Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is there anything sadder?

It was troubling to read about a Pastor who committed suicide while his 800 member church family awaited his arrival.  Suicide is devastating at all times.  In this instance a calamity seems to have preceded the suicide.  That earlier calamity is perhaps sadder than the suicide.

Free and unattributable

A long-time clerical friend of the pastor who committed suicide identified how difficult it is for a pastor to find a fellow pastor as an accountability partner:

“Every pastor needs a pastor to kind of lead and guide them. But it’s hard for us to really find that relationship because often pastors are trying to compete with or cremate you. And so it’s difficult to find camaraderie”

There is a tragedy here in the two extremes “compete or cremate”.

It is very healthy for a pastor to have a fellow to share with.  Downloading matters of concern to a proficient other can be done confidentially and respectfully.  It can lead to prayer, growth and spiritual support.  Sharing may arise from stressors of administration or stressors of problematic congregants.  To quote a popular maxim: ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’.  Some denominations mandate that pastors have an accountability partner, others actively promote the notion.

It is a catastrophic that pastors perceive rivalry between each other (“compete”), or perceive that the rivalry sets to spoil each other’s work (“cremate”).  The harvest field is huge and the Lord’s work aplenty.  Accordingly, all in ministry should actively encourage one another and take gladness first in the fulfilment of God’s glory.

It is the undesired intrusion of the world into clerical careers that proliferates the two extremes of “compete or cremate”.  Pastors need put aside notion of reward in this life for the bountiful reward that awaits them eternally in God’s presence.

Shalom,
Ozhamada

For crisis support: www.lifeline.org.au, phone: 13 11 14

Monday, November 2, 2015

Genderless beings


Truth is often dismissed as substantive fact of argument or sundry fact of argument.  For instance, a five year old boy may deny playing in mud when caught by mum even where his skin and clothing is baked in mud (substantive fact).  Years later the same lad grown into a husband may defend his lateness home blaming the hopelessness of public transport (sundry as he was late before he boarded the transport).

It is perhaps no surprise then that in electronic chatter following a piece in favour of samesex marriage that someone had identified homo sapiens as “genderless beings”. 

The contributor of “genderless beings” was biologically beset with gender - a hard truth, the mud on the five year old boy’s clothes if you like – yet somehow they see mankind as “genderless”!.  The contributor’s chromosomal make-up is gender specific.  By interpretation of certain bodily features their mother, doctors and nurses within the birthing suite could immediately identify them at birth as male or female.  Such record was attested upon their birth certificate.  Chances are that within three hours of birth their mother was dressing them as pink for girl or blue for boy.  Within four years of birth they were probably registered for a single gender private school.  If the baby is a boy Dad probably formed ambitions of them playing in the baggy green, if the baby is a girl Mum probably thought of years due to be spent at ballet & netball, a white church wedding and grandchildren.

Presumably, it is convenient to the same sex marriage debate to consider people as genderless.  One who is genderless has a different lens from which to view marriage.  A genderless being can dismiss the definitional issue of marriage as say being between man and a woman as concepts such as “man” and “woman” are not derived from some hard biological truth but from perhaps a social assignment factor.  Consequently, they say, let marriage arise between man and man, or between woman and woman, as they are only titles that such people have elected for themselves.  Further to this thinking is to assume mankind to be classification free amongst all the animals.  From such precept man marrying his horse, or woman marrying her dog, becomes an easy leap in thinking.

“Genderless beings” falters from a biological perspective yet it is also a stretch when thought of in terms of social assignment.  Amongst those who practice homosexuality there is pride in being a man, or being a woman, or indeed in being transgender (a term which perhaps ironically is a recognition of gender).  In some instances subset roles within womanhood are practiced amongst those in lesbian relationships, that is, they acknowledge their womanhood yet play a role within their gender. 

So, it is a struggle to think a person genderless either at birth or by social assignment.  Those who were socially conditioned (such as a boy who left hospital wearing pink and raised as a girl) will nonetheless identify with some notion of gender.  It is not implausible to conquer any conditioning and live according to their gender.

God established man and woman (Genesis).  Accordingly, God has imprinted the muddy imprint of gender deep into each person’s biology.  So, let’s not allow the phrase “genderless beings” into the same sex marriage debate.

