Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I have no gift to bring...

It's Christmas time. The most wonderful time of the year. That might not always be true all the time for people. But to remember and celebrate Jesus' birth every year is a wonderful thing. I have reflected on what this means many times, and some of the most special times that God has spoken to me have actually been at Christmas.

What does it mean that Jesus was incarnate amongst us? Obviously this is a big question, and I'm not going to tackle this one much today, except to say that it is the biggest gift ever given. For Jesus to leave his glory behind in heaven was a huge gift. For him to lay down his life later on was an indescribable gift.

I heard a message at a Christmas Eve service today. The preacher picked up on the theme of the modern carol "The Little Drummer Boy."

(I'll leave most of the pa rum pum pums out).

Come they told me, a new born King to see,
Our finest gifts we bring, to lay before the King,
So to honor him when we come

Little baby, I am a poor boy too
I have no gift to bring, that's fit to give the King
Shall I play for you on my drum?

Mary nodded, the ox and lamb kept time,
I played my drum for him,
I played my best for him,
Then he smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

I must confess I have always loved this song, partly because it lends itself to many great variations from a multitude of musicians, but most of all because of its quintessential simplicity. I have no gift to bring..... I played my best for him.

So the question comes to me. What do I have to give my King Jesus as a gift, this Christmas time, every Christmas time? I could come up with a simple answer and say, I will give him my life. And yes, this is what I want to do. I also know that it is a gift that pleases God. But I also know that my life is full of rubbish. I'm a sinner. I make so many mistakes. I do want to make a difference. I do want Siberian peoples to know about Jesus and I sincerely hope that I play my part in that cause.

Let me go back many years. For a long time I have known that I wanted to go to Siberia, since I was 15. The journey took many twists and turns, and is even still continuing. When I was 21 I took my first trip outside of the country on a short term mission to South Africa. We actually arrived the day before Christmas. The few days after Christmas there was virtually nothing for us to do. Here I was, young, passionate and intense, going on a mission trip as part of the path of obedience to God. When I got to the start of that mission trip I was all keyed up to get out there and share the gospel. Everything fell flat on its face and I was trapped on this compound with my hands metaphorically tied. It felt so dark, black and lonely. At that stage of my life that mission trip was a litmus test for me. A test to see if I would serve God with my life as a missionary. It felt hopeless, and impossible. I didn't know where things were going. In that moment things felt the darkest they had ever in my life. But in that moment I cried out to God. I told him that yes I wanted to serve him. I wanted to give him my gift. I told him that I would reapply with my resume for the job- and confessed that all I could offer him was a blank piece of paper. "But I'll apply anyway Lord, this is all I have to offer..... nothing.... myself."

Then he smiled at me. Yes, he would receive this gift.

As I reflect on this now, I once again realise, that as far as I have come in the Siberian journey it is only because God has taken me that far in the journey. The times when I have seen him work the most have been the times when I was simply in the right place at the right time and was obedient. I was the blank page on those occasions and God filled in all of the gap.

I want to give him my life again. I want to give him a special gift this Christmas time. I won't pretend to offer a page of my own, but I will offer up the page that he has been writing on and ask of my Lord that he would complete this good work he has begun in me. I'm still a sinner and I still make lots of mistakes. But I'll play my best for Christ.

And he smiles at me.....

May he smile at you too this Christmas time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Societal sin- let's forgive Ben Cousins

On many occasions I have felt that Australian society is extremely lacking in grace. It has become legalistic and condemnatory. Perhaps I am just noticing more the things that have always been here, and just see them as I come back to the country.

Every time I return to Australia, one of the things that bugs me the most is the campaign to cut down the road toll. This campaign has been going on for many years now. Somehow the police and the government are convinced that they will cut out road deaths altogether. The latest campaign particularly bugs me, "We'll catch you before someone gets hurt!" Who are these police, do they think they are God, that they can somehow stop every speeding motorist out there? Either this message implies that they will actually catch all of the dangerous drivers, or that every driver who speeds a little is actually dangerous.

