Faith

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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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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Secular Shariah Law

Hands are are thrown up in horror when people suggest Shariah law may become part of Western democracies with the influx of Muslim migrants and refugees. But I would suggest that there is another Shariah law of which we need to be even more wary.  Slowly over the last decade or so Australia has descended into a state of political correctness and the problem exists for those who may not agree with aspects of that correctness. The nature of ‘political correctness’ is that if you don’t agree you must be ‘incorrect’. The consequences: you become the object of social bullying and ostracised.

One may struggle with the idea of same sex marriage, current views on gender, child rearing and a whole host of other concepts. The problem is that if you don’t agree with the pc majority you and your views are considered unworthy of social acceptance or tolerance. In other words we have entered an era of secular shariah law. Or using a Henry Ford analogy you can have any colour T model ford as long as it is black. Other views are not permitted. If one doesn’t hold the view of the majority in the area of ethics and morality one gains pariah status.

At the heart of a vibrant democracy we need to be able to discuss and debate views in which worldviews encounter each other and can be weighed up. Even in the Cold War era Australia was wise enough not to ban communism. Yet that style of openness has been eroded. Only particular voices are now considered worthy to be listened to. Ironically even media articles arguing for tolerance are intolerant of discordant voices. Most disturbing is that one’s conscience can no longer be a reason for disagreement. The secular Shariah police will ensure that.

And that is the aspect that bothers me most. I understand and accept that with changing social mores many people, indeed most people, won’t agree with me but now, increasingly, many of us are being forced to agree or at least submit to the edicts of the secular Shariah law whether we like it or not.

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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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Has Jesus left the Church?

I have deliberately made the title vague. It can be taken in a number of ways.

I have just been observing the lead up to Christmas and Christmas itself in Europe. In some places like Seville there was a Christmas market which only sold items for nativity sets. In another few markets I could have bought gloves, scarves and solar panels to do me for a few lifetimes. There has been a mixture of the sacred and secular. All in all, the secular wins.

But Christmas is only a microcosm of society’s attitude to faith and religion in general. So little of the Christ of Christmas remains but that is true of life in general.

So has Christ left the church, in the sense that even the church has left the Christ of Christmas tucked away in some small corner? We sing the carols, attend church for the one time in the year but they are empty tokens. How many sermons were preached this Christmas that declared a radical Christ who introduced a new kingdom through his own death and resurrection? How many sermons declared Christ’s own words, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” That politically incorrect statement comes from the Messiah and is unpopular in many churches today. The cute baby in in a feed trough is easier to speak about and certainly less confronting.

But there is an even scarier perspective. Christ withdrawing himself, not unlike the Shekinah leaving the temple in Ezekiel. Christ leaving because the people who bear his name do do so thoughtlessly. I know he says in Matt 28 that he will be with his disciples to the end of the age but that was on the basis of their continued faith (not perfection).

The radical Christ, the counter cultural Christ, the Christ of a new and everlasting kingdom, the Christ who purchased the lives of his people on the cross and is now preparing a place in eternity for them, the Christ who dwells in his people through the Holy Spirit, the Christ who fought injustice and prejudice, the Christ who tells us that this life is only a brief pilgrimage … He is so hard to find in many churches and many western lives. Alas in my own life.

Has Jesus left the church? Only if we, his representatives on earth, have left him. In our syncretititic and politically correct age we need need to have the courage of the one who gave us his name to stand up to the culture and attitudes of our age and reveal how amazing his message really is. This Christmas have we been overawed and amazed that God became one of us because He loved us so much? Have we been humbled by his claim on our lives? Are we rejoicing in the revelation of His kingdom?

 

A nativity scene in a side chapel at Caen Cathedral

  

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Preparing Christian Young People for the Future

As a homeroom teacher who has a group of students for three years from year 10 to year 12, one of the topics that constantly exercises my heart and mind is, how do I prepare my students for the rapidly changing future?  After taking the roll and making the daily announcements, what do they need to hear from me that will assist them, not just for a school day – but for eternity?  I would love to hear from other Christian teachers.

I have a few basics:

The Bible needs to be a constant reference, and prayer is essential. My own example is important because if I don’t walk the talk then anything I say is made void. But that is just the beginning.

Picture 566The anchor must be a regular and ongoing reference to Scripture and its overarching story of redemption with coming of the king and his promised return to fulfill his kingdom plans. This vision of a place in the Kingdom, I believe, must underpin everything I say and do.  It is the foundation.  Regular communication with this personal God is the next layer.  However, the next step is crucial. How do these two underpinnings apply on an ongoing daily basis as these young people prepare for their future? This future, as every adult knows, will have twists and turns, pains and joys – incredible highs but also incredible lows.

Recently we have been exploring the lives of Christians in predominantly non -Christian and often persecuted cultures.  Our children need to know that in the history of the church, Christianity has not always been part of the dominant culture. In fact it has been at its best when marginalised and persecuted. The history of God’s people from OT Exile through to the early church and beyond has revealed the amazing story of God and his kingdom, in the darkest of times. Not knowing the future, my students still need to know that a personal God has his children’s future in His hand.