Shalom,
Ozhamada

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Blushing brides and grooms

The 2015 Anglican Diocese of Sydney Synod considered marriage. Specifically, Synod has affirmed marriage as between a man and a woman.  The affirmation comes at a time when Australian legislation will plausibly be amended to broaden the definition of marriage.

unattributable
The Anglican Diocese's action is timely and prudent, however, has the church let its guard down on marriage long before the current same-sex union push?

There is a gap between two important Australian marriage statistics.  For 2013, 77% of couples cohabit prior to marriage and 73% of marriages are conducted by civil celebrants (statistics from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3310.0). 

For 2015, 81% of couples cohabit prior to marriage and 75% of marriages are conducted by civil celebrants (statistics from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3310.0)

An inference from these statistics is that a minimum of 6% (2015) of marriages are in respect:

- cohabiting couples,

- who marry in a church.

(Up from 4%, 2015)

Cohabiting would generally be evident to the minister of religion during wedding preparation. Presumedly, the minister would terminate the offer of his services. Some ministers are clearly letting cohabitating couples through (intentionally, or perhaps by failure of filtering).

Many white church weddings must have blushing brides!

Shalom,
Ozhamada

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Yahweh-Rapha








Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Matthew 6

The Bible identifies many names of God.  Yahweh-Rapha, The Lord that heals, from Exodus 15:26, is one of the names.  God heals the body - from the ravages of disease, and heals the soul - by forgiving sin.
creative commons, attribution unneccessary

Tonight, God's name is hallowed.  News has come through of a miraculous answer to prayer. 

Yahweh-Rapha listens.  Yahweh-Rapha heals.

A young child who has not reached the age of five was recently admitted through a Sydney hospital's emergency ward two months ago.  The admission came as a result of the child being unable to control their legs.  The child is a family member - a distant family member, connected via in-laws, but a family member nonetheless.  The diagnosis was in respect to an inoperable tumour that was strangled around a vital body centre.  Doctors were at a loss to offer any more than months to live.  To compete the story let's call the child Sam (a suitably vague name that leaves you guessing as to the child's gender).

Sam's treatment included an induced coma and radiotherapy.  There were many bleak moments. Coming out from the coma, Sam initially could not speak or swallow, nor walk.

Prayer was called for. Much prayer. Yahweh-Rapha healed.  Sam is running, jumping, talking and playing.  The tumour is not gone and further treatment is required, yet Sam is back to enjoying a fairly full life.

And the prayer and Christian support has been a huge witness.  Sometimes doing the gospel is necessary before the gospel can be preached.

Spare a moment to pray for Sam if you can. Yahweh knows who Sam is!

Shalom,
Ozhamada 


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Crave solid food, not milk

Have Bankwest, an Australian bank, transgressed an important principle of effective advertising? When advertising it is critical that the attention of members of the target audience is gained. 



A media release from the bank introduces the new face of its marketing campaign, John McEnroe, a former tennis champion:





“Tennis legend John McEnroe has entertained fans the world over with his on-court talent, antics and heated temper - memories which will be revived as he stars in a new national marketing campaign for Bankwest.”

The bank is using McEnroe – known for his argumentative personality – as a way of presenting their product as one that is trouble free to the consumer:



“John McEnroe is notorious for his tantrums and argumentative personality which emerged when he was the world’s number one tennis player," Bankwest Customer Communications and Brand General Manager, Paul Vivian said.



“If we can make banking simpler for John McEnroe, we should be able to do so for any customer."




So why do I question Bankwest’s advertising as a matter of principle of effective advertising? Simply, that McEnroe retired from competitive tennis in 1992 – a time before many of Bankwest’s potential teenage customers and customers in their twenties were born!  Even a thirty year old, say a person born 1985, would struggle to meaningfully associate McEnroe.  To choose a face for marketing that is unknown, or irrelevant, to approximately a third of your market seems odd. 




As odd as Bankwest’s appeal to the market seems, I've expereinced worse at a local institution.  An Anglican church, part of the conservative Sydney Diocese, which I happened upon one recent Sunday, had used Eugene Peterson’s ‘The Message’ for one of its Holy Scripture readings. The church has adopted a mystic air by proposing that congregants close their eyes as ‘The Message’ is read.  It was suggested that closed eyes ensured absorption of the poetry of the reading.




