A song

How amazing it will be, when the strife, suffering and violence in this world comes to an end and we are able to rest in the presence of our Lord Jesus.  And how beautiful, that He has disarmed all the violent kingdoms in the world (including our own cruel fiefdoms), not with violence, but with humility and a perfect love that suffers along with us.

One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
         all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
        and to seek Him in his temple.
Psalm 27:4

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Colossians 2:15

And I’ve written a song in response.  Please let me know if you enjoy the words and/or music!

…And apologies if you uploaded it as soon as it was posted- there were a couple of errors in the chords, which I’ve fixed. Ta!

Beauty wins the day

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Keeping your white-collared shirt crime-free

It seems as if at least one regulator always has the opportunity, in the run up to  Christmas, to  grab some HEADLINE about WHITE COLLAR CRIME.  To lob a nice little media release out there about (alleged) corporate  misconduct, just in time for the weekend papers and just in time for the corporate lawyers, in-house and out-of -house, to cancel their European skiing trips.

Last December, the Australian competition regulator filed a court action that alleged a criminal cartel between a big Australian retailer and  some multinationals. It alleged that these  companies  had a secret “Project Mastermind”.  Company reps met (allegedly) to discuss ways to fix the prices of laundry products, and worked together to introduce standardised “ultra concentrate” laundry products.

It’s a shame that the ultra concentrate laundry powder did not do more to keep all the white-collared shirts looking clean.

I have worked as a competition lawyer, and before that, as an investigator for the Australian competition regulator. I am still, always, intrigued by white collar crime.  My YA novel paddled a little in these waters.

 It really seems that people should know better than to get together with competitors to mastermind a market.  In Australia, market sharing and price fixing are criminal offences.  Most big company people, whether in sales or product development or whatever, have had some level of compliance training.  Many of these people would have a technical or legal person sitting in an office down the corridor who is always happy to have a “Can we do this / Why not? / Can we do this other thing? / Why not?” type of discussion with them.

At a law firm I worked at a special t-shirt was made up for our competition law retreat.  The front of the t-shirt had a picture of Adam Smith and this quote:

“people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices”.

I think, perhaps, that regulators are *especially* suspicious where reps of competing firms meet outside company premises to engage in “merriment and diversion”.  This is where my own suspicious imagination runs:

Time to leave for that competitor gathering.  There is some official stuff on the agenda, but other merry and diverting discussions are sure to pop up.  Let’s get  changed out of this suit and slide down the dress code to “business casual.” These chinos and polo shirts and [insert female quivalent here: I was never sure] are so… freeing.  After a couple of drinks the legal and technical guy/dame who lives down the corridor (and who is not invited to this event)  is SUCH fun to joke about.  He/she is always so slow to get with the new product.  So slow that he/she hasn’t worked out that the phrase “Thanks, friend”, is used by the whole team as code for “Can’t you ever give advice that is tailored to the real world?!”  And yes, it’s so fun keeping the “Real World” share drive far, far away from his/her computer…

Perhaps the Adam Smith t-shirt could be compulsory to wear under business suits?  So that his words would always be there, written across the corporate heart. And if the suit was discarded in preparation for a competitor gathering, his eyes would be watching over all the merriment and diversion.

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In 2013 I was excited to discover…

(a) excellent Christian writing about writing;
(b) Christian music that I could play, over and over, without “Christian music fatigue”; and
(c) Christian spiritual memoirs, so good I read them too quickly and need to pay them another, slower, visit.

 

(a) Thank you Bret Lott, for writing so well, and writing so well about writing, and writing so well about being a Christian and writing. You reminded us that Christians writers can and should put effort into creating literary fiction. You reminded us that this fiction will honour the sovereign, supernatural God if it jumps into the messiness AND hope of living.

(b) Thank you Bifrost Arts and the Welcome Wagon. I knew I would find my musical treasure one day. I love these slide guitar pennies more than all the shiny pop coins of Christian music. And Rain for Roots.. I’ve sprinkled this goodness for children into my family and into the lives of a few in my church and playtime group. They’ve enjoyed the rainy goodness too.

 

(c) Thank you Sheridan Voysey, and Carolyn Weber for writing down your lives. Sheridan, for writing so honestly about how you and your wife have continued to grow into God’s love after you gave up your cherished dream.  Carolyn, for writing about how your study of Romantic poetry, and your friendships with real life Christians, dragged you before the truth of the great incarnational Love.

