also revealed some worrying aspects of how the church sees its role in the world. Let me explain.

I have been involved in many playgroups since I took toddler Jeanette and baby Kathryn to the first in a church hall in Kingston, Tasmania, in 1977. I’ve been both participant and organiser, in both community-run and church-run groups.  So I kind of know what I want for my grandson, and armed with the right questions I picked up the phone. Several churches in our neighbourhood run playgroups so I started with them.
The people I spoke to didn’t know me, I could have been anybody.
Question one: Is your playgroup run by the church? “Well, um, yes, sort of …”
Question two: Is there any Christian content? “What do you mean?”
Question three: Do you talk about God? Do you sing Christian songs, or tell Bible stories? What about saying thanks before snack time?
“Oh no! No, no, no!! I can assure you that we don’t ever do THAT! No, we provide a service to the community, that’s all.”
Okay, so I did fess up and told them that I was a Christian, looking for a playgroup that would help my little grandson explore and enjoy God’s world. I wanted a place filled with adults and kids ready to acknowledge Christ’s Kingship, at least by pausing before snack time, or by telling the story of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. But preferably much more than that.
But then I got an explanation of why they couldn’t do that. “We believe Jesus told us to just love people into the Kingdom.” And “the Bible says they will know we are Christians by our love”.
Church-run playgroups used to excite me. They were urban mission fields. I fear we have forgotten our calling.

Romans 10:14

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
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Bible Black Holes

Another blog post from my wife.

Did you know there are black holes in the Bible? There are mud puddles, canyons, and prickle bushes as well.

I know about these because I tell Bible stories to kids.

Have you ever noticed how many empty spaces there are in Bible stories? For instance, what did Jesus and Zacchaeus discuss over lunch? And what was happening on Easter Saturday?

Try telling these stories to children. They’re not afraid of black holes. They will launch straight into them.
Slimy mud puddles that most Sunday school teachers avoid, such as how Mary got pregnant? Kids will take a running leap into that one.
Tricky prickle bushes that college theologians won’t venture near? No problem for the minds of 5 year olds. A group of preschoolers once explained the Resurrection to me.

Grownups can read the signs at the top of a cliff that say “Don’t go too close to the edge” or “Danger. Unstable cliff edge”, but kids only see an opportunity to explore.
Burning bushes, talking donkeys, floating zoos, miracles…
And the best part is that they will joyfully take the grownups by the hand, if we are willing to let them lead us.

Next time you’re reading your Bible and you find a black hole, find a child to tell the story to. Sit alongside them and wonder together. No space suits, flack jackets, parachutes, or safety harnesses required.

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From Generation to Generation

Another blog post from my wife.

A while ago I found a book in a secondhand shop near our home. It had a title that caught my eye – “Portrait of Jesus” by Alan T Dale. I bought it and put it on my bookshelf, alongside all my precious children’s Bible books.
Recently I took it down and discovered what a true gem it is. But more than that, I found potraits of Jesusone of those award certificates pasted onto the facing page.
Amazingly, I know both the Sunday school student who was given the book 28 years ago, and her teacher.
I held the book open at this page and stared at the names. I could see those women before me. A older woman who encouraged me when I was ministering to the children in our church, and a young lady who gave such dedication and devotion to the children in her care that she was an example to me. And now I was using the book to prepare for another teaching moment.

The older woman happens to be a neighbour, so yesterday I went for a walk, with the book tucked under my arm. She answered my knock on her door, invited me in, and listened as I explained what I’d found. Yes, she remembered her student from 28 years ago.
We sat together marvelling at God’s goodness. He gave all three of us faith. He gave us opportunities to share that faith. He placed us, briefly, in the same time and space so we could encourage each other. And then He sent us onto our next mission.

Here in my hands I hold the testimony to this truth.

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The Prophetic Imagination 

I have just finished reading Walter Brueggemann’s book “The Prophetic Imagination” (1978, revised 2001). From the outset I want to make it clear that I don’t understand all of it.  His descriptions, allusions and theological ideas left me floundering on more than one occasion.  I found his writing style difficult.  Yet, it is one of the most exciting books I had read in recent times.

Breuggemann’s main thesis is that the prophet’s task is to lead the people in the groans and complaints (grieving) over the current order (which he calls the “royal consciousness”) with its lack of compassion, justice and with its propensity for self-justification and  self-preservation. Positively, the prophetic is called to lead the vision and praise for a new kingdom – a new future led by Jesus himself.

Brueggemann takes us on a journey through the Old Testament, from Moses to Solomon and then onto Jeremiah. He explores the idea that the God in the midst of His people in Moses time had been subsumed to the King’s wishes from Solomon onward.  The “Royal consciousness” of Solomon’s kingdom (much like the arrogance of pharaoh’s royal consciousness) had overrun the alternative community inaugurated by Moses when he led the people out of Egypt.  The prophets’ task then was to grieve for that which had been lost and the kingdom’s deathly future and to herald a new possibility.

Brueggemann says much about the grieving of the prophet for the addiction to the culture of death. This resonated with me.  Because we live in a culture of death at present and we,  like many of our fellow citizens, are blinded to its decay and futility.  The powers of our age with their spin, bread and circuses camouflage the fact that our present social order is toxic and deadly.  Even our churches have taken on many of the attributes of royal consciousness in the way they operate.

This book also made me think about so many issues our society faces – refugees, minorities, aborted children, in fact all those dis-empowered and on the fringe.  His solution however is Christ centred. The answer he discovers from Scripture is a real king and a real kingdom that has been inaugurated and that calls its citizens to both grieve for the present but also energize the new.

Brueggemann also reminded me of the “prophetic” element of the Christian’s “prophet, priest and king” calling. There is the challenge for the body of Christ to be far more grief stricken for that is which is unjust, deadly and flawed in our culture and to proclaim and embrace a more Christ-like vision.

Even though this book has been around for a while I believe it has a particular relevance for our present time. And moreover,  you are probably smarter than I am and can even get more out of it.

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