Readings from ‘The Message’?, a mystic air?, in a Sydney Anglican church?, startlingly odd for a number of reasons:

i)              Peterson finds it peculiar that any church would use his book for Scripture readings:

“When I'm in a congregation where somebody uses [The Message] in the Scripture reading, it makes me a little uneasy. I would never recommend it be used as saying, "Hear the Word of God from The Message." But it surprises me how many do.” Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Message_(Bible) accessed 1 September 2015.

ii)             Sydney Anglicans have been quite cautious as to use of mysticism or entertainment.  Mysticism or entertainment are used by some Pentecostal Megachurches within the Sydney basin.  You’d think that any church in the Sydney Anglican Diocese would think thrice before introducing anything that had a hint of mysticism or entertainment.  Even where the local clergy had thought thrice you’d hope there be the necessity of referral to the Archbishop.

iii)            I’ve had to pinch myself to think that ‘The Message’ is being read in a mainstream Protestant church in the enlightened year of 2015.  Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:2 identifies how we need be discerning to ensure that we feast spiritually on solid food.  ‘The Message’ sits in a category of paraphrase or devotional literature (that is, milk).  To one raised on credible versions of the Bible, ‘The Message’ is not solid food. To one who enjoys feasting on solid food, one could, in respect 'The Message' coin the phrase “Only a fool trips on what is behind him”.

iv)            The Reformation paved the way for the masses to read their Bible and challenge their clergy. Having congregants shut their eyes while a reading unknown to them is recited is a step back to the 16th Century.  

v)             I did not found the text read from 'The Message' to offer any advantage over the well translated version available to me in the church’s pew Bible.  Reading ‘The Message’ in an enlightened Sydney Anglican church is at best a retrograde step and at worse a gross detriment.




Bankwest and churches will not always match their pitch with their audience.  Getting the communication and delivery right is not always easy.  Yet, Bankwest will do little by way of harm in using a tennis legend as a face of advertising. 




Guard yourself parishioner! Ensure you have solid spiritual food. Put milk behind you.




Shalom,
Ozhamada






Note for Biblical nerds: ‘The Message’ is a highly idiomatic translation that falls outside of the normal formal/dynamic translation spectrum to instead take the form of paraphrase.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Who the f$%^& hell are you?"

Stepping off one of New South Wales Department of Transport’s finest buses today I found myself intervening to stop verbal abuse.  A fellow passenger - an elderly gentlemen - delivered the abuse.  The abuse recipient was the bus driver.  My intervention arose as I was stepping off the bus directly behind the abuser.  My intervention arose in part as the abuser had earlier, while seated, made his negative views known to any passengers who cared to listen.  Basically, the chap was a fueled bomb and it was clear that he would let rip.

The abuse centred upon the driver’s earlier interpretation of a traffic light.  The traffic light had been about 100 metres earlier in the journey.  It seemed that the abuser was quite disturbed that the bus driver’s cautious (and therefore safe and road courteous) interpretation of the changing traffic lights had bought grief in that it had extended the bus journey.  The abuse was possibly loaded in that the driver was of a foreign ethnicity.

The exact abuse is not worth repeating.  Suffice to say it include repetition of a four letter word beginning with “f”.

I said with a firm and raised voice: “Excuse me sir (using that word loosely), I will not have you speaking to an esteemed official of the New South Wales government in that way”. ('Esteemed official' is a stretch, yet I was using it to try to disarm the abuser).

The intervention was powerful only in that it saved the driver from any further verbal abuse – the attention was now on me.

“Who the f$%^ hell are you?", asked the gentleman.

Ignoring such a question is usually best.  His female partner was quick to chime in: “No [name], stop it, last time you spent overnight in a police cell”.  I chose to walk off - countering the elderly gentlemen’s mobility speed required no surplus effort.

It did make me think though! How could I have answered?.  'Could', not 'should'.  Let’s see how it could have played out:


“Who the f$%^ hell are you?" asked the gentlemen.

“Why, thank you for asking.
I am washed clean, bought to salvation by the living Jesus Christ.  The same Christ who sent his Holy Spirit to counsels and speaks to God on behalf of those who call Jesus Lord.
I am a citizen of heaven, worthy before God; part of the church, the bride, that awaits its bridegroom.  Citizens of heaven are assured everlasting life and blessed with gifts of the Spirit.
I have access to my heavenly Father through prayer and play a role as part of God’s royal priesthood.
Those who are in Christ have these assurances because the Bible tells them so.
Does that answer your question sir?  Should I continue?"