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A song about a kiss

The Bible, it’s a book. It’s a book full of different books, that all fit together into one story. The story of how God loves us, and how God rescues us.

And …you may not know, the Bible is a book that’s full of songs. We have, in the Bible, the book of Psalms. The Psalms are songs. They were sung, long ago, by God’s people. Many of these songs were sung in desperate times, when the people were being captured, enslaved, torn from their homes and sent to distant lands. Many of the songs speak of a deep longing for God’s King to arrive, finally, and put things right.

Today, I would like you to remember one of these old old songs. It’s song about a kiss:

I will listen to what God the Lord will say;
he promises peace to his people, his saints-
but let them not return to foolishness.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Love and Faithfulness meet together;
Right Living and Peace kiss each other.

(Psalm 85:8-10)

God’s people, so long ago, were longing for this kiss to happen. They wanted to see God reach into history and rescue them with a huge kiss. And then they would live forever in a kingdom of right living and peace.

And it happened. We know this from the Bible. Right Living and Peace kissed each other. God rescued his people.

How did it happen? When did it happen?

God loves us so much he sent his son Jesus to earth to be our King. Jesus lived the right way, the perfect way. He obeyed God by getting killed, getting punished so that we would not need to be punished. We can’t live a perfect life. Jesus came to earth to live it for us. So Jesus is our Right Living King.

And Jesus is our King of Peace. His Kingdom of Peace is unfolding every day. We can’t always see it…Life is hard, there is hurt, pain and conflict in our lives and in our friends’ and families’ lives. But through Jesus we can be part of God’s family. Jesus is going to return to earth one day, and all of God’s family will be able to live in perfect peace and happiness under his rule. There will be heaven on earth for God’s people, forever.

So, as you’re walking through the shops and you hear Christmas carols, you can remember that they are songs that celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Right Living King, and the King of Peace. Jesus’ birth is the reason we can sing and celebrate at Christmas, and keep on celebrating forever. Our King has arrived!

Madonna mit Kind (Albin Egger-Lienz, 1921)

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More words

Light
A sweep of molecules
Across my sheet of paper.
Every molecule is
Snippy, meticulous
Ready to cut with a million practised movements
To cut out words from the page
And leave them floating
On the safe harbour of my book.

The light has snipped through to the end of the story.
Yes, that is their teacher on the beach
Cooking breakfast
But the men in the boat, they don’t recognise him
Not yet
They will, soon.

The light of the morning
Will do some more snipping
There’ll be words, and more words.
More words than fish
More words than a fisherman
Can catch before light.

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A prophet, not fallen from the sky

Rocks, rocks and rocks on the Sinai peninsular

We’ve been “doing” the Exodus story at church. Actually, we haven’t got to the exodus bit of Exodus yet. But oh, the backstory! It’s a bit tantalising, really. Moses lives through so many lifetimes before he even gets to the burning bush. And when he arrives at the burning bush, who is he? Is he a solemn, chesty type with a can-do attitude? Heroic and muscular, able to heft stone tablets and run down mountains with ease? Maybe that’s how he ends up. But when he stumbles across a well in the middle of the desert and into into Zipporah’s life, I am thinking that he is probably scrawny, desperate and lost. And when he removes his sandals before the burning bush, he seems reluctant to leave his obscure shepherd life- even when it is God who is calling him to do so.

Anyway, there is lots that I am still curious about… Lots of living between the words of Exodus chapter 2 that Moses didn’t hand down to us as part of the official Exodus story. Maybe I will get a chance to do some research on Moses after I arrive in heaven, even speak to the man himself. Who knows! Maybe someone there will be allowed to write the official prequel(s) to Exodus. There’ll be time, and probably interest.

In the meantime I’m releasing these little question balloons into the theological atmosphere. Let’s look at them as they float away, and wonder where they will end up…

Moses Afloat – The Early Years
Moses’ mother and sister loom large in the early years. What was Moses’ father doing and thinking during this time? Did he know about his wife and the papyrus basket? Did he agree with this Nile plan of action for his son?

How long did Moses’ birth mother look after him? Was it long enough for her to impart to him the story of his rescue? If so, how did Moses feel about being let loose on a big river in a small basket? How did he feel about being a survivor amongst Hebrew boys? Did he feel, even as a child, that he had been set aside by his God or his people for a special role, perhaps a rescuer role?