My students also need to know how the story ends. There isn’t any doubt where the victory lies and who has the victory.  But in the meantime there is work to do as we prepare for the return of the King.

Year 10 students are by their very nature idealistic.  This idealism is a wonderful trait as it can enable them to develop Christlike eyes for the world.  How does Jesus look at injustice, asylum seekers, the poor distribution of resources, persecution, pain suffering and … so on. A year 10 student doesn’t have that hardened adult cynicism but rather looks for the possibilities – possibilities we need to encourage and not stifle.

Our students need to have a vision of hope. In a materialistic and often hopeless or directionless world I need to pick out perspectives of hope: hope for their own heart and lives, hope for the possibilites as they serve their God, and hope for change that is empowered by God himself – change in themselves, others and the world in which they live.

I would love to hear what other Christian teachers do to encourage their students vision for the future – a future that is anchored outside themselves in the God who reveals himself in creation and especially, Scripture.

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Teddy and Opa

I am still surprised by my own thoughts, feelings and behaviours at times. So the other day when our first grandchild was born I was surprised by the overwhelming surge of emotion that swept over me. When my wife contacted me with the news there was that mixture of tears, choking and adrenalin – all the more embarrassing because I was trying to teach at the time!  I knew this was exciting but Teddy’s arrival was more than that. For a moment I was taken back 40 years when our first child was born. The red hair, once again, took my breath away. The miracle of new life enthralled me all over again. I remembered that mixture of anticipation and fear. Then I was a new dad now I am a new granddad.

I have had to wait a long time for this moment so for just that reason alone Teddy’s birth was very special. Untangling all the emotions is a bit like trying to roll up a ball of wool after the cat has got at it. There is just so much going through my heart and head. On one side you know the

Teddy and Opa

Teddy and Opa

sleepless nights that the new parents will go through; the tiredness but that is outweighed by the enlargement of the family – a new person, a new personality that shares some of the parent’s but then makes it his own.  There will be diamonds and coal  – the good days and bad. There will be the accidents and illnesses but also the achievements. Life is dangerous but also exciting.

As a parent the greatest joy is being able to share with your child the story of faith; the story of God who not only created you but loves you with this amazing love.  For me, that part of my daughter and son in law’s journey will be the most important and exciting one.  There will be all the amazing “firsts”  – tooth, step, mum, dad … opa, supergran.  But ultimately these pale when a young heart comes to know their God personally.

I love you Rosey, Paul and Theodore – may God bless this new stage of your life with His amazing grace!

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Fences: of God or Man?

We like to categorise. Put things in baskets. Label. It makes life so much easier. In Christian circles we have this advanced grid at work. Catholic – Protestant. Once we have chosen that basic category, then in the Protestant section we then select the denomination. And then what end of the spectrum: Liberal – conservative. We fine tune: Adult baptism – paedobaptism. Creationist – evolutionist. And if a creationist – what sort? A clever person could make a flow chart of all these distinctions and many many more. It is a trick we use to enable us to place everyone on the faith map somewhere and have likeminded people around ourselves.

I sometimes wonder what it was like a few years after the last apostle had died. John was gone, now what? We have to think for ourselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. No more letters to or from Paul. No flying visits from those who had personally known Christ. Now the early church had to live the gospel by themselves (and I am not forgetting the Holy Spirit). The Word still needed to be applied, lived, meditated upon in this volatile Roman world but without some of the human reassurances.

FountainsNot much different to today really. But now after 2000 years we have these categories – measuring sticks and safety alarms (like my trusty Calvinometre – which measures how far someone is from a Calvinist position on any topic). My question is: How helpful are our categories in enabling and empowering us to understand how the gospel needs to be radically (from the root) lived in 2015? Does it blind us to what the Word may be saying to us today. My nagging suspicion is that it does.

Does that mean we accept all views? Of course not. Paul and John warned of false teachers. But then again, in 2000 years we have built some human fences that may no longer be helpful.

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Pilgrims in a Foreign Land

Pilgrim

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My Friend Johan

When I was regularly writing for a church newsletter I had a “friend” whom I used to illustrate points – usually negative ones. “Johan vander Bakslijder” was my fictional creation who was involved in things that one hoped that the congregation wasn’t – even though I knew that some were. It was a way of raising issues without accusing people directly and without making the climate too uncomfortable.

But if the truth be known, often Johan’s struggles mirrored mine. In fact there is a bit of Johan or his wife Johanna in each one of us.

We Christians are a fragile lot. I am fragile. How often I am disappointed with a sharp undisciplined word that comes from my mouth, or a sudden rise in temperature when  my toes are trodden on … or an improper thought inveigles itself  into my mind. Daily through my foolishness I am reminded that God’s grace needs to be my constant companion. He needs to look at me through His “Christ coloured glasses” or else I would be in deep trouble.

But not only do I need that grace but also the people around me – people whom too often I am tempted to judge. People who have not encountered Jesus. People who also need to know that their brokenness can be forgiven and dealt with. Who is going to tell them or show them unless it is “Johan” or “Johanna” who can attest to the joy of having been forgiven and who continue to be forgiven daily despite their failings.

 

 

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