Posts Tagged With: Christianity

O God Our Help in Ages Past

A reflection by Hetty

O God, our Help in ages past

Our Help for years to come.

Our Shelter from the stormy blast, and our Eternal Home.

I am a small girl, sitting on a hard wooden 1950s school desk.

High above the blackboard is a wedge shaped speaker, and out of the speaker comes a crackly, church organ led version of this hymn.

It’s Anzac Day.

A familiar tune that I only heard once a year in the same place at the same time. At first it was the melody that gave me comfort and peace. Every year I forgot, and then I heard it again and my soul remembered. I sat in that new classroom, one year older, and let the notes cascade over me, swirling around me, enveloping me.

Then I began to listen to the phrases. And in my young mind I joined the words to my life. Our help, my help. Ages past, my past.

There was only one event in my past. My father died. Whatever else had happened meant nothing to me. It loomed large whenever I glanced back and it touched everything that was now.

I let these thoughts skitter across my consciousness and then they disappeared until next Anzac Day.

Next Anzac Day. I was in high school now. No speakers on the wall, we were all in the quadrangle with the principal on a platform leading the service. We had sheets with the words of the hymns, and there it was – my hymn.

I stared at the words:

Our help, ages past. Our Hope, our Shelter.

Stormy blasts.

There was something I’d never noticed before. Our shelter from the stormy blasts. I’d certainly known some of those in my ages past. Oh, I knew it was meant to conjure images of soldiers hunkered down in trenches while bullets and explosions rained down on them. But I also knew the hunkering down I’d done while the circumstances of my life exploded around me.

Our Shelter, my Shelter.

My family began to attend a different church. Now we had a service every week and a hymn book in the pew. The services were long but the hymn book was a source of entertainment for a young girl with a good imagination. I silently read through the wedding vows at the back, choosing two random people in the congregation to marry. I read through the alphabetical index and the topical index and anything else I could find in that book.

And then I found it! My Anzac Day hymn.

There were more verses that I’d never known!

“Under the shadow of thy throne,

Thy saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is thine arm alone,

And our defense is sure.”

I hummed the tune under my breath as I read the words.

Here was the perfect marriage of my comforting tune and these life affirming words on the page before me.

I knew this. I’d lived this.

“Before the hills in order stood,

Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting thou art God,

To endless years the same.”

Did it matter that I’d lived through stormy blasts? Did it matter that more stormy blasts would be coming my way in the future? Not when I had the assurance of a eternal, everlasting Shelter.

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly, forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the opening day.”

This morning I woke up singing my Anzac Day hymn. Much time has rolled on since I sat staring at the speaker above the blackboard. They fly, forgotten, as a dream.

But Thou……our Guide, and our Eternal Home. My Eternal Home.

Categories: Christianity, Faith, Hetty's Devotions, hymns, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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

 

Categories: Advent, christian, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Categories: Bible, christian, Christianity | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Encountering Jesus

In this post modern, post Christendom, society the amazing truth that comes from being placed in an albergue on the Camino is that people are 1. Spiritual and 2. Searching. The spirituality comes in all shapes and sizes: karma, self improvement, a vague search for the meaning of life (and 42 isn’t the answer!) remnants of Christian faith and combination of all of the above. There are some, but not many, who come with a real living conviction of the Christian faith. The searching usually comes in the form of the idea, that by walking and being alone, we can find some meaning -usually a forlorn hope. Apart from blisters and sunburn, there is a certain level of physical fitness and weight loss that may occur, but without an encounter with truth, not much else.

The aim at our albergue is to introduce people to the love of Christ in a practical way (ie foot baths, drinks, meals bed and etc.) but also to be open and gentle to their spiritual needs by listening, guiding and challenging them with the love and truth of Jesus Christ. This is done through casual conversations (often initiated by the pilgrims themselves because we don’t hide our faith) and through a “Jesus meditation” after which people can stay, ask questions and respond.

In a cynical age I have been astounded how willing people have been to ask questions about faith and belief and how open they are to the person of Jesus. The group that gets the most negative reaction from the pilgrims is the institutional church and not any particular brand either. In our brief moment with the pilgrims we focus on Jesus and community and then hope and trust that the Holy Spirit has other people and circumstances to guide them as they continue on their journey of life.

Categories: Camino, Christianity | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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.”

Categories: christian, Christianity | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Madrid and Mission part 2m

As I have mentioned previously, Hetty and I are contemplating “mission” as I come to the close of my paid working life. What should/could it look like? Where? How? Why? Questions come pouring out every time we consider it.

We started thinking about Spain many years ago when a man offered me a tract in Guell Park in Barcelona. I dismissively said that I couldn’t read Spanish. He replied, “I have one in Eengleesh sir.” I had to take it then. Later when I looked at it I found that it came from an evangelical group in Barcelona. I returned to the man, told him that I was a Christian, thanked him and said I would pray for Christianity in Spain. We have prayed for Spain ever since and when we visit I make it a practice to visit churches and pray for the leaders and congregatIon.

Spain has been in our hearts ever since. We return when we can, we pray for it often and we find there is a draw that is greater than the food, climate and culture. We like the people. There are problems however; the biggest being that we don’t speak Spanish beyond “tapas”, “queso” and “paella.”

So we are at the point now of badgering God about the meaning of all this. We have discovered that there are many vibrant Christians seeking a renewal/revival in Spain. Our question: is there a role for us in this?

Plaza Espana on a Sunday afternoon

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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.

Categories: christian, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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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Biblical Literacy … again

While listening to the radio the other day I heard an artist lament the lack of art history knowledge among art students today. He decried the lack of historical reference markers that enabled an intelligent discussion of art and its presentation in today’s society. Students had no knowledge of the historical scaffolding upon which they were trying to present their artistic expression.

This is also a good metaphor for biblical and theological discussions today. In the wall to img_1469wall debates we are currently hearing on the radio, TV and internet with regard to same sex marriage I am astounded at the lack of biblical literacy by those representing various iterations of the church. The lack of understanding of Christianity’s foundational text, a poor comprehension of Church history and thoroughly shoddy theology leaves one aghast at those representing and giving voice to many denominations in Australia today.

 

I am not alluding to disagreements about what the text means. That has always been an issue within the church and between denominations. My beef is more about the manner in which the Bible is used and abused. Issues such as the nature of the Old Testament, different genres within the Bible, the meta narrative that holds the Bible together and so on are so often missing in action.

The consequence is that we hear phrases like “I feel” or “the vibe” of the Bible/text/book. The subjectivity within discussions is quite alarming. The over arching idea presented in many of these debates is that we can make the Bible say anything we want it to say. Worse still, we read the Bible through the lens of the spirit of our age rather than asking what God’s message and intention is for our times.

If churches are to learn anything from our current discussion I think there can be no better lesson than to return to a serious and intentional study of God’s Word. Maybe that is the Reformation needed today.

 

Categories: Bible, Christianity, Church, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 7 Comments

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