Was Pharoah’s daughter a good “mother”? Did she let him eat at the table with other family members? Did she respect his Hebrew heritage? Did she like his Hebrew heritage? Was her rescue of Moses a quietly subversive act in the court of Pharaoh?

Fight and Flight
Moses is “grown up” – has he been given any role in Pharaoh’s court, or is he being pushed to the fringes of royal life? When he goes to watch the Hebrews at work, is he already thinking of defecting to their side?

Does Moses know the Hebrews are being oppressed before he goes to watch them? Has he ever witnessed violence before? Does his anger at the beating of a Hebrew by an Egyptian take him by surprise? What angers him most: Egyptian oppression of the Hebrews, or Hebrew-Hebrew conflict? Does the latter shatter an idealised view of working-class Hebrews, held as a counterpoint to his privileged Egyptian upbringing?

Does Moses want to be the leader and judge of the Hebrews at this time? If he wasn’t forced to flee after the murder, would he have tried to integrate himself back into Hebrew society?

Sheep and Romance at the Well
What kind of priest was Moses’ future father-in-law? Did he know about the covenant God made with Abraham? Did he think his family were covenant people?

What made the girls at the well identify Moses as an Egyptian? Did he have an accent, clothes or or a “look”? Did they see him as a hero, or as a crazed loner, perhaps capable of violence?

Was Moses famous- did his new family know some of his story already? Did his father-in-law suspect who he was from the beginning? Did the family regret their welcome (and perhaps the offer of marriage) after finding out Moses was a murderer?

Did Moses find his shepherd life too lonely and quiet, or was it a relief? Did he actually like being “an alien in a foreign land”? Perhaps this was better than feeling like an alien in the land you grew up in; and/or feeling like an alien amongst your own people?

What is Moses thinking as he tends sheep and looks at rock, rocks and rocks? Is he hoping to anchor his life in comfortable obscurity, or is he plotting some form of “return”?

***
It’s just as well that bush starts burning.

Praise God for rescuing, calling and forming such a great prophet.

Moses- himself allowed to help rescue, call and form a people who belonged to God.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt- to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no-one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
Deuteronomy 34:10-12

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Hometime

On Saturday some little girls (my two eldest) and some big girls (me and my mum) caught the bus into town, and walked to the Opera House. A sparkly winter day, cold in the shadow of office buildings, bright and hot along the edge of the harbour. And we saw a play, a short beautiful lyrical clever tender play.  There were two actors, shadow puppets, miniature figures, humour, a lot of energy, and gentle observations of life, living and death.

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Miss Ophelia, a Het Filiaal production

MIss Ophelia, an old lady who can only whisper, becomes the secret “go-to” person for desperate, unattached shadows.  The kindness she shows by letting these shadows hide in her brown handbag reaps its own wonderful rewards.  The quiet lady who loves theatre but has no voice for the stage, becomes famous after all.

And finally…Miss Ophelia sees the shadow of death.  She finds herself in a different, wonderful place.  The shadows are there to welcome her.  In fact, they are no longer shadows, but beautiful shining things.  Miss Ophelia is dancing with them!

This play is based on a German children’s book, not currently available in English translation.  It’s so rare to find children’s stories that deal with the afterlife, that move beyond a “happily ever after”.  No-one, of course, has a happily ever after, not even those born into royalty.  The beauty of this story is its baptism of an ordinary quiet life, and the realisation that death cannot take away that life’s meaning- in fact death allows Miss Ophelia to enter another reality and truly come into her own.

At the end of the play my girls queued up to receive their special craft kit (a brown handbag / shadow theatre), and I was crying.  Tears of sadness and joy… at a real person, a friend, who has recently travelled on past death and on to another place.

This video was played on Friday, at my friend Rebecca’s funeral.  Rebecca is missed by her husband and two little girls, and by so many others who enjoyed her kind and generous spirit.  But there is no doubt that her life was baptised by God:  it was full of joy, and full of the certainty of God’s goodness, even when she was in the grip of a painful disease.

Thank you God, that you wrote Rebecca’s story, that you know her so intimately, and that you love her so much.  Thank you that you have welcomed her to her true home. 