The current speed limit on the Monash Freeway is 80 km/h. This is because the lanes are narrower due to roadworks. I do my best to stick to the speed limit while 90% of the traffic zips past me at 90 or 100. I find it awfully frustrating, and remark to myself how hypocritical the police are that they are allowing thousands of murderers to stay on the road. (Murderers from their own implication that is.) In reality most of these drivers are not causing much risk.

The other day we were behind a police car that pulled a car over. We were sticking at the speed limit of 60 km/h. It appeared that the police car was too, and the car in front. The driver did not appear to be speeding, but was likely driving at the criminal speed of 63 km/h. The police pulled the driver over, and likely brought in more revenue (which I am sure is their real bottom line). This fits with their policy of fining all drivers who drive 3 or more kilometres over the speed limit. I sure feel safe, now that they caught that maniac before he hurt someone.

For all their pride, there is nothing that the police can do to catch the really dangerous drivers. At least one recent tragedy had the driver doing speeds of above 170 km/h. No amount of threatening billboards or speed cameras were going to catch that driver, who actually did become a murderer. Patrol cars can do some good in stopping serious speeders and taking away their licenses, but perhaps that may still not stop some.

All this to point out that condemning the public when they drive a few clicks over is an adverse form of legalism and is not helping the situation at all.

Speeding is now officially a societal SIN.

But really it is not the fault of the police. Society actually wants these strict measures. On at least a few occasions I have spoken to people who defend the drachonian measures in Australian society today. Let's move on to another of my pet peaves, the ostracism of smokers in our society. A recent news report boasted that the Quit campaign over the last two plus decades has seen the reduction in Australian smokers from 33% to 19% of the population. This campaign has been going on for over two decades now. So in many ways that reduction is not a very good victory. If the campaign was going to succeed there would be no smokers left in society. Even though the percentage has been decreased, the actual number of smokers has not been dented that much, as the population of Australia has risen from 14 million to 21 million in that time.

Smokers are seen as the number one evil in Australian society. They are a drain on the health system, or so we are told. But how much money has been spent on the Quit campaign over the years? How much tax have the smokers paid over the years themselves? I'd love to see a study done on the money involved. It would be my guess that when a smoker needs an operation for lung cancer, that they have more than paid for it with their taxes by the time they arrive in the hospital.

This approach from government has seen the policy extended to the furthest reaches of society. Smokers can no longer find a pub or club to hang out in. There is no such thing as social smoking any more. Office workers are condemned to hide underground in some dark and damp corner of a car park, they are not even allowed to smoke out the front of the office building because it would make the company look dirty.

This is not to say that smoking is smart or healthy. But it seriously irritates me to see that condemnation handed down upon smokers.

Smoking is no longer just a societal SIN, it is now also a social SIN.

Let's take the fight to Ben Cousins. Ben Cousins has been on a long and difficult journey in his battle with narcotic drugs. I'm not making excuses for his decisions, but I do have compassion for him. I am very happy for him that he has been drafted by the Richmond footy club. I'm happy for a few reasons. I think it's great that he has a second chance. The testing regime that he will be under will help him stay accountable, and give him the best chance to turn his life around. I am impressed that Richmond took him when no other club would. As a Richmond supporter I am proud of my club for going against the flow. Fourteen of the fifteen other clubs opposed Richmond's moves to draft Ben Cousins. I hope God blesses Richmond for showing compassion where no one else would. (Of course the cynic in me says, that Richmond was just taking their typical approach of selecting a proven player instead of youth. I hope that's not the case, and I don't think it is here.)

The media doesn't like a good news story. The same day that Ben Cousins trained with Richmond for the first time, the media were on his case because he has had past associations with an underworld figure who has recently been arrested. The media doesn't want to give him a second chance. I fear that much of society does not either, as indicated by 14 of 16 AFL clubs.

Jesus had some challenging things to say about sin and it's affects on us. He told people that when they judge others they should first examine themselves. He is quoted as saying, "Before you remove the speck from someone else's eye, remove the plank from your own." All of society should examine themselves a little more, instead of taking such "self righteous" attitudes with speeding drivers, smokers and failed AFL footballers.