Cheers,
Ozhamada

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sing for joy

Psalm 126 is an incredible song of joy. 

Psalm 126 is written to celebrate freedom of the Israelites from captivity.  In providing for the people to return to their land the “Lord restored the fortunes” [verse 1] of the people.  Harps, cymbals and drums that had laid at rest during the captivity could again be sounded.  The people’s tongues could be loosened.   The people carolled in joyous praise [verse 2].  The change of state was surprising and delightful for the people who “were like those who dreamed” [verse 1].   That is, the change of the people’s situation absorbed all of their senses – everything seemed special and exciting to them.  The people were free.

The chorus the people sung is identified in verse 3:

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126:3
It is a chorus that Simeon later sung, in a different form, when his prayers were answered in the birth of Christ.  For Simeon recognised that the season of awaiting God’s salvation was done: “you may now dismiss your servant in peace.” Luke 2:29 NIV.

Let us be joyous daily of the great things God has done.  The freedom the Israelites gained on release from bondage was a precursor to the freedom that would come through Christ.  The freedom of the Israelites raised songs of joy.  Our freedom, and knowledge of all the great things God has done for us in Christ, should raise songs of joy.

Shalom

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A responsive pastor

John 3:14 reads: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up". NIV.

This sign proposes a different reading:


The sign seems odd. 

John 3 contains the conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus.  Contextually, the conversation is about why Jesus is present in that age and how Nicodemus should respond. The conversation is not about Jesus returning.

On identifying the pastor's contact details the following fruitful email exchange ensued (editted):

OPENING:

Dear Pastor XXXX,
I had the pleasure of being in the XXX area today. In passing the XXXXX church I observed the signboard. The signboard had a message that was purported to be from John 3:14.
I immediately found the verse to be at odds with my Bible (NIV). Jesus is in discussion with Nicodemus. In the discussion there is a focus on why Jesus is present at that time, and on the respose that Nicodemus should have. Contextually, the verses do not relate to the second coming as the signboard would suggest.
For my education could you please advise whether XXXXXs use a version of John that differs from versions customarily used in Protestant churches in Sydney?
=====
RESPONSE:
Greetings XXXX,
Let me apologise regarding the message on the board. The message is an error and should read John 14:3. I have attempted to have it corrected immediately.
It is our belief that John 14:3 is speaking of the second coming of Jesus.
XXXXXXX use the same versions of the Bible that are found within mainstream protestant churches today. I enjoy the NKJV as my personal favourite.

Shalom,
Ozhamada

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Simeon and Anna

Luke 2 is a very rich part of Luke's Gospel.  In response to a recent nudge by a pastor I have explored Luke 2:22-40 in depth.  In those verses Luke records how Jesus was presented at the temple so that Jewish purification rites could be completed.  There is much to share, however, this blog post dwells on the two characters who were ready at the temple to greet Joseph, Mary and Jesus.  Those two characters were Simeon and Anna.

Simeon and Anna were righteous and devout.  I believe Luke is actually presenting Simeon and Anna as perhaps two of only a few of the time who were righteous and devout.  Simeon is filled with the Holy Spirit whereas Anna is a model of worship, fasting and prayer that longed for the promised Messiah.

When you consider the woes that Jesus would soon direct at the religious - the Pharisees, Sadduccees and Teachers of the Law (Matthew 23) - you realise that Simeon and Anna had overcome their religious brethren and had stood apart.  Simeon and Anna were likely to be lonely and perhaps despised or ridiculed.

Luke's message from Simeon and Anna is that  despite the circumstances of the church of the day it is an individual's faith that holds you esteemed in God's eyes.  You must overcome the hubris of the day that may present The Toronto Blessing, or Prosperity Gospel  or reductionist gospel*.  You must establish your own stand of faith in Christ.  You must be discerning in everything (Proverbs 15:14).  You must take care to define yourself not in respect your denomination or local fellowship but instead in terms of your relationship with Christ.

That only Simeon and Anna were righteous and devout at the time of Christ's purification rite should ring a warning bell.  The warning bell rings loud of Revelation 11 where only two witnesses will stand.  At that time the world will otherwise be desolate of the Word (Micah 7:13).

Will the desolation, and absence of people like Simeon and Anna, arise because people have defined their faith on anything but Christ?

Shalom,
Ozhamada