 

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Saved, assuredly so

On the fourth night of every week, Pete’s dad gave an important talk in front of a bonfire in the amphitheater, and afterward lots of campers always accepted Christ… Kids were filled with the Spirit, which made them stare and quiver and confront their friends with divine messages… The first time he saw a fourth-night bonfire, he wondered whether he was really saved, because no such thing had ever happened to him, and later he asked Jesus into his heart again just to make sure. After a while he decided that things were different for him because of his dad.  Maybe his revelation was spread out over his whole life, a little at a time, so that it never seemed like a big deal.

                Mary Kenagy, Loud Lake.
In Bret Lott (editor), The Best Christian Short Stories.

 

 

Stop asking Jesus Into Your Heart. The title will either intrigue you… or put you off.  If you are feeling put off, perhaps the  book’s subtitle will draw you in: How to Know For Sure You Are Saved.  If the subtitle doesn’t appeal, perhaps the fact that you can tell your friend who knows a lot about theology that you are reading a nice little book on the doctrine of assurance might do the trick.

J.D. Greear of this book reckons that, by the time he was eighteen years old, he had probably “asked Jesus into his heart” five thousand times, and prayed the sinner’s prayer at least once in every denomination.  And each time he “gained a little assurance”, he would feel compelled to get re-baptised. But no matter what he did, he could not shake the fear that he was going to hell. Did I really feel sorry enough for my sin? Did my life change enough after I asked Him into my heart? Did I understand enough about Jesus, or my sin, or grace, when I prayed? Were there other areas of rebellion I was unaware of?

Greear came to realise that he was scared because he held the wrong picture of God and Jesus.  He had imagined Jesus standing before God begging for mercy, or leniency, on his behalf.  Please God, just give this guy one more chance.  However, the truth is that Jesus does not need to appeal to God for mercy on anyone’s behalf:  Jesus has already satisfied all the claims against us by dying on the cross.

Salvation comes not because someone has prayed a prayer correctly, but because they lean the hopes of their soul on the finished work of Christ.  Jesus has paid for all our sins: not an ounce of judgment remains. We do not have to beg for mercy or prove that we deserve a second chance. Jesus in my place. The essential, amazing message of the gospel. Woohoo!!

So…you can rest totally in Christ.  And there is no concern if you haven’t had a dramatic conversion experience, or don’t remember the first time you believed (e.g. if you grew up in a Christian home).  There is no need to analyse the authenticity of a past prayer, experience or ceremony.  The important thing is that you continue in your current posture of repentance and belief.

The section I found helpful (albeit very short) was Leading My Kids to Jesus. Little children, of course, are capable of real faith. But there may be situations in which a child “prays the prayer” more to make their parents happy, than as an expression of their actual faith in Christ.  How can parents be passionate demonstrators of faith to their children, and at the same time avoid manipulating their children into saying or doing things that they may not (yet) understand?  Greear emphasises that it’s never to young to begin trusting in and surrendering to Jesus. So- teach your children, all along the way, to be surrendered towards Jesus and believing in what He said He accomplished.  Present Jesus as Lord.  Even if a child does not yet grasp all that salvation entails, a parent can encourage them in the appropriate posture towards Christ from the beginning: repentant and believing.  And how wonderful if that child grows up without an exciting testimony- if they grow up in the light, always aware of the Lordship of Jesus, believing that He did what He said He did.

The section I didn’t like so much was Appendix 1, where Greear outlines situations in which (he thinks) a believer ought to consider re-baptism (e.g. pressure by parents at the time of the first baptism).  This checklist seems to convey the idea of baptism as a performance before God, something that is necessary to “get right” or do again.  But this is a minor quibble vis-a-vis the helpfulness of the main book (and it’s an appendix- you may not even get to it).

This small, intimate book is very encouraging.  Ultimately, God does not want believers to have any doubt that they are saved.  The Bible tells us so:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

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Welcome to almost mid-February

Farewell to January 2013 . January, when I wrote my first calendar entries neatly,  in the same coloured pen.  Wondered what the year would hold. Farewell to this land of empty calendar spaces.  Farewell to a time of dreaming, a time of possibility.

Welcome, already, to February 2013.  Welcome to February 11, 2013.  Welcome, almost, to mid February 2013.

Sometimes it feels like I am so busy joining the dots on my calendar that I am missing something, missing the bigger picture.  And sometimes I think, IS there a bigger picture? And if there is, am I meant to see it?

It’s good to know I am not alone in this:

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil- this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure for ever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

 Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.

(Ecclesiastes 3: 9-15)

There is frustration here.  We know that the world is big. Bigger than us, bigger than our calendar.  Bigger than all our calendars put together, bigger even than the church roster. But we will never be able to understand things as clearly as God.

We can see beauty around us, minute to minute.  But we can’t add up those minutes into something that equals the meaning of the universe.   We have eternity in our hearts.  We want to understand more, because we know that there is so much more to things than the here and now.  We want to know that the effort we put into things has meaning, a point.

The writer of Ecclesiastes knew that there was a God in charge of time and history.  We are privileged to know more than this writer; we know that God has broken into history.  Jesus, the Son of God, has  become King of all history and all time through his death and resurrection. There will be eternal, abundant life for all Jesus’ followers.  It’s His kingdom that we’re helping to usher in.  This is what colours our world with new meaning:

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

(1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

Jesus is the King, He’s defeated death.  He’s liberated us from the power of the law too.  We don ‘t need to do anything to meet our own standards of goodness, busyness or respectability.  Or other people’s standards.

It’s not about us anymore.  It’s about being ambassadors for the King, rolling out the red carpet for Him.  It’s about looking forward to Jesus’ second coming, when He comes in full glory and power. Looking forward to the time when there will be feasting and joy in His presence.  It’s about all the work we can throw ourselves into now, to advance Jesus’ kingdom as it breaks into the world.

We are assured that our work is meaningful. Because our labour is in the Lord, and it is not in vain.

Dear Lord Jesus

 You are the forever King.
 You are King of history and time
Over each breath, each life,
Over all cultures, all eras.

Thank you
That even though you are infinite
You chose to break into our history
To come into our misery
To journey to the centre of our heartbreak
You died, because you loved us. 

Help us to welcome you gladly
Into our lives
Into the life of our church, our community, our country,
Into every bit of our world -
Your world.

Amen

 

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The Hammer of God

The Hammer of God was written more than half a century ago by Bo Giertz, a Swedish bishop, and is set in rural Sweden. It contains three linked stories of young pastors serving the same parish at different times – in the early 1800s, later 1800s, and the 1940s. The stories are far away in time and space, but they are gripping and relevant. They show the kind of wonky thinking that can pop up anywhere where faith latches onto anything other than Jesus. The stories also show the dangers of taking pride in being the keeper of a more “authentic” Christianity than those around you.

The first pastor repents of the shallow and flippant way he has lived his life, only to fall into a legalistic thinking that demands that repentance be accompanied by plain clothing and temperance. He comes to hate the judgmental eye he casts over his congregation- how can they sing so joyously in church when the next day they will fall back into wretchedness, cursing and quarreling! Why couldn’t he see a resounding victory over sin, in the lives of others, in his own life? It is a relief when this pastor realises that one can receive forgiveness without making atonement for sins through sorrow or self-betterment. Grace, unmerited!

The stories are thoughtful reflections on the nature of the relationship between a pastor and his flock. In some situations a pastor is humbled by the godly example of a parishioner. At other times, a pastor is subjected to public humiliation, and painful division in his congregation. The second pastor is disheartened when the fervour of a “revival” starts to taper off, and starts to torture himself with the thought that the lag in revival might be his fault or failure. His epiphany comes when he realises that he has lost sight of Jesus, and has been flogging himself along a way of obedience that has no end:

“The conscience, our own anxiety, and all the slaves to the law bid us go the way of obedience to the very end in order to find peace with God. But the way of obedience has no end. It lies endlessly before you, bringing continually severer demands and constantly growing indebtedness. If you seek peace on that road, you will not find peace, but the debt of ten thousand talents instead. But now Christ is the end of the law; the road ends at his feet, and here his righteousness is offered to everyone who believes. It is to that place, to Jesus only, that God has wanted to drive you with all your unrest and anguish of soul.”

This novel was a great reminder that there is nothing we can do to be saved: we have nothing to offer God at the foot of the cross, because he has already offered everything on our behalf! We are privileged to believe all, and be saved, and in amongst our everyday realities the Holy Spirit helps us in the battles against sin- gently, little by little.
Gamla_uppsala_kyrka

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